Sonala Olumhense: The unemployment crisis – Which way out?

by Sonala Olumhense

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What is the way out?  The government cannot move forward, let alone lead anyone, if it cannot do anything about the corruption that is eating us alive.  Therein are the integrity and the funds we need to boost the private sector and industry and commerce, which will create jobs alongside the public sector.

What is the most infuriating thing about the death of many young Nigerians in the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) jobs scam?
Not the incompetence.  Not the ripping of N1000 from the grasp of each job seeker.

What really makes me mad is that all of them would have been alive now—still desperate but alive—had they been advised by their heads rather than their hearts, or by reason rather than faith.

They thought that the NIS knew what it was doing.  They believed that arrangements were in place for a smooth, fair and safe candidate evaluation.   Not one of them left home that morning with any fear of not leaving the stadium alive.

The origins of this faith are not difficult to identify.  Leading officials of the administration began by claiming they would create jobs.  That is always a good ploy either for baiting the youth vote or for keeping the youth interested.

In a May 13, 2012 article, “Jobs, Jobs, Jobs” I detailed many of those promises.  If you are reading this column online, take a quick look at that story and see how routinely top federal officials named how many jobs they were going to create.

They repeated this fiction until 2013 when some Nigerians began to ask questions and they realized that some of those promises had matured.
At that point, the focus began to change.  Here is what the Presidential Midterm Report in 2013 said about one area of agriculture alone:

“In 2012 14 new rice mills with capacity to process 240 metric tons of rice were set up by the private sector while in addition, a sum of 1.2 billion dollars was secured by the Federal Government to install 100 large scale rice processing mills to produce 2.1 million metric tons of rice annually.

“This and other initiatives of government in 2012 resulted in the creation of about two million new jobs among rural dwellers.  In 2013, the Federal Government will implement a Young Graduates Commercial Farmers Scheme, which will absorb 780,000 graduates in its first phase and provide an estimated four million jobs in the agricultural sector in the first year.”

That is: rural jobs created in 2012 alone were about two million, with an estimated four million agricultural jobs [created] in 2013 (or from 2013 to 2014).  Keep in mind: according to this account, 780,000 graduates were absorbed or to be absorbed under the Young Graduates Farmers’ Scheme alone.

More numbers continue to be thrown around, including a certain ‘1.6million jobs’ that were created in 2013: On New Year’s Day, President Jonathan ignited the fiction being circulated by his government in the following words.  “We are keenly aware…of the estimated 1.6 million new jobs created across the country in the past 12 months as a result of our actions and policies…”

The same was repeated by his Finance and Coordinating Minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, in her centennial Powerpoint file.

Nobody outside the circle of government officials and their praise-singers believes a word of this, because nobody can identify the jobs.  Last week, Spaces for Change, a youth development and advocacy group, filed a Freedom of Information (FOI) request challening the Minister to verify the government’s claims.

A statement by Spaces for Change Executive Director, Victoria Ibezim-Ohaeri said, “We would like to see the copies of the enabling policies, executed and ongoing projects and programmes for bolstering job creation and youth employment so that we may independently verify the methodology, measures and figures employed in generating the statistical data of jobs created within the specified time frame.”

That request will be ignored, of course, contrary to the law.  The government brags a lot about having established the FOI law, but it never honours its own law.

The Spaces for Change request was followed by an open letter addressed to President Jonathan by the Association of Unemployed Graduates, which clearly articulated the depth of the challenge of unemployment in Nigeria.

Among others, the group told Mr. Jonathan:
•    “From the various statistics we have from the National Bureau of Statistics, and other sources, the number of unemployed citizens ranges from 30 to 45 million, and that is about the population of five major cities in Nigeria. An average of 4.5 million graduates enter into the job market annually with no access to soft loans or any type of enabling environment coupled with epileptic power supply, even after the privatization of PHCN.

•    The “YouWin” programme is more like and very similar to the visa lottery game, where only lucky winners are empowered and only the families of public office holders and those in government get the [few] available jobs.

•    We live in a country where people now sell jobs. Everyone had hitherto been quiet about this completely unacceptable and despicable act and it must be looked into.”

Denouncing and dissociating itself from the violence of the terror groups in the North, the group observed that the problems of those groups began when their needs were not met.  They then called on Mr. Jonathan to respond to the unemployment challenge so as to “halt the steadily growing number of angry and frustrated unemployed graduates who may be tempted to channel their knowledge and energy into negativities.”

The problem is not that the government does not know there is a serious problem.  The reason why nothing is going to change is that the Jonathan government is founded on the false foundation of power, not service.

There is a related problem: the grievous mistake among Nigerians that there is a government.  If this is a government, I do not know what disarray is.  What we have is a pretend-performance, like children playing in the sand.  But children playing in the sand have consistency, logic and an understanding as to form and function that enables them to share and to take turns.

What passes for governance in Nigeria is a collection of individuals who have their hands on the instruments of power for purposes not of service, but of their own definition, perpetuation and distribution.

That is why, alongside the boom in corruption, there is such mediocrity, such forgetfulness, such lack of commitment, such chaos, and dying.
Can this government fight poverty?  The answer would have been yes, but the government went far too early into the publishing business: publishing fictitious narratives about how well it is doing, when the entire world can see the contrary.  In effect, Nigeria is now a porous canvass shot through with bullet holes in every corner.

What is the way out?  The government cannot move forward, let alone lead anyone, if it cannot do anything about the corruption that is eating us alive.  Therein are the integrity and the funds we need to boost the private sector and industry and commerce, which will create jobs alongside the public sector.

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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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