Onikepo Braithwaite

One crucial and urgent issue that Government must deal with forthwith, is that of unemployment and job creation. Most of my life here in Nigeria, rich or poor, people were always able to do the basics, that is, live, work and send their children to school, even if it was a non-fee paying government or religious school, and the children got a good education.

But alas, today, majority are finding it almost impossible to live, to work, talk less of keeping their children in school. Apparently, a lot of women in the cities, have sadly turned to the “oldest profession in the world”, prostitution, just to keep body and soul together.

One of the campaign promises of the APC was to give N5,000 per month to the poor. It is commendable that government has decided to make good on its campaign promise. However, with a population of almost 170 million, a monthly stipend of N5,000 (about $12 or so), to 1 million people seems to be nothing more than a drop in the ocean, and certainly not the answer to anyone’s problems. It seems rather unrealistic. Statistics have shown that about 38.7% of Nigeria’s population are extremely poor, and qualify for this stipend, that is, about 64 million people.

Yes, I do agree that it is the first time in the history of Nigeria, that any government has taken such a step, “to spend the resources of Nigeria on the Nigerian people in a direct and impactful way”, and though it shows a measure of compassion on the part of Mr President, so much more is required to alleviate the suffering of the people, though at the end of the day, N5,000 a month to 1 million people, is better than Zero Naira a month to zero number of people.

How does the government even intend to share this N5,000 among the people? How would a person qualify for this scheme, as opposed to his neighbour, who is probably suffering the same hardship? We must not forget the provisions of Sections 16(1)(b) and 17(1) & (2)(a) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended in 2010)(1999 Constitution), which guarantee the maximum welfare, happiness, social justice and equality for all Nigerian citizens, meaning that if 64 million people qualify for this stipend, 64 million people, and not just 1 million, should receive it.

Apparently, the World Bank had been working in 8 States, namely Kwara, Bauchi, Cross River, Niger, Kogi, Oyo, Ogun, and Ekiti, to develop a social register, which identified the poorest local governments in those states. Within the local governments, communities with the poorest and most vulnerable, were then identified. Bornu State was subsequently added as the 9th state, obviously because of the internally displaced persons (IDPs). People within these communities are supposedly the ones that make the list of the poorest and most vulnerable, and there is room to question or review the list, if there are people on it that should not be, and vice versa.

The Nigerian Interbank Settlement System (NIBBS) manages the funds, and is in charge of how and when the money is disbursed. A Senior Special Assistant to the President recently stated in an interview that, funds have been released only for the first three states, Bornu, Kwara and Bauchi, for the periods December, 2016 and January, 2017. The other 6 states are yet to receive theirs.

Recently, a friend of mine, an electrician, stopped by to visit me, as he usually does when he comes to my neighbourhood. He lamented to me that no income was coming in, as there was no work, and that he could no longer pay his children’s school fees. The child whom he had managed to train through the Polytechnic, had graduated and also had no job.

After exchanging pleasantries and updating ourselves, he then went on to tell me how he was at the point of desperation, saying “Madam, ebin pa wa o. Ejo, ise ki se ti e ba le ba mi ri, ma se. Ko ba je ise labourer, ma se” (“Madam, we are hungry o. Please, any type of work that you can secure for me, I will do it. Even if it’s a labourer’s job, I will do it”). It seems that my friend has also become qualified to be a beneficiary of the N5,000 monthly stipend. His story of unemployment, however, is not different from that of millions of other Nigerians, especially the youths. Graduates stay at home for years, without being able to secure any jobs. Some end up riding ‘okadas’ (motorcycles), or have taken to crimes like armed robbery and kidnapping, to make a living.

Government has to stimulate the economy, so that jobs can be created. In the third quarter of 2016, the National Bureau of Statistics put the rate of urban unemployment at 18.9%, while youth unemployment and underemployment, was over 40%. Reduce interest rates to increase purchasing power. Invest in rural infrastructure, roads, water, education and healthcare. Face the issues of agriculture and manufacturing squarely. Encourage manufacturers who have gone under, to get back on their feet, so that they in turn, can employ labour. After all, manufacturing is one of the greatest wealth creators of any economy.

It is a well known fact that three-quarters of the world’s poorest live in rural areas, with their livelihood depending on farming. Statistics show that Africa has 34% of the arable land in the world. This is extremely huge. Therefore, support for farming is essential for poverty reduction. Farming brings in income, reduces poverty by lowering and stabilising food prices with more supply, and creates more employment for rural people.

In the case of my electrician friend and those in the rural areas, government and donors should make agriculture more attractive to the people, so that even my electrician friend, and his graduate son who has been unable to secure a job in Lagos, could decide to go back to their village to start up something in agriculture. There has to be a harmonisation of modern technology with traditional and indigenous knowledge, so as to be able to realise sustainable rural development. City people are put off farming, because of the old primitive traditional ways, which involve too much manual labour, and are physically tasking and unattractive, with seemingly low harvests and returns. It also seems that access to technology is usually the preserve of large scale farmers and livestock producers, and this should not be so. Improved technology and mechanised farming for the small scale rural farmer, is imperative.

People in the rural areas, should be empowered by government and donors. Women (men), and youths should be encouraged to form organisations, such as local cooperatives, from which they will have access to funding. Regular workshops by government and donors, on modern agricultural techniques and how to grow their businesses, should be undertaken. Initiatives like this will encourage the unemployed in the cities to go back home to their villages, to engage in farming, poultry, fish farming and so on.

I recently watched a program on television, on weaving of aso-oke in Ilorin. One of the spokespersons for their aso-oke weavers association, stated that a youth could make up to N2,000 daily, in that line of business, with plenty of room for expansion, with the right support. The spokesperson said that they had no support and access to funding. That it was difficult to secure any type of loan facility from the bank, because the banks did not even recognise them. Would it not be better for government do all it can to encourage the youths to be able to realise that N60,000 a month (equivalent of N2,000 daily) for a start, instead of doling out N5,000 a month to them?

I know of a manufacturing company in Ibadan, which not only used to produce for the Nigerian market, it also exported its product to other African countries, earning foreign exchange. The company employed about 600 staff, with plenty of room for expansion. Due to inconsistent government policy and actions of corrupt officials in past governments, the company eventually had to scale down its activities to almost zero. A company with a staff strength of 600 became dormant, and its staff strength dwindled down to about a skeletal 20.

Past governments preferred to give waivers to their friends and cronies, to import the same product as the Company’s (inferior to that of the Company’s, as importers were also allowed to cut corners on quality, while officials looked the other way), thereby creating jobs for foreigners, while happily depriving our own people of jobs and a means of livelihood, because of greed and self-interest.

Former President of the United States of America, Bill Clinton’s philosophy that the best social program is to create jobs, is an extremely wise one. During his two terms as President, he succeeded in creating a record 21.5 million jobs for Americans, doing slightly better than Barrack Obama, who is reported to have created 21.2 million jobs during his own two terms in office, creating jobs even during the 2010 recession.

It is time for government to start walking the talk of job creation, very seriously. During the regime of former President Jonathan, Nigeria is reported to have dropped from the 4th to the 7th largest cocoa producer in the world. In this new dispensation, Nigeria is said to have risen to the 5th position. This is certainly a step in the right direction. However, we need many more steps like this to reduce the rate of unemployment in Nigeria.

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