Kindly permit me some space for a rejoinder to Simon Kolawole’s column dated 23 December, 2018 with the above title. My locus standi is established by the fact that I am running for president and I am one of those who strongly believe that government has a strong role in job creation – especially in a toddler economy and society like ours. In fact, I believe that we don’t as yet have a public sector and we would be well-advised to start building one.
This will require a lot of employment in areas that the private sector may find unattractive and un-bankable; areas where we may not be able to point to the relevant cashflows and profitability which excite private sector players. I believe strongly that jobs – in the environment, security services, primary healthcare, mass mobilization etc – are such that organize society, create a sense of certainty and predictability, and also fosters unity and peace. This is the real ‘enabling environment’ everyone seems to be demanding for. Yet, we sometimes want to jump the gun. Until we get good governance and our politicians understand that they are not there to occupy space and feather their nests, there is no way that enabling environment will appear. And it will take a lot of funding, focus, sacrifice, time and painstaking efforts to put in the ‘enabling environment’ that businesses require to prosper.
I’m an economist and our training is that we must think with versatility. When thinking of job creation every option should on the cards. Also there is a need to take the subject away from mere wishful thinking and to force real action beyond saying all the nice and modern-sounding stuff. For example, it sounds modern and enlightened to say that the private sector should create all the jobs and government has no business creating jobs. Western capitalist types love to hear that, but is that our aim – to impress them? ‘Private sector led economy’, ‘SMEs’, ‘Entrepreneurship’ and so on have actually been our rhetoric since at least 1999 but look at us today with the worst employment, poverty, environmental, and health indices in the world! There is therefore a need to think differently, and in a different direction in order to achieve something positively different.
We must never allow government to get away with irresponsibility. They cannot be spending taxpayers money lavishly like happens nowhere else in the world and be telling people to go and sort themselves out or that private sector will provide the jobs. The idea of giving loans to startups is not enough and can never transform this nation. In fact it has become cliched. Almost every youth in Nigeria is now jostling for some government loan that they don’t intend to pay back. The new experiments with ‘Tradermoni’ is not helping matters. We are damaging the indigenous credit culture. The people know it is free money and bribes-for-votes. Why call it a loan and solidify the idea in people’s minds that loans are not meant to be repaid or taken serious? Even the emphasis on entrepreneurship seems to be driving some sort of selfishness, individualism and greed among our young ones. I don’t believe that a nation can be truly great if its youths are not ready to do something for the nation for free. Or for little. We are therefore stuck with a scenario where it’s all about ‘the Benjamins’. Our young ones are now kidnapping people for money or rituals. Is that the way to go? There is something wrong with the philosophical underpinning of our idea of development sir.
Is this how it worked elsewhere? No. Government must first create the floor. We want our streets to be clean and beautiful. We want public toilets; decent ones; well-manned and maintained. We want to see serious environmental works. We have 400,000 people in the police with half being bag-carriers for money-men and women. This is absurd. We want the big men who use them to be maximally taxed so that we can employ more policemen. We are the most under-policed country in the world in real terms. We want more young people to be employed into intelligence services. We need MAMSER (Mass Mobilisation Agency) back. It’s more important/needed now than it was in the early 90s. We want our young ones to be dispatched to the villages with messages of hope, unity, and productivity from the government, encouraging our villagers and informing them of government activities. We want our youths to become vanguards of a new Nigeria with renewed vigour and patriotism. We want to see our youths actively cleaning up and beautifying the entire country. We need to be obsessed with our environment. Most of these will not be attractive to private sector and even when you route through them we have seen many instances where outsourcing labour leads to exploitation. The big boys who take the contract pocket the billions and pay peanuts to workers who soon revolt. I admit that private sector is by far more efficient though. Like you, I run SMEs and pay staff monthly. It’s not easy.
Lastly there is evidence contrary to the belief that we have a large public sector. No we don’t. Evidence points to the fact that all the countries that work – where we run to for everything including vacations, healthcare, education etc – have far larger public sectors. 17% of the workforce in the USA works for government. 21% in the UK. 20% is the OECD average. 35% is it for Scandinavian countries. 18% in South Africa. Please anyone reading this should simply Google “List of countries by Public Sector workers” and we will see the truth. The truth cannot be available at the click of a button and here we are deliberately taking uninformed decisions. If we are rightly concerned that the crop of our politicians and top civil servants are too far gone in their evil ways and cannot manage this renaissance, this is the reason we should all be rushing forward to see how we can displace them. Yet some of us who are struggling to make this change are being put down.
The 5million public workers you mentioned for Nigeria are less than 5% of our workforce even though the figure here is about 3million which is less than 3%. People of working age in Nigeria should be between 100million and 120million if our population statistics are to be believed. I did extensive research on this. We have a dearth of information and I only got a proximate figure from one of Dr Goke Adegoroye’s books. No state employs more than 100,000. Federal Civil Service is less than 100,000 at core. Parastatals contribute maybe 1million at most. The problem is that most of those employed in government in Nigeria today see their positions as opportunities to feather their own nests, not serve the people.
So there you have it. If we truly love our country and ourselves we need to first establish a minimum standard of living for our people wherever they may be. For now, we don’t have a public sector in Nigeria perhaps because our politicians don’t see most of our people as human beings worthy of the enjoyment of what we call PUBLIC GOODS viz security, good environment, health, education, well-maintained infrastructure etc. It’s human beings that will provide public goods and they must be employed and maintained. The private sector will then leverage on this and soar.