Nigeria - Why Graduates Are Unemployed and Unemployable

17 December 2019

About 25 million graduates are unemployed in Nigeria, though President Muhammadu Buhari estimated it at over 20m earlier this year.

This calls for urgent national planning, though the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) has not helped matters by masking its data in technical terms and not updating its record timely, making it difficult for Nigerians to know in exact figures, the country's employment, underemployment, and unemployment status.

In the Nigerian context, a graduate can be defined as a person that has successfully completed first academic degree in a university approved by the National University Commission (NUC), in case of university graduates or National Board for Technical Education (NBTE) for polytechnic graduates.

Interestingly, the graduate manufacturing 'factories' continue to expand while the graduate employing factories continue to shrink. There are 134 recognised Polytechnics in Nigeria (29 federal Polytechnics, 48 state polytechnics, 57 private polytechnics) as of October 2019. Similarly, Nigeria presently has 174 universities (43 federal universities, 52 state universities and 79 private universities).

Nigeria's 308-degree awarding institutions (134 polytechnics and 174 universities) have an enrolment population of about 2m and produce about 600,000 graduates yearly.

The National Universities Commission (NUC), announced earlier this year that it is processing registration applications for additional 303 new private universities. In the next five years, the number of degree awarding institutions may double, and up to 1m graduates may be added to the employment queue and unemployment market annually.

Signs of an unemployment bomb has been tickling in recent years. In 2014, 520,000 Nigerian jobless graduates stormed various recruitment centres to apply for 4,000 advertised vacant positions in the Nigeria Immigration Service. This implied 130 unemployed graduates chased each of the 4000 vacant positions.

At least 16 people reportedly died in the ensuing stampede. The then Minister for Internal Affairs, Abba Moro claimed responsibility but was never sanctioned by the Goodluck Jonathan Administration, who rather gave automatic employment slots as compensations to families of the bereaved.

In Nigeria, it seems someone must die on an employment queue before his/her close relation secures a job.

Early 2018, the former Chairman of Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), Mr Tunde Fowler said a staggering 700,000 graduates applied for 500 advertised position in the FIRS, with 2,000 of the applicants holding first-class degrees!

In September 2018, the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) announced it received 324,000 applications to fill 4,000 advertised vacancies for officer cadre, inspectorate, and road marshal assistants.

Few months ago, about 60,000 graduates sat for interviews for unstated number of vacancies, (possibly less than 100), in the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC).

ICYMI: SENATE TO FG: Declare emergency on unemployment now

Unfortunately, there is no end sight to nightmares of Nigeria's graduates, no thanks to the triple factors of high birth rates, ever rising enrolment in tertiary institutions, and economic underdevelopment.

Nigeria's graduates seems to have entered a 'one chance' scenario, as no escape light is blinking at the end of the tunnel of no return.

A country's labour force according to the NBS, consists of all persons who participate in the labour market, as either employed or unemployed, while the employment-to-population ratio is defined as the proportion of a country's working age population that is employed.

In the 2nd quarter of 2019, National Bureau of Statistics said the national labour force was 69%, and the employment-to-population ratio was 66.6%, meaning 33.4% of the labour force were unemployed.

Going by these figures, and working with an estimated population of 200m, Nigeria's labour force is roughly 138m, 33.4% or 66.8m of which are unemployed, as of mid- 2019.

The NBS also stated that 38.1% of unemployed have post-secondary education, translating to 25.4m unemployed graduates, with diploma or degree qualifications. Nigeria Graduate report 2016, in fact, said '36.26% of recent graduates are currently unemployed'. Many graduates are also underemployed or wrongly employed, in respective of their disciplines often ending up as schoolteachers, commercial drivers, uber drivers, farmers, salesmen, marketers, and factory workers.

International Labour Organisation (ILO) defines unemployment as the share of the labour force that is without work but available for and seeking employment, including people who have lost jobs and those who have voluntarily left work, while the NBS defines persons in unemployment as those of working age, who are not in employment, seeking work (in the four weeks preceding the enquiry) and currently available to start working (in the reference period or within two weeks subsequent to the enquiry).

The Nigerian Senate recently discussed the unemployment situation, an issue requiring the declaration of a national emergency. Quoting figures from the National Bureau of Statistics in 2019, Senator Ike Ekweremadu stated that Nigeria's unemployment rate stood at 23.1 per cent of the workforce in the third quarter of 2019, and hit 33.5 per cent by 2020.

Graduate unemployment is an issue requiring national discussion. Graduate unemployment saddens parents that spent fortunes to train their children, wasting youthful creativity, potentials, and energies at prime.

Generally, unemployment fuels crime in line with the proverbial dictum that the devil engages an idle hand, breeds frustration, increases disease and preventable death rates due to cash flow limitations, conversely increases birth as procreation increases by idle people, breeds prostitution, promotes yahoo yahoo internet fraud and other criminalities, exacerbates poverty due to lack of disposable income, lowers self-esteem, promotes brain and second slavery, slows economic growth, boosts insurgency with recruits from the unemployed army, and promotes low educational attainment.

Why are Nigeria's graduates jobless? The reasons are fundamental and multifaceted. Causes of unemployment are well known and includes corruption that has crippled the economic development, primitive capitalism that breeds inequality, poor quality education, educational curricular than breeds white collar job seekers, mismatch between outputs of educational institutions and requirements of the labour market, and infrastructure deficit especially poor energy supply, unmotorable roads, and poor access to water supplies.

Generally, many Nigerian graduates are not only unemployed, but unemployable as their skills are largely divorced from labour requirements.

The admission policy of Joint University and Matriculation Board (JAMB) which encourages quota rather than merit-based admissions, also fosters graduate unemployment, though recent reviews have granted each university autonomy to determine its admission's policy.

Under the old policy Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board, 30% of a university's admissions was reserved for applicants from its immediate geographical surroundings or "catchment" area, 20% was reserved for applicants from educationally disadvantaged states, 10% of admissions were at the Vice-Chancellor's discretion, while only 40% of graduates were admitted on merit based academic performances.

A study by Adeyemi, 2001, shown a strong correlation between this quota-based admission policy and poor academic performances of students, eventually leading to unemployable graduates as technically 60% of students admitted to Nigerian universities were not admitted on merit.

Beyond these, Nigeria's graduates are not marketable in the global economy as the institutions that produced them are lowly ranked due to a myriad of factors.

Times Higher Education World University Rankings, 2020 ranked only four Nigerian universities- Covenant University (401-500), University of Ibadan (501-600), University of Lagos (801-1001), and University of Nigeria, Nsukka (1001+) out of 1397 ranked.

The fact that the new generation Nigerian graduates are poorly trained, and quarter baked in lowly ranked universities reflect in their oral and written communication.

My personal experience shows, if you schedule an interview to assess young graduates for possible employment, you may be wasting your time examining certificates and paper qualifications.

If you want to catch an average fresh graduate pants down in a recruitment interview, simply ask the applicant to write, in longhand, one or two-page essay on any issue. You will be shocked at the sequence of tenses and grammatical errors.

The typical new generation 'indomie' graduate does not know a noun or sentence starts with a capital letter, and when employed writes official notes as if chatting with a friend on Facebook or WhatsApp; abbreviating words (u for you, 4 means for, d for the, aw for how, thn for thing, etc) in the process.

Social media undoubtedly has damaged English comprehension of the youths.

Many new generation graduates are unemployable because their educational career was built on a faulty and false foundation. Many are products of examination malpractices in West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE), and gained admission to tertiary institutions through JAMB special centres where cheating is official and officials are cheats, as they wrote answer sheets for students they were supposed to monitor.

Few years ago, the Head, National Office of WAEC, Charles Eguridu lamented that Nigeria has the highest number of examination malpractices and cheating incidences among the five member countries of the council, forcing WAEC to withdraw full recognition for 113 secondary schools nationwide, and cancelling results of 30, 654 candidates that sat for May/June 2012 West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE).

In the tertiary institutions, cheating continues through plagiarised term papers, poorly motivated lecturers, sex scandalised examinations, and doctored thesis. The truth is that a good number of graduates from tertiary institutions in recent years, cannot defend their certificates.

What is the way forward? Unemployment could be minimised, while total eradication may be utopian.

Possible solutions include strengthening employment opportunities such as President Buhari's N-Power programme, non-partisan implementation of entrepreneurship programmes such as the Youth Employment and Social Support Operation (YESSO), reviving former President Jonathan Goodluck's administration's Youth Enterprise with Innovative (Youwin), computer skills education, youth empowerment, reduction of retirement age limit for government and non-government workers, continued support for small and medium scale industries through financial bodies such as Development bank, upscale of labour intensive rather than robotics intensive industrialization programme, implementation of measures to reduce birth and control population growth, provision of loans and grants for small scale and large scale agricultural entrepreneurs, and investment in human capital development and skill based education.

Also, unemployed graduates could consider acquiring higher degrees such as Masters, and Doctorate to improve their marketability.

The curricula of Nigerian universities and polytechnics should be continuously reviewed to respond to the needs and dynamics of today's knowledge and technology economy.

They should also prepare undergraduates for the outside world on simple issues such as making oral and written presentations, writing a curriculum vitae, preparing for interviews, and improving job profiles.

Lastly, good governance by all tiers is the key to creating employment opportunities for Nigeria's graduates, now and in the future.

More factories such as Ajaokuta Steel Rolling Mill or the famed Textile mills should be revived, the private sector should be supported to set up new factories such as oncoming Dangote refinery, social infrastructure such as railways, good roads and stable energy supply that favour industrialisation should be improved, value of the naira should be strengthened, states should embark on massive commercial agriculture schemes, local industries should be protected from vagaries of free trade, and official corruption should be tackled to free resources for developmental projects.

Babatope Babalobi is a Doctorate Researcher, Department of Health, University of Bath, UK

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