In this concluding part of ‘So What If Nigeria’s Economy Overtakes South Africa’s’, I continue talking about the things we need to put in place in order for our economic growth to be real and felt down to the lowest strata of society. I talked about encouraging agriculture and industrialisation built around it that will add value to raw agricultural produce and create economies in localities around those products.
Additionally, the government needs to create an enabling environment that will encourage the growth of Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), because they are the real engine of economic growth. A thousand multinationals cannot add as much to our GDPs, as 100,000 SMEs, employing fewer people and empowering more people from the grassroots. True, an LNG plant sited at Brass can spur the growth of many SMEs built around it, or an active and working Ajakouta Steel Complex. But what of the places that do not have these mega-businesses spurring SME growth? What is the way out for them? We have to look at those things that hinder the start and growth of SMEs: power, access to finance, a tax structure that is encouraging, working infrastructure, etc.
It doesn’t make sense to start a business when you have to factor in the cost of generating your own power, building your own access roads, providing your own water, and the almost impossible task of raising financing, which when lucky, is given at cut-throat interest rates. It is for the reason that businessmen in Nigeria rather import than produce, or become contractors at the whims and caprices of government, which add little value to the economy, but puts money in their pockets. We need urgent action in these areas else we are going to continue to be in a jonzing world as regards economic growth that will be real and visible.
Also, one urgent area of reforms for economic growth is our educational system. I have been a strong advocate of radical reforms for our education, especially at the tertiary level. Our graduates are practically unemployable: not only are they behind in the latest knowledge and practices in their fields, they are not being equipped with the skills that will enable them start live in the real world. These skills such as cognitive thinking, teamwork, communication skills, etc are what should enable them apply their knowledge into practical solutions for society. However, they are seriously lacking in them. Most importantly, entrepreneurial training is non-existent; hence, graduates come out as job-seekers rather than job-creators.
Food for thought: in the midst of a perennial power crisis and the existence of 5 Federal Universities of Technologies, 5 State Universities of Technologies, numerous conventional universities offering Engineering courses and polytechnics, we are yet to see a single design for a power turbine, which is basic for generating power. What then have we been teaching these kids? It shows that there is an enormous gulf between amassing knowledge and applying it to solve problems.
Once this gulf is bridged, we will see young men and women channelling their energy and knowledge to creating enterprises offering value and creating real wealth for themselves, the community and the nation.
We need to adopt a bottom-top approach to boosting our economy, and the responsibility lays a lot with the government, especially at the Federal and State levels.
It is not a competition to be the biggest economy in Africa. It should be about whether there is an improvement in the lives of our citizenry; an improvement that would be so visible that even without reading economic reports, an average mind can discern and testify to our moving forward.
Unless this is done, we will only witness South Africa making yimu gestures at us as we aspire to overtake them as the biggest African economy in GDP, even if we succeed.
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