When Reps say no to support for unemployed graduates

The issue of unemployment in Nigeria has continued to be a headache for successive governments, as it appears that the more the government tried to tackle the problem through its various programmes and policies, the more the problem continues to defy solutions. Efforts by individuals and private organisations to contribute their own quota in addressing the nagging problem have also failed to achieve the desired result, as such efforts somersault midway owing to lack of an enabling environment and lack of support from the government.

Stories a bound on how industries folded up or were taken to other countries due to lack of electricity and multiple taxation, among other issues.
These issues have killed many of the industries that would have been able to employ a sizeable number of the unemployed youths.

It is an open secret that lack of job has forced many graduates into crimes and in the process they have either met their untimely death or have become burdens to the society. Though the Statistician-General of the Federation, Dr. Yemi Kale, recently put the number of jobless Nigerians at 20.3 million and claimed that unemployment rate in the country had reduced over the years, street statistics and the heavy presence of youths and unemployed Nigerians at job openings and tests reveal that there may be more than was stated.

Looking at the population of the country which was put at 150 million and judging from the reality on ground, the figure of unemployed graduates quoted by Dr. Kale may sound ridiculous. Yearly, majority of graduates are being churned out by the various tertiary institutions in the country but same cannot be said about job creation. Those who graduate hardly get jobs while those who want to stand on their own are faced with several challenges ranging from lack of enabling environment to lack of supportive financial system to encourage beginners.

While a sea of graduates are left to struggle for few openings in public and private institutions with stringent measures such as years of experience and the ‘man-know-man’ factors to scale, others who summon courage to become entrepreneurs hardly get financial support as a result of stringent loan system and unfriendly financial sector. Periodically, when job openings are advertised, one discovers a situation whereby thousands of candidates gather for few openings, with the Darwinian theory of ‘survival of the fittest’ playing out on each occasion.

The case got so worse that recently, when the Dangote Group announced vacancies for drivers of its trucks, Masters and PhD degree holders were said to have applied, highlighting the seriousness of the problem. To further emphasise the seriousness of the situation, an Association of Unemployed Graduates has been formed, with the body acting like a pressure group and lending its voice to national issues or even joining in protests against government policies which they consider anti-Nigerians.

Late last year, the coordinating minister of economy and Minister of Finance, Dr. Mrs Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala disclosed that the Federal Government would create 320,000 jobs beginning from this year, maintaining that the proposal had already been built into the 2013 Appropriation Bill, but the proposed figure is still a far cry to the number of unemployed graduates roaming the streets in search of jobs.

Though several interventions had been made in the past 14 years to address the issue of general unemployment in the country, with the National Poverty Eradication Programme (NAPEP) established in 2001 and the recent Subsidy Reinvestment Programme (Sure-P) all targetted at alleviating poverty, especially among the youths, the rate of unemployment and its attendant social vices have continued to confound the government and people of the country. While some have taken to sports and entertainment as escape routes, many other graduates have remained in throes of unemployment, a development which makes any perfunctory effort by governments and public office holders to empower youth, a welcome development.  

While the government plan was yet to materialise, a member of the House of Representatives, Honourable Arua Arunsi, probably moved by the plight of unemployed Nigerians, proposed a bill for an Act to amend the National Directorate of Employment, NDE Act CAP N28 of the Federation of Nigeria (2004), by creating a specific function and objective for the directorate to cater for unemployed graduates of tertiary institutions and for other related matters.

The NDE was established by the National Directorate of Employment Act 1989. The objectives of the Directorate are to: design and implement programmes to combat mass unemployment; articulate policies aimed at developing work programmes with labour intensive potential; obtain and maintain a data bank on employment and vacancies in the country with a view to acting as a clearing house to link job seekers with vacancies in collaboration with other government agencies; and to implement any other policy as may be laid down, from time to time, by the Board.

However, effort by the lawmaker to amend the NDE Act to include giving incentives and unemployment benefits to unemployed graduates in the country was rejected by his colleagues when the bill was debated for second reading. The bill was rejected by voice vote.

The bill, according to him, seeks to: pay certain amount of allowance, which would be determined by the governing board of the directorate, to unemployed graduates in Nigeria; design and implement programmes to combat mass unemployment for graduates that are between the ages of 18 to 35 years and also between third to fifth year of post-graduation experience.

The bill also sought to encourage the unemployed graduates to take up self-employment within their second to fifth year of postgraduate experience.

What the bill sought to do could be likened to what obtains in developed countries of the world, where the unemployed receive stipends from governments. According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), only 72 countries out of 198 monitored by the organisation, have unemployment insurance schemes, with only 16 countries said to provide income support for unemployed graduates as first-time jobseekers. In most European Union countries, wholly unemployed and people who lose their jobs register with the national employment services as unemployed jobseekers and keep getting income from government even when they travel to other EU countries.

It was among these elite countries that support their unemployed graduates that Honourable Arunsi sought to put Nigeria with his bill but the proposed amendment bill was roundly punctured by Honourable Ibrahim El-Sudi; chairman, House Committee on Labour and Productivity, Honourable Essien Ayi; James Faleke and Peter Onyemaechi, among others. Honourable Ayi had argued that there was no need for the bill as an earlier bill on National Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF) had already addressed the issue of stipends, saying, “if this should scale through, it would disallow the organisation from carrying out its duties.”

On his part, Honourable Faleke said that the provision of such monetary incentive would further compound the economic challenges facing the country, stressing that since the Nigerian economy was not production-based, industrial revival efforts would be defeated.

According to him, “rather than turn our unemployed youths into lazy ones, government should channel the monthly stipends towards the revival of our industries. In other words, let us teach them how to fish instead of giving them fish. When our industries are revived, the economy will be able to absorb them.”

Honourable El-Sudi, on his part, maintained that the bill had nothing new, as a similar programme for unemployed graduates was already in existence at the NDE, saying, “there is a graduate attachment programme that does exactly what this bill is seeking. Even, a similar programme is existing for non-graduates on the social aspect for unemployed non-graduates at the NISTF. What should happen is for the authorities to strengthen these programmes”.

Honourable Onyemaechi, however, noted that the programme could be compromised, citing previous poverty alleviation programmes that had failed, stressing that “how do we verify the beneficiaries? How will they qualify for the scheme? Because of corruption, the list would just keep expanding. People would no longer look for work since there is easy money coming in every month”.

Some of the public analysts who have commented on the situation seem to support the House for moving against the bill on the ground that it could become a bottomless pit through which the nation’s funds could be siphoned. According to them, the country’s experiences with past poverty alleviation programmes and even the Sure-P, whereby a ruling party would corner the interventions and turn them to benefits for only party members, should be enough to make the House reject the proposal to support unemployed graduates.

Others however disagreed with this position, saying that even those members of ruling parties are Nigerians and if they corner the benefits, they would have, by so doing, reduced the unemployment or poverty statistics, adding that giving such support would reduce crime rate in the country.

The few lawmakers that spoke in favour of the bill also chorused that the country could afford to give monthly allowance to unemployed youths to serve as motivation which would keep them out of mischief, restiveness and other vices caused by unemployment.

Commenting on the development, an Abuja-based lawyer, Barrister Gbenga Olaleye, berated the action of the lawmakers saying that what Nigerians expect from them is to make good law for the country in such a manner that it would benefit the common man.

With the declaration of the bill ‘dead on arrival’, political observers have differed on the action of the lawmakers, with some supporting them for taking the bold step to block another avenue to siphon the nation’s wealth, while others knocked them for turning their faces the other way when it came to unemployment benefits for Nigerian graduates. One wonders if succour will ever come the ways of the army of unemployed graduates in the country.

SOURCE: Tribune online
Written by: KOLAWOLE DANIEL and MOSES ALAO

Abiola Olowo.

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