One of the great things happening across Nigeria today is the renewed drive for entrepreneurship, which is spreading like wild fire. Discussions, training and seminars on entrepreneurship are going on almost everywhere. The love for private enterprise has always been a Nigerian thing and many Nigerians have demonstrated that we are endowed with the capacity to think and act in such a way as to create wealth, sustain and multiply it. Nigerian enterprise was already on the world stage prior to the country’s independence in 1960. Apart from the centres for the trade in slaves, many cities across Nigeria were centres of commerce with major trade routes crisscrossing the country long before colonization.
Indeed, the British colonialists may be said to have enjoyed some of the fruits of Nigerian enterprise. When Her Majesty the Queen, Elizabeth the 1, visited Nigeria in 1952, it was recorded that she rode in the private car of a Nigerian entrepreneur. The story is that the best car around in the whole of Nigeria at the time and fit for the Queen to ride, was the private Rolls Royce convertible owned by Sir Louis Ojukwu, Nigeria’s foremost entrepreneur, who made millions doing business across Africa and Europe. So Nigerians are not new to the desire to be self-employed and employers of labour. There has however been a heightened emphasis on self-employment and by extension, the development of relevant skills, especially outside formal education. This new emphasis on entrepreneurship is the result of several factors, including high unemployment caused by the stagnancy of the formal economy; a seeming disconnect between the supply and demand of skills in the labour market and a population growth rate that has cast the country in the mould of a primitive society unable to control its population.
For want of a fall guy or scapegoat, the Nigerian educational system has come under heavy fire for allegedly producing unemployable graduates.This argument has been used successfully to fend off criticism, which should rightly fall on government for its inability to expand the economy and provide jobs for the youth. In the process, several reviews of the curricula have been done, which produced even worse outcomes than we probably had. Granted that our educational curriculum, like that of any other country, must be responsive to the realities of the time, no amount of technical competence among graduates can compensate for an economy that makes no effort to implement its own plans and thereby prepare for growth. Availability of high skills will not cure unemployment in an economy that is at best stagnant, with rapid population growth. It could actually worsen the situation as highly trained people look for non-existent jobs and begin to settle for menial ones.
The Nigerian economy is still in decline, growing at snail speed, despite the consistency of growth over the past few post-recession quarters. This poor growth is due largely to a large population with unreasonably high growth rate of about 3 per cent with the GDP trailing behind at much lower rate. The magnitude of what Nigeria is facing and the calamity ahead becomes more vivid when we reckon that there were only 45million Nigerians as against Britain’s 52 millionin 1960, and today we are about 200 million people against Britain’s 66 million. This probably explains why, out of a labour force of 85 million, of whom 25 million have no education and 34 million are either unemployed or underemployed.
The Nigerian economy is at moment stagnating at best. When an economy records prolonged periods of slow economic growth with high unemployment rate as Nigeria currently has, and as happened to the American economy after the Great Depression of the 1930s, economists say it has gone into economic stagnation. We are experiencing that state of affairs. When economies stagnate, many things happen; and most of them are usually very bad things like social discontent and unrest. Of course we have signs of recovery in commodity prices, especially oil, inflation has looked south consistently over the past few months, reserves are rising but investment opportunities are still few and narrowing. The investment in infrastructure by the present administration may be massive but the results may take a little more time to fully crystalize in improved power supply, adequate transportation facilities and security of lives and property. Without these social overhead capital, those budding entrepreneurs, whom we have encouraged to retrain, readapt and innovate, may face a future bigger in frustration than they previously knew, as their preparation meets no opportunities to germinate. This is unhealthy for entrepreneurship and the consequences are probably less contemplable than those of graduate unemployment. We don’t want to come to a situation where the new rising fervour of private enterprise among the youth,and the enthusiasm of the many foundations and institutions supporting it, will be destroyed by a different kind of unemployment – entrepreneur unemployment.
As the Estonian International Economist, Ragnar Nurkse, proposed in his Theory of Balanced Development, it is important that developing economies do not make massive investment in only one sector of the economy. Doing so will rob them of the synergy, market enlargement and the much needed incentive for the private sector to invest. The budding entrepreneurs we are grooming and releasing to the economy need to be reassured through the resumption of concrete economic growth, that there is a market for the innovations they are training so hard to pioneer in different sectors of the economy.
A situation in which April draws to an end without an operational national budget may seem normal but it’s the height of disservice to a nation. This is more so when it is realized that much of the so called appropriated funds will go back to feed the unsustainable lifestyles of leaders. Nigeria is a poor country both in terms of population/natural resources ratio and other indices. It’s a joke on us that as we beg countries and individual philanthropists from abroad to pay our debts and treat our women and children, a few of our leaders live like emperors for doing a job that hardly deserves more than occasional appearance. Balanced investmentis the tonic for our entrepreneurial drive will gain traction only when we release the resources currently misallocated to service profligacy and apply them to make optimal investment in critical sectorsto create the needed investment opportunities for the growing new generation of investors and risk-takers.