By Muyiwa Adetiba
You’ve got to love the social media, especially if you are no longer in your ‘active’ years and the phenomenon has grown on you as opposed to the other way round. The amount of creative work out there is simply amazing. A Nigerian friend who lives in the US said to me: “Nigerians are either very creative or very idle”. To which I added “or both”. According to him, most of the stuff he gets are from his Nigerian contacts. We seem to be able to reduce every situation we find ourselves in to words and graphics and in a language that is simple but profound; hilarious but serious. I received one of such messages last week that I wish to share because it describes the situation we find ourselves in very aptly. Here goes….
‘Ebele the hunter goes into the bush, kills a very big antelope and sells it to Mama Ngozi for N1000. He tells Mama Ngozi to make good pepper soup because he is coming in the evening with his friend to enjoy themselves. As soon as they get there in the evening, they order different parts of the bush meat. Ebele takes the head for N500; four of his friends take the legs for N500 each, while two take the intestines. Three other people buy different parts for N500 each. At the end of the evening, Mama Ngozi has sold for N5,000 with what she bought for N1,000 from the same source simply by cooking (processing) the meat and still has excess to sell to other customers.
‘Let’s relate the story to our country, Nigeria. We sell crude oil to the Western world for $110 per barrel and we are happy; so happy that we spend the money lavishly, then go back to buy the processed crude oil in the form of kerosene, PMS, AGO, aviation fuel, tar, petroleum jelly and petrochemicals. At the end of the day, we end up buying these products at 12 times what we sold the raw material for. And then we complain that we are broke.’ Now, can any economist put it better?
Unfortunately, this is what we have done in every facet of our lives since independence. We enjoy chocolate but we cannot process our cocoa; we enjoy good furniture but we cannot process our timber; we enjoy good clothes but we cannot process our cotton; we enjoy good shoes but we cannot process our hides and skin. The list is endless. We spend more on foreign education than what would have been needed to fix our universities. We spend more on medical tourism than what we need to fix our hospitals. Even the few institutions and factories we built or inherited have been destroyed through greed, corruption and sheer lack of patriotism.
And the richer we became, the more irresponsible we turned out to be. Nigeria not only destroyed the dreams of its forefathers and those who agitated for independence, it also destroyed the dreams of their off-spring. Many of those who went abroad for the golden fleece in the 60s and 70s were so anxious to return home immediately after their studies to contribute their quota to the country’s growth. Many abandoned those dreams and went with the tide when they realised the reality of the Nigerian system. I still can’t forget the story the late Chief Anofi Guobadia, an electronics engineer, past Vice-President of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce, and a complete gentleman to boot, told me many years ago.
Filled with the desire to play his role in the development of his father land; he came home from the UK and set up Maiden Electronics to produce made-in-Nigeria electronic goods. He was already finding his niche in the market when the oil boom came, and with it came Udoji at some point and the attendant massive importation of electronic products. You can imagine where Nigeria would be if Maiden Electronics and many like it, had been allowed to grow. You can imagine where Nigeria would have been if her doctors and indeed, her professionals had found accommodation and expression within the Nigerian system.
As if by sheer coincidence, a news flash on my phone as I write stated that a ‘Nigerian, Akinwande, is to be honoured by Obama. The Akinwande I know though older than the one being honoured, is no less distinguished. He is a product of Government College Ibadan, University of Ife, and is currently a professor of Electronic Engineering at the prestigious MIT. He is an asset to any country and he is a Nigerian. But he like many, finds neither accommodation nor recognition at home. We should encourage and find roles for him and his ilk because if Nigeria is going to survive without oil, we have to look inwards. The tentative steps of the last administration in the auto-mobile industry must be strengthened.
Made in Nigeria cars will generate pride and employment while saving foreign exchange. Local airlines will take us to places of destination for a fraction of Virgin, British Airways or Delta Airlines while creating employment. I have some made-in -Nigeria shoes, and believe me there is no discernible difference from the imported ones and my pocket is happier. A sizeable portion of my wardrobe are native wears that I don’t have to go to France or Italy to procure. These are but a few of the many low hanging fruits the growth of which the government can immediately nurture.
Then, as a matter of policy, all our products from solid minerals to agriculture must not be exported in their raw states; some processing, some value must be added. And once we have found a local substitute for any product, from tomato, rice and cornflakes to shoes and cars, importation must be discouraged. As for those who have developed a taste for caviar and champagne, they just have to pay for their exotic tastes. And who says we cannot make our Nigerian champagne?
These things will not only save us from the likes of Ebele the antelope hunter and Mama Ngozi pepper soup seller illustrations, they will engage the minds and energy of our people and put the famed enterprise of Nigerians to gainful employment. And what’s more, the naira will gain value.