By Umar Muhammad Puma
Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, has said the Buhari administration is steadily transforming Nigeria through innovative measures that are yielding positive results.
In a keynote address he delivered at the 2018 ‘Africa Together Conference’ at the University of Cambridge in the UK on Saturday, the Minister listed investment in people, changing the business environment and building national infrastructure as some of the areas in which the Administration has made a great impact.
He said by focusing on education and skills acquisition, the Administration is addressing the need to create opportunities for the country’s teeming youth population.
‘’In my country, school enrolment is a challenge we face. And one of the main culprits is malnutrition. Government has stepped in: 8.2 million are being fed daily free meals in 45,000 schools. Not only does this increase attendance and provide children with a – in some case only – nutritious meal a day, it enhances learning efficacy in class and boosts cognitive development over the long term,’’ Alhaji Mohammed said
He said the Home-Grown School Feeding programme has yielded other results, including the employment of over 80,000 cooks and a ready-made market for food crop farmers.
The Minister said skill shortages in the labour pool are being addressed through several measures, including the four-pronged N-Power
programme that is providing employment and vocational training for graduates and others, access to loans for medium and small business as well as conditional cash transfers to the most vulnerable members of the society.
He said the Administration is also changing the business environment for good, focusing especially on removing the red tape that makes it cumbersome for business and stifles innovation.
‘’Much of our programme has honed-in on business reform. Nigeria has moved up 24 places on the World Bank Ranking of Ease of Doing Business index – putting it amongst the top 10 global reformers, along with Zambia, Malawi and Djibouti. The two areas we have prioritised are starting a business and access to credit.
‘’In Nigeria, registering a business used to take months. Now it takes 24-48 hours. Unwrapping the bureaucracy and streamlining processes encourage an uptick in new official enterprises. We have introduced online registration, with features such as the electronic stamping of documents. And to ensure this brings with it the maximum benefit, Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises clinics have been deployed across a variety of states to provide regulators a contact point with informal business and budding entrepreneurs to clarify any issues,’’ Alhaji Mohammed said.
He noted that the challenge of access to credit is also being frontally addressed by making it possible for MSMEs to register their movable assets, such as vehicles and equipment, and use them as collateral to raise loans and finance, thus removing the need for traditional assets (such as real estate, offices and factories).
The Minister told his audience that the two most critical impediments against business, decent transport connections and a reliable power supply, are also been tackled by ensuring better roads and train networks, so that goods and services can be moved around more cheaply and efficiently, and businesses can plan for the future, knowing they will not be hampered by energy outages.
‘’For instance, Nigeria earmarks 30% of its annual national budgets for capital expenditure. That means 2.7 trillion Naira has gone towards our infrastructure in the last 2 years -unprecedented in our history. Power generation has climbed to 7000MW (from just over 2500MW), to which we hope to add another 2000MW by the end of the year. We have also laid down thousands of kilometres of road.
‘’Also, the Government has now signed a concession agreement with an International Consortium led by General Electric. This will breathe new life into the tracks, increasing capacity and speed. Not only will this allow for goods and services to be moved around cost-effectively, it will allow the prosperity of the nation to be more equitably spread through increased connectivity,’’ he said, adding that the government is also constructing a new standard-gauge railway.