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Unemployment, job creation and a labour minister’s burden

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No matter the love and passion, it is unreasonable for Nigeria to devote such high proportion of its budget to paying an intangible N5,000 monthly stipend to the unemployed.

Labour  Minister, Ngige with President Buhari

President Buhari’s campaign promise of N5,000 monthly stipend to the unemployed youth was unarguably socialistic and politically expedient; he obviously meant well and demonstrated his genuine concern for the sufferings and misery of teaming Nigerians without means of livelihood. 

But recent discussions on fulfilling the promise show the impossibility of drawing a social safety net around some 77 million unemployed Nigerians, which is like attempting to salvage a sinking 385, 000-tonne ship with a 200-tonne tug boat; both vessels will surely go under! 

The yearly budget for paying even 10 million unemployed graduates for just one year is N600bn (six hundred billion naira!), excluding the overheads and well known systemic losses. Extending this to 50 million unemployed gives a boggling annual budget of at least N3 trillion! And we still have to think of providing productive jobs that will solve the recipients’ problem. 

It is therefore reasonable to conclude that fulfilling the campaign promise is not practicable, and Buhari and all of us should accept this truth. No matter the love and passion, it is unreasonable for Nigeria to devote such high proportion of its budget to paying an intangible N5, 000 monthly stipend to the most productive and virile (but wasted) segment of her labour force; unemployment handout (of tangible amount) is normally operated in an economy with a manageable level of unemployment to tilde the recipients for a limited no-income space of time.

 There is even a growing concern over keeping able-bodied citizens on handouts for any appreciable length of time. It makes more eminent sense to instead commit efforts and such monies to providing some form of productive employment to all the unemployed in the shortest possible time. This is where the primary responsibility of this onerous task shifts to the shoulders of Senator Chris Ngige, who is the current Minister of Labour and Employment.

The new Minister should not be daunted by the fact of his professional and political experiences being drawn from outside Labour Economics and Industrial Relations; he could equally see opportunities in his being challenged to think outside the box of familiarities that had impaired the visions of previous office-holders whose complacency might have resulted to the overt lack of innovation in their awful failings in running the ministry. 

Hopefully the recent change of the ministry’s name to “Labour and Employment” is an official acceptance of the varied calls for repositioning the former “Ministry of Labour and Productivity”; the ministry ought to be designing and enforcing pro-employment and job-centred policies on an economy-wide basis; the recent past labour ministers completely neglected this. The new Minister needs not be despondent over the relative strangeness of the tasks ahead, as many workable programmes already exist for promulgation or implementation.

Creating millions of jobs in Nigeria’s ‘virgin’ economy is as easy as it is desirable: support the fight against corruption headlong and the efforts to increase power supply, direct affordable credit to MSMEs and the real sector, adopt the cooperative business structure extensively, institute pragmatic labour process changes involving the buy-in of labour unions  (including on  wage restraint policy across board, a deterrent on strikes, job-sharing/income redistribution, etc). 

An overarching policy thrust for massive job creation is the promulgation of the National Action Plan on Employment Creation (NAPEC) – an internationally designed policy document produced way back in 2009 and domiciled in the Federal Ministry of Labour and Productivity. Along this policy framework, a Youth Cooperative Development Strategy (YCDS) document was developed in 2010 to show how millions of youth can be engaged in productive employment with very limited resources shared among them; it was also demonstrated how 3.7 million jobs could be created in agriculture alone within an annual budget cycle. 

With the vast virgin parcels of agricultural land lying fallow within and between the various states of the country (including the now notorious Sambisa Forests of the North-East), Nigeria is criminally complaining of high unemployment rate; it has been claimed that Nigeria’s agricultural sector alone has the potential to employ the entire labour force in West Africa! 

Other economy-wide schemes already identified include the National Enterprise Development Programme (NEDEP), Nigeria Industrial Revolution Plan (NIRP), and the Federal Government’s MSME support scheme.  Interestingly, the new Minister of Science & Technology has already signaled how over 400,000 jobs can be created from a lead pencil project, which indicates the extent of interface between a re-invented Labour Ministry and other MDA’s in job creation. All such economy-wide/large impact schemes are expected to align with the seemingly abandoned Nigeria Vision 20-20-20. 

The right policy framework now will see the Labour Ministry working through a lean and efficient public sector that transmits pro-job stimulus programmes for enabling the private sector to widen Nigeria’s very absorptive economic frontiers. But this has not been the case: the many “skills acquisition” programmes and “youth empowerment” schemes embarked upon by governments seem to have fallen under the employment activity trap (EAT) syndrome, whereby a flurry of government-sponsored job creation activities end up in huge expenditure bills on personnel/overhead costs. 

For instance, the NDE’s annual budgets are usually recurrent-heavy with a pittance of questionable capital budget activities. Of course, no director or staff of NDE, NAPEP, SMEDAN, SURE-P, etc has been known to retire from service or disengage into such entrepreneurial projects normally touted for their trainees/beneficiaries! Many also ask: “when did a civil servant who had never successfully sold peanut in his life acquire the practical business techniques to mentor a youth through a business start-up?” 

Apart from undertaking a credible privatization of the discredited NITEL’s communications era, the government sector did not have to pioneer the huge skills-gap filled and millions of jobs created in the GSM revolution! A repositioned Ministry of Labour and Employment will concern itself with instituting or crystallizing and monitoring the apposite critical policies for ensuring the creation of millions of productive jobs in 2016 and beyond. 

While former President Jonathan’s administration belatedly declared an appreciation of the seriousness of the unemployment problem, and accordingly ascribed to its 2012 to 2014 budgets as committed to “inclusive growth and job creation”, it failed woefully to make good its word. It was on the basis of these failings that the then Finance Minister was warned to create millions of jobs in 2014 federal budget or resign (visit www.jet-cng.org/2014 Budget: Perform or Resign!). It is now history that the administration actually “resigned” at the 2015 general elections. Faced with same perennial challenge, this administration cannot fail to perform!

 The era of “workshops”, “skills acquisition”, and “youth empowerment” should now be gone for “hands-on” job creation economic activities in the already identified sectors. It is only through productive activities that we can create true wealth, and avoid the escalation of the current social upheavals. The Constitution urges that no able-bodied citizen should be denied the opportunity of decently working for a living. 

And any job-holder, MDA or stakeholder in the labour market that wouldn’t deliver on assigned role for the creation of millions of jobs should as well resign or be treated as an economic saboteur; all public office-holders, the few currently favoured with the limited job opportunities in our depressed economy, and the bellicose labour union leaders must be willing to make sacrifices for accommodating the teaming unemployed.

So, the Honourable Minister can reach out and immediately call for a brain-storming  session among relevant stakeholders on how to maintain industrial harmony and embark on programmes and schemes that must deliver a minimum of 6 (six) million productive jobs (largely through the private sector) this 2016. Each participating stakeholder group must present a plan of action for creating a target number of jobs in 2016 and beyond.  

We must embark on agreed right policies, programmes and processes to give jobs (not miserly and unsustainable dole-outs) to the jobless millions now!

Victor TC Anyanwu, Snr. Economist/Executive Director, Citizens for Justice, Employment and Transparency (C-JET), e-mail:transparent.citizens@yahoo.com


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