11 December 2017

Nigeria: Racing Against Future Scourge

opinion

Although it is supposed to be an asset, Nigeria's continuous population growth seems to be a building gunpowder, which analysts posit constitute huge potential danger for the country than could be imagined.

Nigeria currently has an estimated figure of 180 million people. There are indications and predictions that the population of the Africa's most populated nation will be more rapid in the coming years.

According to a report by the United Nation's Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Nigeria will be the world's third most populous country by the year 2050. The report specifically predicts that Nigeria's population will rise to 398 million by 2050. "By 2050, the third most populous country will be Nigeria, which currently ranks seventh, and which is poised to replace the United States," the report that was released in June this year said.

According to official statistics, there are over 36.3million youths in Nigeria's labour market out of which about 13.6 million or 31 per cent are either underemployed or unemployed. Some believe the figures are even higher, especially in the Northern region of the country. The concern is that the number is expected to triple in the next 33 years. The implication is daunting. Only 50 out of every 250,000 graduates across the country secure employment after their National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) year.

For Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mr. Godwin Emefiele, the time to plan for the rising population is now- time to empower the youth and build the economy on the part of sustainable income generation for all. In his view, the projection is enough signal that a big danger (more than the current pockets of restiveness in parts of the country) awaits the Nigeria (whose job creation ratio is reportedly below 13 per cent), except something urgent is done.

"We may just be unlucky if we don't do something to engage the people in the demographic cycle of 19-35years. Only Lord knows what will happen if we don't. As leaders, we have responsibility to provide opportunities," Emefiele warned while pointing to the dangers lurking behind the palm if Nigeria and Nigerians cannot provide food, shelter, clothing, education, health and other basic needs for the teeming population. Should the number of dependents continue to rise (to 398 by 2050) as foresees, then, there will be trouble.

Like many experts, Emefiele and his team at the apex bank feel threatened by the population surge. They are now being proactive - racing against the future scourge of mass unemployment and its resultant crime rate, endemic poverty and other associated troubles. The bank's several intervention programmes in recent times, especially in youth empowerment shows the stand of an institution that is determined not to relent until economic growth outpaces population growth rate.

At the last check, it was discovered that Nigeria produces people at an average of 3 per cent annually against the country's 1.4 per cent Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth, reported in the third quarter of 2017. Nigeria's GDP growth has consistently underperformed population growth from 2015 to date.

The CBN has developed an eagle eye on what would be likely be the state of the Nigerian social economy in the next 33years from the perspective of the expected population surge. It has moved swiftly to provide impetus and enabling environment for entrepreneurs, especially the youth as part of its development finance efforts and the dogged implementation of monetary policies. Already, many local manufacturers are reporting major boosts to their revenue and profit.

Prior to this time, there has been the major challenge of lack of start-up capital to entrepreneurship in Nigeria. Commercial banks are not interested in making available the money often required to begin a fresh business enterprise. But as part of the efforts to address the challenges of unemployment, promote entrepreneurial spirit among Nigerian youths and enhance the spread of small and medium enterprises, the CBN designed and formulated a number of policies and programmes for direct real sector intervention.

One of such programmes is the Youth Entrepreneurship Development Programme (YEDP), which it runs in collaboration with banks and National Youth Service Corps members with entrepreneurial insight. The youths are given a concessionary financing of up to N5 million for innovative and job creating ventures. As a matter of fact, many people have benefited from the programme, and they are doing well in their various areas of interest. The programme is open to youths who are either serving in the National Youth Service Corps or those who have not spent more than five years post NYSC service. N210 billion was set aside for the programme. The collateral for accessing the fund is simple: academic and NYSC certificates, third party guarantees and other movable assets. The initiative targets 10,000 youths with the aim of creating one million direct jobs in productive activities within the next four years.

There is also the N220 billion CBN initiative to support Micro, Small and Medium Scale Enterprises (MSMEs). The programme is built with the aim of encouraging entrepreneurship development and creating an environment that supports business success.

The bank's modest contributions are already yielding the expected dividends for all to see. The schemes are set up solely for the use of the enterprising Nigerian youth. The call is that they take advantage of them.

Earlier in the year, the CBN in partnership with the federal government announced that it was up to create 36,000 new jobs across the states of the federation, with a focus to empower more Nigerians. President Muhammadu Buhari who made the announcement said the initiative is starting with each state of the Federation creating a minimum of 10,000 jobs for unemployed youths, again with the aid of CBN's development finance initiatives. Through the scheme, a minimum of 10,000 youths in each state, willing to engage in sustainable and profitable activities along the agriculture value chain, would be employed and trained.

The challenge before the unemployed Nigerian is enormous. But beyond championing the intervention programmes of the bank, Emefiele has some words of motivation for Nigeria youths. His message is that they should prepare themselves to be self-dependent in a country where white-collar job is preferred above self-employment. He told the graduating students of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka recently to take advantage of situations that come as challenges and frustrations to them and turn them into opportunities for themselves and create jobs for the nation's economy. "I came to open your minds to the great opportunities that abound in the country," he told the students at the 47th convocation ceremony of the university.

The current trends of intimidating challenges confronting an average Nigeria Emefiele said "present a significant opportunity for our graduates to turn whatever challenge they may be facing into opportunities that can harness these demographic shifts."

While both the local and international watchers expect leaders of public and private sectors to borrow a leave from the futuristic interventions of the central bank and turn the nation's population into a formidable and productive asset, time will tell if Nigeria is indeed proactive or reactive.

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