Jonathan’s Presidential Committee On Job Creation

A few days ago, President Goodluck Jonathan set up a committee including ministers and representatives of the private sector and charged it with creating three million jobs. There was no timeframe attached to the mandate of job creation. A set of reactions went through my mind as I read about the committee and what it was tasked to do. The first centred on the idea of job creation itself. It seems at last that the President is touching base with the reality of the unemployment situation as against the magical numbers churned out by the National Bureau of Statistics that insults our sense of propriety. But wait a minute, did the President just come to terms with this reality of unemployment in the country after four years? This implies that he has been out of touch with the lived experiences of ordinary Nigerians who constitute the majority of the population he leads. The second reaction was a voice that said that this is the politics of 2015 emerging in another form so as to be seen to care for the unemployed. The sound bites are nice to the ears, captivating for the unemployed and a brilliant idea to patriotic Nigerians. Then, the third reaction is that of giving the President the benefit of doubt and seeking to make contributions to the process of job creation in a comatose economy.

But the fourth reaction is that job creation is not a task to be given like marching orders to a committee to simply conjure three million jobs. Rather, job creation is a product of a multiplicity of policies and their implementation across board. It is a multi-sectoral challenge that simply needs the alignment of so many policies and faithfully mainstreaming the employment agenda in their implementation. Creating jobs will demand action in areas such as education, health, housing, land, national values and ethics, trade and industry, innovation, anti-corruption, budget systems and process including public procurement, etc. Job creation is like poverty. The idea of setting up a special poverty reduction unit, as enticing as it sounds, has never scratched the surface of poverty. Poverty reduction requires action across so many sectors.

Further, the composition of the committee is just about the same persons who have been running the economy without success sprinkled with private sector operators who have been in the corridors of power for so long and few new faces. The poser is; what will be new from the majority of the members of the committee that they have not contributed already? Is there any member of the committee who has out-of-the-box innovative ideas to contribute beyond the old worn platitudes that will lead us nowhere and the continuation of the recycling of imported and failed ideas? Do we need more of the same ideas or do we need new ideas to create jobs and empower the millions of Nigerians who are dreaming of a day that we will have imaginative and transparent leadership? The answer is obvious; Nigerians want to hear a new song, new workable ideas and not stale theories that have led us nowhere.

A few suggestions will be relevant for this committee and the President that set it up. The first is to ask for little sacrifice, a little accommodation and empathy for fellow Nigerians if this is to work. Starting from the 2015 federal budget, let the President, National Assembly and other political office holders cut down the fat from their bloated perks of office. This will save a few hundreds of billions which can be directed to regenerative capital expenditure programmed through a good procurement process to capital projects that will employ labour. As soon as the new auto policy fully kicks in, let the leadership auction off all imported cars and limousines that are part of their fleet and insist on driving Nigerian made cars and vehicles. In other spheres of life, let the leadership patronise Nigerian products as a mark of honour. They will not only save funds for the economy, they will be leading by example and this will send a powerful message that to be politically correct means buying and patronising Nigerian made products. The procurement policy that encourages giving first consideration to Nigerian made goods and services should be implemented to the letter because it has been gathering dust on the shelves. The local content policy should also be ramped up in all major sectors of the economy if we are desirous of creating jobs.

For the ministries in charge of land and housing, commoditising land acquired virtually free or after payment of minimal compensation by governments across the federation cannot create jobs or incentivise construction. Also, in places like Abuja, by the time corruption is removed from the sector, hundreds of thousands of construction jobs will be created. Available information indicates that fees payable to government for allocation of plots in Abuja hardly exceed N250,000. But who can get a plot of land at the official fee if he is not well connected either in political circles or in the bureaucracy? Tens of millions of naira are required to acquire a plot of land – more than enough to build a moderate house if the land was available at the official fee. Without access to land, construction and housing jobs are imperiled.

For the Central Bank of Nigeria which is part of the committee, the idea of double digit lending rates, official perennial liquidity creation as an excuse for perennial inflation targeting, cannot lead to job creation. We will perpetually be exporting jobs through imports under this monetary policy. The refusal of the CBN to try alternative ideas stated in Vision 20:2020 have contributed to the high unemployment rate. To boost the value of the naira against major international currencies and curtail excess liquidity may require the avoidance of the creation of new money. This would imply the direct allocation of foreign exchange (using dollar certificates) earned from oil to the three tiers of government rather than monetising it. This is the recommendation of Vision 20:2020 which has since been ignored by monetary and fiscal policy.

It is amazing that we want to create jobs when we have an official policy that has refused to invest in refining crude oil at home so that we save funds used to import refined petroleum. A reasonable person would have thought that savings from the SURE-P would to a great extent go into increasing local refining capacity. This would have created thousands of jobs in the economy. The idea of exporting crude oil and importing refined petroleum also makes the job creation agenda laughable. Are we saying we do not have the presence of mind to add value to raw commodities before export? Enter the National Assembly that has sat on the Petroleum Industry Bill for over seven years; a bill which would have liberalised the sector, created new jobs and earned more money for the federal and state treasuries. Yet, our “distinguished” and “honourable” members do not think the bill should be passed into law because of primordial considerations. Interventions in education, health, trade and industrial policy will also come in handy if we want to create jobs. This discourse just scratched the surface; a new way of doing things is required to create jobs in Nigeria.

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