As Nigeria gallops through rising cost of goods and services, high cost of living and doing business, amidst a growing threat of militant activities in the Niger Delta, which disrupt oil production, there is a growing army of at least 60 million unemployed Nigerians. In this piece, Funke Olaode examines solutions being proffered by UK-based African-in-Chief of Africa Secretariat, Ben Oguntala, to mitigate the rising unemployment in the country
The Olooni of Eti-Oni and Chairman of Africa Secretariat in the United Kingdom, Oba Dokun Thompson, in an address at a London event, Celebrating Africa, noted that, “for the past 300 years or more, Africa has been defined by several different perceptions others have and not by those she has of herself. One of the greatest challenges of Africa is how to properly craft out an identity and define herself in the context of the contemporary and modern world we have found ourselves in today.”
His statement certainly applies to Nigeria today in view of two key challenges that are preventing Nigeria, and Africa as a whole in addressing unemployment and trade development.
In the first instance, experts have noted that African governments are not taking its “demand to supply” seriously and that they expect investors to take all the risk. These governments thus avoid any situation that will make them take part in complex development projects.
According to the United Kingdom-based Africa Secretariat, “every time demand goes to supply, the value of the product is significantly diminished and this is the model that China is using that has worked quite well in its favour. Every time you hear of a foreign company purchasing a land in Africa, it is predominantly based on this principle.”
Another predicament and argument put forward by the organisation is that African governments are often too lazy when it comes to working on complex projects. It alleged the governments often leave the development and complex requirements to international suppliers to solve. Incidentally, the complex areas are where the real money or value in a project is.
Therefore, if these complex projects are left in the hands of international outfits to resolve, they are always likely to get the benefit of such projects at the expense of host African nations.
Examples of these already abound in Africa’s most populous nation, Nigeria –and perhaps other nations on the continent. Complex projects have continued to spring on the continent to the delight of many Africans but the international investors still holds the aces by withholding the intellect or knowledge key to the success of the projects. In the long run, the knowledge capital needed to truly develop.
The consequence of these scenarios is that “we keep seeing developments that don’t impact employment and which ends up like a tiny drop in a mighty ocean,” the Africa Secretariat noted.
Consequent upon this, the UK-based outfit stated that African countries like Nigeria will not be able to centrally address unemployment. The reason, it said, is simple: if Nigerian government centralises the resolution, it will be overwhelmed with the response and as a result shut down the process even before it has begun. Therefore, government after government keeps trying the same approach and repeatedly fails over and over again.
Consider the story of Dr. Akin Oguntala who used to wake his son, Ben Oguntala (African-in-Chief of Africa Secretariat), from slumber and would pull up one of Nigerian newspapers’ headline that would say something like, “300, 000 passed JAMB but only 30,000 spaces available.” His message to his son was that 270, 000 were doomed regardless of how smart they were. This was back in the 80s. Today, just a few years after, the number has skyrocketed.
For Africa Secretariat, the strategy to redefine and decentralise the process and the problem are simple and may be considered as ambitious by some.
Amongst Nigeria’s 60 million unemployed, at least one million of them have access to raw materials in rural areas. According to an estimate, each raw material is capable of creating 10 jobs.
Following on this, in a 12-month period, there will 10 million jobs above the United Kingdom’s minimum wage of £10 per hour would have been created in Nigeria. That, the Africa Secretariat noted, would have caused a significant dent on the figure of unemployed people like never before. Furthermore, it will also inject over £100 million into Nigeria’s economy per hour.
“I am sure you will agree with me, without a single government funding, we would have created an economy that addresses our issues and challenges and most importantly, allows ordinary Nigerians to create a £10 per hour job for themselves,” Oguntala stated.
Speaking further, the Africa Secretariat boss noted, “There are overwhelming statistics about unemployment in Nigeria, according to a newspaper report, an estimated 60 million Nigerians are unemployed, with the World Bank Data in 2010 stating that 46 per cent of the nation’s population are living in poverty which is usually caused by unemployment in the country.”
Poverty is deep in the country with a growing population of 168.8 million in 2012 (according to the World Bank Data).
“This means the true figure is not 60 million but rather 77.6 million. Any government that says it can address it is simply lying. It is logistically impossible,” the UK-based employment expert claimed.
How international suppliers exploit Nigeria
When foreign governments and firms want to exploit Africa, Oguntala explains that they first “visit the country, visit the piece of land they want, carry out a survey, determine the land is going to benefit their need and then call the minister’s office to request a meeting.”
As they are foreigners in Nigeria or any other African country, they always get the meeting arranged more often than not.
Oguntala further explained what happened at such meetings.
“They arrive at the meeting with £5 million and request to buy the land and you can imagine the outcome. They get the land; they drive the Africans off the land and eventually pay the land owner to work on his own land with no financial benefit other than a meagre salary. This model is ‘demand going to supply’, as you can see from my example; the African government did not carry out an independent survey of the land or get a second opinion. There was no consultation with the landowners mainly because the price offered has blindfolded them. We would never know if the land was worth £500 million.
“In our model, ‘supply will be going to demand’, meaning the raw materials manufacturers would be the ones showcasing their products to the demand side and the value of the raw materials is viewed from an international demand perspective. This path is one key reasons Africa is failing to create employment or initiate trade,” he said.
Raw Materials Development Competition
Africa Secretariat in collaboration with African Natural Rulers has commissioned a N1 million Raw Materials Development competition as part of the Redefining Africa initiative.
The aim of the competition is to identify 20 raw materials development ideas and projects that are capable of generating the highest level of employment and highest level of development for the communities they come from.
The competition requires certain criteria for people to qualify for it. Oguntala pointed out that each project has to start by self-generating capital through the sale of raw materials to the international suppliers and have a plan for using the capital generated from the sale to create the end product locally in Africa.
Another step to be taken is that anyone entering for the competition needs to identify five raw materials in his rural community and identify an international supplier or market that will be interested in the five raw materials and how the raw materials can benefit them.
“He also has to define how many of the raw materials can be supplied to the supplier, state how many employment opportunities will be created from his plan and how; he should also state how many community development initiatives will be started by the plan.
Another vital aspect is for any interested person to identify how he plans to start processing the raw materials locally and to identify how he can produce the end product locally,” Oguntala stated.