Why you should pay attention to what governments are saying – Tolu Ogunlesi

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The full title of this post should actually be: “Don’t play yourself: Why you should pay attention to what governments are saying, regardless of whether you’re a fan or not.”

Let me explain.

All governments (I emphasize “governments” because there really is no such thing as “the Government” — what you have is multiple governments: Federal, State, Local) play a significant role in their economies through such interventions as policy-making and budget expenditure. Government programmes will typically translate into contract awards and jobs; policies alter the business and investment landscape (for better or worse), and so on.

Every policy, scheme or programme that a Government announces contains economic opportunities. When a road contract is awarded, and funded, regardless of the company that gets the contract, there are opportunities for suppliers of sand, gravel and cement, for truck owners, drivers and drivers’ assistants, for artisans and labourers. (A recent post touched on this).

In March 2020, the Minister of Aviation disclosed at a press briefing that the contractors for the reconstruction of the Enugu Airport runway needed 1,500 tonnes of quarry dust daily, and were by that point having to go beyond Enugu to neighbouring States in search of it. In other words, they were looking for potential suppliers of quarry dust in the South East. I tweeted it, hoping that someone who might be in a position to supply would be aware.

N-Power is 500,000 opportunities for young people to take up spaces as education, health and agriculture volunteers for at least two years. (For those who think N30,000 monthly is ‘small’, then you haven’t met many Nigerian law firms). Many of the beneficiaries in the first two batches have used their stipends to set up businesses, by the way.

The new Special Public Works program is 774,000 opportunities for un-skilled labour (No, let’s be clear, it’s not a graduate jobs’ scheme like N-Power; the target beneficiaries are primarily unskilled youths) to earn a stipend for three months of public works — road maintenance, sanitation, etc. The Federal Ministry of Labour is doing all it can to make the selection process as transparent as possible, by decentralising it to the States, and also ensuring that the composition of the selection committees is as diverse as possible.

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It doesn’t matter whether you like Buhari or not, or voted for him or not, as long as you’re a Nigerian, you’re entitled to apply and get a place regardless of partisan affiliation.

The Presidential Fertilizer Initiative (PFI), which kicked off in 2017, has helped revitalize more than two dozen Fertilizer plants across the country. That’s the high-level impact. Most of us are not interested in owning fertilizer blending plants. So, let’s break it down a bit more, move to a more relatable level.

As of 2017, each “batch” of the PFI reportedly utilized 6,500 trailers to move products across the country: translating into opportunities for trucking companies, jobs for about 8,000 trucks drivers, 13,000 motor assistant boys, etc. This apart from the opportunities in producing bags for the fertilizer (more than 6.5 million bags sold in 2019).

Opportunities of course extend beyond direct and indirect job programmes like these. There are also financing opportunities, tax and investment incentives, investment opportunities, etc, that you can only benefit from if you’re aware they exist. If you don’t pay attention, or you’re too sceptical to even explore opportunities, you’ll very likely miss out on useful stuff.

The Central Bank’s COVID-19 loan interventions for households and small businesses are a case in point. In recent weeks you might have seen on social media testimonials from people who got their applications approved, and have received their money. It didn’t matter whether they were sceptical or not at the point of applying, what mattered at the end of the day was, did they bother to apply?

Of course not everyone who applies will get funded, but that’s life. What’s most important is to be aware, and to defy your scepticism long enough to put in an application. Again let me say it doesn’t matter what you personally think about President Buhari, or whether or not you voted for him in 2015 or 2019.

Another example. The Nigerian Investment Promotion Commission (NIPC) issues a range of investment incentives, like Pioneer Status Incentives (PSI). PSIs essentially grant qualifying “new” businesses (new = “in their first year of business or operation”) a tax exemption for a specified period of time. It does not apply to all sectors by the way, but did you know that a 2017 revision to the PSI extended it to the following sectors: E-commerce, Software, Animation, Music and Film/TV — which until then were not eligible?

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You should therefore go ahead and apply, if you meet the application criteria.

On Sunday July 5, 2020, the Nigerian Content Development and Monitoring Board (NCDMB) issued a press statement announcing an additional $150 million for its Nigerian Content Intervention Fund (NCIF), which it launched in 2017 with $200 million, under the management of the Bank of Industry.

$50m of the new $150m is going into a new Fund being set up to support specifically for Women in Oil and Gas. That’s a new opportunity that should definitely be explored, if you fit the definition for target beneficiary.

I see many people on social media who are so obsessed with letting the world know exactly what they feel about government (and no, nothing wrong with that!) that they end up missing out on the many potential opportunities emerging/arising from the actions of that government. Too much time talking, not enough time listening or paying attention.

That you’re a poultry farmer or entrepreneur who doesn’t like the President or his party should not blind you to the fact that the School Feeding Programme potentially offers opportunities that you could benefit from. As of 2018, the programme, according to data released by the Federal Government, consumed 6.8 million eggs, 594 cows, and 83 metric tonnes of fish weekly — in the 26 States in which it was operating at the time — largely sourced from local farmers and merchants. (See this 2018 news report from Poultry Association of Nigeria (PAN) in Kaduna State, highlighting how the business expansion opportunities were significant enough to touch even those at the very bottom of the chain).

I’m not insisting that government policies and programmes are always flawlessly executed, or that some people do not regularly seek to use their ‘connections’ to greedily or fraudulently corner opportunities and get ahead; what I’m actually saying is that there nothing to be lost by keeping one’s eyes and mind open and paying attention to potential opportunities, asking questions, finding out what’s going on and what’s possible.

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Having made my point, let me be the first to admit that Nigerian Governments generally don’t do a good-enough job of focusing on directly communicating Opportunity.

The communication of Opportunity should be a priority, at all times. I hope everyone involved in communications and public engagement at the Federal and State governments is paying attention, and looking for ways to recast public communications and engagement in terms of: here are the possible opportunities in this policy, or scheme, or programme.

Here’s what this means for you. The Modular Refinery Initiative, for example, here’s exactly what it means; these are the potential sectors that stand to benefit; here’s how to find out more information about an Intervention Fund to support potential Modular Refinery investors (yes, there’s such a Fund).

Communications about the National Rail Modernization Programme should therefore ideally be emphasizing opportunities like:

  • The ‘Mega’ Station in Ebute Metta / Apapa / Abeokuta / Ibadan is going to have X thousand square feet of retail space. Here’s who to contact for more information.
  • The siting of a Rail Station in Kajola or Papalanto or Omi Adio means that there will be substantial opportunities for real estate investment — because of their improved accessibility, these will be ideal locations for Universities, Industrial Parks, etc. Here’s what we are doing to make it easier to take advantage of these opportunities.

That’s really how we should be framing government communications, to make it more appealing and ‘usable’ to the average Nigerian. And, very importantly, not just the WHAT, but also the HOW. How to tap into this opportunity, how to apply, how to benefit.

It’s in my opinion a great way to start the necessary task of rebuilding public trust in government.

Of course going this route also saddles governments with the imperative of greater transparency. The more the light shed on these things the less the room for shenanigans. It’s as simple as that. When you know people are paying attention it naturally becomes more difficult to manipulate such things as selection procedures, and easier to fend off hawks and sharks.

I’ll stop here. Tolu Ogunlesi

Reporting for,

Brooom Nigeria
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Prince Babatunde also called Brooom is a Nigeria born and based writer, a political journalist, political consultant, publisher and a businessman. Almost a decade now, he has been involved in reporting political activities affecting grassroot development's. He has helped to proffers several solutions to improving lives of many Nigerians especially poor people. His group's is presently working on a mission to develop a template programme for a Cleaner Nigeria and more.

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