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

Managing the “Youth Bulge” in Nigeria (I)

It was with utter astonishment that the audience at Kofar Sauri Sharia court in Katsina on that fateful afternoon earlier this month, listened to the 12 year old pupil, Sani Musa, charged with theft, tell the court that he had to steal some metal scrap, in order to get money to enable him continue with his studies. He shocked the court further by producing the books, schoolbag and other school materials which he bought with the money obtained from disposing of the scrap metal. Family members testified to the court that Sani had been complaining over a lack of school materials and acknowledged him to be “hardworking, intelligent and… the best student of his school”. The court subsequently acquitted Sani Musa and resolved to shoulder his needs in school henceforth.

Now this situation of a promising pupil, keen and eager to learn but left in want of necessary school materials is one faced by thousands of young people in Nigeria. Sani Musa belongs to a youth demographic, under the age of 30 years fast becoming a “youth bulge” in developing countries, a situation where a large share of the population is comprised of children and young adults. According to the World Bank, nearly 70% of Africa’s over 1 billion people are under 30 years. Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, leads the pack with a “very young age structure” where two-thirds of 164 million Nigerians are under the age of 30.

Countries like Nigeria, have the opportunity to turn this youth bulge into a “demographic dividend” or active and productively engaged youthful population, that can power economic growth and development otherwise, this bulge is a ticking time bomb waiting to explode into a youth “disaster” which in the face of scarce economic opportunities become disillusioned and frustrated, imperiling an already fragile socio-political stability.

Diagram the demographic stress of countries around the world. Nigeria has been placed in the “Extreme” category. Source: Population Action International (PAI)

How to effectively engage the “youth bulge” is the current zeitgeist – theme in the air – featuring prominently in many international conferences on Africa. According to the conventional wisdom in this zeitgeist, this rapidly growing youth demographic can become a demographic dividend with adequate education, employment and economic opportunities. The onus of providing such opportunities generally lies with governments and we are all too familiar with how Sub-Saharan African leaders have continuously fallen short of these responsibilities. The premise here is that our predominant focus on the central role of government in providing these opportunities and government’s glaring shortcomings has made us gloss-over the role non-government actors such as parents, communities and not-for-profit groups can and should play in complementing government efforts to ensure our youth bulge in Nigeria translates into a demographic dividend so that young people like Sani Musa have a future to look forward to.

Nigeria’s population pyramid, showing the “youth bulge” at the base.

The importance of education to a country’s overall progress cannot be overemphasized. According to a 2006 IMF report, “the skills of the labor force, built largely during childhood and youth, are an important determinant of a country’s overall investment climate”. These skills are built when primary, secondary and tertiary education opportunities are provided to young people. Nigeria’s challenges in providing education are well documented, with literacy rates of the 15-24 age range at 65%-75% for females and males with stark regional variations between the Northern and Southern parts of the country. While enrolment and completion rates have increased for primary education, the enrolment rate remains low for secondary education, at 25.8% according to World Bank 2010 figures.

Importantly, very few of these have access to quality education – across all three levels. Decaying equipment and facilities, poorly qualified teachers sometimes barely able to speak English, poorly equipped universities and tertiary institutions have all resulted in consecutive mass national failure in secondary school leaving certificate exams – up to 98% in the 2009 NECO exams – and half-baked graduates from tertiary institutions, at best unable to write formal application letters and at worst lacking transferable skills, for a career path they are already uncertain of. Poor funding, corruption and persistent systemic decay of the education sector are all key factors resulting in a poorly educated and largely unskilled youth demographic.

Following closely is the challenge of providing adequate employment and economic opportunities in order to engage the youth productively to power economic and human development. According to World Bank economist Justin Yifu Lin, “one basic measure of a country’s success in turning the youth bulge into a demographic dividend is the youth (un)employment rate.” Yet, Nigeria is saddled with almost 20 million unemployed people, with about 2 million new entrants into the dispirited realm of the unemployed each year, according to the Nigerian National Bureau of Statistics. Unemployment among the under-30 age group is much higher at about 37.7% though civil society groups place the figure closer to 50%.

Of course youth unemployment is a not a phenomenon exclusive to Nigeria or Sub-Saharan Africa as many developed countries, notably Greece, Spain and Portugal are plagued by high youth unemployment rates (49.3%, 48.9% and 34.1% resp.) with the recent global economic downturn. However, if countries like Nigeria are to avert a demographic disaster already incubating a lost generation vulnerable to drug addiction, militancy, insurgency and general disillusionment, then it is imperative that this youthful population is productively engaged.

Youths on a rampage during the 2011 post-elections riots in Nigeria

Employment generation is a function of adroit economic policies, government job creation schemes, existence of an enabling environment — infrastructure, law and order and an efficient regulatory system – and private sector initiatives, flourishing within this environment to create job opportunities.

Jobseekers in Abuja in June 2012 waiting to submit application forms for entry into the Civil Service

A skilled populace, given the right incentives interacts favorably with this business-friendly environment to be productive citizens. However, Nigeria remains a country with immense untapped potential – vibrant population, large market – and an even greater potential of harnessing all these for economic prosperity, but for the most part, the full transition from “potential” to “actuality” is yet to takeoff. The 2012 Ease of Doing Business Index ranks Nigeria 133 out of 183 economies in terms of starting a business (116), getting electricity (176), and access to credit (78). This difficult terrain not only stifles entrepreneurial innovation but has engendered a survival-of-the-most-connected fierce competition for scarce and “lucrative” public sector jobs. Lofty poverty alleviation programs have characterized government employment generation initiatives though President Jonathan’s You WiN!  – Youth Enterprise with Innovation in Nigeria – intervention of supporting aspiring entrepreneurial youth holds some hopeful prospects for employment generation.

While these sobering facts portend bleak prospects for the teeming youthful population in Nigeria, there are specific junctures where non-government actors could stage interventions in complementing government efforts in providing education, employment and economic opportunities, to turn this impending youth-bulge disaster into a dividend.


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Managing the “Youth Bulge” in Nigeria (II)

The 7 Billionth Question: Are We Missing the Point?

Public residential buildings are seen in Po Lam, one of the “satellite towns” in Hong Kong, on September 14, 2011. This southern Chinese city is described as a concrete forest, famous for the number of high-rise commercial and residential towers. About 25 percent of the world’s tallest 100 residential buildings stand in the territory. (Reuters/Bobby Yip)

“Our world is one of terrible contradictions… Plenty of food but one billion people go hungry. Lavish lifestyles for a few, but poverty for too many others.”

–          UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon 31st Oct 2011

Just two minutes before midnight on the 31st of October 2011, in the crowded Jose Fabella Memorial Hospital in Manila Philippines, the tiny Danica May Camacho was born. A few thousand kilometres away in Mall village Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, Baby Nargis was born at 07:25 local time (01:55GMT). Both babies along with several others around the world have been identified as seven billionth babies, marking the 7 billion milestone of the world’s population identified by the United Nations. This staggering and somewhat fascinating massive surge in global population has brought to the fore many issues primarily bordering on the consequences of the growing population on global resources and impact on the environment. The question is that is this really a problem and does this really signal a population crisis? If so will the proposed measures actually address this problem?

Global population has been on a dramatic and rapid increase in the last two centuries. In the late 18th century when the renowned British economist and clergyman, Reverend Thomas Malthus famously remarked that “the power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man”, or in other words, that the geometric increase in global population would far outstrip the arithmetic increase in food production. Since then, the world’s population  reached 1 billion in 1804,  hit 2 billion in 1927 after 123 years, then the pace accelerated to 3 billion in 1959, 4 billion in 1974, 5 billion in 1987, 6 billion in 1998  and now 7 billion in 2011 and counting. According to UN forecasts, the world would have more than 10 billion people by 2083.

While the bulk of this population increase is in developing countries, half of this population it is projected will come from Sub-Saharan Africa which already has the highest birth-rates and the deepest poverty in countries such as Niger, Burundi, Mali, Nigeria. As the driver of this population increase is fertility, Professor Jeffrey Sachs,  renowned development economist states that in such countries, families have 6-8 children on average while simultaneously in the developed world, fertility rates have reduced.

As global population increases, the world is not only becoming overcrowded according to some demographers, environmentalists and development economists, but also that finite and exhaustible global resources such as fossil fuels, soil fertility, forests, fisheries and ground water are being rapidly depleted. Thus there has been a corresponding increase in food scarcity, droughts, water shortages, competition for viable energy sources and environmental damage due to increased use of fossil fuels, pollution and deforestation.  Such experts state that food and most especially water shortages if not checked, could fuel political destabilization in developing countries.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the recent and still on going drought and famine in the horn of Africa which has affected over 11 million people in Somalia, parts of Kenya, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Uganda, regarded by the UNHCR as the worst humanitarian crisis of the region in 60 years. The growing phenomenon of “land grabbing” where companies in countries like Saudi Arabia, China and the UK acquire large hectares of land in places such as Ethiopia, Angola, Ghana, Madagascar, Ukraine and Sierra Leone  in order to capture water resources for large-scale agriculture and growing bio-fuel crops also lends credence to this argument, as it leaves subsistence farmers displaced, vulnerable and at the expense of these large corporations.

Most importantly, the persistence of poverty and underdevelopment in these developing countries as evidenced by lack of employment opportunities, increase in violent conflict over access to food, water and other economic opportunities and the prevalence of diseases like HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis are aggravated by a growing unmanaged population. The population density of large cities such as Lagos, Jakarta and Mumbai ensures that such diseases are easily spread.

Most of the solutions to arrest this population crisis proposed by the development experts revolve around family planning policies to be put in place by the government since the people in these countries are regarded as too poor and incapable of making such choices themselves. As Jeffrey Sachs argues, family planning would be available and the families would be expected to VOLUNTARILY choose to have fewer children which would be better for them and for their children as they would have better nutrition, better healthcare and greater opportunities of living better lives for “when they are very very poor, they need help to be able to have those choices”.

However, one cannot help wondering whether this issue is really being examined from the most pragmatic perspective. While indeed growing population is putting a strain on global resources, evidence shows that the rising population in developing countries has little bearing on the consumption of global resources. The UN Human Development Report (HDR) shows that 54% of global income goes to the richest 10% of the world’s population, while 2.5 billion people living on less than $2 a day or 40% of the world’s population receive only 5% of global income. The Economist reported in January 2011 that “the richest 1% of adults control 43% of the world’s assets; the wealthiest 10% have 83% of global assets while the bottom 50% have only 2%”. In fact according to The Guardian UK of the 23rd October 2011, one Briton has the carbon footprint of about 22 Africans. Even in terms of carbon emissions and pollution, it is mostly perpetrated by industries, firms and corporations of developed countries. As George Monbiot, an author and activist notes, in the face of western over-consumption criticising expanding population in developing countries means “blaming the victims”

Furthermore, overcrowding and population density typically abound in major cities in both the developed and the developing world. John Bongaarts of the New York-based Population Council notes that “most of that growth will be in Africa’s cities, and in those cities it will almost all be in slums where living conditions are horrible”. Thus, many small towns and rural areas in developing countries have large swathes of land which are sparsely populated and could accommodate millions of people easily. It is noteworthy that other factors such as rampant rural-urban migration account for the swelling population of many developing-country cities.  Conversely many developed economies in Europe, North America and even parts of East Asia are faced with shrinking birth rates and rapidly ageing populations notably Japan, Italy and Russia where birth rates are lower than replacement rates of less than 2.1 children per woman. In order to reverse this ageing population, countries like Russia have initiated a policy known as “mother capital” where women are paid about $10,000 to have more than one child albeit with little success. Thus, there seems to be plenty of space to fit everyone and more as it has even been argued that the entire 7 billion people of the earth could fit shoulder-to-shoulder in the city of Los Angeles, California.

At this point, a question worth asking is that if global population is putting a strain on global resources and threatening the earth’s delicate eco balance, should the most viable solution then, be embarking on projects of halting this growing population in developing countries through family planning? This is far from pragmatic, it is unsustainable, not to mention highly unfair for if as evidence shows, developing countries are not responsible for excessive over consumption of resources and the world still has space to accommodate so many more people, then why should people’s reproductive rights be interfered with? What assurances are there that some governments would not embark on over-zealous coercive depopulation measures such as India’s mass sterilisation campaign in the 1970s where thousands of men and women were forced to undergo vasectomy and tubal ligation respectively. Whole villages were reported to have been rounded up for sterilisation with a ruthless efficiency and it persists to this day, though to a much lesser extent.

The following pictures by professional freelance photographer and author Nick Rain, shot in December 2003, reveals the sordid story of the mass sterilization camps in India:

 In a remote part of India on the border with Nepal a local clinic managed to convince the local women to come enmasse to undergo sterilization to combat poverty. The women however were not aware how the crude operation would be carried out. The operation took place inside the dirty clinic with hundreds of women waiting like cattle to be operated on.Copyright: Nick Rain.

One by one the women were put on the operating table, the instrument used looked like a twelve inch metal tube with a sharp edge at one end. It was then forced into the womans stomach and the physician looked through the instrument and made what looked like a twist and a snip, a quick stich and a plaster and the women were dragged outside to recover on the grass. This operation is called Tubal Ligation. Copyright: Nick Rain.

In the face of deeply entrenched socio-cultural beliefs and values over reproductive rights in many developing countries, where children are regarded as a “blessing” from God and the inability to bear children easily leads to stigmatization, or in rural areas where children are still seen as a sign of wealth so that they can work on farms, it is quite unlikely that people can be reasonably convinced to drastically limit the number of children they bring into this world. Suspicion and allegations of covert Western support and prodding for coercive population control in developing countries does not help matters either given that wealthy countries like US from 1966 under President Lyndon Johnson, Japan, Sweden and UK have devoted large funds to reducing Third World birth rates. For example, in Peru, the government of former President Alberto Fujimori’s forced sterilization of hundreds of thousands of poor, rural Peruvians between 1995 and 2000 under a “public health” plan is reported to have been principally financed using funds from USAID, the Japanese Nippon Foundation, and later, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). In Nigeria there have been various controversies over alleged “covert” plans by global powers to sterilize women and control population.

With such facts, one could argue that the international community seems to be unrealistically putting undue emphasis on population and birth control in developing countries at the expense of more important issues such as providing greater opportunities for education and empowerment so that the poor and disadvantaged can have better opportunities in life, can be lifted out of poverty and contribute meaningfully to their communities’ development. Improving access to basic agriculture technologies for many people in the poorest countries whose livelihoods depend on subsistence farming is one way to reduce the threat of food scarcity. As research shows that women who finish at least secondary school are in a better position to make informed choices about their reproductive options and are more likely to plan for and have fewer kids that they can actually take care of, educating and empowering women should be the top priority. The growing youth population of many Sub Saharan countries such as Nigeria or Kenya where up to half the population is under 25 years old, regarded by experts as a “youth dividend” could fuel a productive surge if they are meaningfully engaged, trained, educated  and their potential utilized. It is very easy to envision how the potential of the teeming youth of Nigeria’s over 166 million people could be harnessed to revive the agriculture sector and to power desperately needed manufacturing and industrialization especially in the North.

Therefore, while world population especially in developing countries is growing at a rapid pace, a more realistic, pragmatic and sustainable approach needs to be taken by the development community in managing the situation by advocating for a balance in utilization and consumption of resources. Developing country governments in Sub Saharan Africa on their own part need to focus more on empowering their vibrant and dynamic people and orienting them towards more sustainable development.


The video below is an episode of a show on Russia Today called Cross Talk, where current affairs are discussed. The debate in this episode centers around the population crisis debate.