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On the realities of spurring employment via technology – Part I

With the reduced corruption and increased discipline that we expect as an outcome of the recently-concluded elections in Nigeria, maybe we can now start thinking of experimenting with some practical ideas to try to spur employment in the country. Obviously, I wouldn’t be saying this if it were business as usual, because corruption would not allow any reasonable suggestions to see the light of the day. Moreover, by the time the leaders “take care of themselves and their friends,” nothing would be left to solve the nation’s excruciating unemployment problem.

On the other hand, the loots recovered, and will still be recovered, from individuals from past regimes should be more than sufficient to make a down payment for innovative ideas to spur employment. In fact, using recovered monies to spur employment is perhaps the most appropriate thing to do, since the loots should have gone to help the citizens in the first place. We thank God for the potential possibilities.

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To be sure, any initiatives will cost money, which I believe is okay. They will also carry some risks, which again should not scare the government. Furthermore, the problem of inadequate electricity supply will take its toll on any initiatives to move the country forward in virtually any direction. However, we might not be able to wait until the electricity supply problem has been fully resolved before we start doing something.

As I have expressed a couple of times in the past, I am of the opinion that technology can take a front seat in the efforts to create jobs. It’s very easy to see this. Unlike Nigeria which has a vast amount and variety of natural resources, South Korea does not have any, but thanks to technology, it is one of the most developed countries in the world today. South Korea, formally referred to as The Republic of Korea to differentiate it from North Korea – known as the People’s Democratic Republic of Korea – has several international brands to show, such as Samsung, LG, Hyundai, Lotte, Doosan, and Kia, to name a few. About fifty years ago, South Korea was one of the poorest countries on earth, perhaps a lot poorer than Nigeria. Today it is one of the most industrialized nations. Infrastructure (roads, bridges, subway systems, KTX – the fast train – and airport), excellent tertiary institutions, Information and Communications Technology (ICT), and uninterrupted power supply are the hallmarks of South Korea’s advancement. South Korea has led the world in Internet bandwidth for many years, and its airport in Incheon, a suburb of Seoul, has been rated the best of all airports in the world for many years in a roll.

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With natural resources and the trade advantages associated with a large population, Nigeria has a better initial condition than South Korea had when it started its aggressive development projects in the fifties.

Nigeria has at least three main avenues to pursue in order to advance its development and provide employment: agriculture, natural resources, and technology. The country needs to make agriculture more attractive in terms of incentives. A country like the US even has set-asides for agribusinesses.

Concerning agriculture, there seems to be ready market for food all over the world, not to mention the fact that the country would not be importing food. I recently visited the Museum of Chocolate in Davao in The Philippines, only to learn that Ivory Coast is the Number One producer in the world of the cocoa beans used for chocolate. As a young teenager in Kabba in the early seventies, I remember very vividly the massive cocoa and coffee farms spread all over the kingdom. My father, though a politician in Awolowo’s party for a length of time, was for the most part a farmer. We had over one square mile of cocoa and coffee plantation located in Abihi village in the then Bunu District of the present Kabba/Bunu local government area. I remember large lorry-loads of sacks of coffee and cocoa beans produced from our plantation and those of my father’s friends being mildly pre-processed and sent out for export. Today, I doubt if there are such farmers in Kabba. Yet, the kids have no jobs! Agriculture is one solution to Nigeria’s massive unemployment problem. This is the case even if there is no extensive mechanization. Processing – by chemical and food technologists and engineers – of excess agricultural produce for export is crucial to reducing waste and providing revenue from export.

One fact to bear in mind is that the government (Federal or State) cannot employ everyone. The other thing is the fact that there are really no big businesses in the country that could provide sufficient employment relative to the number of unemployed people. This means that the SMEs can play a significant role in the effort to solve the unemployment problem.

Looking at solutions from the tech sector, the question concerns how the government can create favorable conditions for tech-based employment. Some progress on ICT, telecom, and online banking was made during the Obasanjo’s regime. However, these were not expansive enough to put enough people to work. The question then pertains to what needs to be done technology-wise to have far-reaching effects in terms of employment. Next week’s article will continue on this important topic.


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