By Jerome-Mario Utomi
There will be no end to the embarrassing unemployment and underemployment challenges in the country until all the ill-conceived approaches/solutions to unemployment in the country are addressed. The reason for this assertion is not far fetched.
The first has to do with the fact that the nation has had its head stuck in the unemployment mud because successive administrations failed to think about the big issues of goals, strategy and capabilities. The second reason is that the present administration that promised Nigerians change is presently tackling the unemployment challenge without asking tough questions about where they want to go and whether the track they are will take them there.
To explain the two separate but related cases beginning with the first, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan’s administration as an illustration promised during his inauguration speech on May 29, 2011, to tackle youth unemployment by harnessing the country’s natural resources and creating enabling environment for small and medium scale industries to thrive.
But instead of taking this path to sustained growth and development through economic strategies that will provide appropriate policy support to the real sector of the economy as promised, President Jonathan against all known logic went for YOUWIN-a Federal Government youth empowerment programme initiative which stand for Youth Enterprise with Innovation in Nigeria. And aimed at reducing unemployment by creating entrepreneurs, and generate job by encouraging and supporting aspiring entrepreneurial youths in Nigeria to develop and execute business ideas that will lead to job creation. The initiative going by reports was designed to generate between 80,000 and 110,000 new jobs.
Lamentably, the programme aside producing only 1200 winners, one major ill associated with the initiative is that it happened at a time development experts were in agreement that it wasn’t right for state and federal governments to create agencies that dole money to youths with the aim of eradicating poverty as such huge resources do not have economic value.
Nigerians with critical interests at that time were particularly of the opinion that FG shoud have utilized such huge amount in building industries and factories of production. Their argument was that state government should engage in owning business and manufacturing outfits like what was done in the 1970s-1990s in Nigeria. Companies and factories wholly owned by state governments under a new management system should be built to absorb graduates and skilled workers. It is still possible to operate profitable businesses by state government using the Indian/Lebanese system of business model. Independent auditors should be hired to check their books.
While Nigerians were still nursing the negative impact of such poor leadership judgement, instead of the present administration heed to above lesson or draw a lesson from Jonathan’s mistake, they in the same style recently announced the controversial employment of 1000 youths for just two months in each of the 774 local government areas of the country. Away from being politicized and coming at a very high economic cost and consequence, the programme lacks the capacity to appreciably uplift the life chances of the youths as it is plagued with short duration and ‘peanuts’ as remuneration.
But, like Peter Drucker pointed out in his book; Managing in the next society, that in the contemporary society the accelerated pace of change requires constant adjustment to both overall strategy and execution. From the ashes of the nation’s series of defective job creation initiatives, came the Cross River state Governor, Professor Ayade, a clear thinker that culls everything down into the right position and his job creation model of one industrial per local government. A much more charming initiative that today offers a glimpse of hope to the people of the state and has solution to the hydra headed problem of unemployment in Nigeria if adopted by the Federal Government.
Separate from being an ‘authentic leader that daily demonstrates a passion for his purpose, practiced leadership values consistently, led with his heart as well as his heads, established long term, meaningful relationships and have the self discipline to get result’, the profound relevance of this model as subsequent paragraphs reveals, is signposted not merely in the name but its shares of similar attributes and virtues with job creation policies of renowned global leaders.
Consider one case and comment at the global level that typifies the above claim.
Lee Kuen Yew, former Prime Minister of Singapore, at a time explained that; after grappling with the problems of unemployment in the country, he came to the recognition that the only way to survive was to industrialize. Adding that just immediately, he concentrated on getting factories started. ‘Despite their small domestic market of 2 million, he protected locally assembled cars, refrigerator, air conditioners, radios, television sets, and tape-recorder, in the hope that they would later be partly manufactured locally.
In view of the above, the question may be asked; what is the Ayade model? And how will it bring solution to the hydra headed problem of unemployment in Nigeria if adopted?
While providing insight to the policy recently, Chidi Onyemaizu, Senior Special Assistant on Print Media to the Cross River state Governor, among other things explained that the model is all about an aggressive Industrialisation and Agro- Industrialisation drive. In five years of his administration, Ayade, he noted, has massively industrialised Cross River with the view to creating jobs for the unemployed.
This policy of one industrial per local government, he added, is alive and kicking. All the three Senatorial zones in Cross River boast of industries established by the Ayade administration- you have the ultra modern Ogoja rice mill, the automated cocoa processing plant in Ikom, the tooth pick industrial at Yakurr, Groundnut oil processing company at Bekwara among others, all in the Northern and Central Senatorial districts respectively.
Then in Southern senatorial district, you have an industrial park in Calabar where Africa’s first ever automated Rice Seeds and Seedlings factory is situated. In the industrial park, you also have the Calachika chicken processing plant, CalaNoodles Instant noodles factory and a Feed Mill. Elsewhere in the South, there is also the Cross River Integrated Poultry farm at Odukpani among other industries in the Senatorial district. In all Ayade has established over 30 industries since taking office five years ago. While some of these industries are already operational others are in advanced stages of completion.
There is certainly in my views, an ingrain lesson for the nation Nigeria particularly the FG to draw from this development.
Considering the slow growing economy but scary unemployment levels in the country, the Federal Government in my opinion will continue to find itself faced with difficulty accelerating the economic life cycle of the nation until they contemplate industrialization, or productive collaboration with private organizations that has surplus capital to create employment.
Another alternative recourse will probably be to move part of the job creation functions and infrastructural provision/development to the state and local government authorities via restructuring/structural interventions. While the first option (industrialization) may offer considerable solution, the second and third options (productive collaboration with private organizations) has more potential reward in political and socioeconomic terms as well as come with a reduced risk. To achieve such feat, power (electricity) and other infrastructure-roads need to be addressed.
Notably, not doing any of this, or continuing on the low growth of the economy will amplify the painful consequence of strategic mistakes made by previous administrations that failed to invest during the period of rapid economic growth.
The nation has to do this because history teaches that democracy needs economic development, literacy, a growing middle class, and political institution that support citizens with favourable economic environment to survive.
While we wait, i hold an opinion that it will not be characterized as a wrong decision if ‘the nation places less emphasis on university education and promote, establish well funded Technical and Commercial colleges to produce graduates that are technically fit. Cooperate organisations and entrepreneurs on their part should engage in production of domestic and industrial goods. Factories should be set up to produce essential and luxury goods for the population. And a long term goal of exporting such goods to West/African markets should be brought into focuses’.
Equally important is the believe that commercial farming into such specialised areas of diary farming, essential fruits such as apple, etc. will help to reduce unemployment. Carpentry (modern), bricklaying, tiling, painting, shoe-making are trades that Nigerian graduates should engage in.
Youths on their part must recognize that ‘the future is full of promises as it is fraught with uncertainty. That the industrial society is giving way to one based on knowledge’. They must, therefore, learn to be part of the knowledge-based world. This will go a long way in throwing Nigeria’s monster-youth unemployment which breeds all manners of restiveness. A stitch in time, definitely, will save Nigeria’s dangerously burgeoning “unemployment nine”
Utomi is a Lagos-Based Media Consultant.