Crime is rampant in Nigeria. The effects extend beyond the mounting sense of insecurity to a growing perception of instability that will impact the country’s economic prospects. For instance, the United States Department of State has a Level 3 travel advisory on Nigeria that cautions Americans to “reconsider travel” to the country.
This rating is due to rising crime, terrorism, kidnapping, civil unrest, and piracy in the Gulf of Guinea. Data from the Nigeria Human Casualties Database tracked by Nextier SPD show a 71 per cent increase in overall human casualties from January to October 2020.
The proliferation of small arms and light weapons (SALW) has worsened the country’s crime situation. A 2017 United Nations report estimates that there are about 350 million SALWs in Nigeria, 70 per cent of the estimate for West Africa. The various conflicts raging across the country fuel the problem: Islamic insurgency, farmer-herder conflicts, rural banditry, kidnapping, etc. These conflicts have triggered an industrial scale loss of lives and property across the country.
Why do people turn to crime? Becker (1968) offered that a person commits an offence if the expected utility exceeds the benefits derivable from other uses of his time and other resources. Therefore, people become criminals not as a result of different motivations but because of different cost-benefit ratios. Another perspective offered by Ted Gurr (1970) is ‘relative deprivation,’ which explains that violence derives from the discrepancy between what people think they deserve and what they think they can get. How do these theories fit into the Nigerian context?
Nigeria is abundantly blessed with natural resources but remains the poverty capital of the world. Unemployment is a significant issue in the country. According to data from the National Bureau of Statistics (2020), the unemployment rate increased from 23.1 per cent (2018) to 27.1 per cent (2020). Similarly, the youth unemployment rate increased from 29.7 per cent (2018) to 34.9 per cent (2020). Indeed, Nigeria is not able to create enough jobs. According to the World Bank, Nigeria created only 450,000 new jobs in 2018, dropping from the 700,000 jobs created in 2017.
Every year, many Nigerian graduates enter a saturated job market. In 2018, over 90 per cent of the 9.7 million unemployed Nigerians with no income source were first-time job-seekers (NBS, 2018). Many of these individuals seek subsistence employment while faced with rising living costs in an unequal society with a weak social welfare system. Using Ted Gurr’s prism, this may heighten the appeal of criminality or some level of deviance.
Drawing a link between unemployment and crime is not a novel concept. Research on this topic shows mixed results, but have mostly been positive concerning property crime (Lee, 2017; Entorf and Spengler 2000; Wu and Wu 2012). Similar research conducted in Nigeria delivers a positive correlation (Tambari, Imoh-Ita, Imoh, 2016; Femi, Dana, Ayibaabi, 2015). A review of the link between famines and crime rates shows that poverty resulting from unemployment could push individuals into crime (Papaionnou, 2017). Whether that remains the motivation is another debate.
An increased focus on job creation could curb the growing incidence of crime. The private sector is (and should be) the job creation engine, although the onus is on the government to create an enabling environment. Government-funded Public Works Programmes (PWPs) create jobs that can get many unemployed on the employment ladder.
For instance, the Federal Government of Nigeria plans to recruit about 1,000 persons from each of the 774 Local Government Areas from October to December 2020. As of the end of October 2020, there is no evidence that the government will meet this goal. However, this is still one way to get some Nigerians gainfully employed working on the current administration’s proposed infrastructure projects. While this is laudable, it is not a sustainable solution to the unemployment problem in Nigeria. The government must deliver the macro-economic conditions that will trigger the creation of sustainable jobs by the private sector.
Notwithstanding, countries have used similar programmes to create jobs. For instance, South Africa established the Community Work Programme (CWP) to address structural unemployment in the country. It is a long-term public employment programme that focuses on ensuring that participants can move up the ladder into further work opportunities or entrepreneurship.
An analysis of the impact of the CWP in one of the pilot sites showed that it had played a decisive role in preventing conflict and violence in that community (Bruce, 2015). PWPs, like the one proposed for Nigeria, should be community-focused and offer employment in areas that contribute to the public good, and ensure that the programme equips the participants to take advantage of opportunities even after it has ended.
Private organisations have a significant role in job creation. Take a look at the Niger Delta region. International oil companies’ activities have had adverse impacts on the region, leaving a strong sense of discontent among the people. These are impacts not observed in other western countries where these companies operate (Oluwatoyin, 2018).
Such activities have fuelled crime in the region. Like these companies, the private sector has an important role to play regarding unemployment across the country. This contribution may be through apprenticeship programmes, training programmes, or community development programmes that target at-risk youths. Poverty Action Lab (2017) provides evidence that targeting at-risk youth with such programmes reduces crime incidents. The job programmes should address community-specific needs.
Employability of the target population is another issue to be addressed. The government of El Salvador launched a safety net programme, PATI, to provide short-term income support to vulnerable individuals in urban areas and to increase their medium-term employability. Participants would receive income-support only if they participated in training opportunities, community work projects, labour market orientation courses, etc. (World Bank, 2018).
An evaluation of this programme showed that it led to a decrease in crime rates. It is not enough to provide only income support or salaries. An effective programme must also ensure that individuals are employable after the interventions have ended or that these individuals can move up the ladder to better jobs or into entrepreneurship.
For individuals to become entrepreneurs, there has to be a favourable environment for business formation and growth. The government can create this environment by providing low-interest business loans to entrepreneurs, creating educational programmes on entrepreneurship, improving the accessibility of information, increasing government protection, creating support programmes that target entrepreneurs, etc.
However, several Nigerian governments implemented variants of these programmes without a dent in the unemployment problem. Without an impact assessment of the programmes, there is no factual evidence on successes, failures, and improvement areas. Such assessments should be a priority before the government embarks on creating more of such programmes. For instance, while the recent establishment of the Nigeria Youth Investment Fund (NYIF) is a welcome development, there is no evidence-based method to decide what programmes to prioritise.
Support for the informal sector is critical to success. Nigeria’s informal sector is estimated by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to constitute about 60 per cent of the economy. The government can invest in this sector through low-cost training platforms connecting experts and trainees, by improving access to credit through loans and grants and addressing the infrastructural deficit (Proshare, 2018).
Many of the Federal Government of Nigeria’s programmes that aim to reduce youth unemployment have not achieved the desired outcome. This challenge is due to weak policy conception and management, duplication of initiatives, poor implementation, lack of long-term planning, and inadequate monitoring and evaluation (Abah, 2017).
Job creation requires targeted steps by the federal government and the state and local governments. The latter must be involved to ensure the resolution of issues peculiar to their communities. It is also imperative that these solutions address the employment issue and create sustainable pathways for individuals to create wealth. Nigeria can curb its crime problem by ensuring that millions of Nigerians are gainfully employed. These jobs will be created by providing individuals with options on how to get off the unemployment ranks and become gainfully employed. This result will require collaboration between the public and private sectors.