Database for unemployed Nigerians

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Labour and Productivity minister Chief Emeka Wogu, recently disclosed that the Federal Government intends to build a database on all unemployed persons principally to check unemployment and to provide a tool for helping to provide jobs for Nigerians. Desirable as this may be, since the availability of a database can facilitate the governance process, we may be dealing nonetheless with a case of misplaced priority. There are many jobless persons on Nigerian streets - educated, willing to work, but there are either no jobs or the persons themselves are unemployable. The unemployment gap is a function of the general failure of leadership at all levels in the country.

The newly appointed minister is free to show enthusiasm in his new job. However, we suggest that government appointees, who have little or no time at their disposal to perform in response to the yearnings of the populace, should come up with more pragmatic solutions rather than woolly, rhetorical suggestions.

The minister has to look beyond the building of a database, which cannot be a solution in the short term, to the acute and worsening unemployment situation in the country. A holistic approach involving all relevant departments and agencies of government in consultation with other stakeholders such as Labour, the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), the Nigeria Employers Consultative Council (NECA) and others is required, backed by necessary political will.
Fair enough, the government is keen on developing a database that would have the statistics of the unemployed-skilled and unskilled, graduate and non-graduates. Wogu had argued that when in place, the data would be accessible to anyone, followed by job placements for interested groups requiring certain categories of manpower.

A fresh data collation project is likely to take months of painstaking effort and cannot be a stand-alone solution to the unemployment crisis. In typical Nigerian fashion, the project may face the risk of abandonment once the original promoters are no longer in office. The question then is: will millions of hungry, unemployed youths estimated at about eighty percent of the population wait till the database is produced?

The jobs are not only unavailable, there has also been no conscious effort by successive governments to ameliorate the people's pain. The country's leaders at all levels have also not done enough to promote entrepreneurial activities to boost self-employment. Half-hearted efforts in that direction in the past were sabotaged by the greed and corruption of state officials.
However, it is also a fact that for a while, the Labour and Productivity Ministry has not been in the bracket of high receivers of allocation in the budget to promote job creation. But the Ministry is equally guilty of doing little to promote employment-generating initiatives.

Employers of labour in the private sector have also been seriously hamstrung by unfriendly economic policies which discourage entrepreneurship. Financial institutions trapped in the throes of crisis have also been unhelpful. The government needs to take a critical look at these interrelated challenges.
Government should also be concerned about the increasing skills-deficit in the country represented by the large population of unemployable college graduates. The collapse of standards in the Nigerian education system is well-known: it is a tragic fact that should be addressed. Besides, there is no proper linkage between the production of manpower and the labour market. This is a direct function of a failure of planning and vision.

Unemployment may be a global phenomenon, but other countries are constantly striving to address the issue. Nigeria must follow suit. The citizens are tired of a situation where a greater percentage wallows in poverty, or hordes of employable people roam the streets. This is an invitation to crime and anarchy.
More funds should be earmarked by government to facilitate jobs creation, managed by credible agencies hired for the purpose if need be. Once upon a time the jobs were almost guaranteed as long as an applicant registered at the Labour office which constantly reviewed its data and helped qualified persons to secure jobs. Regrettably, this is no longer the case.
Part of the measures to consider may include a revisit of the highly successful farm settlement project in the old Western region by encouraging and empowering graduates to take to agriculture. This proposition has the added advantage of a reversal of the uncontrolled rural-urban drift. All levels of government should be involved.

The country is also ripe for a complete overhaul of the curriculum in tertiary institutions to emphasise skills acquisition through mandatory entrepreneurial studies that can equip the graduates to seek self-employment opportunities. It is delightful that a number of the institutions especially the private universities have started this but the trend is insignificant still. The present system only manages to produce graduates for white-collar jobs which are increasingly scarce.
As Workers' Day approaches, government should focus on the objective of transforming Nigeria into an economically stable society where the people are continuously empowered through open employment opportunities.


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