Democratic Socialist Movement

For Struggle, Solidarity and Socialism in Nigeria

By - DSM

Build a Mass Movement to Fight for Jobs

42% Youth Unemployment in Nigeria

Build a Mass Movement to Fight for Jobs

H.T Soweto.

One nightmare that is confronting youth in Nigeria is the challenge of getting a job. Statistics shows job availability, something which was inadequate even at best of times, is fast shrinking. This is not just happening in the regular jobs alone but also in so-called blue-chip companies like banks, oil firms and telecommunication companies.

In a stunning revelation recently by the Minister of Youths and Social Development, Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi, 28.14 million youths in Nigeria are said to be unemployed. In his words, there are 67 million youths in the country while 42 per cent of them are unemployed (Punch, Friday, 28 October 2011). This inspite of the claims by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and international finance agencies like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank that the Nigerian economy is growing. The brutal reality is that while oil and gas’s high export prices have boosted Nigeria’s income, this has hardly reflected in working peoples’ living standards.

As alarming as this figure sounds, it only tells us the percentage of youth (mainly graduate) unemployment in the formal sector, which is within the radar of government assessment. According to the Minister of Youths Development “graduate unemployment only represents small part of youth unemployment challenge” (Guardian, Thursday, October 27, 2011). This means graduates of Universities, Polytechnics and Colleges of Education. Later, maybe under pressure to present a better situation, Abdullahi lowered this figure to 20 million when he later appeared before the Senate’s Committee on Youths and Women Affairs, but strangely kept the percentage at 41.6% (Vanguard, Friday, December 9, 2011).

Nigeria is a country where accurate records of birth, death or even accurate population figures, all needed to track and arrive at accurate projections of unemployment level, are absolutely lacking. Vast portions of the population, especially those in the rural areas as well as the informal sector said to constitute about 75% of Nigeria’s total economy, are often unaccounted in government data collation and assessment. In the prevailing situation where 80 per cent of youth in Nigeria do not have more than secondary school certificates, the unemployment crisis is much worse among uneducated working class youth in the communities. These are millions of street urchins, drivers and conductors and those hawking anything from sachet water to oranges on the streets just to scrounge a living.

For instance The Economy Watch of 14 October 2010 claimed “the secondary-school graduates consist of the principal fraction of the unemployed accounting for nearly 35% to 50%. The rate of unemployment within the age group of 20 to 24 years is 40% and between 15 to 19 years, it is 31%. Under employed farm labor, also referred as disguised unemployed, makes rural unemployment figures less accurate than those for urban unemployment. Almost 2/3 of the unemployed rural population is secondary-school graduates”.

If the percentage of this layer of youth, most of whom are unemployed or under employed, is added to the percentage of youth unemployment in the formal sector, the figure will be staggering indeed. Corroborating this, the National Bureau of Statistics in a recent survey put the general unemployment rate at 21.1% of the active labour force, a 1.2% increase over 2009 rates. In mid-November, the Statistician-General of the Federation, Yomi Kale, equally reported that, despite claims of economic growth the National Bureau of Statistics believed that ” ‘The unemployment rate…in the first half of 2011 increased to 23.9 per cent…This represents an increase of 1.8 million additional unemployed people between December 2010 and June 2011.’ “The Bureau attributed the rise in the ranks of the nation’s unemployed to fresh entrants to the job market and worker layoffs across all sectors of the economy in the course of the year.

“Stating that every employed Nigerian was economically responsible for three other citizens, Kale disclosed that Yobe, Zamfara and Niger states stayed atop the ignoble list of states with highest incidence of unemployment. “Yobe, which recently reeled under terrorist attack, tops the chart with 60.6 per cent of its employable population being unemployed. Zamfara followed with 42.6 per cent of the total employment population, while Niger has 39.7 per cent. “States in the South-West had the lowest index. Osun came in with the lowest figure of three per cent unemployment; Kwara, 7.1 per cent and Lagos 8.3 per cent. (The Guardian, November 17, 2011). The reality is that the unemployment situation in Nigeria is much higher and perhaps worse than North African countries of Tunisia and Egypt where high unemployment rate combined with resentment with brutal dictatorship ignited the Arab spring.

YouWin: A New Scam

Early in the year while giving a speech on the 2011 budget, President Goodluck Jonathan said “Unemployment among youth is one of our biggest challenges. The time has come to create jobs (and) lay a new foundation for Nigeria’s economic growth”. Now in order to tackle this challenge, the President Jonathan Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) government recently launched with fanfare a youth employment scheme tagged “Youth Enterprise With Innovation in Nigeria (You WIN!)”.

This jamboree, said to be the initiative of the Ministries of Finance, Communication Technology and Youth Development, is President Jonathan’s and his economic team’s (comprising world-renowned neo-liberal whiz-kids like Finance Minister Okonjo Iweala and her colleague Olusegun Aganga) antidote to the crisis of youth unemployment set to “create jobs (and) lay a new foundation for Nigeria’s economic growth”!

According to the Federal Government, the initiative is a business plan competition aimed at empowering young people to create jobs through provision of grants and enterprise training to those with excellent business plans and proposals. “YouWin will provide access to credit up to N10 million to Nigerian youth who come up with fantastic business proposals or plans to expand existing businesses (ThisDay, 31 October 2011). At the launching of this bizarre fraud were the opposition party Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) Governors of Lagos and Ekiti States, represented by their Special Advisers on Youth, who lauded the scheme and promising to also key into it in their respective states.

This is not surprising. The ACN has no reliable alternative policy to create real and well-paid jobs. Osun state for instance, which accounts for three percent of unemployment, the new ACN Government of Governor Aregbesola could only employ 20, 000 youths under the Osun Youth Employment Scheme (OYES) even though over 100, 000 applied. Not only is the working condition horrible with the OYES staffs cleaning the streets with little or no safety kits, they are being paid a pittance of N9, 000, half of the new national minimum wage! Because of this, OYES staffs, some of whom are single mothers with babies to take care of, live in unimaginable condition of poverty and want. They have no trade union rights or condition of service and were recently used by the government to attack public sector workers striking for minimum wage. Despite all these, the ACN often brandishes this modern-day slavery as an accomplishment in job creation!

Altogether YouWin is expected to create something around 80, 000 to 110, 000 jobs in 3 years. These jobs are to be created through the grants received by about 3, 600 enterprising youth! Assuming without conceding this is possible, the figure of 110, 000 is too small to be considered a serious effort on the part of government to address the crisis of youth unemployment. Over 28 million Nigerian youths are already unemployed! This added to the general unemployment data (which includes the informal sector and the over 1.8 million jobs lost in the manufacturing sector over the last ten years) will bring the unemployment level in Nigeria beyond 50 million out of a population of 162 million!

Unfortunately, the YouWin scheme is a fraud between the Federal government and private businesses to rip off unemployed youths. It cannot create any real job. At best, all it would create is some mushroom of so-called small and medium scale businesses that will soon collapse due to the harsh business environment of Nigeria. Instead of directly investing in infrastructures as well as industries in the manufacturing, energy, service and agriculture sector to jumpstart a producing economy that can create jobs, the wiseacres of neo-colonial capitalism has forged this fraudulent scheme modeled after USA visa lottery scheme or the famed “Who wants to be a Millionaire” TV show to exploit the misery of unemployed youth who understandably would jump at anything thrown at them. It is another attempt to sow the illusion that anyone can become the next Bill Gates or Steve Jobs, but while it is always possible that one or two individuals may strike lucky in business or sport this offers no way out for the millions.

Instead of sowing illusions in suddenly striking it rich, the majority of Nigerian youth need to engage in collective struggle to demand real jobs and not this PDP rip-off called YouWin or the slave labour OYES schemes of the ACN. Small scale businesses, such as the scheme is targeting to finance, are particularly endangered in the prevailing harsh business environment in Nigeria where established local and foreign firms are relocating in droves to West African countries. According to the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), consequently, about 1.8 million jobs have been lost in the manufacturing sector alone since 1999. The textile sector – a once vibrant sector employing millions – has been reduced to a carcass with hundreds of thousands of jobs disappearing. This is as a result of companies folding up or relocating production to Asia and other African countries because of the harsh business environment in Nigeria and the parlous state of infrastructure like electricity, roads etc. How can small and medium scale businesses, such as the YouWin scheme is promoting, survive against this kind of background?

Real and Decent Jobs are Possible

The YouWin scheme is consistent with a new philosophy of the Nigerian capitalist ruling class. According to them the youth must not wait on government for jobs but look to the market. As a result of this insane formula, entrepreneurial courses have been introduced in Universities and made mandatory for all under graduates. By this the ruling class hopes to develop an entrepreneurial orientation in young people’s mind so they will not wait for the government to create jobs when they graduate. According to them, those who wait on the government are lazy and unimaginative.

This is blackmail of poor struggling Nigerians! It is an attempt to pass the blame of unemployment on poor and jobless Nigerians. Unlike what the capitalist ruling wants to portray, laziness is not the cause of mass poverty in Nigeria and Nigerians, including the youths, are not lazy. They do not wait on government even though the reason for setting up a government is to use society’s wealth to take care of everyone. The countless hairdressing salon, barbing salon, mechanic and vulcanizing workshops, carpentry workshops and tailoring shops, food stalls, pure water and recharge card outlets, etc we see on every street in Nigeria are examples of how resourceful Nigerians are even in the face of adversity.

Many of these small shops and businesses can flourish if 24 hours of electricity supply can be guaranteed. Unfortunately, even this little cannot be guaranteed by the clueless capitalist ruling class in power. Dominated by imperialism the bulk of the Nigerian ruling class have not sought to seriously develop the Nigerian economy, instead they have concentrated on looting or living off the country’s oil wealth. That is why there is so much misery and poverty across the country and why the masses have looked to the government, rather than the rich, to develop the country. But the government has been in the hands of the elite, whether in civilian or military clothes, and has not answered the peoples’ needs. Now the elite are hypocritically exploiting this disappointment with government to justify neo-liberal policies designed to give them new ways to exploit Nigeria’s resources and people.

Agriculture which could have created an opportunity for self-sufficiency in food production as well as job creation has been destroyed by government neglect. Yet in the rural areas are still thousands of people, youth inclusive, tilling the soil with antiquated tools in order to scrape a living. All they need is massive government investment in providing tractors, harvesters, fertilizers as well as an enabling market. But even this is beyond the capitalist ruling class. As far as the capitalists are concerned, importation of food items which is said to gulp about N1.1 trillion annually is another opportunity to make some profit. In the logic of capitalism, all is fair that maximizes profit of a few even if over 80% of the population is pauperized in the process.

We see on a daily basis many youths being forced out of secondary school because they cannot afford the high cost of education. However most, instead of turning to crimes, go out for apprenticeship all in order to be useful to society. There are thousands of secondary drop-outs and those seeking admissions into a University, presently working as casuals in many Asian and locally-owned factories across the country. All they need is for government to ensure they are placed on good condition of service with minimum wage, trade union rights and good working conditions. But even this has been neglected by government and the relevant departments in the labour ministry. In factories across the country, the youth of this country are been sweated in slavish conditions all because they want to earn a living. They are sacked at will and paid pittance at the end of a day’s work. At end of the day after their spirit has been sapped dry by cruel exploitation, most are forced to enter into a life of drug, crime and prostitution.

It is not the laziness of the youth or their lack of imagination but the capitalist system that is responsible for the unemployment crisis and mass poverty in society. The reality is that job creation is not the aim of capitalism but profit maximization. At the risk of sinking society, capitalists will not invest where profit is not assured even if 28 million youths need jobs. This is exactly why Socialists campaign for a rationale economic system that puts priority on what is good for the society and not just what is good for a few people.

Fight for Real Jobs Now

All these underscore the need for a collective fight back of workers, youths and the poor. Trade unions need to lead a national campaign involving demonstrations, protest actions and strikes and built from below to fight for creation of jobs that both provide income and develop the country. Youth-based organizations like the Students’ Unions and community youth groups can play a lot of role in building a mass movement to mobilize for a fight back.

The youth have a right to real, decent and well-paid jobs with trade union rights. We must demand unemployment benefit to be paid to all unemployed alongside other social security like free education and free health care to ease the poverty of those unemployed. Alongside with this, we must also demand the sharing of existing work to ensure that everyone is able to get employment. What this will mean is that where new jobs are not being created to assimilate the army of young people seeking work, the existing jobs must be shared without reduction in the minimum wage.

Unlike the rip-off called ‘YouWin’ being offered by the government, creation of real jobs is possible. First and foremost, all the privatizations carried out in the last 10 years must be reversed immediately without loss of jobs and the companies renationalized under democratic public control. With government pumping public resources to revamp these companies as well as the textile sector, many jobs can saved and hundreds of thousands more can be immediately created within a few years.

Job creation is only possible on a wide scale when linked to a rationale plan to develop society. Where a society is not developing, new jobs will hardly be created. Unfortunately the capitalist ruling elite have no interest in developing society through the building of roads networks and mass housing, the provision of stable electricity and safe water, improving literacy through building more schools or overhaul of healthcare which would demand building of more hospitals and upgrading of existing ones. All these activities will demand thousands of hundreds of thousands of new workers in various fields from teachers, engineers, doctors and nurses, builders etc. The public works departments are understaffed and can still employ hundreds of thousands of Nigerians.

For instance, a massive public works to rebuild roads, housing, hospitals etc in Nigeria can immediately open up permanent employment opportunities for engineers and builders unlike the contract staffing of most private construction companies. In the agriculture sector, food production can be tripled while creating millions of jobs in a few years if government decides to invest in agriculture through the creation of large state farms as well as offering credits and other assistance to farmers. Through the industrialization of agriculture, the rural areas can be transformed into modern settlements requiring electricity, hospitals, schools, markets, machine tool workshops and agro-allied industries all which will create new jobs while decongesting the cities.

However all these is impossible under the capitalist system which prioritizes profit over the real needs of the people. Despite the fantastic economic growth projections which imperialist agencies of IMF and World projects for Nigeria, all capitalism has been able to achieve in Nigeria is jobless growth and mass poverty amidst plenty. Nigeria is so much blessed with human and natural resources. With estimated proven oil reserve of 35 billion barrels and natural gas reserves well over 100 trillion cubic feet, there is absolutely no sane reason why there should be this high incidence of unemployment and poverty. But capitalism is not sane nor rationale. On the basis of crude capitalist logic and the corruption of the ruling class, 80 percent of Nigeria’s energy revenues flows to the government, 16 percent cover operational costs, and the remaining 4 percent go to investors instead of going towards creating jobs, funding education and improving the living standards of the people.

To put it crudely, 80 percent of energy revenues benefit only 1 percent of the population. We must fight to end this unjust and obscene arrangement of society. We must fight for an alternative economic system to capitalism that can ensure the wealth of the country is used to cater for all instead of a few. A government of genuine representatives of workers and poor could immediately act to stop the looting of Nigeria’s resources and put them to work to begin to meet the country’s needs. On this basis, and with democratically controlled public ownership of the key economic sectors, it would be possible begin to build a socialist society by planning the use of public resources to develop the economy, create real jobs and improve people’s lives.