The Man Tope Fasua
Tope Fasua is an Economist by training, a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN) and a Member of the Institute of Directors (MIoD). He also possesses a Masters Degree with Distinction, in Financial Markets and Derivatives from London Metropolitan University.
He worked in the Nigerian Banking Industry where he rose to become a Regional Director of a local bank before leaving in 2005.
Tope presently runs Global Analytics Consulting Ltd, Nigeria, a company of Management and Financial Consultants. He is also a columnist, and Secretary, Board of Economists for the Abuja-based Daily Trust, apart from his monthly contributions to Abu-Dhabi-based Capital Business Magazine and Inside Watch Africa Magazines among others
Tope has written six books and over 3000 articles chiefly on the Nigerian question with emphasis on how to get the economy and society to attain the elusive development and progress. He has also been on executive programs on Leadership and Strategy, at Harvard Business School and London Business School, among other trainings, seminars and workshops that he has attended and delivered.
Tope is rounding up a Doctoral program with Walden University, US, on Public Policy and Administration (Public Management and Leadership). He was also appointed as a non-Executive Director at FirstCentral Credit Bureau and is the Chairman Statutory Audit Committee at The Infrastructure Bank as well as being the President, Institute for Service Excellence and Good Governance (Nigeria).Tope has consulted for UN, DFiD and EU projects.
He is the National Chairman of the Abundant Nigeria Renewal Party (ANRP) and a Presidential Aspirant on that platform.
Let’s Think About our Problems
The only way to logically start solving the unemployment problem is to look at where our problems are. It is where our problems reside, that we need to deploy people to solve these problems. That is where we can buy time and create employment, even if in the long run, all human beings are threatened by the impact of technological advances.
In a few more years, nobody will need an accountant (the computer can do it), a journalist who sits in some office (bloggers taking over, journalism job has been transferred to the man and woman on the streets), or even a burger flipper at McDonalds (robots now do that). Some of these professions may peter out more slowly than others, depending on the country where they are located. But overall, not many jobs will remain resilient.
We have to think about the problems we have. The more we think about those problems, the more we see the opportunities for pushing people in those directions and creating jobs, at least in the interim, when things appear to be quite tough.
These are the sectors of the economy/society that could do with a lot of human resource help in Nigeria right now:
Hardly does anybody talk about the environment in Nigeria but the fact is that we are not doing anything to catch up with the rest of the world in terms of the management of environmental resources. This sector is still largely wide open, and indeed a source of national disgrace. It therefore means we could deploy resources here and redeem our image. We often wonder why we are not getting tourists in Nigeria, but no one will like to come to a dirty country or where it seems no one is carefully maintaining environmental resources. Nigeria could employ hundreds of thousands of people, and train them in ensuring a very neat environment or training other Nigerians on how things should be.
A drive around Nigeria (including Lagos where a lot of effort has been expended, and a lot achieved) reveals that people deliberately destroy the environment. We have an epidemic of polythene plastic bags for starters. Refuse gets dumped just about anywhere. We need a great mobilization in order to present a new face to the world. This is a great area for youth employment nationwide.
The good thing about youth employment is that it does not have to cost much, but the impact goes a long way. If many of our youth could earn tokens, while adding value, the financial pressure on their parents/guardians, is reduced, and they are the ones that will readily buy local, among other advantages.
A major problem for Nigeria is the collapse of the educational sector. Public education is not anything like it used to be. The last time we had a major economic crisis like we have today (1981 1983), most young Nigerians were in public schools, and the schools were fairly good. This means that we were able to get the critical mass of educated people (many of them in leadership positions today).
But today, almost all public schools have been degraded. Parents now find themselves at the mercy of private schools, spending so much money and many times becoming corrupt, or taking to crimes because of this. The government should as a matter of urgency concentrate its resources back on education, even if it is to upgrade a number of public schools and perhaps introduce some fees to maintain standards. In doing this, it is evident that we need more teachers. The teacher/student ratio in public schools is atrocious. A lot of workers who will be affected in public sector downsizing could be transferred to teaching careers – after some good training. This sector could absorb hundreds of thousands. We need a serious and palpable mobilization and reorganization of resources.
Another major problem we have in Nigeria is the health sector. They say health is wealth, and in order to free this wealth, Nigeria needs to address what is going on in this sector. As we prepared this, nurses are on strike, protesting their pay levels. Poor patients are dying. Granted that this seems a very wrong time to protest about salaries (except if the complaint is about perennial mismanagement of funds and neglect in the face of a display of byzantine wealth), Nigeria needs many more personnel in the health sector, from admin people, to nurses, to laboratory attendants, doctors and surgeons. 50% of doctors trained in Nigeria end up in Europe and elsewhere.
It is impossible to quickly ramp up capacity at the top end of the spectrum, but if people are encouraged, and their eyes are open to opportunities in the health sector, the capacity for employment there is massive. Nigeria could do with thrice the number of existing personnel in this sector. We cannot have a density of 1 doctor to 10,000 people in some places and not directly channel human resources into the medical sciences.
Another reason why we are not doing well with tourism is the appalling state of security in Nigeria. We recently added terrorism to our existing problem of public safety, crimes, and inadequate policing. In recent times, we have a situation where most of our policemen have been deployed to provide security services for ‘big men and women’, especially under the pretext of terrorism.
This is an area where Nigeria can intensify recruitment drive, especially for secondary school leavers. A lot of sincerity is required though, given what we saw going on in Police Colleges. It seems there is an existing culture that anyone going through there must be brutalized, physically and mentally. I don’t think that is the right kind of training we require for our policemen. The corruption and cheating in our police recruitment sets the tone for the behaviour of these ‘professionals’ when they start dealing with the public.
Nigeria’s transport sector is still budding. For too many years we saw ‘transport’ only in terms of buses and cars and tarred roads. Of late, attention is being drawn to the rail system, with the present administration purchasing a number of trains. Far from the hue and cry, we believe we haven’t scratched the surface.
There is no reason why all our major state capitals should not have well-maintained light-rail systems, and in order to maintain such properly, what we need is personnel. A transport/rail police needs be created to ensure order and give people the confidence to use these facilities. In this instance, the investment pays for itself because more people will be encouraged to pay and use the trains.
The inland waterways sector is also hardly developed. But if it is, the same capacity for employment exists there. Fundamentally, something seems wrong in the way Nigerians understand these systems and facilities. It is important to start well, and get organized from the word go. What we have seen in the revamping of the rail sector is that we are starting on a wrong footing. For instance we still have people hawking goods next to the new trains while even at train platforms. Again this hacks back to the way we maintain our environment. A rail station should be well-manicured and sterilized, especially in this age of terrorism. Only those with tickets should be able to access the platform at any given time.
“Food, shelter, clothing”. These are meant to be man’s three basic needs. The textile sector is still one of those sectors with immense capacity for employment. Some efforts have been made in the past to revamp this sector, but it all seems compromised. There used to be a time across Nigeria when we saw workers trooping out in thousands from these textile factories. Given that equipments would now have been modernized, but the capacity for employment is still there. This sector is largely privately driven, so what may be required is genuine incentives to investors. We could exempt employers and employees in this sector from paying taxes for a fair length of time. Of course recently, the former investment minister spoke about ensuring a certain number of hours of electricity for the industrial sector. Everything must be done to bring back the textile factories.
With a population of 170million the market is here. The West African sub-region is still there for the taking. Asides from this, Nigeria will be saved many billions of dollars which head out to foreign countries yearly because for now, we only wear foreign clothes. Well almost.
Sanitation/ Sewage (Borrowing from The Indian Experience)
Something is going on in India right now, which we can learn from. A country of 1.2billion people would usually have a big problem with sanitation. We have separated this from the health sector and the environment in order to draw specific attention to the problem. The Indian PM is leading a drive for every house in India to have some sort of toilet system. Even the latrine is totally out of fashion. He is even convincing women to sell off their gold (for which Indians have a special attachment), and use the money to provide some sanitation in their homes. In Nigeria, almost 40% of us still defecate openly, and a United Nations report highlighted that recently.
This is millions of toilets to be built, hundreds of thousands of workers to be engaged in a nationwide sanitation drive. It is said that the greatest achievement in world health systems, is the decontamination of the rivers and water tables of Europe. It was when that was achieved they stopped having different plagues. Nigeria, nay Africa, is lucky that we don’t have frequent plagues, or is it that medicine is quite advanced these days? Open urination and defecation is a major problem and we can direct human resources at enforcing what is right. What Nigeria needs is a revolution in the employment sector.
A major new problem we have is the recent and ongoing degradation of national unity. This is an area close to our heart, because we know, given our study of history and society, that there is absolutely nothing wrong with Nigeria as a country, only that we don’t seem ready to do serious work with this assignment and have shut our minds to greatness out of prejudice, past wounds and what-have-you.
For we have interacted with dozens of Nigerians – some very well-educated, who insist that Nigeria is not meant to be. Many accuse the colonial masters of forcefully merging rather than leaving us to evolve on our own. We try to let them know that even the colonial masters themselves were forced together. Many have latched onto the recent unsuccessful quest by Scotland for independence to justify their position.
Of course, there are pros and cons to any position, but no one seems to be selling the pros. There was a time we had MAMSER, which employed thousands of people. It has all boiled down to the National Orientation Agency today but that too is underfunded and invisible. It probably has become another ministry where people resume daily just to push files around. The motivation is low. Nigeria could re-enact MAMSER and do it differently. That is also an avenue for mass employment, especially at the youth level.
This has become most imperative these days as Nigerians now seriously hate their own country and each other, such that government initiatives have been sometimes sabotaged just because of these ill-feelings. A lot of corruption going on in the government sector, is done in the name of tribes and religions i.e. “the northern/muslim/ christian/southerner that was here before stole on behalf of his people, now is our turn to eat!”. There is an urgent need to reverse this trend.
Everybody knows that our problem in Nigeria is not really about building infrastructure, even though we could do better in standardizing the work we do. We have seen however, many instances where little quirks are left to fester. We have seen small potholes become huge gullies when they could have been nipped in the bud. We have seen bridges degraded, pasted upon, marked and graffiti-ed, even before they were completed. We have seen public buildings allowed to decay and fall where they stand. We have seen that the average Nigerian does not understand that the maintenance of public infrastructure is a duty he must perform. Public infrastructure is seen as no one’s property. No one is letting our people know this.
There may therefore be an opportunity to employ well-trained youth to ensure that no one degrades or messes up our infrastructure under any circumstance. This will save government billions of dollars in unnecessary new construction and overhaul.
Also, the fines collected from those who contravene, will pay for these workers in the main. Lagos State has made a success of this with a number of their initiatives, especially the traffic one.
Agriculture/ Agric Value-Addition/Food Preservation
Whereas we stated in the beginning that the Agric sector can no longer employ the numbers we are looking at, still no one can ignore this sector. We could do a lot better in that sector but we have not prioritised it in this paper because it has encouraged mental laziness in the past, and also stymied our imagination. Many just believe you can dump millions of people into the Agric sector. What are tractors and harvesters and other equipment for?
But a serious area of concern yet underexploited is in value-addition. Yearly, a lot of farm products go to waste in Nigeria. In developed countries, they don’t allow these wastes – at least not on the farms. Maybe in the fast-food restaurants they have waste. The farms in developed countries are encouraged to produce all-year-round and to maximize their capabilities. Why? Because they know that whatever is produced in a season and not consumed locally, will be processed, preserved, canned and exported to different parts of the world. And so it is, that we have soup from all over the world in our supermarkets. Inside a Thai soup for instance, we would find Thai baby corn, Thai mushrooms, Thai sugar, salt, water, tomatoes, pepper, pawpaw, and anything the Thai chooses to preserve and sell to us. This – in our view – is the greatest form of tourism ever. And the most profitable. The farmers keep producing, and if nothing else, the images of these countries are projected into each supermarket and each home in far and wide places.
This is another area that will be driven by the private sector, but very good incentives can be offered to encourage investors and to boost employment. Thousands can be absorbed here.
Anti-Corruption and Anti-Fraud
Recall that I stated that the only way to make a dent on the unemployment problem is to think about the areas where we have problems and to direct our human resources at it. One of our major problems in Nigeria today is with corruption, which in my view, has escalated to fraud.
We should not imagine that what goes on is the demand of the occasional kickback before a contract is awarded or so. What has gone on is serious desperation and a situation where money is siphoned from the system, by every means possible.
We already have the EFCC, but perhaps it is also now underfunded and understaffed. There is however a need to think proactively about this problem, using technology and hands-on controls. We should think ‘prevention’ rather than punishment after the fact.
A new Nigeria would be a Nigeria where an elite corps of monitors are deployed daily – and rotated from time to time – to inspect goings on, put the fear of the law into erring operatives, and ensure that things are done properly, apart from online, real time surveillance. This could employ thousands for the government especially at the upper spectrum. Ex-bankers could do this job very well. We can maintain this system until people can run on autopilot.
Surveillance Over Government Service Delivery
Related to 11 above, Nigeria could employ thousands of very well-educated and exposed people whose job it will be to go around, observe, report and nip in the bud, untoward practices in the public sector. In Nigerian airports, because there is no hands-on surveillance, different officials demand for ‘tips’ from foreigners and locals alike. It is quite disgraceful, given that the airport should be holy grounds – image-wise. On our roads, the police and army are seen stuffing money into their swollen pockets. This is because they don’t fear being challenged.
The deliberate ignorance of this phenomenon is what leads to it becoming a cancer. We can stamp out disgraceful practices in our society and regain our dignity back if we would only plan well and deploy human resources in this area.
Our monitors too may need monitors lest they fall. Don’t say it can’t be done. We have to try first. Thousands can be employed in this area, and fines collected can pay their salaries depending on how they go about it. At the end of the day, a sane, tourist-friendly society can emerge and genuine foreign capital not ‘hot money’ will flow in.
Though highly capital-intensive and largely private-sector driven, this area cannot be ignored. Nigeria still needs a lot of infrastructure. Nairobi has more skyscrapers than all the cities in Nigeria put together. That means we need more public and private infrastructure to get this economy on a sound footing.
These are potential employment opportunities for Nigerians, but I haven’t prioritized it here because there is also that trap that exists with agriculture. It encourages lazy thinking.
I have seen where government talks about how many jobs it has created as a result of the contracts it issued. I don’t think that is sustainable, because you cannot keep issuing capital-intensive contracts just to create a few hundred jobs, and then get into another debt trap, or get stuck with ‘white elephant’ projects.
Still, there is tremendous space for development in Nigeria. We don’t have half as many bridges and roads as we require. We should stop aiming too low and celebrating what would be seen as inconsequential projects in serious economies. We have seen roads being constructed for ten or fifteen years in Nigeria. This is unacceptable in most serious countries.
Technology and Manufacturing
Similar to 13 above, technology and manufacturing are important areas that can generate employment but again, because these are capital-intensive areas needing much investment, we have stepped it down a bit, because our achievement in this area deserves a long-term view.
Still, we need to direct our mental resources to see how we can engage with technology and catch up with the rest of the world. It is all about producing what we use ourselves. The imperative here is about substituting our imports with local manufactures. How does Nigeria move away from being seen as a veritable foreign market by some smart foreign country? How do we maximize domestic production and consumption? Mind you, this will not be an easy task as there are international accords already signed and being enforced, which are skewed in favour of superpowers and their own companies. The other major factor is that we just don’t have the intellectual knowhow in this country and cannot obtain that knowhow with an antagonistic attitude towards the superpowers. Still it is worth thinking about.
The study of capital flows (who gets what) in the world, reveals that primary product countries will never catch up to those who, using science and technology, add value to things. The “intellectual premium” is massive and the lack of it is the reason why economies like ours will probably stagger from one crisis to another. There is no way raw cocoa, rubber, coffee, tea, flowers, or even crude oil, will ever compare with the latest iPhone or laptop. One laptop is actually equivalent to at least 20 barrels of crude oil, and about 70 bags of cocoa. We can thus see where are problems stem from.
So, it isn’t going to be easy getting people employed in technology and manufacturing, given that technology itself is “self-destroying” i.e. less and less is being employed therebecause technology is getting better. It is however ABSOLUTELY IMPORTANT that we get into the game BY EVERY MEANS, else we have calamity.
We have included this because it as an area that our economic managers have in mind and rightly so. The challenge is to bring more people into the tax bracket (Gov. Fashola’s idea), rather than overtax those who are already paying.
Our TV stations air a sponsored program by the tax authorities, in which they show their enforcement activities. In that program, some shopping malls were shut down, dozens of companies as well, and managers/directors arrested. I wondered whether it was a good idea.
The issue is always about style, and we have not been known as a people to be quite stylish in the way we do things. In other words, are we enforcing these taxes while further shutting in their capacities and reducing employment? We know that most entrepreneurs need to be coerced and forced into remitting their taxes though. But the focus should be on employment. The government should do everything to keep people working. Never to be penny wise, pounds foolish.
Still there is immense capacity for employment here in terms of enforcement and increasing capacity for collection. But for us, it is more important to get people going far and wide, tidying up our environment, reorienting people towards national unity, maintaining our infrastructure, much more than chasing people into the bush for taxes.
To different degrees, these areas/sectors will provide quick wins and quick avenues for mobilization to generate employment for our teeming population – especially the youth. Some will gain traction, some won’t. But they are worth the trial. This list is certainly not exhaustive. There are even better ideas out there.
The fact is that an economy where Services provides the largest chunk of contribution to the GDP should have us really worried. For our population, it is no cause for cheer at all. This is not the time we should be hoping to create more jobs in banking, insurance or telecoms.
Our young population should not be looking towards attending university just to purchase a degree, and stepping out to pick up jobs that will make them look good, wear fine clothes and do next to nothing. It is their lives in their own hands. We cannot be churning out comedians and musicians, actors and models, and hope to employ our population gainfully or avoid disaster, or to compete with economies that are focused on science and technology, producing for us at exorbitant prices, everything we use and consume – including food! We need to also take caution regarding who we reward and how we reward them at the expense of others.
Where a beauty queen is rewarded 100 times more than a mathematical genius or scientific inventor, then we have a serious problem.