EVERYTHING sounds good if we find enough words to clothe them. Words are never in short supply. The new direction of the Federal Executive Council, FEC, that claims Nigeria’s foreign policy will henceforth be investment-driven, glowing, as it seems, fails woefully to show the smallest appreciation of actions that will attract investment.
“While we retain the leadership role in the sub-region and play a leading role in the continent, the foreign policy direction will be used to propel economic development of our country,” Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Olugbenga Ashiru said after the inaugural meeting of FEC. “All our embassies and high commissions, especially in Asia, Europe, and the Americas will now promote investment.”
Some outstanding issues easily dismiss FEC’s attempts at innovativeness as words lacking in substance that can produce results to improve the lives of majority of Nigerians who are groaning under inexplicably poor governance.
What drives foreign investments? Is it just instructions to our missions to act in certain manners? Where are the policies and actions that will pull foreign investments into Nigeria in a heatedly competitive world? What are we offering investors beyond the words of our embassy staff?
Investors expect early returns on their investments. They are searching for countries that have infrastructure, discernible business policies, that are secure, and ease requirements for commencing operations. More than half of the 200 odd countries in the world have more competitive advantage over Nigeria in these areas. FEC should be aware that it cannot address these issues with words.
Countries do not waste their time assuring investors about stable electricity supply, sterling port facilities, expansive transport networks, potable water, and security. These are taken for granted.
Business friendly countries have investment documents that can be summarised in minutes and governments keep working at minimising the cost of doing business, period for starting new businesses. Policies dovetail into these.
Every serious investor can obtain information in these areas without stepping out of its base. The internet is replete with business websites containing information about doing business with different countries. The standard practice is to exceed the promises made online. Nigeria scores low here too.
Layers of official bottlenecks obstruct those who have anything to do with government. Government officials, at home and abroad, are unapologetically unwilling to provide service or information without taking people through sufficient hassles to turn them back. Our governments have failed to create an investment environment friendly for Nigerians and it is not different for foreigners.
Charity must not start abroad. Nigerian governments must encourage Nigerians to invest in their country. The stifling state of infrastructure is taking Nigerian investors abroad. How does government help Nigerian businesses? Has government identified any advantages of investing in Nigeria that our missions will promote?
Ashiru in asserting the role of our missions appears unaware of their state. They are under-funded, salaries are unpaid for months, and some mission officials have been ejected from their apartments or services limited because Nigeria did not pay. Will they be the ones to drive the new foreign policy on investments?
Nigerians expect more seriousness from FEC. If Ashiru’s presentation represents high points of FEC’s inaugural meeting, then there is cause for alarm. The same weekly belittling of expectations from some men and women selected to propel the country towards greatness remains abundantly obvious.