FOR the teeming mass of unemployed people in Nigeria, the prospects of securing jobs are dim. Data just released by the National Bureau of Statistics depict persistently high unemployment.

The data, aggravated by five successive quarters of recession, is grim. The labour force climbed to 85.1 million in the third quarter of 2017 – from 83.9 million in Q2 of 2017. The NBS states, “…those in full-time employment (at least 40 hours a week) declined from 52.7 million in the Q2 2017 to 51.1 million in Q3.” The unemployment rate of 14.2 per cent in Q4, 2016 jumped to 16.2 per cent in Q2 2017 and 18.8 per cent in Q3 2017. Unemployment and underemployment combined rose to 40 per cent from 37.2 per cent in Q2.

Demographically, the most vulnerable are the youth. The unemployment and underemployment rate for the youth was 52.65 per cent or 22.64 million persons, the NBS says, while underemployment is worse among the rural dwellers. Conversely, the unemployment rate in Germany is 3.6 per cent, Great Britain 4.2 per cent, France 9.4 per cent, and the European Union, 7.4 per cent, official figures state.

The employment rate is a critical gauge of any economy’s health. In Nigeria’s case, there is a gross mismatch between the millions of unemployed youths and the minuscule number of manufacturing companies to absorb them. Most skilled graduates have to make do with promotional jobs hastily organised by the government or the private sector. This partly explains the upsurge in criminal activities, and many youths migrating through Libya to Europe.

Nigeria depends heavily on imports, even of goods that it can produce domestically, like refined petroleum products, palm oil and textiles. This is illogical. By doing so, it subtly exports jobs to other countries.

Critically, manufacturing is almost comatose. Many companies have closed down because of the harsh business climate, particularly over difficulties in accessing foreign exchange to import raw materials, erratic electricity, insecurity, decadent infrastructure and multiple taxes. In the eight years to 2008, 820 manufacturing companies closed shop, says the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria. In the South-East, 75 of them went out of business partly on account of poor access roads; at the peak of the forex crisis between 2015 and 2016, 272 firms closed shop, sweeping away 180,000 jobs. Some of the companies relocated to other West African countries with more favourable business environments.

The textile industry, formerly the industrial sector’s highest employer of labour, witnessed the closure of 145 mills out of 175 between 1980 and 2016. It imploded partly due to Nigeria’s endorsement of the World Trade Organisation deal, and smuggling. The oil industry, under threat from militancy, is losing its appeal. The public service is bloated, and is defined by huge salary arrears.

However, population is expanding, and earnings from oil cannot cater for the financial demands of the country’s increasing population.  To reverse worsening unemployment, our leaders needs to free themself from the yoke of statist economic paradigm. It is out of tune with modern global realities for the government to run business concerns. To build an integrated railway system that will connect all the state capitals, Nigeria needs $36 billion, according to official projections. This is more than the 2018 budget proposals of N8.6 trillion.

The successor companies that emerged after Margaret Thatcher privatised British Rail are providing up to 212,000 jobs and £3.9 billion in annual tax receipts, according to a (British) Rail Delivery Group report. The change from public to private ownership delivered benefits estimated at £7.2 billion in 2013.

It is futile for us to think Nigeria will create jobs by sticking adamantly to the public ownership and management of the railways, aviation, oil and mining sectors. The four loss-making refineries should be privatised, and the Department of Petroleum Resources mandated to make it easier for private investors to build refineries. Likewise, the Ajaokuta Steel Company should be privatised.

The textile industry is a low-hanging fruit. By reviewing its pact with the WTO and eradicating smuggling, Nigeria can restore the lost jobs in the sector. Without efficient electricity, it is a tall order for local industries to manufacture goods that could compete with cheaper imports. This should be strategically addressed to boost productivity.

Small- and Medium-Scale Enterprises are the lifeblood of every economy. If the government is to fulfil its promise to create jobs, they must be at the core of its economic policy. The SMEs have the capacity to employ millions of people, but they are struggling due to prohibitive lending rates and other hitches. The SMEs must have access to cheap funds, close to what obtains in the United States, where the interest rate is 1.50 per cent; Canada 1 per cent; Australia 1.5 per cent and the UK 0.5 per cent.

On their part, the three tiers of government should concentrate on building top-notch infrastructure, providing quality education for productive knowledge and health services.