By ADEBAYO OBAJEMU
When President Muhammadu Buhari was in the blaze of campaign in 2015, part of his promises to the electorates was a reduction in the rate of unemployment. In spite of his many social investment programmes, many commentators, including his own minister in charge of Labour, Chris Ngige believe he has not done enough. Ngige said the Buhari-led government needs to do more before unemployment causes social unrest in Nigeria.
While speaking in May this year at the College of Medicine, University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), Ngige said Buhari’s government is doing something about unemployment but has to do more. Ngige said the government is worried that unemployment is growing like a vicious disease that has given rise to a lot of anti-social behaviours.
He reiterated that a failure to combat unemployment would eventually consume the country with social unrest.
“The symptoms are there. Boko Haram is a symptom of unemployment in Nigeria. IPOB is a symptom of unemployment and desperation and people getting frustrated. Same goes for banditry in the North West. Same goes for kidnapping all over the country. Avengers – the destruction of oil pipelines, OPC – all these are symptoms of very serious underlying disease condition called unemployment”.
In its last release on the subject, the National Bureau of Statistics says unemployment rate in Nigeria increased to 23.10 percent in the third quarter of 2018 from 22.70 percent in the second quarter of 2018. Unemployment rate in Nigeria averaged 12.31 percent from 2006 until 2018, reaching an all time high of 23.10 percent in the third quarter of 2018.
Just weeks ago, the government said it is targeting 1.2million jobs with a 500 million Euro loan, to be managed by the Bank of Industry. The external creditors’ loan will support industrialisation and agriculture, Minister of State for Budget and National Planning, Clement Agba, has said.
He said: “Council today approved the issuance of a Sovereign Guarantee of 500 million Euros from the Credit Suisse AG London Branch and a syndicate of international lenders as collateral for 500 million Euro facility to the Bank of Industry.
“The loan is basically to finance major industrialization projects and micro-small and medium enterprises value chains in Nigeria for up to five years tenor at affordable rates; these rates are single digit rates.
“The guarantor of the loan shall be the Federal Republic of Nigeria and this is going to be executed through the Ministry of Finance Budget and National Planning. The main objective of the loan is to support industry; revitalise agro-industrial processing zones, to facilitate the creation of new jobs.
“We do believe that about 1.2 million jobs will be created through this facility; increase the income of farming communities and promote the inclusion of SMEs and small holder producers in the industrial value chain and the deployment of transportation infrastructure that connect farming communities to processors and market.
But that is not the first initiative of the current administration to tackle unemployment. Just recently, the Presidency said it has spent N479 billion on social intervention within three years to reduce unemployment. The money has been expended on four-broad programmes which are the N-Power, Conditional Cash Transfers, National Home-Grown School Feeding and Government Enterprise and Empowerment Programmes (GEEP)
These programmes as laudable as they are have also drawn criticism from the experts. Even, Aisha Buhari, the wife of the president has said the social investment programmes have failed, citing lack of thoroughness, and corruption. There are also allegations that some senators have hijacked the social investment programmes, though federal government has denied the claims.
The Special Adviser to President Buhari on social investment, Mrs. Uwais recently said that from 2016 till date, the Federal Government budgeted an annual sum of N500 billion for social investment, “however, in 2016 only N79.98 billion was released.” Similarly, she said N140 billion was released in 2017 and N250.4 billion in 2018.
She also revealed that out of the $322 million Abacha recovered loot which was to be used for the social investment programmes, only $22 million had been utilised by her office.
Mrs. Uwais said at the end of March, the National Social Investment Programmes had made direct impacts on 12,069,153 beneficiaries, and over 30 million secondary beneficiaries, comprising the cooks, farmers, families, employees and members of the community.
“Under N-Power, we have 526,000 youth spread across 774 LGAs teaching in public schools, acting as health workers in primary health centres and as agric extension advisors to small holder farmers in our communities.
“Nigeria is fast on its way to becoming the leader in Africa in the National Home-Grown School Feeding Programme, by feeding over 9.7 Million pupils and still counting.
“Today, we have 103,992 cooks on our payroll, feeding 9,714,342 pupils in 53,715 government primary schools around 31 States. These children are able to eat a balanced diet, towards improving their learning outcomes. Also, under the GEEP, we have the FarmerMoni, MarketMoni and TraderMoni.
“For the first two, funds between 10,000 to N350,000 are paid into the accounts of the successful applicants who belong to a registered cooperative and have a bank account.
For TraderMoni, petty traders are given a loan of N10,000 and upon repayment within six months, the beneficiary becomes eligible for a larger amount, at which point they must open an bank account,’’ she said.
Also, the Head of the Cash Transfer Programme, Henry Ayede, said using the National Social Register data on poor and vulnerable households in the country, the government currently pays N5,000 monthly to 872,700 households.
He said that the beneficiaries were identified by the communities; therefore “the government was sure that the money gets to those in true need.” In addition, the Head of the School Feeding Programme, Bimbo Adesanmi, said that the government was spending about N70 to feed a child under the programme.
She said that the government was able to spend less on nutritious meals by sourcing for all ingredients directly from the farmers, without using middlemen. She also revealed that the government deworms the children benefiting from the programme, every six months, to reduce the frequency of infections.
Dr.Olufemi Omoyele, a financial expert and lecturer at Redeemer University told this newspaper that “Though government has tried, but the method used is not productive. Look at Trader moni, by giving N10,000 to traders each cannot solve the problem. It is wrong solution; same goes to N power which according to reports are riddled with corruption.
“What the government should do is to create enabling environment for businesses to thrive through provision of infrastructure and training of school leavers and graduates on skills acquisition after which it can stand as guarantor for those with skills in trades to acquire loans from banks to start their own businesses.
The Economist of London is also not impressed by the high rate of unemployment, and slow growth of the economy. It recently said, “The Nigerian economy is stuck like a stranded truck. Average incomes have been falling for four years; the IMF thinks they will not rise for at least another six.
“The latest figures put unemployment at 23%, after growing for 15 consecutive quarters. Inflation is 11.64%. Some 94m people live on less than $1.90 a day, more than in any other country, and the number is swelling. By 2030 a quarter of global very poor people will be Nigerian, predicts the World Data Lab, which counts such things.
Ajike Adeniyi, a petty trader in Agege, and one of the beneficiaries of Tradermoni, told this newspaper that “the money given was to me a gift. I just used it to pay my child’s school fees, if they really want us to improve our businesses, they should make it possible for us to access up to N100,000.”
In his own view, Deola Orekoya, a graduate posted to Abeokuta as a beneficiary of N-power said; “When I got to Abeokuta, the school where I was to teach had enough teachers. So the principal just reposted me to her own private college. Government merely helped her run her school, but on record I was in government school, so there is corruption. I know of colleagues who share the money with principal and they do other thing. Government did not think all these social investment programmes through.”
For now, it is difficult to verify government’s claim on jobs it has created, but enough feelers coming from the National Bureau of Statistics are not cheery, they point to the fact that there are issues with government’s claims.