With the high level of unemployment and underemployment, prolonged strikes by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and its polytechnic counterpart, Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP), have raised concerns about the country’s rising dependency ratio, as majority of youths are becoming idle by the day.
The dependency ratio is a measure of the number of dependents aged zero to 14 and over the age of 65, compared with the total population aged 15 to 64. This demographic indicator gives insight into the number of people of non-working age, compared with the number of those of working age.
Indications emerged that the worsening situation has further mounted pressure on households’ disposable incomes as citizens, who desire to work, are currently excluded as a result of non-completion of academic degrees due to industrial actions and competition for scarcely available jobs.
Yearly, universities across the country churn out thousands of graduates. In 2020, most universities lost one academic year and have already lost one semester in the ongoing industrial action that started on February 14, 2022.
This is after majority of these graduates, especially from federal universities, spend close to seven-eight years for a four-year course and end up no longer meeting the age limit on employment by the private sector.
The Guardian gathered that with the ongoing strikes, many of the youths are not graduating as and when due to start fending for themselves or get quality jobs, thus, making the number of dependents rise, leaving many to rely on parents, guardians or friends for survival.
With fewer employment options, many youths during the strike period are forced into unwholesome engagements or get used as political thugs during electioneering season, among other negative vices. For those fortunate, they have relocated abroad.
For instance, a student who gained admission in 2018 in a private university has graduated leaving behind her colleague, whom they gained admission same year in one of the federal universities, still in 200-level.
Similarly, another student, already running his second degree (master’s) in a private university and gainfully employed in an oil and gas firm, has also left his cousin, in 300 level, who is not even sure when she’ll graduate, following incessant strikes by unions in the public varsity system.
The young man running his second degree, who gained admission at 17 years and graduated at age 22, has the chance to get married and support his parents with his monthly income, leaving the dependency ratio bracket.
The issue of dependency has been a huge burden for many parents these days, where they still have to cater for their children, who are supposed to be working and earning good salaries if the system were to be working perfectly.
The parents, while calling on government to address lingering industrial issues, lamented that their children, who gained admission at the age of 17 and 18 for a four-year course, are still in school at 26 years, while some graduated at 29 years with no job on ground, because they have passed some of the top organisations’ employment bracket of 24 to 26 years.
According to their expectations, they were supposed to have started contributing their financial quota to the family, rather than still spoon-feeding them or living under their roof.
A parent, Mrs. Cynthia Thompson, told The Guardian that she expected her son to have graduated at 24, but he is still in 300-level at 26, coupled with the long stay before he eventually gets enrolled for the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) scheme.
According to her, he has missed a mouth-watering job in one of the big firms, which accepts young graduates not more than 24 years old. The graduate trainees, she said, will undergo six months training programme and be fully employed with a salary of no less than N300,000.
But to Thompson, only students from private universities or those who schooled overseas and are ready to work in Nigeria could meet up with the age bracket, adding that till his son graduates and gets a better job offer, he falls under the dependency ratio bracket.
Already, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) in its Expenditure and Income Gross Domestic Product (GDP) report for the first half of 2021, said Nigerians spent N54 trillion on household consumption in six months. The figure, it stated, was higher than N48.22 trillion recorded in the first half of 2020.
Also, the report on household consumption expenditure rose to 25 per cent in 2021. The NBS, said the household consumption expenditure rose year-on-year (YoY) by 1,414 per cent points to 25.6 per cent in 2021 from -1.69 per cent in 2020.
Accordingly, the report stated that the overall, in 2021, real household final consumption expenditure inclined by 25.6 per cent from -1.69 per cent recorded in 2020.
Similarly, the fourth quarter (Q4) 2020 statistics report released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) titled: ‘Labour Force Statistics: Unemployment and Underemployment Report’, showed that the level of underemployment stood at 2.8 per cent.
The underemployed are graduates and skilled workers, who are willing to work but can’t find full employment. When considered by educational status, those reporting educational groups had the highest rate of underemployment with 30.9 per cent, followed by those with vocational/commercial groups at 28.5 per cent. Those with doctorate degrees as their highest qualifications reported 20.7 per cent during the reference period.
In the case of underemployment by age grouping, those aged between 55-64 recorded an underemployment rate of 25.7 per cent, the highest among the age groups. This was followed by those aged between 45-54 with 24.4 per cent, while those with the lowest underemployment rate were those aged between 15-24 with 19.8 per cent.
A combination of unemployment and underemployment rates show that those aged between 15-24 reported a combined rate of 73.2 per cent, showing a serious challenge for the age-group to secure full-time employment.
Looking at the unusual long term, impact on the economy vis-a-vis productivity and underemployment, a public affairs analyst, Jide Ojo, who bemoaned the system that has been uncaring for the future of the youths, said students in public institutions are at a personal loss already with the glut in the labour market.
He gave instances of the majority of graduates, who do not meet up with age requirements due to incessant strikes, but had to swear false affidavits to cut down their age.
He said tertiary institutions may be losing years and not producing graduates as at when due, stating that there are quite a lot of graduates that are unemployed and private universities continue to produce without let or hindrance and are meeting up with the age requirements.
Aside from strikes and lateness in graduation, he said the dependency ratio was high, because even when one graduates at 21 or 22, it is not a guarantee that he will get a job immediately and be able to stand on his own.
He described the situation whereby persons are working and still living under their parents abode as mutually exclusive because what they earn is paltry and not enough to sustain them.
According to him, the issue of a student that is supposed to have graduated and still depending on the parent for his or her survival is compounding the percentage of dependency ratio.
“A situation where you have a graduate working as security guard in a recruiting agency, maybe in a bank, earning N30,000 is not employment, but rather underemployment. The person did not go to school to learn to be a guard but for his degree to get him a white-collar job, where he’ll be able to earn decent pay,” he said.
Citing some of the social investment programmes by the present administration, for instance the N-Power, where workers are paid N30,000 for two years, he said that is no job as the work alone cannot sustain one let alone owning an apartment to stand alone.
He said many of the workers on the scheme are still largely dependent on their parents for survival. “The money can just be for their personal upkeep. It does not amount to the government claiming it gave them a job; that is underemployment.
“In as much as there is a high level of unemployment, you cannot but have a high dependency ratio because those that are competent to get employed and could not would have to be largely dependent on parents, guardians and even friends for their survival,” he said.
Paul Omoijiade, a lawyer and labour expert, said age ratio was a dilemma for youths as Nigeria needed to improve on its labour productivity, which has to do with standard of education, skills and experience gathered.
In developed countries, he said it is one’s ability to produce results that matters, “they don’t talk about age. They frown on discrimination on the basis of age. But here, they keep the youths and you tell them they are overage to be in the productivity of employment. The effects on the economy would be much.”
On dependency ratio, he said: “It disturbs the cash flow because the parent must have envisaged that by age 60 he will be retiring and must have trained all his children and the pressure will not be much but discovers it will never be.”
Chairman, Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC), Lagos State Council, Gbenga Ekundayo, said Nigeria is producing an army of disgruntled, unsatisfied and unemployable youths that it cannot fix or cater for.
He said as some employers are asking for young graduates they can easily mould, while by the time a child is graduating at 27 or 29 years, when others are coming out with a second degree even at 24 years, how will they be able to compete in the market?
He said even if they want to venture into entrepreneurship or being self-employed, the issue of electricity would be their major challenge.
According to him, employers are faced with the challenge of retraining people who are fully formed or left school for long before being engaged.(The Guardian)
•PHOTO: Federal Government’s team and the National Executive of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU)