Nigeria has launched a much-delayed programme that promises to provide jobs for more than 750,000 young people amid worsening youth unemployment.
The scheme, launched this month, is being hailed by government officials as the largest job creation initiative in the country’s history.
The 52bn naira ($136m) Special Public Works (SPW) programme will target low-skilled workers. From October, it offers three-month job placements, paying 20,000 naira ($53) a month, which is less than the minimum wage of 30,000 naira, but a significant help in a country where so many young people are without work.
Since 2015, the number of under 24-year-olds who are unemployed has almost tripled to 14 million, 40% of the youth labour force, according to Nigeria’s National Bureau of Statistics. About 83 million of Nigeria’s population of 200 million live on less than $1 a day. President Muhammadu Buhari caused outrage in 2018 when comments he made at a Commonwealth event in London were widely interpreted as suggesting that young people in Nigeria caused their own joblessness.
Months of dispute between politicians and the government over control of the initiative meant the much lauded programme has been delayed since the middle of last year.
Politicians and officials have attracted criticism for wanting to take an active role in selecting young people in their constituencies who qualify for the programme.
In recent years, Nigeria’s economy has suffered from a combination of dwindling oil revenues and policies widely seen as harmful to small businesses. The economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic has added to the problems.
According to the World Bank, the impact of the Covid-19 outbreak will push a further 5 million people into poverty.
Festus Keyamo, Nigeria’s minister for labour and employment, said the jobs programme “is also aimed at shielding the most vulnerable from the ravaging effects of the Covid-19 pandemic”.
“Our target is to immediately engage the 774,000 selected unemployed Nigerians for the programme to execute carefully selected projects,” he said.
The SPW is one of a number of initiatives launched by the government to provide grants, loans or short-term jobs in an attempt to improve employment prospects.
But the management and effectiveness of the SPW programme has been called into question. Critics have also said that short-term jobs, while offering much-need cash support and experience, do little to dent long-term unemployment and poverty.
Last year, Nigeria’s parliament called for the programme to be halted, amid a power-tussle between MPs and the government minister in charge of the scheme. Many MPs want some control over the distribution of jobs. “It is worthwhile for us to know how the distribution of jobs to Nigerians and those who we are representing in our constituencies is handled,” one politician said, claiming the government was seeking to sideline MPs.
The application process is via a government portal.