UNIVERSITY EDUCATION, ENTREPRENEURSHIP AND EMPLOYMENT PROSPECTS: SURVIVAL IMPERATIVES IN POST COVID-19 ERA BEING THE TEXT OF THE ADDRESS DELIVERED BY BABATUNDE RAJI FASHOLA, SAN AS CONVOCATION LECTURER AT THE 10TH CONVOCATION CEREMONY OF THE AL-HIKMAH UNIVERSITY, ILORIN KWARA STATE OF NIGERIA
I must commence this address by making a confession that until the 12th October 2020 when I received the invitation letter from Professor Noah Yusuf the Vice Chancellor, I had not been acquainted with the Al-Hikmah University.
This perhaps is not totally surprising because of the increasing investment of private capital into university education in Nigeria.
As things currently stand, there are 79 (SEVENTY-NINE) private universities, 48 (FORTY-EIGHT) state universities and 43 (FORTY-THREE) federal universities in Nigeria.
It might interest you to know that since the advent of the Muhammadu Buhari administration, no less than 18 (EIGHTEEN) private universities have been granted approval to operate as required by law and I am aware that there are still more applications under assessment and processing.
I have become pleasantly acquainted with Al-Hikmah and I have nothing but commendation for:
- Alhaji Chief (Dr) Abdulrahman Oladimeji (OFR), the founder
- Professor Idris Muhammed (OON), the Chairman Board of Trustees
- Dr M.D Abubakar (CFR), the Pro Chancellor and of course
- Professor Noah Yusuf, the Vice Chancellor and my main host
To all of you and the entire management of Al-Hikmah University, I doff my hat for your labour of love and investment in the development of Nigeria’s human capital.
It is a tough commitment to make, to invest so much time in a cause whose results take time to fructify.
When I learnt that there are over 5,000 students in Al-Hikmah, I had no difficulty in accepting the invitation to speak and in adjusting my schedule to be here.
To the parents, guardian and families of these students who are graduating today my hearty congratulations for the success of your children and your wards.
As a parent myself, I can only imagine how happy and proud you must be. May your joy in their achievements not be short-lived.
To the graduating students, I offer a thundering applause, I offer congratulations, and wish you the very best of luck.
I walked this road 33 (THIRTY-THREE) years ago in the University of Benin and the memories are as fresh as if they were yesterday.
As you prepare to take the next step in life, ostensibly national youth service, let me offer you what I believe was the best advice I got when I graduated.
Simply put, I recall that it was about self-discipline. From primary school through secondary school, to the University and at home, you have all been under one form of supervision or the other. That is imposed discipline.
But as you leave today as young adults, that supervision will decrease and thin off. You will have to find it by yourselves – that is SELF DISCIPLINE.
Trust me, it is the hardest. You will have to do it by yourselves and for the rest of your lives.
Those who succeed in imposing discipline on themselves will find it easier to deal with the real world.
It is about that real world that Professor Noah Yusuf has asked me to speak to you about on the topic “University Education, Entrepreneurship and Employment Prospects: Survival imperatives in Post Covid-19 era.”
In dealing with this subject, I will refer to some contemporary events and share some history with you.
We are all living witnesses to the recent protests in our country about many issues from police brutality to the quality of life.
You may have heard stories from people much older than you about how much life was better in the 1960s and 1970s.
You would have heard about how they were being employed immediately they were in their final year or shortly after they left school.
True as these may be, I urge you to take those “glorious days” in context and refuse to be defined by them as you legitimately seek for a better life for yourselves.
The truth about those days are that Nigeria by population and economic size was a relatively small country of 56 million people in 1970 and a GDP of $12.55 Billion as against an estimated 200 million people today and a GDP of $400 Billion.
There were fewer people educated at graduate level (with only SIX universities in 1970) compared to what you have today, 170 and still counting.
That was also the time immediately after Independence in 1960; the civil war which ended in 1970, when the departure of foreigners and the emergence of the first set of entrepreneurs of indigenous hue led to the need for immediate manpower recruitment.
But even then life was not as glorious as we now think it was. Time has healed the pain and wounds of the economic difficulties of those times for some.
But if you care to do some research, music such as Dr Victor Olaiya’s “Ilu le o, ko si owo lode, obinrin n kigbe, okunrin n kigbe,” will tell you that there were no bed of roses in those now glorious days.
The truth is that Nigeria has evolved from different phases of her journey, starting from pre-1960 when the need to end colonial rule was the single most important item on her developmental agenda.
She went through a turbulent 1960s when keeping the unity and managing diversity was the big issue of the day.
The 70s to the 1990s witnessed some economic development, but democratic government and the need to retire the military to their core mandate was the big issue.
From the millennium to date, the issue on the front burner appears to have been how to preserve a well-worn democratic era.
Today, the big ticket issue is how to make democracy translate to a better life because democracy by itself does not guarantee good governance. It requires a lot of hard work.
This is an important and welcome turn of events, it requires a new set of champions and I see them here today, graduates of Al-Hikmah, who step out in the midst of a global pandemic, to take responsibility and partake in shaping the destiny of a 60-year-old country.
Therefore, regarding the topic of University Education, Entrepreneurship and Employment prospects the thesis probably should be about creating prosperity and not just employment.
My advice first to the school is to reform its curriculum (if this has not already been done) to prepare the next set of Al-Hikmah graduates to lead the decision-making process about their lives and their environment instead of waiting to be told what to do.
By 1987 when I left the university, there was no employment for me. I was at home for 6 months without a job. I got a job by attending an interview at a law firm that newly opened. I left after 3 years to start my own Law firm and became self-employed and an employer.
For a year, my partner and I just barely paid staff salaries, we earned little if any income, and our wives provided upkeep for the home.
Our common joke was that if either of us fell ill, our families were in trouble. I am convinced that these young men and women who I see here today are better equipped than we were. I am convinced that inherent in Nigeria’s current developmental challenges lie enormous opportunities.
It is the entrepreneurial spirit that you have or can acquire that will make the difference about the Nigeria that you encounter as you step out of here today.
Your degrees and training are not an end, they are a means to an end. They are meant to equip you with the capacity for high level thinking, choice making, decision taking, adaptability and flexibility.
Resources in terms of money are always useful but they do not on their own necessarily deliver fulfilment. Nigeria is not stacked against you, on the contrary it has evolved into a different stage, different from what your parents knew.
The experience of Nigeria that your parents had is useful for you to understand what happened, but it should not limit your expectation of what you can make of Nigeria.
Your parents probably did not see Sports, Music, Entertainment or Photography as professions.
They have now become more respectable professions employing people globally.
As the world and Nigeria deal with Covid-19, life is changing from what we knew it to be into what we now behold it to be.
Businesses that we accepted as the Norm like aviation, hotel, tourism and entertainment are struggling to survive, and those that we did not pay enough attention to are offering untold and unthinkable opportunities.
Conversely, the COVID induced lockdown has induced an exponential demand for food, profiting the Agric Sector.
Social distancing has kept us apart but Zoom has kept us connected. So there has to be a competitor for Zoom. Why can’t we develop our own Zoom locally?
Thermometers are being manufactured today by companies who have converted their production lines hitherto used for other products.
The mask you and I are wearing is somebody’s job. Fashion companies are adapting by producing face masks and protective equipment.
Transportation and logistics companies like FEDEX have had to cope with the increased demand for delivery services to different parts of the globe on account of the surge in online shopping.
So the changing world will profit only those who are adaptive, who are flexible, who can imagine, who can innovate and change their businesses and create new ones.
The Nigerian government through the CBN, the Bank of Industry, the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment, and other ministries, departments and agencies of federal and state governments are offering support for:
- Agriculture (The CBN disbursed Agribusiness/Small and Medium Enterprise Investment Scheme (AGSMEIS) (N92.90 billion to 24,702 beneficiaries), Anchor Borrowers Programme (ABP) totaling the sum of N164.91 billion to 954,279 beneficiaries).
- Temporary jobs 774,000
- Expanded social infrastructure and welfare (Creation of N150 billion Targeted Credit Facility (TCF) for affected households and small and medium enterprises through the NIRSAL Microfinance Bank.
Already, N149.21 billion has been disbursed to 316,869 beneficiaries.
Given the resounding success of the programme and its positive impact on output growth, the CBN decided to double this fund to about N300 billion, so as to accommodate many more beneficiaries and boost consumer expenditure which should positively impact output growth.
- Survival Fund (The Payroll Support Track of the MSME Survival Fund targets 500,000 individual beneficiaries by supporting payroll obligations between N50,000 (maximum) and N30,000 (minimum) to between 3 (minimum) and 10 (maximum) staff for 3 months.
Beneficiary MSMEs include the Hospitality industry, Private Schools, Factory owners, Law firms, Hospitals etc.
Relatedly, the Formalization Support Track by which the Federal Government will formalize the registration of 250,000 new businesses across the country with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) at no cost to the MSMEs commenced on 26th October 2020.
- Health and pharmaceuticals (Creation of a N100 billion intervention fund by the CBN in loans to pharmaceutical companies and healthcare practitioners intending to expand and strengthen the capacity of our healthcare institutions).
So far 60 health care related projects are being funded to the tune of over N60 billion as a result of the intervention.
Nigeria is also currently witnessing an expanded investment and commitment to infrastructure upgrade of a type not seen since the 1970s after the civil war.
The construction of rail tracks and stations, 5 international airport expansions, a new seaport, 671 road contracts in all the states of the federation, point to a clear determination to reduce the infrastructure deficit that hinders the growth and efficiency of businesses.
Perhaps in order to bring the scope and size of this commitment closer home, it might interest you to know that the Federal Government is currently undertaking the construction of several roads in Kwara state alone all totalling 652.48Km at various stages of construction.
- Dualization of IIorin – Jebba – Bokani
- IIorin – Kabba – Obajana
- IIorin – Omuaran – Egbe
- Share – Patigi – Road
All these construction, necessarily propel demands for increased activity in the mining sub-sector to blast rocks, operate quarries, produce construction materials like sand, crushed stones, asphalt and more. Machines and construction equipment like cranes, bulldozers, caterpillars need to be fuelled (diesel supply) lubricated, maintained and operated.
One of our contractors (and there are many of them), recently paid N500 million to his diesel suppliers. This is a business.
Studies such as Environmental Impact Assessments, designs for new roads, bridges etc. need to be made by consultants, and contractors need to be supervised by qualified engineers. There are currently 38 Design Consultants and 122 Supervision Consultants employed by my Ministry. These are MSMEs, small and medium enterprises.
They could be owned by any one of you.
At the moment, the Federal Government through the Ministry of Works and Housing is undertaking construction of internal roads in the 44 federal tertiary institutions, we have completed 18 and still have fresh demands.
As part of the national maintenance programme approved by the President Buhari led federal executive council, we have started the rehabilitation of 24 federal secretariats in different states long left unmaintained. We are changing roofs, toilets, windows, electricals, painting and generally restoring these assets.
We have now issued facility maintenance and management contracts to small companies to ensure that the restored secretariats are well kept, cleaned and serviced. Some of these contracts range between N50 million – N100 million per annum.
The successful companies also employ staff such as engineers, electricians, etc. these are examples of small companies and Businesses that today’s graduates must seek to establish.
Wherever you look, whether in Asia, Europe, the Americas or Africa, Macro, Small and Medium Enterprises, popularly known with the acronym (MSMSES), are the drivers of the Global Economy.
They range from small shops to law firms, clinics, Restaurants, Salons, Gyms, cottage Industries, Architectural and Engineering firms, security companies, cleaning companies, Food and Beverage Businesses, pharmacies and so on.
They constitute anything from 50 – 80 per cent of different economies.
They employ between 1 – 50 people.
In Nigeria, there are estimated to be about 40 million of them.
The prospects for Entrepreneurship, Employment and the quality of life for Nigeria depends largely on how many more of these types of businesses are formed, and how many new jobs they can create.
The new Corporate Affairs Act recently signed into law by President Buhari makes a bold attempt to make formation of companies easier for small business owners, especially young people, by eliminating the requirement for 2 (Two) Directors.
This is one side of the new need of Nigeria I urge you to see, the need to develop and start new businesses to address new needs.
The other side of that new Nigeria, is the Nigeria that needs to quickly upgrade and expand its infrastructure to support its growing economy and people. Young people must understand these changing economic realities and needs, and adapt their skills to play in these areas.
I encourage you to venture, to think and to act with conviction.
Nothing can stop you but yourself.
Start small businesses, provide service, somebody needs something, do it different and do it better.
The Global giant, Coca-Cola, started life in 1886 as a small business by Dr John Pemberton, a chemist trying to make medicine.
The Macdonald Clam Shell box in which your Hamburger is packed worldwide is the invention of Jon Huntsman that has become a billion dollar Business.
The Dangote Group and Oando Group started as small businesses and grew into what they have become today.
President Muhammadu Buhari has issued Executive Orders 5 & 7 both of which seek to support the participation of Nigerians in these areas over non-Nigerians.
I urge Al-Hikmah and other universities to acquaint themselves with these policies of government and share it with their students. I will also be willing from time to time to help in this regard just as I am sure many public officers will be well disposed to helping this cause.
What Al-Hikmah and other institutions of learning must also consider, is to CHANGE how they teach the students.
The end of lectures and dictations was yesterday.
While what is learnt is important, how it is taught seems to me more important.
The student who is challenged to produce results, to develop and deliver projects, work in groups to create things, is more likely the one prepared to be an entrepreneur, an inventor than the one who is taught to simply take instructions.
University communities such as canteens, bookshops, Hostels, Butteries, laundries and so on are the perfect laboratories to prepare undergraduates for entrepreneurship by ensuring that they encounter work while at school and earn income while studying.
These are some of the new ways of teaching that we must embrace.
Of course, I could not over emphasize the opportunities that lie in Agriculture and the shared prosperity that comes from farming, processing, packaging, preservation, and retail.
Entertainment and sports remain an emerging field of opportunities that universities must look to in order to equip their students with the professional skills to cope with a changing world and a changing Nigeria.
Many lawyers in other jurisdictions are now managing superstars in entertainment and sports (individuals) instead of corporations. We must amend our curriculum to create those enterprises in entertainment and sports.
COVID-19 provides an excellent opportunity for entrepreneurship and employment, especially as vaccines are now being approved.
I see opportunities for transportation, logistics, freezing, mapping and development of vaccine centres either by way of building new ones or redesigning existing facilities, and the supply of syringes and needles for the administration of the vaccines.
The disposal of used needles, syringes, gloves and other medical wastes from the vaccination exercise also provide opportunities in waste management.
Ladies and gentlemen, worthy graduands, it is impossible in the limited time, to exhaust the possibilities for entrepreneurship and employment in Nigeria.
The important thing to note is that the Global economy has changed and so has the Nigerian Economy. There are now new needs and new services required, so are there new skills required.
Buying and selling, working in a bank, oil company and tech company are only limited opportunities from which the Nigerian economy is seeking to move away.
Construction, creation, creativity, data, agriculture and science are some of the new and urgent areas of need that need manpower. Those who adapt their skills to suit these needs, not only as employees, but as creators of wealth are the new champions that Nigeria needs to expand entrepreneurship base and employment.
I do not suggest that it is easy but I know that with the Naija spirit and the energy that I can feel amongst these young men and women, it is possible.
Congratulations and my very best wishes.
Babatunde Raji Fashola, SAN
Honourable Minister of Works and Housing