Now that the clouds are clear, we know to which direction those who have been handed our economy want to take us. At least, we now know they are pursuing serious fiscal discipline that focuses on reducing wastage that our bloated government is synonymous with. In other words, they want to return our prodigal civil masters to their true names: civil servants.
In their lean government agenda we hear they not only intend to give the 400 agencies right-sized low-cut, but also fully overhaul the civil service itself.
Finally, they want full-blown personnel and competence auditing undertaken, with deadwood such as ghost workers and unqualified staff removed.
Also rightly loud-spoken is their job creation agenda.
But after the news excitement come doubts about how possible it will be in today’s globalisation. I’m also worried about how on earth a government that has fully handed its business activities to ferocious profit-maximizing and job-shredding private sector now wants to lead job creation! Making it even more worrisome is how this can happen in the world’s leading corrupt country - a country known to lack transparency and rule of law. Can genuinely transparent business flourish in such an unfriendly business atmosphere? I’m more curious about how millions of jobs can be created in such absence of venture financiers as well as lack of startup service and management support providers.
But making this job creation agenda more unreal is that it is being discussed in the world’s number one porous economic space, where local smugglers, foreign substandard product dumpers, and customs service are all feasting on the carcasses of manufacturers and small business owners. With such chocking unequal competition that puts off genuine risk-takers, one wonders: where are those remaining fools ready to lose their money in startup ventures rather than keep it in the bank for 25%? Wouldn’t they too prefer importing cheap and substandard products from China and India? With business models that have no interest in risky SMEs, banks too are not helping matters, as they invest mostly in imports and contracts.
So, the question of how we can change this very culture of ‘make it quick’ and ‘spend it big’ arises, since venture businesses need lots of nurturing to take off, stabilize, and grow. In a country where politics and government contracts are the most profitable business, how does government want people to bet their money on risky venture with low returns on investment?
But how sincere are we when talking about small business-led job creation with the very vessel leading it completely grounded? Or, can moribund SMEDAN fully buried in byzantine civil service bureaucracy offer what it doesn’t have? Can such agency infested with organisational, operational, and technical bug, lacking the best and the brightest professionals with the right mix of professions and aptitude be expected to provide such daily multitasking empowerment and mentoring services? That will mean wanting a blind man to lead another blind man.
Even if we leave these problems alone, can we also gloss over the country’s wrecked infrastructure, given the critical role it plays in making the business sector efficient and competitive? Of course, there’s no greater single business killer in today’s Nigeria than businesses providing themselves power, water, roads, security, etc. But for how long will this mammoth list of hurdles go on before we say we’ve had enough?
Let me be clear here. I don’t doubt the new economic team’s genuineness. Surely, their hurry to fix the economy is the urgency to pull us out of the deadly economic quicksand before it becomes too late. But what they’ve not considered (or not made public) is: from where will the money come? After all, even as daunting as creating millions of jobs could be, more daunting remains finding the money to make it happen.
Okay, yes, belt-tightening will free up some money from our bloated recurrent expenditure, which burns over 70% of the budget. But can that squeeze out the kind of money we’re talking about here to drive the transformation? If we’re sincere here, we better agree it’s only a drop in the ocean.
Since we don’t want this transformation enthusiasm to vanish, we better get bold and real here. That is, let’s now recognise that having an economic sovereignty means, above all, serving our national interests first before thinking about the rest of the world. Every great nation does this. Since we agree that it is now time to look beyond conventional economics and theories, let us also agree too that it is time we boldly dipped our hands into the country’s 37 billion barrels oil reserves. In other words, we should muster the courage to sell off about 10 billion barrels so as generate about a trillion dollars in revenue.
Should this mean exiting OPEC? We wouldn’t have problem with this since those who created it did so not because of our interests but because they needed it as strategic counterbalancing force against Soviet oil power during the cold war, which is gone with the cold war. The only thing we should stay away from is trying to exit the petrodollar imperium since that means opposing the US.
With a trillion dollars in government kitty, the economic team’s job will become much easier. In fact, their job will become more than half done with all the economic and social reengineering agenda taking off smoothly. It makes country’s modern venture capital take off too. So will our army of entrepreneurs be able to harness their entrepreneurial gifts! In short, such money will make all our shelved big dreams, including establishing a Nigerian Rapid Industrialization Commission, a Nigerian Industrialization Trust Fund, an Entrepreneurial Bank of Nigeria, and a Farmers’ Bank of Nigeria begin rolling out of their hidden places. Government can now afford establishing specialized industrial parks across the country, as well as government building strategic factories and industries and handing them to capable Nigerians who run them while, with full repayment of the industrial mortgage, become owners.
As entrepreneur’s lender of last resort, the Entrepreneurial Bank of Nigeria will go about providing seed money, equity financing, funds administration, financial advisement, and counseling, as well as investment and financial accounting education to budding entrepreneurs. Of course, with over $50bn made available to Farmers’ Bank of Nigeria, small farmers across the country will begin to get money for farmland purchases, farm constructions, farm improvements, as well as farm-based debts refinancing. Its vast soft loan outlays will benefit farmers purchasing livestock, equipment, feed, seed, and other farm inputs.
With a trillion dollars, Nigeria becomes the infrastructure upgrading and expansion hub of the world. And the establishment of a Nigerian National Engineering and Construction Company to lead this unprecedented infrastructure spending becomes easy.
It makes the establishment of a world-class Hospital Village (where the world’s leading hospital chains could congregate) and a world-class Academic City (where leading research universities from around the world could establish their Nigerian campuses) important. This is besides building and equipping hospitals and universities in Nigeria. Such huge public money makes the cry for an activist and socially inclusive government - a government that creates social policy for the poor, physically and mentally challenged, as well as widows and pensioners a reality.
Most important, we should expect the days of perpetual darkness numbered too. This should be more so with government investing as large as $150bn in power generation, including nuclear, solar, wind, geothermal, and hydro. With $1trillion, cities across the country will begin to wear a new face, including being fully redesigned and expanded, turning old homes into modern and comfortable homes, as well as well-manicured greenery parks and gardens, beautifully paved sidewalks, high-rise city centers with world-class shops and eateries, underground trains etc.
SMEDAN, being critical to job creation, needs full overhauling. Besides being renamed ‘Small Business Administration of Nigeria’ (SBAN) in order to get it tightly focused, and being professionally run by experts with world-class grounding in startup ventures, it should be led by a chairman/CEO, who should turn it into a world-class agency with multitasking professionals with the right training and right mission-goals and passion in making venture businesses succeed.
But to make sure our industrial base is solidly built, the sin of protecting our infant industries from foreign adult counterparts should be committed by us as was committed by today’s great industrial economies during their industrial takeoff days. A Nigerian Infant Industry Protection Act should be in place to impose high tariffs on all imports entering Nigeria besides stipulating a watertight border protection.
Also care should be taken in making sure a Nigerian Foreign Investment Act is in place so as to avoid the repeating of the kind of recent mistakes made with government assets’ privatization in FDI.
Notwithstanding its benefits, precautions should be taken not to allow crooks in, otherwise we might end up swallowing poison out of temporary hunger.
Yes, all this wouldn’t be easy. But who says latecomer industrialization is easy? As daunting as it may be, isn’t it in our overall national interest and prosperity to go through all the pain now so that tomorrow becomes better? For those who will make these difficult decisions, remember you’re writing your names in gold in our history books.
•Enwegbara wrote in from Lord Lugard Street, Asokoro, Abuja; email: firstname.lastname@example.org; phone: 07038501486