The Director General of the Nigeria Employers Consultative Association, Timothy Olawale, in this interview questions the fuel subsidy policy and reiterates his association’s call for the federal government to focus on empowering young people with the right skills. Solomon Elusoji provides the excerpts:
NECA has been against fuel subsidy . . . ?
Yes, we have said government should fully deregulate the downstream oil sector, so that market forces will determine the issue of pricing.
Won’t that increase the cost of doing business in the country?
The way market forces operate is that there are times when there is a dip in the market. And it is even possible, if it is not tampered with, we will be paying less for petrol. It may even go as low as less than N100 or N70. That is market forces. It is what the price is in the international market that determines the cost. Also, the way it is now, there is no transparency. It is a conduit pipe for corruption where a few people benefit and feed fat at the expense of Nigerians who are at the receiving end. Then funds that should have been allocated to develop critical infrastructure, that would have developed production and lead to productivity, are being channelled towards subsidy. And like I have said, our suspicion is that it is not the entire fund that is being said to be used for subsidy that is actually used to fund subsidy. Our suspicion is that it is finding its way into lining private pockets. So in the spirit of transparency, let subsidy go; whatever is accrued from it, let it be used for the common good of the entire populace. Let it be used to develop infrastructure that will also help production and the real sector of the economy. We also believe market forces is not necessarily negative; the price may come down and when it is up, we know it is up.
What exactly are NECA members currently complaining most about the economy?
Power. Power and infrastructure, which is roads. But the most important, which if a government gets right will solve a lot of problems (because it has a lot of associated issues) is power – electricity supply.
What is NECA doing to solve the problem of skills shortage in the economy?
Well, it is not about what we are doing. We have said that the way to go is to improve on the skillsets of Nigerians, so that they will be employable. Since 2009, NECA discovered, through a survey, that output from our tertiary institutions are not for industries because they don’t have required skills to fit into available jobs. And because of that we started what we call Technical Skills Development Project, which trains young Nigerians and builds their capacity in different fields of skills. And I can tell you, almost every one of them are automatically employed by these industries immediately they complete their training. Since 2009, thousands have been employed in this manner, because they fit in perfectly into the manpower requirements in the different factors and industries. And that’s the way to go. However, because of limited funds, we can only do so much. So we believe if government can massively invest to deepen the skills of our youth, it should improve their employability.
And this is the reason why you see lots of Chinese people who are not so competent or educated in the labour market. The first thing is to build the skills and technical capacity of our youths, so that they can do all those jobs. Having said that, we also need to build entrepreneurial spirit in our youth, a situation where not everybody is chasing after white collar job; even from school, you can start thinking about how you cannot only be an employee, but also be an employer of labour. And that was why NECA introduced NECApreneur, which is an online solution that incorporates the spirit of entrepreneurship in our youths.
How successful has it been?
Most of our higher institutions are embracing it and it is gradually expanding, but we now want to go beyond tertiary institutions. There are thousands of youths out there that are out of school, that are unemployed. We also want them to key into the initiative.