Unemployment and under-employment as threats to Nigeria’s National Security
Robert McNamara a former United States Secretary of Defence was once quoted as saying ‘’Any society that seeks to achieve adequate military security against the background of acute food shortages, population explosion, low level of productivity and per capital income, low technological development, inadequate and sufficient public utilities and chronic problem of unemployment, has a false sense of security’’. Unfortunately though, Nigeria is still striving to overcome not one, two or three of all these challenges but all of them. These problems have been accumulating over the years with the inability of successive governments tackle them head on. Further worsening this situation is the frustrations of Nigerians aimed at political leaders who failed to make good on promises that they would improve the general standard of living. Such failures normally had one or more causes. In many cases some of our leaders were incompetent, saw their own power base as threatened by needed changes, or simply were overwhelmed by the magnitude of their problems and their lack of resources. Nigeria is now faced with one of the greatest threats to her existence as a whole, that of (as in the words of McNamara) ‘chronic unemployment’ especially among her youth. Because of its human cost in depravation and feelings of rejection and personal failure, the extent of unemployment is widely used as a measure of workers welfare. Compounding this is the problem of underemployment- that is, people are employed only part time or at work that is inefficient or unproductive with a corresponding low income that is insufficient to meet their needs.
The level of unemployment and under-employment in the country has gotten to an unbelievable state. One major reason for this unemployment is that the growth of education has far outstripped the growth of the economy so that the supply of jobs cannot meet the demand for them. The result is that school leavers and graduates drift to the towns in search of jobs. Few lucky ones are employed but the vast unemployed majority roam the streets and therefore have a higher tendency to resort to crime. This class constitutes a source of potential danger to the State. ‘’if revolutions come in Africa’’, commented a scholar, ‘’it is from this group that they will draw rank and file’’. For example it is generally believed that the coup of January 13, 1963 in Togo in which President Sylvanus Olympio was assassinated was the result at dissatisfaction among unemployed soldiers and their friends in the Togolese army. Today, there has been Arab uprisings led by youths and dissatisfied elements within the security agencies all around the Middle East that has led either to the collapse or weakening of powerful autocratic regimes in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Syria and so on. President Goodluck Jonathan has met a monstrous problem he didn’t create (and so must be giving all the necessary support by well meaning Nigerians) but if he fails to solve or reduce this problem within his tenure, then the country called Nigeria as we know it might collapse not as a result of an unlikely revolution but as a result of something much worse as I will now explain.
Many leaders here in Nigeria might want to argue that what happened in the Arab World is not attainable in Nigeria because of already existing democratic institutions Present here. Others would also argue that any unity protest against any insensitive government here at home would be hampered by the ethnic or religious differences or sentiments of the masses/protesters. In other words, an attack on any incompetent leader or system will be seen by some as an attack on the tribe or religion of the leader. We are no doubt all paying the price for fighting in the name of religion or ethnicity. This is why a truly Nationalistic struggle in Nigeria which will see people of all tribes and religions march shoulder by shoulder against poverty or unemployment at the Federal level is unrealistic. This is apart from the fact that the divisive forces of tribalism or religious differences have and are continuing to be intensified by ambitious and unscrupulous Nigerian Politicians who appeal to the tribal or religious sentiments of their people in order to win their votes at elections, or to score points against an opponent. These politicians have gone further by using these people to ignite acts of social, ethnic and religious violence. Karl Marx spoke of religion as means devised by the privileged to subjugate the less privileged under perpetual hegemony in order to exploit them spiritually, physically, psychologically and sexually. Education and orientation is the key in overcoming ignorance. Education is regarded as important. It is essential in a democratic society that people should acquire such basic education which will enable them to understand the daily acts of government. Illiteracy is specifically high in the northern part of Nigeria which can partly explain the tendency of many to resort to religious violence over the slightest provocation which logically might not have had anything to do with religion in the first place. Illiteracy creates a lack of understanding among individual or groups in a society. The lack of understanding serves as a potential weapon in the hands of dubious leaders and elites in fermenting discord in the society. According to a 2003 World almanac survey, while countries such as Australia, Denmark and Finland each had a literacy rate put at a 100%, African countries such as Somalia, Eritrea and guinea each had theirs put at 24-20 and 30%. While these non-African countries seem to be at peace today, the African countries are still embroiled in internal conflicts.
The fact is that any major unchecked crisis in an ethnically and religiously mixed or cosmopolitan Nigeria has the potential of wrecking havoc to the extent of gradually bringing down a government. No scenario is ever exhausted. Because something hasn’t happened doesn’t mean it can’t. Life is an unpredictable process that can never quite be figured out. As a principle in Murphy’s Law it is stated that ‘’If anything can go wrong it will’’. Human nature somehow guarantees that nothing turns out quite the way it’s supposed to. Therefore though ethnic and religious differences might never allow a revolution to take place in Nigeria, there is a growing tendency for something much worse to take place. There is the possibility of the masses rallying round cultural organizations, Political movements, regional and factional groups e.g. OPC/Afenifere for the Yoruba’s, MASSOB/Ndigbo for the Igbos , and Arewa for the Hausa’s. Minority groups will either align themselves with these larger groups, reactivate their own old movements, strengthen existing movements, or form new groups of their own. With government control only at the centre as seen in Afghanistan and Somalia, the government’s security apparatus will be overstretched fighting factions and keeping factions from fighting one another. Then the government would be accused of taking sides if one faction is dealt with more severely. An arms race would develop between groups, and leaders will be tempted to arm their groups. The security agencies who wouldn’t be immune from ethno-religious sentiments themselves, will consequently find it hard to crack down on particular groups. Politics will now be between liberals and traditionalist on the one hand and religious extremist and secularist on the other. Those that see a total collapse of Nigeria as an ideal process should however study the history of Lebanon, Somalia, Afghanistan and Sudan to have an in-depth idea of what war torn countries look like.
Either way, from various researches conducted it is apparent that the various challenges facing Nigerian youths in getting desirable jobs are numerous. Though some challenges also exist in the private sector, the level of inconsistencies and restrictions in the government sector is particularly alarming. This is why the main focus here will be on the Federal government jobs which are presently the most sought after and politicised jobs today. There is a lot the government can do to abolish some of these restrictions as a way of alleviating the sufferings and anger of youths directed at Nigerian leaders for directly or indirectly putting them in their present predicament in the first place. The Nigerian economy is still largely government run. Government jobs though low paying in most places offer job security and therefore seem more desirable in the midst of an unpredictable private sector and economic climate. The well paying non federal government jobs are few and are usually centred around the oil and telecoms sectors, consulates and some NGO’s. The other ones are peanut paying and exploitative similar to state government jobs. Complaints given by job seekers are endless. While most inconsistencies are deliberate others are circumstantial. First is the problem of advertisements. Many Jobs nowadays don’t advertise positions and even when they do (to make it official in line with the Federal government’s directive that all jobs must be advertised) it is apparent that selection has already taken place favouring even some of those that never applied for the job. The jobs may also only require a few dozen people in the midst of hundreds of thousands to over a million submitted applications. This means that those who aren’t ‘well connected’ or from the highly privileged class are at the mercy of ‘divine intervention’. Age restrictions (in the case of the private sector) also affect vibrant applicants who could not get admission into tertiary institution on time or graduate when due because of inconsistencies in the country’s admission process and disruptions in the tertiary calendar as a result of strikes. Many of these individuals are past their youth but still remain unemployed. Most jobs now also place premium on Experience. One wonders how a youth who has never been given the opportunity to work will get experience in the first place? .Buying of application forms is surprising. Organizations now just use it to make money off desperate job seekers. Why should a youth who doesn’t earn a salary purchase an application form especially from a government institution? Does government not make budgetary provisions for these institutions to cover such cost? if the government remains mute and the agencies insist on taxing the applicants as absolutely necessary ‘processing fees’, then why can’t half of the processing fees be charged on the application and then the remaining half only if the applicant is invited for interview screening or tests?. The State governments can also help out in paying on behalf of some of their indigenes as some of them do for some of their WAEC students, and in granting students scholarships etc.
The country’s Federal Quota system also raises some questions. Employment should be based on merit. Though provisions are necessary to make sure all regions are represented in the affairs of state, there should be limitations so as not to encourage academic laxity and unproductivity among those who feel protected by quota and discourage those who have worked hard academically just to find themselves short changed by a far less qualified individual in the name of quota. As expected, this has led many Nigerians to ‘purchase’ indigenization forms from other states that struggle to meet their quota. Closely related to this are cases of people being favoured based on their tribe or religion depending on the ethnic or religious affiliation of those with considerable influence on the organization. There is also too much emphasis on class of degree (be it 1st,2nd,or 3rd class). While academic excellence should be encouraged, our public school system is such that the methods of measurement used in awarding class of degrees are so inconsistent with international standards. People of all classes of degrees should be allowed to sit for interviews and prove if what they earned from the university was deserved, circumstantial or just criminal. Other challenges affecting youths seeking jobs include that of overcrowded and unorganized interview and test venues, online applications hindered by poor website and server management (apart from the fact that people are hardly recruited through online submissions), lack of official information concerning the outcome of applications or written test and interviews, slots being created or hoarded for the privileged and so on. All this of course is apart from the thousands of slots being occupied by ‘ghost workers’. It is also surprising when People say that graduates should venture into businesses but yet refuse to support these graduates with sufficient starting capital. Even facebook, and Microsoft founders respectively each started with capital.
The Under-employed themselves are not in any way immune to employment challenges. Apart from the challenge they face in getting a more ideal job or position, they find it hard to get their position upgraded to be commensurate with their qualifications, and get little or no support or approval for furthering their education. We also have are largely archaic public work force that seems threatened by new, technological, or fresh ideas or by the influx of younger, more vibrant and educated applicants. How many senior staff in the public service can operate an email or the internet used to enhance speed and efficiency. Governor BabatundeFashola of Lagos State said it best when he concluded that ‘the problem of Nigeria is not about the age of the leader but the age of the ideas’.
The danger with placing all these restrictions in an unrealistic environment on both unemployed or underemployed youths is immeasurable; it has led to the falsification of degrees, falsification of age, submitting of lower qualification in order to endure a demeaning position, falsification of years and place of experience, suspicion, frustration, feeling of lack of worth or recognition or appreciation, Inferiority-complex, desire to steal, cheat, lack of patriotism and so on. The chronic unemployment problem is a time bomb waiting to explode if right and drastic measures are not taken urgently. These measures can only succeed if the President appoints people that are competent, and immune from political godfathers as well as from ethnic and religious favouritism. After all, the problem of Nigeria has always been that of having the wrong people in the right places and the right people in the wrong places!
Bulus Nom Audu
Abuja based Defence and Security analyst
No 33, Aminu road, Old Karu, Abuja