I know I have started my piece with a title that stokes controversy and courts trouble. But, I will only plead that you patiently hear me out, reason with me, see my arguments, then you can freely make up your mind and make your choice whether to agree or disagree with me from an informed position.
Every right thinking and visionary individual living in Nigeria today and observing the multifaceted challenges the country faces today especially with regards to the debilitating issue of overwhelming youth unemployment (forget about under-employment for a second) will agree that the gentleman Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Mr Udom Emmanuel, has set his sights right and taken the right steps towards addressing the issue comprehensively.
What exactly makes this issue so monstrous and debilitating? Available statistics indicate that Nigeria is a youthful nation with over 64% of the population accounting for youths under 40 years of age. Ordinarily this sort of demography should be cheery news and music to the ears. In a country that is projected to have over 200 million as her population size, the youth population is a very healthy number and a huge market, an economic delight. However, in Nigeria this is not so. The news is neither cheery nor healthy and just like in every unhealthy situation the news presents governments at all levels with sleepless nights and worry, I believe. Right thinking government officials especially those at the helm of affairs know, like John Podesta, former Chief of Staff to president Bill Clinton that ‘relentlessly high youth unemployment is a… time bomb’ waiting to detonate.
Youth unemployment, it must be said, is not peculiar to Nigeria and Akwa Ibom state but what is peculiar is the sheer number of unemployed youths in our clime due to our humongous population. Available data suggests that as high as 55.4% of young people 15 to 35 years in Nigeria are unemployed. This does not compare well with the global youth unemployment rate at 13% and does not take into account unemployment among other age groups. This has dire consequences ranging from social, economic to political. Very high youth employment results in short and long term damage to the economy including the fact that it takes young people longer time to ‘settle down’ and begin families and all the attendant losses arising from this. In the long term it leads to slower economic growth, lower tax receipts for government, social instability, negative impact on productivity, crime and criminality just to mention a few. Societies with prolonged and relentless youth unemployment run the risk of social instability not worse than what we experience in Nigeria so far. Infact it reminds us of the age old saying that “an idle mind is the devil’s workshop”. We are seeing signs of the effect of prolonged youth unemployment in Nigeria with increase in kidnapping, increased rate of suicide, upsurge in internal terrorism and high recruitment rate of our youth into armed robbery, insurgency and other forms of social vices. All of these combine with extremely slow economic growth and a non performing economy to present a frightful prospect.
One may wonder why a country like Nigeria with over 200 million people, a majority of the people able, healthy, strong and a good number of the people ‘educated’ to degree level would face this sort of calamitous scenario; a scenario where most of our future leaders wander aimlessly with nothing to do. The simple but highly disturbing answer is that we have become lazy placing our total dependence solely on oil and took our eyes away from other industries. This led to the collapse of other sectors including manufacturing, agriculture and others. Imagine that our capacity utilization in the manufacting sector fell from 75.4% in 1979 to 55% in 2018 meanwhile population is growing. Also, we import almost everything we consume in this country from toothpick to tissue paper. Not too long ago a federal minister did say that some Nigerians import pizza from London to eat in Nigeria. This may sound simplistic and unfathomable but it is true.
This was the scenario and background which the gentleman Governor of Akwa Ibom state met on ground when he resumed for duty. In addition, in his own state, Akwa Ibom, one loosely referred to as a civil service state, the state depended exclusively on oil revenue with zilch functional industry. Under the circumstance the gentleman Governor decided to face the problem squarely and attack the problem head on from the roots. He deployed the most comprehensive viable approach to creating employment for the people, industrialization and self-sufficiency in most things.
First he recogised that over-dependence on oil is not just harmful, it is suicidal. Suicidal because in the near future, not more than 21 years from today, by 2040 precisely most European and American countries will ban the use of fuel-powered cars and switch to electric powered cars. It takes a right thinking and visionary leader one who cares about his people to take the very tough decision to diversify the state economy and venture away from oil in order to create a sound and stable economic base for the state and create jobs to employ the people.
He began the journey of job creation and reduction of unemployment utilizing the Asian model of cottage industries to prove to the people that it could be done and started several of such cottage industries. He chose those products with very high in usage but which are either totally or significantly imported. Products including pencils, toothpicks and hatchery. Today the wheel of industralisation has turned in giants leaps and bounds and the medium to heavy industries have come on board including a flourishing airline (the only one run by a state in Africa), a flour mill, syringe manufacturing facility and many more huge ones both completed and work in progress.
As at the last count this mercurial Governor has started approximately 20 industries and has his sights set to roll out more in a determined effort to make Akwa Ibom an example of the focused fight against unemployment; an example of the possibilities that our country holds if she dares. As factory after factory opens its doors for production, the unemployment line in Akwa Ibm and Nigeria reduces.
So Udom Emmanuel, gentleman Governor of Akwa Ibom state may not be the messiah for Nigeria in terms of fighting unemployment but he is certainly pointing us in the right direction through his focused industrialization drive.