This article was conceived after I met a foreign businessman in Abuja, who had just spent only a few weeks in Nigeria. He told me matter-of-factly, “Your government does not protect its local businesses and businessmen!” They were sincere words from a true friend, and my heart bleeds every time I think of them.
There is a troubling dimension to Nigeria’s current economic troubles, which is that many citizens do not see the light at the end of the tunnel. There is a universal feeling of angst and a subconscious shrug of misgiving whenever the government comes up with yet another short-term policy aimed at tackling the crisis. The distrust is so much and the sense of betrayal so deep that it actually seems that trying to inspire hope in Nigerians could be likened to trying to raise a dead horse.
This is where the danger lies. It is an historical fact that in such a situation as Nigeria finds itself today, the only currency which we could still bank on to purchase back our lost glory is the four letter word: Hope.
In the past, nations have been in worse conditions than we are today, and they came out of it stronger. In fact, some countries during similar crises trudged on, smiling. In such nations, their citizens understood perfectly what the conditions were; and their leaders showed a clear path out of the mess. Even when there was no path, the leaders lit up the cold dead wall, and asked the citizens to help find a way to break the barrier, and clear a path.
History has proved that in most cases, such leaders who emerged at the toughest epochs in their countries’ lives were actually raised by Providence to do a “special job” for their compatriots; that they were actually borne and chiselled to perfection to fit into the niche of a leader in times of trouble.
Two leaders immediately come to mind: Winston Churchill of Great Britain and Mikhail Saakashvili of Georgia. The former is a towering historical figure, a legend that helped his country, and indeed the entire free world, to come out of the dark pall of near-Armageddon. The latter is a contemporary politician, who liberated his country Georgia from the shackles of corruption and backwardness.
Concerning Churchill, it is said by many historians that his background, experience and temperament were designed to prepare him for the job. Indeed, just before World War 2, he was able to visualise the future clearly even when every other politician saw the opposite. He sensed the danger others did not smell, and perceived Adolf Hitler’s maniacal desires from afar. That was why his predecessor, Joseph Chamberlain, quickly handed over power to him when it became obvious that Churchill was obviously the one to take the country through the bleak days that lay ahead.
In contemporary times, Saakashvili is a man that did such a service to his nation, but this time, the country was not at war with any foreign aggressor; it was an internal crisis, a battle for Georgia’s own very soul, from 2003 to 2013. Georgia was in that situation that our own President Muhammadu Buhari was fond of depicting when he campaigned last year. “It is either the country killed corruption or corruption killed the country!”
The historical importance of Saakashvili can only be understood when we look at this man’s present work. He is no longer the leader of Georgia, but another European nation has already adopted him to help its own economy. So, as you read this, Saakashvili is a Governor in the Odessa region in Southern Ukraine. He was appointed to run Odessa because of the corruption in the region, where the Ukrainian government believed Saakashvili could help turn the economy around.
Today, in Nigeria, we are suffering so much from hunger that we have almost lost sight of the place of corruption in our present condition. If you told the average Nigerian about the war on corruption, there is almost a hundred percent certainty that he would sigh and say, “Na anti-corruption we go chop?”
But hunger and suffering apart, we must face the truth that corruption played a great part in where we are today as a hungry, and deeply divided, nation. This is why we need to come back to the drawing board and see the light at the end of the tunnel. And have hope. And plan.
I have not lost faith in President Buhari. In fact, I am one of the people that believe he was raised by God for the job he is doing for Nigeria today. I am persuaded to keep on hoping that he will fulfil his divine task.
Nevertheless, there is an aspect of our economy that is neglected, and that is pivotal to our survival; and which has everything to do with corruption. That is the manufacturing sector. If Buhari cannot tackle the corruption in the sector, I doubt if his tenure will have any lasting effect on the economy. All the devils that fight Nigeria are clawing tooth and nail, working hard so that nobody sees clearly what should be done in this sector.
The problem is simple: There is a cabal that is in cahoots with some government officials, and their strategy is to frustrate local manufacturers. Some of these government officials are highly placed. The solution is also simple: Buhari should design strategies to protect our local industries, manufacturers and businessmen. At all cost!
Take for instance, the case of imported tomato paste. Foreigners are making billions from Nigeria and it is hard to improve local production. This is even after members of the National Assembly had raised the alarm over the influx of fake tomato purée into the country. A local manufacturer of tomato paste, Mr Eric Umeofia, has been on the pages of newspaper and TV screens, shouting to the high heavens about how he and a few other Nigerians are being frustrated, but nobody seems to be listening.
Last week on Channels Television, when Governor Adams Oshiomhole, was asked his thoughts concerning Umeofia’s allegations, the governor started by saying “You see, businessmen are not a “Committee of Angels!”
To me, that was really unfortunate because the governor was effectively waving the allegations away while trying to lump a patriotic businessman with other unscrupulous money-makers and speculators.
Fortunately, Oshiomhole’s comments may have provided the answer. Yes, Buhari must immediately raise a “Committee of Angels” and empower them with forex and policies, and, yes, body language, for them to really do business in order to create jobs, inspire confidence in the local industry, and draw a template for economic recovery so that at the end of day, we can be self-sufficient.
Another example of the troubling situation is the one I stumbled upon during one of my environmental researches. I discovered that the company that the government gave the contract to import grass for the Ministry of Agriculture had to look for a local company within Nigeria to help it do the necessary plant-breeding job. Interestingly, it was a tough task looking for such local capacity because you can hardly find such businesses here.
So, the question is why is the government not vigorously helping our local manufacturing industry? Why do most contracts seek to collaborate with foreigners? The answer is embedded in that same nine letter word: Corruption.