He has a disinclination to being branded a “rich man”. But Tola is a Nigerian business guru with monumental means. He was educated in the United Kingdom; lived in London for 16 years; and worked in a British bank as an accountant before heading back home. His work experience as a banker earned him a top executive position in a new generation bank in Lagos where he worked for many years before setting up his own finance firm. His house is a modest five-bedroom structure situated on Lagos Island. His closest neighbours are a young Nigerian billionaire musician; and a big-name retired army general.
This brief narrative about Tola’s exploits is a mild attestation to the fact that the business mogul is a privileged Nigerian.
Tola loves talking sweet about Nigeria to anyone who cares or cares not to listen. A few times I have been enthralled and bedazzled by his sweetened and sweetening talks when I visited home. He sees the good in the bad about the country and will not hesitate both to coerce and coax you into believing what he believes about motherland; and they are not El dorado dream streams to him.
“Pastor, come back home. This is the best country in the world. There are many good things going on in Nigeria that many people don’t know. In the next 10 years, Nigeria will be greater than Japan and America put together”. I want to believe him. I, too, am a believer in the presently degraded Nigerian greatness. Once, his repeated words of encouragement tipped me very close to moving my family back to Nigeria. I am not afraid of living in Nigeria. When I so choose, I possess a few skill sets that can help ward off the bite of recession. Up till October last year, Tola’s encouraging urging songs rehashed in my ears about moving back to Nigeria had not ceased. In December, he called and told me that his family just got entry visa approvals to visit the US.
“You must come to visit me in Hartford”, I told him. I was desperate to reciprocate his hospitality towards me each time I went home. How long will he be staying in the US?
“I don’t know, Pastor; I just want to settle down the family in Chicago”, Tola said. But what about him?
“Pastor, right now, I have no plans of coming back to Nigeria anytime soon”.
This was a man who had profusely encouraged me to pack my stuff and return to Nigeria. This was a man who saw in Nigeria much greatness that nobody else saw. This was a man who told me many times that there were dwindling benefits living abroad. I thought about a few he had shown me of his investments around Nigeria, his magnificent mansion, his posh cars, and his thriving business.
Readers, I understand why the unemployed or unemployables leave Nigeria for greener pastures that are no longer as green, abroad. I understand when young boys and girls surge to make adventurous moves in lands unknown. I was in my late 20s when I did the same. I understand when a man of means who unfortunately is hunkered down by illness and sickness seeks respite abroad. But when those you call rich and affluent men and women decide to dump Nigeria and head outside the borders, we must not be considered insane when we ask probing questions. Why are the affluent fleeing Nigeria?
Tola’s story is not one out of the blues. You may have run into men and women who thronged out in hordes and scattered all around the world seeking better life. Men who work in government, oil company executives, businessmen with thriving businesses, medical practitioners, and much more.
About two years ago, a friend invited me to a get-together in the Southern part of the US. A man who is in political power in Nigeria just bought a sprawling edifice he was celebrating. His wife and children now officially reside there. The wife dashes in and out of the US in frequent flier mode to fulfil duties of the First Lady at home. There are powerful men from all regions doing just the same. Nigeria is a blessed nation; but why are men, especially the affluent fleeing? What has gone wrong in our country?
At independence, Nigeria’s population was 45.2million, with a GDP of $4.2bn. Our neighbour, Ghana, had a population of 6.65m and a GDP of $1.22bn. The GNI/per capita for Nigeria was $100, while Ghana was US$190. By 1981, Nigeria’s GDP was $61.7bn while Ethiopia, for example, was $7.325bn. But even to the affluent Nigeria, Ghana is now considered “overseas”. Why are the affluent fleeing a country that has produced the wealthiest black man and woman on earth? If you have ever heard the names Aliko Dangote and Folorunsho Alakija, then you know who I am referring to.
According to the IMF, Nigeria is on track to becoming one of the 20 largest economies in the world by 2020. Nigeria is rich in treasures of the earth; rich in men and women with cerebral aptitude, and rich in milk and honey flowing across every nook and cranny of the nation. During the belligerences of Liberia and Sierra Leone not too long ago, Nigeria had enough to commit over $3bn and hundreds of soldiers to help end the scuffles in those countries. And from her today, even the affluent are fleeing. In 2013, the sum of N9.759tn revenue was collected and N7.488tn distributed by the three tiers. In 2014, the sum of N10.091tn was generated and the sum of N6.058tn shared at FAAC. The figure in question excludes the federal and state governments’ independent revenue generated which if added may bring the accruals to over N60tn within the four-year period 2010 to 2014. Today, the affluent in an affluent nation are fleeing from a nation in incontrovertible affluence.
Weighty words of hope have been spoken by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo on behalf of the Buhari administration. We have been told that help is on the way as the sum of N701bn was being infused into the power value chain to free up the sector. We have been told that a single line refinery which will be producing 650,000 barrels of oil per day is in the works; and that by 2018, the largest single line fertiliser plant in the world will take off. Finance Minister Kemi Adeosun had also once disclosed that the Federal Government released N74bn to the Ministry of Works; agriculture also got the sum of N21.9bn; transportation ministry also got N22bn infusion. But these words have not been able to keep even affluent Nigerians in Nigeria.
What troubles Nigeria may be beyond politicians’ plundering the treasury; and elected officials grossly under-performing. What is troubling our present going into the future may be from our past. What troubles Nigeria may be, without a doubt, beyond the natural. From the surface, no light, no food, no good roads, no money, no honey, no good schools, no good hospitals and no security may be the excuses why men flee Nigeria. But there are many affluent Nigerians in political power today who will tell you that there is also no tomorrow for Nigeria. I don’t know what they see or know. And I don’t want to believe them. But when even the affluent connected to strategic political positions in Nigeria are now fleeing, shouldn’t that be concerning?