Written by Tunji Olaopa
In this piece, the focus of my policy advisory will be on the critical connection between education, unemployment and job creation as fundamental elements in the transformation of Nigeria’s economic growth and development. And this is crucial because of Nigeria’s low-employment intensity and its collateral effects on the non-inclusive growth of the national economy. Over the years, so many analytical inks have been spilt over the largely uneven, unbalanced and socially non-inclusive growth trends of the Nigerian economy, deriving essentially from the unimaginative monocultural dependence of the economy on oil. This is further aggravated by several deep-seated structural debilitations at the heart of national low development policy performance over the years.
I have in mind, first, the crippling national infrastructural deficit which is now estimated at $100m yearly, and requires $80billion in financial commitment over the next ten years to build up. There is also, second, the cost and ease of doing business. In the 2022 ranking by the World Bank, Nigeria currently stands at 131 out of 190 countries. This simply implies that the regulatory environment for doing business in Nigeria is not friendly enough to boost the economy. Nigeria’s heavy dependence on the oil and gas sector is also inhibiting because it is not a labor-intensive sector in terms of its production process and the dynamics of its capital formation.
All this has grave implications for the chances of the Nigerian economy to achieve a robust diversification through a multi-pronged and strategic policy rethinking of the developmental components. The resolution of this problematic is inherently connected with the governance imperatives of a restructured Nigerian federation that has the capacity to harness the non-oil resources of its federating units based on comparative advantages. It is easy for the reader to immediately discern how such a critical move, especially the unbundling of the agricultural sector, can easily alleviate the lingering unemployment tension. This policy challenge has consistently been crucial to the social inequality which has instigated the unbridled draining of human capital made up of essentially young Nigerians who cannot be blamed for choosing the Japa option in privileging their life prospect rather than be undermined by a state that is not rethinking its potentials.
What is also immediately certain is the significant role that education and training will play in arresting the drift in Nigeria’s human capital and workforce dynamics. This is because the challenge of unemployment is complicated by (un)employability as a result of various levels of skills deficiencies and mismatch. And this not only demonstrates the defectiveness of the educational system skewed in favour of formal certification, but also points at the urgent need for an education reform as a critical part of the larger development equation in driving Nigeria’s progress. On the other hand, and also quite unfortunate, the informal education sector is not only disarticulated, the policy innovation that ought to creatively reconnect it as a structural base for productivity has been scant and far-between. And when successive governments have been earnest in their investment in technical and vocational education and training (TVET), it has also been to the detriment of the proper structural reprofiling of the traditional apprenticeship system and non-formal training models as equally fundamental elements in the education provisioning that generate productivity and human capital for jumpstarting Nigeria’s development. And this is not to say that even TVET itself has been properly grounded since there is still a serious gap between the available opportunities and the skills and competences the education made possible.
We are then sensitised to the creative policy direction that the new administration need to pursue—an urgent and comprehensive re-articulation of the education sector in ways that (a) strengthen the formal education and certification process to fit into the industrialization objectives of the Nigerian state; (b) connect the formal and the informal education sectors together on a continuum of learning and training; and (c) leverage the traditional apprenticeship, informal and vocational training and formal certification into a reprofiled human capital development policy. Such a proactive policy strategy will surely be a significant complement to the Nigeria’s 6-level National Vocational Certification Framework (NVQF) which links the education and training systems in terms of industry and competence-based qualifications. This has the advantage of facilitating a strategic collaboration between the higher education and industrial dynamics in Nigeria; in terms of connecting the dots between theoretical and practical realignment to rejuvenate the workplace for national development. The trajectory of the Students’ Industrial Work Experience Scheme (SIWES) is also lamentably stalled due to the total lack of synergy between students inchoate theoretical learning and workplace demands.
So, while the incoming administration crucially need to start mapping the policy framework for a proactive education reform that will connect learning and training to human capital development, at another fundamental level, there is also the critical imperative of land reform as part of the development reflection. Here, land reform relates to leveraging land and agriculture as development complements for rejigging job creation and youth employment. This calls for the meeting of governance and constitutional reforms to facilitate land reform as a legitimate means of aggregating and expanding the means of production that Nigeria needs to achieve economic growth. The focus of this governance and constitutional alignment is the repeal of the Land Use Act of 1978. This has an immediate relevance of freeing up land use in ways that aggregate it for economic development. The Act contradicts all the critical norms of land use for economic growth anywhere on the globe. And its logic is only due to the lopsided unitary federalism that is suffocating developmental initiatives. Whereas land is supposed to belong to local communities in terms of customary and legal dynamics, Nigeria’s anomalous federalism gives all lands to the Nigerian government. And this becomes an immediate constraint on the socioeconomic dynamics of national development.
It not only undermines the subsidiarity principle that engineer the grassroots as the context for a people-centered development initiative, it also fundamentally ties landholding to the tough and debilitating environment of doing business in Nigeria. Unfortunately, however, when farmers—the fulcrum of any agricultural resurgence—fails to hold the titles to the lands they farm, then the agricultural unbundling will be affected in ways that prevent their being coupled to the governance reform to activate development. More important still, as Hernando de Soto argues, in most third world countries, land and other critical resources for development are held in “defective forms”.
In other words, “houses built on land whose ownership rights are not adequately recorded, unincorporated businesses with undefined liability, industries located where financiers and investors cannot see them.” The problem of this observation for farmers and agricultural investors in Nigeria is therefore that any land that is not properly documented cannot be capitalized for investment and national development.
We then turn back full circle back to the governance challenge of the ease of doing business in Nigeria that links landholding to the surveying and regularizing land use for investment purpose.
Nigeria needs a land development policy, with an institutional framework, that free up land use for investment and development purposes. But in the long run, the land reform must be insinuated into a broader and more comprehensive local government/governance reform that will tap into the larger objective of restructuring of Nigeria’s federalism and all its debilitations. At this point, we have a confluence of reform fundaments—democratic governance, national development, local governance, federalism and education. And they are all intertwined into a policy framework that the next administration must be willing and politically courageous to hold together. Federalism speaks to a local government/governance imperative that instigates grassroots development founded on social capital and the subsidiarity principle. When development is genuinely taken to be about the people, then its dynamics must emanate from below, and within a rural and local governance context that unbundle the growth possibilities that could radiate democratic governance. This includes the traditional and informal apprenticeship system and the non-formal vocational training that could complement the formal educational training for the harnessing of Nigeria’s human capital for development.
The Igbo apprenticeship system is a good case in point. This singular example brings to the fore how a local innovation can serve as the nexus for developmental policymaking. It is an educational initiative that brings a solid entrepreneurial spirit into the development equation. This provides a leeway for undermining the vicious cycle of unemployment, while also redirecting focus away from the government as the sole provider of everything. And this is just one example, among many, of how the government can harness the social capital and subsidiarity represented in the local government arrangement that has already been, to all intents and purposes, excised from the federal dynamics and the framework of stultifying centralization.
The next government has a lot on its plate already. And what must be done must be dictated by the agonies of Nigerians who have had to suffer too much for the simple fact of being born into a country that lack developmental leadership. The flash point of the urgent policy intelligence and direction are already clearly outlined in painful reliefs in the lives of Nigerians. Unemployment is not something that can be subject to bad politics that kills Nigerians. This is the politics that past governments have played. The next government cannot afford to do the same.
- Prof. Tunji Olaopa is a retired Federal Permanent Secretary & Professor, National Institute For Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS), Kuru, Jos via firstname.lastname@example.org.