Let’s discuss facts and solutions, jobs in Nigeria – Debo Onifade

Let’s discuss facts and solutions, jobs in Nigeria – Debo Onifade

Through some recent tweets, I had tried to challenge our presidential aspirants and activists to tell us exactly how they intend to create jobs in Nigeria and provide ‘more’ facts and detailed solutions. But none of them responded. Even respected activists like Obi Ezekwesili (Oby) continue to condemn and talk in general terms but will not provide specific solutions. Recently Oby tweeted that she was in Rwanda for a conference and a non-Nigerian African official asked for how long will Nigeria continue to ‘dull’ the rest of Africa. Those of us that have interacted widely with other Africans understand the ‘beef’ that other African countries have against us. So that ‘beef’ statement is really a non-issue. We all know Nigeria has not been doing well and we don’t need anyone to lecture us or ‘rub it in’. It is always better for activists to highlight solutions and facts in addition to saying truth to power. Specifically, some of us always want to hear about how jobs can be created in Nigeria and exact strategies that will revive our economy. Oby was on Channels TV recently talking about the mistakes that Buhari made about exchange rate issues at the beginning of his presidency and she tried to school the ill-prepared Festus Keyamo a lot. But when she was asked to name oil-rich countries that managed their exchange rate issues well during the ‘oil crises period’, she mentioned Angola, Russia and Algeria.

According to www.tradingeconomics.com, Algeria had about $180b foreign reserve around January 2015 and is currently less than $100b. They used a lot of their foreign reserve to defend their currency through a ‘managed float’ system and yet their exchange rate still went up by over 35% in the last 4 years. Russia’s exchange rate in the last 4 years went up by close to 100%. They had severe sanctions from the US and EU that really damaged their currency a great deal. They lost over $150b from their foreign reserve while trying to defend their currency between 2014 and 2015 but they still ended up devaluing by close to 100% in the last 4 years. So, there was no basis of comparing Russia and Algeria with Nigeria. Nigeria in 2015 had no sufficient foreign reserve to defend the naira and was in a very precarious situation. The government indeed made several errors but had to try many options since they couldn’t utilize foreign reserve as was done during Yar’Adua era. They also legitimately didn’t want to devalue the naira. But did they eventually wait too long before de-valuation? Absolutely! Did they have good intentions about not wanting to devalue? Absolutely! Did their errors lead to corruption and economic ‘commotion’? Yes! The idea that ‘allowing market forces determine exchange rate values’ as Oby said was a disastrous option. I don’t think there is any country that doesn’t exert some control (no matter how little) on its currency – not even America.

Finally, Oby mentioning Angola in her interview was the worst possible example. Angola’s foreign reserve has massively depleted over the years and the gap between official dollar rates and black market rates have remained huge. In the last 4 years, their currency exchange rate has gone up by about 80% and in recent months, the black market rate has been about 240% higher than the official rate. Is this really as an example that Nigeria should have emulated? She is supposed to be a champion of intellectualism among Nigeria’s activists and she tried to ridicule Festus Keyamo (who was unprepared for the interview) but the journalists that should have taken her on didn’t. All I like to say to Festus Keyamo is to prepare better for his interviews next time. He was praising world bank numbers, but in another interview said he didn’t believe numbers coming from our own NBS (national bureau of statistics). Personally, I believe we must look at all available credible numbers/statistics (local, international and real-live examples) and government spokesman must be better prepared than opposition. Opposition and activists can say anything and it is the responsibility of government people to provide facts to defend themselves. Government in fact should have access to more data than regular people do – so they have absolutely no excuse!

Omoyele Sowore (Sowore) has been going around recently talking about (1) solar can be used to provide power across northern Nigeria – Morocco did it (2) we should spend our foreign reserves to solve infrastructure problem because even Italy doesn’t have foreign reserves (3) Nigeria is not a complex country at all, it is very easy to manage (4) my experience of setting up a world-class website that rivalled CNN and BBC is a sufficient experience for me to run Nigeria (5) Nigeria is a rich country, etc. All these are false assertions! The simple truth is that Nigeria is ‘currently’ a financially poor country (though we are rich in human capital) – if you stop all corruption and aggregate all our income appropriately for the people, it is still far from enough to take care of 200m people. As per being complex, I think all of us that closely follow Nigeria’s history, diversity, politics, economy, religion, etc know that it is one of the most complex countries you can ever think of. Solar cannot solve Nigeria’s problems – Morocco’s $9b solar project will serve less than two million homes in Nigeria, is a special concentrated solar energy technology that works great around desert locations, and required an unprecedented World Bank loan. Nigeria’s total 2018 budget is slightly less than $30b if you use 305 exchange rate. Imagine spending 30% of that to provide power to 2m homes in Nigeria! It is purely not technically and financially plausible to solve Nigeria’s problem with this solution. I will not bother talking about the ‘external reserve’ issue because I guess it must have been an ‘awada’ (Yoruba word for joke). Sowore was student union leader, has run a successful online newspaper business, has close to 20 years exposure in Northeast America (New York), attended Columbia University and is 47 years old (all according to him). So he has absolutely no excuse to be making these types of false statements. He needs to brush up his facts.

I will talk briefly about the government in power though there are already enough people trying to hold them accountable. PMB continues to talk about a $16b wasted power expenses by PDP and his people need to advise him to stop spreading this false information. His last major speech was full of several ‘untruths’ and nobody has apologized on behalf of the government. They keep talking about released capital votes for infrastructure without detailing exactly where these moneys have been spent and showing us status updates and pictures of those projects. For example, if you say we have released N2trillion for infrastructure in the last 3 years, you should give us a table that details project name and location, amount released/budgeted, status (percentage completion), and estimated completion dates. When we get this detail, people living in those areas will check and comment. I have actually heard good things about progress with Lagos/Ibadan express way, Apapa road, as well as Agricultural development across the country but these have not been well articulated to Nigerians. What is the exact progress? When will you complete these projects? How much have you spent on them so far? When they talk about 6 to 8m jobs in Nigeria created from agriculture, they need to try to explain to us how they arrived at that number, rather than just provide a stunning figure. Most of us find it hard to believe and we deserve some explanation about how this is calculated or arrived at. My unanswered tweets to the politicians and activists were sent through an online job platform – www.delon.ng – because I wanted to steer a conversation focused mainly on jobs in Nigeria. And my hope is that this article will indeed create that conversation through whatever media it is published.

The table below highlights unemployment numbers from Nigeria Bureau of Statistics in the last 3 years.

I personally believe it is a big lie that unemployment rate was 6.4% in January 2015. So, the opposition and activists are correct when they say unemployment rate has increased a lot. But do they really believe that our unemployment rate in 2015 was less than 10%? Common! And do we all even believe that our unemployment rate was about 18.8% in Q3 of 2017? It is my humble view that unemployment and under-employment in Nigeria mean virtually the same thing and the numbers will be close to 50% if not more. So, we really should stop quoting these NBS numbers. I believe NBS may be right with GDP, inflation, and other related figures but in this job context, most of us will disagree with them. Because I care a lot about – Jobs in Nigeria, I’m usually excited about topics related to – Latest Jobs in Nigeria – Politicians’ take on Job Creation and Jobs in Nigeria – Job Vacancies in Lagos – Latest Federal Government Strategies to create Jobs in Nigeria – Social Intervention Program by Federal and State Governments – Opposition’s manifesto about creating Jobs in Nigeria, etc. Creating jobs for the masses will solve a lot of problems in Nigeria. It will enhance security, health, the economy, marriages, and reduce corruption.

I am using this medium to challenge Nigerians to probe our politicians, activists and journalists further. We need to elevate discussions above sensationalism. I know most politicians will still win elections with sensationalism and propaganda, but we need to begin to change things gradually so that issues and facts may help to win elections in future. There are many problems Nigeria has to resolve very quickly (e.g. healthcare, herdsman/farmers crisis, boko haram, education, etc) and people need to discuss facts and solutions in this regard. However, I plan to talk mostly about topics related to jobs in Nigeria, the economy and power during this election cycle because they are areas I understand quite well.

Debo Onifade writes from Boston, USA

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Until adequate attention is paid infrastructure development and we are less fixated with deceptive and parochial religion, Nigeria is going no where.