Saraki made the call while delivering a keynote address at the 2018 Georgetown Africa Business Conference in Washington DC, United States of America. The conference was hosted by the Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business in conjunction with the Walsh School of Foreign Service’s African Studies Programme.
Saraki, according to a statement by his Chef Press Secretary, Sanni Onogu, said that the much talked about rapid industrialization of the continent will remain a mirage if her leaders fail to adopt modern trends in vocational and technical education.
He stated that, even though Africa is blessed with a large youth population, the continent cannot benefit without making the them useful, innovative and productive in line with global trends.
Speaking on the topic: “The African Value Chain: Harnessing Local Talent and Opportunity,” Saraki said: “African governments must provide an enabling environment for the nurturing of raw talent. Our education system ought to move away from a theory based approach and paper certification to inculcating practical skills that support apprenticeship and boosts innovation and industry.
“This is the place of Vocational and Technical education which provides that the youth inculcate practical skills that will not only make them employable but will also help the continent in building an army of job providers,” he said.
He made a passionate appeal for quality higher education and the creation of the right conditions and opportunities for entrepreneurship and employment in both Nigeria and Africa – while urging the world to take note that truly, Africa has come of age.
“All these would challenge us to plan and implement far reaching reform, especially in the higher education sub-sector, so as to ensure that our youths are market ready in the entire value chain of identified economic drivers; agriculture, construction, ICT, entertainment, sports and fashion industries,” he said.
He noted that while Africa was presently home to about 1.3 billion people and her population is expected to double by 2050, it is well endowed with a large youth population which means a huge market in terms of consumption, services and labor.
He added: “However, for Africa to benefit from the demographic dividends that a massive youth population offers, we must make the right investments in quality higher education and create the right conditions and opportunities for entrepreneurship and employment. No African country can do this alone.
“A large market is only useful when the people have the necessary purchasing power; and a huge population is only an asset when it is productive. My country, Nigeria, is already a population powerhouse, the largest in Africa and the seventh in the world,” he said.
He told the audience that the wrong perception of Africa by the West as a jungle inhabited by despots beginning to change due to the positive developments across the continent.
“Our gathering is in some way a reflection of the changing attitudes towards the continent. It used to be the case that when those in the West thought of Africa, all they conjured up were images of conflicts, epidemics and despots.
“While we still have reports of conflicts and outbreak of disease on CNN, BBC and Al-Jazeera, we also now have programs like ‘Inside Africa’, ‘African Voices’, ‘Marketplace Africa’, and ‘Africa Business Report’– that showcase entrepreneurial acuity, talent and innovation,” the President of the Senate stated.
Such positive development according to Saraki is presently being felt across the world through movies produced by Nollywood and the nation’s young and talented musicians that have taken the world by storm.
He said: “Another sector that provides value addition and comparative advantage is the Entertainment industry, which has grown tremendously over the last 20 years… Nigerian musician, Wizkid, recently sold out in London’s prestigious Royal Albert Hall, and is much sought after for collaboration with major American Music artists.
“Whilst interacting with Wizkid recently, he told me he ‘filled a stadium of 40,000’ in Gabon a French-speaking country where they didn’t understand a word of his lyrics; and he himself was astonished.
“The Shoki dance movement went from the back streets of Lagos to galactic heights in the music video of U.S. Hip-Hop artist, Missy Elliot. I remember in my younger days, if you went to a disco party in Nigeria, the deejay would play 100 per cent American RnB like Shalamar, The Whispers and Earth Wind and Fire.
“Now, no such thing. Nigerian musicians like Davido and Phyno are all the rage. I would never have thought in my lifetime that I would see this happen. We have come full circle,” he said.
He said that the same feat can be said of Nollywood, which is the second largest movie industry in the world; and another bold example of people creating a value chain as though from nothing in Africa.
“When the first video feature in what would become known as Nollywood, a film called ‘Living in Bondage’ was released in the mid-90s, few could have imagined the huge industry it would spawn, but here we are today.
“Nollywood stars are known the world over, and the industry employs thousands of Nigerians. So influential are these stars that, when news spread recently a major Nollywood star had been cast in a small role in a Hollywood film, Marvel’s ‘Avengers: Infinity War’, Nigerians went wild.
“It turned out to be fake news, but maybe we are on to something. Marvel Studios, if you are listening, if you want an audience of millions in Africa for your upcoming film, then there is a casting decision you need to make,” he said.
He observed that the tech start-ups in Lagos not only weathered the recession unscathed, they are presently attracting major seed funding, driving business growth and are impacting in every value chain imaginable, from agriculture to blood banks.
“We cannot say it enough that Nigeria has some of the most talented, hardworking and innovative young people in the world,” Saraki said. “This much was attested to by Mark Zuckerberg when he visited Nigeria some time ago. He 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.’
“Something tells me we have not even scratched the surface of what the movie industry alone can contribute to the economy of Nigeria and the entire African continent,” he said.