By Udeme Akpan & Mariam Eko
Ms. Ibukun Awosika, Chair and Founder of The Chair Center believes that Nigeria, as a country of over 200 million people, has no excuse to thrive in terms of economic performance and creating an enabling environment for business and its vast young population .
In her opening remarks as chair of the Vanguard Economic Discourse, held in Lagos yesterday, Awosika claimed that the increasing trend of exodus of youth and professionals from the country is caused by the deteriorating state of the economy, a situation caused by poor policy decisions that undermine productivity activities, particularly in manufacturing.
She said: “As a member of the Nigerian Economic Summit Group. I know these matters are real and we will tell it like it is.
“If you have the DG of NACCIMA, all the members of NACCIMA, which includes my group of companies, we experience the problems of Nigeria every day in the course of running our organizations and the manufacturing sector, which more than any other group have to bear the brunt of what is in the Economics in terms of resources, materials, cost of everything, labor, capital going on, everything affects what they do. Because we have exodus from work, too many young people are discouraged where they are.
“So you know that every day they will receive another request to meet with you, asking them to explain why they are migrating.
“You know, yesterday I had a call from a young man I had worked on when I was FirstBank’s CEO because he deserved to make sure he got his rightful appointment as Managing Director of one of our African subsidiaries, a brilliant young simple fellow. And he obviously served there for five years and did a great job. And yesterday he sent me a message, just a thank you for all your support over the years, a message of sorts. And I thought let me call him and check on him.
“And I did. I was wondering how are you now, are you back from Gambia to Nigeria? What’s your new post? And he was smiling from behind the phone and said I’m sorry Ma, I’m in Canada. And I said, how are you doing in Canada, have you left the bank?He said, “Well, when I finished my five years, I looked at my wife and my kids. And I committed myself to them and to the future.” decided I’m going to make the sacrifice and for someone, and for someone even at that level he decided to take that step.
“And I can’t count how many of these talks, the ‘japa’ talks as the young people call them. It sounds like good news for people who have never traveled before. Apart from what you know, these would be the mental, economic and psychological impacts on the citizens who migrate. They also recognize that this will have its own impact on our ability to have the right type of development workforce that we need.
“There is also a second pillar. I’ve been looking at some numbers for the past few days because our investment activities require me to moderate a session at the retreat of one of the key government agencies. And I’ve seen that if you ask the Fed to give you the numbers, in just a few months of a year, over $200 million has been requested for tuition payments in other countries. Now, if we kept this money in our economy and propelled it through our productive sector in multiple cycles, what could be achieved would be unimaginable.
“But you know, if we look at it as an investment in educating our citizens, that could be a good thing. When our parents went to England they all went to school in their earlier days, got a good education and came back to try and build the country. But the sad thing for us right now is that we are all working so hard to raise money here to send our kids to a good education because they deserve it. And all parents deserve to have this right for their children, because our education system fails in many ways.
“The sad part is, after we use our money to pay for countries to educate our children, we leave our children to help them build their own economies, even though we paid for that education.
So I want you to measure the impact of that. That means every penny we paid to educate every child who chooses not to come back was not an investment for our nation. It was a total export of resources that we might never get a return on investment.
“I’ve been in manufacturing for about 33 to 34 years. And I’ve known since my 20s what it costs to set up a production company in Nigeria. And I watch my factories and I see the pain and I see the people.
And I’m wondering why I have to bid endlessly, and when I say endlessly, I mean bid endlessly, for months, weeks, trying to fill a LC’s needs to get raw materials for the factories to work with.
“I tell my workers, I said, it’s not for me anymore. This is for you because I can close the factory and sell everything, I’ll be home and eat. But in reality, at the end of every system there are real people who do not allow our efforts to get the right result.
“And there is a lot of discouragement in the country. Regarding what’s the point, because you can’t keep an offer for a long time due to changes that are going on. And customers don’t have endless pockets. So you can’t afford everything in the long run. So there comes a point where you just take the punch. And there comes a point when you’ll decide whether it’s worth it or not. And there are so many people across the country who are into these things.
“Oh, there are new possibilities too. So let’s not only look at the sad sides. Amid all this, there are also new types of industries that are thriving, particularly the service sector. But no matter how successful we are, there are many factors that influence every industry, no matter where you come from. And what we do.
“So, are these talks going to end? no Can we stop discussing this? no Are we tired of talking? Yes I am. But can we honestly just stop talking? No, because we have to stay tuned. So hopefully somewhere in the middle of the political system and the leadership system they will hear the people’s cry and realize that at the end of all politics, at the end of all action, at the end of all inaction, at the end of every selfish agenda or people’s agenda, there is real people suffering from it.
At the end of every truth told and every lie told, there are real people who suffer.
“And I challenge the avant-garde of this world that your responsibility as media houses goes beyond publishing a newspaper. They are the conscience and the voice of the people. And that should never be given up. Your newspaper may be for sale, but your conscience and your responsibility to always tell the truth to people is not tradable.
“Because what’s really important in building a society is that the trust that is placed in the media, and treated as such, is trust. Why? Because of everything you write, there are many who believe it, whether it’s true or not. And you have to have a sense of responsibility, that there are consequences for the things you do.
And so, at this point, what can anyone do for you to do the right thing? I know there is a price for doing the right thing in this country. But until we all get to the point where we decide that we can pay that price at any cost, we won’t have the country that we want.
“And there must be enough of us willing to pay the price to do the right thing. So that we can change countries. To have a home for this generation of young people in the room and the generation of our children.
Many countries can go wrong. But 220 million people in one country cannot afford to do anything wrong. A country that is the largest black nation in the world and has been given everything it needs by God has no excuse for doing wrong.
“I hope we all have our talk today. But when we’re done, we all go home and decide that no matter how small your part in this, we can’t keep doing the same thing and expect a different result, we’re just going to do it foolishly. But we, the people, can make choices to do things differently.
“And don’t worry about your neighbor, worry about you as an individual, whether in the office you occupy or the power you hold, no matter how small, just make up your mind, I’ll use this to doing what I do can make Nigeria better in the space I occupy. Just make your contribution. I strongly believe in doing your part and watching the system follow you. Eventually they will wake up with it.
“There is a price, but there is also a lot of joy that money can’t buy. When you know you stand for the right things. I know that because we’re doing her job and I’m looking forward to the conversation.”