Unemployment crisis in Nigeria – Time to build a fighting movement to demand jobs!

Contingent of the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) - CWI Nigeria - at a recent protest rally in Lagos State organized by the NLC and TUC nationwide to defend the minimum wage, reject new plans to hike fuel price, electricity tariff and all anti poor policies

The unemployment crisis in Nigeria has continued to worsen, together with the worrisome rate of poverty. According to a policy report by the Bureau of Public Service Reforms in 2018, the country needs to provide at least three million jobs yearly to meet the deficit of employment.

The National Bureau of Statistics in its latest March 2021 report on unemployment in the last quarter (Q4) of 2020 report noted that the official unemployment rate has risen to 33.3% from 27.1% in the second quarter (Q2) of 2020. In the same report, the underemployment rate declined to 22.8% from 28.6% to 20.1% in Q2 2020. Nonetheless, the total of both the unemployment and underemployment rates in Q4 2020 according to the report is 56.1%. In other words, so bad is this reality that 5 out of every 10 Nigerians in the labour force are either unemployed or underemployed!

For the teeming Nigerian youths, unemployment (and underemployment) remains an agonizing reality. The youth age group is the most affected by the unemployment crisis. According to the NBS, youth unemployment stands at 42.5% up as against the 34.9% recorded in Q2 2020. Although youth underemployment declined to 21% from 28.2% in Q2 2020, these figures still mean that 6 out of every 10 Nigerian youth are unemployed or underemployed.

Late last year the World Bank had in a report warned that Nigeria must create 30 million jobs by 2030 to prevent a further rise in the unemployment rate. It noted that between 2015 and 2020, 19 million Nigerians entered the labour force while just 3.5 million jobs were created within that period. “Nationally, in the year after the recession (the third quarter of 2017 to the third quarter of 2018), more than five million Nigerians entered the labour force; joining the 16 million already unemployed, they competed for just 450, 000 new jobs.” World Bank’s Nigeria Economic Update.

This stands as an indictment of the APC/Buhari administration which, before its emergence in 2015, had promised to create 3 million jobs yearly.

Unemployment: Capitalism is the root cause!

“The main purpose of the bourgeois in relation to the worker is, of course, to have the commodity labour as cheaply as possible, which is only possible when the supply of this commodity is as large as possible in relation to the demand for it” (Karl Marx, “Wages” Unpublished manuscript, December 1847).

More than an indictment of the APC/Buhari government, the unemployment crisis is a clear indication of the failure of the pro-capitalist ruling class and the system of capitalism. Aside from being responsible for the unemployment crisis, the capitalist class benefits from the ‘reserved army of labour’ as it provides them with an opportunity to get cheaper labour from the multitude of unemployed people. This is the sad reality of many ‘employed’ persons working in different companies as casual workers and subjected to inhumane slave conditions.

While the above is no doubt true, it is equally crucial to point out that the current level of unemployment is actually a reflection of the fundamental crisis of capitalism today both in the neo-colonial world and the advanced capitalist countries. Since 2008, the global economy has been enmeshed in a series of crises and instability all of which taken together reflects the inability of capitalism to take society forward.

Here in the neo-colonial world, 21st century Nigeria remains stuck in primitive conditions; basic necessities such as roads, power supply and industrialization which could have created more jobs and a sane society remain missing. This is because Nigeria and other neo-colonial countries are latecomers to the scene of capitalism and thus came at a point the world market had been divided up among the major imperialist powers. While, during the ‘Cold War’ imperialism sponsored a few countries, like South Korea and Taiwan, to develop for strategic reasons, Nigeria was not one of them.

Consequently, Nigeria’s role in global capitalism especially following a brief period after independence when some measures to use the state to develop local industries were seen is the role of a market dumpsite and supplier of raw materials and finished goods in certain areas especially the extractive sector where there is little or no competition from imperialism. The ruling class which is benefiting from this arrangement cannot lead any opposition to imperialism. It is, therefore, no surprise that the ruling class of Nigeria continues to chorus the chant that ‘government has no business in business’. For the Nigerian capitalist class Government only has no business in business when business means implementing policies to make life better for the youth and working masses of Nigeria. But when it comes to granting lucrative contracts, auctioning off government assets to cronies, bailing out big businesses – their government always have business in such business of corruption. The task of moving Nigeria from primitivism to modern development is a task for a workers’ state birthed from the struggle of working class people in their quest for a system change.

N-Power: Achievement?

The so-called achievement of the Buhari government in Job creation is the NPOWER scheme of the Social Investment Program. It is a scheme designed to engage 500, 000 unemployed graduates for a period of two years with a monthly stipend of N30, 000 (US$79). Compared with the YouWin program of the previous administration, NPOWER counts as a renaming of a tokenist measure to tackle unemployment. For an administration that promised 3 million jobs yearly in a nation that needs 3 million jobs yearly to prevent the further rise of the unemployment rate, NPOWER is best referred to as spitting at a raging inferno.

Notably, the beneficiaries of NPOWER are to be enrolled in casual jobs; of course, with no job security, right to pension and other benefits. In clearer terms, what this means is that the government is reducing the unemployed population by 500, 000 for two years, albeit under savage conditions, only to throw them back to the camp of unemployed people which would have astronomically increased by then. Indeed, a tiny droplet of water into the ocean it was. So unnoticeable that the unemployment rate keeps on increasing yearly. But with the slavery conditions and temporary nature of the scheme, the NPOWER can hardly be regarded as full employment. The attempt by defenders of the present administration to white-wash the NPOWER scheme into an efficient job creation program counts as mere self-adulation. A mockery of oneself! The reality is that the present Buhari capitalist administration, just like previous ones, is incapable of creating decent jobs or even guaranteeing decent lives for the vast majority of people.

Covid-19 and Unemployment

The Covid-19 pandemic has further plunged the nation into crisis; it has worsened an already bad situation. The capitalist class is not sparing any effort to ensure poor people are at the receiving end of the Covid-19 crisis. Many workers have been laid off while some have had their pay reduced.

According to Nairametrics.com, “Out of the 1,950 households surveyed on a nationally representative sample, 42% of the respondents who were working before the outbreak were no longer working the week preceding the interview for reasons related to COVID-19. Further breakdown showed that the poorest households (from the lowest consumption quintile) reported the highest share of Nigerians who stopped working (45%), while 35% of the wealthiest household also affected….”

In a news report by Daily Trust on January 13, 2021, some sacked workers of Access bank protested the refusal of the bank to adequately pay them off after sacking them. “They accused the bank of sacking over 1,000 staff without pay-off after declaring a profit of N102.3billion…” One of the protesting sacked workers, Abiola, said “the termination of employment took place on May 1, 2020 when COVID-19 was biting hard. According to him, the bank gave ‘restructuring’ as a reason for the termination.”

All these show the struggle ahead for working masses. Unfortunately, the labour leadership continue to look away while workers and the masses are being made the sacrificial lamb of the Covid-19 pandemic. Into this vacuum other ideas and forces can growth.

Last year the World Bank reported that the proportion of Nigerians “keen to leave permanently has increased from 36 per cent in 2014 to 52 per cent in 2018” (World Bank, Nigeria Development Update, December 2020). The World Bank’s solution was to write an entire section of this report entitled “Making the most of young Nigerians’ economic potential: The case for more and better managed international labour migration from Nigeria”. But this is not an answer to tens of millions of Nigerians. However, this very idea shows that the World Bank’s strategists have little confidence in a capitalist Nigeria’s ability to provide for its population.

Right now the huge growth in unemployment is fueling growing desperation and insecurity. Unless the labour movement offers a real socialist alternative and demonstrates in practice its determination to fight for change than a grim future beckons.

How would socialism address unemployment?

Unemployment, just like poverty, can be eliminated, but this would require a socialist transformation of society. Many of the industries that used to employ thousands of workers have collapsed under the weight of the ‘Structural Adjustment Programme’ and neo-liberal capitalist programme of the last three decades. For instance, when the power sector was privatized over 8 years ago, not less than 20,000 workers lost their jobs. Nothing has been heard of the textile industry which, at its height employed 450,000 workers, saw that number collapse to less than 20,000 now. The Nigeria paper mills, consisting of three industries, was privatized and neglected by the government and the private firms. These industries used to employ thousands of workers.

Alongside the grip of the monopolized world market privatization, commercialization, deregulation etc. are pro-capitalist policies aimed at keeping the commanding heights of the economy under the control of a tiny minority of the population to ensure that the economy serves their profit interests. Consequently, a large shrunk of the population is thrown into poverty, unemployment and misery while just a few continue to get richer. For socialism, the commanding heights of the economy must be placed under the democratic control of the working masses through workers nationalization and democratic control. This would mean that the Nigerian working masses own and control the economy and use it for their interest in terms of providing decent jobs, decent houses, social amenities and putting an end to poverty and misery.

Considering the vast human and natural resources of Nigeria, this is more than possible! For instance, by ending the corrupt contract system and replacing it with a democratically-controlled public works system where thousands of workers would be employed under decent and humane condition, infrastructural projects can be executed cheaper and faster. This will begin a journey towards the industrialisation of Nigeria and modern development. Something which cannot be attained within the anti-poor framework of capitalism especially in a neo-colonial country dominated by imperialism. However, socialism won’t fall from the sky. It will only come through the struggle of Nigerian working people, youth and toiling masses, something that would get an echo from working class people in Africa and beyond, thereby inspiring an international movement that can end the domination of capitalism and oppression and create a truly better society, a socialist world.

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March 2021