Towards the end of last year, American multinational conglomerate, General Electric, published the result of a research on the future of work in Africa. The document, Skills White Paper, made projections into the enormous potential within the clutch of the continent and what it needs to do to appropriate an opportunity that could make the region the beautiful bride of the second half of this century.
Titled, “Building strong workforces to power Africa’s growth,” the document, quoting the International Monetary Fund suggests that by 2025, sub-Saharan Africa will be home to 25 per cent of the global population of people aged 24 and younger. It submits that successfully providing jobs for this population “will directly raise per-capita income, due to the resulting decrease in the non-working population.”
And since working people typically save, there would be greater domestic savings providing money for investment which would aid immediate and future growth. The paper also notices that the gainful employment of this population will lead to a fall in fertility rates and impact on the participation of the female gender in the labour force, lower the number of children per family and free more money to spend on the education and health care needs of families.
The document is however generous in its honestly as it gives insights into the flipside of not managing this demographic dividend well. It says: “…without the requisite investments in skills development along with infrastructure and services, a growing proportion of youths could be left unemployed and with little hope for socio economic advancement. This could increase social tensions, undermining cohesion and stability.”
As Nigerian military forces routed elements of the Boko Haram terrorist group, which had held the northeastern part of the country hostage for about seven years killing close to 30,000 people of all ages, religions and tribes, a variety of similar insurgent and violent groups has emerged over the past couple of months.
We have the murderous Fulani herdsmen who at the last count would have snuffed life out of over 3,000 Nigerians from several parts of country without as much as one arrest effected.
In addition to killings, they have been accused of kidnappings as well raping women and girl-children. There is a perplexing audacity to the murderous activities of these herdsmen who take over rundown communities in what looks like an expansionist mission.
While agitators in the oil producing Niger Delta of the country cannot be readily accused of large scale assassination, kidnapping and sexual molestation like the herdsmen, they have dragged that part of the country into unimaginable tension and insecurity.
In addition to that, the incessant assaults of groups like the Niger Delta Avengers on national oil and gas installations have brought more strain on the country’s already dire economic situation, even as they have worsened power supply.
Although there have been reports of a rapprochement between government and the militants, there is yet no concrete deal that that would hopefully lead to the cessation of hostilities. That is worrisome as reports filter in that government may be considering military action on this front.
Such a military action had however been carried out against militants who had terrorised coastal communities in Ogun State and Lagos States over the past couple of weeks. Reports early in the week indicated that no fewer than 100 suspected militants were killed in a three-day aerial bombardment initiated by the military to flush out pipeline vandals and militants operating at Ishawo, in Ikorodu, and Igando areas of Lagos State, and Arepo, Wawa, Elepete, and Ibafo areas of Ogun State.
Aside from relentless vandalism and sabotage of oil installations, these militants are believed to perpetrate crimes including murder, kidnappings, rape, armed robbery and intimidation of residents in a wide range of areas within Lagos and Ogun states. The activities of these folks have turned many Nigerians into refugees in their own country such that the decision by government to flush them out of their hideouts would appear the most appropriate response in the circumstance.
But the questions to ask are whether military action solves the problem perpetually and how many such internal deployments our military forces can accomplish at any particular time especially as pockets of violence erupt from various parts of Nigeria serially.
One of such incident was reported by The PUNCH with the headline: “Teenagers invade Lagos streets, kill worshipper, loot shops on July 11, 2016.” The story informed that 50 hoodlums, mostly teenagers, invaded five streets on the Lagos Island, killing one man, maiming others and embarking on a looting spree in broad daylight. They were armed with daggers and machetes with which they wreaked havoc on anyone in sight.
There is a group called “One million boys” which terrorised several towns within Lagos State at the beginning of this year. Although law enforcements have largely clipped the wings of the marauding gang which went about injuring, raping and stealing with abandon, three members of the group were arrested earlier this week in the Ajangbadi area of the state.
The point is that unless we deal with the situation that breeds these young deviants, military actions would never solve the problem in a sustainable way. For instance, reports on Wednesday indicated that some of those who got out of the military onslaughts alive have started regrouping in Ondo State. We are merely treating the symptoms with these military actions.
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo put it succinctly when he gave audience to a delegation of the Economic Community of West African States recently by saying that West Africa sits on a keg of gunpowder with the level of youth unemployment in the sub-region.
And this is one of the points that I think Nigeria needs to urgently contemplate alongside, if not ahead of, military actions like the one under discussion. According to a 2012 survey of the National Bureau of Statistics, youths in the 15 to 35 age brackets were nearly 70 million of the 166 million Nigerians then. Fifty four per cent of this number of youths were unemployed as of August 2014. Hundreds of thousands of more youths would have joined the number in the past 24 months, what does a country expect when the majority of its most productive population have no jobs and practically nothing to hope for?
There is also the issue of young school leavers who are unable to gain admission into higher institutions while the nation offers no alternative for them.
Although Nigeria is said to have a total of 430 higher institutions with 520,000 admission spaces, as of 2013, 1,735,729 sought admission in that year alone. The implication is that about 1.2 million youths were unable to gain admission that year, a situation that has not improved in any significant measure till date. Nigeria is neither able to get most aspiring young ones into higher education postings nor provide employment for hundreds of thousands of those who graduate from institutions yearly. We therefore have a crowd of agile, restless but idle and angry youths on our hands.
My suggestion is that the country works towards providing more opportunities for its young ones to get educated. If children do not get formal placements, a serious country must provide alternatives for them. Serious attention also needs to be paid to providing gainful employment for the youths especially as the country is mouthing the diversification of its economy. What about exploiting the massive opportunities in agriculture, entertainment and sports? Nigeria must also deliberately re-orientate its youths discouraging the get-rich-quick-by-all-means mentality that has possessed the soul of our nation.