In line with the dictates of the Washington Consensus, which elevates the primacy of the private sector, there are those who frown at government interventions in areas like job creation. The dominant thinking in this school is that the role of the government is to provide the enabling environment for the private sector to thrive, then get out of the way to allow private concerns deliver the goods, including decent jobs. In the Nigerian context however, extant factors have ensured the private sector remains stunted, especially as it perpetually tries to navigate the realities of poor infrastructure, policy flip flops, among other constraints.
With no vibrant private sector to absorb young job seekers, the attention naturally turns to the government to come up with interventionist measures like youth employment and empowerment schemes. These interventions boost entrepreneurship and create livelihood opportunities. There is an element of self-preservation in ensuring that youths with all their energies and talents are positively engaged in productive activities. Apart from the reality of violent conflict, which lurks when a huge army of able bodied men and women idle away with nothing to do, there is the threat in terms of high crime wave and the attendant difficulties when a large portion of the potential workforce contributes nothing, but participates in the use of common resources. One enduring lesson to learn from problems like the Boko Haram uprising, and the skirmishes in the Niger Delta, is the need to productively engage young people, so that they are not used by agents of destabilisation.
Incidentally, the problem of youth unemployment has further accentuated in a period of biting recession, when the private sector struggles to cope with the new realities of the current economy. Accessing how Nigeria’s most populous state, Kano State is faring with such schemes, and its broad efforts at tackling unemployment was the focus of a recent parley hosted by the Resource Centre for Human Rights and Civic Education (CHRICED).
It was agreed that while the scope of the problem of youth unemployment has gone beyond what a magic bullet from a civic agency can solve, the deliberation pointed at approaches and best practices, which if faithfully implemented could ameliorate the situation. The question was therefore asked about how fair, transparent and inclusive youth employment and empowerment schemes in the state are. For CHRICED Executive Director, Comrade Dr. Ibrahim M. Zikirullahi, the current reality of youth unemployment in the country, amounts to a time bomb, which could go off at any moment. He stressed that Nigeria needs to immediately act like a country, which knows and understand that it is currently sitting on a time bomb, given the level of youth unemployment in the land.
The good governance advocate expressed the view that the most fundamental human resource quagmire facing Nigeria as a nation today is the question around what becomes of its mass of teeming unemployed youth. As things stand, he noted, millions have passed through the school system, only to be stuck in the labour market. This means the country is producing a generation of Nigerians that may never work in all the years of their existence.
On the way forward therefore, the Federal Government to declare a state of emergency on youth unemployment, and come up with radical measures to address the problem. One idea, which was mooted, involves putting at least N1billion in each of the 774 Local Government for the creation of an industry that would begin to absorb able bodied young men and women in those Local Governments. This it was agreed could begin the process of industrializing the country, while at the same time arresting the endless rural-urban drift that has made Nigeria’s big cities soaked with tension.
Participants however warned that there were dire consequences if nothing was done to address the high rate of joblessness among the youth. They noted that the fact that the Nigerian state now has to use its military might to confront its own young citizens who have been won into the camps of extremists and terrorists, should be enough warning.
According to the discussants, the terrorist sect, Boko Haram would not have had the hundreds of thousands of recruits it now uses to unleash terror on Nigerians, if education, skills and jobs were provided. The point was also made that other forms of criminal enterprise like the attacks on oil installations in the Niger Delta would not have been confronting the Nigerian state as it is currently.
Nonetheless, the conversation returned to how the state could ensure fair, transparent and inclusive distribution of employment and empowerment opportunities to the youth. In this regard, an advocacy document created by CHRICED titled the Draft Principles for Design and Implementation of Youth Employment and Empowerment Programmes in Kano State, was identified as a rich material, which contains the right approaches to adopt in designing and implementing such schemes. The principles espoused in the document include the legitimacy and accountability principles, which hold that resources allocated for youth employment and empowerment schemes are the public resources of the people of Kano, and that the state government and its officers hold such resources in trust for the people.
“The state government and these officers are under a political obligation to apply these resources and manage these programmes in a manner that serves the purpose of the people with the utmost effectiveness and efficiency. Arising from the foregoing, the government of Kano State and its officers responsible for these programmes are under a political obligation to render regular, transparent, and verifiable account to the people of the state on their management of these programmes and for their effectiveness in achieving their defined goals.”
Similarly, there is the programme management principles, as well as the distributive justice principles. All of these principles, if adopted by the state government, it was agreed would go a long way in making employment and empowerment schemes more democratic, transparent and result oriented. CHRICED through a Steering Committee it constituted, has been using the document to engage government in the state with the goal of ensuring these best practices rub off positively on the design and implementation of youth employment and empowerment programmes in Kano State. These efforts are part of the interventions by the civic group, with support from the Nigeria Stability and Reconciliation Programme (NSRP) to ensure government run empowerment schemes are fair, transparent and inclusive.
– Armsfree Ajanaku is a public affairs analyst