LET us give ourselves the pause for a moment, and reflect upon one simple fact: Most of those arrested and arraigned in court as members of BOKO HARAM are in their twenties; practically all of them, including the suicide bombers, whose pictures were released by the group itself.
It is instructive, because recently, the National Bureau of Statistics, NBS, released frightening figures for 2010, of unemployment in Nigeria. Between the ages of 16 and 64, barring those in full-time educational pursuit or those unwilling and able to work, the report said we have a workforce of 60million people. But only 48 million of these have jobs. However, unemployment is highest amongst youths between the ages of 15 and 24, with an average unemployment rate of 35.9 percent.
NBS also says the highest level of unemployment is in Northern Nigeria, with Yobe State having the highest level of unemployment in Nigeria at 39 percent of the population, followed by Zamfara and Sokoto states with 33.4 percent and 32.3 percent, respectively. Lagos has the lowest unemployment figure of seven percent, while the national unemployment average is 21percent, which reflects a rise of 1.4 percent over the 2009 figures.
As BUSINESSDAY newspaper of November 3, 2011, pointed out, the 21percent unemployment rate “underestimates the proportion of non-use of the vast potential of human capital in the country for the purpose of economic prosperity and the improvement of standard of living”.
I was not surprised that the direst elements of the statistics have come from Northern Nigeria. They relate very directly to the ferment currently gripping our Region and the inability of the ruling class to come to terms with the consequences of the situation.
As I have argued here before, Northern Nigeria has undergone seismic shifts in its entire structure over the past 30 years or so. The institution of UPE in the 1970s saw a reasonable level of enrolment in schools and the gradual removal of a lot of young people from rural backgrounds into the sprawling urban centers of the North.
They could be absorbed into the economic activities in the industrial estates of places like Kano, Kaduna or Jos as well as into other commercial activities. But with the economic crises of the past couple of years, the industrial estates collapsed and jobs disappeared, just as the rural economy has declined.
The urban-based population of young Northerners became increasingly marginalized, sucked into a lumpen existence in the cities, just as the political and business elite consolidated their corrupt enrichment and the flaunting of ill-gotten wealth.
The traditional structures of power were alienated from these young Northerners who had begun to apprehend their frustrations in radical religious frames. The traditional religious clerics were too much part of the corrupt status quo and so did not offer the radical interpretations of Islam favoured by the young people, who get nothing from an increasingly hostile and uncaring state, especially after the introduction of SAP and neo-liberal reforms.
It was this context which gave a youthful audience to radical preachers like Muhammad Yusuf. His preachments and lifestyle were more in tune with the temperament of the young, educated but hopeless Northern youth, whose contacts with modernity have not given them the possibilities of enjoying its goodies. As the NBS statistics showed, the greatest level of unemployment is amongst those between the ages of 15 and 24. And if we look at the ages of most of those already arrested for participation in the activities of BOKO HARAM, they are in their twenties!
If we add these to the fact that ours is a very young country, it becomes clear as day light, that the greatest challenge we face is the creation of jobs and opportunities for the young people. In fact, I think that should be the most decisive issue of national policy in our country today.
The states of Northern Nigeria must especially appreciate the demographic basis of the crisis situation we face in the Region to be able to begin to address the issues frontally. There can be no other way. A few years ago, Rev. Father George Ehusani did a study of crises in Nigeria. He pointed out that most of the ethno-religious crises have taken place between 12noon and 6pm; hours that people would normally have been at work.
And it is clear that most of those sucked into those tragic killings have been young people who should be busy at work, building our country.