The Horizon by Kayode Komolafe. Email: Kayode.Komolafe@thisdaylive.com
It is no news anymore that without any regard to the mood of the people politicians have prematurely put the 2015 presidential election on the national agenda. This is not a politically decent thing to do. But then how many politicians care about the sensibilities of the people? The irony of the current politics is that the issues confronting the people in their daily lives seem not to be central to all the political permutations. The focus is more on politics than the economy, which is the substructure that will ultimately determine what happens to the political superstructure for which the gladiators are scheming. Yet, the issues are there glaringly on the streets.
For instance, the job queues are a prominent part of the national problem. Someone once put the matter starkly like this: “if you ask me to mention the three sets of issues of the economy, I will say they are jobs, jobs and jobs”! In the seemingly helpless situation, if the people cannot make the politicians to respect the electoral time-table that the Independent Electoral Commission will come with at a later date, the people should not be weary of reminding the politicians of the issues.
So, those warming up to 2015 should not just be concerned about the geo-political origin or the religion of who should contest the presidential election, they should be thinking about the policy alternatives that would lead to job creation. Political parties ought to be debating the economy with jobs on the agenda. In the crisis of the People’s Democratic Party, divergent perspectives on job-creation have never been part of the dispute.
The news from the opposition parties striving to merge has not been about some great ideas on how to turn the economy round and create jobs. Indeed, no political party (registered or unregistered) has demonstrated any passion about finding solution to the problem of unemployment even at the level of ideas. There should be a more vigorous and enlightened discussion of the economy. An economic management regime in which 80% of the budget goes into recurrent expenditure with little left for capital projects is inimical to job-creation and poverty reduction. Expenditures devoted to the development of infrastructure, for example, could help in job-creation.
The scourge of joblessness ravaging this land is not only a socio-economic issue; it is also a moral question. The youths are the worst hit. Young men and women remain jobless for years after graduation. Members of a generation are having the most productive part of their lives wasted on job queues. The miserable job market has become the incubation for members of an angry generation who see no hope and fulfillment on the horizon. The consequences are already manifesting in insecurity, crimes and social disorientation. The dangers are not only perceived by critics alone. Two years ago, President Goodluck Jonathan and former President Olusegun Obasanjo warned against the socio-political consequences of youth unemployment at different fora.
The centrality of jobs to a successful economic management is indeed an age-long question. Our present economic managers are actually facing an old socio-economic challenge. As Karl Marx put it in his famous critique of unemployment as a feature of capitalism, “after all what is life but activity?”.
Jobs are not only meant to give the young men and women means of livelihood, being employed is a source of moral fulfillment, a feeling of being useful to oneself and the society. In articulating the job content of his New Deal, the 32nd American president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, put the matter poignantly: “No country, however rich, can afford the waste of its human resources. Demoralisation caused by vast unemployment is our greatest extravagance. Morally, it is the greatest menace to our social order”. What Roosevelt said about America in the 1930s is certainly true of Nigeria today.
In the second quarter of this year, the Statistician-General of the National Bureau of Statistics, Dr. Yemi Kale, put the current rate of unemployment in Nigeria at 23.9%. Translating the figures to human terms, the official job picture should be frightening for those thinking about the health of the social order. Kale disputed the views that the much advertised growth rate is a jobless one. According to the statistician, it is “ wrong to say that things are not improving. Things are improving, jobs have been created, but the challenge is how can we increase the number of these jobs to balance out”.
What Kale did not add is that elsewhere creating jobs is at the centre of politics and policy debate. Job figures have consequences for elections in advanced liberal democracies. It is important stressing the implications of the attitude of those in power and their technocrats to the job question. This is because experts such as Kale are so fixated with the accuracy of their figures that they sometimes lose sight of the human dimension of the problem. Earlier this year, even the World Bank observed that the growth in the economy has not resulted in significant poverty reduction and job creation.
As this reporter once pointed out on this page with an anecdote in the discussion of the job question, this play with figures and technicalities is at variance with the public perception of unemployment.
The anecdote being recalled here was, in fact, reported by a former Chairman of the United States Federal Reserve Bank, Alan Greenspan, in his memoirs entitled “The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New World”. According to Greenspan, during the presidential campaigns in 1980, Ronald Reagan as the republican candidate accused the then incumbent democrat, Jimmy Carter, of mismanaging the American economy to the point of a “depression”. The economic experts (including Greenspan), who advised Reagan, were worried about the technical connotations of their candidate’s statement. Their professional colleagues on the other side would readily laugh at the seeming economic illiteracy of their candidate. So they took time to explain to Reagan that what American was experiencing then was only a “recession” and that a depression would be a more calamitous affair in the economic sphere.
The experts were satisfied that the candidate had got a good grasp of the technical distinction between a recession and a depression. However, when Reagan got the opportunity to show his mastery of the issue he did not fail to impress his audience. He simply approached the matter in his inimitable Reaganite style: “A recession is when your neighbour loses his job. A depression is when you lose yours. And a recovery is when Jimmy carter loses his”. Reagan’s statement instantly became a one liner. Newspapers quoted him widely. Beyond wit, Reagan was attempting to humanise economic debates.
What he did was actually a demystification of technicalities. Sometimes, experts become so engrossed with their fanciful play with statistics and graphs that they appear to forget that the issue is first about human beings. In fact, in Nigeria today if you put the unemployment rate at 90% to a young man who has been jobless for five years after graduation; he would not say it is an exaggeration. The poor and jobless have no patience for technical finesse in discussing this serious problem.
The job rate is central to the assessment of the performance of a government in power. For instance, President Barrack Obama is currently making speeches across cities the United States of America to mobilise his countrymen and women around his job policy. Here lies the difference. In the rhetoric of our politicians and policymakers, you hardly decipher the seriousness of the problem of unemployment.
It should be acknowledged that the federal government set up in 2010 a high-profile committee on job-creation. The committee headed by industrialist Aliko Dangote came up with its report replete with practical recommendations. It is worth reminding governments at all levels that prior to the report of the Dangote committee, there was an earlier one put together by the World Bank experts entitled “Putting Nigeria to Work: A Strategy for Employment and Growth”. Issues of productivity, skills, access to finance and infrastructure gap are also well discussed in the World Bank report. There are other studies on Nigeria by the International Labour Organisation and other bodies. You may say the problem is not lack of reports; the issue is how much of the harvest ideas are found useful in policy-making.
The recommendations made by the Dangote Committee are coupled with the strategy of implementation. The committee even suggested practical initiatives that could be taken by both the public and private sectors to achieve the goal of massive job creation. The initiatives are suggested in sectors such as agriculture, entrepreneurship, education, health, entertainment, sports etc. The committee drew lessons from the examples of other countries that are at different levels of development. Some of the countries are South Africa, Chile, Indonesia, United States, Germany, China and Norway.
In a way, it is particularly instructive that the committee singles out Brazil as an example in the conclusion of the report. The committee made a comparison: “We can be inspired by the economic transformation of Brazil especially as there are key similarities between Nigeria and Brazil namely oil and gas production, large tracts of arable land, a large population…”
For Brazil the turning point came 11 years ago with the election of a former labour leader, President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. By the time he handed over to his successor, President Dilma Rousseff, there was a global acknowledgement, from left, right and centre, that a qualitative improvement had been recorded in the lives of people who were poor and jobless before he won election. About 44 million people were moved above poverty line and a 29 million-strong middle class was created.
Little surprise that Lula was quoted as having said that Brazil has recorded “one of the lowest unemployment rates in the history of humanity.” His economic management was focused on jobs, jobs and jobs. No doubt, the Brazilian example is inspiring. It, of course, required a Lula to bring about the transformation.
What makes the Brazilian example attractive is that a good mix of policies in the eight years of Lula was the basis of the success story. While in power, Lula played the politics of poverty reduction. His eyes were on job-creation. That is the sort of politics that Jonathan and those squaring up to him for power should be playing now in the interest of the people.