A Wake Up Call
As much as Nigeria is defined by its large population, it is defined also by its youth. 44% of all Nigerians are 14 years old or younger, and 19% of all Nigerians are between 15 and 24, accounting for a comfortable majority of the entire population. Between 2017 and 2050, the population of the country will more than double, adding 219.7 million more people. This figure is staggering, and it presents a unique difficulty to the leaders of tomorrow.
Source: World Population Data
Chief among the aspects of this unique difficulty? We need to figure out how to take advantage of all the talent that these people have to offer. Everyone wants to participate in society and in the economy, but in Nigeria, there is a distinct history of failing to develop talent and skill. According to the World Economic Forum’s Human Capital Index, Nigeria ranks last among all African countries when it comes to optimizing human capital through education and skills development. This problem is going to worse, not better, as the population grows – unless we make some changes.
How do people learn? What do they learn? How do they apply what they learn? These questions need to be at the heart of any program designed to develop talent in Nigeria. If we start with these questions when we are making policies, then we can put ourselves on the right track.
When China and multiple European nations decided that they would eliminate permits for diesel and petrol engines by 2040, the alternative energy industry skyrocketed. This date, for now at least, seems firm, and it will stand in the history books as a clear marker for the end of the era of oil. Given how much Nigeria depends on fossil fuel revenues, deriving 70% of government revenues and 90% of export earnings from crude oil sales, we need to recognize the incoming disaster. In 2016, Nigeria experienced a recession because of declining oil prices. Think of what it would look like had those prices declined all the way to zero, because that is what is on its way. On top of that, the oil available to Nigeria is finite, and in contrast to some Arab Gulf oil-producing countries, there has been no concerted effort to reinvest oil revenues into national development. We need to do what we can to reinvest while we can but realize that an oil-free future is not far off.
As we face the next industrial revolution, low-skilled and middle-skilled work is becoming obsolete routinely. There is a pattern of decline when it comes to manual labor, this labor being replaced by more advanced machines, and nearly half of all jobs in Nigeria are susceptible to automation. The labor market is not going to look like it does today for very long. All working-age Nigerians could be affected by this change, and if we do not start develop the cognitive abilities of our people, we will exacerbate the negative effects that the fourth industrial revolution will have on our future generations.
Creative work, food technology work, 3D design work, data center work, healthcare, education: there will be jobs in these areas going forward. Not a whole lot else can be guaranteed. Sounds scary? Good – it should. In the long term, we can expect job growth only in those fields that are contributing directly to the progress of technology. If we do not ramp up our investments in technical skills, digital literacy, financial literacy, science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, we are heading for a train wreck in the future. The Nigerian population is being prepared for nothing but obsolescence: we must change that.
High-quality agriculture products have been neglected in Nigeria in favor of imports, which has caused a massive trade deficit. As oil export revenues fall and the population grows, there is now a real fear that there will not be enough food to go around in the country. In the North of the country, where agriculture used to thrive, our people are falling behind. There are major problems ahead unless we can start growing more of our own food while at the same time taking care not to damage our natural resources. Independence demands that we become experts in agro-engineering topics, everything from sustainability to water to waste management to machinery to livestock to food processing and beyond.
Climate change is a problem that we all need to face. After years of human-made disasters and unconscionable waste, we need to come to terms with the state of our planet. The Niger Delta is today one of the most polluted places on Earth, all because of oil spills. Desertification, drought, soil erosion, flooding: these are the realities of our situation. We need more Nigerians developing the right skills so that we can come up with innovative solutions to all the problems that are only going to get worse in the coming decades.
While skilled people are leaving Nigeria to seek out better opportunities abroad, many young Nigerians are also going to the UK, the US, and South Africa in order to find better education. Our low-skilled workers are also leaving, headed to foreign countries where they can find work. In Europe, illegal immigration from Nigeria is a huge political talking point, none of which bodes well for us. All these problems can be addressed through skill development. If we develop the right skills in our people, we can transform our economy from a dependent one to a modern, independent one.
Reform needs to start immediately, while we are still earning substantial revenue from oil and gas sales. Once we lose out on these revenues, there is no getting them back.
Education 2.0: Reform Agenda Pillars.