Monday, 23 January 2012

Our Problem, our solution

From the archives (First published in 2007)
During the previous weeks two widely publicized comments on unemployment rate in Nigeria by two political figures caught my attention. I wish to join issues with both of them on the bases of national discussion.
First, I find it absolutely escapist the views of the Hon. Minister of Education on the high level of unemployment in Nigeria. Obiageli Ezekwesiri had heaped the blame on the poor educational system inherited from the colonial masters. She went further to emphasize that the education legacy left behind by the British was not constructed to meet the present demand. In her words “British education left a lot of people in the country educated without any entrepreneurial skills. The British education focuses more on training an individual to be all round gentleman without inculcating in him the necessary entrepreneurial skills to help him take initiatives by himself to survive in a highly competitive world” “The only business the products of the British education system could do was targeted at the public treasury”
I laughed when I read the views of the minister in the paper. I hope those were her personal views and not those of the federal government of Nigeria. The minister’s views raises a lot of questions and are grossly misleading.
It baffles me why for over 46years of National independence we are still not dependent. If Nigeria, is truly independent, then, why those parochial views from a high ranking minister of the federal republic.
Yes, the British were our colonial masters, but then who were our indigenous masters post independence in 1960? If our indigenous leadership failed to see through imperfection in systems inherited from the colonial lords and fail to correct them, whose fault? Have we not amended our constitution severally and have kept tilting our educational system and curricula over the years?
For a whopping four decades and half now, Nigerians, have seen a lot of evolution in the nation’s body polity. Three administrative regions have become 36states.The population has increased immensely from less than 60million at independence to over 120million today. The level of infrastructure has relatively improved from what it was, same for many other things. As at independence we had no indigenous university, but today we have got well over 50 with many polytechnics and colleges of agriculture, education and technology etc.
I do not see the unemployment level in Nigeria as a product of any inherited legacy from any colonial master. If the Hon. Minister insists on that, then permit me to ask why there is little or no professional unemployment in the UK? It is also germane to remind her that UK runs one of the most robust economies in the world. Uk’s educational institutions are spots of intellectual and capacity building attractions to all sorts of people from all races who come from different parts of the world including the United States, Canada, China, Korea, Japan and Africa.
The high unemployment rate in Nigeria is solely the creation of our post-independence leaders. Our leaders refused to plan for the rainy day. It is a product of official but latent insouciance, insincerity and corruption in government.
People with questionable character, lacking in vision and porous integrity have ruled and ruined this potentially great country. Attributing it remotely or directly to colonial rule that ended 46 years ago is not only escapist but mischievous.
Perhaps we need to compare notes. In the UK today students can access loans to go to school and can only pay on securing a job on graduation with a salary of about GBP15, 000 per annum. There are also lots of scholarship grants and bursary. In the UK, most universities are running entrepreneurial studies. Business writing competitions are annual events for students at the university and district levels. Winners are handsomely rewarded with cash as much as GBP40, 000 in addition to the expertise of a coach to groom the enterprise.
In Britain of today, the 13th-19th of November of every year is observed as the National enterprise week. This event is always a nationwide celebration observed to inspire people to turn their ideas into reality. This event reverberates with pump in all universities with activities like workshops and presentations by successful entrepreneurs on critical topic such as; Starting your on business, Business planning, The highs and lows of having your own business, Market research etc. It normally kicks off the local Business plan Competition which is opened to student on either individual or team basis.
There is also the Research Council’s UK Business Plan Competition. The competition is open to researchers based in the UK Higher Education Institutions (HEI’s) or Public Sector Research Establishments (PSRE) from across the whole spectrum of academic research within the remits of the eight UK Research Councils-from the arts and biosciences, to environmental, physical and social sciences to technology. Postgraduates, postdocs and academic staff who have a business idea arising from research and want to develop this further are encouraged to participate. The aim of the competition is to help researchers turn great research into great business.
British banks ranging from Barclays, Natwest and HSBC etc have serious and functional portfolios that work with, encourage and groom entrepreneurs from the idea stage to start-ups and progressively. They have adequate funds to support entrepreneurs and clearly spelt out rules for these supports. Information on accessing this facility is always handy. There is no cutting of corners.
So, what are we lamenting over? The British are very dynamic and have advanced light years ahead. Why are we stuck? Why we are still held 46years behind? These should be the kernel of the matter and not the other way round. I would have been happy to see the minister talk about the mysterious SMIESS funds for SME’s and how possibly to enable graduate entrepreneurs benefit from it without bottlenecks instead of making empty blames.
There is no doubt that Nigeria is still a virgin investment destination. All sectors of the economy need to be maximally developed and this could only be done by entrepreneurs. But they must be groomed and encouraged. Vital sectors that need the ‘invasion’ of entrepreneurs include health, agriculture, aviation, ICT, waste management, water, sanitation, education and news media etc. There is therefore an urgent need to build a collaborative synergy or partnership between the industries and the schools in Nigeria.
The second issue that caught my attention was an interview granted the press by the Deputy Governor of Imo State, Engr.Ebere Udeagu. He had promised on that interview to turn unemployed graduates into employers of labor if elected the Imo State Governor in 2007.
I was desirous to find out how he intended to achieve that in this era of drab political manifestoes. I thank him for his views at least for acknowledging the seriousness of the problem though I was least convinced on the efficacy of his suggestions.
Engr.Udeagu was of the opinion that unemployed youths will be supported with loans to embrace farming. He also saw good sense in setting up industrial clusters to be supported by banks in Imo State. He drew attention to the Imo state government owned redemption farm at Nekede as a model that could do the magic. He admitted being a farmer himself by his ownership of a rice farm.
Unfortunately, the Songhai farm in question suffered a still-birth. It never really took off and has ever remained in coma. It was killed by greed and over exploitation of a sole administrator initially appointed to oversee it. Despite the huge funds available to government and the amount so far committed into the farm, Songhai farm Nekede near Owerri is a very poor replica of the mother farm in Porto Novo, Republic du Benin. At the Owerri farm today, the animators have severely been emasculated, they are ill-motivated, the farm is overgrown with grasses, stores and stocks are empty, the units are no longer functional etc. Moreover how many jobs did Songhai farm sustainably create for Imo youths?
I doubt if Udeagu claims ignorance of the deliberate decay his boss has left the farm after it was severely sucked to death by a man Friday. So, what purpose will it serve as a model? I think the Deputy Governor should privately visit the farm before pontificating from the cozy comforts of his high office.
However I wish to let the deputy governor know that the solution to unemployment is not mass farming. All unemployed youth cannot all embrace farming. People are still entitled to choice and options such as his choice to succeed his boss instead of returning to his rice mill. Should those lacking interest in farming be abandoned because of their options, No!
Let all those interested in agriculture be properly motivated, same for those interested in other areas of human endeavor. There should be a fair and just employment system put in place especially in the public sector. There should also be entrepreneurial education for graduates and undergraduates alike. There should be fewer emphases on politics and its ostentatious trappings. Corruption and graft in government should be extirpated to enable the adequate provision of infrastructure that could support entrepreneurs.
A synergy or partnership with banks is okay but where is the road map? Giving loans or grants to unemployed youths to start business without training and a measure of competence would be wasteful. I have said it before, and will repeat it again that our youths must as a first step be coached on writing business plans as an en route to acquiring entrepreneurial skills. Soft loans or grants should be part of the package but should be duly released in tranches based on the ability of the entrepreneur to meet mutually agreed milestone. Banks and other established companies should be made part of these entrepreneurial activities as a hallmark of their corporate social responsibility to the nation.
Perhaps it is high time we set milestones in this country. We could measure this on number of jobs created. For example, let us know how many new businesses that were started by every bank at the end of each banking year, same for other companies and the government. I will be happy to hear Chief Achike Udenwa, the outgoing governor of my state read a list of small but potentially great private businesses he funded or supported as a gain from his industrialization policy as anchored on his tripod vision. Chief Udeagu can aspire to improve on that with a convincing methodology. I challenge every other governor elsewhere to do the same. This extends to President Obasanjo and even the local council chairmen.
Traveling to China to invite Chinese to come and invest here is a futile exercise, same for invitation to other nationalities because their response may not be timely. It is only our creativity, dexterity and commitment that can timely open up our markets. We have both the human and material capital to do that but they sadly remain to be positively exploited.
Please enough of platitudes!

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