Lately, President Muhammadu Buhari has been in the eye of the storm over his excoriation of Nigerian youths, describing them as lazy bones. Buhari’s anger was vented on the youths in faraway London where he addressed the Commonwealth Business Forum. According to Mr. President, their laziness is borne out of the belief that Nigeria is stupendously rich with oil (money)… so much so that over 60 per cent of them loaf around expecting the government to be doling out free lunch, free healthcare and free housing.
While many have traduced the president for being unfairly hard on the youths who contributed immensely to his electoral victory in 2015, others have argued that he was not totally wrong in his assessment.
The dust raised by his umbrage reminds me of the encounter that five blind men had with the proverbial elephant:
The first one that felt the tail exclaimed that he had been lied to all his life. In his own assessment, the hugest creature in the animal kingdom is as thin as a viper.
The second one that touched the ears said he had been deceived into believing that the elephant is the biggest of the mammals. In his own evaluation, the elephant is like banana leaf.
The third blind man almost screamed his lungs out upon feeling the body of the animal, describing it as massive as the Zuma or Olumo Rock.
The fourth blind man disagreed with his fellow blind man upon encountering the legs of the animal. In his own estimation, the elephant is like Iroko tree.
Finally, the fifth one that encountered the proboscis backpedalled in fright, claiming that he had been deceived into coming in contact with a python!
In other words, we are all like the proverbial blind men who see our youths from different prisms. From my own perspective, 60 per cent of our youths cannot be classified as loafers. They want to work but the jobs are not just there. The remaining 40 per cent take to criminalities because they don’t want to sit idle. So, they make themselves available to the devil to use in his workshop.
Proofs of Nigerian youths’ desire to work abound. The illiterate water vendors who push their carts around the neighbourhoods selling the commodity because the public water system has collapsed cannot be passed as lazy bones. The human waste disposers who fill in the gaps created by the absence of neighbourhood incinerators or waste disposal facilities cannot be said to be lazy. So also are the itinerant nail cutters, local barbers, shoe shiners, tailors, etc, that pound the ground in the sun or in the rain eking out income.
The situation of the educated youths who are jobless is more pathetic. This is so worrisome to the extent that there are more than 50,000 applicants to one vacancy whenever an advertisement is placed for jobs. It would not be an exaggeration to say that if I advertise for the services of a driver, a cook, guard, gateman, name it, I might have to hire the National Stadium, Abuja, to accommodate those who will respond for oral interview!
Nigeria churns out hundreds of thousands of graduates annually but the job openings are not there. The economic environment is too harsh for business to grow. With the collapse of the power sector since the coming of democratic rule in 1999, the manufacturing sector, the largest employer of labour, went under. Those that refused to go under like Dunlop and Michelin fled to neighbouring countries like the Republic of Benin, Ghana and Burkina Faso where electricity is as assured as the sunshine. No thanks to systemic corruption. For instance, the Obasanjo administration sank a whopping $16bn into the power sector over a period of eight years. At the end of his tenure, he bequeathed less than 3,000 megawatts of electricity to a nation of over 160m Nigerians to grapple with. That quantum of electricity is what the Heathrow International Airport in London alone consumes.
Once in this country, 250 textile mills had their machines roaring, spinning yarns and weaving fabrics. As lack of electricity bared its fangs, the mills started dying one after the other. In less than a decade, more than 250,000 textile workers were hauled into the shark-infested unemployment pool. That was besides several millions of indirect jobs like cotton farmers, those working in the ginneries across the nation and those selling their finished products.
The situation was so horrible that Obasanjo’s successor, the late Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, had to declare a state of emergency in the power sector. But he was so bogged down by health challenges to realise his vision and eventually died with the dream. Electricity is the livewire of a nation’s economy. With constant power supply, businesses would thrive. Government alone cannot provide jobs. The best it can do is to create a conducive environment for local and foreign investments to blossom.
Speaking recently at the summit to rescue the Lake Chad, the same Buhari had declared that our youths have embraced terrorism for lack of jobs. The booming unemployment market is a veritable recruitment ground for criminal warlords. It is the main reason why armed banditry, kidnapping, cattle rustling and allied crimes have become a big industry in recent years. The truth is that all rational human beings are programmed to embrace any means of survival, legitimate or otherwise.
Clearly, unemployment rate has more than quadrupled especially since the return of democratic rule. All the talks about job creation have not in the least helped the polity. Indeed, in many government establishments, an age-long embargo on employment is still the official policy. A few ones from privileged backgrounds get jobs through the “back door”. They are the kids of the affluent who get jobs for which they never attend interviews. They are mailed their appointment letters at home and given VIP treatment when they resume work. Such privileged people don’t ever work hard or take their jobs seriously.
It is also commonplace to find job seekers attend aptitude tests only to discover that those who did not show up for the exercise at all get the jobs. It is this kind of injustice that drives many into criminality.
Nigerian youths are ever willing to work. It bears repeating here that government at all levels should create the enabling environment through provision of basic amenities tailored at encouraging Nigerian youths to be self-employed. Globally, many societies are moving away from government jobs. Finally, the government needs to find ways of gingering our youths to translate their innate talents to job creation. Here, I am not breathing the same air with our young ladies who, for lack of jobs, choose to work under men as commercial sex workers, using their God-given endowment.