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Teenage girls in northern Nigeria assemble Legos during a STEM class.

Female students assemble Legos during a robotics STEM programme by Kabara NGO in Kano, Nigeria.

Not Just Statistics: Why We Need to Overcome Youth Unemployment in Nigeria

blog Joint Futures 04, 28.09.2023

Nigeria’s youth is rapidly growing – a significant promise for the country’s future, but a currently untapped potential due to high unemployment. Obiageli “Oby” Ezekwesili, former Minister of Education, explains how Abuja and Berlin could work together to empower youth.


Africa has the world’s youngest and fastest-growing population. This is particularly evident in Nigeria, where nearly two-thirds of our 220 million people are under the age of 25. Nigeria’s future, both as a nation and a key player on the African continent, indisputably hinges on its youth. But high unemployment and underemployment rates hinder their progress. Empowering them is crucial for their active political and economic participation. To that end, Nigeria and Germany are intensifying their joint commitment in three essential areas: skills development, supporting young entrepreneurs and promoting political engagement.

What is the problem?

Nigeria’s burgeoning youth population stands at a crossroads. They signify both a beacon of hope and a source of concern. We see a demographic dividend waiting to be unlocked, and with it a generation that can actively drive economic growth as well as social progress in our country. This youth cohort is a reservoir of untapped energy, creativity and innovation. Recent elections have also shown what a significant voting bloc they form. Half of the 93.5 million eligible voters were below the age of 35.

At the same time, the World Bank reported an unemployment rate of 13.4 per cent in 2022. The National Bureau of Statistics even gave a much higher estimate – 53.4 per cent – for that same year. These are not just statistics. High youth unemployment is a harbinger of social disenchantment, unrest and the underutilisation of human capital, all of which can have severe consequences for the nation’s stability and prosperity. The second problem is underemployment, a situation in which workers only hold seasonal or short-term positions that do not allow for financial stability and predictability.

This leads to the disillusionment of individuals in our population, but it also has broader societal implications: High youth unemployment can contribute to rising crime rates, political instability and a host of other challenges that can impede the nation’s progress.

What we can do about it together

It is imperative that we empower Nigeria’s youth and strategically invest in their skills and labour market access. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO) concrete initiatives such as vocational training and job placement services can kick-start positive change in labour markets. Germany has a wealth of experience and expertise in these areas that it could bring to the table when looking for ways to increase cooperation with Nigeria. Some key areas where we could cooperate and share best practices are:

  1. Skills Development: Germany and Nigeria should continue to establish vocational training centres and opportunities to equip young Nigerians with essential skills. It is crucial to customize these programmes based on the current needs of and trends in local and regional industries. Germany’s successful vocational training system can serve as a valuable best practice when designing solutions that are suitable for Nigeria. Additionally, by focussing on STEM education, we can invest in accessible digital learning platforms and other technological infrastructure to align education programmes with industry requirements.
  1. Supporting Young Entrepreneurs: To harness the entrepreneurial spirit of the Nigerian youth, both countries should support their aspirations of starting their own companies by providing much needed funding opportunities. Support for young entrepreneurs should cover seed funding, while accompanying network programmes could offer mentorship and access to global markets, fostering a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem. A particular focus should be placed on promoting green and sustainable business practices, supporting the transition to clean energy, biodiversity and conservation efforts, and sustainable agriculture.
  1. Promoting Political Participation and Youth Governance: Young voters in Nigeria already constitute a significant voting bloc, and their political influence will only grow in the future. Nigeria and Germany have the opportunity to collaborate on promoting youth participation in politics. Berlin can broaden exchange programmes between youth leaders and youth parliaments, emphasizing democratic values and practices. It is crucial to prioritize models that emphasize youth representation and engagement in politics.


Obiageli “Oby” Ezekwesili is an economic and public policy expert, advisor, advocate and activist. She is a former vice president for the World Bank’s Africa region (2007–2012) and previously served as Nigerian Federal Minister of Solid Minerals (2005–2006) and Federal Minister of Education (2006–2007).

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