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ANOTHER BATCH OF JOB-SEEKING GRADUATES: HOW FAR HAS AKEES GONE?

UDOMBy UbongAbasi Ise

“It is difficult for me to imagine what ‘personal liberty’ is enjoyed by unemployed person, who goes about hungry, and cannot find employment” – Joseph Stalin (1879 – 1953). Only last week, precisely Thursday, April 14, 2016, I was at the winding up ceremony of National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) Batch ‘A’ 2015/2016, an event that was as solemn as a funeral service. There was no parade of course. In my brief chat with Mallam Yuguda, the Senior Public Relations Officer, Akwa Ibom State NYSC, he described the ceremony as a “low key” event. But for me it was an obsequies conducted to mark the death of Nigeria’s economy that just left behind many graduates to mourn its demise.

In the event, 4405 graduates completed their national assignment in Akwa Ibom alone, received their discharge certificates, and hoped to have a chance at already saturated labour market stuffed with batches of their fellow graduates who preceded them ages ago. Similarly, it becomes clear that the fresh graduates would soon be confronted with stiff competition in the miserable labour market.
Across the federation, the situation exists in steady degree. In the bloated system, merit has fast lost credence to bribery, nepotism, sex compromise, which particularly involved female job-seekers whereby some have been reportedly scandalized, traumatized and broken. In the system, both Cantabrigians and ordinary home-grown, local graduates share the same fate. In a year, not less than 200,000 graduates are churned out by Nigeria’s tertiary institutions according to National Bureau of Statistics (NBS). However, with the daily proliferation of tertiary institutions in the country, the number of graduates now has grown in geometric progression making NBS estimate a child’s play. It is, however, regrettable that the population explosion in labour market is still soaring at a time when our treasury is desiccating and several establishments are considering retrenchment as the only surviving strategy.

There was a bleep of hope for Akwa Ibom youths in December 2015 when Governor Udom Emmanuel launched Akwa Ibom State Enterprise and Employment Scheme (AKEES) with the aim to create 10,000 jobs in order to reduce unemployment plaguing the state by 50%. But I had to wonder how the Governor, through AKEES, would drastically reduce by 50% the alarming rate of unemployment which has skyrocketed to high heavens with provision of just 10,000 jobs. In regard to AKEES, the average of 2500 youths would be provided with jobs each year within the span of four years. But is the average of 2500 jobs yearly not a far cry from thousands of Akwa Ibom graduates that tertiary institutions in the state, the federation and perhaps abroad have been emitting on a yearly basis, not to even mention uneducated youths?
Anyway, AKEES may produce 10,000 job opportunities in a state inundated with restive youths, but the truth in all fairness is that it would not, in any way, severe the height of joblessness by 50% in the state unless the architects of the scheme extend the target to 100,000 jobs. How I wish they could!
AKEES figures, as they stand, are conflicting. From the source in the office, the number of applicants registered online through AKEES portal is 11,598. When summed up with 1,100 registered through SMS that would bring the total to 12,698, far from total registered number provided on AKEES magazine, Connect (Special Edition), which stands at 15,150. Likewise, the total number of those engaged in 85 businesses according to office source is 1,013, while that of the magazine remains 1,638. Despite these discrepancies in the number game, we can see that in less than six months since the launching of AKEES scheme, between 12,698 and 15,150 applicants have been registered, and a fragmentary range of 1,013 and 1,638 are so far said to have been engaged in 85 businesses.
This however indicates that the scheme is stuck somewhere when considering the fact that the registered number so far is likely to outgrow the available opportunities in the private sector which has been struggling with the prevailing economic realities. Is disequilibrium observed in the number registered-to-number engaged ratio in less than six months not a signal to imminent failure of the perceived laudable programme? How zealous is the State Government in strengthening the capacity of Small and Medium Scale Enterprises (SMEs) through Public-Private Partnership (PPP) in a bid to provide succour to youth restiveness. At least by now I suppose that the nucleus of common facility centres (CFCs) should have been proliferated across the 31 local government areas in the state, apart from those available in Uyo, Mkpat Enin and few other locations.
Since most unemployed youths may not find entrepreneurship their calling while at the same time AKEES is targeting 50% reduction in the population of unemployed youths, in this connection, AKEES should not only be structured to exist merely for the sake of recruitment for jobs and empowerment schemes that may not be sustainable. It should have been crazily designed to address infrastructural deficit in our rural areas as well as raging housing crisis in our towns and cities by way of looking into local content through direct massive engagement of qualified youths in the rural road construction projects across the 31 local government and also the execution of Medium-Standard Housing schemes with the aim to checkmate high rise of accommodation crisis in our urban areas. This would not only provide employment or start-up capital for the teeming youth population but also help internalize our resources. If these measures are not considered, amongst others, then AKEES remains just a political gimmick condemned to fail in due time.

However, Akwa Ibom State Government would gain more if employment rate is doubled and its revenue orbit would be expanded through taxation. In my recent interaction with Dr. Johnson Atan, Head of Department, Economics, University of Uyo, he noted “government should know that taxation is the major tool of raising revenue. But you cannot tax somebody who is not employed. If a person is unemployed, where would the tax come from?”

It is high time Akwa Ibom State Government should end its dereliction of its responsibility in order to practically address this monumental degree of unemployment in the state. Akwa Ibom State economy is very frail. How can we expect our economy to flourish when there is high unemployed population that lacks purchasing power? Low purchasing power represents low consumption and low consumption means low production and low production signifies a weak economy. This has so much contributed to Akwa Ibom State’s inability to escape vicious cycle of poverty despite being the highest federal allocation earner.

Throughout most economic development history, the right approach has been viewed through increased productive capacity. Jean-Baptiste Say has stated this succinctly that, and community, city, province, or nation that produces abundantly, and adds every moment to the sum of its product, almost all of the branches of commerce, manufacture, and generally of industry, yield handsome profits, because the demand is great, and because there is always a large quantity of products in the market ready to bid for new productive services. Therefore an increase in productive capacity will create employment and naturally increase the demand for more production. In this way, increase in production would serve as a key to a true economic stimulant that will result in job creation, greater consumer demand, and higher standard of living. (Culled from The Sensor Newspaper).

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