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Nigeria needs to take hard decisions now on the economy

by Business News Report

The economic management team has picked job creation as an agenda in the President’s transformation of the economy. Certainly job creation will be at the center of the 2012 budget and beyond. But the first question to ask is how many Nigerian youths are in the federal government’s unemployment register? How will this government convince the nation that it has created certain number of jobs it promised to deliver each year? Is the government going to compel the private sector which slogan is always cost cost to employ those they do not want to employ? In the banking reform the target has always been the workforce. Thousands have lost their jobs and more are going to.

The starting point for the minister of Finance and the coordinator of the economy is to set up an unemployment bureau to register all Nigerians who are able bodied and actively looking for jobs. Such a register will need to be reviewed periodically to monitor unemployment data in the country. Elsewhere where unemployment benefits are paid, the number to claim such benefit each month serves as a barometer for measuring unemployment. Such benefits are not available here, so how will government know the number it intends to cater for?

Job creation has become the focus of International Economist and multilateral institutions in recent times. At the ongoing IMF/World Bank Annual Meetings, the two key themes of the meetings are gender and jobs creation. According to the President of the World Bank Mr. Robert Zoellick, while the gyrations of the financial markets will grab national headlines, it is these structural issues that can lay the foundation for sustainable growth. We’ve just released a World Development Report on gender that proves that “getting to equal” for women is not just the right thing to do. It’s also smart economics. Women are the next big emerging market. How can the world reach its full growth potential if it fails to advance the prospects, energies, and contributions of half the world’s population – women and girls”?

Here is the big question for Dr Okonjo-Iweala, how can an economy neglect rural women who toil day and night without access to credit and think of job creation? Yes white-collar jobs can be created what about the millions of women, girls and others who may never have former education and certificates, how will they be employed and who will employ them?

According to figures released by the Bank “nearly four million girls and women in developing countries “go missing” each year when compared to their female counterparts in developed countries. Access to credit, property, removing barriers to work and jobs, investments in health, water, education, empowering the voice of women and focused attention –even just removing barriers – can make a big difference in an economy”. How far is the federal government ready to go in this direction?

The World Bank has announced that at the 2011 meetings it will be starting the process for its next World Development Report – which focuses on another fundamental for economic growth – jobs. The last time the World Bank did such a report on jobs was 16 years ago and much has certainly changed. Back then the issue was globalisation’s effect on jobs. Today we live in a vastly different new multipolar economy. The shift in focus to jobs has shown that it has become a global issue that should be tackled. What safety net is the federal authority putting in place to ensure that jobs are not lost unnecessarily in the name of reforms?

The topic that dominated discussions by world economic leaders at the IMF/World Bank meetings is the darkening outlook for developing countries. Up until recently, developing countries have been the bright spot in the global economy. They provided around a half of global growth while Europe, Japan, and the United States have struggled with high debts and high unemployment. While developed countries stumble, the situation for emerging markets may be changing for the worse. Nigeria economy by CBN reckoning has grown in the last three years at 7 per cent. Yet, there is mounting unemployment in the country. Prices of crude have risen considerably, yet the federal government run huge deficit budget, mounting pressure on the exchange and interest rates.

According to the World Bank report on South Asia, “More and Better Jobs” in the region—defined by the Bank as Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, will need to add between 1 and 1.2 million additional jobs every month for the next twenty years, equivalent to about 40 per cent of the increase in the global labor force. Reforms will have to be accelerated if the region is going to meet the challenge of providing better jobs for them.

The report said, “The key asset to South Asia is its people. South Asia has a young population and the second lowest female participation rate in the labor force. The demographic transition will result in more than 350 million people to enter the working age population over the next two decades, creating jobs for them will contribute to growth, equity, and peace in the region.”

South Asia created nearly 800,000 jobs per month between 2000 and 2010. However, despite growth, the region is still home to the largest number of the world’s poor a half billion people.

“The number of additions to the labor market over the next few decades will result in a 25–50 percent increase over the historical average,” said Pablo Gottret, co-author of the report. “Going forward the region faces an enormous employment challenge, but its demography can help if countries choose to reform.” Education is key to labor mobility. Education attainment remains low and well over 25 percent of the labor force in all countries except Sri Lanka lacks any education at all. More education facilitates labor mobility to more productive employment, from rural agriculture to rural-based industry and service jobs and from urban casual work to urban-based regular wage and salaried industry and service jobs.

Can Nigeria leaders learn from what the World Bank report on South Asia reveals on job creation, education and social mobility? Globally, falling commodity exports is already a source of worry. Now falling markets and declining confidence could prompt slippage in developing countries’ investment and a possible pullback by their consumers, too says the World Bank Economist. Nigeria policy makers agree that the country is not as well-placed as it was in 2007 -2008 when its external reserve was in the region of $65 billion to withstand another shock. Nigeria budgets is not so robust that it can simply spend its way out of trouble as the excess crude account has been depleted and it is walking a monetary policy tight rope, balancing price pressures and these new dangers. Yet it hopes to create about 3 million jobs annually.

If the situation in the global economy deteriorates further then Nigeria run the risk that its growth could turn down, its asset prices could drop, and then non-performing loans could increase. With these pressures and prospects, it will be forced to adopt protectionist policy, “Beggar thy neighbor” policies, and a risk of a retreat to populism.

The world economy as it stands today is in a danger zone. In 2008, many people said they did not see the turbulence coming. Nigeria leaders have no such excuse now. As it stand to reason dangerous times call for courageous people. Nigeria leaders and policy makers need to demonstrate the rear courage of taking hard decisions that will savage the economy.

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