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Working on the assumption that the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige has not been misquoted it is difficult to understand his recent pronouncement and what now seems like an entirely incoherent message. At a recent workshop in Abuja, He  raised the alarm that the country’s unemployment rate would reach 33.5 per cent by 2020 (next year). He said that the increase in the rate of unemployment in the country was alarming. According to him, the high unemployment rate of 23.1 per cent, and underemployment of 16.6 per cent  was worrisome.  Accepting the figures he quoted are correct,  and despite the best efforts of the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics there are firm grounds to reject them, it is more than worrisome. His figures predict an increase in unemployment of over 10% year on year. In effect according to him  is3 out of every10 Nigerians of working age would be unemployed and of the 6 out of 10 that will be employed almost 2 of them will be underemployed. It is unclear as to what criteria he used to define the job market. What is most disturbing is that he raises this alarm as if he, the Minister with direct responsibility for Labour and Employment was bereft of  any culpability for the current calamitous state of affairs and was infact an innocent albeit concerned bystander

Bizarrely he starts by saying “It is a thing of joy to note that Nigeria has not been resting on her oars over the years in terms of dedicated efforts to curb the unemployment problem.” He went on further to recount a history of government failure in providing employment, culminating with the current National Social Investment Programme (NSIP), which commenced in  2017, and is embedded in the National Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) 2017-2020 which is turning out to be another debacle.

For  the outcome of the years of dedicated effort by the government to be a thing of joy as the Minister would have us believe, Nigeria would not be in the position of the Minister having to raise the alarm. What he is describing is a litany of failure.

He concluded in a damning indictment, that  the unemployment rate and poverty levels in Nigeria are on  steady growth paths. According to him  this indicated high resilience against the governments  intervention efforts, The Minister wondered why some of the intervention efforts were not yielding expected results. I hope I am not alone in questioning how a Minister of government can seek to absolve himself from the consequences of catastrophic failure of government. Surely the Minister must realise that if government policy is flawed then it cannot achieve the desired outcome.

 What is most  farcical is the Minister's treatment of unemployment itself. He seemed to view it as a problem that could be solved with some gimmick. Treating unemployment as if it were some sort of mutated bacterial infection that had become immune to antibiotics.There seemed to be little appreciation that unemployment is a consequence of a monumental failure of government policy. In a display of blatant   imanity  he confronted the workshop

“What is the government and other stakeholders not doing right? What changes are needed in the policies, plans and strategies?

“What action areas need priority attention? What roles should different stakeholders play and what other options are not being exploited?

And just when you thought it was not possible for him to plummet the depth any further

“Why do we employ expatriates for jobs Nigerians can do or why can´t Nigerians do these jobs? Why do we have deficits in housing, water, sanitation, food, entertainment facilities, health care, and education, among others?. Confirmation if it were ever needed of a Minister completely out of touch with his portfolio.

 In Nigeria you get use to the display of ineptitude by officials in public office. There are things that happen that don't surprise you or at least not in a way that would shock you. But a Minister of government asking participants at a public workshop to formulate government policy on his portfolio must be the clearest acceptance of incompetence possible.

The Minister confirmed “The objectives of this workshop are,  to present the findings of the survey on how to break the resilience of high unemployment rate in Nigeria to the peer community.

“To stimulate actions towards exploiting untapped available options for massive job creations; to chart way forward on immediate next steps that would yield measurable results”.

Does the Minister not realise that the creation of jobs and productivity come as a consequence of an enabling environment. That is a place that provides incentives for investment, where business is easy to do and when the necessary infrastructure is  in place. China's competitive advantage in manufacturing and production is as a result of its surplus of inexpensive labour. Nigeria has more surplus labour than the rest of West Africa combined. That surplus inexpensive labour should be setting the benchmark for manufacturing prices all over Africa.

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