This Day (Lagos)

29 November 2012

Nigeria: Curbing Rising Unemployment Through Entrepreneurial Development

Alex Enumah writes on the recent Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW) and the Abuja Enterprise Agency (AEA's) efforts to sensitise young people to embrace entrepreneurship as an antidote to the menace of unemployment

Apart from the monster called corruption that has assumed a larger-than-life dimension in Nigeria, the issue of unemployment is another time bomb, which, if promptly tackled, has the potential to unleash terror on the entity called Nigeria.

However one of the ways to change all that is through the development and sustenance of Entrepreneurship.

Nigeria recently joined the rest of the world in celebrating the Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW) an annual event that recorded over 100 participating nations to celebrate entrepreneurship; inspire aspiring entrepreneurs to start their businesses and share emerging thoughts on enterprise management to policy influencers.

FCT Participation

The Federal Capital Territory (FCT) was not left out in the celebrations as the Abuja Enterprise Agency (AEA), the body, saddled with the responsibility of organising the FCT to participate at this year's GEW 2012, played a major role.

Acting in conjunction with some independent organisers, the agency keyed into another aspect of the Week, the 'Technology, Entertainment and Design' (TED) to sensitise young people to embrace entrepreneurship as an antidote to the menace of unemployment.

Setting the Tone

Unemployment has been attributed to be responsible for a number of crimes in the society, particularly in a country like Nigeria where a greater population of the country constitutes of youths, most of them with at least a first degree and no means of livelihood commensurate with the number of years and money invested in acquiring the degrees.

Although there is no available or rather accurate and reliable data of unemployed persons in the country, but with the National Youths Service Corps (NYSC's) earlier claim that no less than 250,000 graduates are mobilised by the scheme annually, with most of them ending up in the labour market only to join their 'senior colleagues', then this calls for genuine concerns from all quarters.

While on the one hand, the recent recession that hit the entire world, particularly the banking sector which resulted to a high loss of jobs coupled with other factors, are attributable to the high rate of unemployment globally, the educational sector is becoming visible, particularly in Nigeria, as one of the major factors promoting unemployment.

According to a UNESCO projection more people worldwide in the next twenty four years would be graduating from schools since the beginning of history. The situation, which is described as a process of academic inflation, tends to make degrees of little or no value.

For example, in the seventies and early eighties in Nigeria a potential graduate had choices of jobs with attractive incentives even before graduation. But as time passed things began to change and today the possession of a second degree, MBA inclusive, is not a guarantee of employment not to talk of a choice job.

Also, the schools have been blamed for both breeding graduates without appropriate skills needed to fit into and survive in the contemporary work environment, as well as churning out graduates with a 'Job Seeker' mentality instead of that of a job creator.

Stakeholders' Views

According to an author and one of the speakers at the AEA occasion, Mr. Okechukwu Ofili, parents toe the line of the educational system when they start by asking their little wards "What do you want to become in the future?" instead of asking what difference they want to make in society when they grow up.

He noted that answers to such questions are always tilted towards a particular occupation rather than towards rendering a specific service to meet the needs of society.

Arguing that a degree is not proportional to the GDP or economic growth of a nation, Ofili pointed out that Nigeria, in spite of her large army of educated persons both in the private and public sector, still ranks among the poorest and least developed countries of the world.

He argued that "our educational system only teaches us to get the answer to the question, what, and not to answer the question, why and how", and stressed that only those who can ask the question why and how are capable of bringing change and transformation in any society.

Speaking in the same vein, a writer and a consultant, Mr. Omojuwa Japheth, stated that he is happy to be an entrepreneur. However, he expressed regret that the system does not encourage one to be an entrepreneur. "When you get into the university, the system is training you to go and get a job and not to go and create one. So the entrepreneurs we have today are people who actually left the box to do something different", he said.

Maintaining that entrepreneurship is a necessity for any nation that cares about development, Omojuwa added that the beauty of entrepreneurship is that it has a doubling effect on the economy.

He said, "Assuming two of us create different jobs and you employ five while I employ another five we have succeeded in creating ten jobs. But if two of us have to look for job, then that is just two jobs created. And if we have such entrepreneurs that are able to train more people to be entrepreneurs the numbers are going to be geometric and the effect on the economy would be outstanding because at the end of the day we are not going to have people on the street looking for jobs, but those creating employers of labour, which is what every nation desires".

Inclusive Process

On his part, Manager, Training, Research and Services, AEA, Mr. Wale Ajiboye, said unemployment in Nigeria was not a government issue alone but one that involves everybody.

According to him, one of the means of tackling the menace is the development of entrepreneurship, which he emphasised must be backed with innovation.

"We cannot continue to say it forever; we have to start thinking of how to allow young people to be creative. This is one way to get out of unemployment a platform where young people can aggregate together and create a venture that can change the statistics of the country", he said.

Ajiboye stated that the average Nigerian youth has commitment and has the passion of Nigeria but what is lacking are examples that can influence them, role models that can influence their thinking.

He said, "We needed to find people who are like them, people who have the same background, who have gone through the same hassles, share the same problems of the country and despite the fact that there are issues they have been able to succeed. People, who are innovators, people who are researchers, people who have done one thing or the other to influence change in our society".

Corroborating the enterprise and creativity of the average Nigerian, Miss Aisha Atta recommended that people should start by asking themselves what they think they can do. "It starts from those little things. What do you have, what you can do now, how can you use it now, and who do you know?, she stressed.

Atta advised further that people should look beyond the money and just be creative, explore the options, start something, be aware of trends, where the world is going and how, what they have that can contribute to that, learn new things and learn from people, do something but should not just sit down, writing application after application.

She claimed that in the nearest future people who have professional career are going to be a minority, while entrepreneurs and social entrepreneurs will become the majority. Atta noted that it would be easy for the nation to key into this development because Nigerians are innovative and hardworking.

"An average Nigerian has entrepreneurial skill; we don't just rely on one income stream. There are things that we already know how to do but we just haven't seen the potentials of making it bigger because our mindset is on white collar job. People should strive, make effort and not be discouraged. When they fall or fail, they should get up and press on. They should take advantage and explore their potentials, be confident, believe in themselves, and learn skills in the area they think they are lacking", she concluded.

However, for entrepreneurship to be sustained in Nigeria, Chief Coordinator, Creative Entrepreneurs Club of Nigeria, Mr. Charles Egwuba, said apart from government creating an enabling environment and making funds available for entrepreneurs, support from the society is crucial.

According to him, "There is need for us to support the younger businesses that are springing up every day. Nigerian business environment is experiencing a lot of boom. However one of the biggest challenges is that the society doesn't encourage it. It means we need to look into the fact that we must start patronising some of our local ideas, our local businesses.

"One of the presenters Saheed Adepoju invented an I-tablet, so we should not rely on the Samsung and other tablet, we should begin to look at something from Nigeria. Society should encourage the drive of these local businesses," Egwuba added.

At the end of the day, the major focus should not be on how many thousands of graduates are churned out through the university system on a yearly basis, but on how each of these bright young minds can carve a useful niche in the fabric of the larger society, irrespective of the graduate's discipline or course. That is a worthy venture.

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