• With raw material development competition, UK group fights joblessness in Nigeria
By Tessy Igomu
Everywhere you go in Nigeria, what do you see? A sprawling army of unemployed men and women, old and young, perambulating the streets aimlessly, without direction.
Statistics have shown that no fewer than 60 million youths across the world’s largest black nation are being brutally whipped by the scourge of joblessness. Even the various governments – federal, state and local – seem totally clueless on the steps to take to curb the alarming development.
Different private concerns have been proffering solutions and creating initiatives aimed at stemming the tide of unemployment. One such initiative is being advanced by a United Kingdom-based organisation, The Africa Secretariat. The organisation, in collaboration with African Natural Rulers, has commissioned a N1 million Raw Materials Development competition to address the scourge.
The reporter learnt that the competition is part of an action plan tagged Redefining Africa initiative. Its purpose is to identify 20 raw material development ideas and projects that are capable of generating the highest level of employment and highest level of development for the communities the participants come from.
The African-in-Chief of Africa Secretariat, Ben Oguntala, informed that the competition was part of the solution proffered to address Nigeria’s growing army of at least 60 million unemployed youth, and in the face of rising cost of goods and services, high cost of living and doing business, and amid the growing threat of militant activities in the Niger Delta region that had disrupted oil production.
Speaking further on youth unemployment in the country, Oguntala noted that the statistics about unemployment in Nigeria was overwhelming. He quoted newspaper reports stating that an estimated 60 million Nigerians were unemployed, even as the World Bank Data in 2010 indicated that 46 per cent of the nation’s population was living in poverty usually caused by unemployment in the country.
“Poverty is deep in the country, with a growing population of 168.8 million in 2012 (according to the World Bank Data). This means the true figure is not 60 million but rather 77.6 million. Any government that says it can address it is simply lying. It is logistically impossible,” the UK-based employment expert claimed.
He also shed more light on the competition. According to him, the competition would require certain criteria in order for people to qualify, stressing that each project would commence by self-generating capital through the sale of raw materials to some international suppliers and through a plan for using the capital generated from the sale to create the end product locally in Africa.
Oguntala noted also that participants entering for the competition would have to identify five raw materials in their rural community and also identify an international supplier or market that would be interested in the five raw materials and how the raw materials could benefit them.
“They also have to define how many of the raw materials can be supplied to the supplier, state how many employment opportunities will be created from the plan and how many community development initiatives will be started by the plan. Another vital aspect is for any interested person to identify how he plans to start processing the raw materials locally and to identify how he can produce the end product locally,” Oguntala stated.
Dwelling on the challenges faced by Africa in terms of overcoming the challenge of unemployment, the initiator of the competition noted that two key challenges were preventing Nigeria and Africa as a whole from addressing unemployment and trade development.
“In the first instance, experts have noted that African governments are not taking its demand to supply seriously and that they expect investors to take all the risk. These governments thus avoid any situation that will make them take part in complex development projects.
“Every time demand goes to supply, the value of the product is significantly diminished and this is the model that China is using that has worked quite well in its favour. Every time you hear of a foreign company purchasing a land in Africa, it is predominantly based on this principle,” he said.
The Africa Secretariat leader also noted that another predicament and argument put forward by experts was that African governments are often too lazy in matters of working on complex projects, adding that many have argued that African governments often leave the development and complex requirements to international suppliers to solve.
Chairman of Africa Secretariat in the United Kingdom and Olooni of Eti-Oni, Oba Dokun Thompson, recently noted at an event in London tagged Celebrating Africa: “For the past 300 years or more, Africa has been defined by several different perceptions others have and not by those she has of herself. One of the greatest challenges of Africa is how to properly craft out an identity and define herself in the context of the contemporary and modern world we have found ourselves in today.”
Oguntala noted that the traditional ruler’s statement aptly captures the Nigerian condition, especially the country’s inability to adequately address unemployment and trade development.
According to Oguntala, the complex areas are usually where the real money or value in a project lies. He stressed that if the complex projects are left in the hands of international outfits to resolve, they are always likely to get the benefit of such projects at the expense of host African nations.
He noted that examples of these already abound in Nigeria and other African countries. He said complex projects have continued to spring up on the continent to the delight of many Africans whereas the international investors still hold the aces by withholding the intellect or knowledge key to the success of the projects.
The consequence of these scenarios, he lamented, was that the country would keep seeing developments with little or no impact on employment and which ends up like a tiny drop in a mighty ocean.
“Consequent upon this, African countries like Nigeria will not be able to centrally address unemployment. The reason being that, if Nigerian government centralizes the resolution, it will be overwhelmed with the response and, as a result, shut down the process even before it has begun. Therefore, government after government keeps trying the same approach and repeatedly fails over and over again,” he said.
He spoke further on how international suppliers exploit Nigeria. According to him, “when foreign governments and firms want to exploit Africa, they first visit the country, visit the piece of land they want, carry out a survey, determine the land is going to benefit their need and then call the minister’s office to request a meeting.
“They arrive at such meetings with five million dollars and request to buy the land and you can imagine the outcome. They get the land; they drive the Africans off the land and eventually pay the land owner to work on his own land with no financial benefit other than a meagre salary. “This model is ‘demand going to supply’, as you can see from my example. The African government did not carry out an independent survey of the land or get a second opinion. There was no consultation with the landowners, mainly because the price offered has blindfolded them. We would never know if the land was worth £500 million.
“In our model, ‘supply will be going to demand’, meaning that the raw materials manufacturers would be the ones showcasing their products to the demand side and the value of the raw materials is viewed from an international demand perspective. This path is one key reasons Africa is failing to create employment or initiate trade.”
For Oguntala, the strategy to redefine and decentralise the process and the problem is a simple one that might be considered as ambitious in some quarters.
According to him, amongst Nigeria’s 60 million unemployed, at least one million of them have access to raw materials in rural areas. He further explained that according to an estimate, each raw material is capable of creating 10 jobs.
“Following on this, in a 12-month period, there will 10 million jobs above the United Kingdom’s minimum wage of 10 dollar per hour that would have been created in Nigeria. This would have caused a significant dent on the figure of unemployed people like never before. Furthermore, it will also inject over 100 million dollars into Nigeria’s economy per hour.
“I am sure you will agree with me, without a single government funding, we would have created an economy that addresses our issues and challenges and most important allows ordinary Nigerians to create a 10 dollar per hour job for themselves,” Oguntala stated.