Renewed Struggle for Independence

Another struggle for Nigeria’s independence is afoot. The one that ended in 1960 was for political (or, some say, flag) independence. Now the fight is for economic independence, which should have been the struggle all along.

In this fight, I can identify two camps: the Central Bank of Nigeria led by Mr Godwin Emefiele and supported by President Muhammadu Buhari and some of his advisers on one hand, and then some “seasoned” economists, traders and saboteurs with collaborator foreigners whistling from a distance. I have no difficulty in supporting the first group that campaigns for made-in-Nigeria products and detests devaluation of the Nigerian currency. The opponents want to slay the naira once more, make foreign exchange available to whoever needs it, and throw the borders open for foreign toothpicks, rice and wheat. I have taken sides with the former because those opposing “command and control” economy for Nigeria have yet to show us the benefits of “free market” economy. After 30 years of SAP, we have yet to see the gains of naira devaluation as promised in the Babangida era.

The antagonists of economic independence deserve pity. They are like subdued slaves. An old relation once told me how, in the pre-1960 struggle, Zik and other nationalists faced opprobrium from their own kinsmen: “Why do you want the white man to go? Are you the one to rule when the white man goes?”

The CBN should be supported by other ministries, departments and agencies of government in order to win this war for Nigeria’s economic independence. Ever since I was a child, Nigerian leaders have been preaching the gospel of diversification without taking any step forward. Our overdependence on oil has now brought us to the edge of a precipice. What should the nation do now that it has been confronted by low oil prices and shortage of petrodollars? The monetary authorities have been able to tackle round-tripping of foreign exchange by certain bureaux de change operators, banks and other dubious business people. It’s not the CBN’s duty to prohibit importation of 41 items, but it had to do so because no fiscal policy was forthcoming; there was no economic team in place.

The measures the CBN has taken, in my view, have been drastic but not drastic enough. More severe steps ought to be taken from the fiscal side. The apex bank’s defence of the naira should be strengthened by economic policies that would force us to look inwards. For any nation seeking progress and prosperity, self-sufficiency or economic independence is the only way to go.

Forex restrictions are, of course, meant to discourage imports and encourage exports as well as local consumption of local goods. It’s unfortunate that fuel imports still consume a huge chunk of our scarce foreign exchange. Minister Kachikwu’s statement, on Wednesday, that 100% of the fuel we consume now is imported and that fuel queues might not disappear until the end of May 2016 was most depressing. Here is an oil-producing nation that imports all its fuel! Never mind agric minister Audu Ogbeh’s joke about importing grass from Brazil.

I keep reminding Nigerians that, during the civil war 49—46 years ago, a part of Nigeria (Biafra) did not import even a litre of fuel. It refined petroleum products at backyards and kitchens. Biafra did not import spare parts, yet it serviced vehicles made from scrap. It made bombs and rocket launchers with raw materials sourced locally. The blockade imposed by the federal side was able to cripple the young republic only because the war prevented people from going to the farms.

Nigeria has, since the end of the war, chosen the path of laziness because of oil funds that are often stolen and stashed abroad. No manufacturing. Only yesterday, I looked round my living room and regretted that none of the items therein was made in Nigeria. Not electronic gadgets, not tiles, not phones or curtains. We pay to use the Internet or make a call. Yet, some buffoons never stopped describing Nigeria as “the giant of Africa” or “this great nation”.

The Ministry of Finance and the relevant agencies must discourage imports further by placing high tariffs on especially items that have local equivalents. At least we can produce the food we eat. The N360billion that goes into rice importation every year is just a waste: rice farmers in Adani, Abakaliki and Gboko alone can produce all the rice consumed in West Africa. [For good measure, I have not lifted the ban I placed on foreign rice seeking to enter my kitchen, since I visited Olam Rice Farm last October.] What’s special about rice anyway? Or sugar? Or wheat? Nigerians can adjust quickly whenever there is a shortfall in any of these items. If people can’t find or afford rice, they will eat yam, cocoyam and potato. Palm-oil is more nutritious than imported vegetable oil. Sugar has been implicated in some deadly diseases. Fresh local chicken supersedes old, chemical-coated imported chicken.

All of the CBN’s efforts to curtail imports and forex demands will come to naught, unless the Customs and Excise lives up to its mandate. Banned foreign items should not be seen in our markets. Anyone seen with a banned foreign item should have questions to answer, as should those charged with policing our borders. This is not the time to complain about having 1, 497 entry points. We have employed customs people to man them.

Industrialisation is not only about agriculture. That’s why CBN loans have been circulating among small and medium enterprises. But where is the electricity needed to make them thrive? Without adequate and steady power, industry cannot blossom. Industrialists also require good roads, clean water, and good rail network. Are the ministries of power, works, housing, and transport listening?

Again, one wonders if there is an industrial policy for Nigeria. Where are industrial clusters? The only places that come near America’s Silicon Valley are Nnewi and Aba. However, the budding entrepreneurs in the two Nigerian towns receive support only in newspaper pages and on television. Ministry of Trade and Industry, are you there?

The economic independence we seek will not come overnight. But we have to start taking small, small steps from today. While we cannot reinvent the wheel, we can start making our own wheels. That’s the secret behind China’s success: it operated a closed economy for 50 years before stepping out to become the world’s second or third largest economy.

Nigeria’s population is rising, despite the evil being done by terrorists and other violent criminals. The new mouths must be fed, clothed and then sent to school. Secondary and tertiary institutions are churning out millions of young adults each year. Jobs must be created to prevent them from joining the underworld.

I’ve been impressed by recent posts in the social media expressing the need to patronise made-in-Nigeria goods. “My next car will come from Innoson,” one wrote, after Senator Ben Murray-Bruce had paid for a car from Innoson. Nigerians ought to be assured constantly that their government means business.

Happy Easter Nigeria!



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