Stemming The Tide Of Poverty In Nigeria Through Meaningful Youth Engagement, By Adedamola Adejobi
The theme for this year’s International Youth Day “Eradicating Poverty and Achieving Sustainable Production and Consumption” was apposite and could not have come at an appropriate time than this. The financial rating of most countries has been cut due to global economic crisis; chief amongst them being the price of crude oil hitting an all-time low. Most countries that are hitherto heavily dependent on oil are seriously affected by the dwindling oil price. Nigeria is on the list of such badly affected countries.
Nigeria’s situation seems to be getting worse with the renewed attacks on oil pipelines and other installations by the militant group known as Niger Delta Avengers. These so-called avengers claim to be fighting for the interest of the Niger Delta people whose region has been polluted due to oil spill and vandalism. This act raises the mind boggling question: is the blowing up of pipelines and other oil installations a form of protest that seeks to restore or damage further the already battered environment they claim to be fighting for?
Poverty is increasing at an alarming rate globally, especially in Africa. No thanks to the recent global economic meltdown. Before the world entered into recession, it was asserted that half of Nigeria’s population lived on less than $1 a day. I will like to live to imagination what the figure will be now that we have an economic crisis on our hands.
One interesting thing to note is that 65 percent of Nigeria’s population are youths between the ages of 16 and 45 years. These people are considered the strength of a nation. The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) released a report recently which revealed damning figures regarding the rate of unemployment in Nigeria. The report indicated that:
“In Q1 2016, the labour force population (i.e. those within the working age population willing, able and actively looking for work) increased to 78.4 million from 76.9million in Q4 2015, representing an increase in the labour force by 1.99%. This means an additional 1,528,647 economically active persons within 15-64 entered the labour force i.e. were able and willing and actively looking for work between January 1 and March 31 2016.”
With this report we do not need a soothsayer to tell us that extreme poverty is imminent and danger is looming, just like former President Olusegun Okikiola Obasanjo described it, “Nigeria is sitting on a keg of gun powder waiting to explode”. We are already experiencing the effects of poverty in our country. The youth now get involved in terrorism in North, Kidnapping and vandalism in South, all in a bid to survive untold hardship.
This is no longer time for rhetorical statements as far as fighting poverty is concerned. The country needs to pragmatically increase its capacity in eradicating poverty if it must experience peace, economic growth and progress. Several administrations paid lip service to fighting poverty among the youth and women with introduction of several programmes, from the military regime to the democratic era. All of these programmes and/or policies do not outlive the government that initiates them.
It has been noted by many experts that for any country to achieve significant progress in fighting poverty, it must maintain its policies and/or programmes for a minimum of 20 years. Unfortunately the reverse is the case in our country where the maximum lifespan of any policy meant to fight poverty is the lifespan of the administration that launched it. I will like to quote the common sense Senator who said: “Government should be a continuum. Nations would progress faster if one government continued where the other stopped rather than fight its predecessor”. If we truly want to eradicate poverty I believe the time is now. We must pay attention to the following as quickly as possible and pragmatically too.
RESTRUCTURING OF NATIONAL YOUTH SERVICE CORP (NYSC): the NYSC scheme should be redesigned to become a full-fledged post graduate training programme for youths in their areas of specialization. This I believe will give them the required soft and hard skills needed to be employable. Also, we must incorporate technical and vocational training for young people in a bid to bridge the gap of deficient skilled manpower in the industrial sector. This will put a stop to the importation of expatriates which has led to the growing population of unemployed youths.
ESTABLISHMENT OF COMMERCIAL AND MECHANISED FARM VILLAGES IN EACH SENATORIAL DISTRICT: several governments paid lip services to diversifying the country’s economy through agriculture. From Operation Feed the Nation (OFN) by the regime of General Olusegun Obasanjo to the Agricultural Transformation Agenda (ATA) of Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, nothing significant has been achieved in this sector.
The agricultural sector has the largest potential to diversify the economy, create jobs, secure food supply, lower inflation and expand foreign exchange earnings for the country, with over 84 million hectares of arable land.
If the government can establish a commercial and mechanised farm village in each senatorial district across the country, that will give us 109 farm villages with capacity to handle crop and animal production at a large scale. Each of the farm villages will focus on agricultural practices that best suit the soil and climatic condition of that region. They should be provided with the required seedlings, breeds and technical support. If each farm village in each senatorial district can engage the services of 1000 youths, that will give us a total of 109,000 youths that are gainfully employed in direct farming alone. The number of people that will be involved in the processing of these farm outputs and other value addition services will equally stem the tide of youth unemployment significantly.
ESTABLISHMENT OF INDUSTRIAL CLUSTER ZONES: it is a known fact globally that small and medium scale enterprises control the economic growth and development of a country. The small scale business sector in Nigeria is faced with numerous challenges ranging from unstable power supply, poor access to finance and unfavourable policies that give credence to imported products over those manufactured locally.
Of all the challenges that are facing the small scale business sector in Nigeria, the dearth of modern machines for production has impeded the growth of the sector over time. This situation has equally affected the quality of the products churned out by players in this sector. This affects the decision of buyers who inevitably favour imported products over locally made ones.
It is high time government provided industrial machines needed for production of critical consumables we hitherto import, and also for the processing of agricultural products that we can subsequently export. The establishment of at least 3 major industrial clusters in each senatorial district to produce and process agricultural products, foot wares, clothing, and mineral resources will go a long way in making our outputs exportable and also bring in foreign exchange. This will equally reduce our dependence on foreign goods, create employment for thousands of youths and bolster the economy of the country.
SUPPORT FOR SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY AND INNOVATION: science, technology and innovation are important vehicles for achieving sustained growth and national development. Nations achieve industrialization through the use of applied technology, research and development as well as innovation. Developed nations know the importance of this knowledge based sector as a means of contributing to the growth of their economies and providing massive employment.
The value of technological giants like Apple and Microsoft in the American economy cannot be over emphasized. It will not be out of place to say their value surpasses the whole Nigeria’s economy.
Government should support this sector by providing the required support in terms of space, funding, copyright laws, and infrastructure needed for its growth. Once these things are put in place, the sector will be able to locally fabricate machines needed for small and medium scale businesses. It will also be able to develop necessary software that can cater to the ICT needs of the country. We should take a cue from China’s Alibaba that bridges the gap in the trade, service and social sector of the Chinese economy.
The future of any country lies in the judicious and appropriate use of its labour force if it must achieve any serious economic development, peace and stability. Unless poverty is reduced to the barest minimum, all of governments’ effort aimed at curtailing all the attendant consequences of extreme poverty will be futile and ultimately culminate into a failed state.