The reecho, last week, of the rising rate of unemployment in the country by the Minister of Labour and Productivity, Dr Chris Ngige, ought to rattle policy makers and other stakeholders in the Nigeria project. If left unchecked, the unemployment monster could lead to a conflagration capable of consuming the entire country.
Addressing newsmen in Enugu where he received an award from the College of Medicine, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, alongside other alumni, the minister said: “So, unemployment is growing into a big cankerworm. It is growing into a very vicious disease condition that has given rise to a lot of anti-social behaviour. And government is seriously worried because if we don’t confront unemployment head on with many measures which we are fashioning now, then the whole country will be consumed with social unrest.
“The symptoms are there. Boko Haram is a symptom of unemployment in Nigeria. IPOB is a symptom of unemployment and desperation and people getting frustrated. Same goes for banditry in the northwest. Same goes for kidnapping all over the country… All these are symptoms of very a serious underlying disease condition called unemployment.
“All arsenals, everything will be put into place so that we can fight unemployment. Otherwise, it will consume everybody. It will consume me and you, pressmen. It is already showing when you are on traffic and people are knocking on your car window to ask you to give them your phone. If you don’t give them, they will attack you. That is the big malaise.
“One day, they will stop people from eating in their houses. They will knock and say, bring your food and let us share it. We don’t want it to get to that. We have tried as a country. We were on the same pedestal with Venezuela. We were lucky President Muhammadu Buhari came in; if not, we will be on the same scale with Venezuela. We would have all dispersed into neighbouring countries.
“We would have had social unrest that would be internecine and by now, we would not have solved it. So, we are on with our thinking caps. We are bringing everything we have on the table to see how we do it.”
Ngige had earlier in May said that Nigeria unemployment rate will reach 33.5 per cent by 2020. The minister while declaring open a two-day workshop on “Breaking the Resilience of High Unemployment Rate in the Country”, in Abuja, said the incessant increase of unemployment in the country was alarming. According to him, the high unemployment rate of 23.1 per cent, and underemployment of 16.6 per cent by the National Bureau Statistics (NBS) of 2019 report was alarming.
“It is a worrisome status as the global poverty capital (World Bank, 2018); and concomitant high prevalence rate of crimes and criminality, including mass murders, insurgency, militancy, armed robbery, kidnappings and drug abuse, among others.
“As if this situation is not scary enough, it is projected that the unemployment rate for this country will reach 33.5 per cent by 2020, with consequences that are better imagined, if the trend is not urgently reversed.
“It is a thing of joy to note that Nigeria has not been resting on her oars over the years in terms of dedicated efforts to curb the unemployment problem,” he said.
Ngige said various government social intervention programmes targeted at reducing youth unemployment and eradicating poverty have been implemented by different administrations since Nigeria gained independence. The minister also said available records showed that from 1972 to date, about 14 different programmes have been implemented. He said these programmes included the National Accelerated Food Production Programme (NAFPP), implemented between 1972 and 1973.
He said others were the current National Social Investment Programme (NSIP) which has been ongoing since 2017, embedded in the National Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) 2017-2020. He noted that yet, the unemployment rate and poverty levels are on steady paths of growth, indicating high resilience against the intervention efforts. The minister wondered why some of the intervention efforts were not yielding expected results. What are government and other stakeholders not doing right? He said these are some of the questions that triggered new thoughts and concepts that led to series of activities that preceded the workshop.
Unemployment has been on the increase since the economic crisis in 2014, caused by the slump in oil prices. Although, it was expected that the return to economic growth in Q2 2017 following five consecutive quarters (Q1 2016-Q1 2017) of negative growth should provide an impetus to employment, the challenge has been that the growth in the economy has remained below the population growth. The GDP growth of 1.9 per cent recorded in full year 2018 remained below the population growth of 2.6 per cent.
It is regrettable that despite the plethora of programmes and policies put in place by the Buhari administration since its inception in 2015 towards resolving the unemployment crisis, rather than abate the situation keeps exacerbating. The government will, therefore, need to think outside the box in tackling the unemployment crisis, which has been identified as the chief cause of rising insecurity in the country.