May 29 and Quest for A New Nigeria
As the nation Nigeria stands at the exit door of President Muhammadu Buhari led Federal Government, and gaze at the May 29 inauguration date of incoming administrations at both state and Federal Government levels, it is important to underline that the protracted leadership crisis witnessed at both state and Federal levels occurred not because the democracy and federal systems we practice are on their own bad or unable to provide the needed solution to the nation’s array of political and economic needs, but because too many politicians and public office holders exercised power and responsibility not as a trust for the public good, rather, but as an opportunity for private gain.
This glaringly deformed leadership style has left the nation with three separate but similar harsh effects; first, it destroyed the social infrastructures relevant for a meaningful and acceptable level of social existence of the people. Secondly, made the nation’s economy go against the provisions of the constitutions as an attempt to disengage governance from public sector control of the economy has only played into waiting hands of the profiteers of goods and services to the detriment of the Nigerian people. Thirdly and very key, conspired and visited the nation with myriads of sociopolitical contradictions stripped of social harmony, justice, equity and equality.
Adding context to the discourse, this is a kind of leadership crisis that happens when ‘lust for power prevails over granting people the love and care they deserve, when the interest and destiny of one individual becomes more important than those of the whole nation, when the interests of some groups and cliques are served instead of those of all the people. In other words, this state of affairs happens when you put the people at the service of the government, in sharp contrast with the norm.
Aside from non-adherence to public opinion which has no doubt thrown the economy into reserve and passed the burden on to the backs of Nigerians, this piece believes that the most ‘profound’ failure of the present administration (state and Federal) which the incoming administration must avoid if they are desirous of success, is their persistent inabilities to promptly respond to the socioeconomic need of Nigerians.
For example, the government’s shift of attention from job creation has undermined the feelings of Nigerians and shifted the distribution of income strongly in favor of those in government.
At the very moment, information released on the 11th April 2023, by KPMG, a multidimensional consulting firm, disclosed that Nigeria’s unemployment rate would increase to 40.6 per cent in 2023 from 37.7 per cent in 2022. According to economic analysts, this was due to weak performance in the job-elastic sectors, and low labour absorption of sectors that will drive growth.
In my views, the average Nigerian is worse off now, economically and materially, than he/she was in 2015. The people are living through the worst social and economic crisis since independence; poor leadership; poor strategy for development; lack of capable and effective state and bureaucracy; lack of focus on sectors that will improve the condition of living of citizens such as education, health, agriculture and the building of infrastructure; corruption; undeveloped, irresponsible and parasitic private sector; weak civil society; emasculated labour and student movement and poor execution of policies and programmes’.
In the past 8years, the Nigerian workforce grew but the number of manufacturing jobs has actually declined as a result of the relocation of these industries to neighboring African countries. A development occasioned by the inability of the FG to guarantee security and electricity. Jobs created by the federal government under the N-Power programme were but part-time and not secured. Two third of those doing part-time jobs want full-time jobs and cannot find them. Unemployment is far and away from the top concern of Nigerians. Millions of workers have given up hope of finding employment.
This author is not alone in this line of belief.
At a recent lecture in Lagos delivered by the President of African Development Bank, AfDB, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, titled: “Nigeria – A Country of Many Nations: A Quest for National Integration”, Dr. Adesina lamented the high rate of joblessness among Nigerians, saying about 40 per cent of youths were unemployed. While noting that the youths were discouraged, angry and restless, as they look at a future that does not give them hope, he, however, said all hope was not lost as youths have a vital role to play, if the country should arrive at its destined destination.
Adesina spoke the mind of Nigerians. His words and argument were admirable and most importantly, it remains the most dynamic and cohesive action expected of a leader of his class to earn a higher height of respect. The truth is that Nigerians have gotten used to such statistics while unemployment commentaries in the country have become a regular music hall act.
Take as an illustration, in the first quarter of 2021, a report published by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) on its website noted that Nigeria’s Unemployment Rate has risen from 27.1 per cent in the second quarter of 2020, to 33 per cent. Aside from making it the second Highest on Global List, the NBS report, going by analysis, shows that ‘more than 60 per cent of Nigeria’s working-age population is younger than 34. Unemployment for people aged 15 to 24 stood at 53.4 per cent in the fourth quarter and at 37.2 per cent for people aged 25 to 34. The jobless rate for women was 35.2 per cent compared with 31.8 per cent for men. The recovery of the economy with 200 million people will be slow, with growth seen at 1.5 per cent this year, after last year’s 1.9 per cent contraction, according to the International Monetary Fund. Output will only recover to pre-pandemic levels in 2022, the lender said. The number of people looking for jobs will keep rising as population growth continues to outpace output expansion.
Nigeria is expected to be the world’s third-most-populous country by 2050, with over 300 million people, according to the United Nations. Unquestionably, while this quadrupling over the last five years, which has attracted varying reactions from well-meaning Nigerians, remains a sad commentary by all ramifications as it is both worrying and scary, the present development demands two separate but similar actions. First is the urgent shift from lamentation and rhetoric to finding solutions via asking solution-oriented questions. The second has to do with the implementation of experts’ advice/solutions to unemployment in Nigeria. This is indeed time to commit to mind the words of Franklin D. Roosevelt, former President of the United State of America that “extraordinary conditions call for extraordinary remedies.”
Beginning with questions, it has become important for the incoming administration to ask what could be responsible for the ever-increasing unemployment rate in Nigeria. Is it leadership or the nation’s educational system? If it is faulty education sector-driven, what is the government (both state and federal) going to do to rework the policies since education is in the concurrent list of the nation’s 1999 constitution (as amended)? Are the leaders embodied with leadership virtues that the global community can respect? Or moral and ethical principles the people can applaud with enthusiasm?
Experts have pointed out that to arrest the drifting unemployment situation in the country, four sectors of ‘interest’ to watch are: education, science and technology, agriculture and infrastructures. On the educational system in the country, analysts are of the view that the education policies of the 6-3-3-4 system are excellent in the policy statement, but the inability of the financiers to provide the teaching tools for its success has truncated its intended goal and objectives. However, to arrest the unemployment challenge, they added, entrepreneurial programmes should be integrated into the educational system from primary schools to universities. Creativity, courage and endurance are skills that should be taught by psychologists to students at all classes of our educational system.
Nigeria, they explained, has to increase drastically the number of her current Polytechnics, Colleges of Technology and Technical Colleges in relation to the in-explicable very large number of Universities and related Academies in Nigeria’s economy in order to clearly address the training and development of professional and technical skills for Technologies and Industrial goods production in Nigeria’s Economy.
It is important, in my view, that any country like Nigeria desirous of achieving sustainable development, must throw its weight behind agriculture by creating an enabling environment that will encourage youths to take to farming. First, separate from the worrying report that by 2050, global consumption of food and energy is expected to double as the world’s population and incomes grow, while climate change is expected to have an adverse effect on both crop yields and the number of arable acres, we are in dire need of solution to this problem because unemployment has diverse implications. Security-wise, a large unemployed youth population is a threat to the security of the few that are employed. Any transformation that does not have job creation at its main objective will not take us anywhere and the agricultural sector has that capacity to absorb the teeming unemployed youths in the country.
The second reason is that globally, there are dramatic shifts from agriculture in preference for white-collar jobs-a trend that urgently needs to be reversed. In the United States of America, there exists a shift in the locations and occupations of urban consumers. In 1900, about 40 per cent of the total population was employed on the farm, and 60 per cent lived in rural areas. Today, the respective figures are only about one per cent and 20 per cent. Over the past half-century, the number of farms has fallen by a factor of three. As a result, the ratio of urban eaters to rural farmers has markedly risen, giving the food consumer a more prominent role in shaping the food and farming system. The changing dynamic has also played a role in public calls to reform federal policy to focus more on the consumer implications of the food supply chain.
Separate from job creation, averting malnutrition which constitutes a serious setback to the socio-economic development of any nation is another reason why Nigeria must embrace agriculture – a vehicle for food security and sustainable socio-economic sector. Agriculture production should receive heightened attention. In Nigeria, an estimated 2.5 million children under five suffer from severe acute malnutrition (SAM) annually, exposing nearly 420,000 children within that age bracket to early death from common childhood illnesses such as diarrhoea, pneumonia and malaria. Government must provide the needed support by funding, providing technical know-how and other specialised training.
For Nigeria to be all that it can be, the youth of Nigeria must be all they can be.” The future of Nigeria depends on what it does today with its dynamic youth population. This demographic advantage must be turned into a first-rate and well-trained workforce, for Nigeria, for the region, and for the world. Incoming administration must priorities investments in the youth: in up skilling them for the jobs of the future, not the jobs of the past; by moving away from so-called youth empowerment to youth investment; to opening up the social and political space to the youth to air their views and become a positive force for national development; and for ensuring that we create youth-based wealth.”
On the imperatives of Infrastructural development such as roads, rail and electricity, the incoming government must recognize the fact that infrastructure enables development and provides the services that underpin the ability of people to be economically productive, for example via transport. “The transport sector has a huge role in connecting populations to where the work is,” says Ms Marchal. Infrastructural investments help stem economic losses arising from problems such as power outages or traffic congestion. The World Bank estimates that in Sub-Saharan Africa closing the infrastructure quantity and quality gap relative to the world’s best performers could raise GDP growth per head by 2.6 per cent annually.
For us to achieve the target objective in the rail sector, the incoming government must start thinking of a rail system that will have a connection of major economic towns/cities as the focus.
Achieving this objective will help the poor village farmers in Benue/Kano and other remote areas earn more money, contributes to lower food prices in Lagos and other cities through the impact on the operation of the market, increase the welfare of household both in Kano, Benue, Lagos and others while it improves food security in the country, reduce stress/pressure daily mounted on Nigerian roads by articulated/haulage vehicles and drastically reduce road accidents on our major highways.
In the area of electricity/power generation and distribution, there is an urgent imperative on the incoming government to openly admit and adopt both structural and managerial changes that impose more leadership discipline than conventional, and creating government institutions that are capable of making successful decisions built on a higher quality of information which needs to be granted.
To give example, in 2005 and 2010, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo’s and Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, led the federal government respectively came up with the electric power sector reform, EPSR, ACT 2005 and the roadmap for power sector reform of 2010, which was targeted at sanitizing the power sector, ensure efficient and adequate power supply to the country. The project ended in the frames – reportedly gulping billions of dollars without contributing the targeted megawatt to the nation’s power needs.
The Buhari led administration is presently in a similar partnership with the German government and Siemens. But in my observation, the only change that has taken place since this new development is but thoughtless increments of bills/tariffs paid by Nigerians.
No nation can survive under this form of arrangement.
Finally, while this piece calls on the incoming government to provide Nigerians with standard of living adequate for their health and wellbeing, Nigerians on their part must look up to God their maker and talk to him through positive actions. They must join their faith with that of James Weldon Johnson to pray; ‘Oh God of our weary years, God of our silent tears, Thou hast brought us far on the way; Thou who by the might lead us into the light. Keep us forever in the part, we pray. Lest our feet stray away from places, our God where we meet thee. Lest our heart is drunk with the wine of the world, and we forget thee; Shadowed beneath thy hand , may we forever stand true to our God, true to our native land’. To this I say a very big amen.
Jerome-Mario is the programme coordinator (Media and Public Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA). He could be reached via Jeromeutomi@yahoo.com/08032725374. .