Speaking at the West African regional conference on youth employment in Dakar, Senegal at the weekend, Obasanjo said the danger posed by an army of unemployed youth in Nigeria can only be imagined. “I’m afraid, and you know I am a General. When a General says he is afraid, that means the danger ahead is real and potent,” he said.
Obasanjo added that despite what he called the imminent threat to Nigeria’s nationhood “there is absence of serious, concrete, realistic, short and long term solution” to youth unemployment. He made reference to the doctorate degree holders who applied for jobs as drivers at the Dangote Group, saying Nigerian youths have been patient enough and that this patience will soon reach its elastic limit.
According to the former president, youth unemployment rate which was 72 per cent in 1999 when he took over power had been reduced to 52 per cent by 2004 but that the rate rocketed to 71 per cent by 2011. Obasanjo left office in 2007, succeeded by Umaru Yar’Adua who died in 2010, and President Jonathan has been in office since then.
The former president lamented that the unemployment situation had given rise to the prevalence of social crimes being perpetrated by three categories of youth whom he identified as area boys, Yahoo boys and, recently, Blackberry boys. He told the diverse audience that in Nigeria people talk of growth without corresponding development, and that what is visible is increased poverty.
Obasanjo said national leaders must create incentives that will encourage entrepreneurs to flourish and that special attention should be given to agriculture business as against mere farming. He reiterated the need for easy access to land and micro credit, while advocating for a review of school curriculum to enable undergraduates spend additional one year to learn entrepreneurship.
At the sub-regional level, Obasanjo called for a review of the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD) to accommodate issues of youth unemployment and job creation. The conference, which was sponsored by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the African Development Bank, was attended by top bankers from across Africa including the Managing Director of Nigeria’s Bank of Industry, Ms. Evelyn Oputu.