By GABRIEL OMOH

President Goodluck Jonathan in his June 2012 Democracy day broadcast stirred the hornet’s nest. He raised fundamental issues of the economy, some of which with the benefit of hindsight were wishes as usual with Nigerian leaders.

JONATHAN

He said during the broadcast: “We must use our population to create markets for what we produce. We must grow local, buy local and eat local.

To promote this, I have directed that all official functions of government serve local foods, especially our local rice and cassava bread and other foods. In the State House, I am faithfully keeping to my promise of eating cassava bread and local rice.”

This is December 2014; Mr. President, is cassava bread still being served in State House Abuja? Is the President being served local rice? How has the President kept his promise to ensure that all government Ministries, Departments and Agencies buy locally made goods?

How many hotels in Nigeria serve local rice and cassava bread? Does the yearly Christmas package from Mr. President, governors, ministers and others contain made in Nigeria items? The key to Nigeria’s survival, economically, is local production.

Nigerians must buy Nigerian products to encourage further production and generate employment opportunities. The need to promote locally made goods is more pressing now that government has introduced austerity measures to conserve the nation’s foreign reserves. The President and his team must return to the basics. They must lead by example.

They must show the nation that they mean business to carry all along in the bid to rebuild the Nigerian economy. Ministers and other functionaries must take a cue from Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala who wears Nigerian attire anywhere she is in the world. It is not about slogans but matching words with measurable actions.

Yes, Nigeria has a huge population that could constitute a big market, but out of the 160 million Nigerians alive today, official figures put 112 million as poor. It is the purchasing power in the hands of the individual, the disposable income that constitutes a market. A large proportion of the adult and youth population are unemployed; yes, the market potential is here but not realistically the way the President wants us to see it.

Rice and cassava farming in Nigeria today is constrained by access to finance and the small holding nature of the farmers as well as the traditional technology applied to farming. Besides, the land tenure system and its availability make commercial farming a mirage.

Has this President asked himself the question why in the world Nigeria should be exporting crude oil and importing finished petroleum products? This President is well aware that about 445,000 barrels of crude oil meant for local refining are sent to foreign refineries by NNPC for refining and brought back to the country as finished imported products for which subsidy is paid. Apart from the fact that the crude was sourced at reduced price, what happens to the by-products associated with petroleum refining? Who keeps the proceeds?

What business has Nigeria importing fuel? Is it not a shame that we have used up the nation’s foreign reserve importing products we should be producing locally? When President Barack Obama came on the American political scene, he invented a slogan: “Yes America, Yes we can.” He promised Americans that during his tenure, he will ensure that America depends less on imported crude oil.

Five years down the line, America is about becoming a net exporter of crude. That has dented Nigeria’s foreign earnings. That is a man who is a president indeed. Mr. President, Nigeria has to produce local. Industries have to source local raw materials. By now, the expectation is that Nigeria would have built up facilities to process all its exportable produce and sell in the international market at higher price. Why is Nigeria still exporting raw cocoa?

Cocoa should have been turned into semi-finished product so that those who can not sleep without tasting chocolate will come asking for it. Why should Nigeria be importing cotton and its seeds when there is an expanse of uncultivated lands lying fallow all over the cotton belt?

Nigerians’ expectation of Jonathan’s transformation agenda is identifying out-of-the-box innovative technology options that would add significant value for smallholder farmers in agriculture, encourage mass local manufacturing and processing of raw materials by reducing inefficiencies in the value chains, especially the harvest and post-harvest value chain elements. The roadmap to transforming the economy is massive investment, local and foreign.

While it is important to seek to attract foreign direct investment into the country, creating the ministry and Presidential directives to buy Nigerian and eat Nigerian menus are no baits for foreign investors to want to come to Nigeria. Globally, investors are interested in places where their return on investments is high. Nigeria certainly qualifies as investors have found out that they reap higher benefits if they invest in Nigeria.

The few that have done so, despite the challenges of infrastructure, have found this to be true. Yet, Nigeria is not a haven to foreign investors. Many investors who speak privately to Nigerians at investment fora are quick to point out that in Nigeria, there is no sanctity of contract and property rights are not clearly defined.

Most foreign investors see this as the most inhibiting factor that scares away would-be investors. They are not worried about the lack of infrastructure as is always claimed by those who explain away the Nigerian situation. Shell, Mobil, Chevron, MTN, UACN and others know too well the infrastructural deficiency in the country, yet they invested and are reaping the benefits.

The truth is that both local and foreign investors are wary of investing in Nigeria because the state and its agents have no respect for property rights and sanctity of contract.

They are worried that if they invest in Nigeria, their investment can be taken over by the state. Contracts have been breached with impunity by federal and state agents and servants who have outright disregard for court orders. Mr. President, it is time to match your words with action so that others can learn and fall in line.

 

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