The End SARS protests in Lagos and 11 other cities across Nigeria in the past two weeks are just a symptom of the country’s several problems. Corruption, poor governance, and a weak economy are among the problems. Police brutality, a major threat to their right to live, was the trigger of the young protesters’ grievance.
Other problems such as a gnawing generational gap and trust deficit, are important in understanding the protesters. Differences in opinions and distrust were the reasons youths insisted that their demand for police reform be met before they leave the streets.
The peaceful protests began to turn ugly after soldiers fired at protesters at the Lekki Toll Gate resulting in the widespread vandalization of properties. Earlier, other youths attacked the protesters in some parts of the country.
However, crime and insecurity were not considered the most pressing problem facing young Nigerians according to a 2013 Afrobarometer survey. The lack of jobs was the major concern among the two groups surveyed (15 to 24-year-olds, and those 25 years above).
Nigerians between the ages of 15 and 34 form the bulk (75%) of the 80 million working population – over half have either never attended primary school or have only been to secondary school. Unemployment is also highest among 15 to 34-year-olds – 64% of the 22m unemployed Nigerians, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.
The economy of Nigeria is also failing its young and most productive workforce. Nigeria no longer earns as much as it did from oil and whatever it earns is insufficient to generate enough jobs. Productive jobs that raise the standard of living and reduce poverty can be generated in cities.
Cities can generate the millions of productive jobs urgently needed in Nigeria, if they have the necessary infrastructure that spur trade, connectivity and growth. In a yet to be published report, Danne Institute for Research highlights the link between connectivity and productivity in Lagos.
“The inadequacy of job opportunities is at the core of high poverty levels, regional inequality, and social and political unrest in Nigeria” says a 2015 World Bank report: More, and More Productive, Jobs for Nigeria: A Profile of Work and Workers.
The report also notes that Nigeria must generate 40 to 50 million productive jobs between 2010 and 2030. With the decline in income from oil, the mainstay of the government revenues, these jobs will come mainly from Nigeria’s cities says another World Bank report: From Oil to Cities: Nigeria's Next Transformation.
From Kano to Port Harcourt and from Onitsha to Lagos, Nigerian cities are urbanising rapidly. All are under a lot of pressure to generate jobs. Especially Lagos; young people flock there from the other parts of the country and rural areas in search of a better life.
In other economies that have urbanised successfully, rural-urban migration is usually caused by high productivity in agriculture. The excess labour that can no longer be employed on farms move to the cities. In the city, labour-intensive manufacturing jobs absorb the influx of youth from the rural areas.
Lagos best illustrates this unusual economic development trend whereby the pace of population growth in the city is unmatched by better living standards in the form of productive jobs.
In Nigeria, most people head to the cities because of poverty not because there are no jobs on the farm. Many Nigerian city dwellers are poorly paid and unproductive in the three sectors that employ most workers: services, wholesale and retail trade, and agriculture.
The share and contribution of manufacturing to the economy has been minimal and inconsistent. It has wavered for years, constrained by poor infrastructure (roads, rails and electricity).
For factories to generate the labour-intensive jobs Nigeria urgently needs in order to reduce poverty and unemployment, infrastructure in cities must improve.
Because factories are in the cities, they have access to markets for workers, suppliers and consumers of their products, locally, regionally and internationally. The advantages of location and proximity to a large market are what make companies scale their operations. As they expand, new entrants are attracted into the business which increases competition and improves productivity.
Location on its own, however, is not an advantage. Wherever companies may be based, they need transport infrastructure that gives access to workers, supplies and consumers. In other words, the better connected a city is the more productive it is. And the more productive a city is, the more poverty reducing jobs it generates. All of which minimises the risks of social and political unrest.