By Dele Momodu
Fellow Nigerians, let me say right away that the biggest problem confronting our world today is that of mass unemployment. I have decided to address this issue today as it portends grave danger and unprecedented chaos especially in Africa where we lack even the basic necessities of life. The situation is so dire in our country, Nigeria, and needs to be urgently tackled in order to avert a total breakdown of law and order. There is no doubt in my mind that some of the security challenges Nigeria is battling emanated from this endemic lack of jobs for the young able-bodied men and women who have been driven to the limits of frustration.
Let’s not blow too much grammar and go straight to my humble suggestions. The usual excuse from government quarters for the lack of jobs is that Nigeria is broke. And there is a cast-iron alibi for that hypothesis; the price of our staple export, oil, has suffered a cataclysmic fall. All well and good! But it cannot, and should not, end just like that. We should be honest with ourselves once in a while. I refuse to subscribe to the fact that Nigeria is so broke and comatose that we are merely on life support. I say without any equivocation that a nation as exceptionally endowed as Nigeria is cannot be broke and it is a misnomer to describe ours as a poor country. I know that statistically, our federal budgets are less than the budgets of some multinationals in the “developed” economies but in Africa those budgets are significant and considerable. We are stranded in backwardness because we have all refused to do what we all know we must all do to get out of this monumental mess.
I repeat, Nigeria is still potentially one of the wealthiest nations on earth. Our potential wealth derives from our significant population, great human potential and uncommon natural resources, all three of which we have blatantly refused to harness. Our governments have been groping hopelessly in darkness by refusing to perform their rudimentary role of laying the basic but solid foundation for our ultimate launch into the orbit of civilisation.
Nigeria is moderately rich but the riches are still being wasted and frittered away by politicians, civil servants, technocrats, and all of us. But the biggest blame naturally should go to the various governments. The amount being spent on servicing our leaders alone is enough to grow many nations. Nigerian leaders are still the most outlandishly expensive and excessively flamboyant in the world. This is the reason every government appointment is a big deal to every appointee. And it has become almost impossible to get certain appointments without the intervention of godfathers and this works to the detriment of meritocracy. Some of the best brains in Nigeria today have been left in the lurch for that ungodly reason. It is sad to note that this is not about to change soon. And naturally, once you enthrone mediocracy at any stage, you can only expect that mediocre to plumb the depths for an even more mediocre person in order to look better than the next person! A vicious cycle is thus perpetuated.
Nigeria is great and we have a President who is generally believed to be incorruptible but he now seems manacled hands and legs and by politics, politicians and a volatile Constitution that makes it impossible for him to take certain drastic decisions that may help the nation. He is no longer a military dictator (he shed that toga over 30 years ago), he is now a born again democrat who ordinarily must take certain instructions from a political party that finally catapulted him to power. Appointments must be shared on recommendations that are often based on primordial sentiments. And Nigerian leaders are expected to be controlled from the geographical regions that produced them, which means certain strategic appointments must be considered and made no matter how senseless they may appear to ordinary folk.
I do not envy President Muhammadu Buhari. He obviously wanted to be President so badly that he contested for an unprecedented four times spanning 12 agonising years but I’m sure he did not bargain for what he is getting now. He no longer has the power he had between 1983 to 1985. It takes time and mental energy to navigate the polluted waters of Nigerian politics. This is why many Nigerians think he is slow and underperforming but it can’t be entirely his fault if we want to be fair to him at all. Head or tail, whatever he does is subject to controversy. The biggest headache he has is his avowed war against corruption. No matter his actions in this area, he would always be accused of bias. How would he investigate and prosecute the big toads in his party without endangering his own platform? While he is busy trying to unravel this jigsaw, the people continue to suffer especially our unemployed youths.
On the other hand, nobody can gainsay the progress made by President Buhari in the area of security particularly the success in the war against Boko Haram.
The relocation of the Nigerian Military Command Centre to Maiduguri, since late May 2015, has contributed in no small measure to the success witnessed by this administration in the fight against insurgency and terrorism in the North Eastern part of the country. Since December 2015, the well-motivated, better equipped and rejuvenated Nigerian military have regained all Nigerian territories previously under Boko Haram control. Continuous monitoring of activities, in the formerly war torn region, through the use of satellite images and geographical information system has helped in fighting insurgency and succeeded in strategizing against the enemy with the resultant successes both in containing the terrorist menace and in rescuing victims. As at February 2016, the total number of persons rescued by the Nigerian troops during the ongoing operations in the North East came to almost 12,000 persons. The introduction of the motor cycle battalion which was established to enable the Nigerian Army travel to remote areas that were not previously accessible to cars/trucks has greatly contributed to the success enjoyed by the military against Boko Haram. As I posit further below, employment is one of the major issues that this Government and future governments must grapple with if Nigeria is to emerge from the doldrums that have depressed us into regression and lack. One of the ways that the insurgency we are fighting can be turned into a positive is in the employment which can ensue. There is a need not just for additional soldiers but also for policemen, immigration officers and customs officers. The porous nature of our borders is a strong contributory factor for the insurgency that has threatened to destroy the very fabric of our society and there is a need for more hands to be recruited to deal with the scourge.
Where then do we go from here? There are decisions that can be taken without much fuss. The first is that the cost of governance must be crashed and crushed urgently. This would have to go beyond the superficial instructions to Ministers not to fly first class or reduction in salaries. We all know where the largesse is usually hidden and it is in over-inflated contracts and gratifications for favours granted against due process. That is the most difficult battle. But we can start from stopping the tradition that allows government operatives to act like every day is Christmas. I have said repeatedly that we cannot practise capitalism without capital. The austerity measure should start from the very top. The Federal Government is still too large and unwieldy. If no conscious effort is made to reduce the atrociously high bills then Nigeria is doomed.
Let us sell off most of our Presidential jets and choppers. Let our public officials begin to fly Arik (at least this airline has some new planes that fly across Africa, Europe and America) and save the country from maintenance costs of the current flights of fancy. Nigeria will gain a lot from this. Arik will be able to upgrade its current fleet and employ more Nigerians from government patronage. Most of the Presidential jets are either idle most of the time or used for frivolous trips. Let government functionaries face the task of rebuilding Nigeria and stop the culture of travelling at the slightest opportunity. No one can accept Nigeria is broke with the way and manner we gallivant about and waste government resources.
I expect Nigeria to instantly earn over N20 billion from selling off most of those jets. Do you know what that can do for our youths? I will tell you based on my projection when I contested the Presidential election in 2011. My blueprint was similar to what eventually became YouWin in the Jonathan administration. N20 billion will empower 20,000 millionaire entrepreneurs who are able to employ 10 to 20 people immediately. N100 billion will create 100,000 millionaire businessmen and women. The indirect employment that would be further created and generated by this direct employment can only best be imagined.
One of the best initiatives of the Jonathan government for me was YouWin and it must be urgently re-energised to power our job revolution. It must be noted that it must not be another job for political appointees but for a committee of already made men and women like Dr Tony Elumelu who can work without expecting any remuneration from government. If Dr Elumelu can set aside $100m, over a period of ten years, to empower African youths, why can’t our governments, at different tiers, emulate such private foundations?
Nigeria needs to get more serious about improving the quality of education speedily and this is not so difficult. Education is the bedrock that can liberate most people from the vestiges of ignorance and poverty. We must return to those days when we had technical colleges to train our poorly prepared artisans. We can borrow a leaf from Ghana where President John Mahama is upgrading polytechnics to universities of technology. Some of our higher institutions that are not so derelict can be upgraded first to the highest standards to compete against the multitude of private institutions. I’m sure most of those in mushroom universities would prefer to have their degrees from Ife, Ibadan, Lagos, Zaria, Maiduguri, Jos, Benin, Ilorin if and when they attain international standards and would be ready to pay for tuition and accommodation. A situation where graduates of English can’t speak or write good English is unacceptable and should be reversed. Educational institutions have the potential of employing many academic and non-academic staff. Many companies would also be delighted to employ some of the world-class graduates produced locally. These days more of those employed are those with academic degrees and job experience from abroad.
The second way to generate employment is by turning serious attention to our dilapidated infrastructure. We must rebuild and rehabilitate our roads, railways, airports, hospitals, and so on like the ones we are seeing in Ghana. I’m always inspired ours is not impossible if Ghana can fix most of its own challenges before our very eyes. Similar progress has been noticed in Rwanda and even Ivory Coast despite the fratricidal wars that ravaged those two countries. The beauty of working on infrastructural development is the opportunity it offers to employ those we used to call “labourers” who are usually in the majority of the labour market. There is dignity in labour and we do our honest, diligent and hardworking “labourers” a great disservice when we scoff at the fantastic contributions they make towards the enhancement and success of our economy.