Joshua J. Omojuwa contends that Nigeria needs skilled population to maximise its wealth

It’s been quite some week. It was beautiful to witness another generation of Adeleke continue their tradition of marrying across the Niger at a #Chivido2024 wedding that clearly took the nation by storm. It was a representation of what could be possible in a truly prosperous and thriving Nigeria. Because in that room, everyone was united in their mission to marry Davido and Chioma. Whilst this piece is about Nigeria’s future prosperity, it will not be focused on arguments for how weddings could help unite a multilayered nation like ours.

Before my observational presence at #Chivido2024, I attended a book reading at the Landmark complex. The author of Vantage: My Life, Starting Out and Startups, Mr Olumide Soyombo spoke about building a cohort of skilled people able to meet the demands of the world, especially an aging Western world. He noted that Africa often came late to the party with most revolutionary technologies of our modern times. He said we for instance came late to the internet age and we were also quite behind on mobile. However, according to him, “with Artificial Intelligence (AI), the guy in Somolu and the guy in Silicon Valley can learn at the same time. And the guy in Somolu, possibly at a lower cost.

He went on to reference Nigeria’s population could rise as high as 400m by 2050 whilst letting the audience know that 2050 is as close to these times as 1999. That if we could remember 1999, then 2050 isn’t so far away. He is right. 1999 was 25 years ago, 2050 is about 50 years away. His personal quest got me in a reverie at that event. Even though I was seated at the Rovingheights bookshop, venue of his book reading session, I visually projected to the future.

The West is indeed aging. They aren’t replacing their population quick enough. In the European Union (EU), over 20 percent of their population is aged 65 years or more. Older folks will be nearly 33 per cent of their population by that all important year 2050. That’d also come with less than two working age people for every older folk. Amongst other implications, this already suggest future labour shortages. Even increasing the retirement age will not guarantee the sustainability of their productivity without sourcing a young working population from somewhere. The continued development of their economy will be dependent on sourcing for labour without which they’d have to face unpalatable consequences. They could of course look to increase their rate of reproduction, however, the behavioural change needed to drive that could prove too much to ask.

Japan is another case in point. About a decade ago, Japan relaxed its retirement age by making it possible for those above 60 who wished to work till they are 65 to do so. Whilst that made some labour available in the short run, it does not fix a much-deeper challenge. The percentage of the population aged 65 and above will continue to grow for the next two decades. The working age population will decline rapidly in that period. The country would have to come up with a sophisticated immigration plan to meet its labour demands.

China is already in a demographic crisis. Its economic has lost the vim of the 2000s and noughties, whilst its one-child policy has come home to roost. Through this decade and into the next, the country will lose about the population of the United States in its work force. This retiring population will further compound the challenges the country is facing with taking care of its elderly population. That is a different conversation altogether. China recorded two consecutive years of population decline on the latest available numbers, 2022 and 2023. China currently has a low tolerance for foreign workers, accepting only highly skilled foreigners, even that, only a few. Whilst Japan at least got old before it got rich, China followed its population trajectory, but got old before it got rich.

Whether these countries like it or not, they’d either have to explore opportunities outside their borders or live with complex, complicated and expensive consequences.

Nigeria on the other hand has a young population. The population is likely to grow even younger. We will have the numbers, in terms of people 15-60 years of age with the physical ability to work. The challenge is, they aren’t skilled enough at present to meet these prospective opportunities elsewhere. There is a future where we could be attracting most of our foreign exchange from supplying the world a skilled labour force, than from any other source. That possibility is not far-reaching in terms of population trends around the world. The ultimate challenge lies with us; we aren’t even building enough for our own economy, let alone for the rest of the world.

This is where Mr Soyombo’s ambitions should be scaled beyond the dreams of one man or company. This should be Nigeria’s pursuit. We have perfected the art of sharing our seeds like it is some wealthy harvest. What we must now learn to do is to use what we have now to nurture a truly skilled population that’d help generate the wealth our country desperately needs. Then, we can focus on sharing the wealth. What we are sharing now through various forms is not wealth. Against our population, our national revenue is a meagre sum. Our numbers are generally mediocre across the board. A big opportunity to create a paradigm shift would be to make Nigeria the resource capital of the world, at least in terms of skilled workers.

This is not exactly one for just our system of conventional Education and the curriculums. It is more layered than that. It is TVET, STEM, trainings and skill addition outside of school walls and systems. It is a clear vision of what sort of country we’d like to be in 25 years; one that continues to depend on resources from out of the group or one that nurtures a skilled population on that ground? Time to answer that question.

 Omojuwa is chief strategist, Alpha Reach/ BGX Publishing 

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