Nigeria has struggled with an unemployment crisis for several years.
In 2021, unemployment in the country affected a third of the working-age population, with more than half of the people between the ages of 15 and 24 without work. For people in the next age bracket, 25 to 34, the unemployment rate reached 37.2%.
These are unsettling figures in a country with a threadbare social safety net and the highest rate of extreme poverty in the world. Although the government has increased cash assistance programs in recent years, it spends just 0.28% of its Gross Domestic Product on social welfare programs, which end up covering only 7% of the population, according to the Conversation.
Meanwhile, water and sanitation infrastructure remain inadequate throughout the country, 13% of the population is homeless, and violence — both from armed groups and police — has increased in recent years. This is all on top of the global COVID-19 pandemic that has ravaged vulnerable communities and weakened economies, and a rapidly worsening climate crisis.
In these circumstances, the odds seem stacked against any young person wishing to improve their conditions.
But Oyindamola Adegboye, grants and special projects coordinator at the youth empowerment organization LEAP Africa, recognizes the boundless potential of the country’s youth if resources, funding, and leadership opportunities are made available to them.
“We really see leadership as a key factor toward ensuring that young people are included in the future of Africa,” she told Global Citizen. “There’s a leadership gap and it’s not because young people aren’t able or available. The opportunities are just not there.”
Young people have ideas and creativity, she said. They can innovate and uplift communities. With the right support, they can pull the country’s economy from its rut and set it up for the future.
Agriculture, in particular, is a sector that’s ripe for disruption from the country’s young minds. Already, the majority of the country’s population engages in agriculture in some capacity, but lack of access to essential inputs, logistical support, and additional resources makes it unappealing as a career option for young people. But with climate change getting worse and youth unemployment remaining a chronic challenge, the need to transform agriculture and turn into a promising and technologically adept field is only getting more urgent.
Global Citizen spoke with Adegboye as part of our partnership with the Ban Ki-moon Centre for Global Citizens to learn more about how agriculture and investing in young people’s health and education can help unlock the potential of Nigeria’s youth. Adegboye is currently a Ban Ki-moon Global Citizen Scholar.
Global Citizen: What are the primary drivers of youth unemployment in Nigeria?
Oyindamola Adegboye: In terms of the challenges that young people face when it comes to starting their careers, building their careers, there’s usually a very huge skills gap. We have a very high unemployment rate in Nigeria and, at the same time, we have a high youth population, the majority of whom are unemployed or underemployed. If we trace it, it comes down to a skills gap or the inefficiencies of the education system, which don’t adequately prepare people for work.
Our education system isn’t evolving as fast it should by adapting to global standards. That’s what's giving young people a disadvantage — the lack of soft skills like IT, critical thinking, collaboration, time management, and communication that the world is moving toward. We find that a lot of young people are coming out of school with certifications that they can't even use. So there's a gap where young people have to teach themselves these skills or adapt to the world of work as they go.
For Nigeria, the state of the economy is unstable. Insecurity is a big issue here. Economically and socially, there’s no financial security for young people, so they’re in a period where they’re struggling to transition to financial independence, where they can access health care, and grow in terms of social mobility. Young people face a lot of exclusion that's multifaceted, and when you juxtapose it with the state of insecurity, you see that these are linked. Young people are the most vulnerable when it comes to Boko Haram or armed gangs. They exist in the origin of each other — because the economy is not robust enough to accommodate their needs, they tend to take to these alternatives.
What structural investments need to be made to create better employment conditions for young people?
There needs to be investment in human capital and that means investment in terms of health — access to health services for young people, especially for women and girls. Education is also a part of it; not just going to school, but ensuring that those who are in school are learning. Nigeria has a very high rate of out-of-school children. We have 10.2 million children out of school. There’s also the problem of children in school not learning enough, so they don’t have enough experience to get jobs. It's not because there’s no supply of labor. The quality of labor doesn’t match the requirements of the job market, and that affects young people disproportionately. When the supply is too much, it puts a lot of power in the hands of the employers. Just because you get a job doesn't mean you’ll be paid what you deserve. If you can't do it, someone else will do it. It’s not really the ideal.
That investment in education makes young people more competitive, so they have more agency [and] they have stronger say in their career paths.
We need to create an enabling environment for young people trying to take an entrepreneurial route by making sure they have access to capital. There always seems to be flashy investments and policies for young people, but we’re not the ones managing these funds. A lot of interventions target young people, but we don’t have a seat at the table. So we need to ensure that policies are more inclusive. We need to truly be partners — not just beneficiaries, but active partners.
How is LEAP helping graduates find careers and vocations?
We’re all about the African youth. Our interventions are tailored to ensure young people have the skills they need to become not just self-leaders but also leaders within their communities.
A lot of interventions are focused on capacity-building to ensure that young people lead more healthy and productive lives. The I Lead program targets primary school students. It’s a fellowship program where students take a life and leadership course. They’re taught about different types of skills they’ll need to focus on and, beyond that, self-confidence and leadership.
We really see leadership as a key factor toward ensuring that young people are included in the future of Africa. There’s a leadership gap. It’s not because young people aren’t able or available. The opportunities are just not there.
We believe that when we have more ethical leaders, leadership comes from the communities. It starts from the bottom up. It's not based on position. When we have more values-based leaders in society, we will be better for it.
I work as a special projects coordinator. I’m really keen on helping young people have access to the capital and networks they need. LEAP is quite influential within the youth ecosystem. We’re really trying to position ourselves as an ecosystem so more youth are working together, and they’re not just working in silos.
A majority of youth groups do not see beyond five years because they don’t have access to the skills and capacity they need to thrive. A key priority for me is helping them get access to grants. We recently had a campaign where we gave 15 micro grants to young leaders across Africa to implement community change projects. When you give a young person funds, they’re very resourceful and creative.
We also had a partnership with a bank in Nigeria where we were able to give 1.5 million Naira to a young innovator who created a tech camp for girls. It’s a program targeted at young girls to teach them what they need to understand things like climate change and how they can be better managers. More than 100 girls were trained. They were able to rally around a lot of volunteers and they gained a lot of traction at the community level.
How can women be better supported to flourish in their careers?
I think women need more mentorship, more training, more empowerment. When it comes to actual access to funds and capital, women are far behind. When the tech startup system came to Africa, for example, women only got a small percentage of the money raised. What we find is that a lot of women don’t have access to training and funding, and when it comes to investor confidence, women are still lagging behind. When dealing with power structures, we need more women managing the money and accessing the money. Women often deliver better results. Women-led orgs tend to do better, or tend to do well.
There is potential to do better. Women leaders tend to really reflect on how they can scale deeply, so they really work with communities. There's also a desire to see more women succeed. Women leaders also tend to deliver more gender equitable outcomes. There's so much more that we haven't been able to see because women have not been given funding. We just need to give women more access to capital.
We also need to ensure that we’re including them in terms of decision-making, so they have actual influence when it comes to how resources are invested. We need more women in power.
Agriculture plays a major role in the Nigerian economy, but why are young people largely veering away from profession?
A lot of young people perceive agriculture as something that’s not very modern. They’re leaving the rural areas for urban areas for more white collar jobs. It’s number one, a perception challenge just in terms of how agriculture is perceived. It's associated with the informal sector. A lot of people say, “I didn't go to school to become a farmer.” In terms of just changing that narrative — because agriculture has a role to play in Nigeria — I would say that we have to make it look more competitive, more lucrative for young people. Young people need to know that they can make a career in this field.
If you show them there’s a future for them in this career, agriculture can deliver for people.
How are young people transforming agriculture in Nigeria and across Africa?
The sector would benefit from a lot of mechanization and formalizing certain aspects of it, like access to land and access to inputs. We also can't separate the future of agriculture from technology. There’s been a growth of ag-tech [agricultural technology] in recent years and it’s mostly driven by young people who have been able to demonstrate that there’s a lot of value. Since a lot of farmers don’t have formal education, there's a lot of gaps when it comes to record-keeping — for example, a person may be keeping the records for a family farm in their head. So just being able to bring better tools and systems to the agriculture sector leads to better results.
We’ve seen a number of youth-led ag-tech companies raising funds, so there’s a future for young people here, there’s a lot of potential. Not everyone needs to focus on one sector. There's a lot of opportunity in the agricultural sector but we have entrepreneurial young people who become cobblers or bag makers and they use digital tools and platforms to sell their goods.
If we have more young people taking interest in this sector, there's a lot of innovation they can bring. The youths have over time turned what seemed like a challenge into innovation. So long as there is enough incentive to go into this sector, I see them bringing solutions.
How can young people both develop resilience in the face of today’s challenges — from climate change to the pandemic to extreme inequality — and also set the foundation for a new, more equitable tomorrow?
Developing resilience for young people really is something that we now require to succeed. The world is rapidly changing. A lot of things are happening faster. Resilience is being able to adapt and remain relevant, being able to recognize priorities, even as things change. So for young people it's important to stay abreast of trends [and] to stay connected — not just knowing what happened on the internet, but also staying connected to people around you, being abreast of the situations around you, how things in other countries are connected to yours. A lot of people in Nigeria might not see climate change as a major problem, but that’s only because they’re not seeing the floods. You need to be connected to the realities around you, not just in your country, but around the world. That's what it means to be a global citizen. Whatever problems you're facing at a smaller, local level have implications at the global level.
The future we speak about — we cannot fully participate in it if we’re not connected, if we’re not ready to continue to inform ourselves and be respectful of other people's rights and opinions. That’s how we’re able to be better, more sensitive leaders. The challenges we face are a common human challenge and our shared humanity is a key understanding toward building resilience.