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.


By Zainab Usman