I believe that it is important to have the promises made during the campaigns by the ruling party in focus, no matter how difficult achieving some of them may be. It is also important to come to terms with the fact that time is ticking. Organizing a government to start to work is always a herculean task. There is politics to deal with and a president is under tremendous pressure. One of the major promises has to do with a double-digit growth rate for the economy, and an attainment of a trillion US Dollar economy in about 6 years. There is always a foreboding fear that this may not be achievable, but we have to stay positive and imaginative. A multidisciplinary and multisectoral approach will have to be adopted in order to reach this goal. I believe that a focus on job creation at every level is what can guarantee this achievement. Not just jobs for jobs’ sake, but jobs that target the sectors of the economy that need to be repositioned, and jobs that will announce that this is a brand-new era by repositioning and streamlining the public sector.
Talking about streamlining, we need to have in mind the challenges of private sector jobs, chiefly the challenge posed by Artificial Intelligence. I have always maintained that the private sector is in the business of maximizing profits even if these days we have asked many companies to take a stakeholder view approach and now run amok with profit motives. But, in the end, it’s down to the profit motive. Entrepreneurs do not campaign at the stumps. It is politicians that do so. Politicians may therefore not shift the responsibility of job creation to the private sector. What we have seen other nations do is that politicians collaborate tightly with the private sector, and employment numbers are taken extremely seriously. In the US for instance, monthly employment figures is one of the most important indices, which everyone looks forward to. The government never jokes with it. When more employment is generated in a given month than expected, markets rejoice, and the government looks good. Ratings improve.
So, the fairly new government of President Tinubu has been very active and has taken some momentous decisions, performing even better than most players expected it to. In a period of barely 5 weeks, we have seen some key appointments, seen the removal of petrol subsidies, the ‘floating’ of the Naira, and the suspension of some taxes, in a way that shows that the government is business- friendly, with a listening ear and a finger on the pulse of the people. We have also seen new economic policy documents that indicate where the government may soon be heading. The key decisions have been something of a shock therapy to the economy and have spiked inflation. Some of us are scrambling to see how quickly we could push government to start fronting the goodies that the government has for the people. In other words, we should by now be rushing out with the reliefs, palliatives, subsidies, and every other idea that can make the lives of our people a little less stressful. Quite a number of Nigerians are losing hope, but they must be reminded that this is a government of Renewed Hope.
I think that beyond making Nigeria attractive to foreign investors, to foreigners in general, or even getting our businesses to be able to plan with more certainty, we need to focus on job creation. The focus on job creation will have many benefits which I will list below, for clarity.
1. If a country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), is calculated with the economic formula C+I+G+(X-M), which stands for Consumption plus Investment plus Government Expenditure (less taxes), plus net exports, then jobs are central to driving more consumption, and also higher taxes. Jobs are also created when we target investments in an economy. If GDP growth measures productivity, then the more jobs in an economy, the higher everyone’s productivity.
2. If GDP is calculated as the sum of goods and services produced and sold in a country in a given year, then targeting job availability is a sure bet way of ensuring that more people are paid for the goods and services they supply into the economy. Saying that we want to increase GDP by 10% net means that we expect that producers of goods and services, as well as workers, will earn a net of 10% more than they earned last year. This means that we adjust for inflation to determine the ‘net’.
3. What increasing GDP by double-digit (or anything close to that) means is that there will be so much buzz in the economy – like we just discovered some new resource in the ground, and everybody is suddenly awash with activities and therefore with cash. The best way to track this is through a focus on job creation. Government must have a keen focus on jobs because they will not come easily. The private sector is in the business of profit making but could be encouraged and egged on to create a few more jobs. We must recall that Artificial Intelligence is disappearing many job roles today. If the government does not take job creation extremely seriously, then the economy may not grow fast enough as desired.
4. Successive governments in Nigeria always speaks about creating ‘enabling environment’. That is an amorphous term with which government gets away with doing nothing serious about availability of jobs. What does ‘enabling environment’ mean? It means eradicating crime – or reducing it to a bare minimum. It means eradicating corruption. It means making the country very friendly so that tourists and outsiders may come. It means targeting FULL EMPLOYMENT as we say in the field of economics. That is the hallmark of Keynesianism. Monetarists could throw in foreign exchange reforms and removal of subsidies as part of creating the ‘enabling environment’. But targeting monetary reforms only (as we have over time), without taking on the employment issue headlong, is futile. Whereas a country may still grow its economy without hard monetary reforms but with a focus which encourages inflow of capital and tourism. The targeting of FULL EMPLOYMENT (where unemployment reduces to between 5% to 8%), is a valid and proven economic strategy and comes highly recommended for a country like ours. It’s all in the imagination. And we have a great opportunity to do this now, in an atmosphere devoid of disaster. From history, we have spend our borrowings on managing disasters and economic slump, hardly to power our economy to a new level – even if we have to print and spend. Nigeria is a country where so much hasn’t been done. We must wake up, brace up and get the job done.
5. With the high inflation expectation, it seems a fait accompli that income levels will have to rise considerably across all sectors of the country. The question is: how high? And how do we avoid getting into a spiral such that inflation continues to spike and erode whatever increases in income that workers get? How well can the private sector cope? And the informal sector? We must have a policy for our artisans to form guilds, formalize some more and be able to earn better. Procurements with the government, in Naira, will have to be marked up to take care of inflation and for fairness. But the concern here is whether Nigeria should increase wages very significantly for those who are presently employed, or if we should seize this opportunity to spread the wealth to include those who are out of work. I favour the latter strategy because it’s safer. Some of the planned wage increase should be set aside to employ more into relevant areas of the public sector where we have lacunae, as stated earlier. However, the government should consider partnering with the private sector on these new initiatives, because of the problems of inefficiency, ghost workers, nepotism, and to walk away from a public sector that was bloated. The private sector is infinitely more efficient and can deploy technology to ensure that people really work. We may see Nigeria transforming very rapidly. A lot of the needed jobs in the environment, social services, education (teaching), service enforcement and standardization etc, should be outsourced while the interest of workers should be carefully protected. This way, the government should be able to create millions of jobs and let Nigerians know that only the lazy will remain unemployed and poor in Nigeria. If planned this way, Nigeria will have money to pay these new salaries. And this is a major part of the ‘enabling environment’, as millions of new workers will have money to spend with local entrepreneurs. Combined with inflation-induced higher wages, and a new buzz in the country which attracts diasporan investments and foreign capital, the economy can achieve the double-digit growth that has been promised.
There are more. I should close by restating that there are tremendous numbers of jobs in our public sector, which if created will have contributed immensely to the ‘enabling environment’ that we are talking about. These public sector jobs are essential and have nothing to do with pushing files around in federal and state secretariats or frustrating the lives of contractors. 60%-70% of young Nigerians who are japa-ing from the country today are going into social and care work. They are taking care of old people, sick people or people with different kinds of challenges. This is a huge economy that we have not lifted a finger to solve in Nigeria. It is a great enabling environment when foreigners don’t see too many vagrants and mentally disadvantaged people on our roads. The government should think of partnering with the private sector on social work. We need companies established who will supply such workers. We even could house many of such in many of Nigeria’s abandoned buildings to be turned into hospices. That’s one. The public sector can create a million teaching jobs immediately across the country if we wanted to get serious about the problem. Ditto, in the security sector, the environmental sector, and in mass mobilization and reorientation as existed in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Dr Joe Abah, who knows a lot about this subject even suggested the other day that Nigeria could have a crack team nationwide, whose job is to ensure that government services are going well as promised and that whoever compromises are caught and sent packing. I recently used Lagos’ Murtala Muhammad International airport and the state of the place was so depressingly appalling, I flipped and had to be arrested. With the state of that airport, no serious investor will take Nigeria seriously or want to come back here. These are the enabling environments which must be immediately fixed. We must not dissipate our efforts.
I was having a discussion with an elder statesman recently where he expressed much fear that the new government may be overwhelmed – with the laziness of Nigerians, the disorientation of our youths, and of course our almost insurmountable religious and tribal overhang. I assured him that we can walk and chew gum at the same time. It will not be easy. But if any government can begin to torpedo these problems, it is the Tinubu administration. We have already seen the snippets of what it can do. For the rest of us – especially supporters of the administration – our role is to continually call attention to campaign promises and ensure the government is on track. Of what use will it be for us if the government fails? We all know what the issues are. The government has shown capacity and taken on some major decisions. We now have to fan out honestly, and take on the youth disorientation problem, energy crisis, our sullen reputation globally, social problems left to fester, the dislocation of our rural areas, the underachievement and disorganization of our urban areas, acts of indiscipline and unruliness all over the land, insecurity (which is getting better), education and literacy issues, patriotism issues, and we shall surely get there.