As an observer of the Nigerian political drama over the past many years; I have never been fanatic in my support for any candidate. I am passionately pro-Nigeria; hence my support for any political player hinges on my analysis of his or her effect on Nigeria as a nation. It has been perplexing to watch the venom and blind positioning of both pro and anti-Jonathan brigade in real life and on the social media. This is not a new development in global democratic experiments and implementations. There are political figures that evoke such divided passions all over the world. But my concern in this article is Nigeria as a nation. How do we move past these divided allegiance in the interest of the nation?
In my analysis; there are ten percent of the voting population that are pro and anti-Jonathan regardless of what he does or does not do. These people are not driven by any objective rationale but sentiments, emotion and personal beliefs for or against President Jonathan. These people are beyond sensible redemption so to speak; hence my article is not directed at them. It is a waste of time trying to convince these Jonathanists or Anti-Jonathanists as I call them. These people are easy to identify. They are loud and bully their way into every argument. They don’t make sense in their position many times, but they do not care. Their existence is just part of life. Sadly the ten percent anti-Jonathanist are not any better. They oppose for opposition sake. To them the President is always wrong, no matter what he does. These opponents of Jonathan do not have any articulated policies or constructive alternative. Their job is simply to pollute the polity and confuse everybody along the way. They are not better than the administration they claim to criticise. Such opposition will equally fail if ever elected.
This leaves Eighty percent of the voting population amenable to change and persuasion based on rational and superior arguments; evidential explanation or analysis and transformative policy implementation. These are the people that support or oppose President Jonathan but not in a fanatic sense. They are open to be convinced and swayed if needed. I am directing my writing to this group of people. I have written in the past criticising the claims of economic growth & development by Dr Okonjo-Iweala, the finance minister and other players in the Jonathan administration. Belching out banal macro-economic statistics (even if correct) does not translate to real experiential economic progress by the average citizen.
Those who support President Jonathan are quick to remind us of his achievements. The major players in the government are always ready to unleashed statistical figures that shows Nigerian economy as growing and enlarging. They quote good GDP growth figures and Foreign Inward Investment rate for instance. While these figure may be true; they mask some of the key problems in the economy. Ever since the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) was invented by the Americans as a measure of economic performance; it has been criticised by many leading economists and political leaders for not measuring the “real state of affairs” in the lives of ordinary citizens.
For instance in a country like Nigeria; a 20 percent export-led growth by the ten largest companies like Dangote etc can easily feed into a substantial growth in GDP. But that does not mean the average person is better off or address the cost of living crisis that Nigerians face daily. It does not address the negative income growth due to inflation and wage stagnation in many sectors of the economy. The fact that people feel worse off is not captured by this macro-economic numbers. Hence; there are many thing GDP does not measure.
Dr Joyce Banda , former President Republic of Malawi said last year as follows: “As for me, growth is not merely about GDP growth. Growth is about wealth and prosperity for all, opportunity for all, happiness for all, political and economic freedom for all. Growth is about growing and improving access to education for our children, and creating jobs for our youths. Growth is about growing the number of mothers who give safe birth in a hospital. As women leaders, we should not allow children to suffer from malnutrition. We should refuse to allow our children to learn under trees rather than proper classrooms. We should refuse to allow mothers to die while giving birth because the nearest health centre is far away .Whenever these challenges are prevalent, our economies cannot meaningfully achieve the sustainable economic growth we all aspire for”.
I could not have said it any better. The OECD and other global outfits have a measure of nation’s economic performance that is all encompassing and goes beyond GDP. This is called The Prosperity Index (developed by the Legatum Institute). This is the only global measurement of national success based on both income and wellbeing. Their econometric analysis has identified 89 variables, which are spread across eight sub-indices.
By measuring prosperity holistically they are able to identify and analyse the specific factors that contribute to the success of a country beyond just GDP statistics or other banal statistical measure that does not impact on the true economic realities of a nation’s citizenry. These Eight Prosperity indices are: Economy, Entrepreneurship & Opportunity, Education, Health, Safety & Security, Governance, Personal Freedom and Social Capital. According to the Institute’s survey of Entrepreneurship in Nigeria; the raw GDP statistics masks major weaknesses in indices of national prosperity and economic wellbeing. In its report in 2013 it noted that economically (reference to 2012 performance), Nigeria paints a mixed picture. GDP growth is recorded at an impressive 7.9%, however a high inflation rate of over 7%, high levels of unemployment, and poor internal infrastructure stifle long-term, sustained growth it said.
Nigeria it stated has significant oil reserves but its reliance on revenue from oil has been described as “damaging”, while the risks of relying on oil reserves as a one-pronged economic strategy is well documented across Africa. They concluded that “Factoring in the current instability of the global economy as a whole, we may reasonably conclude that a diversified, entrepreneur-led economy is crucial to Nigeria’s long term success and stability”.
The Legatum Institute produced in 2013 its annual National Prosperity Index for 142 countries in the world. Nigeria ranked a dreadful 123 out of 142 countries in 2012, that is a relegation from our already bad rank of 104 in 2011 and 106 in 2010. That means by a holistic measure of national prosperity and wellbeing as measured globally; Nigeria has slipped backwards and performed worse between 2010 and 2012. South Africa was ranked 74, Tunisia 78, Namibia 83, Ghana 87, even Mali was did better than us at 104. Looking behind the overall poor ranking of Nigeria; we performed worst between 2010 and 2012 in the following indices: Economy (drop of 31 point), Safety & Security (27 point drop) and Education (17 point drop). We however improved in Personal Freedom (gain of 10points) and Social Capital (gain of 3points) measures.
So while I praise the Jonathan government for some of its high level macro-economic achievements; attention now needs to be paid to the wellbeing of Nigerians in a holistic way. In this article, I will be looking at one of such a way. It is a known economic fact that there are more business opportunities in any economy than job opportunities. The engine for growth in Nigeria therefore will not be just more jobs for the unemployed (although that is needed by many) but an entrepreneurial explosion. It is true that it is the private sector that creates job in any economy that grows, but the State should create the enabling environment. Government should encourage and promote new businesses and our universities should emphasize entrepreneurship more rather than the current focus on getting a degree and going to apply for jobs that are not always available.
There exists today a multitude of objective data about entrepreneurship in Nigeria. For example, the Index report states that the average time it takes to start a business in Nigeria (31 days; although in some areas this can be over 3months), the total tax rates, as a percentage of commercial profits, faced by Nigerian entrepreneurs is 32.2%. The growth of any economy is based on the growth of Small and Medium Enterprises. A concerted and unified strategy is needed to make a success of this vision. So rather than trumpeting pure statistics that means little to average Nigerians, the government should put more effort in productive activities and strategy that impacts on the day to day living of the people. Of the eight indices measured, Nigeria improved in only two of them under this government. So we have slipped backward in six of the Prosperity Index in two years since the President was elected.
While I congratulate this administration for some of its macro-economic successes; the nation now need real cost of living growth by the average citizen. Like I said before; the government cannot keep employing people to reduce unemployment. This is madness and unsustainable. It is growth in new small and medium businesses that grows the economy and impact the positive experiences of the average citizen.
So I will address one of the many actions the government can take to directly impact the people’s lives positively and grow the economy; beyond the GDP figures. I call this the Entrepreneurial Revolution.
The government should therefore consider the following seven steps as part of its immediate strategy:
- Improvement in the Power situation in the country is vitally needed. Starting a business in Nigeria is like building a small town of your own. I know people who had to build their own road to their new factory, generate their own electricity and water, employ their own security and so on. These add up to 60 percent to the cost of production in some sectors. An improved power supply will help reduce substantially the cost of running a business. I know this is being addressed by the government. But we need to see more evidence of progress as soon as possible.
- The government should create an easy online company registration process. In the USA, there are states in which you can register a company and print out your registration certificate all in 10mins. In the UK you can do same within 24hrs. Why must it take weeks to register a company in Nigeria and at a huge cost. The average cost of registering a company in Nigeria I am told is N100,000. Some are less and most are more depending on who does it for you. This is about £400. To register a company in the UK cost about £25 and you will be emailed your certificate within 24hrs. The government should commit to an Entrepreneurial revolution by simplifying and bringing down the cost of registering a business. With some small scale businesses like Candle making possible with N150,000 capital investment; can you imagine requiring another N100,000 just to register the business. This is madness. So until such electronic portal is ready; the government should abolish its own registration fees charged to new businesses and work to reduce drastically the cost and time needed to get a business registered.
- The government should setup a network of nationwide free and easily accessible Business Advice Centres in every state. These centres will provide all its services for free and will be able to advice entrepreneurs on running a small business. These centres will also be able to provide support to businesses needing investment by linking them with government and other grants available and advice on best practices in business operations management. These centres will also be one stop shops for all government business forms and registration. This will simplify access to government requirements and encourage compliance by new businesses.
- The government should build a series of Business Parks across the country to house small businesses office needs at subsidised rate. These parks will be well located where there is easy transport links and be equipped with basic facilities and communication needs of small businesses. It will be like Hotdesk rentals for small businesses with shared meeting rooms etc. This will provide easy postal, fax and physical reference points for new businesses.
- The Federal government should make it a policy (just like in the USA) for a fixed percentage of all government contract annually to be exclusively for only new and small businesses. This will apply to single contract limit of up to a determined sum; for instance N1Miilion for instance. The average in most countries with this policy is Ten percent of all government contracts. This will guarantee some steady work stream for new and small businesses. The procurement requirements for these contracts will be simpler and take into account that these are new businesses. So for instance asking to produce Five years previous Accounts or tax clearance for a business that is two months old is an impossibility.
- The government should sponsor an annual small business award event encompassing all sectors. This will not only celebrate small businesses but also help showcase and highlight them to the wider economy. Big private sector companies will be able to see the benefit of using the best in the small business community.
- There should be a Federal Minister who job is simply to promote and support the case for new and small Businesses across government. This will not only show government commitment but ensure any presidential policy directives are implemented effectively in all departments. This minister will also champion policies that promotes new and small businesses across government.
The best case for the re-election of any government is its positive impact on the lives and wellbeing of people. This government should begin to measure its actions by its impact or benefit on small businesses and not just be seen to be promoting Big Business interests. When this being to happen; the average man on the street will be able to see and experience the trickle-down effect of government policies and will be more supportive of such a government.
The Jonathan administration can easily trigger such an entrepreneurial revolution and warm its way into the hearts and minds of the people. When you are loved by the people genuinely; there is nobody that can rig you out of power without invoking the wrath of the people. It is time for the government to focus more on the needs of the majority and not just the few. The Nigeria of our dream is possible if there is courage and wiliness to make it happen.
The easiest way to get re-elected is for Mr President to embark on such mass revolution that will positively impact majority of the people. This will win the votes of most of the 80 percent rational citizens who loves Nigeria but want to see policies and actions that improve their lives. This is not too late to achieve.