April 10, 2015 By Oswald Hanciles
The good luck of the mystically-named former president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan, ran out – when, according to Nigeria’s Vanguard newspaper, on March 31, 2015, he telephoned the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Muhammadu Buhari, for Buhari’s trouncing him in presidential elections last month. Retired Major-General Muhammadu Buhari was Head of State of Nigeria from 31 December, 1983 to 27 August, 1985, after taking power in a coup that ousted from power democratically-elected fellow Fulani, Alhaji Shehu Shagari. Political analysts in Africa have inundated the media with analysis as to why ‘the much feared’ Buhari won – or, why the vaunted ‘pro-business’ former university lecturer with a zoology doctorate degree, Goodluck Jonathan, lost the election. I focus on one variable here which is of relevance to all African countries – from Egypt to Uganda…to South Africa; from Senegal to…Sierra Leone…D.R. Congo…to Ethiopia: YOUTH UNEMPLOYMENT.
Call for “Revolution” because of youth unemployment in Nigeria
Nigerian writer, Osobu Suuru Alexander, in a March, 2014 incendiary article titled, “Unemployment In Nigeria: A Factor For Revolution!” (http://saharareporters.com/2014/03/25/unemployment-nigeria-factor-revolution-osobu-suuru-alexander) punches with bare knuckles: “….It is no longer news in Nigeria that over one million unemployed youths are readily applying for jobs where less than five thousand people are needed. The country is in the verge of revolution which undoubtedly will be triggered by this terrible economic menace called unemployment…”
Osubu was derisive of Goodluck’s government for his apparent propaganda on the youth unemployment problem: ”…..(This) is a country that is always creating millions of jobs every year; and the year 2013 is not an exception, as Mr. President Goodluck said: ‘We created 1.6 million jobs in 2013,’ could all this be political propaganda? ….” And, he penned down a Jeremiad warning: “The resilient Nigerian youths might get tired of this perseverance someday and go berserk, if something is not quickly done to address this time bomb we are all sitting on….”
Apparently, Goodluck’s government was acutely aware of the youth unemployment problem; its globally famous finance minister, a former World Bank vice president, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, quotedfigures from Nigeria’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) …saying that …. ‘no fewer than 5.3 million youths are jobless in the country, while 1.8 million graduates enter the labour market every year……’ (Nigeria’s grim unemployment statistics http://sunnewsonline.com/new/?p=59179).
A national agency in Nigeria had lampooned Goodluck’s government on this viral issue: ‘The 2011 Performance Monitoring Report on Government’s Ministries, Departments and Agencies (of Nigeria) announced by the National Planning Commission stated that the rate of unemployment among Nigerians worsened after President Goodluck Jonathan assumed office…’
The ticking bomb of youth unemployment
The danger that Africa’s youth unemployment problem presents is continent-wide: A 2013 McKinsey Global Institute report, Africa at work: Job creation and inclusive growth, states that……’Despite the creation of 37 million new and stable wage-paying jobs over the past decade, only 28 percent of Africa’s labor force holds such positions. Instead, some 63 percent of the total labor force engages in some form of self-employment or “vulnerable” employment, such as subsistence farming or urban street hawking….’
An article evocatively titled, “Youth unemployment: South Africa’s ticking bomb”, by Claire Price, February 21, 2012, (http://mg.co.za/article/2012-02-21-youth-unemployment-south-africas-ticking-bomb/) is again ominous: “South Africa’s young people are worst affected by the country’s unemployment problem, leading some to think there will be a call for a revolution….. Out of a population of 49-million, 7.5-million South Africans are out of work. …..”
The imagery of a ‘bomb’ is now being generally used by writers on Africa’s youth unemployment crisis, as indicated in this article by Patrice Peck, “Africa’s Ticking Time Bomb: Defusing the Youth Unemployment Crisis”: “In Kenya, 80 percent of the nation’s 2.3 million unemployed are young people between 15 and 34 years of age, according to a U.N. Development Programme report….” The writer quotes Dr. Frank Aswani, the Vice President and Director of Strategic Relations at African Leadership Academy in South Africa: “…. We could be sitting on a time bomb as we speak…..If we don’t do anything about giving young people economic opportunities…”
Youth Unemployment: “International Time Bomb”
A committee of British MPs in 2014 also clanged warning bells on youth unemployment, using the ‘ticking time bomb’ imagery too: ‘Rising youth unemployment is one of the deepest economic and social problems facing economies the world over, increasingly considered an ‘international time bomb’ for both developed and developing nations alike. Youth unemployment isn’t an issue that can be solved by governments alone……Youth unemployment currently stands at over 75 million people worldwide …..The world needs to wake up to “the ticking time bomb” of youth unemployment in developing countries and treat the issue as seriously as humanitarian disasters and global efforts to eradicate disease.…..With 600 million young people competing for a predicted 200 million jobs over the next decade, the committee says there is a danger of widespread social and political unrest. …..While the committee acknowledges that donors, including the World Bank and Britain’s Department for International Development (DfID), are aware of the problem, it discerns “a lack of passion in attempts to address it”…’(Source: Global Youth Unemployment: a ticking time bomb… http://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2013/mar/26/global-youth-unemployment-ticking-time-bomb)
Youth Unemployment: Ticking Time Bomb In Mano River Union
Youth unemployment in Sierra Leone is palpable; jarring. One is almost smacked on the face by hundreds of thousands of jobless youth idling on the streets of Freetown from sun up to sun set: A Reuters report, Economy, November, 25, 2013, publishes thus:
“With 60 percent of Sierra Leonean youths unemployed according to the government – one of the highest rates in the world – some youth employment experts fear young people’s growing disaffection combined with chronic poverty and high cost of living pose a threat to stability.
“Youth employment is central to all crises in this country,” said Wahab Shaw, youth programme specialist with the UN Development Programme (UNDP). “There is so much unemployment, marginalisation, so many school dropouts; and all these factors helped fuel the war in the first place.”
For post-war Sierra Leone, the specter is should give us some comfort since Sierra Leone emerged from war 13 years ago: “Sierra Leone is at a critical juncture,” said Jenny Perlman Robinson, senior programme officer of the non-profit Women’s Refugee Commission’s youth programme. “An estimated 44 percent of countries coming out of war return to conflict within the first five years.” (http://www.irinnews.org/report/83278/sierra-leone-could-youth-unemployment-derail-stability)
Sierra Leone’s ‘rebel war’ filtered in from neighbouring Liberia. If Liberia is not peaceful, or, has ‘seeds of war’, Sierra Leone should be deeply worried. Charlie Dunmore, writing for Reuters, in an article titled, ‘Liberian President Says Youth Unemployment a Threat to Peace’, on November, 2015, quoted the most authoritative source on Liberia’s youth unemployment situation – its president, Johnson-Sirleaf: “Youth unemployment is a major threat to peace and security in Liberia which, unless addressed, could see the return of conflict to the West African country following a decade of peace…..”. Dunmore wrote that: “…According to the United Nations, young people account for about 65 percent of Liberia’s population of 4.1 million, and youth unemployment is estimated as high as 85 percent….”
Sierra Leone’s President Ernest Bai Koroma has given topmost priority to youth problems – enough to publicly state that he would ‘lay down his very life for youth in the country’. Also, on April 15, 2014, the president launched an ambitious US$ 217.5million three year National Youth Programme that seeks to create one million decent new jobs – the first ever and biggest national youth programme… (http://www.sl.undp.org/content/sierraleone/en/home/presscenter/articles/2014/04/15/sierra-leone-launches-us-217-5m-youth-programme-to-create-one-million-new-jobs-expand-higher-education-.html).
That ambitious youth thrust of President Koroma was a year ago. One year of the Ebola War in our country since March, 2014, and its deleterious effects on our economy, has made the challenge of youth unemployment more daunting. But, the President, and the APC, have to measure up to the challenge. Just over two years to the next elections, the youth would not accept excuses of the Ebola War when they cast their votes in 2018. As the President gives traction to government’s “Post-Ebola Action” plans, the magnitude and urgency of the youth unemployment crisis, the complexity of the task, stresses the need for the president to harness the best and most imaginative of minds of the citizenry who think out of the box.
Goodluck could have depended too much on luck
In the recent presidential elections, Nigeria’s APC presidential candidate, Buhari, polled 792,460 votes to beat Goodluck with his 632,327 votes in Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital. Out of the 20 local government areas in Lagos State, the APC won 15 – while the PDP won five. Those figures are phenomenal for Lagos!! Lagos city has about 90% of the publishing, finance, retailing…in Nigeria, which is considered the biggest economy in Africa today…The south-western Yoruba ethnic group that predominate Lagos are by far the most sophisticated and most educated among the ethnic groups in Nigeria – with a monarchy that pre-dated European colonialism by 160 years; and with about the only conquering standing army in traditional Africa that established an ‘empire’.
Buhari is Fulani from the North. Traditionally, the mainly Islamic Hausa-Fulani oligarchs of the North are not much loved by the largely Christian Yorubas – and that is putting it mildly. That these Yorubas could prefer Buhari to Goodluck is a lesson, and, a warning, to Sierra Leone’s APC: that in politics, anything is possible – if the biggest of problems like youth unemployment are not seriously addressed. The lesson of Nigeria’s former President Goodluck Jonathan losing the recent elections in spite of the power of incumbency, and a campaign treasure trove of over $200 million pumped into the elections by Goodluck’s PDP, accentuate the reality that Africans are slowly maturing in their politics – something which the Nigerians learn from Sierra Leone when the APC opposition won the 2007 elections.
To stand a better chance of winning the 2018 election, Sierra Leone’s APC must significantly dent the problem of youth unemployment ON THE GROUND, not with intention, not with spin, but, with that action that would mean salaries or earnings in the pockets of youth employed by businesses, and self-employed. Importantly, the APC generally should approach the youth unemployment with the profundity and urgency that one should give to a “ticking time bomb” issue.