The Chief Executive Officer of Savvycorp Limited, Mr. Okey Ezeh, speaks with Kunle Aderinokun on factors affecting job creation in Nigeria and the country’s peculiar place among the MINT countries…
The theme of the 24th World Economic Forum on Africa, which ended last week in Abuja, was “Forging Inclusive Growth, Creating Jobs”. How apt was this theme given the current economic realities in the country today?
Growth is a means to an end rather than an end on its own. Growth should not just be about some arcane statistical juggling act. It should be the proverbial horse that drives the cart of development. It should translate to the existential realities of citizens as measured by living standards, level of self-esteem needs, freedom from oppression and even the quality and scope of choices. On paper, Nigeria is one of the fastest growing emerging markets, but also one of the most abysmal performers on the Human Poverty Index. I think the theme reflects a consciousness by government to correct this seeming paradox.
There is the notion that there is a dearth of skilled manpower in Nigeria despite the large army of unemployed people in the country. Do you not think this is a dis-incentive to creating jobs?
I totally agree that the quality of skilled manpower in Nigeria has plummeted over the years and I really do not think there is any prize for guessing the cause. Our educational system, now comatose, has been in a freefall for years and it is an illusion for anyone to dream economic development without a quality public educational system. I see no strong nexus between the quantum of jobs that can be created and the quality of available manpower.
We are not talking about hi-tech jobs here. All that we need to revolutionise the employment situation is to go back to the basics. Fiscal discipline, improved infrastructure and sustained investments in agriculture and education can lift a significant percentage of the population out of the poverty trap within 10 years. When you pull people out of poverty, you would have empowered them with greater choices even in job placements and required skill-sets that will drive production.
Do you think Nigeria’s place among the MINT countries is well-deserved?
Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey share certain developmental features compelling enough for Jim O’Neil to coin the MINT acronym but the fact still remains that each country has its own uniqueness that it must manage to greatness. Nigeria is easily the most unstable in that group, stranded as it were in a region where civil strifes and military campaigns are more rife than trade blocs and economic co-operation.
Its inclusion in the MINT bloc could actually spur it to finally assert itself in the global economy as an important investment destination. Our demographics and other endowments favour a rapid-fire transition from a struggling economy to an economic star performer so long as the necessary variables are made to jell.
There is the school of thought that fiscal discipline is difficult to maintain in Nigeria because of our peculiar governmental structure that is institutionally unwieldy and too expensive to operate. Do you subscribe to this view?
There is nothing peculiar about the Nigerian governmental configuration. We did not invent the presidential system of government that we practice.
If anything, we have the benefit of learning from the success stories of other countries that have operated a similar system but with more salutory outcomes. Epileptic power, rampant corruption, piracy, oil theft, kidnapping and creeping terrorism are far more devastating to the polity and there is not yet any empirical evidence suggesting that these evils are direct consequences of Nigeria’s experiment with the presidential system of government.
What we need to make progress is to enthrone strong institutional safeguards that will ensure that the nation’s resources are consistently put to use for the good of the greater number of our citizens.
Do you agree with the recent rebasing exercise carried out by the National Bureau of Statistics that revised the calculation benchmark of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in such a way that Nigeria now surpasses all other countries in the continent?
In all fairness, I do not think that the purpose of that exercise was just to produce figures to trump all of Nigeria’s competitors, notably, South Africa. There was a real need to review the calculation benchmark given that the parameters had been left untouched since 1990 – a whopping 24 years during which period the economy had radically metamorphosed. For instance, 1990 Nigeria had no telecommunications industry or Nollywood to speak of and it would have been a big travesty to continue to measure economic output on a model that excludes these significant game-changers. That said, I do not think that the pronouncement that our economy is the largest in Africa should evoke any chest-beating. It should actually serve as a wake-up call to all Nigerians as to what the country can actually become if we remove the shackles that have perenially held the country down from achieving her true destiny. Massive infrastructural improvements, good governance, higher living standards and secure environment would actually cement the country as the destination of choice for anyone looking to invest in the continent. It is only then we can roll out drums to celebrate.