The nationwide youth protests seem to have come and gone with no major body blows to the entrenched establishment however it will be a mistake for Nigeria’s elite to carry on with business as usual.
Youths who make up a majority of Nigeria’s population certainly have a good case to make against the country and its leaders for not providing hope and a sense of a brighter future.
Slowing growth and fewer employment opportunities during the first five years of President Muhammadu Buhari has only served to exacerbate the situation.
The second potential catalyst is rising inequality. Nigeria is one of the most unequal societies on the African continent just behind South Africa and Kenya on the Gini coefficient index.
According to governmental data from 2020, the Gini coefficient in Nigeria was 35.1 points as of 2019. The Gini index gives information on the distribution of income in a country. In an ideal situation in which incomes are perfectly distributed, the coefficient is equal to zero.
The Government has to look at a plan to solve some of these issues that also takes the youth along as well as the private sector.
Here are some ways the Government can rise to the occasion and rebuild the country at a time of crises.
Mass Transport Infrastructure
All Nigerians are at the mercy of poor infrastructure, however the urban and rural poor are the worst hit. Most Nigerians who don’t have a car that need to move around in the city of countryside often undergo a dehumanizing experience.
There is little mass transit in the form of trains and subways while the buses are usually overcrowded and prone to accidents in major cities like Lagos, Abuja, Kano and Onitsha.
To make matters worse the youth are often those that are left to use the decrepit transport infrastructure.
Government can send a signal quickly to young and poor people by investing in mass rail transit in major Nigerian cities. This will help to reduce the amount spent by poor urban and young dwellers on commuting as well as give them a sense of belonging.
A Marshall plan for the building of millions of mass habitable housing has to be developed.
Most Nigerians live in slums and poor housing without running water or roads.
The lack of housing and transport infrastructure in major cities such as Lagos has led to a spike in rent, which has made many young people stuck in their parent’s homes and unable to afford to begin home formation by getting married and having children.
Jobs Jobs Jobs!
An unemployment crisis currently confronts young people in Nigeria. The unemployment rate has more than doubled since 2015 and now stands at 27.1 percent as at the second quarter of 2020.
Nigeria’s unemployment and underemployment rate (28.6%) is a combined 55.7 percent. This means that the economy is not creating enough jobs for young school leavers in the country and those who are entering the labor force.
A direct correlation between these set of numbers and the protests can be seen which clearly shows that the country has to tackle the problem as a major crisis.
Countries such as China and Vietnam have shown that growth needs to be above 7 percent per annum for a long time to have a reduction in poverty and create massive amounts of jobs.
Nigeria sadly is currently growing at about 2 percent per annum since 2016.
This low level of growth (which is below the rate of annual population expansion), will not be suitable to bring about good quality jobs for Nigeria’s young people.
The Government should see the recent protests as a ticking timebomb that cannot be wished away. The young people must be engaged and accommodated with good paying jobs and a fast growing knowledge based economy. The crises must be seen as an opportunity to do better as a nation.