Workers? Day and rising unemployment
Sunday, May 01, 2011
The worldwide celebration of Workers Day, today, provides yet another opportunity for Nigerians to review the condition of workers and the unemployed to determine how well they have fared in the country in the past year.
One sore issue that has, unfortunately, remained unresolved is the promise of the implementation of a new national minimum wage that has remained unfulfilled in spite of assurances from President Goodluck Jonathan during Labour Day activities, last year. Dithering by the government and the legislature has stalled implementation of the new wage structure, which has been approved by the president.
Outside the public labour force, another critical challenge is massive unemployment, especially among the youths. The scope of youth unemployment in the country was brought to the fore, sometime ago, by the World Bank. According to the Country Director of the institution, Mr. Onno Ruhl, more than 50 million Nigerian youths are either currently unemployed or under-employed. This figure is unacceptably high considering the nation?s total population of about 150 million people. It represents a quarter of our population and about 60 percent of the active population, which is supposed to be the backbone of the economy.
Disclosing this disturbing figure at a forum organised by the Nigerian Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA) in Lagos, Ruhl gave reasons for the existence of a large number of unemployed youths. He listed factors responsible to include lack of proper policy initiatives by government and the absence of enabling environment that can unleash the potentials of the youths.
Ruhl specifically mentioned government?s reported lack of seriousness in using Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) as propelling engine for cash flow based lending to the youths to stimulate economic activities. At present, he said, private investment in Nigeria remains abysmal, at 14 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which is not enough to ginger economic growth in the real sector. The World Bank country representative therefore cautioned government to do something urgent to avoid the unpleasant consequences of having such a high population of under-employed youths.
The issue raised by the World Bank is a matter for grave concern. Any country that harbours such high idle population is ?playing with fire.? Under-employed youths can readily become tools in the hands of politicians. This is a grave danger to our fledging democracy. The fact that the source of this disturbing figure is the World Bank lends it credibility. The situation calls for serious action to address the problem, especially on this auspicious occasion of World Labour Day. The huge army of unemployed persons in Nigeria is a ticking bomb that can explode any moment with unsavory consequences.
We agree with the World Bank on some of the causative factors it identified. But beyond that, successive leadership crises in the country and the declining quality of education also contribute to the problem. Most of the contributory factors are structural in nature. Among these, are government?s failed policies in the labour sector. To address the problem, funds should be made available to youths with entrepreneural spirit at low interest rates. Manufacturing companies should be availed with enabling environment for their businesses to grow, so that they can employ more hands.
Unfortunately, our successive budgets have not addressed these systemic challenges, particularly, job creation. Our education curriculum is not targetted at identifying and harnessing the potentials of youths with the aim to channel them towards productive activities. The environment itself is so discouraging that young artisans cannot even put their craft to effective use because of erratic power supply.
Government should realise that failure to intervene in areas that will empower the youths to take their destinies in their own hands, will have unwholesome consequences. We urge the Federal Ministries of Finance and Labour to partner with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to better the lot of youths. We congratulate Nigerian workers on today?s celebration and urge all tiers of government and the legislature to address problems of workers and do whatever is necessary to implement the new national minimum wage, expeditiously.