Hardship: Why Tinubu must use NDE interventions for youth

At this critical time in Nigeria’s journey for survival as a great nation in Africa, there is a greater need for an urgent measures to prevent the country from falling into a catastrophic revolt as in the case of many nations in history. The early warning signs are so apparent but prevention they say is better than cure.

The USA under the leadership of President Roosevelt used intervention measures to navigate the economic crisis of the 1930s during the Great Depression. The approach was adopted to leverage the economic revival of Europe (16 nations then) after the Second World War; under what was referred to as The Marshall Plan (1948-1951). The world’s fastest developing countries of today: China, India, Brazil, Indonesia and Malaysia, are equally leveraging on the same approach.

This approach has its appreciation through the works of John Maynard Keynes, one of the famous economists in the 20th Century. Keynes (1930) advocated the government’s role in regulating market forces, including employment generation as against the laissez-faire position held by monetarists.

The efficacy of the concept since the 30s gave rise to the present day concept of welfare programmes as well as social safety nets across the Western World. In addition, the strategy has been widely used in war Veterans reintegration schemes, mainstreaming disadvantaged segments of the society as well as skilling and the re-skilling of unemployed youth for both self and paid employment. In the wake of the SAP (Structural Adjustment Programme) youths’ riots in the 80s, Nigeria “copied” the concept and established the National Directorate of Employment (NDE) as one of its flagship measures for mass employment creation.

And through NDE’s efforts at that dire period, millions of jobs were generated through skills development, support to micro enterprises and the provision of transient public works’ jobs. The ripple effects of the NDE’s mandate as an intervention measure as at that period mainstreamed into what was known as BETTER LIFE programme. Fast forward to today, the NDE is still discharging its mandate though apparently relegated by successive governments, its efforts at job creation have taken millions off the streets and impacting the living condition of many households.

The existence of the National Directorate of Employment is no doubt a positive symbol of the government’s concern on the menace of high unemployment rate, poverty and their ripple effects. However, the seeming relegation of such a star agency whose mandate and function is the much needed intervention that would have been utilized on a constant basis to tame the tide of  unemployment  by skilling-up and re-skilling the youth, begs for immediate reverse.

Agencies like the NDE provide government the breather it needs as it grapples with the challenges of macroeconomic policy tools to tackle unemployment issues. Direct intervention is therefore a veritable and indisputable tool to effectively bring to fruition any attempt to re-engineer the economy and better the living condition of the citizenry.

However, direct job generation should not be perceived as a replacement for the orthodox national employment policy as erroneously held by some people. It is common to hear such things as; “the NDE has been around for long but joblessness is still rising, what are they doing”. This notion is wrong. This is because though microeconomic policies are largely responsible for the growth of the economy, but with direct intervention, job opportunities opens automatically.

Those who could not be “beamed” become the “candidates” of direct intervention. For instance, with about 170 plus universities in Nigeria, over a million graduates are annually produced of which only about 10% get conventionally employed. Add this to the millions of the school leavers, the need for direct intervention becomes clearer and more urgent.

The NDE is an agency with the required capacity to deliver such intervention measures needed to douse the rising tension in the country at the moment. The Directorate possesses globally tested mechanisms of empowerment: imparting market driven skills, development of entrepreneurship skills, job counselling and advocacy.

As the government grapples with the problems, the short-term solution should in part be to adopt or boost existing labour sponge strategies, by removing idle hands from the street directly. The idle youths should be empowered with skills and resources to engage in economically rewarding activities in the shortest possible time.

Government at all levels must utilize this globally tested approach at this dire period. It is very sacrosanct and immediate action is highly needed. It is however important to note that the problem of job creation is not in the number of institutions but the poor policy framework that guides their operations. It is time for change given the growing threat of unemployment and poverty in the country. The government should by rational consideration empower the NDE and related agencies to take up the challenge.

For a start, government should revisit the National Employment Policy (NEP), pull out the direct job generation aspects and re-articulate them into a more focused and coordinated national framework; a framework that shall prescribe standards and direction to stakeholders at national, state and LGA levels. After all, no tier of government is immune from negative effects of joblessness in the society. This approach will place Nigeria as a nation in the path of anticipatory/proactive action in terms of emergent national and global skills’ needs.

Governments cannot toy with the existence of such institutions like the NDE at an enormous socioeconomic and political price, especially at this critical time when policy measures are being tried out by the government with a lot of unintended negative consequences. Government should direct the NDE to take the lead, collaborating with other agencies to come up with appropriate initiatives: skills development, entrepreneurial capacity building, credit delivery, extension services and monitoring. These elements should also form the basis for a National Direct Job Generation Policy under the Supervision of the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment or any other as the case may be.

Evidently, the National Directorate of Employment was established like many agencies for a time like this, and it is time to deplore the agency for action. Its unparallel experience and capacity to deliver the required value to the nation’s quest for sustainable development within the context of the current Administration’s Renewed Hope Agenda. The Chinese, Indians, Malaysians and others cannot be wrong in putting high premium on hands-on skills development and related direct interventionist measures to accelerate their respective nation’s economic transformation. Nigeria can and should do same.

 Dr Ibrahim Maigari, a social critic, writes from Abuja