In the absence of infrastructure, Cross River State biggest problem today is job creation for our teeming youth population.
While most political faithfuls have been awarded positions in government as a means of the current administrations bid to build up governance capacity in lieu of job creation or political settlements, this gesture may have helped provide opportunities and create income for those appointed, nevertheless the biggest problem still persist, our young people who are often used by politicians as boys, unemployed young men who have returned to the villages to farm upon university graduation , some graduates whose youthfulness is being wasted on manual labor as store attendants, hotel cleaners and petrol station attendants, and our young ladies who are ready to do anything just to survive, the simple truth is that unemployment remains the biggest problem facing Cross River state.
While those in power would never acknowledge the enormity of this problem, we cannot pretend all is well. Before our very eyes we have created a wasted generation. A generation of youths gradually wasting away due to ineffective policies of government.
This ineffectiveness has little to do with Ayade’s administration which is barely 9 months old, rather it is ineffectiveness of over two decades misplaced development priorities.
However, Ayade’s policies so far, would it qualify to be described as an attempt to erase two decades of misrule and create a robust sustainable economy or is it a continuation of this misplaced development economics without substance? This will reveal itself with time.
For most of us, our parents were married in their early twenties, they could afford a home and a small job to sustain them.
Today, at age 35 to 40 years, most of our people have no meaningful source of income, still dependent, cannot meet up with basic needs and still unmarried.
Unemployment for most African economies is becoming a national embarrassment, national disgrace and a national security crises.
While most people would blame our youths for being lazy, what they fail to understand is that, all what these young people need to bail out of poverty is a simple opportunity. I totally disagree today’s youths are lazy, I believe the state has not created the opportunity or environment for them to earn a living from their initiatives.
With the politicization of state bureaucracies and the privatization of governments in Africa, where most political leaders run the state machinery as a one man apparatus, from policy making, to execution and even policy evaluation without recourse to external unbiased opinions, poor African masses live at the mercy of the state, and when the state performs her legal and administrative functions like filling pot holes, or payments of salaries which are functions of the state and to which they are meant to perform, it is considered a favor to the people, the people are expected to show appreciation, failure to which is considered being ungrateful.
Most young people have been misled over and over again by our political leaders, they are made to believe that sketchy industrialization into the state and construction of a few factories would result to job creation. This is far from the truth. Any business or factory whose construction or development is tied to job creation is false and bound to fail.
Basic economics teaches us that successful business ventures that end up being sustainable are built on making profit and not massive employment in the thousands as speculated.
You remember our secondary school economics, the lower the cost and factors of production which includes labor, the higher the profit margin.
Another way to understand it is that when big corporations plan to increase profit and remain sustainable, they downsize, what this means is that they reduce cost of labor so as to increase profit margins and remain competitive.
It is important our young people are told the truth on how this things work, rather than make them build hope upon hope which may amount to presumptions and foolishness.
When a business is conceived, first you test the market with very few experienced staff, it is the market demand that determines increased production and labor supplies.
I would wholeheartedly want to see the success of the garment factory, but everyday I read all this announcements of thousands of hires to run different shifts, it’s just a clear indication that the planners are misguided on market economics.
If the garment factory must be sustained, the focus should be on how to make profit and not how to hire thousands of widows. The focus should be hiring the best skilled professionals rather than gender and marital status consideration.
It is important that our economic planners study the Aba garment factory. A team of Brazilian investors swung on Ariaria market recently with a proposal to take over the market and product distribution.
The big question remains, what is different about the Aba garment industry from the proposed Calabar garment factory?
The answer is simple: Aba garment factory was founded on individual home grown skilled entrepreneurship with a well organized wholesale distribution networks trans-versing Aba, Onitsha, Lagos and Kano markets by individual distributors who also provide a crude form of credit facilities to facilitate increased quality production which has led to garment perfection and specialization over the years.
This is where Calabar may be getting it wrong with their Malaysian and Bangladeshi style warehouse factory model designed to serve already secured large departmental stores in western countries.
Some may want to ask, why can’t Calabar access international markets like Bangladesh is doing? Simple: International fabric investors choose locations of their markets and also make arrangements for infrastructure example the Ethiopian garment industry.
Second, poor infrastructure, poor accessibility, cost of labor in the thousands to create jobs rather that improve on profit margin, cost of production, skilled professionalism to be sacrificed to meet work demand for unskilled unemployed persons, failure of the government to deregulate the economy which will make our export economy less attractive and our import economy almost non existent, the list continues.
Remember, in 2010 when Wilmer International came to Cross River state, we were told the company will produce 20,000 jobs only comparable to the size of our civil service then. 6 years later we are still waiting for the 20,000 jobs.
Having stated the obvious, what then is the way forward for job creation in Cross River State?
Let me start by saying job creation is not synonymous with an expanded government. While an expanded government would win the praise of the public on the short term, and generate political capital, it is a bad policy in the long term and is capable of crippling the administration if internally generated revenue is not improved amidst dwindling federal allocation to the state.
Cross River State has great potentials, at least let us start getting it right, or maybe, we lack the technical capacity to match our development ambitions from rhetoric’s to practical solutions.
Based on the above, I hereby present some policy recommendations to government on the way forward.
1. Improve technology skill acquisition as an intelligent way to reduce poverty and ignorance by investing in the educational sector.
2. Invest on improving the productive forces of our state.
3. Provide micro credit to youth cooperatives to enable them engage in small scale Agricultural export businesses like Bene seeds, cassava chips, yam, melon, kennel shells, through the AGOA platform which is a multi billion worldwide industry. This will stimulate the local economy. Create entrepreneurs rather than employment hires.
4. As I have opined earlier in an article published in the Guardian, April 22nd 2015, I pointed out that issues associated with export laboratories for product compliance and standardization have hindered the smooth operations of small scale agricultural export promotion in Nigeria, and as such, for almost a decade now, most Agricultural products are routed through Accra Ghana since they have better laboratories.
5. Cross River state government should consider partnering with the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Federal Ministry of Trade and Commerce to build an operational and functional export laboratory in Calabar to promote cash crop packaging and export to promote the AGOA initiative.
This is how we can jump start a productive food and agriculture economy with Cross River State as base export route and inspection route for our South -South Nigeria regional economy.
A functional job creation initiative has to be policy driven and effectively managed to be sustainable.
Princewill Odidi is a development consultant writing from Atlanta. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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