The ongoing ministerial briefing of the President at the State House, Abuja, put a spotlight on an important sector long neglected by previous administrations, yet one that can create millions of jobs.
The first briefing of a President by the Ministry of Science and Technology and its parastatal organization, the National Agency for Science and Engineering Infrastructure, NASENI, over a period of many years showcased opportunities and the enormous achievements made in the invention, fabrication and assembly of capital products for the sustainable industrialization of the country.
A matter for serious concern for President Muhammadu Buhari, who campaigned on a promise to create jobs is the paucity of investments in industry, without which there can be no new jobs or incomes.
Experts have warned a long time ago that Nigeria has been frittering away its demographic dividend.
Sixty-five percent (65%) of the country’s population is made up of youth, and a majority of whom are said to be jobless. The President has been quick to see the danger which he describes as the next most potent for the nation after Boko Haram.
In fairness to them, it is not as if past governments hadn’t seen this problem coming.
The difference President Buahari wants to make can only succeed by moving away for past measures with only palliative effect on youth unemployment.
President Buhari has often spoken about agriculture, public works, IT, industry and mining as capable of delivering the quick wins.
Past agricultural practices have had the effect of constricting the definition of farming.
For agriculture to deliver jobs on the scale the President is looking at, it has to go beyond cropping and cereals production. The whole concept has to change.
It is for this reason that the new administration is seeking to boost livestock,fisheries, horticulture; geese, duck and bee farming and all that. In the neighboring Cameroon, export of fresh flowers is a key flank of their foreign exchange earnings.
Those who patronize Chinese restaurants know the value of ducks. It is so high in export value that the few who have tried taking it abroad say it is a money spinner.
In addition, there is also what they call medical agriculture. Organic plants are grown and exported such as the moringa that have herbal and medicinal value with ready markets everywhere. After listening to the presentation on this sector, the President’s parting shot, having realized the challenges was “I’am going to give you a tough Minister.”
The President has also been speaking about public works projects, subject to improvement in the earnings of the government. But he is not oblivious of the limitations of this line of job-creation. Its absorptive capacity is limited largely to labour and low in capacity in dealing with skilled manpower.
When NASENI and the Ministry of Science and Technology came calling, they broached an important issue dear to the President.
They made presentations to him on home-initiated and home-sustained industrialization processes through the development of relevant processes,appropriate local machine designs and machine-building capacities for capital goods and equipment manufacture that can lead to job-creation, economic well-being and national development.
The President was much excited seeing this. He wondered aloud why industry was not lapping up these local inventions. It was equally clear that the problems on the part of these important agencies of government agencies is the lack of capital infusion to move prototypes to capital and industrial goods. He asked for a one-on-one meeting with the NASENI Executive Vice Chairman for further briefing.
Successful economies such the United Kingdom, Japan and the United States got to where they are today because because they did just this. They encouraged invention and adaptation through business incubation and the availability of venture capital. The President spoke about his enthusiasm for energizing local manufacturing of goods using indigenous technology as against the wholesale importation of goods and services as is the current practice.
In response to this concern came the overwhelming as well as disturbing impression that Nigeria’s industrialization and growth are being held back by an industrial sector dominated by foreign interests that are keener on maintaining home ties than in keying into local patent. For this reason, private investment using the local patent has remained in the doldrums.
To change the unwanted situation, government, according to some experts, has to put its own house in order and look at policies that will drive up the capacity of industry to employ enmasse. Some even argue for trade barriers and subsidies since everyone is doing the same.
Government at the center may consider a national industrial plan in accordance with national plan objectives and party principles or manifesto. Many think this is necessary to define priorities and give budget benchmarks because state government are not always run in a serious or objective manner. When he saw what NASENI and the other agencies in the science and tech sector were doing, the President’s question, obviously out both interest and concern is: have you ever made this type of presentation to the states? The answer was that only Bauchi and Nassarawa have so far shown a measure of seriousness.
For such a central plan to succeed, it must take into account the peculiarities and endowment of the states. In addition, it should be a “must-implement” for APC states and optional for those in the hands of the opposition. By this, APC states can become model states in job creation through innovation and industrial production. In addition to giving the party relevance, this plan imposition may have the effect of synergism in national development efforts.
With his expressed commitment to supporting the science and technology sector, along with agriculture, mining, IT and industry through invention and local manufacture, the President has taken a major step towards fulfilling a key campaign promise, which is to address the failure of the economy to create jobs.
Garba Shehu is the Senior Special Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on Media and Publicity.