COVID-19 And 39 Million Jobs


Government must do more to revive the ailing economy

For many Nigerians, it may be increasingly difficult to live the good life. As bad and frustrating as the unemployment situation may seem, it will most likely get worse. And so will the standard of living for millions of our people. Last week, a leading humanitarian organisation, the World Food Programme (WFP), said the Covid-19 pandemic could lead to the loss of about 13 million jobs in Nigeria in the next six months. Vice President Yemi Osinbajo painted a scarier picture while presenting the report of the Economic Sustainability Plan recently. He said about 39.4 million Nigerians – almost the combined population of Ghana and Senegal – may be jobless by the end of the year because of the pandemic.

But it is not as if the unemployment numbers are just becoming critical for the first time. Majority of unemployed Africans are resident in Nigeria. Long before the pandemic, the situation was already frightening. Indeed, many of our young graduates have for years been condemned to the market that has no job for them. In the third quarter of 2018, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) put the figure of unemployed Nigerians at more than 23 per cent, a figure contested by many as not reflective of how bad the situation was. The population of unemployed youth was put at about 60 per cent.

While there are few worse things than for a country to keep its youthful population idle, the Covid-19 pandemic has simply aggravated the crisis, reportedly raising the number of the unemployed to more than 40 per cent. According to the Osinbajo committee, the severity of the situation would depend on the length of the lockdown and strength of the country’s economic response. That is a rather bleak picture to paint.

The reasons for the present situation are not farfetched. The Covid-19 pandemic has shut down the world’s economy, Nigeria’s inclusive. For almost four months now, the invisible virus has crippled governments, businesses, and restricted movements across the world. It has shutdown airlines, railways, malls, restaurants, schools, almost everything in a bid to control the spread of the deadly virus. Many companies had no choice but to throw out their employees into the job market, and thus further worsening the unemployment situation. The informal sector which constitutes a large part of the economy is largely idle. For Nigeria which is almost entirely dependent on oil for foreign exchange, the slash in oil prices as a result of little demand has a massive deleterious toll on the economy, necessitating a downward review of the country’s annual budget.

One of the ways to reignite the economy, and create jobs, according to the Osinbajo committee is hinged on President Muhammadu Buhari’s new mantra: produce what we eat and consume what we produce. “Nigeria and Nigerians can produce our food, build our houses and construct our roads, using local materials in all cases”, said the committee. “If we must import, it must be to support local production. We have, therefore, recommended that we must carry out mass programmes that create jobs and utilise local materials.” Besides, the committee also recommended a mass agricultural programme, expected to bring between 20,000 and 100,000 hectares of new farmland under cultivation in every state of the federation.

This has proved to be easier said than done. Over the years many have drummed the urgent need to diversify the economy. These have been thwarted by ineffective policy measures. Even if the present administration has done a bit more in the area of agriculture and transport infrastructure, it is still not worth crowing about. With the crisis we are in – from the debt burden to inadequate revenue to unemployment – governments at all level have no choice but to sit up. More than half the country’s population, by world’s parameters, are already living in extreme poverty. More will slip in due to the prevailing conditions. And unemployment, as we are already witnessing, breeds social, economic and security turbulence.
It is time to halt this dangerous slide.

Unemployment, as we are already witnessing, breeds social, economic and security turbulence