BACK TO SOIL: SEALING THE SEPULCHER OF YOUTH UNEMPLOYMENT THROUGH AGRICULTURE

By Kunle Oguntegbe

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There is an Igbo proverb that says, ‘a man needs to consider the size of his anus before swallowing udala seed’. Prior to the discovery of oil in Nigeria, unemployment was not a major macroeconomic threat to the Country as anyone who was agile had no reason to be idle. Food was sufficient and youths were gainfully employed. After the oil boom comes an era plagued with decline in Agriculture’s share of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), as everyone abandoned farming in order to benefit from the national cake. However, while Nigeria as a Nation was busy relishing the crude oil largess, she failed to take into cognizance the end results and ripple effects of oil on the other sectors of the economy. This was the genesis of unemployment in Nigeria.

The National Bureau of Statistics recently reported that 58.3 percent of Nigerians in the labour force, aged 15‐24 were either unemployed or underemployed in the second quarter of 2016, compared to 56.1 percent in the first quarter. Similarly, of persons aged between 25 and 34, 35.1 percent were either unemployed or underemployed. Consequently, out of a total youth labour force of about 39.6million persons (representing 49.5 percent of total labour force in Nigeria – 79.9million persons), a total of 17.6million youths were either unemployed or underemployed in the second quarter of 2016. Before I proceed with this piece, it is pertinent to technically distinguish between a youth who is not working and one who is unemployed. The Neoclassical theories of unemployment in Economics explain that it is not every youth who is not working that is unemployed. A youth may be unwilling to work if the wage offered is small (because he hopes to find a better job); this is termed Voluntary unemployment in Macroeconomics. In the light of this, a youth who is not working will only be termed unemployed if he is willing and able to work and actively looking for work within the review period.

Having explained theoretically, the concept of youth unemployment, it is essential to narrow it down to the case of Nigerian Economy where Agriculture is the mainstay. Why is the rate of youth unemployment so high in Nigeria? Is an average Nigerian Youth who is out of job simply lazy, voluntarily unemployed, or the labour market is just saturated with job seekers? An unemployed youth who is comfortable in his comfort zone will always say ‘there is no job out there’. Despite the abundance of land and forest resources with which Nigeria is blessed, isn’t it amazing when a man whose biceps and triceps are still well aligned inside his arms, blames his joblessness on his inability to secure white collar job? Oh ye Nigerian youths! For how long shall thou wait for office jobs? Perhaps, till your molars and premolars can no longer masticate beans and bread? The time for Agricultural revolution is now!

In as much as this article is not intended to point accusing fingers or to malign anyone, it will be necessary to identify some factors responsible for the lingering youth unemployment in Nigeria. Political office holders and Public Administrators in Nigeria are part of those perpetrating youth unemployment in the Country. Did I hear you ask how? Yes, there have been several programmes and interventions to alleviate poverty and reduce unemployment. It is common for Government at all tiers to distribute ‘keke Napep’ and commercial motorcycles, popularly referred to as ‘okada’, all in the name of reducing youth unemployment. Whether those interventions had been effective in the past is a poser for you and I. Few years after giving out these Greek gifts to unsuspecting youths, what happens to the motor bikes and tricycles? If they do not end up being apprehended by officials of Transportation Management Agencies across the country, (LASTMA, OYTMA etc.) for plying a forbidden route, the once glittering automobiles must have become a caricature of their former self; in fact, a sheer assemblage of metals with near-zero salvage value.

This is an indication that any Government intervention that does not encourage production is only a Greek gift under a Pseudo Economy. Can one imagine what the youths could have achieved had they been empowered with working capital to start agricultural investments. It is important to note here that capital does not necessarily imply physical cash, it means all working assets with which youths can begin small scale farming businesses. For example, any youth who is interested in Aquaculture can be supported with fingerlings and fish feed worth a certain amount while the youth himself finds land on which he sites his pond. In this way, instead of diverting youths away from production by making them motorcycle riders, they can be empowered to practice agriculture. This will no doubt stem the tides of youth unemployment in Nigeria.

Iron sharpens iron; cooperative farming in the form of Young Farmers’ Club and Farming Estates should be encouraged among Nigerian youth in order to benefit from one another. Meanwhile, there is need for value reorientation among the youths; this is necessary for a change of perception about agriculture among the agile workforce. Agriculture should not be seen as a profession for pensioners and retirees but as the only adorable means of livelihood, endorsed by the Creator for the first man in the Garden of Eden.

Another way of encouraging youth to embrace farming is through better remuneration package. One of the objectives of the incumbent Administration in Nigeria, as stated in the Agriculture Promotion Policy, is to make agriculture a business and an alternative to oil. Whether this is another ‘jaw exercise’ from the Presidency is a question for time to answer. In developed Countries such as Belgium, Germany, Netherlands and other European Countries where agriculture is accorded high priority, the Government remunerates farmers for making up to a predetermined quantity of crop yield within a particular farming season. This, the European Commission calls ‘Direct Income Payment’ and it has been one of the Union’s secrets for keeping its active population on the farm. This can be emulated by our oil-rich Nigeria; the revenue from oil export can be used to diversify the economy by using part of it to ‘send the youth back to soil’.

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