Zikirullahi: Cabinet has performed poorly on jobs



The Executive Director of the Resource Centre for Human Rights and Civic Education (CHRICED), a platform of active citizens campaigning for good governance,is of the view that the Buhari cabinet has performed poorly on job creation for teeming unemployed Nigerian youths. He spoke with ARMSFREE AJANAKU.

One year on, how would you assess the cabinet of President Muhammadu Buhari?
For us, one of the most fundamental issues this government has to deliver on is ensuring that young Nigerians, who campaigned tirelessly to give President Buhari the Presidency, get jobs. As I have always said, the alarming level of youth unemployment is a national crisis that this government cannot afford to ignore any longer. That is the reason the government has to fix the economy. Currently, there is no clear-cut direction. We have made the point in previous interventions that on the economy, the President has not defined a direction for the country. Instead of practical policies to address the problems of unemployment, the haemorrhage suffered by the national currency, what has been apparent, is a speculative tinkering that has further impoverished the Nigerian people. In place of common sense, and cost-effective interventions that should put millions of young Nigerians back to work, the economy is being left to float aimlessly, with no hard-nosed approach to return it from the brink. I will always have to say it that the government has to realise the promise it made to the youths. It will be too disappointing if it fails to fulfil those promises.

So, when you talk of the need for practical policies, what exactly do you want to see the government do in relation to job creation?
I think on the economy, the government should end the tinkering and experimentation, which are based on pet theories that have not led us anywhere. We all know we are in a recession, and the interventions you have to make are such that would put people back to work, thereby raising their purchasing power. I have suggested for instance that the government could invest the sum of N1billion each, in every one of the 774 Local Government Areas. We believe that if the Buhari administration can devote the sum of N1billion to each of the 774 Local Government Areas for the purpose of establishing an industry suited for that locality, such an establishment would absorb hundreds of young people. It will also have a multiplier effect in terms of stimulating economic activities around the Local Governments. Out of a budget of over N6trillion, this kind of initiative would gulp less than N1trillion, as all 774 LGAs would only take N774billion.

With a stimulus package like this injected into the LGAs, they will gradually become growth pools for productive industrial activities in various sectors in which the LGAs have comparative advantage. If well planned and executed, this kind of targeted intervention will surely plant the seeds for the industrialisation of Nigeria. It will also arrest the current endless rural-urban drift, as well as reduce the ethnic and religious related agitations that normally characterise the scramble for resources and positions at the federal level.

Added to this is the fact that the usual tension in the big cities of Nigeria would be gradually arrested with a bold and audacious policy like this. This is the kind of radical intervention we are expecting the government to adopt in dealing with the crisis of youth unemployment.

For us, therefore, it is more important and urgent for the government to create these kinds of growth and job pools than to do Conditional Cash Transfers of N5000 or give free meals to pupils in government schools. While it is laudable to give free meals or a pro-poor allowance, these kinds of populist interventions are not sustainable, and they will not radically affect the unemployment situation. In the end, while these social spending on CCT and free meals may have populist appeal, the reality is that Nigerians have actually survived without them. President Buhari and his team must understand that in serious situation like Nigeria currently finds itself in, it is only radical interventions like these that would get us out of the problems we are facing. I know people will ask how something like this would be managed. For me, the issue is that we either take these hard steps or we will continue to wallow in the current problems. It is disheartening, for instance, to hear of stories of how citizens are currently reeling in the pangs of hunger. We are now hearing stories of people stealing food and all sorts of things. When people begin to act in these kinds of ways, it shows you need an out of the box solution to quickly deal with the problems.

But how much do you think Nigeria has learnt from problems like the insurgency and the Niger Delta crisis, which were partly caused by unemployment?
I do not think we have taken the lessons from these experiences because Nigeria has continued to treat youth development with levity. The fact that the Nigerian state now has to use its military might to confront its own young citizens, who have been won into the camps of extremists and terrorists, is a colossal national tragedy. Would Boko Haram have had the hundreds of thousands of recruits it now uses to unleash terror on Nigerians, if education, skills and jobs were provided to the young Nigerians in these parts who have now been brainwashed into carrying out horrendous attacks against the Nigerian State and its people? Will criminal enterprises like the Niger Delta Avengers, and the uninformed youth agitating for secession in the South East be available to the agencies undermining law and order, as well as peace and harmony in our country, if they were gainfully employed?

The stark reality of the abandonment of the youth becomes apparent when one considers the fact that the founding fathers of groups like Boko Haram merely took advantage of young Nigerians who could see no future. Truth be told, in the face of non-existent governance, Boko Haram provided these young people who later unleashed mayhem on the country with a false sense of security. They succeeded in selling their hateful and bloodthirsty philosophy by first filling a void that governments for decades allowed to exist. A close scrutiny of the literature on Boko Haram would reveal how the bureaucracy of the then fledging terrorist sect went as far as providing food and distributing motorcycles to win thousands of youths into their fold. Boko Haram became so sinister in its tactics that it was even using soft loans, what some may call “starter packs” to attract young people who are unemployed. In fact, if we look deeply, it will be recognised that Boko Haram was determined to run an economy, which will create livelihood opportunities for disaffected jobless youths at first, before brainwashing them to go and cause havoc on society. Till date, the terrorists have a vast base to recruit their cannon fodder from because there is a large population of unemployed youth base to tap into.

The big irony is that the same monies we failed to spend on health, education, skills and jobs for our young people, are the hefty sums we are now spending to buy guns, bullets, drones, armoured tanks, helicopter gunships, landmine vehicles and other sophisticated weaponry to stem the backlash from an alienated segment of the Nigerian population, which has been pushed into the hands of terrorists and other elements that have consistently undermined national stability.

In this article:
Muhammadu Buhari

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