The role of employment generation in solving security challenge in Nigeria
It is an unpardonable crime for any denizen of Nigeria to downplay the gravity of security challenge in the country. One needs not be a victim of it to understand its baneful nature: one constantly reads and views them on the mass media. Nowadays, not many a man would open the newspaper without the dread of reading something disturbing, and these, needless to say, happen on a daily basis. The endless wasting of human lives, especially in the northern part of the country, is as senseless as it is disturbing. That a wronged person should undertake to revenge himself outside the law is understandable; but how does one begin to comprehend him when, instead of going after his supposed enemies, he turns to destroy things that are his?
Since the fiftieth birthday of Nigeria, when the first bomb blast rocked the country, every Nigerian has come to associate the very name of Boko Haram with images of horror: burning flesh trapped inside vehicles, mangled bodies strewn across the earth like carcass for the vultures’ meal, limbs and body parts scattered like pieces of puzzle under the debris of houses wrecked by bombs – the horror lives with everyone of us, though we may only have seen them on television screens. Boko Haram is a name which will forever imbue in us the full impact of arms misdirected, of power misused, of ingenuity misplaced. It may be that Boko Haram will one day pass into a legend, perhaps a myth, when we exist no more, and the generation yet unborn are acquainted of its nefarious activities through the fragments of history; but now the horror and reality lives with us and we are distressed.
There may be those who think that not being directly affected, they are not involved. It does not matter to them what a man has decided to do to himself, so long as the talons of his atrocities have not caught up with them. Alas, how wrong they are they cannot imagine! No one can afford to be indifferent to the matter of security challenge in Nigeria. We all are in one way or the other beneficiaries of its lethal fruits. When a rotten tree sees another fall, it knows that its own fall is imminent. The pogrom in the north should at least serve as a warning to all of us to be circumspect and know that similar evil may come knocking at our door one day if nothing is done to truncate its pervasive spread.
Unemployment is an evil on its own, and its harmful effects cannot be taken lightly. In Nigeria, it is growing at an alarming rate – from 13.1% in 2000 to 23.9% in 2011. To make matters worse, the dependence ratio has moved to 2:1. It is an undeniable fact that unemployment has been existing for time immemorial, yet none can refute the fact that it is far more alarming now than before. Education has become a very commonly lampooned endeavour since even the educated are among the countless number of people roaming the streets in search of nonexistent jobs. In times past, these ones, with files folded smartly on their armpits, had the audacity to chose which jobs to do; but now they have no choice and are willing to do whatever job they see.
When the man standing has not experienced sunshine, how can the one squatting hope to experience it? It seems now that with the educated among the job-hunting band, the fate is sealed on our dear country. After wandering for many days, moving from office to office and from factory to factory, it is only a wonder that they survive for long without sinking into desperation. What can these people not do now? If there is wisdom in proverbs, then there is certainly wisdom in this: the idle hand is the devil’s workshop. It is in these idle hands of unemployed masses that the devils in politics lay the foundation of their murderous investment. Is it any wonder that there is high proliferation of crime and violence in societies where unemployment rate is high?
The present major security challenge in Nigeria, the Boko Haram saga, is not the work of illiterates. Every thinking man knows that the ingenuity needed for the execution of such crimes is beyond the reach of the nescient. Those who perpetrate these crimes do not do them for the sake of financial benefit; their aim is merely to destroy human lives. Were these people merely disgruntled people who could not fit into the dispensation in their land, why are they not looting and stealing instead of butchering and incinerating? They do not loot because looting is not what they are sent to do: the puppeteers behind them have different motives. These henchmen are being used because they are idle, and because the cold hand of unemployment has gripped them, they are willing to do anything to keep body and soul together, even if it means killing fellow human beings. This is a sad reminder of what idle hands are capable of doing.
Admittedly, a lot of things other than unemployment could have wrought the same evil in people’s minds, yet its root is too glaring to be suppressed. When a man is driven by desperation for survival, there is no saying what he cannot do to achieve his aim. It is therefore obvious that unemployment is at the root of the violence in which our country is presently steeped.
That a peace-loving people could be driven to bloodlust by desperation has been severally demonstrated in the various protests and rebellions that have reared up in various parts of the country. The Niger Delta crisis is an extant example. These people, left on their own, were neither against the investors nor government of their country, neither were they particularly interested in their diminishing landscape. Their singular outcry was that they should be provided with employment since their source of income had been bastardised due to pollution. None hearkened to their outcry, and the few early protesters like Kenule Saro-Wiwa were rewarded with execution as a means of silencing them. At least for his murder there was an excuse: military governments are never comfortable with hearing any sort of outcry from the people. When ‘democratic’ government entered, the Niger Delta boys, now numerous in number, rose with the hope of achieving with guns what their predecessors could not achieve with pen. What was the reaction of government but to grease the palms of the key men among them in what it chose to call the generous name of ‘amnesty’, instead of providing the larger masses with employment?
A hungry people are never satisfied with food given to them. They want instead of being given fish, to be taught how to fish. If our government had provided them with employment instead of some transient throwing of money in the air, how much good that could have done in suppressing their ‘criminal’ activities, for no sooner are their pockets drained than they are out in the streets again, hunting for people to hold hostage! The case of the Niger Deltans is sadly but a paradigm of what is found in every crime-ridden part of the country.
It is a bitter but admissible truth that the majority of those who engage in crimes are forced to do so by circumstances. If anyone is in doubt of this, let him consider the affairs of ‘area boys’ in Lagos. These people, prior to the aggressive rehabilitative measures of Gov. Fashola, would occupy every possible place in Lagos, forcing money out people in whatever way they could. No one who has been their victim, or who has seen a victim of theirs, would doubt that they are notorious. However, when government offered them employment to work as ‘horticulturists’ along Lagos lanes, they gladly accepted and left the streets; in fact, some of them admitted to doing what they had been doing because they had no other means of survival. Yeah, when a people are pressed to the limit of their endurance, there is no telling what they cannot do to relieve themselves; it is only a human instinct that they should do every possible thing to ensure their survival. They take whatever the society offers them in their time of need; and surely, the evil political geniuses know when to approach the idle and unemployed hands with their nefarious offers.
Violence is virulent and is the greatest threat to security in any nation; and like every deleterious disease, it has its way of proliferating very fast without any one’s conscious awareness. And now, instead of asking the obvious question, ‘Is unemployment responsible for the security challenge in Nigeria?’ we may more reasonably ask, ‘Can employment generation for the masses curb violence and criminal activities in Nigeria?’ It is not a question which anyone should shrug off with a dismissive ‘I don’t care’, for we all are committed to bettering our country, for our sake and for the sake of posterity. I therefore answer, as I know that you will do, ‘Yes, much good can be done from generating employment for the teeming and hopeless citizenry of our sadly disillusioned country.’
Many are the professionals who readily dismiss any form of optimism about Nigeria’s future as fickle imagination, products of fantasy. They believe, while supposing themselves to be pragmatic, that Nigeria is beyond redemption, and that they might as well help her to her doom as lift a finger to her aid. Well for them and those who follow their dark light – I for one do not believe that we are beyond redemption, though I am among the staunchest of pessimists.
Giving up hope is tempting to anyone who reads of the massive number of unemployed people, skilled and unskilled alike; they loom so large that one does not begin to grasp from whence hope and help can come to them. But it is at times deceptive to look at things holistically. What looks monolithic to us now will shrink very much if, instead of taking in the huge figures from statisticians, we break them down into the different number of possible places where these unemployed masses can be employed. In one of his drolleries during January fuel subsidy crisis, Jonathan promised Nigerians several thousand buses. He probably hoped that Nigerians would be foolish enough to be palliated on hearing of the number of buses that he had given. But my calculative countrymen soon put their arithmetic skill to work and soon found out the mockery behind the whole hoax. I ask of you my fellow citizens, calculate again as you are wont to do, and you will see for yourself the fearful giant of unemployment shrink to an insignificant midget.
Having done that, I hope that it is not asking too much of you if I suggest that the problem has come down to the level in which we can look it in the face and attempt to proffer solution. Do you ask if, despite having shrunk its size, Nigeria has the capacity to curb unemployment? Yes is my answer, no matter than some people may answer to the negative; and here let me set before you my modest reasons for believing as I do.
Many people are of the mistaken view that only white collar jobs constitute proper employment. In analysing available employment opportunities in Nigeria, many statisticians take note of only office and company jobs and, seeing them all occupied, climb up the dais to announce to us that there is no employment opportunity available, nor the hope of any being available in a predictable future – and we buy their malefic omen without questions.
Why is there national neglect of crucial areas of economy like agriculture? Prior to the ‘oil boom’, Nigeria was managing (and even booming economically) with agriculture as her economical mainstay. We were then notable exporters of cocoa, palm oil and nuts, groundnuts etc. What has happened to those areas of our economy now? Ah, we have let them die because of oil – the discovery of oil in Nigeria is surely one blessing too many, for now it has wrought us more harm than good…
However, let that remain a story to be told another day. Now if we must accept that we are a nation doomed not to do well in agriculture, what are we doing by way of training the masses in other areas of manual works like weaving, tailoring, smithery etc? It is a shameful thing that in Nigeria, things as common as toothpicks are being imported daily. Why have we not sat down to consider how many people jobs as common as that can put food on their table and keep them off the streets, thereby reducing the number of lunatics we are breeding in our country?
There is no gainsaying that most administrators in Nigeria lack foresight. One cannot overestimate the benefits that come from siting factories in the country instead of relying, as is the present custom, on imported goods. This will bring twofold blessings: the one is that prices of goods will drops since so much money will no longer be paid for transportation and import duties in many borders; the other is that these companies will provide jobs to a good number of the jobless masses. Instead of letting other nations drain us of our economy, let us pool our resources together and be truly the ‘giant of Africa’ we are, not just a theoretical giant at conference tables whose citizens are perishing by the hours.
So much for blames on government and her administrators, private sectors can also contribute much in the development of our nascent economy. Thankfully, our government is not a selfish one; she is ready to incorporate individual investors in her business and is even, it seems, eager to sell off her properties to private sectors. Why do the ‘big men’ of our country leave the numerous opportunities available to them here, to pass through the rigours of establishing factories outside the country? Let them consider the benefits that will come of their putting up their factories at home, helping themselves as much as they shall be helping their indigent brothers.
Of course proffering solutions is easier said than done. Very few people, for instance, are willing to return to the villages to do farm works just so they can survive. The soil, they will say, has yielded out its strength and has grown sterile – and they may be right. But I ask, ‘Why has government not looked into it by providing fertilizers and easing the strenuousness of farm works through the provision of subsidised farming machinery? I am sure that if people are offered incentives, they will surely enter the fields to help themselves.
I would not want to say anything about the poor salaries of those who are employed by government: they are at least lucky to be among those who can boast of having some share in their country’s national cake. I will only say that when a worker is not commensurately paid, he will find it very tempting to be negligent in his duty. Not quite long, Nigeria upgraded the minimum wage of workers to N18,000, on the condition that the money thus added would be going back into government pocket by way of increased fuel price. It is a mockery which, surprisingly, many people did not realise. Some were even happy in the so-called increase in minimum wage – my poor brothers did not do their calculation well this time around, else they could have seen that they were better off with N12,000 a month with reduced fuel price. But at least they are employed…
The gap between the rich and the poor in Nigeria is bewildering. This can be lessened by splitting works in offices and employing more people. Many prominent Nigerians are doing more than one paid job, helping themselves while depriving their brothers of means of survival. Of course no one will be willing to give up his comfort for the sake of his brother, but the government as the mother of all should help in this regard by making sure that no one holds more a government job. Doing this will help in accommodating more people into the working class and reducing unemployment, the mother of violence.
Urbanisation is a good thing, no doubt. Lagos state is presently poised to transform Lagos to a mega city. Roads are being constructed and repaired, shanties demolished, flowers planted, landscapes cultivated – and foreigners, entering Lagos, count Nigeria as among the blessed of the lands. What happens to the people displaced to effect these transformations? Very few of them are taken care of or incorporated into the policies of the government. The result is that these disgruntled ones go out to denigrate the government and are labelled ‘evil men’ who are not content with good things, whereas in fairness to all, provisions should have been made to set them up.
I am very much aware, unfortunately, that even if all these measures were to be implemented, the problem of unemployment still will not be totally eradicated; yet I am of the view that if we can do our best and get as many people as possible off the streets, we shall have done much in reducing the possibility of violent eruptions as we have now. Let us learn from the maxim handed unto us by January protesters: ‘One day the poor shall have nothing to eat but the rich.’ Let us not allow that day to come, for the sake of the rich, for the poor have already, it seems, submitted to their fates and are waiting to eat the rich. Let everyone put hands on the oars and help in alleviating unemployment, thereby reducing drastically the problem of insecurity in Nigeria.
Insightful write-up from Joshua Omenga