Interrogating Nigeria’s Jobless Growth
By Ikechukwu Onyewuchi
THE question of job creation in Nigeria has lingered over the years. With graduates churned out yearly by over 100 universities and a ‘reportedly’ fast-growing economy, the supply and demand of jobs in the country should be at some sort of equilibrium.
Factoring in a bloated, indolent labour force, sparse industries, near-absent manufacturing sector, epileptic power and hydra-headed corruption, the reality seems to be a far-cry from this reverie.
Politicians, in the last few months, have painted a depressing scenario of the job situation, as well. In their fervid campaigns, they promise ‘ridiculous’ job figures if they are voted into office. The incumbent, President Goodluck Jonathan, in Oyo State, recently, promised about 2 million jobs if re-elected; General Mohammed Buhari, on the other hand, in Enugu, pledged 1 million jobs, without clear details of how they will do it.
In the wake of the announcement of Nigeria’s rebased economic figures, last year, which propped the country as the biggest economy in Africa, economists and government critics rose in contest of the data posted, coining the term, ‘jobless growth,’ which explains the situation whereby fanciful economic figures are being quoted side-by-side alarming unemployment rates.
As the country suffers under the weight of political promises, however, job seekers are groaning under the weight of ‘manipulative’ employers; fresh graduates are turning to self-help and labour experts are asking for review of job policies while advocating a change of approach to entrepreneurial education.
Abuja-based Ifegwu Francis, in his late 20s, is a recent graduate of Political Science and Public Administration from the University of Benin (UNIBEN), and is uncertain of the prospects in the labour market. With his Second Class Upper degree, he said he can only manage with the job he started as an undergraduate, noting that his course of study, which is less of practical and more of theory, puts him at disadvantage in the early stages of job search, as experience is required, especially for fresh graduates, to land jobs.
He believes that courses that do not have practical components — especially in the form of an industrial attachment to a corporate establishment — seem to deny graduates opportunity of job placements when they leave school.
Graduating from the university in 2012 with a degree in Psychology, self-employed Tolulope Saliu was pushed into a system he had always imagined: an unfriendly environment, where one had to struggle with hundreds of other graduates for few available jobs.
He runs Vecturn Media, which specialises in website, graphics and logo designs, as well as brand development, hobbies he learnt early in life but developed as an undergraduate.
He said: “I had plans to get a job, gather some experience and save up capital, but the reality on ground wasn’t encouraging at all. After completing the NYSC programme, and searching for a job for about four months and later getting one with unfavourable conditions, I had to take the decision to quit and build on the business I did as an undergraduate: graphic and website design.”
On how he scaled through the tedious process of business registration, the Olabisi Onabanjo University (OOU) graduate said, “Vecturn Media was registered in a short time. It was actually very easy. I just walked into the CAC office at Alausa and followed the procedures. It took about four weeks.”
Asked on what he thought of graduates being underpaid by employers, he noted that underemployment is a very serious issue that should be addressed with sincere urgency, stressing, “A lot of graduates just get employed, leave home very early in the morning, work for long hours under unfavourable conditions, get home very late at night, and at the end of the month have little or nothing to show for their effort. Another issue is that of contract workers. These issues affect the morale of workers involved and what most employers don’t realise is that, it has a negative effect on productivity. I hope these issues are looked into.” He said the major challenges in his business have been facing are the power issue and epileptic supply and getting people to work with him.
For Suraj Oyewole, who runs the career blog, JarusHub, the dilemma of underemployment in Nigeria is a function of graduates ‘resorting to what is easily available.’
According to him, “Underemployment is about doing less than what you have the skills and trainings to do. Some graduates are underemployed, others are not. A graduate of Mathematics doing driving job is underemployed. When people could not get what they are trained to do, they will naturally resort to whatever is available”
A senior lecturer in the Department of Industrial Relations and Personnel Management, at the University of Lagos, Akoka, (UNILAG), Dr. Ayofe Akinwale, said the job situation in the country is such that a bloated labour force is at the mercy of employers, who have taken advantage of the situation to be ‘manipulative.’
He stressed that Nigeria’s reported ‘wonder’ economic figures vis-à-vis a scary unemployment rate of 23.9 per cent, is unfortunate.
Accessing the job situation in the country, he said: “The job situation in the country is good for some people, and bad for many others. The few who are getting jobs are professionals and highly educated. They work in multinational companies and other such organisations. There is no state you would get to in Nigeria without seeing workers. They come in droves daily. That means that some Nigerians are employed and people are getting jobs every day. “But the number of people getting jobs everyday is small, compared to those that are not getting jobs. Our universities, every year, produce thousands of graduates. Unfortunately, the organisations in the country cannot absorb the army of graduates.”
Akinwale insists that most graduates who are unemployed are not properly educated, which is why they cannot pass job test that have been adopted by recruiters, stressing that there is a disconnect between higher education and the labour market.
According to him, “I am saying this on authority because I have conducted research on job search among graduates and researched the situation in the Nigerian Labour market. The last of my research was to look at the disconnect between higher education and the labour market, which was presented at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, last year.
“In the research, I discovered gaps in the training given by higher education institutions such as universities, polytechnics and colleges of education. The training they give does not translate to jobs immediately the students leave the universities. Part of my findings was that most graduates do not have what the available jobs require. For that reason, they cannot get jobs immediately; they need to equip themselves to be able to meet the requirement of organisations.”
As most critics contend that the reason for the disconnect was majorly a deficient curriculum, the argument has been for relevant authorities to make university curriculum to be tailored to current realities in the labour market.
Akinwale agrees with this view, but adds that students are also stumbling blocks, as they no longer take studies seriously due to a myriad of reasons, including disorientation, lack of role models in society and a dim prospect for employment after graduation.
“There are problems at different levels. The curriculum is good, but needs to be upgraded to meet current realities in the world so that Nigeria can, if possible, compete with other countries of the world. But the process of curriculum review in Nigeria is slow from my observation. The implication of that to students is that the students may not be as current as they should be to meet the demand of the labour market.” he said.
On underemployment, he noted that the problem was a function of demand and supply; the labour market is saturated, because the demand for labour is low while supply is surplus.
First published in The Guardian, Nigeria.