Dear Government, please stop creating jobs!

[FILE PHOTO] Demand for job creation

Elections have come and gone once again in Nigeria. As Nigerians have become accustomed to, many of the winners will completely forget about their campaign promises and go about amassing the “profits from their political investments”.

There are a few however that will actually try to implement some of their campaign promises and we thank God that there are a few like that. But even to those few, this writer has a message: please, do not create jobs!

And this is why. A cursory looks at the history of job creation by successive administrations in Nigeria (Federal, State or Local Governments), will reveal a serial demonstration of little or no understanding of the meaning of job creation.

Governments across the country have developed a penchant for manufacturing endless agencies and parastatals (many of them unnecessary) so that they can create jobs.

These have largely been influenced by political considerations and have resulted in budget increases for salaries and wages, which in turn have increased recurrent expenditure to scandalous levels.

Today, you see a continuous duplication of roles and sometimes outright confusion. Till today it is still difficult to understand why there is a Ministry of the Niger Delta and the Niger Delta Development Commission.
   
If you are a manufacturer and want to introduce a product into the market, you will spend a fortune getting approvals from not less than 5 different government agencies. And when you eventually want to market the product, the number of additional approvals that you will require is a different story altogether!
 
The National Security and Civil Defence Corps of the “Hennessey dotcom” fame has since become a fully government funded paramilitary agency to help maintain law and order. One is not saying that the Nigerian Police Force has enough capacity to police the country. But will “Hennessey” have been necessary if so many policemen have not been “seconded” to serve as bodyguards and menservants to anybody who can afford it?
 
It is only at the Nigerian airport that two different people will handle one passport, one person will admire your face and then show you to the person that will stamp your passport.

   
It is also only in Nigeria that at a functional traffic light, you will see two traffic wardens, two LASTMA officials and two Neighbourhood Watch officials directing traffic.
 
Check the number of “Special Advisers” that are appointed by every President, Vice President, Governor, Deputy Governor, Minister, Deputy Minister, Head of Parastatal, Local Government Chairman, First Lady, Second Lady, Third Lady and even First Children! And you still wonder about the quality of advice that they must be getting?!
 
And all these people have to be paid salaries that the governments cannot afford! Is it any wonder that the ability to pay workers’ salaries has somehow found its way into the criteria for evaluating performance in Nigeria?
 
They are carrying wage bills that they can ill afford. And because they cannot sustain these wage bills what do they do? They start looking for ways to augment their income. Now the government wants to increase VAT in order to pay salaries! And who is the unfortunate target? Nigerian businesses and the hapless Nigerian citizen. Businesses are harassed with multiple taxation, dubious penalties, unbridled harassment and outright extortion; all in a bid to raise revenue. It is only in Nigeria that the radio license for your car is valid only for one state. If you want to drive the car to another state, you will require another licence!
 
The endless pressure on businesses force them to find ways of managing costs and the ultimate result is staff reduction; job losses, not creation. And what does the government do? Issue a warning to businesses that they will be penalized for staff rationalization! (Most probably on the sound advice of some very special advisers!)
 
The Nigerian that paid money, took a jab and obtained a yellow card just a year ago is told that in another few months, that same card that is supposed to last for 5 years will need to be replaced! He is told he will soon start being charged for generator emissions (as if told them he would rather use a generator rather than enjoy uninterrupted power supply)!
 
At the end of the day, what successive governments have achieved with their job creation initiatives is nothing but an increased impoverishment of the people!

Governments should focus on creating an enabling environment for businesses to operate and prosper in Nigeria. In virtually every state of Nigeria, there is a resource that if properly harnessed, can create sustainable jobs. There are countries that still use substantial amounts of coal for power generation. We have endless coal deposits in Enugu State but people there are still contending with power failure.

Palm oil production and refining is a major source of revenue for some Asian countries. But the states in the south of Nigeria from where the palm fruits were taken are still relying on monthly allocations from the Federal Government.

The job of government is to create the environment for the private sector to thrive, ensure that the right regulations and standards (please don’t read toll gates) are in place and encourage businesses to thrive. With the right environment, businesses will thrive and jobs will be created in a sustainable manner.
 
Imagine that the few surviving manufacturing concerns in Nigeria do not have to spend so much resource generating their own power. Can you imagine the cost savings, the increased competitiveness, the increased profitability, the increased ability to hire more hands?

The government needs to understand that it needs to get its hands off many ventures and allow them to thrive. There already exists a template. With the privatization of the telecoms sector in Nigeria, are there not more people employed in that sector now than NITEL could ever have dreamt of employing?

So why then is it so difficult for government to fully let go? Why create more roles and hope to stretch its limited resources to pay more people and in effect create more poverty?
 
The message to government is very simple. Stop creating jobs. You simply do not know how to do it!
 
Okwoju is a Lagos-based public affairs consultant

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