Speech Delivered by the President of the Senate, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, at the Fourth Convocation Ceremony of Adeleke University, Ede, Osun State. July 22nd, 2018.
It is a special pleasure to be here with you all on this great occasion which is the Fourth Convocation Ceremony of Adeleke University, one of the shining private institutions of learning that are helping to restore pride in tertiary education in our country. It is a day filled with the golden promise of tomorrow, and that promise is embodied in every single graduating student here today, in whom rests a glimmer of our hopes for the future of our dear country, Nigeria.
I thank Professor Samuel Ekundayo Alao, President and Vice Chancellor of Adeleke University, for my invitation to this great event in the life of this institution, and in the lives of the students and their families. I congratulate you all for the laurel-adorned achievements being celebrated today, because anyone looking at the graduating students can see that they radiate the excellence that has been imparted to them during their time at this university. I congratulate the entire members of staff, the academic and the non-academic staff. It is said that you never forget a good teacher, and I am sure a good number of these students will testify to the diligence of their lecturers at many points in their lives in the future. I must congratulate the man that made all this possible, in whose vision the gem of the idea for Adeleke University first took shape, and whose commitment and tenacity brought it all into being. I speak, of course, of none other than the founder of this institution, Dr. Adedeji Adeleke, a true visionary.
Naturally, on an occasion such as this, the most fulsome kudos must go to the graduating students who have distinguished themselves in their various fields of learning, and who sit in the place of honour today. Having earned their stripes, they are ready to go out into the world and contribute their quota to the upliftment of our society and to humanity. I congratulate the parents and guardians who saw them this far, supporting their charges in every weather, through boom and recession. I know, as a proud father of children who have passed through this stage in their lives, the joy is indescribable when one’s child fulfils expectations, and shows every sign of attaining their potential and destiny. I have no doubt in my mind that it is a similar feeling for every parent or guardian watching their ward graduate at this Fourth Convocation Ceremony of Adeleke University today.
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, when I look at the graduating students, I see a crop of freshly minted economic actors whose endeavours can give the needed impetus to our quest to realise our nation’s potentials. The choices they make, the paths they choose, will not just inform the direction of their individual lives but also the country’s push towards growth and development. That is why it is important, at this juncture, to get a measure of what is at stake, to better prepare these young ones for the road ahead. It is also why the title of this address, ‘National Economic Development Through Entrepreneurship: The Role of Private Universities in Nigeria’ is one I believe holds particular resonance for an occasion such as this.
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, we should put into proper context the job market that the graduating students are going into, in order to remind ourselves as to the factors at play and the nature of the challenge before us as a nation. According to the World Economic Outlook as projected by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for 2018, Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita at purchasing power parity (PPP) adjusted rates is $5,929.20. This places us at number 137 on a list of 187 countries. By comparison, however, the adjusted GDP per capita for Singapore is $93,905.50. The difference is clear, and it is even more so, when we consider the fact that Singapore and Nigeria were virtually neck and neck in terms of macroeconomic statistics during the 1960s. Five decades later, we are playing catch up. Singapore, on the other hand, is being celebrated as one of the four Asian Tiger countries with highly developed economies powered by entrepreneurship.
The Asian Tigers, namely, Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan – are countries that have achieved high levels of economic growth driven by exports and rapid industrialisation, such that they now line up with the richest and most developed economies globally. Over the last few decades, the Asian Tigers have jumped ahead of most African countries, leveraging on the boom in emergent technology and globalisation, and have propelled themselves forwards to become the economic powerhouses that they are today. In 2017, the last of what I would call ‘The Fab Four’, South Korea, overtook Japan in GDP, making this highly successful quartet of countries second only to China in economic might. From all indications, there is no stopping the Asian Tigers; Hong Kong and Singapore are major financial centres, while South Korea and Taiwan are global manufacturing hubs for automobile and electronic components as well as information technology. For us in Nigeria, the impact of a country like Taiwan is all too plain to see when you walk into Computer Village or Ladipo Market in Lagos.
Still on the Asian Tigers, a case in point is Singapore, which, not too long ago, was at a similar economic level with Nigeria. Singapore has one of the Top Ten GDP per capita in the world, with one in six households having over $1 million in cash savings. The key to this remarkable transformation is entrepreneurship. The number of Singaporeans owning their own businesses has doubled in the last decade, making the country the world’s second in terms of entrepreneurs per capita; the United States of America occupying the number one position in that regard.
Again, the key ingredient in the rise and rise of Singapore is entrepreneurship. Not for them an economy dependent on natural resources. Quite unlike Nigeria, with our oil-fixation that has led to the unfortunate neglect of many economically potent alternatives, especially the talent of our massive population. By contrast, those at the helm in Singapore realised a long time ago that the country’s future prosperity lay in the talent of its people and in information. That realisation – and the will to act on it – proved to be a game changer that allowed them to leapfrog over Nigeria in the economic stakes. The government of Singapore laid out a framework for political, economic and cultural adjustments to make the country ‘a hub of talent, enterprise and innovation.’ This was articulated in an Economic Review Committee Report commissioned in 2001 by the then Prime Minister, Goh Chok Tong. The objective was to inculcate in the people the embrace of entrepreneurship characterised by pioneering ventures and risk-taking, with success as the goal.
A decade after that groundbreaking Report, 21.4% of Singaporeans indicated the intention to start their own businesses. This percentage had doubled in less than five years, and was second only to Taiwan, another Tiger economy. Most encouraging is the demographic that is driving Singapore’s economic growth – youths – like our graduating students here today. That transformative culture of entrepreneurship is what I would like to commend to the accomplished youths that have the honour of place at this Fourth Convocation.
Nearly 25% of Singaporeans between the ages of 35 and 44 say they want to start their own business; and one in six of their compatriots have already taken that decisive step. It is expected that this culture of entrepreneurship driven by the youth population will continue to make all the difference in driving growth in Singapore’s economy. And this is the challenge for us here in Nigeria, as we work to bolster the recovery of our economy from the recent recession, to diversify the revenue base for greater development.
It should be of interest to those coming out of our universities that in the third quarter of 2017, 40 percent of Nigeria’s labour force was either unemployed or underemployed. Analysts say our economy must create an estimated five million jobs annually in order to meet the unemployment challenge. According to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), we managed to create only 1.6 million jobs in 2015, and we are no closer to closing the deficit gap. With a population of over 190 million growing at the rate of two per cent per annum, the challenge is ever so urgent, to create jobs for the teeming masses of Nigerians, and to drive productivity and prosperity.
We are an emerging economy with a large youth demographic which constitutes 70 per cent of the population – including those leaving university this year, as in this hall – and we have youthful drive and energy on our side as we seek to bridge this gap. Our population is growing and is on track to hit 400 million by 2050, when we will become the third most populous country in the world. Experts project a huge demographic dividend for us as a country by that time, but only if we can harness the immense potential of our youth driven population now, for innovative ideas that can become large business empires and create the much needed jobs for our people.
There is no reason why any of today’s graduating students cannot become a Jack Dorsey, the co-founder of Twitter, net worth $5 billion – or Brian Chesky, a co-founder of Air BnB. Michelle Phan of the cosmetic business Ipsy is now worth $300 million – not bad for someone who first started by uploading her videos on YouTube.
Of course, Nigeria is not exactly a non-starter in tech, where the impact of youthful innovation is already transforming many sub-sectors, from payment solutions to health outcomes and entertainment. Nigeria is one of the Top Three destinations in Africa for tech investors; and tech start-ups have already put Yaba Lagos on the world map in this regard. Visiting Lagos in 2016, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said, “I was highly impressed by the talent of the youths in the Co-Creation Hub in Yaba. I was blown away by their talent and the level of energy.” Not only were our tech start-ups able to weather the recession without breaking a sweat, they are attracting major seed funding. FinTechs like Flutterwave and Paystack not only raised over $100 million funding between them in less than two years, they are revolutionising online payments and the adoption of card payments in Nigeria, fueling the growth of online retail ventures similarly powered by young entrepreneurs, of which Jumia and Konga are among the market leaders.
What I would like our graduating students to note is that this frenetic activity is only a drop in the ocean, when we talk about the potential of the tech sector in Nigeria. We have about 15.5 million smartphone users in this country; that translates to only 23 per cent of the population. At 47 per cent, internet penetration captures less than half of the population. There is room for exponential growth still, and analysts are confident that FinTech, for example, has the potential to transform the financial services landscape in Nigeria over the next five years. We are looking to the youth to take up the challenge and grasp the opportunities, to drive entrepreneurship in this area.
Agriculture is a major plank in our drive for the diversification of the revenue base, to wean our economy off its dependency on oil. And yet, we are nowhere near tapping into the Agricultural Value Chain in any sustainable way. From Rice to poultry to dairy products, we are producing far below required volumes. The unavoidable fact is that there is room for exponential growth.
The 8th National Assembly, under my leadership, is focused on strengthening the legislative framework to make Agriculture more investor friendly. We have provided a further boost for the sector through legislation that not only supports existing businesses but encourages the entry of new investors and Agro-preneurs. Believing that entrepreneurship is crucial to success in the various sectors of the economy, and to encourage the greater participation of the private sector, the National Assembly has, since its inception, prioritised the passage of landmark economic laws to enable Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) to grow.
We have carried out legislative reforms that have helped improve Nigeria’s position on the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business ranking. This is further strengthened by the recent passage of the Company and Allied Matters Act (CAMA), which is the most significant business reform law enacted in this country in three decades. It may interest many of your graduating students that it is easier than ever to start your own business, as we have removed much of the regulatory burden in this area. It is now possible for a single person to form a private company; and this is consistent with other trail-blazing economies including the United Kingdom, India and Singapore. A Company Secretary is no longer obligatory for small companies or those with only one shareholder; Annual General Meetings are no longer mandatory; small companies are exempt from having to appoint an auditor and so on. The cumulative effect of the provisions of CAMA means that any of today’s graduates can start a company with relative ease and become an entrepreneur, thus becoming a driver of economic activity in the country.
It is my firm belief that, when we can usefully engage our teeming youths so that they grab opportunities for themselves in order to contribute their quota, we would have gone some way towards alleviating some of the many problems bedeviling our society. This is where the role of private universities really comes into focus, to help provide an enabling environment for the nurturing of raw talent. The education ethos ought to move away from the over-emphasis on theory-based approach and paper certification towards inculcating practical skills that support apprenticeship and boost innovation and industry. This is the place of Vocational and Technical education which provides that the youth imbibe practical skills that will not only make them employable but will also help the country to build an army of job providers.
Private universities must therefore rise to the challenge, to ensure that entrepreneurial skills are taught across various disciplines. I am happy to note that Adeleke University has taken a lead in this area, and places emphasis on related programmes for skills acquisition to enable students take a more expansive view of their prospects and to make a living after graduation, and even have the opportunity to flex those entrepreneurial muscles and create jobs. If I have anything to add, it is that private universities should build their Alumni base, because, among other benefits, it will give students concrete examples of entrepreneurship to emulate. The university should encourage its alumni to hire students for paid internships, as this will impart them with necessary skills that will stand them in good stead when they graduate. Again, the design of the curriculum should never lose sight of the need for vocational education.
To the graduating students, I will say that it is perhaps true that Nigerian youths are not currently maximising the potential that social media has for stimulating entrepreneurship in many areas, including those that were unheard of just a few years ago. I would like to see more young Nigerians put what they learned in the university to impactful use by leveraging on the social media’s abundant opportunity for business ventures. Entrepreneurship starts with a mindset; form networks, begin to see your phone as a business tool and not just a fashion accessory; get tutorials for starting new businesses or to ginger new business ideas.
You have had the benefit of a very good private education here at Adeleke University, so it is perhaps fair to say that you have had a bit of a leg-up; it is now time to take that a step further to showing the dividends in terms of entrepreneurship. Do not wait for the jobs to come to you; create the opportunities for yourself and for others; create the jobs. How, some of you may ask? I would say the avenues are all around us. Go beyond watching make-up tutorials on YouTube to thinking about setting up a business to create your own line of cosmetics and skincare products. Rihanna the singer did it. Admittedly, she was already a millionaire many times over as a world famous entertainer, but the point is that she did not content herself with that alone. She ventured and looked for new opportunities, gaps in the market that she could fill, and so she created the wildly successful Fenty range of cosmetics. It is all about being able to identify the opportunity and to grab it with both hands.
In line with this vision, government has taken some decisive steps by way of incentives and initiatives to encourage youth entrepreneurship. The Bank of Industry (BOI) Youth Entrepreneurship Support Programme (YES) is one major avenue that is available, to equip those between the ages of 18 to 35 going into business with the requisite skills, and crucially, to provide funding support. Various Outgrowers Schemes aim to get more young people into the Agro-allied businesses while stimulating the creation of thousands of new jobs. The 8th Senate’s Made-In-Nigeria Initiative is also very much geared towards empowering local manufacturers, to see to it that the more than 2 trillion naira that would ordinarily go to other economies for the importation of simple everyday items, can instead energise local production. What it means is that, for entrepreneurs, the market is there for those that can into the manufacturing of such products.
Access to power is one of the major challenges in the way anyone in business in Nigeria today, with added snags including the cost of diesel to power generators. Efforts are being made to increase generation and distribution so that we can ease these problems, for greater productivity all round.
The 8th National Assembly has paid close attention to the ability to access funds for business ventures; and so we have passed legislation with a view to alleviating these. The Secure Transactions in Moveable Assets Bills opens up a new stream of opportunity to Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) to access capital by using movable goods including small machinery and household items including mobile phones as collateral. The previous requirement for fixed assets such as land, is removed. Taken with the Credit Reporting Act which removes the risk of lending, the combined impact of these two pieces of legislation is greater opportunity to borrow for small businesses, a major boost for entrepreneurship.
Our goal is to ensure that when a young person has a good idea for entrepreneurial activity that can empower that person and grow our economy, we must support and empower that individual. The world is looking to Africa – and Nigeria in particular – as an investment destination. More than half of the countries with the fastest growth rates are in Africa; many nations on the continent are growing at the rate of three per cent or more – no other region of the world can boast of this presently. What it means is that we too must prepare and take the necessary steps to be able to take full advantage when the world comes calling. These opportunities for entrepreneurship will happen; we just have to make sure we are ready. The key to success in the years ahead lies in our ability to make the gains.
To the graduating students, let me reiterate that you should be able to look at what you have studied at a macro level. More often than not, a first degree should be a platform to access and create opportunities in life for yourself, for others and for your country, to the benefit of the national economy. It is a Win-Win.
I charge you all to be good ambassadors for your alma mater, Adeleke University – and to be good economic ambassadors for your generation and for this country. Endeavour always to be a credit to yourselves, to your families, your communities, and your country. The motto of this university is ‘Education, Excellence and Character’ – I encourage you to be exemplars of this motto. Be lifelong students, live the knowledge culture; an individual that never ceases to learn, never ceases to grow.
And finally, embrace the culture of entrepreneurship. Always aim for the next level, challenge yourself, venture. I wish you the very best of luck.
PRESIDENT OF THE SENATE