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Dying for Jobs: Deadly Stampede Highlights Nigeria's Youth Unemployment Crisis

Nigeria's economic growth has done little to create jobs for ordinary citizens, especially its huge youth population.
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Despite high economic growth, poverty and unemployment are still high. Photograph by Jens Holm.

Both Nigeria's Senate and House of Representatives have called for separate investigations into the stampede at a mass recruitment exercise in Abuja in which at least 16 people died and hundreds were injured earlier this month. The Senate rejected calls, however, for the removal of Interior Minister Abba Moro.

On 15 March, 65,000 jobseekers turned up to 60,000-capacity National Stadium in Abuja to take a recruitment examination organised by Nigeria's Immigration Service (NIS). The stadium only had one entry point open and there was insufficient personnel and organisation to manage the crowds. The ensuing confusion and scramble led to a deadly stampede.

In the aftermath of the disaster, Moro, whose office was charged with conducting the exercise, avoided taking direct responsibility by claiming that those who died in the stampede had "lost their lives through their impatience." The official line from the presidency meanwhile took on a more sombre tone, with a statement saying “we are shocked and deeply saddened by the news of the untimely death of the young citizens who were at the exercise not only to secure jobs but to be allowed the opportunity to contribute towards the development of the nation.”

Calls for resignations have gone unheeded, but there are hopes the tragedy could act as a wakeup call for the government − and not just into organisational deficiencies and mismanagement - but into the underlying problem of youth unemployment. After all, the stampede was not just a result of poor crowd control but a symptom of Nigeria's desperate dearth of employment opportunities.

Out of work

Despite Nigeria's strong reported economic growth in recent years, large swathes of its estimated 170 million population is unemployed. This problem is particularly acute amongst the country's youth population, and according to the National Baseline Youth Survey Report, 54% of Nigeria's youth population was unemployed in 2012.

The government has created some projects aimed at tackling this problem − such as the Youth Enterprise with Innovation in Nigeria (YOU WIN) and the Subsidy Reinvestments and Empowerment Programme's Graduate Internship Scheme (GIS) − but they have recorded few successes so far and are of relatively small scope.

“These initiatives are mere grandiose white elephant projects which are not only inadequate in tackling the teeming unemployment but also fail to reach the end user,” says Idayat Hassan, a senior programme officer at the Centre for Democracy and Development West Africa (CDD).

The deteriorating state of Nigeria’s secondary and tertiary educational institutions has also had an adverse effect on the quality of their graduates. As Hassan points out, “Results from the 2011 Senior School Certificate Examination conducted by National Examination Council and West African Examination Council recorded 90% failure.”

Given this skills gap and shortage of opportunities for young people, it comes as no surprise that 500,000 hopefuls applied for the just 4,556 vacancies being advertised by Immigration Service. A fraction of those were accepted to take tests, which were to be held in a number of major cities. The Ministry of Interior outsourced the examination process to a private company, Drexel Nigeria Limited, who charged applicants N1, 000 ($6) each to take the test. However, the Interior Ministry, Drexel and NIS failed to organise sufficient measures to control the crowds arriving to take those examinations and to provide medical services in the event of an emergency.

“The government was definitely to blame," says Olumide Abimbola, a Nigerian anthropologist and editor of Nigerians Talk. "It is a scam when unemployed Nigerians are made to pay in order to take part in a public sector recruitment exercise and when nobody has yet been fired for the shameful and tragic exercise.”

At Wednesday's Federal Executive Council meeting, President Goodluck Jonathan directed the immediate cancellation of the immigration recruitment exercise and announced that all those who lost their loved ones would automatically be able to put forward three applicants in a rescheduled recruitment process. Those injured in the stampede will also be compensated with a job.

Tackling unemployment

Nigeria's unemployment problem is not one that can be solved purely through economic growth, especially when that growth is based on petro-dollars, many of which find their way into individuals' pockets rather than the state coffers. In fact, many argue that Nigeria's rising economic indicators have done hardly anything to help ordinary citizens.

“There is so much money in Nigeria, so much economic growth, the richest person in Africa comes from here, and Nigeria is home to a growing number of private jet owners. Yet millions of youth are jobless while over 100 million people are poor. The fundamental reason is that this economic growth only benefits a tiny 1%,” says Hassan Taiwo Soweto, National Youth Leader Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN).

Instead, concerted governmental efforts will be needed to improve basic education, develop sectors of the economy such as agriculture and manufacturing that will create employment, and ensure opportunities are available for young people to learn the skills they need in a changing economy.

“Tackling youth unemployment is not going to be easy," says Abimbola. “The government needs to look at different options, and this will involve bringing together people from different sectors.”

If this is not done, analysts warn, Nigeria's young and disgruntled youth population will only continue to rise, and the stampede for jobs will continue to grow.

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