Nigeria’s Unemployment: Looking beyond the interventionist programs

Recently, the National Assembly, disclosed that it had suspended the Federal Government’s planned recruitment of 774,000 Nigerians under the Special Public Works programme. According to the spokesperson for the Senate, Dr Ajibola Basiru, the federal parliament took the decision pending proper briefing of the National Assembly by the Minister of labour and productivity on the modalities for the implementation of programme.

We recall that in April, the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed revealed that the President approved the engagement of 774,000 Nigerians for Special Public Works programme in the country to cushion the effect of COVID-19 pandemic. We understand that 1,000 people were expected to be recruited from each of the 774 local government areas in the country while the sum of N60bn for allowances and operational cost had been earmarked from the COVID-19 crisis intervention fund for the initiative. The initiative is expected to start on October 1 and each beneficiary will be paid N20, 000 monthly to carry out public works.

Youth unemployment and underemployment remains one of the biggest social problems confronting Nigeria today. The high level of unemployment has been suggested to be one of the principal contributors to the problems of banditry, kidnapping, armed robbery and other social vices that are fast becoming a daily occurrence. According to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), Nigeria’s official unemployment rate accelerated to 23.1% in the third quarter of 2018 (the most recent employment data). This is the highest rate of unemployment recorded in the last eight years as the number of unemployed people surged by about 31% to 21 million people when compared to Q3 2017. With the advent of the global pandemic, the number of unemployed persons is set to increase at a faster pace.

To tackle the problem of youth unemployment, successive governments, over the years, have implemented a raft of interventionist schemes such as National Poverty Eradication Programme (NAPEP) in 2001, Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Program (SURE-P) in 2012, National Social Investment Program (NSIP) in 2015 which placed emphasis on skills acquisition, provision of employments for unemployed graduates through internship programs and the creation of database of unemployed youths. In 2016, the current administration created N-Power to addresses the challenge of youth unemployment by providing a structure for large scale and relevant work skills acquisition and development. The common pitfalls associated with these programmes include; implementation on an interim basis, poor coordination, and gross inefficiency.

While we applaud the initiatives of the government in solving youth unemployment, we note that direct job interventionist schemes remain largely insufficient and unlikely to generate economic benefits that will boost economic growth and enhance the wellbeing of the beneficiaries. In our view, tackling unemployment requires investment in the business environment and implementation of pro-growth policies that will foster the growth of small and large-scale industries, attract foreign direct investment in high employment elastic sectors and enhance private sector investment.


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