One nightmare that is confronting youth in Nigeria is the challenge of getting a job. In a recent stunning revelation by the Minister of Youths and Social Development, Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi, 28.14 million youths in Nigeria are unemployed in a total population of 67 million youths. This is 42% youth unemployment! This is inspite of fabulous claims of economic growth.
As alarming as this is, it only tells of the percentage of youth (mainly graduate) unemployment in the formal sector. Latest survey by the National Bureau of Statistics put the general unemployment rate at 23.9 % of the active labour force, an increase of 1.8 million unemployed people between December 2010 and June 2011!
YOUWIN: A NEW SCAM
To tackle this challenge, the President Jonathan Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) government recently launched with fanfare a youth employment scheme tagged "Youth Enterprise With Innovation in Nigeria (You WIN!)". This, according to President Jonathan, is set to "create jobs (and) lay a new foundation for Nigeria’s economic growth"!
The initiative is a business plan competition aimed at empowering young people to create jobs through provision of grants and enterprise training to those with excellent business plans and proposals. "YouWin will provide access to credit up to N10 million to Nigerian youth who come up with fantastic business proposals or plans to expand existing businesses" (ThisDay, 31 October 2011).
Altogether YouWin is expected to create something around 80, 000 to 110, 000 jobs in 3 years. These jobs are to be created through grants received by about 3, 600 enterprising youth! Even on this assumption, without conceding that this could actually be achieved, 110, 000 jobs in 3 years falls short of the urgency the job crisis. Over 28 million Nigerian youths are already unemployed! This added to the general unemployment data will bring the unemployment level beyond 50 million!
Instead of directly investing in the economy to create jobs, the wiseacres of neo-colonial capitalism are using YouWin scheme to sow the illusion that anyone can become the next Bill Gates or Steve Jobs, but while it is always possible that one or two individuals may strike luck in business or sport this offers no way out for the millions. At best, all it would create is some mushroom of small and medium scale businesses that will soon collapse due to the harsh business environment of Nigeria.
Instead of sowing illusions in this kind of thing, the majority of Nigerian youth need to engage in collective struggle to demand real and productive jobs. According to the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), about 1.8 million jobs have been lost in the manufacturing sector alone since 1999. The textile sector is comatose while the leather and allied industries lost a million jobs in Kano State alone. Where big companies are folding up or relocating abroad because of the parlous state of infrastructure, how can small scale businesses, such as the scheme is targeting to finance, thrive?
REAL AND DECENT JOBS ARE POSSIBLE
The YouWin scheme is consistent with a new philosophy of the Nigerian capitalist ruling class. According to them the youth must not wait on government for jobs but look to the market. As a result of this insane formula, mandatory entrepreneurial courses have to be introduced in Universities. According to them, those who wait on the government are lazy and unimaginative.
This is blackmail of poor struggling Nigerians! It is an attempt to pass the blame of unemployment on poor and jobless Nigerians. Unlike what the capitalist ruling class wants to portray, laziness is not the cause of mass poverty in Nigeria and Nigerians, including the youths, are not lazy. They do not wait on government even though the reason for setting up a government is to use society’s wealth to take care of everyone. The countless hairdressing salon, barbing salon, mechanic and vulcanizing workshops, carpentry workshops and tailoring shops, food stalls, pure water and recharge card outlets etc. we see on every street in Nigeria are examples of how resourceful Nigerians are even in the face of adversity.
It is not laziness of youth or lack of imagination but the capitalist system that is responsible for the unemployment crisis and mass poverty in society. Job creation is not the aim of capitalism but profit maximization. This is exactly why Socialists campaign for a rationale economic system that puts priority on what is good for the society and not just what is good for a few people.
FIGHT FOR REAL JOBS NOW
All this underscores the need for a collective fight back. Trade unions together with students unions and community youth organizations must lead a national campaign involving demonstrations, protest actions and strikes to fight for creation of real jobs with trade union rights.
Unfortunately the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) have no program to fight for jobs. Even during strike actions for minimum wage and against fuel price hike, the trade unions often fail to link the issue of youth unemployment to these struggles. This counter-productive approach of the trade unions to struggle causes despondency among many layers of youth.
The youth have a right to real, decent and well-paid jobs with trade union rights. We must demand unemployment benefit to be paid to all unemployed. We must also demand the sharing of existing work without loss of pay to ensure that everyone is able to get a job. We must demand reversal of all privatization and for nationalization under democratic public control.
Despite fantastic economic growth, all capitalism has been able to achieve in Nigeria is jobless growth and mass poverty amidst plenty. This is one of the reasons we must fight to end this unjust and obscene arrangement of society. We must fight for an alternative to capitalism and for society’s wealth to be taken off the 1%. With a socialist economic plan, a government of genuine representatives of workers and poor could takeover Nigeria’s resources from the few rich and put them to work to begin to meet the real needs of majority in society.