President Goodluck Jonathan; top government officials and leaders of the private sector, on Tuesday 12th April, 2011, attended a presidential summit of job creation, organised by The National Economic Management Team (NEMT). The summit brainstormed on areas like small and growing business and entrepreneurship, vocational education and job centres; graduate employment and businesses process outsourcing, public work and local content development and innovation. Pessimists see the summit as the usual ploy by Nigerian politicians to get votes during election time, while optimists see it as good step in the right direction.
Whichever way one sees it, the truth is, widespread unemployment is the grease that smoothens the spread of abject poverty and insecurity in Nigeria. Indeed, the hallmark of poverty and crimes in Nigeria is the high level of unemployment among her active-age citizens. If Nigeria can tackle the high rate of unemployment in the country by creation of productive employment for its millions of unemployed citizens and those engaged in unproductive-manual jobs, doors to prosperity in the land will open.
Even in developed countries, unemployment rates may be high and availability of jobs also tends to fluctuate, creating periods of high joblessness. However, most stable and promising countries have systems in placed to cushion and tackle such situations. Nigeria being a country with high population, an unemployment level of only a few percentage means that millions of working-age people will be unemployed and unable to earn adequate income for a decent living. This should be an issue of great concern to the political leaders and managers of Nigeria’s economy, because, one of the basic ingredient in the reduction of crimes and attainment of sustainable general social order in any society, is the availability of jobs for majority of the working population- especially the youth.
The National Economic Management Team (NEMT), the organisers of the summit, should have it on their minds that various Nigerian governments have organised many summits; established quite a number of employment creation programmes, projects and policies, including the setting-up of the National Directorate of Employment and various states’ agencies. However, the unemployment rate in Nigeria is growing astronomically. The big question is- what went wrong? Two issues of course: The old notion among policy formulators and managers of Nigeria’s economy that unemployment is wage unemployment and that it is an urban phenomenon. Second to this is, the near failure of most of the employment and poverty eradication programmes to encourage the youth, rural dwellers and the poor to participate in and benefit from the process.
Nigeria needs to redesign her jobs and wealth creation programmes for better results. This will go a long way in increasing national output that will speed up and sustain economic growth, as well as, encourage the youth, private sector and the rural poor to be strong participants in the economy. Futhermore, there is need for the elimination of what experts call ‘disguised unemployment’- which prevails especially in the Nigerian agricultural sector.
The summit’s agenda, which include, small and growing business, entrepreneurship, vocational education and job centres; graduate employment and business process outsourcing, public work and local content development and innovation are excellent. However, there is need for these to be implemented in such a way that they encourage the youth, rural dwellers and the poor to participate in and benefit from the process, while also complementing them with lower taxes, reduction of interest rates as well as incentives to businesses.
One of the most important strategies to tackle unemployment is an agricultural entrepreneurship programme for youth. It is good news that the Federal Government is already looking at that direction. The Government should go into partnership with private sector to establish poultry, fisheries, dairy, snellnaries farms, plantations etc in various locations in the country. The pilot phase should start with youth corpers. They should be trained-on-the-job on how to manage farms. After passing-out from the NYSC scheme, the farms should be transferred to them for management as entrepreneurs. The scheme should work in such a way that local councils and state governments should provide lands and other logistics, the private sector provides the fund while the federal government stands as the guarantor of fund. This will be done through the issuance of either callable, par value or coupon rate bonds. The private investors or financial institutions who will participate in the scheme are not to give money directly to the governments in order to receive the bond-certificate, but it would be a kind of batter arrangement; where the investors- either financial institution or private individuals would setup farms, in addition to putting in place all structures required in a standard farms. After which a bond certificate equivalent to the cost, which is to be determine by both parties and experts will be issued to them. The youths, to whom the farms are to be transferred, should gradually refund the monies back to the government; so as to make the scheme a revolving one, as well as to eliminate any form of mismanagement or corruption.
The summit also discussed Ideas Development as a way to create employment for Nigerians i.e. the well known concept of: Innovate, create, invent and invest. Though experts say it is the most difficult but the most effective way to create long-term employment. Nigeria churns out thousands of graduates- engineers, computers programmers, architects, operations researchers, chemists, designers etc yearly. The Nigerian government should establish additional innovation and invention centers across the country and in universities. The centers should work in such a way that, graduates with technical skills and entrepreneurship passion, will have access to facilities and environment that support thinking for invention and innovation. The Raw Material Research and Development Agency, National Technology Incubation Centre, Small and Medium Enterprise Development Agency of Nigeria [SMEDAN], National Office for Technology Acquisition and Promotion as well as Bank of Industries will play a vital role in such a scheme. Moreover, private investors can also be major participants, as they can play the role of fund providers for any invention or innovation that has market potentials. With this kind of scheme, it is possible to see new industries surface; the economy gradually grow and lots of good paying jobs created.
The setting-up of small scale industries is also a good way to create jobs. This can be done through systemic as well as systematic approach- i.e. steer resources into the productive process as well as tied it to the aforementioned two ways to create employment- agricultures and ideas development. Goods produced from the farms and the technologies developed from the R&D centres will serve as raw materials for the industries. The Nigerian markets are overflowing with imported products, such as razor blades, pine needles, envelopes, keys and padlocks, cotton buds, toys, shoelaces, safety matches, umbrellas, doormats, office square clips, treasury tags, table flags, carpets. Though, no country is free from imported products. However, most of these items are produced from agricultural produce and simple technologies developed by graduates and under-graduates and manufactured by small industries owned and run by a family of two or three in Shanghai, Taipei, Manila or Bombay. These small industries can be powered and run by solar panels or small wind turbines. Nigeria has the resources and human capital to develop such small industries.
The waste to wealth programme has been a much talked about issue in Nigeria. However, no concentrated government effort has been put in place for Nigeria to take advantage of the enormous wastes the country generates. The waste to wealth approach is another way to create productive employment for Nigeria. This can be tied to small scale industries development. All the three tiers of government should establish or support private efforts in wastes processing centres for plastics, scrap steel, paper, organic waste etc.
Another way to create more jobs and wealth for Nigerians is through the strengthening and supporting the already existing industries, which were developed outside any formal support. These include sport, music, art, fashion design and the movie industries. Nigerian government can use these industries to create jobs and generate wealth, by hunting for top quality talented Nigerians, provide them with world–class training through assisting private entrepreneurs to establish well-equipped recording studios, sport development enterprises and remove every obstacle that hampers the flourishing of these industries. The federal government recent 200 million dollar entertainment industry intervention funds, as well as CBN’s aggressive support to private businesses are good steps.
The electricity sector reform is ongoing. However, the government is not talking about a very important aspect of it- how common Nigerians can be major players in the industry. PHCN still sells electricity credit voucher directly to consumers. A system similar to the telecommunication industry should be established, so that ordinary Nigerians can start selling PHCN electricity vouchers to consumers. This will create more jobs as well as ease the purchase of the electricity credit vouchers
No employment and wealth creation programmes or project can succeed without adequate funding; availability of efficient and reliable electricity, as well as good planning. Nigeria is not a super-rich nation and is also facing a daunting electricity crisis. Does that mean the country has to wait until it solves these problems before embarking on a workable job creation project? Certainly, no. Funding can be sourced through public-private partnership. Governments at all levels can also offer big establishments tax incentives- Tax relief for jobs – government should grant tax relief for businesses in return for the employment and support to individuals in the area of research and ideas development. Another way to source for funds includes an aggressive drive in getting lottery taxes paid- because lottery is now a huge business in Nigeria. For instance, most of the telecom operators are big lottery players- so the government can get substantial funds if every lottery player pays the right tax. The proposed investment of the unclaimed shares’ dividend is another way to generate funds for such a scheme. Lastly, another way to generate fund is via states’ partnership – where two or three states come together contribute funds monthly, bi-monthly or tri-monthly to fund any of the suggested ways to create employment. This should go round each of the contributing state within the chosen period.
Apart from the issues of funding and poor infrastructure; adhoc planning has been a major factor that contributes to failure of most efforts by government to tackle the high rate of unemployment in Nigeria. The activities of job and wealth creation agencies of government should be streamlined in such a way that each agency will focus on a specific field or medium of job creation. For example, NAPEP should concentrate on supporting artisans to develop and improve their skills; SMEDEN should concentrate on job creation via small scales industries; National Office for Technology Acquisition and Promotion via ideas development, NDE on job creation through agriculture; while the NYSC should be revitalized to also function as graduates’ job creation agency etc. This writer elaborated on how the NYSC can be galvanized to play such role in a piece published in the Thisday of March 10, 2009, Page 18 and the Daily Trust of Feb 26, 2009, Page 12.
The Presidential Summit on Job Creation recommendations should be a Nigerian project- it should be a true reflection of its theme- Putting Nigerians to Work For Nigeria. It implementation should be productive and beneficial to the Nigeria society for years to come. This will assure both pessimists and optimist that it is a clear leap forward for job creation- especially for the youth.
Zayyad I. Muhammad writes from Jimeta, Adamawa State, email@example.com, 08036070980.