Three of the most prominent presidential candidates for the 2023 election have expressed opposing views on the best way to create jobs for unemployed youths, who make up the majority of Nigeria’s voting population.
In Nigeria, a youth is defined as anyone between the ages of 15 and 29. This classification differs from the African Youth Charter, which defines a youth as someone between the ages of 18 and 35, while the United Nations defines a youth as someone between the ages of 18 and 24.
Nigeria’s youth unemployment rate rose to an average of 45.3 percent in the fourth quarter of 2020, representing 12.7 million individuals, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.
The unemployed youths represented 54.9 percent of the total unemployed Nigerians as of Q4 2020. And with the nation’s population growing at 2.5 percent annually, the population of unemployed youths in 2022 would be an estimated 13.4 million, compared to 12.7 million in Q4 2020.
Economic and human resource experts have urged the next president to pursue skills acquisition, vocational training programmes and value reorientation to address the unemployment scourge.
The manifestos of the three presidential hopefuls have some sections with youth-specific programmes, although there are no clear-cut methodologies for implementing them.
According to McKinsey & Company, a global management consulting firm, countries that succeeded in tackling youth unemployment and alleviated poverty pursued a pro-growth agenda of productivity by accumulating capital and technologies, which led to more jobs being created and higher wages paid to workers, and then more people were lifted into the middle class.
Atiku Abubakar, the presidential candidate of the People’s Democratic Party; Rabiu Kwankwaso of the New Nigeria Peoples Party, and Bola Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress have released their manifestos. Labour Party’s Peter Obi, another top candidate, has yet to unveil his manifesto as of the time of filing this report.
Atiku identified skills acquisition, vocational and entrepreneurial training programmes as his path towards addressing youth unemployment.
“My administration will partner with the private sector to identify high-demand skills for skills acquisition, vocational and entrepreneurial training, increase investment to enhance youth access to opportunities in education including vocational and technical education, job creation, and entrepreneurship development programmes, and facilitate the emergence of an entrepreneurial class, especially amongst the youth population that would usher in new jobs, new knowledge and the utilisation of ICT,” he said.
Kwankwaso said he will reform the mandatory one-year National Youth Service Corps to serve as the platform for recruiting young Nigerians into the military.
“To support our unity project and build a strong base of loyal and patriotic citizenry, as well as stopping the bad influencers from misdirecting the energy of our youth, we intend to reform the National Youth Service Corp programme and use the scheme as a base for enlisting young Nigerians into the armed forces,” he said.
Tinubu identified employment incentives including tax holidays, tax credits, training in ICT-related activities as measures that will be adopted to reduce youth unemployment in the country.
He said he will “extend tax and other credits as well as urban youth employment incentives to domestic manufacturing entities. Tariffs and other measures will be implemented to safeguard such industries”. He said tax credits, tax holidays and reduced interest rate loans to businesses will be provided to firms that hire a certain percent of youth in their workforce.
But experts have picked holes in some of their proposed programmes in view of the declining revenue of the federal government which implies that funding will be a challenge for implementing the youth-centric programmes.
“Unemployment and inflation are global problems now. They cannot be addressed through a stop-gap measure except through structural solutions. It cannot be through monetary policy because interest rates are rising in the developed countries which invariably show that capital is more productive in those climes than in Nigeria,” Femi Saibu, a professor of economics at the University of Lagos (UNILAG), said.
“On fiscal policy, Nigeria’s tax base is so narrow. We cannot continue raising the tax rates on people who are already impoverished. Altogether, the two sources are constrained to support significant expansion in job creation.”
Tunde Olagunju, a human resource consultant, said Nigeria needs to address value reorientation so that the youths will have a correct understanding of what success means, and then be willing to pursue skills acquisition in a meritocratic environment.
“There is a need for value reorientation because a lot of Nigerian youths have learnt how not to do things regarding our value proposition, especially how we see success. We need a leader that will build successful value orientation for Nigerian youths,” he said.
He suggested that in addition to certificates, Nigerian youths must possess additional skills upon graduation, and there must be a system that rewards the dignity of labour.
Olamide Adeyeye, a Lagos-based human resource consultant, expressed reservations about the kinds of jobs Nigerian youth do now, saying the next president must ensure better jobs are created.
“A lot of jobs Nigerian youths do these days are more or less like they are in slavery. The expenses they incur doing those jobs are more than their monthly salaries,” Adeyeye said.
A practical way to address youth unemployment, according to the UNILAG don, is to domesticate the production of some of Nigeria’s imports which will result in employment generation, technology transfer and reduced stress on the naira in the foreign exchange market.
“Nigerian government needs to woo foreign firms that are producing what we consume mostly. The production could be their critical parts, and this will ensure more jobs are created in Nigeria and will facilitate the transfer of technology, while helping to reduce the pressure on the naira,” Saibu added.
Ovie Ali Onovwo-Omasor, a social media influencer, said Nigeria has succeeded in creating more jobs through DICON-SUR, a joint partnership firm between Barer Holding (50 percent) from Turkiye and Nigeria’s Defense Industries Corporation of Nigeria (DICON, 50 percent).
“In 2015, Nigeria spent N4.9 billion importing military gears and uniforms from Turkiye and elsewhere. In 2019, President Muhammadu Buhari invited the Turkish company to build a factory here in collaboration with DICON in Kaduna to produce 1.2 million military gears and uniforms annually. Now, we will have the capacity to produce military uniforms for other African countries while over 1,002 are employed, as the cotton for feedstock is available in the northwest,” Onovwo-Omasor said.