Nwankwo: Policy transparency necessary to cut post-COVID-19 investment risks
DR. Wilson Chozie Nwankwo, Chief Executive of WICHTECH Industries Limited, says much needs to be done in the area of infrastructure and economic empowerment of youth to address the imminent backlash of post-corona virus effects on Nigeria’s economy. He said that fight against corruption deserves the collective input of every citizen. He spoke to LEO SOBECHI.
Does the saying that politics is all about development apply to Nigeria?
The fact of Nigeria’s approach or level of development does not detract from the central focus of politics. No matter how you look at it, simply put, politics is the sum of all activities associated with governance of a country or area. Politics dwells on variable of governance, especially the debates that political parties engage in in their bid to attain political power. This includes the manners of generating and distributing resources, as well as, tackling social challenges through the provision of amenities.
That brings up the issue of sustainable development. When we talk about sustainable development, it is primarily how to pave the way for durable systems. That includes creating the pathway to the future Nigerians want. This pathway actually offers a framework, which would help to generate economic growth, achieve social justice, exercise environmental stewardship and strengthen governance.
However, despite the roadblocks and challenges facing the nation today, not minding that we are yet to get to the destination or attain the hallmarks of sustainable development, I think we are making gradual progress.
As an entrepreneur and industrialist, what does youth empowerment mean to you?
At the risk of sounding immodest, I am tempted to say that the major motivation for my involvement in entrepreneurship was to provide economic opportunities for young people. Having said so, I see youth empowerment as a means of encouraging young people to do great things for themselves and also to create great impact in the society. Youth empowerment could be described as the avenue to challenge young people to be the best they can be and release the giant asleep with them for great exploits in creativity and productivity.
All my life, I have been a strong advocate of youth empowerment. In fact, for the greater part of the past three decades, I have been expanding frontiers for young people to experience and excel in different areas of their special endowments. For instance, my company, Wichtech Group, have ensured as a matter of policy that more than half of the staff strength consist of youths.
I am passionate about youth empowerment, because as the saying goes, success is nothing without successor. I see young people as the seed of future and unless and until the next generation, which they represent manifest their God-ordained destinies; our generation should not claim to have not succeeded.
I believe that investing in our youths from the earliest age is the single most important contribution we can make to the health and wellbeing of the nation, especially as they are our future leaders of tomorrow.
Like many other industrialists in this country, I must tell you that I am very disturbed about the bourgeoning youth unemployment in Nigeria. It baffles me that many graduates of tertiary institutions do not have opportunity to contribute their quota to nation building.
As an employer of labour, I know because I have first hand experience. Whenever we advertise for vacant positions in my company, we are usually overwhelmed by the multiplicity of applications. That brings me to the question of the nature of the school curricular. I think the situation calls for a review of the academic curricular. Skill acquisition should form the new focus.
We need to furnish our institutions of learning with the necessary equipment, create more skill acquisition centres, where the youths can be trained and empowered, thus reducing the rate of unemployment.
On individual or corporate level, what have you done to address the danger of youth unemployment?
It is not usually my style to blow my trumpet, because there certain things I believe are ways of giving back to the society and a form of gratitude to God for favours. For instance, I have organised and financed different programmes on Youth/Women Empowerment. I do all that through my foundation, Kingdom Care Foundation (KCF); a non-profit, non-governmental organisation (NGO) that organises poverty alleviation programmes, offers scholarships, funds missionary activities, supports orphans and widows, both in the rural and urban areas of Nigeria.
The foundation has recorded immense progress and touched the lives of over 10,000 widows with financial assistance since its inception over 30 years ago.
Similarly, over 300 students have received scholarship awards, from secondary to tertiary institutions, in the last 10 years, and over 6000 families have been assisted to start small-scale businesses. Spiritual lives of people were not left out because over 30 Missionary crusades have been organised and sponsored over the years with provision of financial support for medical outreaches across the country. In all, over 100,000 families have been supported by the activities of the foundation.
The COVID-19 pandemic has reversed whatever gains the country made so far in the area of economic development, what strategies do you think Nigeria should adopt to recover and heal quickly?
When this entire thing started, especially with the lockdown and disruptions in international travel, I was afraid that it would leave far reaching devastation on the economy of weal nations, especially third world countries. I think this is where government should chart a road map and take the driving seat to ensure that things do not get out of hand.
There are a range of action steps that government could take to ensure quick recovery and healing for the economy. Our government has to build more infrastructures and strengthen our security system. Most importantly, the Federal Government should ensure policy transparency and predictability to reduce investment risk. When that is done, it should try to reduce regulatory discretion to help attract local and foreign investors. It is actually investments that would help the economy to stream again.
Improving access to finance should also engage government’s attention, because it would enable new firms compete with the existing ones. Then, the issue of human capacity building should also form one of the pillars to support the rebuilding process. The need for government to enhance our educational system would not be overemphasized.
I do not think Nigeria has done all that is required in the area of improving the ease of doing business. The post-COVID-19 era should be a time to devote more attention to up scaling the ease of doing business in the country.
How true is the assertion that Southeast is not profitable for industrial ventures? Do you think successive governments in Southeast, particularly Anambra State, have done enough to encourage cottage industries?
Those who claim that Southeast is not profitable for industrial ventures may be referring to cost of running industries, especially with regard to the level of infrastructure development and power supply. Otherwise, the question I would ask is, how come that most successful businessmen in Nigeria are from the Southeast? The resilience of Southeasterners is topnotch. Inspite of all odds, people are pursuing profitable business in the geopolitical zone.
But there are a couple of things that should be put in place to change the narratives. The industrialists in Southeast only need quality industrial parks, Seaport, adequate and steady power supply, functional Railway lines and government presence to turn things around.
As to whether successive governments in the zone and Anambra State have done enough to promote cottage industries, I would say the answer is yes and no. I say so because any government before coming on board already has its own plan and vision. And those plans and visions depend on the determination to follow through.
If you are to advise government what are the critical things it should do to expand economic development of the Southeast?
I believe that just a few things are needed to fast track economic development of the Southeast. And top on the list should be the completion of the second Niger Bridge according to the plan and timelines. Then government should follow up with the dredging of River Niger for ships or barges to sail in from abroad, thereby creating a functional Seaport in Onitsha.
When that is done, the construction of Lagos/Onitsha Railway, which would link the zone to other parts of the country, should be undertaken for ease of doing business. Within the loop are also the rehabilitation and construction of roads and other infrastructures, including electricity supply, water, environmental protection and urban sanitation. Of course, you know without adequate security of life and property, all investment would amount to nothing. People should be sure that they could sleep with both eyes closed, thereby building their confidence and trust in the system.
Do you agree with the general notion that political corruption engenders economic corruption and how can that be addressed?
All over the world, corruption is detested like cancer. In fact, the negative effects of corruption on any economy cannot be overemphasized; that is why in some Asian countries, those found guilty of corruption are meted with capital punishment.
Corruption in a nation’s political and economic operations causes its entire society to suffer in so many ways. That explains why corruption is seen as the major enemy of development and good governance.
Fighting corruption should involve every citizen; as such both the government and the people at large must come together to achieve that purpose as a national objective. Rigging of elections, vote buying and electoral manipulations are forms of political corruption that have continued to undermine the tenets of good governance.
I think to address the dangerous trend of political corruption should start by electing people of impeccable and unquestionable character into positions of authority. Also within the election management bodies should be made to promote transparency and accountability in the system. Then within political parties, impunity should be got rid of, as well as concerted efforts made to enhance fiscal prudent, probity and accountability.
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