Youth Unemployment and Poverty in Nigeria:
A Call for Action, not Rhetoric
By Victor E. Dike
The Minister of Education, Sam Egwu, while addressing the recent convocation ceremony of Yaba College of Technology, Lagos, assured the millions of unemployed, poor and unskilled youth in Nigeria that technical education would enjoy government support in 2010 because of the role of technology in national development (BusinessDay, December 8, 2009). Any person who is familiar with Nigeria's convoluted politics knows that such pronouncement is not new. Previous administrations have painted glowing pictures of their development plans and defined the linkage between technological capability and national development and promised that youth empowerment would remain the government's top priority. Even an international organization, the UNDP, has adopted human development as a major goal for its development efforts (UNDP 1990) yet the leaders have refused to properly fund education that is responsible for human capital development. They have also failed to revive the weak economy and create employment for the millions of graduates churn out by the educational institutions yearly. This short article calls for the leaders to move away from rhetoric to action by tackling the issues facing education, particularly science and technology development. Without addressing the debilitating shortage of advanced technical manpower Nigeria will remain underdeveloped with soaring unemployment, poverty and social crisis.
Issues in Discourse
The quality of education and technological capability of a nation determine its â€˜rates and patterns of development and industrialization.' Technological capability in the form of "production engineering, manufacture of capital goods, and research and development" of a nation are pointers to the effectiveness, efficiency and productivity of its industrial sector (Enos, 1977; Fransman, 1984; & Islam, 2001). Enos (December 1977) has developed three fundamental components of technological capability: 1) individuals embodying skills, training, and experience and inclination; 2) institutions within which individuals are assembled; 3) and a "common purpose," which was â€˜defined in terms of objectives and motivations.' And according to Fransman (1984), technology capabilities in developing countries hinge on factors such as "adequate number and quality of human resources with practical experience, skills, and aptitude; useful technological information on sources and conditions of technology transfer; institutions for education and training, for research and development, and for engineering design and consultancy; favorable natural environment and factor endowments, attitudes and customs, etc." Given the place of technology in national development serious nations give undivided attention to technological capability building (Islam, 2001). Technology capability could come through indigenous technological innovation or technological transfer; but Nigeria has been unable to acquire advance technological capability through either means. History shows that no nation has become an industrialized society without technological capability, and Nigeria cannot be an exception. Poverty will be reduced when employment is available for those willing and able to work.
Problem Areas: Connecting the Dots
The enthusiasm and energy in Nigeria is sapped by its â€˜politics of unreason.' The inability of the leaders to make wise and educated decisions and strengthen technical education is robbing the nation the contributions of the graduates to national development. But making a good decision is not a chance act; it requires a skill. Dike (July-September 2006) has observed that the under-development status of Nigeria could be linked to the odious neglect of the educational institutions responsible for human capital development. Streeten (1994) has observed that development of human capital would help any nation achieve to some extent â€˜self-sufficiency in food production, capital, and goods and services' and â€˜the understanding of the nature of the environment, the preservation of it and eventually will eradicate environmental degradation, desertification, deforestation and soil erosion.' The nation's natural gas is being wasted by flaring, which causes an unspeakable environmental degradation in the oil-producing areas.
However, science and technology has been a part of Nigeria's National Policy on Primary Education (NPE) since 1981 (Moja, 2000), but like every other policy, its implementation has been poorly handled. Dearth of competent technicians is the bane of Nigeria. The society lacks competent bricklayers, carpenters, painters and auto mechanics; laboratory and pharmacy technicians, electrical/ electronic technicians and skilled vocational nurses, etc, which the nation needs to function effectively and efficiently. Yet the leaders have continued to define the linkages between technological development and economic prosperity without providing the resources and effective infrastructure and institutions for national development. Nigeria's inability to acquire the relevant technological know-how largely accounts for the low level of development and pervading poverty in the society today.
And this has affected every facet of the polity. Because the personnel in the nation's health sector are lacking relevant training and skills the hospitals are no longer a place where people go to get their ailments treated, but a place they go and die. Tales abound of how people die out of minor ailments, not to mention major health problems. The refusal of President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua and other high ranking public officials to employ the service of the local hospitals to tackle their health problems (BusinessDay, November 27, 2009) gives credence to the general opinion that the local health institutions lack modern medical infrastructure to handle both minor and major ailments. The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) in the State of the World's Children (2009) noted Nigeria's poor ranking in maternal, neonatal and infant mortality. According to the report Nigeria and India account for one third of maternal deaths worldwide. In 2008, Save the Children, a US-based humanitarian organization, claimed that about one million under-5 children die in Nigeria annually. Another study shows that only about 37 percent of Nigerians have access to good drinking water, and 30 percent use modern sanitation facilities.
Because of poor training and regulations the roadside mechanics in the society cause more harm to motor vehicles when contracted to service them. Although road accident is a global problem, a combination of poor driving training and attitudes toward traffic signs and regulations and poorly maintained vehicles and roads lead to rampant road accidents that have sent many people to their early death. According to the 2008 report by the Corps Marshall of the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) about 4,800 people die in road accidents in Nigeria yearly (Daily Sun, November 20, 2008). This figure could be conservative, given the sordid state of the roads and menace of armed robbers on the highways. Bad roads have subjected the people to untold hardship; the Lagos-Benin road abandoned by the previous administration remains in a distasteful state. And public outcry has not moved the government to action. However, because of corruption the government keeps awarding new road contracts without ensuring that the old projects are completed. Most of the so-called "expatriate engineers" who are being paid millions of dollars to build Nigeria's roads and bridges are graduates of technical colleges. Yet Nigeria does not take this sub-sector of her education seriously.
The shabby performance of Nigeria's builders (mason/bricklayers) and poor building maintenance often lead to unbridled collapsing of buildings (ThisDay, January 25, 2006). Today individuals who can afford it employ competent technicians from neighboring countries to handle their important projects (Dike, March 27, 2009 & March 30, 2009). The havoc caused in the power sector by the poorly trained technicians has been vastly documented. Spotty electricity supply is the greatest bottleneck to the growth of the economy and national development. The agricultural sector is also a victim of the shortage of advanced technical manpower. Peasant farmers are toiling all day in the field with knives, hoes and shovels to feed the nation's 140 million people. Nigeria's arable lands are not cultivated all year round because of lack of advanced technology for irrigation to increase food production. Because of the deficiencies the nation is unable to effectively and efficiently process, preserve, and store the excess of her seasonal food stuffs. This has contributed to food scarcity and high prices for basic food items with the attendant rising hunger and starvation. Nigeria imports billions of naira worth of food annually to feed its growing population (BusinessDay, November 19, 2007). Although Nigeria is the sixth largest world producer of petroleum, it imports fuel for domestic use. The nation was recently ranked the 13th poorest nation in the world.
The financial sector is not spared as the society lacks competent technicians to establish databases and credit bureaus to ascertain the people's credit worthiness and their true identity. Because of this deficiency the banks often give out huge loans to individuals who otherwise would not qualify. The financial sector lacks technical expertise to regulate and supervise the banks and to develop financial software to properly tackle the rising fraudulent activities in the banking sector. Thus because of the sector's systemic weakness some bank managers and other top officials connive with crooked politicians and business executives to defraud their banks. This contributed to the huge non-performing loan crises that rocked some banks in recent times (Daily Independent, Nov 17, 2009).
The nation's theory-oriented teaching and education does not seem to take the needs of the society into consideration. Because of poor education, training and motivation the police extort money as low as N20 from the public and violate the human and civil rights of the citizens who question their authority. The police also lack skilled forensic laboratory and fingerprint technicians to conduct criminal investigations. There was a shameful episode recently in the society where the police paraded a goat as a thief; the police noted that the criminal they were chasing transformed into an animal (BBC News, January 23, 2009). There is a wide spread public concern about the danger posed by environmental pollution and fake drugs in the society. The National Agency for Foods, Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC), the agency responsible for controlling the authenticity of foods and drugs, lacks competent technicians to properly monitor the manufacturing, importation and distribution of fake/expired drugs in the society (Leadership, September 27, 2009). The poor and less educated in the society lack the skills and knowledge to manage their health problems: AIDS, cancer, diabetes and high blood pressure, among other serious health issues.
Although technical education seem deficient in â€˜citizenship or leadership training' (Friedman, 1982), it provides the youth and other citizens with "life skills" (Alwasilah, February 11, 2002) to enable them become productive entrepreneurs and increase their personal freedom. As Sen (1999) has aptly noted, "Freedoms are not only the primary ends of development, they are also among its primary means." The main problem with Nigeria bad leadership or â€˜Leadership without a moral purpose' (Dike, October 14, 2009), which has subjected the citizens to immeasurable economic hardship and misery.
Conclusion: A Call for Action, not Rhetoric
Nigerians are tired of rhetoric on youth empowerment, employment, and poverty, illiteracy, quality education, national development, and good governance, electoral reforms, and war on corruption. The people need real actions to tackle the nation's myriad economic and sociopolitical problems. The society is brimming with untapped talents. Nigerians could be so much more effective and fulfilled with a leader who would provide a good environment for them to unleash their ingenuity. The mere lauding of the mountain of Visions, Agenda, Reforms and Re-branding gambit will not create employment and reduce poverty or make Nigeria an industrialized society. Nigeria will accomplish this lofty feat with proper investment in human capital development, which is the engine for rapid economic growth and development. More importantly, the leaders need to develop the right attitude and political will towards the critical sectors of the economy such as the intractable problem of epileptic power supply and bad road. No nation can fight a war without an army. In the same token Nigeria's quest for development and industrialization will remain a dream without technological capability. Let's pray and hope that the New Year will bring the nation a new and better sense of direction.
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Victor E. Dike is the author of Leadership without a Moral Purpose: a Critical Analysis of Nigerian Politics and Administration, (with emphasis on the Obasanjo Administration, 2003-2007), North Charleston: South Carolina, BookSurge Publication, October 14, 2009. For additional information, please visit: http://www.csjhd.org