By Laurence Ani
In less than five months, three vital statistics that boldly affirm Enugu State’s steady rise as an economic powerhouse has emerged. A recent report issued by the National Bureau of Statistics listed Enugu as one of just six states in the country that recorded the highest net gains in full-time employment between the third quarter and second quarter of 2017 and 2018. The figure as released by NBS were as follows: Lagos (added 740,146 net full-time jobs); Rivers (235,438); IMO (197,147); Ondo (142,514); Enugu (122,333); and Kaduna (118,929).
The report also noted that only nine states reduced unemployment and underemployment rates between the third quarter of 2017 and the corresponding quarter in 2018. These include Lagos, Akwa Ibom, Enugu, Imo, Kaduna, Kogi, Nasarawa, Ondo and Rivers. Such a reduction in unemployment rates, the report added, had occurred “despite an increase in the national unemployment rate”.
Given how inscrutable statistics often seems to the data shy majority, the significance of its message is so easily lost. But statistics do actually matter, particularly in the sense that it serves as a progress report that either validates or subtly disavows economic policies, shedding light on those intangible threads between actions of governments and the arising consequences.
Statistics also help reaffirm that economic growths are no fortuitous outcomes, but products of months – and even years – of scrupulous planning. Enugu offers a good example of how a combination of sustained investment in nurturing small scale enterprises and removing all stifling bureaucratic structures can launch a state’s economy onto a growth trajectory. For instance, since 2015, the Enugu SME Center has trained over 35,000 micro, small and medium enterprises owners and aspiring entrepreneurs including women and youths.
Coming just a few months after a World Bank report ranked Enugu as the third best state to start a business in Nigeria, the NBS report is further proof that Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi’s vision to make Enugu a major economic hub is yielding dividends. The World Bank Doing Business in Nigeria 2018 report had put Enugu State only behind Abuja and Lagos. The report, the fourth since the World Bank’s launch of the sub-national series on Nigeria, analyzed business regulations in four areas namely: starting a business, dealing with construction permits, registering property, and enforcing contracts.
Ugwuanyi’s commitment to helping fledgeling businesses flourish is also underscored by his decision to inaugurate the Land Use Charge Assessment and Appeal Tribunal in response to complaints about multiple property taxes. “There have been stringent complaints that local governments and agencies of state government impose all manners of taxes, rates and levies on land and landed property,” the governor noted while swearing in members of the tribunal in May 2018. The tribunal’s creation, he added, was consistent with the vision to consolidate Enugu State’s reputation as one of the most investor-friendly states in the country.
Indeed, the inauguration of the Enugu State Ease of Doing Business Council early 2018 is further indicative of that resolve to bolster the state’s economic potential. Besides being shaped by the understanding that difficult business environment remained a major factor often cited by investors as the reason Nigeria is hardly a choice destination for foreign direct investment despite its huge potential, the council’s creation was, according to the governor, prompted by this dire prognosis: “Most small businesses in our local communities die before their fifth anniversary.”
At his inauguration about four years ago, job creation was evidently the prime commitment of Gov. Ugwuanyi as it was the first item on his Four-Point Agenda, a to-do list that clearly outlined the administration’s priority goals (Employment generation; enhanced social services and good governance; rural development; security and justice). Of course, virtually all politicians seeking the office of governor’s voice their commitment to similarly lofty goals, but the NBS’s job analysis across states has shown that Ugwuanyi’s pledge was no typical campaign rhetoric. It’s gratifying he did not succumb to the temptation to use the civil service as a job- dispensing point, a rather simplistic choice mostly embraced by politicians but which, tragically, turns out a shot in the foot as it merely further bloats the workforce and breeds inefficiency. What he did, rather, was investing resources to grow the potential of small businesses and laying foundations conducive to the emergence of new ones.
Besides the fact it helped create more jobs, it also boosted the state’s internal revenue ranked among the best 10 in the country by BudgIT, a civic group that advocates transparency in governments’ earnings and expenditure. It was this realization of the transformative capacity of small businesses that underpin Gov. Ugwuanyi’s launch of the Enugu State Traders Empowerment Programme in February 2017. The programme has since empowered 3600 traders with N50,000 through an open raffle held across 54 markets in the state. The traders’ raffle is proving to be a potent micro-economic spur, its success deriving largely from the fact that winners reinvest the fifty thousand Naira lottery sum into their businesses. It is in light of this capacity to target and transform small businesses that Gov. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi’s traders’ raffle programme finds its greatest appeal and resonance.
Since 2015, Enugu has benefited largely from insightful policies which continuously give the state a sound financial base. These, plus prudent handling of the state’s resources by the Gov. Ugwuanyi administration also underlie Enugu’s latest listing among Lagos and Kano as Nigeria’s Most Financially Stable States by the Financial Derivatives Company. Such statistics offer a strong sense of validation, but none offers a greater sense of satisfaction than the knowledge that they are both in accord with reality and not a mere fleeting accolade. Gov. Ugwuanyi’s imminent inauguration for another term reinforces this strong optimism. That is because he remains just as committed as he was in his first term to improving the people’s wellbeing through sensible socio-economic policies, not grandiose ribbon developments that superficially impress but hardly yield any existential benefits.
For him, roads and buildings are important (and he has actually built quite a significant number), but so too is improved access to quality healthcare and education. As he once noted, “the people remain my legacy project”.
* Ani, formerly editor of ThisDay, The Saturday Newspaper and Saturday Telegraph, is senior communications aide to the governor of Enugu State.