Unemployment, Unemployability, Strikes, Other Posers For Govt



WHEN figures of a rebased economy surfaced in 2014, with Nigeria edging off South Africa as the biggest economy in Africa, policy analysts and development economists wondered how the data could be reconciled with the reality of the country’s unemployed youthful population.

While much of the growth reported by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) in the rebased figures drew attention to seeming diversification of the economy into and increased activity in the entertainment and telecommunications industries, the long, windy queues that greeted calls for recruitment by public and private firms befuddle many.

One critical issue that dominated the last electioneering campaign was unemployment, especially, youth unemployment. Perhaps, more than any other time in the history of election in the country, the 2015 general election witnessed massive participation of youths in the process. This may not be unconnected with the use of social media, coupled with the affordability of smartphone by the younger generation, which allowed them to interact with the issues on ground.

The economy has been on standstill without a driving policy since President Muhammadu Buhari assumed office in May. A gale of retrenchments has hit virtually all sectors of the economy and economic indicators are in the red. With all these, copious work seems to be cut out for Dr. Chris Ngige, who, during the week, was assigned the ministerial portfolio of Labour and Employment.

Apart form the promise of the All Progressives Congress (APC) administration to provide two million jobs on yearly basis, youths were also upbeat about the payment of N5, 000 stipends to the unemployed monthly.

Even as the government of Buhari is settling down to governance, the figure from the Bureau of Statistics seems to make the matter of employment even more urgent. The second quarter of 2015 NBS report on unemployment said economically active population or working age population (persons within ages 15 and 64) increased from 102.8 million in the first quarter (under Peoples Democratic Party, PDP) to 103.5million in second quarter (under Buhari).

The report further stressed that in the second quarter of 2015, the labour force population (i.e those within the working age population willing, able and actively looking for work) increased to 74 million from 73.4 million in (Q1) 2015, representing in an increase in the labour force by 0.81 per cent. This means that 574,498 economically active persons within 15 and 64 entered the labour force i.e. were able and willing and actively looking for work between April 1 and June 30 2015. Within the same period, the total number in full employment (did something for at least 40 hours) decreased by 1,317,700 or 2.37 per cent. (A drop in number of full employment, that is, those working less than 40 hours despite a rise in the labour force can be attributed more to job losses or previously fully employed persons choosing or being forced to work part time or in underemployment)

With an economically active or working age population of 103.5 million and labour force population of 74 million, this means 29.5 million persons within the economically active or working age population decided not to work for various reasons in second quarter of 2015 compared to 29.3million in first quarter of 2015.

More worrisome is the fact that within the same period, the number of unemployed in the labour force, increased by 529,923 persons or 9.58 per cent between first quarter of 2015 and second quarter, resulting in an increase in the unemployment rate to 8.2 per cent in second quarter from 7.5 per cent in first quarter.

Again, the report submitted that there were a total of 19.6 million people between ages 15 and 65 either unemployed or underemployed in the labour force in the second quarter compared to 17.7 million in the first quarter.

The stakes are high already, as impatient Nigerians are mounting pressure on the All Progressives Congress (APC)-led government to fulfill its campaign promises. Calls for payment of N5,000 social security recently were rebuffed by excuses that government was running on the budget of the immediate past administration.

Weighed down by his party’s lofty— some say, outlandish — campaign promises on job creation, Ngige, a trained medical doctor, would need to deploy all tact and experience to weather a nation bedeviled by intractable unemployment, underemployment, graduate unemployability, incessant labour agitations and strikes, and unending search for fair wages for workers.

These are the employment situation the new Minister of Labour and Employment face. Ngige has declared that he and his team would surmount the challenge. However, getting down to work during the week, the former governor of Anambra State assured Nigerians of the readiness of the ministry to tackle the menace of unemployment in the country.

Many wonder what may have informed Ngige’s deployment to the labour ministry given that he was mostly experienced in medical practice and politics, but riding on a collective strength of party that prides itself to be ‘progressive,’ he would need pragmatic, radical schemes to combat unemployment.

While emphasising the fact that government alone cannot provide all Nigerians decent employment, he was quick to add that government would strive to create enabling environment for all other sectors to strive. He added that the ministry is part of the engineering that would pave way for the private sector to generate jobs through developmental focused labour laws among others

Many believe that the task would be herculean and Ngige would have to pursue policies that would harmonise efforts across other ministries such as Works, Power and Housing, Agriculture, Solid Minerals, Trade and Investments and Justice, to create an enabling environment that would engage the unemployed.

A policy analyst, Opeyemi Agbaje, said that the lull in economic activity portends serious challenges to government’s drive to create jobs, noting, “They would have to get to work, stimulate the economy and ensure that the economy begins to create jobs again. The Nigeria Bureau of Statistics (NBS) data at the end of the second quarter, show that the economy created only 144,000 as against 450,000 or more jobs in the first quarter. So, the economy is creating fewer jobs because of lower economic activity, even the jobs people have are being lost and unemployment and underemployment is increasing.”

He suggested that the labour minister prioritise job creation to quell the agitations of unengaged youths scattered across the country, noting that unemployable youths would need to be properly retrained for middle cadre jobs that better trained, more efficient foreigners have taken advantage of.

A lingering issue in labour circles has been agitations by different trade unions for upward review of salaries to meet the current reality of the Nigeria economy, especially as government policies in the last few years have driven inflation upwards. This is coupled with calls to review the minimum wage, as well as, apprehend firms that have subjected workers to unfair conditions of service.

As Ngige sets to work, the tall order of getting youths off the streets and engaged in profitable employment, as well as resolving lingering labour disputes, would go a long way in restoring the trust of the working class in the present administration.

Also speaking, the Minister of State, James Ocholi, expressed confidence in the expertise of management and staff of the Ministry, which he said is in line with the change mantra of the present administration.

On his part, the Permanent Secretary in the ministry, Dr. Clement Illoh assured the Ministers of the full cooperation of the management and staff of the Ministry including its Agencies toward actualisation of their mandates.

While the intention of government to focus on employment generation may have informed the change of the name of the Ministry from Ministry of Labour and Productivity to the Ministry of Labour and Employment, more deliverables are indeed needed to change the impact of the Ministry in the drive for the promised two million jobs annually.

Yet, the Ministry of Labour and Employment is not expected to create jobs, but offering critical advise to government on how to generate jobs, and providing policy direction and create the route to bridging the gap in the widening unemployment rate in the country, in the life of this administration.

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