The Employment Market in Nigeria

With the downturn of the Nigerian economy in the earlier 1980s, brought about by the sudden and heavy drop in the price of crude oil, which happen to account for over 95% of the nation's income source, it became obvious that the employment market in Nigeria was in for a tough time ahead.

The government, which was the key employer, as most people, including secondary school leavers and graduates were easily absorbed in government ministries and establishments such as the Nigerian Railway Corporation, Ports Authority, Television Authority, National Electric Power Authority, and the Nigerian National Petroleum Authority, could no longer afford to continue employing more people because it could no longer pay salaries consistently.

Before long, the nation was faced with severe case of unemployment. Tens of thousands of graduates were yearly released into the shrinking employment market to chase after jobs that didn't exist. To make the situation worse, thousands more were retrenched by government to join the already saturated employment market.

Employment became a strong issue for each successive government that has ruled the nation since then, with everyone of them embarking on policies they believed could reduce it substantially, but with little result to show for it at the end of the day. Competition for employment has become so massive that it is common to have thousands of applications for any job advertised within few days. It is equally common to find university graduates putting aside their degrees to pick up lesser jobs such as security guard, simply out of the frustration to get employed.

In its own effort to tackle the huge level of unemployment in the country, the present government headed by President Olusegun Obasanjo believes in allowing and supporting private bodies to own and operate businesses. Government establishments are being privatized and policies are in place to assist small and medium scale enterprises in one way or the other to run their businesses. It is believed that the more there are of these kinds of businesses succeeding, the more people they would take off the employment market.

But these policies do not seem to be yielding the desired results. And the reason for this is not far fetched. The nation's infrastructure is too weak and inefficient to give the needed back-up to the private sector. Taking the nagging issue of the epileptic electricity supply for instance, a lot of industries and small businesses have closed shop for inability to continue powering their operations for days on generators. This has further swollen the already inflated mass of the unemployed.

Those that didn't want to close shop completely have found importation more lucrative. Instead of spending so much producing goods at a cost that is less competitive with similar ones imported, they could just import them cheaper and distribute for a great profit.

Although certain jobs, mainly in sales and marketing have been made available from these activities, it is however grossly inadequate to make a significant impact in the employment market.

Perhaps the largest employer in Nigeria in recent time is the telecommunication sector. Since its privatization in 2001, and the subsequent inflow of foreign capital investment, this sector has become the major target for the multitude of job seekers.

In general, small and medium scale businesses, where employees work for long hours and low pay, still provide the biggest amount of employment. These firms, providing little or no meaningful prospect for career development, are used by job needing graduates as stepping stone to hopefully catch the big fish some day.