Chairman and Founder, of The Chair Center, Mrs Ibukun Awosika has that Nigeria as a country of over 200 million people has no excuse for going wrong in terms of economic performance and creating an enabling environment for businesses and its huge youth population to thrive.
In her opening remarks as the Chairman of the Vanguard Economic Discourse held yesterday in Lagos, Awosika averred that the rising trend of youths and professionals migrating from the country is caused by the deteriorating state of the economy a situation occasioned by poor policy choices that undermine productive activities, especially in the manufacturing sector.
She said: “As a member of the Nigerian Economic Summit Group. I know that these matters are real and we will say it as it is.
“When you have the DG of NACCIMA, all the members of NACCIMA which my company group is part, we live the problems of Nigeria every day in the course of running our organizations and the manufacturing sector more than any other group has bear the brunt of what is going on in the economy in terms of resources, materials, cost of everything, labour, capital, everything is affecting what they are doing. Because we have flight of labour, too many young people are discouraged as to where were are.
“So everyday, you know you are going to get one more request for a meeting with you, asking to explain to you why they are migrating.
“You know, yesterday I had a phone call from a young man, in my time as chairman of FirstBank I had worked, because he deserved it to ensure that he got his rightful appointment to be managing director of one of our African subsidiaries, a brilliant young, simple guy. And he obviously served there for five years and he did an amazing job. And yesterday he sent me a message, just a thank you for all your support over the years, kind of message. And I thought let me call him and check on him.
“And I did. I’m like how are you now, are you back from Gambia to Nigeria? What’s your new posting? And he smiled behind the phone and he said, I’m sorry ma, I am in Canada. And I said how are you in Canada, did you abandon the bank? He said, “well, once I finished my five years, I looked at my wife and my children. And I decided for them and for the future, I will make the sacrifice and to someone, and for someone even at that level he chose to make that move.
“And I can not count how many of those conversations, the “Japa” conversations, as the young people call them. It sounds like good news for people that have never travelled before. Apart from what you know would be the mental, economic and psychological impact on the citizens who are migrating. You also realise that it will have its own impact on our ability to have the right kind of manpower for the development that we need.
“There’s also a second leg to that. I looked at some numbers in the last few days because I have to facilitate a session at the retreat of one of the major agencies of government for our investment activities. And I saw that if you ask the central bank to give you the numbers, in just a few months of a year, we have over $200 million that has been requested for school fee payments in other countries. Now if we had that money retained within our economy, being driven in multiple cycles through our productive sector, what would be achieved would be unimaginable.
“But you know if we consider it as an investment in the education of our citizens, that might be a good thing. Like when our parents went to England, they all went to school in their earlier days, they got a good education, and they came back to try and build the country. But the sad part for us right now is, we all work so hard to raise money here to send our children to a good education because they deserve it. And every parent deserves to have that aspiration for their children because our educational system is failing in many ways.
“The sad part is after we have used our money to pay the countries for the education of our children, we then leave our children behind to serve them to build their own economy even though we paid for that education.
So I want you to dimension the impact of that. It means every penny we paid for education, for every child who chooses not to come back, was not an investment for our nation. It was a total export of resources, for which we might never get any return on capital investment.
“I have been in manufacturing for about 33 going to 34 years. And I know starting from my 20s what it costs to build a manufacturing company in Nigeria. And I watch my factories and I see the pain and I see the people.
And I wonder why I need to bid endlessly, and when I say endlessly I mean bid endlessly, for months, weeks, trying to meet the needs of one LC in order to get raw materials for the factories to work.
“I tell my workers, I said, this is not for me anymore. This is for you because I can shut down the factory and sell everything, I will be at home and I will eat. But in reality, there are real people at the end of every system that does not allow our efforts to produce the right result.
“ And there’s a lot of discouragement in the land. In terms of asking, what’s the point, because you cannot get, you can’t sustain any quotation for any length of time because of changes that are going on. And customers don’t have endless pockets. So they cannot afford everything in perpetuity. So there’s a point at which you are just taking the hit. And there’s a point at which you’re going to decide if it’s worth it or not. And there are so many people across the land, dealing with those things.
“Oh, there are new opportunities as well. So let’s not just look at the sad parts of it. There are also new kinds of industries that are thriving, especially the service sector, in the midst of all of this. But no matter how we’re thriving, there are many factors that are impacting every industry, no matter where you come from. And what we do.
“So, will these conversations end? No. Can we stop discussing them? No. Are we tired of talking? Yes, I am. But can we sincerely just stop talking? No, because we have to keep at it. So that hopefully, somewhere in the midst of the political system and the leadership system, they will hear the cry of the people and realise that at the end of every policy, at the end of every action, at the end of every inaction, at the end of every selfish agenda or people agenda, there are real people that suffer for it.
At the end of every truth told and at the end of every lie told there are real people that suffer for it.
“And I challenge the Vanguards of this world, as media houses, your responsibility is beyond publishing a paper. You are the conscience and the voice of the people. And that should never be forsaken. Your paper can be for sale, but your conscience and your responsibility to tell the people the truth always cannot be tradable.
“Because it’s really important in building a society, that the trust that is given to the media, that is handled as such, trust. Why? Because of everything that you write, there are many who believe it, whether it’s true or not. And you must have a sense of responsibility, that there are consequences for the things that you do.
And therefore, at this point, what can anyone do to you to do what is right? I know there’s a price for doing what is right in this country. But until we all get to the point where we decide we can pay that price no matter what, we will not have the country that we want.
“And there must be enough of us that are willing to pay the price to do what is right. So we can change the country. For this generation of young people in the room, and the generation of our children to have a home.
Many countries can go wrong. But 220 million people in one country cannot afford to go wrong. A country that is the largest black nation in the world, and that God has given everything that it needs, has no excuse for going wrong.
“I hope we all have our conversation today. But then when we’re done, we all go home and make up our minds that no matter how little your part is in this, we cannot continue to do the same thing and expect a different result, we will, of all men, be foolish. But we the people can make the choice to do things differently.
“And don’t worry about your neighbour, worry about you, as an individual, whether in the office you occupy, or the power you have, no matter how small, just make up your mind, I will use this to do what I can in the space that I occupy to make Nigeria better. Just do your bit. I am a firm believer in doing your bit and watching the system follow you. At whatever point they wake up to it.
“There is a cost but there’s also a lot of joy that money you cannot buy. When you know you’re standing for the right things. I know this because we do their job and I’m looking forward to the conversation.”