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Contribution of the private sector to Nigeria’s underdevelopment

By Uchenna Nwankwo,  Gomina  Ochu & Omotayo Adeolu

THE contribution of the private sector of the Nigerian establishment to the dismal performance of the country is best analysed using the professionals or professional groupings as index. To paraphrase Nwankwo’s On National Reconciliation and Development (2002), it is noteworthy that one of the chief characteristics of professional practice in Nigeria is the trend towards fragmentation and the establishment of one-man practices.

In Nigeria today, virtually every qualified architect, engineer, accountant, doctor, etc, is a firm by himself. This should be contrasted with the trend in most other parts of the world where a professional firm usually consists of scores, hundreds and even thousands of professionals working together and under one corporate leadership.

The advantage of the latter kind of set-up, collocation or clustering together is that there is synergy, specialisation even within the profession, cross fertilization of ideas and economy of scale. This is a recipe for efficiency, optimum performance and progress.

For on the face of it, the large firm is better positioned to handle a professional job and brief more efficiently and successfully than the small group or one-man firm. It is the successes that are recorded at the micro-levels, at the level of companies and firms by such large and organised groups that translate into the economic success and development that manifest at the macro-level in the advanced countries.

In contrast, the failures, inefficiency and poorly conceived and shoddily executed projects that characterise small professional groups or one-man firms, translate into dismal economic performances that seem to have become part and parcel of ‘unorganised’ societies and countries like Nigeria.

It is not only that these small practices do not have the depth of staff to do a thorough job, they also cannot do research or muster the right resources to acquire needed tools and equipment, books, professional journals, etc, that should keep them abreast of latest developments and new concepts in the professional calling. Little wonder then that they can hardly perform, help themselves and make the requisite contribution expected of the professional class to our social, economic, technological and even political progress. Of course, the emergent pattern, structure or culture in Nigeria is one of incipient disorganisation and anarchy.

But the above synthesis is not limited to the professions. The model is applicable to all private sector players and operators in the Nigerian economy, be they in the commercial, industrial or agricultural sectors. In the Nigerian informal sector, the one-man business syndrome is even more pronounced. Take the instance of traders and the array of semi-skilled artisans, welders, plumbers, motor mechanics, etc.

There is little effort on the part of this social category to aggregate and forge sizeable organisations, to build economies of scale, trading conglomerates and such like structures that would cushion its members against risk and unforeseen bad times and hence enhance the quality of life of its members.

In all the progressive states of the world, what transpire virtually by the day are mergers of giant companies to produce even larger groups and combines. The new emergent mega-companies are then able to pool more resources to carry out new and intricate research, patent new inventions, and evolve new methodologies to create new wealth and fantastic fortunes.

In Nigeria, however, the general trend is towards ruptures and disintegration into smaller ineffective and unproductive groups. Conversely, Nigeria’s pinnacle of wealth is not peopled by men who have patented inventions nor copyright in artistic or any other form of intellectual work.

The cumulative effect of the above build-up can be easily enumerated. First, there is a mammoth concentration of national resources in fewer hands and a dangerously depreciating purchasing power for a large proportion of the populace that increase the recessionary pressure in the system.

Second, mass unemployment, low productivity and a process of internal marginalisation that have been grinding away the foundation of society are evident everywhere. Third, the proportion of the workforce engaged in retail trading continues to balloon exponentially leading to cut-throat competition, product adulteration and all manner of petty fraud in the marketplace as the traders try to eke out a living by all means.

Fourth, the open-door import liberalisation policy of the government combines with the persistence absence of a worthwhile indigenous technological culture and virtual non-productivity of capital goods to denude the country of foreign exchange and needed investment capital. Fifth, public life is marked by financial indiscipline at the workplace and a concomitant endemic corruption in high and low places. Sixthly, the crime wave keeps rising. These then are some of the main factors or manifestations that shape the decidedly parlous Nigerian economy and society.

No nation can bear for a long time the collapse of her social and economic foundations without losing the love and loyalty of her citizens. In Nigeria today, it is doubtful whether the sense of a sustaining national purpose still survives. It is equally uncertain whether the zeal and high hopes that accompanied the return of democracy to Nigeria are still in place. In the light of the above, it is not surprising that there is considerable disappointment about the non-actualization of the so-called democracy dividends.

The huge expectation of 1999 about the prospects for the Nigerian economy and society under civilian leadership and management has begun to yield place to a rising feeling of frustration and even nostalgia for military rule or government.

Our analysis may, on the face of it, appear to exonerate government from the sorry situation on ground and blame the dismal performance of the economy and nation solely on the actions of professionals, company managers, captains of industry and leading members of the business community.

It may even have created the impression that the problem of efficient and sound national, social and economic management is further complicated by the fact that actors and managers in the system are many and diverse, pursuing multiple and often mutually opposing objectives. It is not by any means so.

Continues tomorrow…..

Messrs. Nwankwo,Ochu & Adeolu are executive officers of Movement for Unity &Progress of Nigeria (MOVUP)


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