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Unemployment and artisanship

 

We have excellent physical development in so many places across the country yet in real developmental terms we can’t be ranked as developed. Last time I checked, we were still ranked in the Third World category. The reason is very simple: whitewashing the entire landscape scores very little on the scale of real development. There are very clearly identified parameters before a country can be said to have attained development.

It is even funny and to an extent self-diminishing to embark on non-productive projects for which you cannot self-sustain. This kind is easy to put aside as development. This is what we have done using imported labour.  Those who know are clear we have achieved a semblance of development and not development. Mimicry if you like. Abuja, our latest voyage in modernity, is beautiful to behold but since we don’t have the patience to sit through and understand what the details are we miss out on vitals that would have made us meet the terms.

For instance, in planning out a modern capital suitable for the century in which we are and perhaps crossing over to the next, we forgot to add motor rail and railway systems. I have yet to hear that provision was made for underground movement. Those should have counted if our planners know what true development entails.

The correct definition of development, especially for our age, would have compelled the vision of a new capacity to also think about a city that can also be economically very functional, knowing that when we have the rare combination of administrative and economic power in one setting, economic abundance blossoms on a very large scale. We have an example in Lagos. Many citizens who became economic giants had their roots in Lagos.

Talk to the people who conceived Abuja the excuse will be that it was intended to be an administrative city after the likes of Washington DC, United States. We all know we have this penchant to copy and over-copy even when some of the underlying factors are in contradiction with our core peculiarities. Again, they won’t answer the question if there is anything wrong with being independent in thought and conceptions. This is a limitation in vision and mentality.

Most capitals in well-developed settings are very functional even when they serve very high administrative purposes. The housing arrangement takes in the diverse nature of the population. Abuja has no provision for the lower rung of our society, so if they must stay there it is at a cost that further reduces their ability to move from mere existence to living life in full.

They have no housing in the place and the transportation arrangements pull so hard in more negative ways on lean resources available to them. Mind you, far more than the majority of these people don’t have jobs. A development that should enhance daily living became a big source of dislocation and unquantifiable discomforts. This would always be the case when people, particularly leaders, don’t have the culture of sitting down to discuss issues properly defined and the pathways to them identified. We have not defined development and one of the outcomes is that we are beating about the bush like an untrained boxer would punch the air. We tend to throw big money on what we perceive to be the bigger challenges, forgetting the small yet very vital, foundational issues. The consequence is what is with us, spending hugely and gaining very little in terms of real development and transformation.

We enter the crux of today’s discourse which is about the development of our country’s economy in such a way that it would have productive ability, which in turn can adequately handle the big challenge of unemployment. The truth is that our population is huge, and the danger in it all is the knowledge that it is growing at a geometric rate with no corresponding structure to take in the increases and to provide for their well-being. There has been no real attempt to regulate birth control. It was under the military regime that we saw very feeble efforts to have in place birth control measures when General Ibrahim Babangida began mooting the idea to limit each nuclear family to only four children.

The idea raised controversy and like everything we do died with it; since then it has been a case of free reign, citizens given to procreation without counting the cost. Even persons with no means of sustenance give birth to children they cannot cater for. So, one of the consequences is a high level of insecurity plaguing the country from all corners. A report by the National Bureau of Statistics put the rate of unemployment in the country at over 38 percent yet keen observers insist it is under-reported, that it is as high as 70 percent. Some of us tend to agree with the latter position.

Those who know have never been tired of telling us that such a high figure of jobless people concentrated in a place portends very grave danger to the stability of the state. We all hear this and still pretend it is a small issue, whereas it is not. Successive governments at different tiers would come and not fail to give mention to the challenge of unemployment and make routine promises to do something to reverse the trend but in the end, citizens find it is just about blowing hot. A case of talk being cheap.

If we were serious about building a developed, healthy country, wiping away unemployment would not be the onerous task it has turned out to be. Effective curriculum re-engineering with a return to skill acquisition from primary school through secondary school would have done the magic a long time ago. If we were very serious about stemming the tide and we took activities in the building and construction sector very seriously, streamlined it and backed it with appropriate regulations and of course incentives in various forms, the results alone from this sector would have been enough to equip our young population, engage them, keep them positively busy and enrich their daily, weekly and monthly incomes. Unemployment figures at any given time would fluctuate at acceptable limits or ranges.

There is this very important information we ought to know, that is if many of us don’t know already. It is that despite the economic downturn in the country a lot of activities are still being witnessed in the construction and building sector. Governments in all three tiers specialize in building roads, some of them building of different nature. Corporations still build in different locations across the country. So also are individuals, who erect private homes and there are the housing estate developers who have kept very busy despite the vagaries of harsh economic policies and poor fiscal management. But the unfortunate thing in all of this is that Nigerians are not participating in the right numbers in the activities going on in the sector because of lack of adequate skill and poor work attitude. The development has forced anyone who has something to do in the sector to look across our borders for well-trained artisan workers. This is no new story, the bother or concern here is why the ugly trend has been allowed to continue.

It has continued to fester because of the absence of visionary leaders. Our case has been that of having leaders who get into the office before they commence searching for what to do. In the frenzied atmosphere that would always characterize such a setting, it becomes extremely difficult to remember seemingly small things yet vital to the success of those things we brand big and vital factors. Lack of attention given to the development of the right kind of artisanship has become very costly to our quest to move our country from a Third World country to a First World nation.

Between November and January this year, I as an individual have had experiences that make me worry for our country and her future development. I have been forced to question if we are developing at all and if we will ever do given that sources of revenue are closing up with speed.

In November, the grass tender at my residence looked me in the face and told me he wouldn’t be coming if I didn’t respond to his new proposal which was to pay for the hire of his machine and the cost of labour. His ultimatum emanated from the fact he had become like a child to the family. It got to the point where his earnings didn’t mean much to him. He has five children.

Trust me, I called his bluff and told him to take a walk. He couldn’t stay long before returning to beg for understanding and reabsorption. Poor job attitude. The next were painters. Before now my best bet for my projects were the Togolese, Beninois and Ghanaians. These guys are great in tiling, wall plastering, screeding and painting works. Once you agree to terms and payment schedule, you can go away and return to see work done far better than you would have envisaged. They face their task and will never hassle you or the household for anything including food. No noise or erratic phone calls. They face the work, doing it to the best of professional principles, and not dirtying the environment.

The Nigerian boys will weary you with very outlandish pricing. What is more, the estimates of materials they give would end up not being enough. If you go by their requirements the project can turn out an uncompleted one because it comes to the point midway where you will need far more money than you earlier budgeted to get the job executed and properly too. Their break period leaves much concern. So much talking and playing of music from their telephone handsets with some singing along. In actual job execution, there is not enough professionalism in their work. At each point they are talking about finances, many keep as many as four jobs in the same period. Nothing can be as frustrating as this.

Their work ethic is nauseating. The imported labour told me they can’t practice anything in their countries without formal training in government-licensed institutions in those countries. I was told you risked jail to practice without training. The measure shows in their work attitude and output. Many citizens look to them for their building needs and by so doing keep our home boys out of jobs, work and resources. We all know this and what harm it does to the economy and general development. Why is the government not taking action to right the situation for the benefit of our people and the proper development of our country? Why?

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