As headlines heralding horrific events like persistent gruesome murders of civilians by herdsmen militia ; unending suicide bombing by religious insurgents like Boko Haram ; and mind boggling sums of public funds looted by corrupt public officials in Nigeria compete for global attention on a daily basis, our dear country seems doomed to remain mired in negative publicity.
That’s because no day goes by without the above listed tragedies and calamities happening in Nigeria, and that makes the malady of negative perception from abroad self inflicted.
From the religion induced Boko Haram suicide bombings which began rearing its ugly head about ten years ago in the north east, to the currently raging herdsmen killings in the Sahel and middle belt , Nigeria seems to literally be on fire.
Worst still, allegations of corruption have been ratcheted up by politicians from governors, council chairmen and Councillors , commissioners at state level and ministers of the federal government to our legislators who are not only labeled corrupt, but their leaders such as the Senate president is now being tagged an armed robber. Consequently, Nigeria has become a theatre of the absurd and the laughing stock of the world.
Although all of the negative activities earlier highlighted are believed to be driven by politics and politicians who are engaged in power contests , the Nigerian nation and the critical mass of the citizens who are not involved in politics are bearing the brunt of the mess.
This is because the dirt and murk that politicians rake up and heap on one another just to look better than their opponents is so odious that no right thinking investor or donor would consider staking any investment in Nigeria except fortune seekers .
Somehow, the discouragement of foreigners from investing in Nigeria has negative implications for youth unemployment which is presently driving the migration of youths to Europe through the Sahara desert into Libya and the Mediterranean Sea into Europe.
Before the return of the country to party politics after the military toppled the first Democratically elected government in 1966 which precipitated a three years long civil war that’s responsible for the death of an estimated 3 million Nigerians, (1967-70) the military government led by Murtala Mohamed had probed and sacked top government officials from the government of Yakubu Gowon including permanent secretaries and military governors who were stripped of huge ill gotten assets-including real estates, hotels and movie theaters acquired with stolen public funds.
All the odious details hugged headlines of global media outfits and consequently stigmatized Nigeria and her people as a country plagued by chronic corruption issues.
In fact there was a time Nigerians were derogatorily referred to as ‘money miss road’ in apparent parody of the penchant of our people to spend money recklessly like the Arabs who were awash with oil/gas money.
That trait of profligacy was fueled by Nigeria’s new found wealth when it transited from an agrarian economy to oil/gas economy following the discovery of crude oil/gas in commercial quantities in the late 1950s in the Niger Delta region.
Salacious stories are told of how back in the days top government officials lost huge sums of cash to prostitutes or in taxis in London, UK.
Nigeria’s reputation was so soiled by such unsavory incidents that it was portrayed in negative light in former Singapore prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew’s famous book “From Third To First World”.
After the oil/gas boom tanked in the early 1980s and subsequently the economy suffered its first recession, illegal drugs/narcotics trafficking and advanced fee fraud became the new norm and a negative toga that hung over Nigeria like an albatross.
Ingloriously referred to as ‘419’ which is the number by which it is recorded in the nation’s statutes book, advanced fee fraud that entails obtaining funds from unwary foreigners by Nigerians , has defined the image of our country and as a nation of internet fraudsters which has been difficult, if not impossible to shake off.
Upon the country’s return to party democracy in 1999 after a long stretch of being under military dictatorships, politicians took the center stage once more and competition amongst them on which political party or politician loots the most in the devil-may-care attitude of undoing or besmearing each other became the order of the day.
The assertion above is validated by the fact that president Olusegun Obasanjo who was sworn into office on May 29, 1999 labelled most of the Governors under his regime as corrupt and “Owambe governors” (even as far back as when they were still governor-elect in 1999) ostensibly because some attended a lavish birthday bash by the socialite- Terry Waya in a swanky hotel in London.
Upon seizing power in 1983, the then army general, Muhammadu Buhari walked a similar path of mauling pubic office holders which was pioneered by Murtala Mohamed by hauling some alleged corrupt politicians into jail for ridiculous prison terms sometimes up to 100 years for alleged corrupt enrichment.
Although he was ousted through a palace coup in 1985, President Buhari got reincarnated as a reborn Democrat and an elected president in 2015.
Since then he appears to have continued from where he stopped in his crusade against corruption about 30 years ago by branding Nigerians as very corrupt a negative labeling which the immediate past prime minister of the UK, David Cameron capitalized on by referring to Nigerians as “fantastically corrupt” (in a conspiratorial manner to the Queen of England) during an Anti-Corruption Summit in London.
Also, Nigerian youths who are the nation’s greatest asset as they constitute about 60% of the population and as such a critical workforce, were not spared. They were also de-marketed by President Buhari when he reportedly referred to Nigerian youths as lazy in another overseas media interview .
Perhaps sensing the negative effect and backlash from such unsavory comments, Mr. President has lately become more circumspect in his public utterances.
Nevertheless, given the scenarios above, for too long, Nigeria has been burdened, if not shackled by the yoke of negative public perception. This is basically owing to the terribly horrifying news of gloom and doom coming out of our country and more often than not stirred up and propagated by our leaders, which amounts to shooting ourselves in the foot.
Only recently, Bill Gates, the richest man in the world, identified Nigeria’s great potentials and offered some advice on how to unleash them, but typical of Nigeria’s egotistic rulers, he was rebuffed.
Now, a lot of people may not think image matters a lot in economic development and international relations, but it does a great deal.
And here is why: When Japan, the world’s third biggest economy came looking for partnerships in Africa, where did it go to hold a summit? Kenya. China the world’s 2nd largest economy didn’t come to Nigeria, instead it partnered with South Africa to organize a parley of the so called BRICS countries-a term coined by Jim O’Neil comprising of Brazil Russia, India, China and South Africa projected to be the world’s next economic growth hubs. You may wonder why Nigeria which is a country with the largest population in excess of 180m and biggest economy by virtue of her GDP being over $510 not in that comity of fastest developing nations?
Obviously, our country is not being reckoned with for economic development partnerships by international investors owing to her horrific image and lack of necessary socioeconomic reforms. Forget all the fantastic foreign direct investments, FDI figures being bandied about by authorities, the truth is that real investors radars are not picking up Nigeria for the simple reason of the persistent toxic sociopolitical and economic atmosphere. There are two types of investments that are trickling into Nigeria now. (1) Bonds in the form of treasury bills basically because of the mouth whetting interest rates offered in Nigeria which is now drying up as interest rate grows in the USA . There is even a snag in such funds as they are short term and can get pulled out in a heart beat, hence they are referred to as ‘hot’ money.
The second is the investment in natural resources especially oil/gas by transnational corporations.
Again, such investments have been significantly diminished rather than bullish as oil/gas giants like Royal Dutch SHELL have been divesting from onshore assets owing to existential risks of vandalism and kidnapping perpetrated by environmental rights militants and rogue as well as lack of reforms in the sector.
Apart from Oil/Gas, Nigeria has in commercial quantities other valuable minerals like gold, diamond, uranium, and several precious gemstones which have remained untapped despite attempts to woo investors.
The real investments into Nigeria by foreign investors could have been in infrastructure of which our country is in dire shortage and therefore a veritable candidate for investment.
But when Nigeria put up her telecom’s assets for auction nearly two decades ago, only firms like MTN of South Africa and ECONET of Zimbabwe got involved. Airtel of India and Etisalat from the Middle East were to join later. But no telecoms firm from the Western world. Etisalat has now exited leaving Airtel of India as the only player from outside the continent. Where are the telecom giants like British telecom’s, Vodacom,T-Mobil, AT&T, Verizon etc ? Is it not amazing that the giant Telcos did not find a market of 180m people with the highest GDP in Africa which is estimated to be over $510b and home to a burgeoning middle class worthy of investing in?
How about the electric power sector which recently got unbundled for private sector participation ?
Again , no big names in power sector from the Western world like GE, ABB, Siemens ,Schneider etc took any direct stake. Instead, they are only interested in equipment supply as opposed to being direct investors. Even the local investors are now threatening to divest at a discount as a fall out of disagreements with the supervising minister .
Does that not reflect chaos and reinforce the lack of confidence in Nigeria’s investment climate ?
The agriculture sector is not an exception.
Is it not a crying shame that Nigeria can’t boast of food security as it still depends on other countries for food imports? Until recently, over a trillion Naira was spent annually importing rice from Thailand and India.
It is common knowledge that the challenge of food security stems largely from the inability of farmers to transit from subsistence to industrial farming in order to harness the full benefits of food value chain.
Is it not preposterous that cattle herders still trek with their cows all over Nigeria in search of green foliage instead of growing them in cattle ranches which is currently the course of the intractable herders/ farmers clashes with calamitous consequences as reflected by the massive loss of lives and properties the nation is currently grappling with?
Traveling round the hinterland of Nigeria, you will find huge expanse of arable land beyond the scope that ordinary eyes can behold, yet you hardly see a Caterpillar , John Deer or New Holland tractors for farming in the vast land with enormous farming potentials .
Why would investors from the USA which is the No 1 economy in the world and highly advanced in farming not be investing in agriculture ventures in Nigeria?
How about Israel reputed for turning deserts into farms and with its geographical location not far from Nigeria? What is constraining her from making investment forays into farming in Nigeria?
The answer to all the foregoing questions is the negative perception and sordid reality of bureaucratic bottle necks in our country.
Otherwise, the Benue, Plateau and Nasarawa Belt in the Middle of Nigeria that’s very fertile could have been like Florida area which is the citrus zone of the USA, where all the oranges and other fruits are grown and processed, yet Nigerians have been consigned to importing fruit concentrates from China etc.