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Nation building through economic activity: What should we do differently?

By Tabia Princewill

Nigeria, economic

The Federal Government of Nigeria and the African Development Bank expressed concern over the youth unemployment figures in Nigeria (23.63% of young people are currently unemployed and 16.6% are underemployment), given the projection made by the Minister of Labour, Dr. Chris Ngige that the unemployment rate could be as high as 33.5% in 2020. Every administration in Nigeria has created social intervention programmes to eradicate poverty and tackle persistent unemployment, yet Nigeria was recently christened the “poverty capital” of the world. Demographic explosion, coupled with infrastructural deficits and many other issues linked to the mismanagement of our scarce resources, have prevented real development and inclusive growth. The question is: what should we do differently?

The Social and Solidarity Economy, SSE, as defined by the International Labour Organisation, ILO, is a term used in development and policy-making circles to describe economic activities which are based on inclusion, fairness and sustainability. The SSE principle, as adopted by national and sub-national governments looking to create employment which doesn’t just generate individual wealth or profit but uplifts entire communities, is also a pathway towards social protection for workers by enabling social dialogue. It is curious that a country such as Nigeria with its myriad ethno-religious groups and the urgent need for increased cooperation and mutual understanding is yet to adopt a model that enables profit to function side by side with community development. One could do a very long article on the history of private enterprise in Nigeria and the global forces which have made greed inside and outside government so pathological that companies and public servants regularly put personal profit above the larger interests of customers and consumers, even going as far as putting people’s lives at risk. Companies give back through Corporate Social Responsibility, CSR, projects which is commendable but ultimately, how do we go beyond token measures and spot kindness towards a more equal, harmonious society where the poor do not need to depend on charity to survive?

Nigerian communities are rarely, if ever, enabled to do anything for themselves in a sustainable manner. Community economic development in Nigeria follows the “poverty alleviation”model which only means “easing” the burden of poverty and providing some relief rather than fully facilitating community participation in the mainstream economy. Part of the problem is that our development models are often copied from Western paradigms and not inspired by other successful developing nations. The Western culture is entirely geared towards building up individuals rather than communities which leaves Africans in an unacknowledged, awkward position. Following the many political and economic crises of the last few years, the Western world is gradually adopting the Social and Solidarity Economy model (which is ironically the way African communities, towns and villages traditionally operate), yet we in Nigeria, for instance, are yet to develop national mechanisms to ensure urban and rural communities have income generating schemes, skills development and therefore a revenue base to fund social services.

Nigeria also signs a lot of mediatised partnerships but rarely do these agreements seem to primarily focus on coordinated efforts to upgrade our country’s skills to meet the challenges of the 21st century. The majority of young Nigerians are being trained for a world of work which no longer exists: our testing and scoring encourages rote learning, a memorisation technique based on repetition; meaning that after exams and “cramming”, students forget facts and figures and are left with no real, impactful forms of knowledge with which to start or build their lives and careers. Critical thinking and goal setting are personal development skills and methods accessible to only a privileged few. Yet, a revolution in skills would help Nigerians access new technologies and create new forms of employment. So, what exactly is happening? Despite government’s best efforts why does it feel like we are stagnating?

The fundamental issue is that vulnerable groups know the problems affecting them yet they are not empowered to take cooperative action, to work together in a coordinated way and to find solutions to social issues. Perhaps we need to try something new and to assist communities to find business solutions to social problems by upgrading their skill set and enabling them to have a say in how things are done in their local environment. So long as we continue to view wealth creation, or economic activity as something intrinsically personal which only concerns our individual progress or profit rather than tying wealth creation back into its effect on the community, we will continue to lag behind in development indices and we won’t be able to achieve our goal of building a nation, a country where people see commonalities rather than differences, and skilled people with the capacity to take on modern challenges.

Hameed Ali

The Comptroller-General of the Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, said the agency has recorded an increase in its monthly revenue following the closure of the nation’s borders. He stated that smugglers who used the Benin Republic border to bring goods into the country have been forced to use the ports, thus enabling the NCS to collect duty on their goods as provided for by law. “There was a day in September we collected N9.2 billion in one day. It has never happened before,” he said. In 2019, the NCS made N1.002 trillion in nine months which is projected to increase following the border closure. It isn’t impossible to make things work in Nigeria, one just needs the political will to get things done in service of the national interest rather than private schemes.

Border closure

The Minister of State, Agriculture and Rural Development, Alhaji Mustapha Baba-Shehuri, recently commented on the Federal government’s border closure policy, saying it would yield many positive results in support of Nigeria’s socio-economic development. Indeed, Nigerian food security is a forgotten topic in public discourse in this country where abnormality is often justified as satisfactory because it serves certain interests. A number of us do not realise the grave impact of our country relying primarily on food imports to assuage hunger in the land. Of course, this has important economic and strategic implications. Simply put, Nigeria is dependent on others for virtually everything at the expense of our local production capacity, jobs and the livelihood and welfare of our people. According to figures quoted by the Minister, Nigeria consumes 30% of the total food importation in Africa and over 50% of the food imported to Cameroun, Ghana, Benin, Chad and Niger Republics is actually aimed at Nigerian markets rather than local consumption in those countries. In short, foreign producers are making a killing off of Nigeria’s inability to feed its people and the customs and import-export businesses of the aforementioned countries are also hugely benefiting from Nigeria’s dysfunction. The Vietnamese and Thai governments have “begged” Nigeria to re-open its borders as their local economy is suffering: do we now see the strength and importance of the Nigerian consumer? Governments and business people in this country have often preferred to ally with foreign nations and companies to short-change and fleece Nigeria.

Baba-Shehuri also said: “We are a nation of 200 million people; there is no nation on earth with the size of our population or even less that relies on importing everything that it will eat; it is absolutely impossible.In this country, we even import tomato, cabbage, eggs and everything that we eat.We need to ask ourselves for how long can our economy sustain it and what is our focus as a people? We have a population of about 80 million youths but we keep creating jobs elsewhere. We must encourage   our local production for self-sufficiency, value addition and enhance farmer enterprising skills as well as create marketsand promote export” he said. The minister inaugurated the “North-East Farmer Help Line Centre” in Maiduguri as part of government efforts to support farmers and agribusiness. Dispassionately, one should see that the “Next Level” serves the interests of the many rather than the few.

 

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