By Yemi Ifegbuyi
Rhetoric and patriotic sentiment aside, Nigerian youths are not just unemployed, but many are unemployable.
Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan last week, launched the first of his government’s key programs aimed at addressing high rate of unemployment and tackling economic insecurity among the nation’s large youth population.
Youth Enterprise with Innovation in Nigeria (You Win!), is a “business plan competition” aimed to help youths under 35 years of age to explore their creative and entrepreneurship prowess through the provision of start-up grants, business resource support and mentorship.
Over the next three years, #YouWinNigeria hope to facilitate the creation of approximately 120,000 youth target jobs. Every year, 1,200 young entrepreneurs will be selected based on their business ideas and awarded grants, provided by YouWin’s sponsors, accordingly. Each grant winner is expected to yield an average of 33 jobs that will add up to 40,000 jobs, annually; it is however a drop-in-the-ocean when considered the challenges before hand. About 40million Nigerian youths are in desperate need of jobs.
Unofficial latest figure peg youth unemployment in Nigeria around 70 percent; majority of them fall within the middle and lower economic class. If YouWin can be sustained, which is unlikely given government antecedent, it will take Africa’s biggest country approximately a thousand years (that is 3011) to curb its youth unemployment.
On social media sites, where many Nigerian youths now pass free time, thanks to their countless jobless hours, Reno Omokri, Special Assistance to President Jonathan on New Media, has embarked on public relations campaign to get words out, on the benefits of YouWin. The founder of Build Up Nigeria posted on his twitter page, “The whole idea is not to give youth jobs, but to equip those youths with the talent and discipline to be entrepreneurs to create jobs.”
Excitement that surrounds the launching of #YouWinNigeria is cut short when expert asked, how sustainable is YouWin? There are many unanswered questions that surround this initiative, which critics have labelled as a mere political appeasement. YouWin is a short cut solution to a long term problem, which is not unusual to Nigeria’s approach to problem solving. While the YouWin tagged itself as youth program, it is clear from its scope that it is meant for fraction of the country’s youth population that lives in cities and have access to the internet — the internet warriors.
A common weakness in the YouWin initiative as agreed upon by analysts is that the so called “business plan competition” does not address the root causes of unemployment in the country. As an example, the education system has failed the nation woefully; lack of robust professional and technical skills among youths are pervasive, experts argue. The N50 billion that will be spend on ‘a public relations campaign’ for the government, by appeasing frustrated youth from the 6 regions of the country through YouWin, could have been invested and use to radically reform the education sector, the engine of the economy. As it stands, the bad state of the education system poses a major set back for the country, considering opportunities before it as a ‘democratic state’; one that is eager to embrace global business culture.
In a global economy that is increasingly competitive, a skilled labour force that can support a manufacturing or service industry is crucial. Twenty-first century investors are not only interested in how to maximize their cost of production, but also how to get the best brains and hands to enrich their corporate entities; this is what Nigeria is lacking. Many of the country’s youths cannot confidently compete with their age group in India and China, not even the smaller nations, such as Ghana or Botswana.
Clearly, concerns being expressed are not about program idea, but its process. Given what we know about the similar initiatives of the past, what is the possibility of an abuse of the program by privileged citizens? How will millions of other disenfranchisement youths in towns and villages with no access to information on benefit from the program? Come 2014, will government agencies be able to satisfactorily tell the success stories of hundreds, if not thousands, of YouWin beneficiaries? In other word, how will the program success be measure?
YouWin is a tiny step in the right direction. It does not reflect a bold move to tackle the nation’s tragic unemployment rate. It is important that the national government do not lose site of the bigger picture. A reform of the technical school system through better funding and legislative backing, will serve a better purpose for the country; create new enterprises and reverse youths unemployability.
YouWin online: www.youwin.org.ng
Yemi Ifegbuyi is a senior editorialist and director of operations for SBG media, publisher of nigeriansbaroadlive.com. He is also a strategic communications consultant on politics and business development, with special interest in North-America, Asia and sub-Sahara Africa. Follow him on Twitter: @tweetyemi