A Model for Growing the Economy [editorial] (allAfrica.com)


AS Nigeria prepares for the inauguration of a new government, the aggressive job-creation model of economic regeneration, canvassed by Britain’s Conservative Party before last week’s election may well be an initiative for the Muhammadu Buhari government to consider for adoption in order to revitalise Nigeria’s comatose economy.

David Cameron, whose party currently leads the British government and will form the next one pledged, ahead of the election, that his party would ensure 600,000 new businesses are created every year between now and year 2020.

In his praise for small businesses which form 15 per cent of British workforce, Cameron was quoted as saying: “Small businesses are the backbone of our economy – and Conservatives are behind them 100 per cent.

We are the party of the grafters and the roofers and the retailers and the plumbers. We get them, we respect them, we understand them, we back them.”

Neglecting the bickering between Tories and Labour in UK politics, it is the simple, but effective strategy of steady economic strides embarked upon by the Conservatives since 2010 that forms the invaluable lesson of economic recovery to be learnt from today’s Britain.

And what is this strategy? Growing small businesses. According to the bookmakers, the pro-enterprise policies of the Tory government, in the last few years, by its interference in and directing of the operation of small firms, have placed Britain in an enviable economic position in Europe.

With ample avenues for wealth creation and expansion, personal economic empowerment and profit-making, the focus on growing small businesses has the potential of fostering genuine economic security.

In terms of replicating the UK success story in Nigeria, the Bank of Industry (BoI), the Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Programme (SURE-P), Youth Environmental Empowerment Awareness (YEEA) programme, Small and Medium Enterprises Development Agencies of Nigeria (SMEDAN) and their likes catering to the needs of small and medium scale business come to mind.

However, as a one-stop shop for industrial development and economic empowerment of the grassroots, each of these agencies, with their activities, appears distant from the people it should serve.

While their activities are showcased online with powerful image laundering acts, the claims made often seem far from reality. For instance, despite processing new loans in excess of N217 billion and posting a pre-tax profit of N5.6 billion on loan performance for the 2014 financial year, the Bank of Industry does not seem to have had the impact commensurate with the injection of such whopping billions of Naira into the economy.

The regularity of its advertised success prompts questions: What have they spent these billions on? Who and who have they spent this money on? How effective have their monitoring of projects been?

Consistent with a philosophy that genuine economic growth must be reflected by the quality of life of the people, rather than in the pedantic clichés of public officials and reports of government agencies, it is the conviction of this newspaper that those agencies, which should be arrowheads for this kind of development, are not really functioning the way they should.

While, in annual reports, there are loans disbursed to all kinds of industries, the actual state of affairs on ground does not reflect the books. For a place like Nigeria, the omnibus responsibilities of these agencies frustrate wealth-creating small business initiatives like agriculture and agro-allied industries even as they confine many to unending poverty.

Addressing this challenge, however, would require that the benefits from the functions of these government agencies percolate to the grassroots.

To ensure that they get to the grassroots, government needs to get the statistics of functional small-scale businesses and be able to organise them in terms of size, structure, future, and thereby make projections on its job and wealth creation potential.

Providentially, lots of institutes and bodies abound that have carried out researches documenting all this. If the President-elect is desirous of creating wealth for the people or moving them out of poverty, he and his team may want to adopt the Tory model for massive agriculture-based job-creation schemes.

This entails provision of low or no interest loans and other juicy incentives to farmers for food production and job creation. In countries like Cambodia, Indonesia, Vietnam and others which have experienced economic uplift through agriculture, a job-creation model built around agriculture has also helped in curbing rural-urban migration.

This would also help to unleash the creative capacity of all Nigerians. A successful adoption of small businesses, wealth-creation model would also require that the incoming administration re-align and collapse the responsibilities of government agencies that have overlapping functions.

Agencies set up as after-thoughts to satisfy cronies and clannish sentiments must give way to well-intentioned and organised economic empowerment structures. In this regard, such agencies as SURE-P, YEEA, SMEDAN and their likes must be reviewed and realigned for proper co-ordination.