Africa’s Unemployed Youths is a Ticking Time Bomb – President AfDB, Akinwumi Adeshina

The President of the African Development Bank, Akinwumi Adesina, sees the financing of Africa’s entrepreneurs and infrastructure as the driving force of his management at AfDB Punch NG and African Development Bank Group reports.

This he has demonstrated through the various initiatives the continental development finance institution has created to support small and medium startups, as well as large corporates operating across Africa.

Adesina, who spearheaded the cassava bread revolution as former Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development under President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration, believes that African economy may not attain the desired growth targets to compete with Europe, America, and Asia, if the quality of its infrastructure, human capital and financial empowerment of its youth fail to hit global standards.
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In this interview with Daily Sun at Willard Hotels in Washington DC, USA, on the sidelines of the just-concluded Annual Meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, the AfDB boss spoke on a wide range of issues, including women empowerment, infrastructure finance , education opportunities for African youths and entrepreneurs, among others.

According to the National Bureau of Statistics, unemployment and underemployment in the country combined escalated from 37.2 percent to 40 percent in the Second Quarter of 2017. It got worse for the youths, especially in the age bracket of between 15 and 35 which stood at an alarming rate of 52.65 per cent! Apparently, the warning given by the International Labour Organisation to Nigeria of an impending unemployment crisis back in 2010 has not been heeded.

In comparative terms to some African countries, youth unemployment in Liberia stands at 4.7 per cent, Kenya 18.7 per cent, Egypt 26.3 per cent, South Africa 27.7 per cent (its highest in recent years), Lesotho 31.8 per cent, Libya, 43.8 per cent and Ghana 48 per cent. As expected in more economically advanced countries, youth unemployment figures are more acceptable. For instance, Germany has as low as 3.6 percent, Great Britain 4.2 percent, the European Union 7.4 percent and France 9.4 percent. The reasons are obvious as the political leaders are less self-serving but more visionary, responsive and responsible to the citizenry, combined with social protective buffer policies firmly in place.

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Unfortunately, here, the youths –our hope for a better Nigeria– have been left naked to the elements of preventable poverty and penury characterised by harrowing hunger, rise in diseases and the growing ogre of ignorance. Virtually on a daily basis, they are regaled with frightening figures by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, of humungous sums stolen blindly from our national till. But they can hardly point to adequate life-changing or job-creating projects to lift them from what one often refers to as the ignoble pit of poverty.

In their bold bid to find alternative solutions, some get even more trapped in the mire of misery as they are enslaved in Libya en route to Western Europe. The unfortunate ones are shut at point-blank range, or hung upside down from fiery stakes and roasted! The lucky ones return only to be caught in the short- cut circuits of pools staking, drug trafficking or enmeshed in addiction to drugs all-day long! But we cannot go in this weird way.

The solutions are well-known to our set of political helmsmen but they simply find it difficult, in my words, to sacrifice the self from the state. The first is to toe the restructuring lane, whether it is now a cliché or not. The aim is to devolve the obscene political and economic powers from the centre to the states or the six geopolitical zones to bring governance closer to the people and make it more inclusive. But it is sad to say that even our dear President has yet to see the wisdom in that.

One keeps asking if there is any other democracy in the world where state governors go cap-in-hand like beggars to the centre to ask for crumbs from the master’s table but no one has given an example of one. Again, I ask:  Is this how the presidential system of government is run in the United States which we copied from? The answer is no.

For instance, it was reported that “within the first three months of 2017, over N1 trillion was shared among beneficiaries of the Federation Account Allocation Committee. Interestingly, the large chunk of the funds was realised from crude oil sales, proceeds from Petroleum Profit Tax, Value Added Tax and Company Income Tax.”

With the states in firm control of their resources and paying a tax of a maximum of 30 per cent to the centre, they would generate their power and transmit it to the local councils without feeding it into the National Grid. With 40 solid minerals identified in commercial quantities spread across the 36 states, analysts indicate by a projection that Nigeria has the capacity to generate at least N5tn yearly from mining as well as the export of its vast solid mineral deposits. For instance, national reserves of coal are estimated at 2.7 billion metric tonnes (mt), iron ore, limestone and lead are 10 billion mt, three trillion mt and five million mt respectively. But first, the issues of illegal mining and provision of safe, environment, bolstered with stable electric power and good access roads are imperative to drive the process.

Even the Federal Government recently unveiled the fact that the country was capable of growing solid mineral GDP from N103bn (2015) to N141bn in 2020 at an average annual growth rate of 8.54 percent. Specifically, it can facilitate the production of coal to fire power plants, produce geological maps of the entire country by 2020 on a scale of 1:100,000.

There is, however, the need to integrate the artisanal miners into the formal sector, encourage and promote mineral processing and value addition industries that strengthen backward and forward linkages. This is evident in the blueprint document, Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (2017-2020). With true fiscal federalism in operation, Kogi State, for instance, would be able to resolve the decades of long-winding issues concerning the Ajaokuta Steel Company to generate youth employment.

On tourism, Nigeria is literally sitting on the gold mine of tourism and hospitality combined. According to the Nigeria Hospitality Report 2016, the industry generated an estimated $5.5m, about N1.7bn, representing about 4.8 percent contribution to Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product in the third quarter of 2016. The report by Jumia Travel Nigeria, Africa’s hotel booking online portal, also said the industry employed about 1.6 percent of Nigerians in 2016. And if Nigeria adopts the recently-launched African Union passport, the prospects would be much brighter.

Concerning agriculture, according to a former minister of the sector and current President, African Development Bank, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, the growth of the Nigerian population means that the agricultural sector has compelling long-term growth potential. Why not as there are increasingly more mouths to feed.

Experts agree that agriculture should not be seen as a way of life, or a social sector or development activity, but as a business venture for it to thrive. And the more we treat it as a business, to create wealth, the more it will promote the development and improve people’s livelihood.

The government’s neglect of our farmers led to stagnated yields. Worse still, investments in infrastructure were reduced, the abandoned rural communities slid to poverty, and Nigeria became a food importing country, spending an average of $11bn a year on wheat, rice, sugar and fish imports alone.

Yet, with a vast arable land area of  923,768 km², water resources 13,000 sq km. and crops such as yam, cassava, maize, rice, cocoa, coffee, cashew, cotton,  rubber, sorghum, and millet in addition to a variety of animals Nigeria is capable of feeding her citizens and export if modern technology is applied to the processing, preservation, and marketing of the finished products.

What has been grossly lacking is good leadership-one that knows and identifies the yearnings of the citizenry. With such in place, our youths would be gainfully employed, beginning with the SMEs that are driven by stable power and access to credit facilities at single-digit interest rates. 

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