Iyinoluwa Aboyeji: On jobs, there is a third way (YNaija Frontpage)


The majority of our young people only have the education to perform in low wage, unskilled manufacturing jobs.

Last Sunday, my fellow columnist, Temie, wrote an amazing article about the need to find workable strategies of employing massive amounts of young people – 68 million of them who are currently unemployed. Amongst several other things, in the article she pans entrepreneurship and self-employment as viable alternatives for fulfilling this great need for gainful employment. Instead, she offers us two options – manufacturing or infrastructure development. Apparently, there is “no other way”.

I beg to differ.

Although I agree with Temie that Nigeria definitely needs to do more with respect to long term infrastructure investments, I don’t expect that a flurry of ambitious tax payer funded white elephant projects will have as direct impact on job creation as she might be imagining – at least in the present. First thing we must recognize is that in the construction industry in general there is a significant dichotomy in wages as one traverses from skilled labour (architects, civil engineers, site managers, etc) to unskilled labour (labourers, bricklayers, etc). Given our abysmal record in providing young Nigerians with any technical education – talk less of a thorough one, the majority of unemployed young Nigerians are obviously unlikely to be of the skill level to make a sustainable living in the construction industry. Most importantly, I think it is a bit naiive for us to assume that 68 million young Nigerians can make a sustainable living lifting bricks. As more and more of the building process becomes automated, I expect there will be less and less opportunity for young Nigerians in the infrastructure development industry.

The challenges are the same in manufacturing. There is a significant dichotomy in wages as one traverses the gamut of skilled and unskilled labor in manufacturing. The majority of our young people only have the education to perform in low wage, unskilled manufacturing jobs – most of which are increasingly being mechanized so that it can no longer represent a job creation engine that Nigeria seems to so desperately need.

You see, I happen to be of the school of thought that agriculture, as opposed to infrastructure or manufacturing might actually be that industry that puts our young people to work.

If you objectively look at the facts of the matter, you will realize that no other industry can put our young people to work as effectively as the Agriculture industry is able to. Unlike other sectors, the agricultural sector of Nigeria’s economy is already big – constituting over 40% of GDP and already employing a significant portion of the population. It is also labor intensive and one of the few fields capable of producing jobs that make a sustainable living along the entire scale of skills from low skilled to high skilled. More importantly, it is a field where there is something for everyone – from self-employed agro-entrepreneurs directly engaged in food production to agro-allied cottage industries adding value to raw materials produced here.

The remarkable thing about making agriculture the bedrock of a job creating economy is that we’ve been there before as a country. In the 1960’s and 70’s when Nigeria was at the peak of its reign as the lighthouse of food production all over the world, our unemployment rate was 6.2% and agriculture employed over 70% of all our people. In those days, we weren’t the chronic import dependent country we have become today. Farmers weren’t looked down upon as they often are today. They were the kings on whose back all the economy progress and infrastructure of 60s and 70s Nigeria was built.

Unfortunately, today many of our young people still balk at the suggestion that bar any viable opportunities in Nigerian urban centres, one can still return to their place of origin and farm.

Perhaps if more young people took heed to this wisdom, we wouldn’t need to borrow billions of lopsided Chinese dollars to keep them less than gainfully employed…

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Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

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