The traumatised Nigerian youths By Sheriffdeen Tella
There has been serious concern all over the world about growing youth unemployment, particularly in emerging and developing economies. Youth unemployment in many developed countries can be attributed to slow growth in the economies and more importantly massive deployment of automated machines at the expense of labour. The discourse on the long run negative effects of automation on employment had been on the front burner by socialist and structuralist economists since the early 1970s and now the long run is here! A more compelling scenario presently is the case of developing economies with less automation in production, rapid economic growth and growing unemployment, which is referred to as jobless growth. But, what is important here is the way the unemployment saga has turned Nigerian youths into punching bags.
The other day, I saw a young man riding a tricycle arguing with a traffic warden around Ikeja, Lagos and I asked my driver to enter a nearby mini-shopping mall and park so as to be able to intervene because the young man resembled someone I had had contact with. As I approached, the young man recognised and greeted me with a familiar tone. The traffic warden held his trouser with the belt and was about dragging him when I intervened, introducing myself and told him I was interested in the case of the young man. The traffic warden said I could be charged with blocking him from carrying out his lawful duty. I had to quickly think and told him that my lawyer will handle that. The traffic warden loosened his grip and asked me to warn my boy to behave well in the traffic. The young man introduced himself as one of my former students in the university who lost his job in a bank because he could not meet some given targets and had to resort to riding a tricycle to make ends meet! When asked what value he has added to his degree, he told me he has chartered. A professional riding Keke Marwa! Listening to his case with the traffic warden, it became clear the latter just wanted to exploit him.
Another encounter with a dishevelled youth was in the hold-up on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway. I am fond of buying and chewing coconut biscuit and always look out for the hawkers in the now common hold-ups on the road but I decided to buy plantain chips this particular day because I was very hungry. The hawker needed to look for change and he told me in impeccable English that he would find change and return. We had already spent over two hours and not sure of when the road would clear, so I just told him I would buy from someone else if he delayed. However, I was interested in him, decided to wait and alighted when I saw him coming. I asked him about his background because I noticed he was articulate. He said he studied Business Administration in a university in the eastern part of the country and had been in business of hawking for almost two years, after arriving Lagos without employment. He was neither on full or contract employment with the outfit making the plantain chips but just a casual labour. He said he intended to set up such a business if he could get financial assistance because he could not save from the N15, 000 he earns at the end of every month. He confessed that though the money was not enough but it was better than sitting at home or going into armed robbery. I advised him to check the SURE-P site on the internet for plausible assistance but he had never heard of that word. I had to write down how he can get the SURE-P site through Google. The SURE-P needs more advertisement and enlightenment.
These are just two of the many cases that our youths have been subjected to but there are lots of lessons to learn from these. The banks are fond of employing graduate youths as casual or contract staff, particularly females. They throw them into the streets to look for funds and set difficult-to-attain targets for them. They dispense with their services at will, with no job security anymore. Recently, one bank sent ladies to markets to canvas opening of accounts with N500! No doubt, the ladies so employed to look for funds have to engage in all sorts of tricks and actual subjugation to retain their jobs. For males, if they are married, they have to use their wives to assist in lobbying for funds but single, should consider themselves still in unemployment market as they would not stand a long-term chance. The situation is so bad in banks now that one can hardly find fully engaged staff. Most of the youths are on contract or casual employment and their employment can be terminated at will. Is there no tradition? Are there no labour unions and non-governmental organisations on labour matters to fight this abnormality?
The government at all levels is not excluded in the exploitation of youths. Some state governments shamelessly employ graduates as gardeners and street sweepers on a casual labour basis in the name of employment generation. The “workers” are paid peanuts as salaries and sometimes tax is deducted as if the country does not have minimum taxable wage. In some other cases, governments or their agents advertise jobs and ask applicants to pay non-refundable amounts for forms and examinations to be conducted. Thousands will apply with millions of naira realised for jobs that will not be available in the next six months if they come at all for majority of the applicants.
The private sector is also not left out of the deceit. Deliberately, it looks for graduates for menial jobs because it believes such employees require little guidance to do their work. This is particularly true of those new foreign firms that are springing up in major cities. There are also some holiday business outfits and foreign property vendors who send ladies around airports and shopping malls to solicit for customers. The remuneration depends on how many customers they are able to convince to appear in the office. I have been so approached, particularly at the airport, by these young ladies with good manners and good qualifications to help them by appearing so that they could be paid the daily stipend. Unfortunately, I am quite reserved to be used as a pawn in a business that I consider disparaging. I have not been quite useful in most cases except one where the lady burst into tears because it was late and she had yet to get a single customer!
It is difficult to create jobs in an environment that supports, facilitates and encourages corruption and impunity. And that is the level we are now. As an aftermath of the global economic meltdown, the Federal Government provided funds for intervention in some sectors of the economy with the hope that such sectors would get out of their problems and provide jobs. Has there been an evaluation of the intervention? Did the funds get to their targeted destination? If they did, what has been the outcome in terms of business survival, job creation and income generation? There has not been a published assessment of the intervention funds and there is the need for such. This is because if such an intervention had worked, some jobs would have been created. For example, Air Nigeria was reported to have been part of the beneficiaries of the intervention but the airline is still grounded and so no job was created therefrom. The same goes with some textile firms in the north. No one asks questions on such interventions as it was done in other countries that did the same. Instead of creating jobs, they created additional pockets of kleptocratic billionaires with the corollary of creating more people living in penury.
All international economic and social indices show that Nigeria is going down and the response from government has been to condemn such reports instead of verifying and finding solutions. Of course, those who live in affluence do not know that other people suffer. They hardly see those who scavenge from the dustbins.
Sadly, the legislators have accumulated so much naira and foreign currencies that all they think about now is to open foreign currency account. This is a new world where your ordinary ATM visa card or master card can be used to collected money anywhere in the world, as long as you have enough naira in the account. So, opening foreign account is meaningless. That is why foreigners do not care to open account here since they can use their ATM cards for transactions when in Nigeria.
A country that cannot create job for its youth plays with social chaos as is now the case in Nigeria. Those youths who refused to go to school or truncated their education at lower levels are now mocking those who attended tertiary institutions and thereafter roaming the streets in search of elusive jobs. Records show that Nigeria has the highest number of illiterate youths, highest number of school drop-outs and highest number of jobless youths in Africa and the world. What a shame!
•Tella, Ph.D. is a Professor of Economics, Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago-Iwoye, +2348033190791; email@example.com
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