- by Tobi Adebowale
The value of a step taken is measured by its impact and consequences. It is in this regard that the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan must be commended for its efforts in notable areas as agriculture, information and communication technology, employment, transportation and revitalisation of the automotive industry among others.
One cannot wish away or fairly dismiss the remarkable efforts of thoroughbred technocrats like Mr. Olusegun Aganga who has been overseeing the Ministry of Trade and Investment; Dr. Omobola Johnson who has been in charge of the Ministry of Communication Technology; and Mr. Akinwunmi Adesina supervising the Agricultural strides of the Jonathan government. Yet there are others.
It is an information age and it may be best appropriate to begin from the many leaps Nigeria has taken in this area in the last four years, with Dr. Omobola Johnson steering the wheels at the ministry of Communication Technology. It is easy to casually sum it up to say that internet access greatly increased in Nigeria between 2011 and 2014 but the level of work done by the present government is better appreciated on a closer look.
Recently, the United Nations e-Government Development Ranking index shows that Nigeria moved 21 places at the end of 2014, an improvement made possible through the standardization of all MDA websites and deployment of ICT in all government parastatals to ease work routine. Nigeria moved to 141st position from 162nd. This development is also much visible in the communications industry which now contributes nothing less than $50 billion to Nigeria’s gross domestic product (GDP) and amounts to about 9.58% of the GDP.
To simplify the growth in that sector, one just needs to consider the increase in the number of online transactions and retail stores. They are not thriving without policy and institutional support. In 2014, Nigeria’s broadband access was enhanced with the addition of 38,000 km fibre optic cabling to bring the total fibre cable optic deployed in Nigeria to 1,200 km. That alongside others have helped the Nigerian telecom sector become one of the fastest growing sectors in the world and attracting huge foreign direct investment.
The Ministry of Communication Technology has also through its initiatives like Connect Nigeria, the Universal Service Provision Fund (USPF) and support for digital jobs creation helped to increase the acquisition and profitable use of technology skills. USPF has connected 1.4 million students in 27 federal universities while 3.4 million students are targeted to be connected by the end of 2015. In essence, within the last four years, more Nigerians have been able to connect to the internet, work and build connections.
About 75 million Nigerians are connected to the internet today. Between 2013 and 2014, there was a 16% growth in the number of users from 57.7 million to 67.1 million. If we consider the fact that the figure was merely 38.3 million in 2010 before the Jonathan administration established the Communication Technology Industry under Dr. Omobola Johnson in 2011, the impact is better appreciated.
According to the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Nigeria’s teledensity rose to 97.8% in November 2014. In that month alone, 2.4 million lines were subscribed to take the total number of connected lines to 186.5 million from 184.1 million in September 2014. That is some credit due the Ministry of Communication Technology and the Jonathan government.
Another area the Jonathan government has fared very well is in the stimulation of trade and investments. It takes more than mere rhetoric to attract foreign direct investment to the country at an average of $212,648.58 billion in four years. Nigeria is presently one of the best investment destinations in Africa. Dr. Olusegun Aganga has taken some notable policy initiatives as Minister of Trade and Investment. Nigeria’s Automotive Policy is one of those initiatives and deserves more than a mention in passing.
It is true the likes of Peugeot and Volkswagen have had assembly plants in Nigeria before now but they were in a sorry state. There has however been a revival under the current dispensation. Peugeot, Nissan and Hyundai now either assemble cars, buses and trucks in Nigeria or manufacture them. A Nigerian car manufacturer was hitherto unheard of but now we have Innoson Vehicle Manufacturing Company making cars in Enugu and many Nigerians who live in the East have attested to riding in luxury buses made by Innoson that have already been rolled out for commercial transport. Innoson has also been greatly helped by the revitalised Bank of Industry.
The Automotive Policy, like any other policy of that magnitude, comes with its own challenges but it seems the benefits outweigh the odds. There is a potential advantage of technology transfer by the foreign companies now manufacturing in Nigeria, the possibility of up to a million direct and indirect jobs. Stallion Group, the makers of Nissan brand of vehicles have produced 6,000 vehicles in Nigeria within the last two years and that is surely a good start.
Agriculture has of course been one of the talking points of the Goodluck Jonathan government and rightly so. Nigeria’s Minister of Agriculture, Akinwumi Adesina was named the Forbes Africa Person of the Year 2013 for spearheading government reforms in the agricultural sector that has seen to the empowerment of more than six million farmers across Nigeria. In the last four years, agriculture is gradually being shepherded from the backwaters of development rhetoric to a mainstream business endeavour attracting both old and young.
There was the implementation of the Growth Enhancement Support Scheme which has greatly helped to simplify the process of procuring and distributing fertilizer to farmers. The elimination of middlemen through the introduction of the electronic wallet scheme for registered farmers has helped to whittle down the monstrous corruption that plagued fertiliser distribution in times past. The result has been a monumental increase in food production which has helped to enhance food security. Nigeria also happens to be the first country to supply farmers subsidized farm inputs with notifications and transactions conducted transparently and easily via mobile phones.
Nigeria is presently the world’s largest producer of cassava due to the policy support of the Jonathan administration for cassava farmers. The crop is now also being harvested and processed into flour for baking cassava bread which is making a slow but sure ascendancy into the mainstream.
Agriculture has become the new cool, even among young people through the combined approach of policy support and awareness adopted by the present government. The Youth Employment in Agriculture Programme is one of such policies that is helping to reshape our perception of agriculture. The programme is attracting young graduates and school leavers across Nigeria’s six geopolitical zones into commercial farming and agro business. A new word was coined ‘Nagropreneur’ to describe people signing up for the project but much more exciting is the potential number of jobs to be created. Having 750, 000 entrepreneurial youths supported financially and equipped with the skills for commercial farming will surely have an astounding multiplier effect in Nigeria’s quest to create more jobs for her teeming youth population in the nearest future. Popular musician, D’Banj is an ambassador of the programme and is himself leading by example with his foray into agriculture.
Like the Nagropreneurs described above, the Jonathan government appears to be charting a course with its peculiar approach to job creation in various sectors of the economy. The creation of such other programmes as Youth Enterprise With Innovation in Nigeria (YouWIN) has helped many young Nigerians with innovative ideas and managerial competence to get the needed mentorship and funding to take their ideas from the real of thoughts to physical manifestation, empowering them to empower even more people. In all fairness, the programme has also been run transparently, with applications done online and cutting down the potentials for nepotism. There is simply reward for being outstanding.
In its first year, YouWIN which has been coordinated by Nigeria’s Ministry of Finance led by Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala empowered 1,200 Nigerian entrepreneurs below the age of 45. A second edition in 2012 focused on women while the third edition empowered another 1,500 young entrepreneurs of both genders. Applications are presently on for the fourth edition which will grant technical as well as financial support to 3,600 entrepreneurs between the ages of 18 and 45 years. Nigeria has a huge unemployment ratio, but if we consider that this policy as well as others have huge multiplier effects if well managed, then we can safely say there is hope even if we must add that government still needs to do more.
There has been a revival of rail transportation in Nigeria under the present administration. It is only appropriate that questions be asked about costs but there is clear evidence of a gradual shift from the widespread redundancy that has been the lot of our rail tracks over the years. New tracks are being laid and new coaches added. More people and goods are now being moved across the length and breadth of the country by rail, and this is a good thing. The better thing is that concerted effort is being made and there is a steady implementation of the 25-year transport sector development plan devised by the Jonathan administration. With just four years gone, it may perhaps be too early in the day to make assessments with a tone of finality.