Deepening entrepreneurship culture will expedite Nigeria’s economic development
Founder of United States-based AIA Global Consulting Services, and Coordinator, USA Entrepreneurship Project Team for Africa, Lawrence Fejokwu, in this interview with UJUNWA ATUEYI, says efforts must be revved up to end graduate unemployability. According to him, deepening entrepreneurship culture is of utmost importance in a developing economy since experts have confirmed that entrepreneurship is the driving force for economic development throughout the world. He is hopeful that the National Universities Commission’s (NUC’s) attempt to stem the tide, through the National Entrepreneurship Resources and Knowledge Centre (NERKC) project, will be of immense benefit to the country.
What is this new drive about deepening entrepreneurship culture in Nigerian universities about?
In the last 10 years, I have developed a passion to support entrepreneurship development in Nigeria, because throughout my study in the United States, I discovered that entrepreneurship has been the driving force that transformed the economy of the States into the most powerful economy in the world. In all the first world nations, entrepreneurship drives their Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and I believe that if Nigeria can deepen entrepreneurship in its universities, stimulate entrepreneurship culture in the society, the country can advance very expeditiously into a high developed nation.
That is the reason I have now launched an international organisation, with partners in US to support Nigeria in particular in this venture of creating jobs for the millions of unemployed graduates and other Nigerians.
Having worked in several organisations in the last four decades, presently I am working with an agency known as Africa Integrated Alliance Global Consultancy Services (AIA) Global. It is essentially a corporation dedicated to promoting entrepreneurship, in partnership with USA Entrepreneurship Business. We founded an agency known as USA/Africa Entrepreneurship Development Consortium. It is like a non-governmental organisation, and we are using it as a vehicle to promote and attract US partners to support entrepreneurship in Nigeria. And AIA Global is stoking the vehicle we are using now to promote this venture in Nigeria and Africa, in collaboration with US Entrepreneurship Leaders and the National Universities Commission (NUC).
How did you arrive at collaboration with NUC?
In 2009, when I returned from sabbatical in the US, I decided to conduct a nationwide research to determine how universities are fairing with the use of entrepreneurship. Along the line, I went to the NUC and initiated discussions. The discussions led to our presentation in 2013 to the management of NUC that we have a very credible university in the US willing to support Nigeria empower her professors.
So the NUC approved our proposal to send some of her professors to Babson Global in the Massachusetts for training. Eventually, we came back in 2015 and made further presentations to the NUC and it discovered that what we are trying to do keyed into their national policy of setting up an agency known as National Entrepreneurship Resources and Knowledge Centre (NERKC).
This centre will be established by the NUC to support empowerment of Nigerian undergraduates and of course the teachers so that undergraduates can be trained to come out fully equipped to become job creators, and not necessarily roaming the streets looking for job. NUC has been very passionate about this programme, and we have been working together in the past two years in particular.
I am responsible for promoting the project globally, so because it is going to be established strictly as a Private Public Partnership (PPP) project, we have been combing Nigeria and the US to attract credible partners, both in terms of supporting the establishment as investors, and also as credible partners who will support NUC to manage the project that would eventually help to train from 500, 000 undergraduates in the next couple of years, to 10 million. In consequential advantage of producing Small Business Entrepreneurs (SBE), the project targets that in the next five years based on the presidential mandate of creating more jobs, it could create as many as five to 10 million jobs in empowerment, skill acquisition and using global best practices to drive entrepreneurship.
AIA Global will be working with NUC, we are the national promoters and project coordinators. What we have been doing in the last few years is mobilising resources, searching for credible partners and most importantly, investors.
Why the need to search for investors?
Yes, we are searching for investors because it is no longer government business. It is going to be strictly speaking, a business venture, PPP to be run as a credible, profitable business venture. NUC even though is the driver, would be running it through its agency known as NUC Consultancy Services Limited. Instead of getting money from the government, it will pay dividends to the government, because it is a private sector initiative to be run by businessmen.
At what stage is the project now?
Last year, the NUC management, in collaboration with my organisation, in our attempt to popularise this project and seek appropriate partners as co-investors, undertook an economic mission. As investors, we visited Dangote Foundation, Diamond Bank and contacted other notable pillars such as Folorunsho Alakija, Fidelity Bank, and we didn’t miss out the public sector, the Delta State Governor, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa, also received the management and my group and the state government offered to partner with us in the project, because already the state government is promoting jobs and wealth creation. But what we are doing now is galvanising the national support.
When established, what would be your long and short-term goals?
The short-term goal is to deepen entrepreneurship in Nigerian universities, because globally economists have discovered that entrepreneurship is the driving force for economic development in throughout the world. America is the case in point. And therefore, the universities are currently being challenged to produce graduates who can also become job creators. So by the time you qualify with entrepreneurship knowledge and skill, which automatically fires your ingenuity to create, to innovate, you are not only coming out of the university to carry certificates, but you are beginning to think of what else can I do.
So, the short-term goal is to create a critical mass of graduates, who will be entrepreneurial in their innovation and thinking, and from being entrepreneurial, they would begin to create and make things happen. Don’t forget that every business, no matter how small may need an assistant or a sales representative, expansion to a new branch and onward progression. So, the short-term goal in this particular project, we hope in the next three years to create at least a million jobs; train over 500, 000 to one million in all aspect of entrepreneurship, and then using the multiplication effect, we are looking forward to creating ten million jobs in the next five years, because by then we are looking at 36 states probably having their own BDCs and then six zones having their Zonal Entrepreneurship Centers (ZECs), which will eventually be expanded into states BDCs, and then who knows local governments BDCs.
Why are Nigerian graduates termed unemployable?
According to employers in the country, graduates in most cases are termed unemployable apparently because of the quality of their input. I think it is because of the inadequacy, or the depth of knowledge acquired. Recall that in most cases, many corporations have retraining programme for these graduates.
We need to deepen entrepreneurship culture in our universities. The rankings are low and so they need adequate empowerment to meet the global standards. In that respect it requires money. What percentage of budget is allocated to education? These are issues. Even when we have the best of resources flowing in, in the area of oil $100 per barrel, it was impossible for government to allocate that much, coupled with other issues like poor infrastructures, youth indiscipline ans ASUU strikes. Students hardly make effort to develop themselves. Sadly, value has also eroded in our tertiary institutions.
There are geniuses still around though, but again there are some other constraints like current economic drawback, when they are not paid their allowances as at when due. Those things affect their output. But by and large, I think Nigeria is blessed even if we have 10 to 20 per cent of our graduates, well trained, they can ignite a revolution of entrepreneurship development that can trigger massive economic progress in this country. So it would take some time to right what has gone wrong in the last five decades. In America, the university centres that conduct research are the ones that feed the industries, but that is not the case here. So, all these affect the quality of learning students are receiving.
But government has created so many entrepreneurial programmes in the past, what is different in this case?
There are so many programmes, which had been experimented but the political will was not there. Government in the last few years set up Small and Medium Enterprises Development Agency of Nigeria (SMEDAN). It was supposed to function like the US’s small business administration, and then it was constrained by so many factors. Before then, government had the National Directorate of Employment (NDE), and of course so many other propaganda political agencies.
They were not able to function well, or to meet the goals they were set up for because of factors like corruption, the political will to get it done properly, and of course the bureaucracy. In the last few years they set up what we call Graduate Intensive Scheme, has it been deepened enough? How many have so far benefitted? We still have millions of so many undergraduates looking for jobs.
What measures are in place to ensure this one does not go the way of others?
Now, government has discovered that the best business model as done elsewhere in the world is the PPP. The government has no business in business. You can imagine why many of government agencies died. Where is Nigerian Airways? Where is the Nigerian National Shipping Line and so many others? They collapsed. Therefore this new project is being set up on a PPP basis. In fact, the model we are using is build, operate and transfer. Strictly business. It is going to be a profitable, viable venture. Any business that is done following best business principles can only grow and not die. It is only when you have no principle that your business will die, and corruption will set in, inefficiency and lack of service to clients… we are bringing in the best in the world to set up this business, run it and transfer. And government will be earning money as dividends. There is no way it is going to collapse because it will continue to expand. Knowledge is the only industry in the world that hardly perishes and knowledge industry is very vital.
What are your expectations on this project?
I’m inviting the private sector, the public sector, local and state governments and the new inspired patriotic Nigerians to come in to support job creation. It is a project that would eventually create millions of jobs. Individuals can give donations, sponsor programmes, and invest in the project hoping to make their profits.
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