The ranks of unemployed working-class people in Nigeria continues to swell at an alarming rate. In January, the National Bureau of Statistics released figures that show how terrible the situation is. The unemployment rate rose from 14.2% at the end of 2016 to 18.8% by the third quarter of last year.
When the figures for under-employed people is added (many of whom are in reality little better than those unemployed in terms of living conditions), we are talking of 40% of the entire workforce. This means that over 34 million people out of a workforce of 85.1 million people are presently looking for jobs that are becoming even more scarce by the day.
Youths and particularly those from poor working-class homes, who have no “connections” bear the greatest burden of joblessness and its attendant hopelessness. 61.6% of the youth are unemployed according to the NBS. Not less than 7.9 million youth, between the age of 15 and 34 were roaming the streets looking for work by the end of 2017.
Meanwhile, 51.8% of youths who are deemed to be employed are actually underemployed. These include young women and men selling sachet water or recharge cards on the highway that are now being hounded by state governments such as in Lagos. Precarious work is now the norm, even in the formal sector., with a significant number of working youths lacking income security and job security, even in such prized sectors as oil and gas and banking.
While the economy is technically out of recession, the systemic global capitalist crisis which brewed it is not abating anytime soon. But, the federal government wants us to believe that it is doing everything possible to salvage the situation and can actually turn things around. This is an illusion.
Mr Audu Ogbeh, the minister of agriculture describes the NBS figures as “rubbish”. He does not categorically deny that 4.6 million Nigerians have lost their jobs under Buhari’s administration. But he and Mr Chris Ngige the minister of labour argue that 7 million jobs were created in the agricultural sector within the rural areas, thus in their view, offsetting the job losses in the working-class.
It is quite interesting that APC stalwarts like Ogbeh now describe NBS figures as rubbish. When the Bureau released figures that showed almost 70% of Nigerians living below the poverty line during the Goodluck Jonathan’s PDP tenure, they seized on these to condemn that government. This shows that the APC, like PDP before it is not concerned with either truth or the wellbeing of working-class people. All sections of the bosses’ class are merely concerned with how to consolidate their hold on power, to continue their greedy exploitation of our labour and natural resources.
There is absolutely no verifiable evidence to confirm the government’s claim of 7million jobs created in the agricultural sector, as it claims. Despite its setting up a task force to check the rising prices of food last year, prices remain exorbitant till date. Many households go on “0-1-0” feeding regimes, eating only once a day. Tens of millions of working-class people go to bed hungry every day.
The limited numbers of jobs that might have been created in agriculture are precarious and in the informal sector. This is contrary to the APC’s electoral promise to create 3 million decent jobs every year. Not only is the rate of unemployment rising, despite the rubbish lies of APC, public sector workers in over a dozen APC and PDP states alike remain unpaid for upwards of six months in some cases.
Putting the consequences of the terrible conditions workers now face in proper perspective, the Trade Union Congress unequivocally stated that “Nigerian workers have not only lost their jobs in millions, but many even committed suicide when they could no longer fend for their families.” It must be quite clear to us as working-class people that we must put an end to this calamity, with urgency.
Massive industrialisation and a “bi-partisan employment drive” has been described as what is necessary to address this catastrophic situation, by Mr. Issa Aremu, General Secretary of the Textile and Garment Workers’ Union. According to him, “sustainable jobs can only come from industry and massive public infrastructural development such as railways, roads construction, reinvention of public schools and hospitals”. He further said that “all the issues in unemployment crisis are governance issues.”
An industrialisation plan which equally fosters strong public services are reforms of the economy and social policy that could make a dent on the social-economic crisis which increasing unemployment is an integral element of. But, this would be scratching the surface as the failure of the APC government’s social intervention programmes to make significant impact reveals.
The core issues at stake are not quantitative. Mere incremental improvement in productivity through industrialisation or welfarist reforms of social policy are not enough. The core issues are not simply governance issues, they are systemic issues grounded in the way capitalism works.
Unemployment is used like a whip by the bosses, to discipline the “lucky” few who find “any work”. Such precarious workers are conditioned to see half a loaf as being better than none, even though the whole loaves are baked with their labour power.
Concern for stemming the growth of unemployment between the 1950s and 1960s by the bosses’ government across the world, including in Nigeria, was borne out of fear. At the time, trade unions and other working-class people’s organisations were unequivocal in presenting socialism as a clear alternative to the capitalist system. The bosses thus made concessions, including tackling the unemployment “problem” inherent to capitalism, in order to defuse mass mobilisation for socialism.
A major reason why the bosses are not so perturbed now, despite hues and cries to the contrary, is that the trade union bureaucracy in particular has bought into the narrative of “social partners” and “stakeholders”. They have become “reasonable” in accepting compromises as logical outcomes of negotiations.
We have seen unions bargain away the employment of their members either out of the “understanding” that the bosses can no longer cope with such staff strength and have to declare redundancy, or in the case of state-owned enterprises, as surrendering to privatisation in its different forms, including concessioning and unbundling.
We have to change this trajectory to save dozens of millions of working people thrown into the abyss of joblessness, which has contributed to the rise of depression and people taking their own lives. A fight for jobs must include struggle against privatisation and for the re-nationalisation or re-municipalisation of privatised enterprises.
Unemployed youth must equally organise, and the trade unions have a role to play in helping to generalise this. Enough is enough! Fight for jobs!! End poverty!!! Overthrow capitalism!!!!
by Baba AYE