One of the intractable challenges that Nigeria has to deal with is that we often do not properly define the scope and scale of our problems before attempting to come up with solutions. Then, when our “solutions” fall flat, we wonder why they did not produce the intended result. Rather than learn from our mistakes, we rinse, repeat.
Data gathering, widely acknowledged as an integral and vital part of the problem-solving process, is disregarded in Nigeria, often with serious consequences. The result being some of the burning issues this country is facing.
These issues have created a number of tinderboxes that can only be defused through data-driven solutions. For example, let us ask ourselves the following questions:
Why does Nnamdi Kanu, self-styled leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra, a pro-Biafra secessionist group that has had a virtual chokehold on the headlines since the end of last year, command an increasing following in South-East Nigeria?
Why do we have an increasing but generally little-acknowledged drug addiction problem in Northern Nigeria?
Why are criminal gangs catching the fancy of more and more young people in the South-West of Nigeria?
An encounter with Nnamdi Kanu & IPOB Youths
On the first workday of the last week of June, I was in Umuahia along with a Channels Television crew. Our stated mission was a sit-down with the leader of the IPOB movement. It was an interesting experience.
Nnamdi Kanu’s residence is along an untarred road, a stone’s throw from the Abia State Government House. Despite this proximity to that state’s enduring symbol of power, the large crowd outside Kanu’s compound was sometimes raucous. I am referring to a crowd of up to twenty thousand people, by my conservative estimate. Our convoy of vehicles had to slowly snake its way through the beehive to get to his house. We witnessed this spectacle on a workday.
The most interesting person I spoke with on that day was a young man who has built a drone. I have no doubt in my mind that this young man is smart, intelligent and ingenious. Four years ago, he was awarded a scholarship by the Imo State government to study engineering at the university. He neither made it to a higher institution of learning, nor was his scholarship ever rescinded.
Initially, he was told by the Imo State government officials that the money was coming “soon”. Somewhere along the line, the story changed. He was told that the Federal Government had not released the budgeted allocation that would have been used to fund his scholarship. His own investigation turned up a different tale. The money had in fact been released, but had been embezzled. Because this young man hails from a very poor family, he could not afford the fees at the Federal University of Technology, Owerri. Bewildered, I asked this young chap, “FUTO?”
What kind of warped mindset would make anybody steal money meant for scholarships to students in FUTO? Should it then surprise anyone that the young man has jettisoned the Nigerian ideal and volunteered his time, resources and services to Nnamdi Kanu’s cause and IPOB’s?
Not limited to IPOB
This problem of malfeasance by a few privileged individuals is commonplace across the country. It is present in different forms and at different levels. In many cases, the hapless people channel their hostilities towards other people or into other causes and they are able to negotiate a solution for themselves. The larger problem of dysfunction is forgotten about, at least for a while.
In the South East, a considerable number of people have held on to the the idea of Biafra as a lightning rod. When a Nnamdi Kanu comes along, some people would initially insult him viscerally. But as he continues to hammer on the obvious issues of marginalisation, offering some kind of hope to the mostly disenchanted youth, people start to rally around him and his ideas. In the core North, a lot of people have an unabashedly political interpretation of the role of religion in general, and Islam in particular. In the West, there is the Afenifere, or at least, what remains of a movement that seems to have gone past its apogee.
In every region of the country, the problem is the same. Our youth have nothing to do. This means that anyone who comes offering some kind of “hope”, will get a look-in. The people in the South-South have the oil wells as their bargaining chip. The question then is what do people in the Middle Belt have as their ’get out of jail’ card?
Facts and figures
Let us consider the troubling facts. According to the National Bureau of Statistics, 3.67 million Nigerians became unemployed in 2016. Also, the number of unemployed Nigerians rose from 7.51 million in October 2015 to 11.19 million at the end of September 2016 – an increase of 67 percent over a period of 12 months. Even more worrying, the unemployment rate was highest among young people, aged 15 to 24, rising from 17.8 percent in the beginning of the last three months of 2015 to 25 percent at the end of September last year. Unemployment also increased for the critical 25-34 age group, from 10.8 percent to 15 percent during the same period. 2017 has not offered better prospects for Nigeria’s youth.
We have known for some time now that Nigeria will overtake the United States to become the third most populous country in the world by 2050, according to a United Nations report.
Currently, the seventh-most populous country in the world, Nigeria will not only surpass the 300 million people mark by 2050, according to the World Economic Forum, Lokoja, Nnewi, Uyo and Abuja, are four of the top ten fastest-growing cities in the world. Some models predict that at our current fertility rate of 5.7 children per woman per the National Population Commission, one billion Nigerians, would be living in a land space about the size of the U.S. state of Texas (current population: 27.47 million) by the end of the century!
These are not simply abstract number projections; they have important consequences for property rights, food security, social amenities, infrastructural development, and probably most importantly, political unity. That the country has so far refused to address the current baby boom in a holistic manner is a serious indictment of our political leadership.
Which brings us back to the pressing issue of jobs
A proper understanding of the changes in a country’s employment cycle is important to crafting a well-oiled society that strives to provide for all. Any country that must compete in the 21st century needs well-educated, and well-trained human capital. Human capital is what sparks the innovation, industry and creativity that are needed to run a dynamic economy.
The world’s largest black country has not managed to take the steps needed to create economic opportunity for a majority of its citizens. This is evidently at the heart of all of our national problems. We are a country where hundreds of thousands of people, including IPOB supporters, have the time and energy to devote themselves to a romantic, if elusive separatist cause. We are a country where a reactionary movement to rally against state corruption and the impunity of security forces spawned a seven-year security nightmare, called Boko Haram.
Young people, bereft of a decent education, good housing, and jobs have turned to drugs, criminality and peddlers of ethnic jingoism. As a result, we have created a society that is falling at the seams, looking more like an untidily arranged pack of dominoes than a breathing, functioning community.
How do we fix Nigeria?
It starts with correctly identifying some of the enablers of the unworkable system that we are currently operating. It starts with ending the unconscionable acts of stifling the limited channels of life advancement, such as disappearing scholarship monies, through graft, corruption and greed. It starts with expanding the political space, encouraging participation in our democratic process – witness the apathy that characterised the recent Lagos council vote – welcoming and tolerating dissenting voices and addressing marginalised sections of the electorate. It starts with dealing with the plethora of security concerns blaring across critical parts of the country. It starts with protecting the sanctity of our national institutions and revamping the vitality of the civil service; and adequately implementing such sensible policies as cutting red tape, ending over-regulation and ending indefensible tax breaks; simple and do-able acts of governance that will unshackle capital and assure entrepreneurs and investors of the attractiveness and stability of the Nigerian market, enabling them to focus on investing in the economy.
It starts with creating economic opportunity, or in simple terms, jobs for everyone.