Managing the “Youth Bulge” in Nigeria (II)

The first part of this piece last week, HERE, examined the threats and opportunities posed by Nigeria’s rapidly growing and youthful population to the social cohesion, political stability and economic development of the country; how the dividends of this youthful population can be realized by providing meaningful, education, employment and economic opportunities and the main obstacles in providing and accessing these opportunities. This concluding piece looks at some junctures where non-government actors could complement government efforts in providing these opportunities, to ensure Nigeria’s youthful population becomes a blessing and not a curse.

In the realm of education, since a major problem as identified is not just of access to education, but that those enrolled are faced with low standards and poor quality, with those graduating from these institutions possessing little relevant skills, what role could families and communities play in improving the quality of accessible education? If there is a dearth of qualified primary and secondary school teachers who sometimes are barely able to teach or communicate effectively in English on the one hand and on the other hand, there’s an army of unemployed tertiary institutions graduates, what incentives could be explored to lure unemployed graduates to teach to fill the skills gap– albeit on a temporary basis  – in primary and secondary schools (generally not regarded by young people as a “cool” profession)with poorly qualified teachers rather than staying idle at home?

While not attempting to undermine the efforts of academics in Nigerian tertiary institutions, could there be a role for Nigerian academics and professionals in institutions abroad to go to Nigeria for visiting professorships or at least, for short periodic visits during their annual leave, serving as an important “bridge” for knowledge, expertise and resources transfer? Could not-for-profit organizations design short courses affiliated to these tertiary institutions, for a small fee, to impart transferable skills such as computer and IT; leadership and project management; team-work, communication, negotiation and mediation; and administrative skills, all very relevant in the work place?

Could young professionals and the numerous silent achievers (in Nigeria and in the diaspora) who have succeeded immensely in their various fields – in academics, the corporate world, public service or entertainment – mentor teenagers and young adults by speaking with students at their various former schools, hometowns and communities, sharing their success stories and giving them useful tips, in order to inspire, motivate and encourage them? This is especially as many young adults are in dire need of a new breed of role models who would remind them that hard work still pays ultimately, that being a kleptocratic bureaucrat or an unconscionably thieving politician is not the only sure way to “success” and “prosperity”.

With regards to employment generation and creation of economic opportunities, the primary issues are limited job opportunities especially in the public sector vis-a-vis a labour market saturated with millions of jobseekers, the unemployability of many job seekers according to employers, and the treacherous hurdles within an unfavourable environment that those with entrepreneurial ambitions have to scale through i.e. limited incentives, credit facilities and dearth of infrastructure. Thus, a possible area of intervention for non-government actors could entail providing training as noted above in work-place skills to students and job seekers to prepare them for the labour market. Currently, the University of Nigeria Nsukka has a center headed by Professor Benjamin Ogwo, dedicated to “re-training” jobseekers with skills required of 21st century workforce, to make them more employable. This short video clip below highlights the work done by this centre.

In addition to lacking necessary skills, many young Nigerian job seekers lack experience and core competencies even for entry-level jobs, making it stressful for employers who have to spend a small fortune on training new staff in basic office skills. In many developed and emerging economies, young job seekers are typically equipped with experience, core competencies and at the barest minimum, familiarity with an office environment, all developed from a range of volunteer jobs and internships while at the University, sometimes right from secondary school. There is need to inculcate such practice of volunteerism via internships and work-experience schemes, Industrial Training (already included in many science-based courses in Nigeria) especially during the long periods of school breaks and ASUU strikes.

With regards to the creation of economic opportunities, families have a crucial role to play in supporting young people with bright, innovative, promising yet unconventional ideas to allow these ideas mature to fruition. Parents and guardians ought to realize that not everyone is cut out for a “secure” white-collar employment that pays a healthy pension. The world today is markedly different from that of the 1960s and 1970s in which our parents grew up in, where lucrative public sector jobs awaited anyone bold or fortunate to graduate from the University. The 21st century is an era driven by creativity, entrepreneurship and innovation of the Zuckerbergs, Steve Jobs and Chris Aires who dared to follow the unconventional paths they dreamt about.

Saheed Adepoju, the 28 year old co-founder of Encipher Group, the Nigerian-based tech firm that has produced the country’s first tablet computer, ‘Inye’ modeled after Apple’s ipad

Parents ought to recognize promising talent and potential in their children and wards at an early age and nurture this with the right support and encouragement, as some would thrive exceptionally well as entrepreneurs, building their own companies, employing others and adding value to the society.   It is passion that drives real talent, and the creative expression of talent leads to bursts of innovation which, within an enabling environment leads to entrepreneurial success and prosperity. Access to funding and credit is usually a stumbling block in such situations, and apart from the obvious sources – vis government and financial institutions – communities and well-off individuals could raise funds to be awarded as startup capital especially to less privileged but the most creative and innovative people with brilliant ideas.

These self-help measures should neither seek to replace the core responsibilities and mandates of political leaders in providing education, employment and economic opportunities to Nigeria’s teeming youthful population, nor absolve political leaders of their governance failures. However, if we do acknowledge the government’s shortcomings in meeting up its responsibilities, then the onus lies on us also to complement government’s efforts (or lack of) in order to reap the “dividends” of our youth bulge and to ensure Sani Musa and millions of his peers have a bright future ahead.


Related Articles:

Managing the “Youth Bulge” in Nigeria (I)” ~ Zainab Usman

African Dream: Nigeria’s Saheed Adepoju” ~ BBC News

“Nigeria: the Young and the Jobless” ~ The Stream, Aljazeera English

South African Youths, 18 years after Apartheid” ~ Aljazeera English

8 thoughts on “Managing the “Youth Bulge” in Nigeria (II)

  1. The problem is government does not create a supporting business environment to foster self-employment and entreprenurial initiatives.Not every profession is career in nigeria,and the very few ones have little turnover.poor infrastructure,lack of capital base and difficulty to procure credit compound the problem beginners face.

  2. Well,only the incurable optimists of which I’m not one,will bet their coin on this government to provide employment opportunities that will match our current unemployment predicament. The creativity you talked about can only be a product of tender identification of potentials,nurturing and accurate shaping of one’s interest along a productive trend. Regrettably and as you rightly pointed out,the basis for identification and exploring of such potentials are completely skilled deficit and untrained to carry out such dexterity. Unfortunately,the ‘manageable’ graduates to have covered the deficiencies are busy searching and/or waiting for lucrative jobs to think of solving a defect themselves were victims of. The government on the other hand have succeeded in portraying the teaching profession as the most least profitable,albeit non payment of salaries as at when due,poor supervision of activities around schools and large influx of private schools. Excessive corrupt practices among both public and private sectors have also encouraged negative consumption on the idea of job seeking. On the issue of competency and been prepared for jobs after graduation,in as much as I hate to admit,the Nigerian educational system is far too outdated to compete with her sister’s countries. What we do these days is nothing but promoting individuals to their highest level of incompetency. Until we are ready to face the reality upon our situation,we may continue producing untrained graduates that have to be subjected to experience gaining schemes to be able to fit into the circle. No doubt,Nigerians are blessed with lots of talents,but raw talent alone cannot make creativity,it has to be explored,molded,shaped and tinkered. Those processes is where our biggest problem lies. God bless Nigeria. Nice effort there Zainab and more of it please.

  3. Very topical issue, Zainab. Well done.

    Your point about the need to equip young people (or for young people to equip themselves) with basic work place skills and attitudes is extremely important. While excellent grades still the starting point for consideration for most graduate schemes (at least in the prestigious firms), most employers want to see other activities where the candidate must have developed some transferable skills.

    Looking back, one of the things I would have done differently in my undergraduate days was to use my holidays wisely and more productively. And if any student currently in the Nigerian university system asks me for some sort of career advice, that’s surely one of the things I would tell the person to take very seriously. ‘Yes you can travel to stay with that rich relative or family friend for a couple of weeks, but after that please think up something to do that would impress a potential employer because there is madt competition out there for graduate positions’. That’s how I will put it to the person seeking my advice.

    The idea of internship (paid or unpaid) is largely unknown in our education system except, like you rightly noted, for the science/technical students that get to do IT, which some do not even take seriously. For me, my first ever experience of working and earning a living came in my 20s at NYSC, which some people are misguidedly saying should be completely scrapped (yes there are problems with it, but the program can be thoroughly reviewed in the light of current Nigerian social and economic realities). That’s quite late, at least by the standards here in the UK and other advanced economies where, like you correctly noted again, work experience schemes exist even for secondary school students. One of my colleagues in the consultancy where I just finished a research internship is only 19 and joined the firm after his ‘A levels’. He had previously worked in a bank. He has no plans to go to University. That’s understandable, he already has close to two years of solid experience under his belt and that’s what many employers here are looking for, not high-sounding degrees. Another issue is that of career guidance. Unless they set up one recently, my university does not have a careers service for students. I don’t know if ABU has any. A ‘Careers and Employability Centre’ is an important feature of all Universities here. They can assist in CV writing, filling job application forms, placements and all that. They won’t guarantee a job- in fact I’ve heard some students say they are ‘rubbish’- but the university is at least pretending to offer support in the transition from studies to work.

    Having said all these, that state of the our economy is also a reason why even if an enterprising student is seeking opportunities to gain some experience, he might not be able find any. Start-ups close down almost as soon as they are established due to the various difficulties in the Nigerian business environment. A friend of mine who works in an agency that helps secure internships for French students in the UK, told me that small business offer most of the opportunities for his clients since they currently can’t afford to employ many long term or permanent staff. So it is obvious that a more conducive business environment in Nigeria will lead to the birth of more SMEs and more employment opportunities which enterprising and ambitious students can exploit.

    1. Thanks for your very enlightening comment. I have to say I agree with you 100% and I have to admit that most of the points you raised are things I similarly thought about which inspired me to write this.

      Like you, I have thought to myself various times that if I knew, I would have put my time to better use during all those long periods of ASUU strikes and University closures when I was in ABU. At a point I wanted to volunteer at an NGO not too far from my house (and the NGO was doing some pretty impressive work) but I just couldn’t be bothered.

      As you rightly noted, the practice of “Guidance and Counselling” during my time in school was virtually non-existent or it just existed in name. And this is a service that should be available right from secondary school else many young Nigerians go to the University without really knowing what course is the best fit for their capabilities, their personalities, their temperaments vis what the country needs.

      And I quite agree with you on the need to revamp and reform the NYSC scheme rather than scrapping it all together, as this is the only avenue where many get to have something similar to work experience (even though it is becoming something else these days).

      And most importantly, the example you gave of your very young colleague is something I can very much relate to, many of my colleagues here are way younger than I am, and they have tons and tons of experience starting right from high school sometimes. And like you rightly noted, they start working with small organizations/businesses and gradually move on to bigger and better. In Nigeria, one of the problems is that we look down on so many things: teaching, working with small firms etc. I was also like that too, with that same sort of mentality, but these days I look at the bigger picture.

      We really have a long way to go, but we just need to pull ourselves together and start doing something. It might not change the whole country, but its a start.

  4. the greatest mistake i made when i was a youth was to depend and hope on my government…
    youths today should not make that mistake.

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