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Lift embargo on employment

The Federal Government of Nigeria needs to urgently review and lift its ban on recruitment into the Federal Civil Service. This call has become necessary…

The Federal Government of Nigeria needs to urgently review and lift its ban on recruitment into the Federal Civil Service. This call has become necessary due to the rising unemployment rates in the country. Following the government’s embargo on recruitment into the civil service in 2020, a report by Bloomberg, published on March 15, 2021, titled ‘Nigeria Unemployment Rate Rises to 33% Second Highest on Global List’, indicated that Nigeria’s unemployment rates witnessed a steep climb, becoming the second highest in the world in the list of countries surveyed for the report. For Africa’s largest economy, this is unacceptable.

During one of its recent sessions, the House of Representatives renewed the call for the federal government to rescind its ban on employment in the federal civil service. Representative Francis Waive (APC, Delta), who moved the motion had argued that: “For several years, there has not been any employment in the civil service of the federation, thereby creating a shortage of manpower, especially in the junior and middle-level cadres as officers are promoted and some retire and others die.

“Some agencies have resorted to engaging casual staff who are paid from their Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) and other sources.”

Obviously, this model, and the fallout of not refreshing the civil service, is dire for the country and its smooth running. Over the years, we have seen secret recruitments being done, with a handful of favoured people securing positions due to corruption or nepotism. None of these is healthy for the service in particular and the polity as a whole.

While the ban has been on for several years, it was reinforced in March 2020, when the federal government tied its decision to the COVID-19 pandemic and a failing economy. In 2021, the former Minister of Labour, Dr Chris Ngige, was reported as saying that the embargo was simply because the “economy was not doing well.” 

The government’s lack of specificity on this claim has not helped to explain the situation. But the rising unemployment rate, which, according to Q1, 2023 data by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) stands at 4.1 per cent, with youth unemployment at 6. 9 per cent, the rising criminality and desperation amongst Nigerians of working age alongside the present hardship in the country, should be a wake-up call for the government.

The need to lift the ban is even more expedient considering the fact that the Nigerian system is largely centralized, and the private sector is highly disincentivized due to poor infrastructure—poor roads, power supply and security—a weak naira and non-amiable policy environment. 

Alongside the utter collapse of the local government system, where recruitment of public servants has grounded to a halt, the scale of the problem becomes even more evident. Considering how meagre the payment is, with labour currently negotiating for a higher minimum wage, which in the face of the current high cost of living in the country and the extremely high dependency ratio (86 per cent) is necessary, we can understand the pressure an employed Nigerian is under and how the government’s decision to embargo employment will not only escalate poverty for those not employed but delay any prospect of many Nigerians crawling out of poverty.

Our education system is still primarily structured to produce graduates designed to fit into the public service system rather than highly skilled individuals who could strike out on their own or be attractive prospects for the undernourished private sector struggling to survive the harsh realities of operating in the country.

Repealing the ban on employment will help alleviate the poverty in many households by creating a source of income for the employed; it will also help the government drive some of its programmes to develop a more efficient system of running and administering the country. As the president, Bola Tinubu, promised in his inaugural speech, he has the idea of creating one million jobs in the digital economy.

While this is a commendable aspiration, the chances of that plan succeeding will be connected to the availability of an efficient civil service. It is obvious that because of the training the potential recruits have had, not all of them can fit into the digital economy. Therefore, the government must be more creative about creating job opportunities, and this creativity must extend to the state and local government. The simplistic argument is that an army of unemployed youths is a fertile recruitment ground for criminals and terrorists, who have plagued the country in recent years. Simplistic as it seems, the argument holds true.

Therefore, we call on the federal government to unequivocally rescind the ban on employment, ensure a system of transparent recruitment into the service and alleviate the poverty and suffering Nigerians are going through. The government cannot insist on a ban when indeed, its ministries, agencies and departments are in need of manpower. That is counterproductive.


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