Very recently, ‘Yemi Osinbajo, Nigeria’s vice president and chairman of the _Economic Sustainability Committee_ (ESC) projected that, _“except something urgent is done, about 39.4 million Nigerians”_ risked being jobless by the end of the Year 2020. According to him, _“millions may slide into extreme poverty before”_ COVID-19 _“pandemic ends.”_
Well, while it’s no longer news that _‘COVID-19 pandemic’_ has met _‘21st Century Brotherhood of suffering’_ in Nigeria, to suggest that more than 39.4 million people are currently employed in Nigeria is, to say the least, misleading. The question is: do we really have 39 million people gainfully employed in Nigeria? And, if we may ask: how reliable is the statistics relied upon by the Federal Government? Is this poverty-ridden economy of the ‘poverty capital of the world’ viable enough to pay the salaries of, even, 39.4 million Nigerians?
Presently, Nigeria is the world’s 7th largest country. With a population of 206,139,589, global share of 2.61% and life expectancy of 55.8 years (both sexes), she is also Africa’s largest economy. Two years ago, almost half of Nigeria’s population was living _‘below the international poverty line ($2 per day)’,_ even as _‘unemployment peaked at 23.1%.’_ I doubt if Nigerians have got any better since 2018. After all, we are yet to be told that income inequality, political instability, grinding nepotism, ethnic conflicts, corruption, and related factors, which not only catalyse but also aggravate persistent, pungent poverty in our domestic economy, have disappeared.
According to available statistics, 40% of Nigeria’s current population comprises poor people, with 9.45 million living in extreme poverty. Unemployment rate stands at 23.1%; underemployment: 20.21%; and youth unemployment: 55.4%. Even, for those who claim to be employed, salaries are unpaid while the implementation of the minimum wage has become endangered in most of the states. What’s the population of the children and students who are not working? Add the population of aged people to it. Then, do a mathematical computation of the bourgeoning demography and you’ll have a better understanding of a calamity delayed.
Without airs, the economic infrastructure of Nigeria, as it is today, will only end up making a mockery of the statement of ’39.4 million people losing their jobs’, because there are unknown millions of Nigerians in the informal sector of the economy who are on temporary employment, earning as low as N10,000 per month as salaries. Are they part of those Nigerians being referred to as ‘employed’ by the Federal Government? What of those employees without any traceable records, who are hired and fired, on a daily basis, at the whims and caprices of their employers, without the knowledge of the bureaucratic institutions of government? How is Nigeria responding to that? Understandably, the claim that activities in the informal sector of the domestic economy control the largest chunk and velocity of the naira in this country is unassailable.
Anyway, let us, for the sake of argument, admit that the Federal Government’s revelation is true. For it to now regale Nigerians with such a figure gives an impression that those Nigerians were gainfully employed in the first place. To say that 39.4 million Nigerians were really engaged; and they are paying direct tax into government coffers, it would have been such a huge amount of money capable of solving many problems, except, of course, some people are sitting somewhere, satanically coveting and converting our collective patrimony into personal use. So, who is the Federal Government trying to appease or impress?
Notwithstanding, what Nigerians expect to hear and see are the well-thought-out plans that could mitigate current challenges. Now, 39.4 million people are not yet jobless, _‘Awawa’_ cultists and _‘One Million Boys’_ are restive; and appeasement is not working! What should we expect, if the pandemic of job loss add salt to Nigeria’s festering sore? Agreed! President Muhammadu Buhari did not bring COVID-19 to Nigeria. However, now that the disease has paid us a visit, Nigerians expect our elected representatives to throw their leadership at it, not to frighten us with figures which, with due respect, are off-beam and untenable. Indeed, those who are conversant with the history of social negative impact of job loss in the society would never pray for what the chaotic reality job loss in Nigeria could engender. In a country where troops could not effectively dislodge remnants of bandits and _Boko Haram_ terrorists, citizens should worry.
By abiodun KOMOLAFE,