By Bimbola Oyesola
WHEN it comes to the issue of privatisation, the Nigeria Employers Consultative Association (NECA) has a different opinion from the rest of the crowd, particularly organised labour and other Nigerians who believe that privatisation has not made any headway for the country and therefore, called for reversal of all the government privatised enterprises.
Its Director General, Olusegun Oshinowo, believes that privatisation, especially of the downstream sector, still remains the key to open up the economy. In his view, government has no business in running businesses, but rather as an enabler, a regulator, government’s role is to create an enabling environment for the private sector to thrive.
He also disclosed that the reason NECA went into partnership with the Industrial Training Fund (ITF) was to showcase examples of what would work in addressing unemployment in the country. Oshinowo, however, said that despite government’s lackadaisical attitude to the scheme, it has now attracted international attention.
Oshinowo, among other issues, also speaks on the informal sector of the economy and how workers in the sector can be protected.
One thing we must realise is that it is a functional and healthy economy that generates jobs. The developed economies of this world have a crop of special agencies to create jobs because they understand pretty well that creating and generating jobs is based on an economic model of growth where you empower your citizens to be stable consumers. Take the economy of the US for example. The growth in the US economy is quite significant that almost 65 per cent of consumers are in US. And how can citizens be empowered? They can only be empowered if they have jobs. When you have citizens that are well empowered based on their standard of living, they will spend and the economy will grow. So we just need to make sure that we create an enabling environment that is healthy and functional.
How do we do so? That is now the issue. In a typical headway for any economy, income has a function, consumer expenditure has a function for investment. The latest one we are talking of is government investing significantly in infrastructure. But what do we have in the Nigerian economy? We have a budget system where almost 65 per cent or 85 per cent goes into recurrent expenditure and a system where 20 per cent or 5 per cent to capital expenditure. That means the country is not backing up the economy with the necessary infrastructural requirement that is essential for an enabling environment that will make individual Nigerians to engage in entrepreneurship and be wealth creators and employ Nigerians. So the issue of infrastructure should be tackled.
See what is happening with our transport system. When we were growing up, I could still recall vividly the picture and the experience we had of a train conveying fuel through our railway system. The picture of some of those trains labelled Shell, Chevron, commuting fuel from one state to another. That has disappeared, which is why we have these madness on our roads. Almost about 6,000 tankers converging on one place to lift fuel; that is madness. We’ve got to reverse that. How do we reverse that? That is through keeping the railway system working. The railway will convey the cargo; it can convey passengers. This is a big issue for any economy. The developed economies of this world have excellent railway system and excellent road network. For me, these are priority issues for this government.
On the issue of privatisation, I don’t agree with those who said privatisation has failed in Nigeria. The question we should be asking ourselves is, what is the age of our privatisation programme? We are still in the nascent stage of our privatisation. When Margret Thatcher decided to privatise the rail system in the UK, they had their teething problems, they had their hiccups. But today, what do you find? They are better off for it. So we just need to be patient for the full manifestation of the benefit that will come out of some of these privatised enterprises.
We have said time and time again that government has no business hanging on to the four refineries that have been consuming millions of dollars in turn around maintenance. Let’s put them in the hands of the private sector to manage. Government business is to create an enabling environment for private sector to thrive. We want the Buhari administration to understand that government is an enabler, government is a regulator, government should not be a player where private sector is. When you create an enabling environment, when you enable private sector to get the full benefit of it from your economy, it adds to physical economic growth and development. That is the part a good player should take.
Our case is like a prophet without honour in his own country. As an international organisation, which was set up in 2013 based on the initiative of the G20 and G40, Global Apprenticeship Network wants to know about our story. They approached me and said they’ve heard about what we were doing in Nigeria and believed that our experience would be in line with the global concept. As such, they invited us to be on the board of their organisation, which they believed would be a win-win for us. They offered to help us with what we were doing. But the fact is, we are partnering with ITF for us to showcase examples of what will work in addressing unemployment in Nigeria. One would have expected the government of Nigeria by now to have seen that this is the model that works and take ownership of it and then expand its capacity.
At the International Labour Organisation (ILO), one of the employers told me that based on what he learned from the ITF/ NECA partnership, he would like to set up a foundation along that line so that he could leave a legacy behind. Take the hospitality industry, which is one of our areas, for example. It’s high yielding. A look at a typical hospitality industry, one has the tourism aspect and the hotel aspect. On the hotel aspect alone, the man at the bar requires certain skills, the chef requires certain skills, the people that prepare the room require certain skills. Do we have any provision in Nigeria that is training Nigerians to acquire that? When you go to other parts of the world, you have a school like that. They train their workers in a bid to meet up with challenges in the industry. So the ability to employ these skills makes the workers attractive to the employers. It gives them the edge to move around the world.
Same situation applies to Nigeria in the sense that we have a model that can work. Our own model is more or less like the Brown field approach. In the Brown field approach, we are only scouting around for the idle capacity and we are enhancing this capacity to train more beyond their levels and because they are training at their own will, they impact professional skills on the students. Nigerian Breweries is one of our Brown fields. NBL takes up our interns and trains them along with their own students, the same quality of training. At the end of the programme, they give employment to some of them and release others to the larger labour market, which the market is really waiting for.
Then the green field approach gives larger capacity, will also give the opportunity to customise one’s facility based on the skill area of specialisation. We have acquired a large acreage of land after Lagos, which is almost about 200 plots. This is a multiple skills training centre. It will cater for the building profession, construction, welding, tiling, carpentry and so on. The opportunity and potentials are endless based on the model we have on ground. We are working with Ruff ‘n’ Tumble as small as it is. When Ruff ‘n’ Tumble hits the ground running now, it will be churning out an average of 25, 30 skilled Nigerians every six to nine months, who can set up their own businesses with employees. Between Ruff ‘n’ Tumble and other players, that’s a skill model we are talking about. I’m aware of several other brown fields in Nigeria that are lying idle, that can be easily converted into veritable training centres that will impact skills on Nigerians.
Some of the issues discussed at the International Labour Conference this year are quite germane. Let me address the issue of context; take the discussion on transition from informal economy to formal economy. In Africa or take Nigeria for example, 95 per cent of our workforce is in the informal economy. So if we want to talk about the world of work, the question we should be asking is, is the world of work within the informal or the formal economy? What we know is that informal economy is complicated. There are myriads of challenges in the informal sector that will make it extremely difficult for any government to effect policy implementation in the informal sector, which might include promotion of safety of workers. Now, if we are talking of safety of workers, as far as our own country is concerned, there should be a strategy by which we can review the informality in our environment so that the world of work we are talking of will be the world of work that will guarantee decent work for Nigerian workers. But the question we should just be asking ourselves is, where are we today? What will the world of work be for us in about 10 years? What will be the characteristic of that world of work? What do we need to do to make sure that the basic rights of workers are protected? Which future of world of work are we going to create for ourselves? I must commend the DG for his concern but the future of world of work may be different from continent to continent, from country to country. But for us where the majority of our workers are in the informal sector, the focus should be to review the informality.
Source : SunOnline