We are in the season of hope. We have a new administration in Nigeria and it should be such a season to see new possibilities and engage with deep commitment towards a better experience for us as a people. As many start with goodwill questions, in the hope that this will not just be new times but a new era, it seems almost inevitable that a significant minority is stuck in election battles. A desire to catch out the incoming administration and an abiding desire to define the electoral results as geographic, sectional and ethnic chasms that can only be resolved by institutionalising them in ways that will rip the country apart. While it is right for people to hold their views and wholly express them, there is an awfully depressing character to bad losers, they are committed to continue to relive the past, over and again. The idea that we will be served well by a permanent class or group of refuseniks imbued by cynicism especially entrenched in ethnicity or sectionalism is extremely unwise. We most certainly need an opposition that is healthy in ideas, disciplined, and focussed on alternatives. That is not what is the intent here by many of these people, but to continue to pollute national development with the poison of prejudice.
I think that here the incoming administration has been sluggish. It must not cede any part of this country in ideas, values, practices and narratives to those who would have us in conflict and be at war with each other. By not having a recognised voice, message and narrative post-election, it has left a space open for a counter-narrative in which any reported pronouncements are picked off, one after the other, and misrepresented mischievously. There needs to be a very urgent attempt to engage the South-South and the South-East in a dialogue about what change means for them before the loud voices who have parlayed shouting for billions of the commonwealth dominate the narrative. The President-elect and his incoming team must win the battle of intangibles before they are handed-over to on the May 29, or else they will be reacting and on the defensive far too soon in key areas of the country. They need to start to fill the canvass of our imagination as they manage expectations, inspire engagement, define their designs and seize the narrative. They need to get a spokesperson who helps to capture the message, tone, mood with positivity, clarity and excellence, in fact if these confound orthodoxy, the better. Sustainable change occurs because people accept the present is sustainable, as well as they have a clear alternative that captures their imagination. There might be people in the APC who think the election already defined these things, but I will affirm to them it is just starting and this is no time to ease back.
As we start to define this era with hope, it is certainly very clear what the priorities of the incoming President will be. His covenant with the Nigerian people is clear and unambiguous as commitments, but there are a lot to do. He has especially highlighted the issues of Security, Corruption and Employment. These are very complex challenges that resonate with of us. Then when you ask how will we know if we have succeeded in addressing these issues, we start to see how truly challenging these commitments are. This is especially true because baselines or starting points are often unknown, underdeveloped or, at the very least, moving targets that are very hard to nail down. I am sure the transition teams are working very hard to define these and many others, especially around finances but the critical way to know by 2019 what has changed starts here. For example on corruption, will progress be how many people are prosecuted? Convicted? Financial savings made from possible waste? Reduction in Capital flight? There is no simple technical standard and please not the Transparency international survey that masquerades as a true benchmark.
Whatever choices of indicators of progress, it must not only be real in the perception of Nigerians but they must also experience it as changing not just the terms of how things were done, but in delivering beneficial returns. From those three priorities, the place of real demonstrative effect will be in the area of Employment or addressing unemployment. Make no mistake, this not because it will be easy but it will tangibly address the lives, concerns, prospect of Nigerians. It has the capacity to mobilise Nigerians like no other subject, translate our focus to aspiration, improve and empower the young and herald a new era where people start to not only engage in a social contract with Government but also realise their own capacity to be the change the country seeks and now deserve.
Mass employment, the kind that we need in Nigeria, is rarely ever a creation of governance or government on its own. If it happens it will be realised through a joined up approach of government and their policies, private sector and their choices, the labour market and what it has to offer. In our case it will not really be the large organised private sector but the small and medium size businesses especially in the informal economy. We would be staring from a very incredible and unusual starting point. Yes the largest single employer is Government but the entire formal sector of our economy, including Government employs less than 10 million Nigerians. A 2012 Gallup payroll-to-population survey in Africa shows Nigeria has having the lowest in Africa at 9%, this is in spite of a growing and expanding economy. The lowest estimate of Nigerians engaged in the informal economy like Mechanics, Tailors , Hairdressers, Bukas, Market traders runs into about 10s of millions. To get the kind of change we want and need in employment, the government has to start with a radical departure from the ideas that have been used in the past.
The first thing that needs to be done is to mobilise the private sector to participate in helping to pull together a proper labour market intelligence or analysis. We need to have a baseline of the jobs and skills that are wanted and needed within the economy. Simple, what skills do we need and do we have the capacity to fill them? It seems we are constantly supplying certified graduates on all levels but are they going into the labour market with the skills we need? If the skills required are available then we start matching, and if not it will be harder to make the kind of progress we need. While we are establishing these, we can also use the same discipline that brought us PVCs to create a database of those seeking employment and a profile of skills and competence. To my mind we need to move our labour market to focus on competency not just certificates. Increasingly, we deliver people who are certified but not competent. As we get these together, we will need to also accredit artisans and craft capacity with a radical revamp of the Boards that are supposed to do this work. We will need something of a Craft council or a NAFDAC of competence, even though that organisations is still far too bureaucratic for the kind of adaptive capacity it needs. This radical departure will also need to recognise something every Nigerian knows, even those employed in the formal sector, that we are obsessed with entrepreneurship. When the government officially embraces this knowledge and develops the policies that enhances this habit, the informal sectors will be brought into the formal and expand the economy, taxes and employment.
As Government gets to grips with some of these things, here are some additional highlights that will bring the change we need. It must embrace Life-long learning so that people can adapt to the 21st century truth that they will change careers many times in their lives. Learn the lesson of the 2015 elections, using leapfrog technology wherever possible, the benefits of the card readers are still undersold. Help the people to find what they love to do by investing in career guidance for school leavers. Build a Small and Medium Size economy they are not only the more likely to recruit but also connect the world of the informal micro business to that of the formal big businesses. Transform our markets across the country into the kind of business incubators they can be for the millions who use them simply for subsistence.
We need a wholesale repositioning of our labour market, bringing the rigour of competencies, the discipline of productivity and the pursuit of values that deliver excellence. It will mean a move towards meritocratic recruitment and the focus on equality of opportunity. The often professed notion that people are the greatest assets of this country is only meaningful when those people are productive and engaged in the realisable struggle of creating value. I believe that our challenge is not just employment, in terms of number but a truly dynamic labour market where the spectrum of competition and collaboration is facilitated by government commitment, policies and intervention. This type of change that will touch nearly all the 28 million or so estimated households is not only what we hope from this government but truly a signal of a new era. The era that will make the prediction of top 20 largest economy by 2025 a truly befitting milestone.
Adewale Ajadi, a lawyer, creative consultant and leadership expert, is author of Omoluwabi 2.0: A Code of Transformation in 21st Century Nigeria.