The startling and frightening conclusion of a study on Nigeria released last week by the British Council should ordinarily ginger every responsible government into deep introspection and action.
Though not entirely new, yet, the study’s findings that the country is on the “cusp of a demographic disaster” unless its stagnant economy rapidly expands to support its teeming youth population, has added to the distressing calls about the Nigerian Project from many concerned quarters in recent times.
This latest study, indeed, should serve as a wake-up call to the nation’s economic and political leaders.
The study, led by the Harvard School of Public Health and involved an academic team drawn from universities in Nigeria, USA and the UK, rightly observes that, “If Nigeria fails to plan for its next generation, it faces serious problems as a result of growing numbers of young people frustrated by a lack of jobs and opportunities.
If these young people are, well educated, and find productive employment, they could boost the country’s economy and reinvigorate it culturally and politically. If not, they could otherwise be a force for instability and social unrest.
As noted earlier, this would not be the first time some concerns have been raised about the country’s bulging unemployed youth population in the midst of a depressing economy. In 2005, the CIA released a report by the US National Intelligence Council which predicted that Nigeria risked a break up by 2015, essentially, because its huge unemployed youth population is susceptible to violent crimes and destabilizing influence.
Similar sentiment was expressed by the Foreign Policy magazine in a February article in which it asked if Nigeria was in danger of becoming an “extremist haven” because the country was inching up on the “Failed States Index” with a worsening security situation, comatose electricity system, non-existent infrastructure and mediocre leadership.
Talking about the “demographic disaster”, the study noted with fear that Nigeria’s population of 180 million people will swell by another 63 million by 2050, with more than 40 per cent of the population younger than 14. Given this scenario, therefore, the study warns that “Large cohorts of unemployed or underemployed young people destabilize their societies, fuelling crime and creating conditions where civil conflicts becomes more likely’’.
Here in Nigeria, events in various parts of our country in recent times, ranging from sectarian violence in the North, involving Gboko Haram, militancy in the oil-rich Niger Delta region, armed robbery and kidnapping incidents in major cities and towns, all point to the dangers an un-engaged, but active youth population can pose to a country. This is not talking about the huge population of Nigerian girls reportedly engaged in prostitution across the world.
Like many others before it, it is most likely that this government could discountenance this latest warning. Our country progressively descended into the depth of economic stagnation chiefly on account of the actions and inactions of previous administrations which systematically discarded rigorous planning or tentative approach in the management of the national economy.
The consequences of such economic neglect are, among other things, the dearth of opportunities, especially for the rapidly growing youth population we have in the country today. It is for this reason that it is recommended that the country needs to create 25 million jobs over the next ten years to get its youth population working and contributing to national development.
However, it will continue to remain a big puzzle how a country, which according to a recent report by the Economic Confidential, an online economic intelligence journal, generated N34 trillion between 1999 and 2012 and reportedly makes an estimated $38 billion annually from oil exports to the U.S alone, could be in such economic strait.
In fact, another 2006 United Nations Development Program report on the Millennium Development Goals says Nigeria has made little progress despite its great mineral wealth; and as a result, may end up not meeting the MDGs.
Admittedly, the path to Nigeria’s economic recovery, so as to avoid the impending “demographic disaster”, lies in the revival of its national economy through diversification from oil, which experts say “contributes 40 per cent to national GDP, but only employs 0.15 per cent of the population.
Conscious efforts should be made by government to reposition the economy so that employment opportunities could be provided for the country’s bulging youth population. Central and critical to this is the resolution of the power sector debacle. It should also sustain its anti-corruption posture in order to maximally utilize public funds for the common good.
All the loopholes that impede private sector participation in exploiting the abundant resources in the country should also be plugged. A recent World Bank report entitled, “Doing Business in Nigeria: How to Reform”, said Nigeria regressed from the 94th position it occupied in 2006 projections to the 108th after appraising the business environment of 175 countries.
The country’s economy, it said, trailed behind such African countries as South Africa, Namibia, Mauritius, Kenya, Botswana, Ghana, and even war-weary Ethiopia in “investment-friendly indicators.
Nigeria’s political leaders should be more mindful of the dangers obscene affluent and flamboyant lifestyles, side by side a huge unemployed, angry and desperate youth population poses to the country’s democracy. This alarm bell must be seen for what it is: A call to action by all!