The plan by the Small and Medium Enterprises Development Agency of Nigeria (SMEDAN) to create five million jobs before 2015 through its National Enterprises Development Programme (NEDEP) is clearly ambitious, but worth giving a try.
Although the number of jobs that the agency hopes to create under this scheme appears somewhat unrealistic, this does not detract from the wisdom of the plan to engage interested Nigerians in massive, local government-based business projects with the objective of reducing unemployment in the country.
The Director-General of SMEDAN, Alhaji Bature Masari, who unveiled the plan recently, said it is based on the model of “One Local Government, One Product” (OLOP) across the country. In practical terms, this means that each of the 774 local governments in the country will identify and develop a specific small business or product in which it has comparative advantage.
The overall idea, according to the SMEDAN boss, is to generate wealth and reduce poverty in the country by creating new clusters of businesses based on competitive and comparative advantage of each local council.
The primary targets of the plan are unemployed youths, many of them presently involved in violent crimes such as armed robbery, kidnapping, drug trafficking, terrorism and other vices. Over 60 percent of Nigerian youths are currently unemployed, according to figures recently released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).
Masari, however, expressed great optimism that the target of five million jobs would be achieved. He explained that the SMEDAN plan, which is in partnership with the Industrial Training Fund (ITF), is to first identify and hone the various skills of the participants.
A pilot of the scheme is already in progress in Kano State. We fully endorse this plan. Our support for it is anchored on the fact that besides providing employment opportunities that are currently in short supply in the country, engagement in small businesses challenges the entrepreneurial abilities of people.
It unlocks their budding potentials and can, for those who seize the opportunity it offers, create wealth. The wisdom in business is to start small, but never remain small. Bigger is not always better. Small businesses create a value chain with great multiplier effects on both services and credit.
If SMEDAN can effectively test the waters and guide local councils towards determination of the businesses in which they are likely to excel, this initiative will be good for the economy, especially the informal sector where small businesses account for over 40 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). We also support this idea because it will involve all parts of the country.
What is required now is its proper execution to ensure that the desired objectives are met. Our reservation, however, is that the Federal Government has before now instituted a number of job creation schemes that had only little impact on the employment crisis in the country. One of these schemes is the Youth Enterprise for Innovation in Nigeria (YOUWIN). The new SMEDAN plan should, therefore, not be another flash in the pan.
It should be executed in a way that will actually reduce unemployment all over the country. Let this SMEDAN scheme be properly thought through. It should not end up as one of those flip-flop government programmes that promised so much but delivered only a little.
For instance, to generate the expected five million jobs, each of the 774 local councils plus the six area councils in Abuja will create about 6,500 jobs within the target year 2015. This, somehow, appears a tall order. But then, beyond the possibility of creating the targeted number of jobs is the need for sincerity in the execution of the scheme.
Let there be proper feasibility studies to determine the viability of the chosen projects. Everything should be done to ensure that the scheme is not just another political gimmickry. The employment crisis in Nigeria has become a ticking time bomb that requires urgency and seriousness to defuse.