Catching up with the developed world: Enterprises or innovation Dede Kadiri

Since the 1970s, enterprise development has been prescribed as the panacea to Nigeria’s economic development and the path out of poverty. Through numerous policies, Nigeria has introduced a series of fiscal, monetary and export incentives to promote micro, small and medium enterprises. However, these policies have yet to take this country to where we want to be – a thriving global economic powerhouse. Through the decades, our incessant policies have not outstandingly eradicated poverty nor lifted us to measure up with the developed world. For years, we have continued the rat race with one beautiful policy after the other, one brilliant government appointee after another, with yet few measurable results. 

With landmark innovations in transportation, agriculture, communication being churned out on a regular basis in the developed parts of the world, reaching our robust economic vision and achieving a “developed country” status, looks increasingly remote. Like one wise old man I know would say, “They’ve gone! We can’t catch up.”  

Many Nigerians are familiar with this catch phase and gloom prediction. For me the question is where “they” (the developed world) have gone to and how can we reach them there to finally claim that status? 

They are over 20 years ahead of us! While Nigeria struggles to build enterprises, there has been a global movement from enterprise driven economy to an innovation driven economy. The world is no longer creating entrepreneurs only but innovating the next steps to human existence through enterprises. Today, our world is witnessing a remarkable surge of innovation and its corresponding results in economic growth. We see this everywhere with our communication devices as the closest example. Evidence shows a direct correlation of innovation to economic growth. The natural innovation leaders are Switzerland, United Kingdom, United States are the world’s three most innovative nations, according to the 2015 Global Innovation Index (GII). 

Nigeria ranks 128 out of 143 countries in the 2015 GII. The country dropped lower than our ratings from the 2014 edition where we were ranked 110 out of 143. We are ranked alongside countries such as Zimbabwe, Yemen and Burundi. 

We may say it is unfair to compare ourselves with countries that have achieved a developed status- where we want to be. True, one must not make the assumption that only developed countries have the prerogative of innovation alone. The 2015 Foreign Direct Investment Confidence Index, which finds that that investors are moving focus from low labour countries to developed countries that have demonstrated continuous innovation. Middle income countries like India, now widely recognised as an innovation achiever, has through this capacity overtaken China and the US as the top destination for Foreign Direct Investment. According to the Financial Times, India attracted $31 billion compared to $28 billion and $27 billion from China and the US respectively. 

Let’s consider our African peers. This year’s GII report indicates the rise of other developing countries in the Sub Sharan Africa such as Senegal, Kenya, Uganda. This group has steadily outpaced their economic peers in 2015. In terms of its impact on economic growth, Kenya’s FDI doubled in 2015 and one of the influencers for this growth include the deployment of digital infrastructure and innovative applications such as mobile money and mobile government services. 

Do we stand a chance? Yes, a strong one. For one thing, Nigeria already has in place a series of policies that are aimed at boosting enterprise development. We also have at our disposal, a massive youth population and a strong internet penetration of about 97 million people. 

This is a great place to start. However, without the enabling innovation support structure that should harness and nurture creativity, we face the risk of repeating history with little or no true impact on productivity, global competitiveness or even as a key to addressing pressing societal problems. 

To enable innovation, Nigeria will need a strong political will, a separation of innovation from science and technology only, a transparent government, an expanded knowledge culture with focus on research and development and a commitment to quality to reach global markets. 

Let’s take the example of the current government entrepreneurial drive in agriculture. A great deal of effort is being made to enrol youth into agricultural concerns. Although this is not innovative, it is valuable because it can create new jobs, wealth and food. However, beyond food production, there is the greater challenge of the value chain complexities- the whole complexities of local production, packaging, pricing, distribution. These are issues that demands innovation for resolution and can loosen and foster global competitiveness. However, with the priority focus on farming, it is not clear what policies or strategies are in place to capture or nurture or enable creativity that is needed to unclog these market complexities such that they reach global markets. 

Nigeria is missing an innovation structure. Although we have a Nigerian Science, Technology and Innovation Policy, innovation is no longer the prerogative of the sciences alone. The change we see in the world today has occurred by government’s intention to harness innovation. This means not only enabling entrepreneurial spirit but also nurturing an environment that fosters creativity, competitiveness, and relevance and meets the needs and demands of a Nigerian population – and who knows, the world.