Fresh Graduates Fear COVID-19 May Worsen Unemployment Situation In Nigeria

Prior to his graduation in January 2020, Bolu Abiodun had high hopes for life after the University. But shortly after he got his degree, Nigeria recorded its first confirmed case of COVID-19 and has continued to record more everyday. Ever since, his fear of the unknown has continued to grow.

“I had a rough sketch of plans but none included the outbreak of COVID-19 and this pandemic has really thwarted all my plans, to be honest,” Abiodun, a graduate of Theatre and Media Arts from Federal University Oye-Ekiti, said.

“Businesses, I hoped would require my services, can’t really hire at this moment because of the pandemic. People I could have sought advice from are frustrated and are not in the mood to listen to my problems,” the young graduate added.

“My plans to save up to run a business on the side have also been affected.”

Aside from the fact that COVID-19 has forced the world into an involuntary vacation, it has also – directly or indirectly – plunged the world into a series of multidimensional crises.These crises cut across every aspect of life, including economic, political and even religious.

Nigeria is not spared from these multifarious challenges caused by the global pandemic. A deepening level of poverty, different economic crises, rising cases of theft, food insecurity, among others, prevail in the country since the outbreak of COVID-19 also known as novel coronavirus.

And many fear that the COVID-19 pandemic may worsen Nigeria’s unemployment challenge.

Already, some jobs have gone following the outbreak of COVID-19. An example is Gotel Communications, owned by former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, which sacked 51 members of staff recently.

The latest analysis on the impact of COVID-19 on the labour market by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) reveals that about 1.6 billion workers in the informal economy (i.e nearly half of the global workforce) are at risk of having their means of livelihood destroyed.

Also, in a significant deterioration on its previous estimate of 195 million, the organisation predicted that 305 million full-time jobs would be affected globally in the second quarter of 2020 due to prolongation and extension of lockdown measures over COVID-19.

As of the third quarter of 2018, the National Bureau of Statistics reported that the rate of unemployment in Nigeria increased to 23.1 per cent from 18.8 per cent in Q3 2017. In a country with weak job security like Nigeria and considering that between 500,000 and 1.8 million Nigerians enter the job market annually, this number might rise as a result of the impact of COVID-19, said ILO.

Abiodun said COVID-19 might reduce the chances of fresh graduates getting jobs with the result that their lives, including self-worth and dignity, would be affected.

Another fresh graduate, Afolasade Ola, shares a similar opinion.

“Getting employed in Nigeria has always been difficult, partly because the competition out there is high and jobs are not readily available; you have to go the extra mile to get a job or get the resources to be self-employed,” the graduate of English from the University of Ibadan, said.

She said it had been difficult for her to get into the media industry which she had hoped to take up a career.

“As a fresh graduate, I’ve been out there trying to get a job in the media industry. I was optimistic of an opening somewhere despite several applications but with the pandemic, my hopes are sort of bleak,” she said.

“I sincerely don’t think employers are looking forward to recruitment other than trying to reduce their number of staff,” she added.

She expressed fear that illegitimate activities might flourish due to the unavailability of jobs or resources for the youth.

Akintunde Babatunde, a career coach and founder of Vantage Network Africa, an organisation centred on human capital development, said it was unfortunate that the global disruption by the COVID-19 pandemic would lead to a lot of job losses.

However, he urged fresh graduates to look toward the “brighter side of things” as some people were still getting jobs even during the pandemic.

According to him, young graduates should focus on positioning themselves to meet the demands of the future of work by acquiring requisite digital skills.

“More businesses will start exploring the digital platforms/space to showcase and advertise some of their products and services” therefore “digital marketing skills and other tech skills are going to be in high demand, so young graduates should learn one of those to be able to fit” in vacant positions, he said.

He also urged graduates to look towards agriculture and food processing as the sector had potential for job creation.

The ILO has called for urgent policy measures to be taken to curtail the impact of the pandemic on the labour market.

It said, “Measures for economic reactivation should follow a job-rich approach, backed by stronger employment policies and institutions, better-resourced and comprehensive social protection systems.”

“For millions of workers, no income means no food, no security and no future. […] As the pandemic and the jobs crisis evolve, the need to protect the most vulnerable becomes even more urgent,” Guy Ryder, the Director-General of ILO, said.

Nigeria has so far taken different measures to prevent job losses during the pandemic, including the order of the Central Bank of Nigeria to banks not to lay off staff because of the health crisis.

“In order to help minimise and mitigate the negative impact of the COVID- 19 pandemic on families and livelihoods, no bank in Nigeria shall retrench or lay-off any staff of any cadre (including full-time and part-time),” the CBN said in a statement signed by its spokesperson, Isaac Okoroafor.

The House of Representatives on March 24 passed the Emergency Economic Stimulus bill 2020 to provide 50 per cent tax rebate for employers and business owners who agree not to make staff cuts in 2020 in order to protect jobs and ease financial burdens caused by COVID-19.

As this bill may prevent job losses, it, however, does not take into consideration the people working in the informal sector.

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Daniel Whyte

Daniel Whyte, a freelance journalist, is a Future News Worldwide 2019 Fellow with British Council Scotland and can be reached on Twitter via @_DanWhyte.

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