By Morenike Taire
Once more, handlers of the famous champagne brand Moet et Chandon have named Nigeria as one of their largest markets in Africa. The first time, it was the South African retail brand which has overtaken the business of retail across the country, that pronounced Nigeria as the country where they sell the most champagne.
Their accounts correlate. The difference is that at the time when Shoprite gave the unofficial report, the country had been economically healthy, as far as anyone could discern. In contrast, we are today in recession.
That word is one that has become very real to Nigerians across the geopolitical zones, and regardless of the level of education of those who are using it, at every turn, to describe the barely-there state in which they have come to find themselves in terms of what their money can actually buy.
That we are still consuming so much champagne that whole corporations are massaging our ego about it is nothing short of dumbfounding. But perhaps there is another way of looking at it. Perhaps we are just not seeing the other perspective; the bigger picture; the long term picture that politicians keep telling us is going to emerge, but just never quite seems to.
Perhaps it is time to finally get all the foreign investments Nigerian governments appear to have been designed- at their very best- to spend their lifespans searching for. What if we ask the French luxury company Moet et Chandon, a part of the Louis Vuitton group, to come and set up a winery in Nigeria.
What if they buy up a huge chunk of the Jos or Obudu plateau and set up a vineyard therein? What if they create a value chain and employ thousands of Nigerian youths and experts? What if the glass factory in Igbokoda is resurrected to mould bottles for the wines and our microbiology graduates are taken in to the factories?
What if they built a power plant and shared the residual electricity with the surrounding communities such that those communities never lack power, like the mining firms had done in Jos in the 60s and 70s? What if they had an advertising and publicity budget running into tens of millions of dollars, to be paid to our publications?
What if people began to troop into the country or into Plateau or Cross-Rivers states for wine tasting adventures; and what if chocolatiers followed, because chocolates are natural complements for wines. What if they pay taxes to the federal government after every business year?
This is not possible, clearly, for the simple reason that champagne can only be produced in one small area of France named Champagne; but there are ways around that- or anything.
Point is, no doubt, there are many means by which our impeccable taste and national disposition for opulence can be used for the greater good; but we all know the one suggested above is not going to happen not because we are not in Champagne, but because the people who run the economy cannot make the correlation between having the largest market in Africa and one of the largest on earth; and attracting the best of the best of foreign investment.
There have been many announcements and pronouncements; executive orders and non-executive ones- all with a view to attracting this elusive deluge of Foreign Direct Investment. The Nigerian currency has been devalued to far less than it is worth in the hope that corporations would bring their funds in for the long term. All that has happened, so far, is that foreigners and Nigerians alike have continued to exploit the windows benevolently provided by the various haphazard forex regimes to make a killing with the margins.
No sane businessman will sink money into a long term investment in another man’s country with regular returns when they can regularly make massive returns by buying and selling money in incredibly short cycles.
It is the same reason we failed to take advantage when the golden age of globalization came. It was the era in which borders blurred, and nations were happy and willing to work, live and do business with one another. The era gave birth to the BRIC phenomenon, whereby Brazil, Russia, India and China moved a significant notch up the economic ladder. The global meltdown of 2008 spelt the knell of death to the era, and the rise in nationalism occasioned by the meltdown’s consequences is gaining ground globally.
In this post-globalization age, the last thing we need is the patting of our backs by those who are making a kill of us while unemployment shoots up in our same country. This era necessitates that we have handlers for our economy whose main leverage is not necessarily foreign degrees or bragado speech; but the ability to see opportunities and negotiate on the basis of our strengths, such as our numbers.
It is not about who cooks the tastiest or best looking jollof rice; it is about whose jollof rice brings in the dollars. Let the debate start again.