By Dele Sobowale
“MITI facilitated the early development of nearly all major industries by providing protection from import competition, technological intelligence, helped in licensing foreign technology”. MITI also assisted with research funding to help selected Japanese industrial sectors to catch up with, and even surpass the achievement, of advanced economies.
For instance, it was MITI which selected iron and steel manufacturing as well as ship building in the early 1950s and electronics and cars in the 1960s. Companies such as SONY and TOYOTA became top global contenders thanks you MITI.
At the time, Japan was not a major global competitor in both sectors. But, by the early 1970s, Japan was the world’s leading ship builder and was one of top three steel makers. MITI had the power to direct banks to lend to selected companies in targeted sectors at low interest rates and also to get the country to ban the importation of foreign goods while developing its own industries rapidly.
Unlike Nigeria today, the coordinating Minister for economic activities was not the Ministry of Finance; it was MITI. And, the result was there for all to see. One thing is clear from the brief summary of MITI. Only individuals with the greatest minds can cope with the mountain of concerns which the Minister has to handle. Few possess such minds and some have gone from MITI to become Prime Minister in Japan.
NIGERIA’S MTI: FIGHTING LIONS WITHOUT ARMS
For Nigeria to benefit from the creation of this Ministry, only people with great intelligence, broad exposure and a high capacity for managing complexities should be appointed. It is not an assignment for dullards or one to pay benefactors or even to please the party. Few people can handle it.
Although ministerial briefs are not published in Nigeria, it is certain that the current Minister of Trade and Investment does not enjoy the clout his counterparts in Japan did in the 1950s to 1970. Aganga is not even the coordinating Minister and the only bank he can “bully to submission” is the Bank of Industry, BOI, and may be not even that one.
Whereas a MITI Minister could walk up to the Prime Minister of Japan and ask that American compact cars should be prohibited from import to encourage Japanese car manufacturers and it was done, Aganga has to plead and beg to get any item on the prohibition list.
So, for example, our textile industry dies and battery manufacturers pack up and go – taking productivity and jobs with them because our MTI lacks the power to protect them. The importers are too strong here. What we had done with our MTI, after borrowing a good page from the Japanese play-book, amounts to sending a gladiator into the arena to fight lions (read foreign competitors) without sword or shield; not even a pen knife. Nigerian MTI is as naked as a new-born baby and almost just as helpless.
In short we had done everything to ensure that Segun Aganga or any other person occupying the seat at MTI will fail totally. We have created a Ministry in which only a miracle worker or an extremely exceptional person could succeed. Many are bound to fail.
The cross-reference to Japanese MITI had been made in order for the Federal government, other Ministers and the general public to understand the handicaps facing the occupant of this seat and appreciate that against all odds the incumbent Minister had largely succeeded in his assignments.
As the Chinese advise, “if you are given lemon, make lemonade out of it”. Nigeria’s MTI minister had made a lot of “lemonade” out of baskets of lemon handed to him. Apart from being a workaholic, almost killing himself with work, he operates on the level of big ideas – the sort which actually bring about true and sustainable transformation.
I has listened to him talk on two occasions. I was invited the first time; I just walked in the second time and I discovered the second reason why he had made something out of almost nothing at MTI. He is a great salesman and a spell-binding speaker. And to sell broad visions, meaning things unseen by others, you need great salesmen.
Like one of my colleagues, Harry, at the Boston harbor in 1969, in a fish company called Slade Gorton and Company; he would sell all the fish already in the warehouse and, again, sell fish still to be caught. He went on to amass millions in legitimate sales commissions.
Aganga belongs in that class of salesmen; people who provide optimism when it is in short supply; who bring water out of stone. Granted, he had stretched the claims once in a while, and he had been cautioned right here on these pages. But, on the whole he is the best Minister in Jonathan’s cabinet of under-performing Ministers.
Let me leave you with a few of his accomplishments which would have appeared ordinary until you read the hurdles placed in front of the MTI Minister. Then those achievements become extra-ordinary. Space would not permit me to explain fully the benefits of each of these landmark achievements at the moment. Perhaps another opportunity will present itself.
MITI/MTI AND THE GAP BETWEEN VISION AND REALITY.
My full year course, on Development Economics, in my Junior year, as an undergraduate focused on the comparative advantages and disadvantages of planned and free economies. One thing was clear to me after two semesters of plugging through Input-Output Tables, which constituted the core of planned economies, was the complexity of the task involved.
With computers still in their infancy in 1967, my term paper on that course alone consumed almost sixty percent of my time. In the end, I was convinced that the Japanese hybrid, partly planned and partly free, was superior, and more operator friendly. At the same time, it was clear to me that totally free economies were headed for trouble sooner or later. For developing countries, a certain degree of planning is indispensable. That is why we need MTI and a person like Aganga.
MTI and the officers operating it, ideally, constitutes the gap between our vision and the reality we currently experience. Visioning should have been closely allied with MTI because our collective dream of greatness should aim to lift us to higher levels of productivity and investments than what we now seem capable of delivering.
The activities of MTI should empower ordinary people, in a nation, to do extra-ordinary things to develop the economy. So far, MTI is leading, but there is no linkage between its activities and the other ministries. Without that linkage, the full benefits of MTI will never be realized. And we would have wasted part of the opportunity which having someone like Aganga presents.
MTI has done a lot, given the difficulties, we can only help the Ministry to achieve greater things by giving it more powers. But, we are reaping only a small portion of the harvest. For instance, banks in Nigeria had stubbornly refused to fund agriculture.
Yet, no Ministry can compel them; even the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, appears helpless. Japan’s MITI had no such problems as it was empowered to allocate credit as it thought was in the nation’s economic interest. A bank either complied or went out of business. MTI and Aganga need that sort of power for Nigeria to experience a major breakthrough in food security, at least.