Danger: Jobless, angry youths combing the streets

THE PUNCH Newspaper

Peter is a former colleague at PUNCH. He opted out of the newsroom “madness” in 2008 to have a feel of the much-talked-about money-spinning banking sector. Armed with a good Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration from the University of Maiduguri, Borno State, he was optimistic that the sky would be the limit for him in the banking industry, where others, who had eaten from his study tray, were then kings.

Having worked closely with me on the finance beat, it was painful seeing the hard-working chap leave. But then, I had always known that, brilliant as he was, his passion was miles away from the newsroom. He picked one of the two plum banking job offers he got with one of the new generation banks particularly known for its easy electronic cash transfer, cleaned up his wardrobe to suit his enlarged pocket and grabbed for the altar, a beautiful lady from another high-flying new age bank. Did I hear anyone say “solid foundation?” That would have been a perfect description of the smart union (as far as household financial power is concerned), but for the rogue global financial crisis that, soon after that, washed away the new family’s sources of steady income.

Both banks that the couple worked for were hit by the Central Bank of Nigeria’s full disclosure sledgehammer of August 2009. The “would-be” bride lost her job first, while the groom’s employer magnanimously waited to see the couple to the altar before handing him his sack letter one week after their wedding!

Peter’s text message was the first I got when I switched on my phone at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport Lagos, after a one-week trip to Washington, DC, United States, to cover the 2010 Annual World Bank/International Monetary Fund meetings. It read: “Hi, aunty Yemi. Welcome back from the US. The wedding went well, but I lost my job on a sad note. This is my new number.” The rest, of course, is history.

His case is just one out of the numerous stories of shattered dreams of promising Nigerian youths, especially in the wake of the now calming global financial crisis, no thanks to five decades of visionless leadership. The environment, right now, is turgid with the angry air of jobless youths combing the streets in frustration for non-existent jobs.

Yes, the global crisis was an unprecedented one that claimed jobs, the world over. But lucky working-class citizens of countries governed by selfless, visionary leaders, remained unperturbed when the job markets of many other highly-vulnerable nations were under fire. The International Labour Organisation saw the threatening disaster. In the thick of the crisis, it warned world economies in its 2009 Employment Trends forecast to brace for global job loss to the tune of 51 million.

But while policy makers in countries like India were unruffled, insisting that such prophecy of doom would have no place in their territory, the Nigerian employment market was immediately thrown into serious commotion at the end of 2009. About 10,000 bankers and other workers joined the pool of 10 million Nigerians that had already been unemployed as at March 2009, according to data by the National Bureau of Statistics.

This is aside from the 83,400 jobs that must have been lost in the same year when 834 manufacturing firms, according to the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria, shut up shop under the unbearable weight of the country’s harsh operating environment. A former United States Development Programme’s top economist, Warea Thomas, who came out with the 83,400 figure for jobs lost, based his calculation on the assumption that the 834 closed firms were all medium-size firms with 100 workers each. One can only imagine how many families, hangers-on, including aged people in the villages, would have been thrown into financial coma as a result of the job crises faced by their helpless benefactors.

But in India, even with the Pakistani terrorist attacks on the country’s financial nerve centre, Mumbai, and the withdrawal of about $12bn by foreign investors from its stock markets, confident policy makers only needed to leverage yesteryears’ efforts to keep disaster at bay.

Scoring Indian leaders exceptionally high where others had failed, a June 18, 2010 report by Morgan Stanley on the country’s post-crisis position says, “Unlike in many other countries in the region, the credit crisis did not result in job losses in India, (though), there was a temporary cutback in spending due to weak confidence and concerns about potential job losses, which did not happen.

“Industrial production, which is the best proxy to measure the monthly trend in overall growth environment, has grown by 17.6 per cent, seasonally adjusted over the last 12 months. The sharp pace of recovery reflects the strength of India‘s domestic demand-oriented model, which remains the best in the region.” Does anyone need fortified lenses to see through this calculated governance?

I hate to sound like a pessimist. But I’m worried over the social and/or economic instability that may occur as a result of freshly executed lay-offs in the banking industry, the yet-to-be-concluded list of more workers to go in the same sector and the 50,000 PHCN workers pencilled by government to soon hit the streets. Remember, the government still has the 2009 casualties to deal with.

The situation is more worrying, given the fact that a report released in September by the British Council had raised the alarm over an impending “demographic disaster” in Nigeria unless it planned for “the growing number of young people frustrated by lack of jobs and opportunities”.

The report, compiled by an independent task force of renowned Nigerian professionals, including Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of the World Bank, said, “Large cohorts of unemployed or underemployed young people destabilise their societies, fuelling crime and creating conditions where civil conflict becomes more likely. Instead of collecting a dividend, a country that is not well prepared to make the most of its baby boom generation can find itself in the midst of a demographic disaster!” Has anything been done to avert this?

In all of this, however, one public office holder I don’t envy is the Minister of Finance — Olusegun Aganga. I would say that I had never been as proud of my Nigerian nationality as the minister made me while delivering his speech as the Chairman of the Board of Governors of the IMF and World Bank during the plenary of the Washington meetings.

In fact, I walked on air as I listened to the conversation of two white journalists, who likened his brilliant speech to that of Martin Luther King Jnr. Back home, however, I became afraid of how much his apparent intelligence or impeccable English would undo this inherited ugly unemployment scenario. He has said his team will target a three-per cent reduction in unemployment rate over the next one year, noting that a 17.9 per cent rate in a country of 150 million people is rather high. He hinged his optimism on government’s private sector-led, job creating initiative, especially the focus on labour-intensive sectors like agriculture and construction. Good! However, one fact may be hard to swallow: the minister has a very bad case in his hands. Therefore, the number of oranges he plucks from this withered tree in the next five months will determine his fame, going forward. But first, he must, especially at this time, resist the damning urge to make influential politicians “happy”.


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