OPINION- Rising Youth Unemployment Is A Waiting Time Bomb

Current youth unemployment figure in Nigeria is estimated at about 17.1 percent of the over 200 million population. This data are estimates from the International Labour Organization, ILO, an agency of the United Nations saddled with developing policies to set labour standards.

Globally, youth unemployment refers to the percentage of the unemployed within the age group of 15 to 24 years as compared to the total labour force. However, the case in Nigeria is peculiar, as the unemployed youth age bracket is within 15 to 38 years. In 2018, the unemployment rate was approximated at about six percent.

The alarming rise in youth unemployment and the equally disturbing high levels of young people who work but still live in poverty show how difficult it will be to reach the global goal to end poverty by 2030, unless governments worldwide redouble their efforts to achieve sustainable economic growth and decent work.

Thus, recognising the need to invest into creating and building youth entrepreneurship, governments and international agencies have embraced long term agenda to co-operate and collaborate in formulation of strategies and implementation plans for building training programs, building awareness amongst the youth and the families and empowering the youth with the required skills and knowledge to pursue entrepreneurship as a career option.

This underscores initiatives by the CBN to create platforms for the youths to be engaged in wealth creation. In 2016, the Bank launched Youth Empowerment Development Programme (YEDP) to confront the hydra-headed high unemployment rate in the country.

This, the Bank launched in collaboration with the Bankers’ Committee, and it was part of its efforts to deepen credit delivery to address the challenges of unemployment, promote entrepreneurial spirits among Nigerian youths and enhance the spread of small and medium enterprises.

The programme aimed at harnessing the latent entrepreneurial spirit of the teeming youths was to provide timely and affordable finance to nurture their business ideas. This, in the Bank’s view is to provide a sustainable mechanism to stimulate employment, contribute to non-oil Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and address the challenge of youth restiveness as witnessed in the recent ‘End SARS’ protest and other security challenges that rocked the nation few weeks pass.

YEDP aimed to harness the entrepreneurial skills and innovative capacities of youths as well as improve access to finance for youth entrepreneurs using a well-structured business model.

The programme targeted to stimulate flow of finance to startup enterprises in order to encourage job creation long neglected by past administrations in the country. The CBN envisaged that empowering the youth will give vent to the clamour for economic diversification thus increasing non-oil sector, particularly, agriculture’s, contribution to the GDP.

The outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic no doubt, wedged the trajectory effort of the CBN with the lockdown of the economy for 4 months. The lockdown globally impacted economies negatively, many countries went into recession, and it was not surprising when the National Bureau of Statistics announced the slip once again of the economy into recession in three years. This time, it is the worst in the nation’s history.

It must be realized that had the nation’s lender of last resort had a complementary zeal from the government to diversify the economy from oil over years, the impact of the pandemic would not have been this devastative.

The federal government though promised to create 10 million jobs within the next five years, even before the COVID-19 challenge, no visible effort in achieving that was seen from critical agencies of government saddled with such responsibility, rather they all went to sleep waiting for the CBN to do their job.

The Youth Entrepreneurship Development Programme (YEDP) was to enhance the deployment of the ingenuity and resourcefulness of Nigerian youths for maximum economic development. This was in recognition of the fact that there was no better segment of the Nigerian population than the youths to propel us to our much-needed economic recovery and diversification.

In the third quarter of 2015 if we must recall, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) indicated that of the 36.3 million youths representing 48% of the nation’s labour force, 13.6 million or 37.7% of them were either unemployed or underemployed. This situation could not be allowed to fester given that many of our youths had very bright ideas and big dreams but are constrained by scarce seed funding.

Thus, the CBN’s YEDP aims at fixing the triple-barrelled constraints of insufficiency, high cost and inadequate term of capital usually faced by youth entrepreneurs and start-ups with collateral requirements as academic and NYSC certificates, third party guarantees and other movable assets.

Targeted beneficiaries are members of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), non-NYSC (but not more than five years post-NYSC), those who possess a verifiable tertiary institution certificate, and artisans with First School Leaving Certificate or a technical certificate or accredited proficiency certificate from the National Board for Technical Education (NBTE), whichever is applicable.

The CBN also provided a window for beneficiaries to migrate to any other of its interventions to obtain more funding if they utilize the YEDP facility properly, all in agricultural value chain – fish farming, poultry, snail farming as well as in cottage industry, creative industry which comprises tourism, arts and crafts, information and communications technology, among others.

The recently established federal government N75 billion Nigerian Youth Investment Fund is not only exciting but also an effort to walk its talk on reducing youth employment further aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Just in toe with the CBN model, potential beneficiaries are expected to have a fundable business idea, registered business, must be a citizen of Nigeria, and must present a recognised means of identification and guarantors to cater for the unemployed youth within the age bracket of 18-35.

The huge unemployment gap in a country endowed with vast natural and human resources would have been unnecessary if past administrations and present had not misplaced their priorities, coupled with failure to invest hugely in the youths. This, no doubt, is an explosive waiting to explode as currently being witnessed in the country.

The CBN under the leadership of Godwin Emefiele has no doubt done well within the available resources and hash economic reality to turn the curve in youth unemployment in the country. It had through its Anchor Borrowers’ Programme and other policies, encouraged and empowered the youth to take to agriculture not only as means of vocation but as agents of economic growth and employers of labour, thus ensuring food security in the country.

Thus, it is imperative for the government at all levels to arrest this drift by emulating the CBN, and come out with architectural, workable and enduring programme to productively engage the youths, before things got out of tune and control.

More so, the government must strive to match its words with action to restore the confidence and trust of youths in the political leadership, as the popular parlance says, the youth are the leaders of tomorrow.

A neglected youth is a timed- bomb one may not be able to estimate the enormity of its destruction when civil unrest and other untoward action breaks due to joblessness and poverty.

Joy Nguri writes from Adamawa State.

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