The devil’s workshop

Three days ago, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) drew our attention to the global scourge of unemployment that is one of the root causes of insecurity, violence and many an anti-social behaviour in our turbulent world. In the report, “Repairing the Economic and Social Fabric”, the ILO indicates that the number of the unemployed people could rise to 208 million by 2015 from the current 200 million.

That Nigeria is contributing much to this global unemployment pool is well known to everyone, especially those who do not have a job or are related to the unemployed, including the vociferous former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai. The cesspool of idleness into which the unemployed graduates and non-graduates alike have been thrown is largely responsible for the unfortunate state of the nation. It would do us all a world of good to address the situation.

In its editorial of September 27, 2011 on “Taming the Beast of Unemployment” (page 18), The Punch newspaper, citing the Statistician-General of the Federation, Yeni Kale, put the number of the unemployed Nigerians at 32.5 million. The same source indicated that the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) submitted that between 2008 and 2010 alone, some 834 companies in Nigeria folded up or transferred their operations to other countries. It was around the same period that the banking industry reforms resulted in many job losses and agonising families.

Though the Federal Government and Labour disagree on the actual figure of unemployment rate in the country today, the fact still remains that the situation is a time bomb that is waiting to explode, if it is not exploding already. While the Coordinating Minister of the Economy, who doubles as the Minister of Finance, Dr (Mrs) Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, in her mid-term report last week said that the Nigerian economy is the fastest growing in the world at 6.5 per cent, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) at the same time rose from its National Executive Council meeting in Abuja countering that, “Whereas official figures put unemployment rate at 24 per cent, there are indicators to believe that the actual estimate could be as high as 60 per cent or higher.”

The submission of the NLC President, Comrade Abdulwaheed Omar, is incontrovertible: “Nearly all our youths remain unemployed, constituting a veritable army of the hungry, disillusioned and angry with great potential for undermining the peace and security of the nation.” This is what is really happening: idle minds working for the prowling devil.

The question of which figure is right is not even the issue. The issue is the realisation that unemployment is growing at an alarming rate in the world and Nigeria is part of that world. It is therefore the responsibility of the Government to proffer solutions to the challenges of unemployment confronting millions of Nigerians who are daily assailed by the need to square up to the basic economic needs of human beings: food, clothing and shelter.

There are at least three stages involved in the unfortunate scenario of unemployment that has become a way of life for many to my mind. The first stage is frustration by which an unemployed person has a feeling of dejection that despite the years he spent in school or university, perhaps with a good grade to boot, he can still not meet his basic needs or pay his bills. He feels bad with himself, considers himself unlucky and unfortunate while life, which is fun others, is to him a tragedy.

If the situation persists, he graduates to the level of humiliation by which he is suffused by inferiority complex. He compulsively becomes “humble” in the negative sense of it and loses his sense of self-worth and panache. He could prostrate before a messenger or accept to be a market cleaner as his qualifications and age become worthless in the face of the harsh reality of life. It is humiliation that would make PhD holders, as we experienced not long ago, put their applications forward to be truck drivers. In that state of mind, the applicants would have told themselves: “Na PhD I go chop?”

Then, if the situation remains and the unemployed person has no familial, religious or cultural background to offer him emotional support or succour, the last stage, which is desperation, becomes inevitable. Rather than succumb to a life of humiliation and its associated despondency, he takes the matter in his own hands and resorts to crime, gradually giving himself excuses. Armed robbery, prostitution, political thuggery, kidnapping, extremism, alcoholism and other social vices are likely to be the last resort.

As life is a comedy is a comedy to those that think and a tragedy to those that feel as Horace Walpole once told us, it is easy to pontificate that people should get something to do on their own without any support from anywhere by people who comfortably sit and think in their cool offices. The fact is that those who feel the frustration, the humiliation and poverty-induced desperation know that clear thinking is even difficult under duress. A hungry man cannot think properly.

While it is good that many universities are now training their students in entrepreneurship such that graduates will be employers of labour rather than job seekers, the fact remains that it should not stop there. If during the NYSC or even final years of education in our various tertiary institutions, each corps member or final year student is asked to provide how s/he can turn a million naira to a fortune and the Government bids him bye to the labour market with it, the Government would have done something for them as individuals and there will still be billions left in the till to buy champagne or embezzle outright at all levels. It will also encourage interest in higher education and propel hard work.

A sum of one million naira to each graduating student of our Colleges, Polytechnics and Universities may sound much at first but it does not when it is compared to the billions of naira committed to securing our waterways and combating crime and terrorism across the nation. An idle mind is the devil’s workshop and empowering the youth in that direction would have multiplier effects on the society. As a graduate, before you harass anyone you don’t have a job, you will have to explain how you spent your one million naira!

One is not naïve to assume that every beneficiary of such an intervention will make a judicious use of the money, far from it. However, a good number of such beneficiaries should be able to jump-start something, based on the entrepreneurship training they had earlier received. It would also demonstrate the seriousness with which the Government takes the youth of the nation. As all fingers are not equal, or some are more equal than the others, as George Orwell would make us believe, the words of Sholom Aleichem are compelling: “Life is a dream for the wise, a game for the fool, a comedy for the rich, and a tragedy for the poor.”