Passionately engineering the transformation of the economy with over 36 years of professional experience, Mr. ‘Laoye Jaiyeola is a force of nature you can’t ignore. The openness and patience he showed as he took his time to answer each question, despite the occasional interruptions, was second to none. He was more than willing to show us a roadmap to creating the Nigeria we seek, come 2050. In this interview, Mr. Jaiyeola reveals the importance of MSMEs in creating jobs and how Nigeria can become a competitive nation through inclusiveness and leveraging economic opportunities.
Mr. ‘Laoye Jaiyeola is the CEO of Nigeria’s foremost private-sector think-tank, the Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG) and has been in the financial services for 36 years ranging from core banking to investment banking. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Economics, a Master’s Degree in Banking and Finance and a Chartered Banker MBA degree from University of Wales. He started his career in the financial services sector where he became the President of the Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria (CIBN), a trustee of the Financial Market Dealers Association and Pioneer Board Member of FMDQ OTC Securities Exchange. After leaving the financial services sector, he moved to the policy advocacy space which he was associated with even as a Banker. “I’ve enjoyed my last 5 years as CEO of NESG. People said I was in Finance, but I see myself in Nation Building. I’ve been working with NESG for about 20 years, trying to make Nigeria a better place for businesses to thrive.”
For the economy to thrive, the creation of more jobs is very vital. Asides the government, private sector and civil society also have a part to play in this.
Due to the growing number of graduates each year and the limited jobs available, there’s a cry to the government to create more jobs. Mr. Jaiyeola explains the role of small and large organizations in creating solutions to this.
“Job creation is not something that just one person can do. It’s a task that involves the government, and the private sector. Large and small businesses will have their hands on deck. Looking at the labour market statistics, about 85% of employed people are in micro, small and medium enterprises. This means that the large companies and government employees together probably account for just 15%.
To deal with the issue of unemployment, there’s the need to first capacitate the MSMEs’ ability to hire people. We must find ourselves solving. And that’s why as a think-tank, we worry ourselves about how to ensure more people can be hired.”
Invariably, it means with more jobs, the need for workplace inclusiveness will become more evident. This will give everyone a level playing field to grow.
“Inclusiveness in the workplace boosts productivity. However, there is still no coordinated attempt to actually improve on this. Currently, I don’t know of any industry where there’s a deliberate policy to allow for inclusion. Inclusion goes beyond gender – it is wide and varied. It is generational. We have not particularly worked at it and I’m glad that it’s a major part of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. Now that Nigeria is looking at planning for 2050, starting from what we can do in the next 10 years, it should be something to look at.
Inclusion is a deliberate policy that every organization should have. For us at NESG, since we are at the forefront of promoting inclusion, we make it a part of our duty to ensure we have reasonable balance in terms of age, sex and we’re not averse to having physically challenged people work in the organization. As a nation in general, we have not done well in this regard. We need to come up with a clear policy that ensures we can be more inclusive.”
With every citizen contributing to the growth of the economy, regardless of gender or physical attributes, Nigeria will then stand a chance to effectively compete on a global scale.
A competitive economy is a productive one, and productivity leads to growth. In elementary economics, there is a recognition of the fact that because resources are limited, you can’t meet all the needs that you want to. In the same vein, competencies are limited and so you can’t do all. For us to be competitive, we need to first decide where we are as a Nation. Where do we have comparative advantage? Mr Jaiyeola explains, ”as a nation, we haven’t specifically sat down to identify our areas of advantage and how we want to hone and grow them to ensure that we dominate the world. Today, Malaysia is known to be a leading producer in cooking oil. For a nation to be competitive, there are a number of factors at play such as the ease of doing business, cost of power and more. It’s difficult for us to identify what we do best and where we want to focus on as a nation. When you look at the Global Competitiveness ranking, we are among the last on the list, every year. We have not done well at the very basic level.
We can be self-sufficient in Nigeria but it all starts from asking ourselves the question, “how can we be competitive?” We must be innovative enough to ensure that we’re not just working but getting reasonable results from efforts. Although we are not yet a competitive nation, we have the potential to be one in whatever we choose to do because the resources abound. We can be competitive if we have the right policies and we make the right choices.”
This is true. However, a good way to make the right choices is to recognize parts of the economy viable for growth. These are opportunities that can be tapped into.
“We’re a labour-intensive nation. Agriculture contributes 25% to our GDP and the bulk of our employed people are in the agricultural sector. However, if we engage in agriculture in its current form where all we’re concerned about is land under-cultivation rather than looking at yield per acre, it won’t work. Yes, agriculture can do a lot but we must move from the basic level to light manufacturing where we are processing and getting value from it.
Another industry is the Creative industry where Nigerians have shown tremendous skills. Our movies are dominating the world. These people are doing a lot of work all over the world and this makes it something we can harness readily.
Basically, we can do well in any sector we choose to dominate. As a nation projected to be the third most populous nation in 2050 and expected to have 69% of the population under the age of 35, we’re a young nation. A bulk of countries in Europe for example, will by then have a more aged population and we will be in a position to build capacity for them.
The tech industry is another good example that is being honed and grown. Most of these sectors have the potential to employ people and they are interlinked but what’s the starting point?
At the 25th Nigerian Economic Summit held in October 2019, we identified six sectors, which include Agriculture, Manufacturing, ICT, Creative industry, Extractive industry and Financial services. With these, we can dominate and have comparative advantage all across Africa.
We also addressed the applications of Trade and ironed out Sports as a sector that can be honed and grown. With the right policies, we can do better in these areas. We just need to implement and follow through because it won’t happen with the click of a button.
From all that has been discussed, it is right to say that nothing feels better than seeing results. Creating a mental picture of what we want to see will give the motivation we need to follow through.
Asked about what Nigeria he will like to see in 2050, Mr. Jaiyeola answered “I want to see a Nigeria where Section Two of our Constitution is fulfilled. A Nigeria where everybody has a sense of belonging, feels safe, secure and protected. We want a Nigeria that creates economic opportunity and helps people reach full potential.
No one should be left behind. People should be lifted out of poverty, should have basic access to health, education and economic opportunities, without being judged by creed or ethnicity. We will pay attention to the weak even as we encourage the strong to get stronger. The Nigeria we look forward to is one where we dominate not only Africa, but the world. This is our Nigerian dream and this is what we seek to influence daily at the NESG.”
Lanre is a writer and digital media enthusiast, with a flair for anything related to empowerment. He is also the Co-Founder and Chief Operations Officer at The Spark.