Omolabake Fasogbon writes on the need for the federal government to collaborate with private institutions to promote self-employment initiatives and address the nation's rising unemployment.
The rising spate of unemployment in the country has continued to elicit concerns from all sides, especially as it threatens Nigeria's efforts to be among the 20 largest economies of the world by year 2020.
The immediate past Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, at a function in Abuja, had expressed concern that the increasing rate of unemployment in the country was getting out of hands.
Quoting the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), he had said, "the unemployment rate of 23.1 percent, and underemployment of 16.6 percent was worrisome, it is a worrisome status as the global poverty capital (World Bank, 2018); and concomitant high prevalence rate of crimes and criminality, including mass murders, insurgency, militancy, armed robbery, kidnappings and drug abuse.
"As if this situation is not scary enough, it is projected that the unemployment rate for this country will reach 33.5 per cent by 2020, with consequences that are better imagined, if the trend is not urgently reversed".
At present, Nigeria's population is estimated to be over 200 million, ranking seventh in the world, with young people forming larger part of its citizenry.
Available statistics showed that the unemployment figure in Africa presently stands at about 32 per cent with youth unemployment calculated to be almost 60 per cent.
In Nigeria, unemployment figure as at third quarter of 2018, stood at 23.3 per cent, while youth unemployment was estimated to be over 40 per cent, a situation which is unreservedly dangerous for the economy.
The statistics bureau considers the youth labour force to be people aged 15 to 34. The youths are acknowledged as the bedrock on which a society is anchored and according to the United Nations, they are possibly and essentially the utmost asset for development.
In the face of political thuggery and all manners of social vices such as internet fraud, kidnapping Boko Haram killings, farmers- herders crisis, amongst others that are threatening business environment in the country, full engagement of the youths becomes a must and non-negotiable. According to Ngige, Nigeria has implemented about 14 unemployment focused-programmes since 1972 till date.
Some of these programmes were: National Accelerated Food Production Programme (NAFPP), National Social Investment Programme (NSIP), National Economic and Empowerment Development Scheme,(NEEDS) National Poverty Eradication Programme, ( NAPEP), N-Power and SURE- P programmes and more.
The former minister also admitted that these programmes, despite their numbers, have not been able to successfully tackle unemployment challenge, hence, called on stakeholders to wade into to the situation.
A Partner and Chief Economist at PwC Nigeria, Andrew Nevin, had pointed out that being young in Nigeria was very challenging.
The 2017 Labour Reports equally stated that, "Young people are more likely to face difficulties securing full time employment and are more likely to be completely idle or take up part-time jobs, leisure or voluntary, or otherwise menial work which is under 20 hours a week, and are thus, very likely to be considered unemployed or underemployed."
The United Nations Environment Ecosystem Based Adaptation for Food Security Assembly (UNEP-EBAFOSA), argued that Africa and indeed Nigeria's biggest problem is youth unemployment, which it needed to create 11 million new jobs annually to surmount it, as suggested by the United Nations.
While this looks unrealisable to meet 11million jobs target annually, experts believe that mobilising self-employment and entrepreneurship initiatives would clear the path for new jobs and enhance labour market opportunities for the unemployed and other disadvantaged group.
Alluding to this, President of National Association of Nigerian Traders, Mr Ken Ukaoha, said, "White colour jobs are no longer available and even old fashioned. Innovations and creativity are the ways towards contemporary wealth creation.
"In this regard, government must give attention to entrepreneurship training and capacity building including key services sectors of the economy.
"The academic calendar and curriculum should also be reconsidered towards entrepreneurship orientation so that graduates can be able to stand on their own feet upon leaving school".
Whereas experts have trusted the self-employment strategy as the way forward, this is still being stunted by challenges that are not limited to: finance, lack of entrepreneurial skills, limited entrepreneurial education and absence of sustainability mechanisms, amongst others.
One prominent instrument that may have promoted this initiative was the FG's University Entrepreneurship Development Programme (UNEDEP), introduced in 2013, to promote self- employment among youths.
Like every other known provisions, the initiative till date can only be found in books. Perhaps, it suffered one or more of the challenges highlighted above.
According to business pundits, self-employment and entrepreneurship instruments can only get to thrive in this clime if only the public and private sectors can foster meaningful and effective partnerships to drive their intervention schemes, thus, enhance result, performance and sustainability.
"For example, individuals can draw on the comparative advantage of both parties, leveraging private sector's dynamism, access to finance, knowledge of technologies, managerial efficiency and entrepreneurial spirit, which are then combined with the social responsibility, network of contacts, environmental awareness, local knowledge, and job generation concerns of the public sector.
On this, National President, Association of Small Business Owners of Nigeria, ASBON, Dr. Femi Egbesola, said, "Self-employment is one best way out of this unemployment quagmire and its yearly rise in statistics. However, for self-employment to yield the expected results, all hands must be on deck; largely government and on the other hand, private initiatives.
"Both government and private firms should come together to create more platforms to recognise, celebrate and award successful entrepreneurs with the goal of motivating others to also venture into entrepreneurship or becoming self-employed."
Already, some players have started to key into these strategies which is believed would go a long way in addressing unemployment.
A reference point is the ongoing Youth Empowerment Project, being facilitated by State Ministries (Women Affairs & social development) and Dufil Prima Food, through its Minimie brand.
Both parties have come together to empower the unemployed across different states in Nigeria where beneficiaries were strictly youths in different categories including physically challenged, single, married, single parents and widows.
Minimie offered beneficiaries display kiosks along with all variants of its products including noodles and Chin-chin for business start- up.
These kiosks enabled an organised yet strategic display of products in the most visual- appealing ways enough to attract to buyers. Also, in order to further develop and sharpen beneficiaries entrepreneurial skills, Minimie Field Marketing Managers are specially assigned to provide both monitoring and mentoring support, all of which are considered to be highly required to achieve consistent business growth and continuity.
To further help these fresh entrepreneurs enhance sales, branded kiosks are positioned at strategic points which are not only densely populated but equally attract traffic coming from different directions such as: Bus stops, parks/ terminal for interstate transportation as well as filling stations.
On their part, the Ministry of Women Affairs across different state provided support in the area of proposing potential beneficiaries from their data base who they have found deserving and capable enough to sustain such opportunities. They also joined in during the official presentation of kiosk and products to the beneficiaries in their respective states.
So far,10 states, with no less than 10 local governments in each state, have benefitted from the gesture, which has since yielded dividends to receiving individuals and states. States that have been covered so far were Lagos ,Jos, Ogun, Delta, Oyo, Imo, Kwara, Edo, Abuja and Anambra while more states are in the pipeline.
According to Minimie, the project was thought of to fill huge jobs deficit in the country, by empowering people to become self-employed and then, employers of labour.
Shedding more light on the scheme, Brand Manager, Minimie, Rani Kolati, said the initiative was borne out of company's zeal to eliminate unemployment by supporting willing entrepreneurs who were constrained financially. He added that the gesture was part of the organisation's contributions in meeting the 11 million annual jobs demand, needed to save Nigeria from unemployment crisis.
He said, "Youths are the most dynamic segment of the population in any country and it is believed that developing countries with large youth population can experience tremendous growth, provided the youth segment is being well taken care of. We realise that there are a lot of Nigerian youths who are unemployed, yet, have the zeal to become entrepreneurs but are constrained financially.
"In view of this, we have, in partnership with states, decided to encourage youths by setting them up with businesses as we believe that they are the future of the nation. We have been able to bootstrap them with sales kiosk, stock, start-up fund as well as supplies, so they can cater for themselves and dependents.
"We have also deployed our area marketing managers to assist with sales trainings and regular checks to ensure consistency and business sustainability," he explained.
Also, the immediate past Commissioner for Women Affairs and Social Development in Ogun State, Hon. Abiola Kufile- Okonji, while handing over items to one of the beneficiaries in Ogun State, Mrs. Sangobiyi- Dorcas, stated that the initiative was in line with the vision of the state government to create jobs, wealth opportunities and alleviate poverty among residents in the state.
Likewise, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Women Affairs, Youth and Social Development in Delta State, Mrs. Gladyz A. Puegeren, commended the initiative, adding that it was a welcome development that has proven to improve the condition of the state and its people. She added that the state is willing and ready to partner with private institutions on developmental projects. She also urged beneficiaries to make the best use of the opportunity by effectively deploying skills and assets into in the running of the business.