IN their disenchantment with public service delivery and state of the nation, Nigerians tend not to appreciate the benevolence of Providence on the country. Nigeria is centrally located in the global matrix of nations. She is not on the precinct but at the epicentre of the earth. She is blessed with diverse variants of minerals. A huge gas reserve, commercial deposits of crude oil, gold, diamond, bauxite, among others.
But by far, Nigeria’s greatest assets are Nigerians; a preponderance of humans endowed with wit, intelligence, cognitive power to out-reason the competition, gut, gumption and overwhelming chutzpah. All over the world, from science to soccer, Nigerians have confounded humanity with their ingenuity, creativity and resourcefulness.
Therefore, any disquisition into why the country falters in development should look beyond the absence of capacity. The challenge over the years has been our faulty recruitment process. Nigerian leadership at all levels fails because nitwits are shooed into offices far higher than their capacity and in most cases they are made to boss persons of higher mental aptitude and superior managerial and leadership elan. The end-point is development stasis, low or zero productivity and ultimately an obvious relapse into lack of creativity.
Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, in spite of himself, had the presence of mind to recruit some fecund minds into his cabinet. The contributions of Dr. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, Dr. Akiwunmi Adesina and a few others to the nation’s development pyramid during their era still resonates with Nigerians. Both were experienced technocrats and professionals who got into Nigeria’s public office space not by consideration of their so-called ‘electoral value’ or political sagacity but by their pedigree as accomplished and successful professionals. And while on the job, they made no show of their political prowess. They simply rolled up their sleeves and got the job done. They broke new frontiers, innovated change, wrought great deeds with outstanding results. It was no surprise that soon after office and service to their fatherland, they meritoriously got higher responsibilities beyond the bounds of Nigeria.
The Obasanjo administration was nowhere near a perfect administration but it laid a solid foundation for others from the ruins of military misrule; dragging the nation out of toxic international debt and lighting the foundry for a revolution in agriculture and telecom. Adesina’s revolt against the rot of the past resulted in improved national cassava production as well as increased throughput in rice production with Lagos and Kebbi (LAKE rice) collaboration as evidence.
This is the sense in which Nigerians should appreciate some of the choices made by President Muhammadu Buhari. The appointment of Dr. Okechukwu Enelamah as minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Professor Umar Danbatta as Executive Vice Chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) and Dr. Ibe Kachikwu as Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, for instance, underscored the seriousness and commitment of the President to holistically address the booby-traps that dog the economy. The list is not limited to this trio but they index the axiom that when you hire the right man for the job, the right result is inevitable.
Enelamah, a proudly Nigerian trained medical doctor, Harvard trained business administrator, a Baker scholar and Loeb Fellow, an accountant (a national prizes award recipient in the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria) examinations, is without a doubt a man of broad intellectual bandwidth. His cross-field training from medical science to business administration, investment management and accounting also finds jaw-dropping expressions in his multi-tasking and polyvalent career coursing through Arthur Anderson (now KPMG Professional Services), Goldman Sachs and Zephyr Management (investment managers). He would later start up African Capital Alliance, a wholly private equity firm. You would expect a man of such wide knowledge band to make a success of his triple ministry assignment. You would expect Enelamah to ride the tail of the tiger especially in the challenging areas of attracting the requisite foreign direct investment, boosting export in areas where Nigeria has comparative advantage through local production and promoting policies and initiatives that conduce to improved trade. And has he? Yes, he has.
The indices of his success are well documented. Even in the midst of a global economic crisis with attendant reticence among investors and subdued enthusiasm among venture capitalists, Enelamah and his team still managed to navigate Nigeria out of the quandary.
Under his watch, Nigeria has moved 24 places in the World Bank Ease of Doing Business Index. This is the highest jump in the nation’s history. Considering global perception of Nigeria as a nation with poor business and corporate governance, this is a milestone.
One of the key assets in leadership is the ‘will to do’. The initiative to grant visa on arrival to genuine investors, improved efficiency in processing business visas at Nigerian embassies across the world, prompt registration of businesses and execution of key sector policy reforms in sugar, tomato, cotton- textile garments and oil palm are evidential of a minister with the right political will.
Not many Nigerians know this: key investors and visitors have been kept at bay by the cold attitude of our embassy staff in some parts of the world. The same poor work ethic we exhibit at home that makes it impossible for any Nigerian to walk into any passport office and walk out with an international passport within the advertised time frame is also exhibited in some Nigerian embassies across the world. The first interface between any potential investor or visitor to Nigeria are the embassy staff. Their attitude, good or bad, influences the judgment of such investors. The visa on arrival initiative and the processing of business visas to Nigeria at consulates will ensure the influx of more investors.
Industrialisation does not happen overnight but the minister is quietly connecting the missing dots that would galvanise the birthing of new industries and sustenance of existing ones. The establishment of six special Economic Zones (Project MINE) and upgrade of existing industrial parks in Kano and Enugu send a message of commitment to hitherto hedgy investors.
Some of what today are rated as global brands and multinationals started out as micro, small and medium scale enterprises. The Chaebols (conglomerates with strong family beginnings and ownership) of South Korea – Hyundai, LG, Samsung et al – were yesterday’s small family businesses. They grew to conglomerates because South Korea government deliberately created the right environment and offered them the incentives to thrive. Enelamah’s promotion of small businesses mirrors the path of the Chaebols. The GEM project which has seen about N3.7 billion granted to 910 entrepreneurs and the setting up of no fewer than six innovation hubs among other small business initiatives tell of a ministry that is in tune with global realities. No nation becomes an industrial hub without the foundational support of flourishing small and medium businesses.
Nigeria may sell all her crude and count the cash in one day but she will never achieve greatness if the props supporting industries are not strengthened. It is through industrialisation that we can add real value to agriculture, crude oil production and maximize the capacities of our human capital. The Enelamah approach towards fostering industrialisation, trade and investment has all the ingredients that would conduce to wealth and job creation. It should be sustained.