nce in a while, a national or state public official will announce with fanfare that the government is making a serious effort to woo or establish international business partnerships. The reason often given for the effort is that the government wants more international businesses to set up shop in Nigeria in order to boost the economy and create employment opportunities for the citizens. Similarly, every one or two months, some national or state public officials would hold press conferences to announce that they want Nigerians in the Diaspora, especially those who own businesses overseas, to return and help develop the economy.
Soon after the announcements, some highly-placed officials would travel overseas, supposedly to seek business partnerships and to encourage Nigerians to return home. Thus, since 1999, many foreign trips have been undertaken by federal and state officials to accomplish the two objectives identified above. It is possible to speculate that such trips have cost the Nigerian people hundreds of millions of dollars, if not billions. Quite often, after returning from such foreign trips, the Nigerian public is never informed of the outcomes of the trips. Despite lack of accountability, as to the efficacy of the trips, they are taken regularly by national and state officials, whenever they feel like doing so.
Due to the frequency of such trips and the lack of progress reports on whether the goals and objectives of the trips were met or not, it is inferable that a vast majority of the overseas trips are taken for purposes other than those that the public officials declared in their public pronouncements to justify the trips. Similarly, many official (both federal and states) statements made by public officials, indicating a desire for Nigerians in the Diaspora to return home and invest are mere political posturing intended to strategically establish foreign links for their personal financial deals.
1. A vast majority of the trips taken overseas are for purposes other than those that the public officials declared in their public pronouncements to justify the trips.
While Nigeria needs foreign business partners and investors, the political and business environments in the country do not seem to encourage the planting and germination of such international business relationships. Consequently, many public officials who travel overseas to seek international investors are merely laying the groundwork for their own business interests because the country is not strategically and structurally equipped to handle genuine international investments. There are numerous factors which inhibit foreign business relationships in the country:
- Nigeria is structurally and operationally dysfunctional. The reason is that the country is designed as a federal system in which power supposed to be shared between the federal government and the states. Instead, in the First Republic, the country operated as a confederacy in which the regions tended to have more political power than the national government. After the Nigerian civil war, the pendulum shifted drastically and since then, Nigeria has been operated like a unitary state in which the national government assumes all powers and the states are forced to be dependent upon the national government.
Due to this development, the states find it very difficult to thrive economically on their own without the assistance of the national government. As a result, the states in which the governors are very able, creative, and innovative in creating and attracting businesses are discouraged or hindered technically from doing so on their own due to the overreaching nature of the national laws, policies, procedures and processes. The federal government has a very tight control of every aspect of governmental operations in the country. It appears that the national government is afraid that any state which thrives economically might threaten its survival, hence, the desire for national regulation and control of major economic activities. It further seems that the national government prefers the states to depend totally on it for their sustenance, rather than seek independent ways to enhance themselves.
Apart from the First Republic, the only time the states have been technically allowed to grow was during the regime of Gen. Yakubu Gowon. Even though it was a military regime, the governors performed magnificently. This was why states like Bendel, Rivers, North Central, Lagos, Southeastern and many others, did very well. Even East Central State, which was under tremendous political pressure, did comparatively better than what is obtained today. Thus, Bayelsa State today cannot be compared in any form or manner, in terms of progressive development, with the old Rivers State when Commander Diete Spiff was the governor.
- Since independence, Nigerian leaders have been struggling to institute a reliable energy system. In fact, the situation is actually worse off today than in the 1960s and 1970s. No major foreign manufacturing and or high-tech company is likely to set up shop in Nigeria because the energy system is totally unreliable.
Perhaps, as part of the effort to control what goes on in the country, the energy system is nationalized to the extent that some states that are creative enough to develop or create surplus electrical power cannot use the excess capacity to expand business activities within their borders without first getting permission from the national government. It should be recalled that both Lagos and Rivers States were told that they could not utilize their excessive electrical capacity without first transferring such extra capacities to the national electrical grid in Ogbomosho for redistribution to other states. The national distribution scheme discourages the innovative states from aggressively instituting development goals and objectives. It does not create any incentive for a state governor to be told that he/she must transfer an excess electrical capacity to a national grid for redistribution to other states, after he/she might have worked hard to develop the excess capacity in order to boost economic development of his/her own state. The policy of national distribution of energy seems to impact the older states more negatively than the newer states like Bayelsa and others that were created recently.
Thus, Nigerian officials cannot be taken seriously when they speak about going overseas to seek foreign investment in Nigeria if the energy system in the country is unreliable for major manufacturing businesses to set up shop. Resultantly, instead of going overseas to recruit, they should work hard to develop the energy system first. An argument can be made that the energy problem in the country can be easily resolved if the states are allowed to develop creative ways of generating electricity. The national energy distribution system controlled by the National Power Holding Company (NPHC) is wasteful and dysfunctional. It encourages massive looting of funds appropriated for energy production.
- The transportation system in the country does not encourage major foreign companies to set up shop in Nigeria.
- Nigeria still does not have a nationalized railway system which can move goods from one part of the country to another. For instance, while there is a rail link from the Southeast to the North and from the North to the Southwest, there is no rail system that links all the regions. The current railway system was actually instituted by the colonial authorities before independence. Since independence, Nigerian leaders have not invested in the expansion and modernization of the rail system in the country. As a result, both commercial and public transportation systems are insufficient to meet the transportation needs of Nigerians and potential major international business investors. Apart from a national railway system, with a population of about 130 million, cities like Lagos, Kano, Ibadan, Kaduna, Port Harcourt, Calabar, Enugu, etc. need urbanized metro rail systems to facilitate transportation for both citizens and goods.
- Nigeria also seems to discourage foreign investment by its seaport policies. This is demonstrated by the fact that the country currently has official seaports in Lagos, Warri, Sapele, Port Harcourt, and Calabar. To these five ports, Eket and Oron could be added, thereby, making it seven seaports. However, apart from the Lagos seaport, the other four seaports are intentionally underutilized and treated as subservient to the Lagos port. This is why most Nigerians from the South-South, the Middle Belt, and South-East must go to Lagos to clear some of their major foreign imports. It is not unusual for someone from Enugu or Port Harcourt or Ogoja to head to Lagos in order to receive an imported vehicle. Despite the fact the Igbos are major economic players in Nigeria, those who import certain goods must go to Lagos and not Warri or Sapele or Port Harcourt or Calabar in order to clear them from the Nigerian Customs. Thus, while Nigerian officials make public pronouncements about foreign business investments, national seaport policies hinder such from taking place.
Even the major oil companies are compelled through restrictive seaport policies to transact most of their major businesses in Lagos and not in Calabar or Port Harcourt or Warri, even though these cities are closest to their centers of operations. Eket and Oron are almost totally ignored or eliminated from the national picture, as seaports, by national policymakers.
- Just as most Nigerian seaports are underutilized, so are the airports. For whatever reason, there is hesitancy in opening up many parts of the country to international flights. Again, in a country of about 130 million people, it makes a lot of sense to have at least seven major international airports. Yet, international flights are restricted to a very few airports. This inhibits the growth of international businesses. Today, most international flights are directed to Lagos, Abuja and Kano Airports. Again, people in the South-East, South-South, North-East, and North West are choked due to the fact that while they are major economic players in the country, they cannot fly out of the country from the airports nearest them. The few international flights that head to Port Harcourt and other airports are very restricted.
- The road system discourages many international investments. While the South-West and the Northern zones seem to have better road networks, it is not the case in the South-South and South-East zones even though these two regions contain the oil industry. Until recently, the Lagos -Benin Road was a major disaster area for travelers from the South-South and the South-East zones. The East-West Road is still a disaster zone, even though it is a major transportation route for the oil industry.
C. Corruption is a major hindrance to foreign investment. In Nigeria today, it is impossible to establish any business without paying bribes to public officials. Due to massive corruption, the business environment is very hostile to those who want to set up genuine productive economic ventures in the country. On the other hand, the corrupting environment provides ample opportunities for individuals who engage in frivolous, fast-money making, and fraudulent economic ventures to set up shop in the country. This is why the commonest businesses in Nigeria are contracting, import/export and service-oriented industries. On the other hand, manufacturing and high-tech industries that are capable of hiring millions of citizens are very few. The lack of major manufacturing and high-tech industries contribute to the perennial unemployment problem that is driving up the rate of crime in the country. Nigeria needs massive manufacturing industries to hire as many people as possible.
d. Corruption creates a very unpredictable business climate that makes life for both local and foreign investors hazardous. It is a fact that many foreign investors who tried to establish partnerships with some Nigerians have ended up in legal hot-waters in their own countries for corruption and money laundering charges. This is why many genuine foreign investors do not want to entangle themselves with some Nigerians for fear that they could get into serious legal problems.
e. Due to massive corruption, a considerable number of Nigerians with wealth are only interested in fast-money making businesses. They are not interested in businesses that take long time to yield profit. This is why they are always traveling to South Africa, Ghana, China, India, Saudi Arabia, Dubai, the United States, Britain, Taiwan etc. where fast money could be made. As far as Nigerian business elites are only interested in fast-money generating ventures, the employment situation in the country will not improve in any remarkable manner. In fact, many Nigerians are setting up businesses in Ghana and not in Nigeria because the country's political and business climates are too volatile.
F. Many citizens and foreigners are concerned about the rising violent crime rate in the country. In particular, kidnapping and armed robbery discourage many people who want to invest in Nigeria to avoid doing so. On the other hand, Ghana is a much safer place that is why some Nigerians are actually heading there to establish businesses. Added to the crime rate is the volatile religious situation, especially in the Middle Belt and northern parts of the country. Even some Nigerians are fleeing from the two regions due to incessant religious and political violence.
2. Nigerian officials (both federal and state) who call upon Nigerians in the Diaspora to return home and invest are merely engaging in political posturing to maximize their self-interest.
It is strongly believed here that many officials who make such announcements have other motives in mind and have no desire whatsoever in actually encouraging Nigerians to return. The following provides reasons why their call for Nigerians in the Diaspora to return home cannot be taken seriously:
a. Within Nigeria, there are highly talented individuals who really want to establish genuine businesses in the country but have no support whatsoever from the national and state governments due to the fact that they do not have political connections to those who wield political power. This is why millions of Nigerians are jobless. This also explains why other millions of Nigerians are underemployed and exist as the working poor. If the officials who make pronouncements about wanting Nigerians in the Diaspora to return are truly committed to developing the economy, they would make all efforts to create employment opportunities for the millions of Nigerians who are either unemployed or underemployed in the country.
b. To succeed economically, the would-be-investor must be willing to offer bribes. It is almost impossible to get any business going without offering bribes to some officials in the ministries or departments responsible for registering and operating a legal business in the country. Many Nigerians in the Diaspora who have established successful businesses in the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Canada, and so forth, would find it exceedingly difficult to operate in the Nigerian business environment since there are no standard operating procedures and some officials are always bending the rules in order to maximize their official positions to enrich themselves financially. Thus, any Nigerian in the Diaspora who has not visited the country for quite awhile will be shocked by the way in which business is done.
Thus, due to the tumultuous and unpredictable nature of business operations in Nigeria, it is very difficult for hard-working honest Nigerians, both at home and abroad, to succeed in the country. On the other hand, it has been demonstrated repeatedly that outside Nigeria, Nigerians are some of the best professionals in their occupational fields in the world. However, when these same Nigerians return home, they are psychologically traumatized by the realization that everything in Nigeria depends on knowing or bribing someone and being loyal to some political godfathers and godmothers. The godfathers and godmothers are not really interested in the skills possessed by the individuals, rather, they seem to be only interested in how much money the individuals can deliver or generate to them in a very short time.
c. The manufacturing/ industrial sector cannot take off because Nigeria has not been able to operationalize the steel mills to the point where goods could be produced without relying on the outside world for parts. Indeed, a functional steel mill is needed for Nigeria to take off industrially and become a major exporter of finished goods.
d. There are thousands of Nigerian medical doctors overseas who would like to return to Nigeria. However, many cannot do so because the country has not invested in health care for decades. Most of them would be frustrated if they return to Nigeria due to lack of modern medical facilities and drugs. The lack of facilities is the reason why many well-to-do Nigerians go overseas for their health care needs. It is widely rumoured that some former national and state public officials, who embezzled massively between 1999 and 2010, have established major businesses, including hospitals in South Africa, Ghana, and other countries in Africa. The reason why this group of Nigerians probably decided to invest in other countries and not in Nigeria may be due to the fact that the funds used to invest in the businesses were embezzled. As a result, they are probably afraid that if they invest extensively in Nigeria, the businesses could be impounded in the event of a sudden change of government and the new government decides to crack down on corruption the way Lt. Jerry Rawlings did in Ghana. Consequently, to be on the safe side, these former public officials prefer to invest elsewhere and not in Nigeria, even though the country needs massive economic investment in order to create employment for the growing population.
e. Some Nigerians in the Diaspora who have tried to do business in Nigeria complained very bitterly about the impossibility of dealing with Nigerian Customs officials. Many reported that even after they have paid the officially sanctioned fees to clear their goods at the Lagos port, they were still stopped on the roads as they headed to their destinations and forced again by other Nigerian Customs officials to pay additional fees without any justification. Such tactics to extol money inhibit economic development and growth.
f. Some Nigerians allege that some Nigerian Customs officials, sometimes, intentionally institute unnecessary financial roadblocks at the ports of entry in order to frustrate and prevent them from clearing the goods. By so doing, the goods are then seized and sold or transferred to the special business partners of the Customs officials in Nigeria. It is like a racket in which Customs officials intentionally make it difficult for Nigerians in the Diaspora who have no special political or business connections in Nigeria to forfeit their goods, thereby, justifying the need to seize the goods and sell them to their special business partners who specialize in dealing with seized goods at the ports of entry.
Some Nigerians believe that while the Nigerian Police Force (NPF) is generally considered to be corrupt, in actuality, the Nigerian Customs is more corrupt than the NPF. Those who believe that the NPF is not as corrupt as the Nigerian Customs add that the NPF actually learned the trade in corruption from the Nigerian Customs, going back to the early 1960s. They recall that Custom agents started the idea of accumulating personal wealth while performing their official duties right from the time the country gained independence from Britain. They believe that Custom agents were probably the first group of public officials in Nigeria to amass personal financial wealth and properties while performing their official duties. Consequently, they suggest that the Nigerian Customs must be subjected to the probing eyes of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) if Nigeria is to get out of the deep hole it finds itself in and become an economic success story like Brazil, Taiwan, South Korea, India, China and so forth.
g. Due to the need for bribes, some Nigerians who own businesses in foreign countries feel frustrated that they are sometimes compelled to hire whites and other foreigners to represent them while trying to do or establish business in Nigeria. The reason is that many national and states public officials, prefer to do business with foreigners and not with Nigerians. The public officials who play this game try very hard to avoid the Nigerians because they believe that Nigerians are not excellent bribe givers since they know what the officials want. Thus, to maximize the opportunity to establish contact with foreigners, many Nigerian public officials go after the foreigners. They go after the foreigners who are not adept at the bribing game, so, can easily be cornered to give generously in order to have their businesses established in the country. Evidently, some public officials strenuously avoid the Nigerians while scouting frenetically around for potential foreign victims of their financial schemes.
Since many Nigerian public officials prefer to do business with foreigners, some Nigerian CEOs of Nigerian owned businesses or companies in overseas who try to establish their businesses in Nigeria are forced to act like employees of their own companies and allow their foreign employees to act like the CEOs while they are in Nigeria to carry out business negotiations. Some Nigerian CEOs allege that even in the hotels, they are treated differently by Nigerian hotel workers. Quite often, the hotel workers either ignore or pay very little attention to them while working feverishly to satisfy the foreign employees of the Nigerians in the Diaspora.
Why Do Some Nigerian Public Officials Behave Strangely against Nigerians?
It is important to know what factors motivate some public officials and business tycoons to seek international business partners when they know that the political, social, and legal systems and the infrastructure in the country are not capable of supporting major foreign investment in Nigeria. It is also important to know why some Nigerian public officials always make statements encouraging Nigerians in the Diaspora to return home and invest in the development of the country when they know that the political, social, and legal systems and processes are not conducive business environment for Nigerians in overseas.
In an attempt to determine the motivation for why some Nigerian public officials take certain positions that are counterproductive to the economic development of the country, the following hypothetical reasons are advanced:
1. It seems that some public officials are looking for a conduit to transfer embezzled funds overseas when they say that they are going overseas to seek foreign business partners. By going overseas, some of them are able to directly open both checking and saving accounts.
2. It also appears that some public officials want to use the foreigners to establish business accounts overseas so that they can funnel funds into the accounts regularly under the pretext of doing an international business.
3. Some of the public officials want partners that could use their names to open businesses in their own countries, thereby, enabling the officials to impress upon their associates in Nigeria that they have international business connections.
4. Some public officials probably want to establish contacts with Nigerians who are already in overseas in an effort to use them as financial traffickers . It should be noted that during the early 2000s, many Nigerians who lived in the US and Britain were identified as financial traffickers or money launderers for some well known Nigerian politicians and public officials.
5. Some Nigerian public officials and business tycoons, perhaps, want Nigerians in the Diaspora to set up shop in Nigeria so that they can easily be manipulated to cough out funds whenever these Nigerians need raw cash to transact their own businesses.
6. Some officials tend to view the Nigerians in the Diaspora as interest-free money lenders. By supposedly working with these Nigerians to establish partnerships in Nigeria, those in overseas are forced to send money to them on regular basis as a means to oil business connections in Nigeria. It is not uncommon for some highly connected public official or public figures to call Nigerian CEOs in overseas and say " the contract will be signed as soon as the minister returns to Abuja. To quicken the signing process, we need $15,000 immediately to grease the palms of the officials." As soon as the money gets to Nigeria, nothing happens again. Some Nigerian CEOs in overseas have complained of spending hundreds of thousands of dollars without getting anything in return, in the form of contracts or consulting services. In frustration, some Nigerian CEOs have decided not to do any business in Nigeria until there is a change in the business culture of the country.
Some public officials and business tycoons look for international business partners and the Nigerians in the Diaspora to hook up with in order to boost their applications for contracts in Nigeria. By claiming that they have international business operations, their ability to win contracts in Nigeria is enhanced. Some Nigerians CEOs in the Diaspora have reported that as soon as the home partners win the contracts, they are immediately cut off from the contracts.
For some public officials and business tycoons, it is fashionable to say that they have international business partners. This is intended to boost their ego and to increase their social and political value in Nigeria. Other Africans in the Diaspora too have also noted the strange behaviors among public officials in their own countries.
Apart from the Nigerian CEOs, other Nigerians in the Diaspora who are desirous of returning home have also encountered problems dealing with Nigerian politicians and public officials. The problems are caused by the fact that since 1999, the only means by which an individual can gain employment or open a business in Nigeria is through political connection or bribery. As a result, some Nigerians in the Diaspora who have decided to return home have been compelled to establish political connections with godfathers and godmothers. The problem of associating with godfathers and godmothers is that if a Nigerian in the Diaspora is able to gain employment or establish a business in Nigeria, the individual is expected to be loyal to the godfather or godmother who made the connections for the individual to return successfully to Nigeria. The "loyalty" often translates into a sycophant relationship in which the godfather or godmother must be supported at all times, even if the person is wrong. The relationship forces many Nigerians who have returned home to sacrifice self-respect and professionalism in order to do the biddings of the godfathers and or godmothers, at all times
7. Due to the corrupting nature of politics in Nigeria today, education, merit and performance are not important determinants of employment, contracting, and success in Nigeria. The most important variable for success in Nigeria today is making the right political connection. The unpredictability of the political situation forces many Nigerians in the Diaspora to be hesitant in going home, knowing full well that if they do not become loyal servants to some godfathers and or godmothers, they might not succeed in Nigeria since merit and performance do not seem to count.
Due to the chaotic nature of politics and the corrupting tendencies of the Nigerian political environment, it is very difficult to take Nigerian government officials very seriously when they make speeches about the importance of Nigerians coming back home to contribute to the development of the country.
Based on the discussion above, it is concluded that many Nigerian public officials who claim that they are going overseas to recruit or establish foreign business partners have other motives other than what they say in their public pronouncements. It appears that such overseas trips are used to justify spending unnecessary public funds for their own private motivations. Likewise, it appears that such overseas trips provide ample opportunities for them to open foreign bank accounts and purchase luxury items. Similarly, Nigerian public officials who make public statements about encouraging Nigerians in the Diaspora to return are merely looking for ways to recruit foreign-based Nigerians for their clandestine financial dealings. Only a very tiny minority of public officials are truly committed to the views they expressed concerning foreign investments and encouraging Nigerians to return.
Nigeria has enough capable citizens, both at home and abroad, to turn the country into a major economic and technological power, comparable to Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Brazil, India, and China. However, the country has been unfortunate to have leaders who do not think strategically in a visionary manner. Instead, most of the leaders and the elites have been very short-sighted, only thinking and looking after their own financial pockets, thereby, sacrificing the country at large. This is why even in 2011 many Nigerian high-level public officials and business tycoons are still looking for foreign partnerships and quick money-making schemes instead of marshalling Nigerians from all works of life to spearhead a revolution in economic and technological development.
The Implications of the Nigerian Failure to Advance Economically
Due to the failure of leadership and the inability of Nigeria to rise up as a major force in the world, Africa is looked upon as a downtrodden place and Africans are generally placed at the bottom of the social order wherever they go. As a result, Africans in the Diaspora are paying a tremendous price for the failure of Nigeria to grow up and represent the African people in the global marketplace of economic and industrial development. Due to the failure of Nigeria to rise up technologically, the African continent is not taken seriously by others. Due to the failure of Nigeria, people of African descent are viewed as less than intelligent. This is not an overstatement, considering the manner in which highly placed Nigerians have recklessly hijacked public funds meant for the development of the country, to the bewilderment of the entire world. There is even a growing belief globally that Africans are not capable of ruling themselves and managing their affairs without outside support.
It is time for Nigerian public officials and business elites to stop trooping to India, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, China, South Korea, South Africa, and Ghana and develop Nigeria. It is time for them to stop the economic philandering and invest in genuine economic growth in Nigeria so that Africa too would contribute to the economic and technological enhancement of the world, the way Europe, Asia, and the Americas have done and are doing. Congratulations to Ghana for putting some respectability to Africa.