The Vice President of the Economic Commission of West African States (ECOWAS) Commission, Finda Koroma, has called for the creation of opportunities for youths to leverage Africa’s demographic divides.
Koroma gave the submission at the Junior Chamber International (JCI) Nigeria Senate Association 11th Leadership Excellence for National Development (LEND) Webinar Series.
Speaking on ‘Building Emerging Leaders for Africa and the Middle East,’ Koroma said the youths formed a critical part of the economic discourse in Africa, adding that statistics showed that the continent is endowed with sufficient human resources to develop its economies.
She lamented that African youths are faced with unemployment and underemployment, which limit their ability to realise their potentials, thereby exposing them to vices such as crime, violence, extremism and banditry.
Koroma said small and medium enterprise (SME) provided the continent with a powerful tool to address youth unemployment, adding that a youth-led enterprise can grow economies and create job opportunities.
This, she said, required significant investment in education, vocational skills, health, infrastructure as well as information and communication technology (ICT) would turn the human resources into a capable workforce that could turn the wheels of the continent’s development.
“The time has come that all hands must be put on deck through the promotion of education and skills training as well as social confidence in our youths through unlimited access to investment and capital for their entrepreneurship development,” she said.
The Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Content Development and Monitoring Board (NCDMB), Simbi Wabote, said the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) opened up a new horizon for the continent in the next few decades, adding that the NCDMB was putting a strategy in place to get more entrepreneurs to deepen local content practice in Nigeria’s oil and gas industry.
He added that the NCDMB has developed initiatives to create a conducive business environment for entrepreneurs and employment opportunities, as its vision and the 10-year Strategic Roadmap is to achieve 70 per cent of Nigerian Content in the oil and gas industry by 2027.
Wabote expressed worry that Nigeria is gradually losing the means of keeping the youths engaged in productive activities, adding that all over the world, business enterprises, especially SMEs, are the backbone of all thriving economies and Nigeria is no exception.
He said 96 per cent of businesses in Nigeria are SMEs that are responsible for 84 per cent of the jobs while contributing 48 per cent to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP).
The Minister of State for Finance, Budget and National Planning, Prince Clem Agba, said a country that has change-makers in its government would have better policies and implementation.
He said this is why the government has engaged the youths to help determine their future, adding that the youths have been included in the 26 technical working groups that are developing the new national plan.
Agba added that the Nigerian economy is 90 per cent private sector-driven, which also endeared the government to include the organised private sector to lead the development plan.
Speaking at the panel session on the topic “Leadership, Youth and Regional Cooperation”, the Executive Director, Heritage Bank Plc., Dr. Jude Monye, who was represented by the Divisional Head, Products and Inclusive Banking, Dimiri Dike, said capital is a major challenge facing youths involvement in entrepreneurship, as almost 95 per cent of the capital available today is debt.
He said looking to banks to finance the entrepreneurs and youth start-ups is a difficult proposition because of the regulations that surround lending in the country.
Monye noted that knowledge capital is missing, as a lot of youths with certain academic qualifications practice the skills that come with it.
He said the country is migrating towards a digital economy, as the Central Bank of Nigeria is initiating the digital naira, but lacks the financial framework that supports that digital economy.
He said a lot of these youths are going to move in that direction of digital naira, adding that the country needs interventions that recognise the emerging economy and then find a financial framework to deal with it.
“How can we create the kind of financial system that extracts the value from what the youths are doing? We are looking to them to raise capital abroad, can we find a way to provide that kind of capital for them here? Unless we find the right regulatory framework, in terms of education, financial provision or infrastructure support, then we will continue to find and experience some of this restiveness among the youths that we see today,” he warned.
The Deputy Governor, Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Ade Shonubi, said the government should include the youths in decision-making rather than impose certain rules and regulations on them.
He said financial inclusion or access is not the actual problem for the youths, as the government and private sector cannot provide jobs.
He said while SMEs have been seen as 90 per cent of the economic activities, the youths should be allowed to thrive in their businesses as they contribute to cushioning the unemployment rate by providing jobs.
Shonubi said foreigners are taking advantage of the gaps in the country by establishing their businesses.
The Special Adviser to Lagos State Governor on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Investments, Solape Hammond, said Nigeria is estimated to be six years behind the 2030 realisation of the SDGs, noting that the country is still not ready to achieve those goals even if the government does everything that should have been done to achieve those goals by 2036,
She said Lagos state needs $20 million to $40 million a year for over nine to 10 years to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, despite having the highest state budget.
Hammond said there are many sectors, which the youths are not capitalising on such as transport, security among others, urging the private sector and individuals to help in generating the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of Lagos.
She said moving the economy forward requires galvanised actions through collaboration from the Government, private sector and the youths.