Job data is not a privilege, but an essential requirement from government

Originally Published On feb 25, 2013

By Debo Onifade

I published an article on job creation, just before the 2011 elections, asking all the candidates to tell us how many jobs they would create when they get into government and how exactly they would create those jobs.  I made suggestions in same article about how to create jobs and I have seen that a few governors share similar thoughts.

But I am continually appalled that the federal government and majority of the state governments are still never able to give us specific figures or reasonable estimates about the number of jobs they would create within a specific period of time, or how many they have indeed created since they resumed work in 2011.

I don’t expect perfect data in all areas of economic discussions, because Nigeria itself doesn’t keep records, but there are some simple data that are not difficult to provide.  Before I fully get on with this piece, let me describe an analogy that sometimes make many of us doubt the ability or willingness of our government officials to provide accurate data.

The other day, the ‘highly-respected’ Dr Ngozi Okonjo Iweala (Cordinating Minister of the Economy – CME) came to the US and was asked by CNN’s Christian Amanpour about corruption in Nigeria, and she said 99.9% of Nigerians are honest hard-working citizens.  Really???  What’s the source of this percentage figure?

Would Barack Obama even say this about America?  No way!  If you don’t have your specific data, please kindly say ‘majority’, ‘a lot’, or ‘whatever’ J.  But when it comes to specific numbers on our daily crude oil production, earnings over the last several months, price differentials and excess crude oil account updates, Dr Ngozi Okonjo Iweala (CME) is rarely forthcoming with specific numbers. I wish she would be able to quote 99.9% in production and remittances, just as she said that 99.9% of Nigerians are honest hard-working people.  If the CME now comes forward tomorrow to say that the federal government has created 5million jobs in the last two years, how would she expect us to believe her?

In order to foster a culture where government officials regularly share accurate data with the public, people (especially journalists) must frequently ask questions that relate to figures and question the source and veracity of those figures.  According to the US Bureau of Statistics, 203,000 jobs were added to the American economy and the unemployment rate was consequently reduced to 7%.  This has been a major subject of discussion in America in the last several days.  Opposition is saying this is not enough, that some people have actually stopped looking for job, and that several people are still under-employed.  The ruling party is touting this as a major achievement, citing that this is the highest job growth in the last 5 years, etc.

The interesting part of this discourse is that there is a healthy debate based on facts and figures.  In Nigeria, it is usually based on GDP growth, and lots of related ‘big English’ stories.  The American press and government officials hardly talk about GDP growth.  Is GDP growth important? Absolutely!  But is it as important as job growth?  No!  A GDP growth that does not create jobs makes very little sense.  Brazil is a good example for Nigeria – their GDP grew consistently in the past decade and the country posted a remarkable 4.6% unemployment in January this year!

So, Mr President, Mr Governors and Madam CME, how many jobs have you created since you resumed office in 2011?  Please don’t tell me that government doesn’t create jobs, and that Nigeria’s economy is private-sector driven.  Please!  We all know that at least 26 states (actually, maybe more than 30) in Nigeria have fully government-run economies.  So, it is not too difficult for you to determine the number of full-time, part-time and indirect jobs that your contractors created in the past two years.  At least, the contractors should be remitting PAYE taxes on all their new hires, and you can identify these.

And if you say that your policies have encouraged manufacturing and agriculture in Nigeria, you can please talk to the companies to help you with some verifiable data.  Just as Chief Obasanjo could easily say that he brought GSM to Nigeria and all the direct and indirect employees by GSM providers can be attributed to his government policy, your governments should be able to provide similar information.  In case you are unable to answer the 1st question on this paragraph, please go ahead to answer the following 2 questions:  How many jobs do you intend to create before you leave office or before you vie for a 2nd term in 2015?  And how exactly do you intend to create these jobs?

Our ‘highly esteemed’ journalists should please do us a big favour to always ask our politicians and CME about job numbers.  I feel very passionate about job creation because I am convinced that it will solve a significant number of our problems in Nigeria.  ‘Stopping’ corruption is perhaps the only bigger issue but this is beyond the scope of my article.

When a policy is not enhancing job creation, government should be humble enough to change course and act differently.  And if you have a policy that is meant to help small businesses, but ultimately benefits only the big businesses, shouldn’t you consider a policy reversal or modification?  Absolutely!  By regularly checking and updating job data, government would be able to determine the impact of their policies on jobs.  A good example is the Bank of Industry that government started not too long ago.  I learnt recently that the loan conditions were (I don’t know if they still are) so ‘intense’ that only the mega companies could have access to them.

It was so bad that a big chunk of the funds sat at the bank unused for a long time because several banks were not even willing to stress themselves to pursue it because of the huge conditions.  I am also aware that lots of agriculture intervention funds by government and similar ‘intervention’ funds have been of very little benefit to small companies.  Is this how to create jobs?  No sir, no ma’am!  America’s economy is big, not because of the Exxonmobil, Chevron, Google, Microsoft, etc, but because of the hundreds of thousands of successful small companies that continue to hire people in 10s, 20s, 30s, and 50s.  That is the only way our economy can significantly grow jobs.  So what’s the point in making nice policies that do not enhance job creation or in fact ultimately cut jobs?

I greatly admire the Central Bank Governor (Sanusi Lamido Sanusi) but I also put the above question to him.  Does it make sense to pursue ‘nice policies’ that don’t create jobs?  Net job creation should be adequately considered in all policies.  I know sometimes, tough but sound job-cutting decisions have to be made when the opportunity cost is greater.  But job impact should be thoroughly evaluated at all times by every organ of government, before a policy is adopted.  The federal government should provide big incentives (like tax cuts) for banks that help small businesses to grow and create jobs.  Tax incentives should also be given to small companies that are creating jobs, and manufacturers who are producing and creating jobs in Nigeria.  When I discuss job creation with bankers, they tell me they are in business to make money and lots of Nigerians are not honest with loans, etc.  I agree that there are lots of dishonest people in Nigeria but I also believe that when a bank painstakingly does due diligence on its clients seeking funding to grow, it will detect some sincere ones.  But many banks are not even ready to exert themselves or waste their energy to do such due diligence.  After all, it is of course much easier to finance the mega companies that immediately meet all their requirements.  In fact, the definition of SME (small and medium enterprise) in some banks actually relates to ‘big’ companies.

Though it is certain that our governments have not paid adequate attention to job creation, the objective of this article was not to discuss the different ways of creating jobs, but to highlight the importance of regularly sharing job numbers and evaluating impact of policies on jobs.  It requires diligence on the part of the government officials to grind out these figures, but it should also help them (government) to learn how to improve policies and tailor them towards job creation.  We must incessantly request for verifiable job numbers from our state governors, CME and Mr President in all interviews.

Engr. Debo Onifade is an Energy Consultant based in Boston and Lagos

April 30, 2020

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