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Creating Opportunities for Youth: Tackling Unemployment in Nigeria

Unemployment is one of the biggest challenges facing Nigeria’s youth today. With a national unemployment rate of over 33% and a youth unemployment rate estimated at around 55%, tackling this issue is critical for the country’s future economic and social development.

The Scale of the Problem

Nigeria has the largest youth population in Africa, with over 64 million people aged 15-34 according to 2019 estimates from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS). This represents a huge potential labour force and engine for economic growth if properly leveraged. However, high unemployment prevents this demographic dividend from being fully realized.

The causes of youth unemployment in Nigeria are complex and multidimensional. Key factors include:

  • Rapid population growth: Nigeria’s population grows by approximately 3% annually, placing significant pressure on job creation. Over 10 million youths are estimated to enter the labour force each year.
  • Skills mismatch: Many Nigerian graduates lack the skills needed by employers, with curricula not aligned to industry needs. This limits employment options.
  • Lack of job creation: Nigeria’s economy has not diversified sufficiently beyond oil and gas. New employment opportunities in other sectors have not grown fast enough to absorb new labour market entrants.
  • Recession: Periodic recessions like that experienced in 2016-2017 exacerbate unemployment as companies downsize.

The impact of high youth unemployment is profoundly negative, linked to rising poverty and inequality, social unrest, crime, and emigration of skilled Nigerians abroad.

Government Efforts to Date

Successive Nigerian governments have recognized the scale of the youth unemployment challenge and implemented various initiatives to address it. Notable efforts include:

  • National Youth Service Corps (NYSC): Established in 1973, the NYSC program aims to foster national unity and provide Nigerian graduates with work exposure. However, it has not substantially improved graduate employability.
  • Youth Enterprise with Innovation in Nigeria (YouWiN!): Launched in 2011, YouWiN! provided grants and training to encourage youth entrepreneurship. Over 23,000 jobs were reportedly created during its first phase, but the program was discontinued in 2015.
  • N-Power: Since 2016, the Buhari administration’s N-Power program has engaged over 500,000 unemployed graduates in skills training and job placements, aimed at creating a pipeline for employable youth. However, experts critique the program’s design and efficacy.
  • National Employment Exchange Scheme: Recently launched by the Ministry of Labour and Employment, this online portal aims to better link job seekers and employers. Its impact remains to be seen.

While laudable in intent, most government interventions have recorded limited success, failing to fundamentally transform the youth unemployment landscape.

Key Policy Directions for the Future

To make real progress on youth unemployment, Nigeria needs bold, coordinated reforms spanning education, economic policy, and public-private collaboration.

  1. Reform Education for Employment Readiness
  • Align university curricula with skills required for rapidly growing sectors like technology, agriculture, healthcare, and entertainment.
  • Expand technical and vocational training to provide youth with in-demand digital, technical, and soft skills.
  • Introduce entrepreneurship training at all levels of education to catalyse innovative thinking.
  • Encourage universities and companies to collaborate on apprenticeships, internships, and job placement programs.
  1. Prioritize Job-Creating Economic Growth
  • Diversify the economy beyond oil through better infrastructure, incentives for new industries, and public-private partnerships.
  • Target strategic sectors with high growth potential to absorb youth labour, such as agriculture, light manufacturing, and technology.
  • Improve access to finance for youth entrepreneurs and small businesses.
  • Build special economic zones and industrial clusters to catalyse development of labour-intensive industries.
  1. Strengthen Private Sector Participation
  • Provide tax incentives for companies hiring young people and training employees.
  • Encourage industry associations, chambers of commerce, and successful enterprises to commit to youth training and job creation targets.
  • Establish collaborative skills councils involving government, education institutions, and leading companies to align training with business needs.
  • Create public-private partnerships for large-scale youth employment programs like specialized skills academies.
  1. Prioritize Rural Job Creation
  • Target agriculture sector growth to create rural jobs through improved infrastructure, technology adoption, and access to finance.
  • Support youth-led agribusinesses and connect them to markets.
  • Provide rural entrepreneurship training tailored to opportunities in the agriculture value chain.
  • Expand rural access to electricity, broadband, and digital infrastructure to enable new economic activities.
  1. Strengthen Labor Market Institutions and Programs
  • Expand vocational guidance programs to help youth make informed education and career choices.
  • Improve the availability of granular labour market data to better understand employer needs.
  • Strengthen the effectiveness of employment exchanges and job placement programs.
  • Rigorously evaluate the impact of existing programs and scale those demonstrating success.

The Future Depends on Acting Now

Tackling youth unemployment will not be easy and requires political will, resources, close public-private coordination, and time. However, Nigeria cannot afford delayed action or inadequate responses. Empowering the next generation with jobs and economic opportunities is essential for the country to realize its full potential. With the right strategies, Nigeria’s youth bulge can transform into a demographic dividend. It is imperative to act now to put youth on the path to dignified, productive employment.


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