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In 2002, the “axis of evil” became a very popular lexicon after the US President George W. Bush described Iran, Iraq and North Korea as such for state sponsor of terrorism and for seeking nuclear weapons. David Frum, the President’s speechwriter who the phrase was attributed to later wrote in his book that he wanted the shortest possible phrase that fulfills the case for removing the regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq.
In Nigeria, our problems are not so esoteric and complex, but the potential for damage and destruction is as powerful. Indeed, earlier in the year, I had characterised Nigeria’s current level of unemployment, the number of children out of school and the level of poverty as three parameters with the potential to stifle Nigeria’s economic growth potential and to slow the economy for another two decades in the absence of significant and serious set of economic reforms.
It is worth reiterating where we are in relation to the latest data on these parameters. First, since the Brookings report of June 2018, it is now common knowledge that Nigeria overtook India to become the country with the largest population of people living in extreme poverty. The report claims that Nigeria has 87 million people in extreme poverty category and that this number is increasing by 6 people every minute. The report concluded that the rise in Nigeria’s poverty is driven by three parameters – low economic growth, high inequality, and population growth.
Second, also in 2018, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) released the latest available report on Nigeria’s unemployment. The report showed two staggering conclusions. One is that unemployment increased from 18.8% in Q3 2017 to 23.1% in Q3 2018, up by 5 percentage points just in a year. The second is that the labour force expanded by about 15 million in three years between 2015 and 2018. For instance, the labour force increased from 75.9 million in Q3 2015 to 90.5 million in Q3 2018.
Third, the 2018 Demographic Health Survey (DHS) by the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) and the Nigerian government report also show that the population of out of school children in Nigeria has risen from 10.5 million to 13.2 million. This is happening in a country where the government spends as much as N1.5 trillion Naira on fuel subsidies but merely about 6% of its annual budget on education.
There are many underlining economic and social implications of these data, and it will be helpful to mention some. It means there are millions of Nigerians that are idle. As an unemployed adult or out of school child, millions are not occupied by work or education. As the old parlance will say, “the idle hand is a devil’s workshop”. No one should be surprised, therefore, that the too many idle hands that we did not engage, are engaging themselves in the battle for survival as beggars, kidnappers, armed robbers, terrorists, etc.
Another implication is that these millions are not engaged in production. By this, it means that significant numbers of Nigerians are not contributing to Nigeria’s prosperity and growth. However, this does not mean that their existence is growth neutral. They are at the same time dragging Nigeria’s growth down as they only share in the growth through consumption, but also because their existence and activity is potentially growth negative for the country.
The third implication is that they are desperate. The millions of Nigerians that are idle and unemployed, and thus in the thick of Nigeria’s survival game, are desperate. They are desperate to live and survive. Consequently, because of the poor quality of their lives, they do not regard other lives also. Because their lives mean nothing to them, they see other lives as nothing also. From this underline notion, it is not surprising that we have seen escalation of terrorism, kidnapping, armed robbery in the last few years that poverty is worsening and unemployment rising.
The final implication I want to share with you, but by no means the exhaustive list of implications, is that millions of majority of Nigerians are dependent on fewer number of us. While it is natural for us to want and seek independence, especially financial independence, it is difficult when one is weak. And very few things make one weaker than when there is no job and no means of income. Consequently, millions of Nigerians in this situation rely on others for their survival. Unfortunately, in the absence of what they consider as adequate support, survival can sometimes mean armed robbery, kidnapping and terrorism.
Now, I am not suggesting that unemployment leads to terrorism or armed robbery, nor suggesting that this is a viable way to survive in the absence of job. However, every society and community is dynamic. By virtue of being unemployed, out of school, and without necessary support, many millions naturally tend towards the edges and fringes of the society. In these edges of the society, the normal rules of society do not apply. The name of the game here is kill or be killed.
In conclusion, every country has its own edges of the society. But they are generally few when compared to the entire population of the country. But in Nigeria, the numbers are growing, and the situation increasingly desperate. In Nigeria today, they are no longer found in the edges of the society, they are found in the mainstream. In Nigeria, it’s truly becoming the case of dog eats dog, kill or be killed. And as we have started to see, even those perpetuating the situation through awful or non-existent economic policies are not immune. Is there anyone still safe?
I thank you.