As usual, President Muhammadu Buhari’s media aides were last Sunday struggling to justify to the citizens why his foreign trips were necessary after announcing that their boss was off to Saudi Arabia and Qatar for a week.
I thought that by now, they ought to have been fatigued by this same old story. To be honest, these presidential spokespersons should find more profitable things to spend their time on instead of this dreariness. Many are fed up being told over and over again that the president’s numerous trips are in the interest of the country. Within nine months, our globetrotting president has visited 26 countries in search of foreign investors, looted money and other humdrum things for poor Nigerians. There are no results to justify these trips while state resources are being depleted on them. Last year, we were told that he went to the United States and Europe to recover our stolen money stashed in foreign banks. So, how much of the loot has the United States and other European countries returned to us in the last nine months? I very much doubt if they have any positive story to tell us in this direction.
This time around, Buhari went to Saudi Arabia and Qatar to discuss how to halt crumbling crude oil price so that Nigeria can earn more from oil. It is obvious that our president did not take anything new to the negotiation table to warrant the visit to Saudi King Salman Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. There is really nothing to discuss with Saudi Arabia on the issue of production cuts that had not been addressed by OPEC. The Saudi government had made its position very clear at different fora. This country is prepared to cut back on production to raise price only if non-OPEC production countries lead in this direction. Just as I had expected, nothing came out of the meeting on Tuesday with the Saudi monarch. By Wednesday, Saudi Arabia’s Oil Minister, Ali bin Ibrahim Al-Naimi again emphatically ruled out crude oil production cuts by his country. Al-Naimi, who spoke at the 35th Annual HIS Energy Convention holding in Houston, Texas, added: “There is no sense wasting our time seeking production cuts. That will not happen.” Al-Naimi simply alluded that our dear president ought to be talking to non-OPEC members; not Saudi Arabia and Qatar. I am horrified. It is either Buhari genuinely does not know this or he is pretending not to know. The meeting with the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani was also a tea party. Nothing new came out of it.
Our president also seeks to attract investors to Nigeria from these Arabian countries during his one-week visit. According to his media aides, the president is scheduled to meet with leading Saudi and Qatari businessmen in Riyadh and Doha, and “invite them to support his administration’s efforts to revamp the Nigerian economy by taking advantage of the great investment opportunities currently available in Nigeria’s mining, agriculture, power supply, infrastructure, transportation, communications and other sectors.” Haba! Foreign investors from Riyadh and Doha? What a preposterous agenda. How many of such foreign investors have Buhari attracted to this country from Europe and the United States in all these months of globetrotting?
It is a surefire fact that a country needs to first put its house in order, before talking about attracting foreign investors. The operating environment must be conducive. Electricity supply, security and infrastructure must be of world-class standard. The tax system and ease of doing business must be attractive. All these attractions have deteriorated in Nigeria in the last nine months of this administration. It is an illusion to expect foreign businessmen to bring their money into a country where they will have to struggle to operate and also struggle to take their profit out. No foreigner will bring his hard-earned money into a hostile environment.
This is what exists in our country at present. Existing foreign investors in this country are gasping for breath because of unfriendly working environment. Many are even pulling out. Just last week, South African retail giant, Truworths shut its four outlets in Nigeria as a result of the economic crisis in the country, coupled with Buhari administration’s muggy policies. The company’s Chief Executive Officer, Michael Mark said: “We were unable to operate the stores properly any longer because we were unable to send merchandise to the stores; there’s regulation preventing that. Aside being unable to stock our shelves, we were struggling to pay rent and get access to foreign exchange which has dried up. We can’t get money out, so there was no point staying any longer.”
Many can now see why I said Buhari should stop deceiving Nigerians with stories about going to attract foreign investors with his numerous foreign trips. His media aides should also think of other ways to justify their boss’s fascination with foreign trips. For now, this country lacks the enabling environment for foreign investment. The hefty $5.2 billion fine levied on MTN Nigeria is one of such disincentives to Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). It could have dire consequences on the country’s economy if not resolved quickly because it is currently making investors a little bit more wary of Nigeria. This administration’s economic policies are hurting foreign investment. If we do the right things, foreign investors will come on their own. Our president needs not travel abroad to attract investors. With new media, foreign investors get the true picture of developments in Nigeria and other countries on a daily basis daily. They will come once they know that the environment in any country is conducive. It seems most of them even understand Nigeria more than our president does.
Again, Buhari needs to understand that foreign investors are not charities; they are profit optimising and risk minimising capitalists looking for good environment for the investment of their cash. Places like Hong Kong, Malaysia, UAE and Singapore that are favourites of investors are known for their world-class facilities. The most attractive destinations for FDI also have unwavering macro-economic environment.
It is very sad to note that we are fast losing the gains of FDI made under the Jonathan administration. For five years, Nigeria was the leading destination for FDI in Africa. Global confidence in the Nigerian economy soared during this period. The undisputable facts are there. Between 2012 and February 2015, the Jonathan administration received a net Foreign Direct Investment, FDI, of over $21 billion. In 2012, former United States Assistant Secretary of State, Johnnie Carson confirmed that the second-highest recipient of American direct private sector investment in Africa was Nigeria. Again, according to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, UNCTAD, Nigeria emerged the fourth in the world in 2014 when investment destinations are ranked on the basis of returns. Under Jonathan, South Africa energy firm, Stefanutti kicked off a partnership with One Nation Energy Platform, to build a 500 megawatts (MW) coal-fired power plant in Enugu.
Also, Cantor Fitzgerald, a United States-based global investment firm with strong expertise in asset- backed mortgage securities, concluded plans to invest $1 billion in the Nigerian mortgage sector. Unfortunately, money that flowed into stocks and bonds in Nigeria under Jonathan, which McKinsey & Co. says could become one of the world’s 20 biggest economies by 2030, is now fleeing as growth prospects diminish.
I strongly believe that Buhari should spend quality time engaging the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) and National Association of Chambers of Commerce, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA) on how to encourage existing investors and save our economy from ongoing crisis instead of looking for imaginary foreign investors. The MAN has already raised the alarm that many of its member companies may shut down operations at the end of the first quarter of this year due to raw materials scarcity. The President of MAN, Dr. Frank Udemba Jacobs, said that since the introduction of foreign exchange restrictive policy by the Central Bank of Nigeria about eight months ago, their members were finding it difficult to import raw materials. “The policy seems to be like throwing the child out along with the bath water,” remarked Jacobs.
Buhari should spare a thought for the suffering masses of this country by spending quality time at home to tackle the countless problems facing us instead of wasting our limited resources on these worthless trips. Our federal lawmakers have failed to do the needful in this direction. Our fate is in our hands. Going forward, at our different levels, we all have to mount pressure on our president to reduce his foreign trips.
Again, our president should do less of propaganda and face the economic realities on ground. The rise in the number of media aides for this purpose is becoming worrisome. Buhari recently added Tolu Ogunlesi to his team as Special Assistant on Digital/New Media. Bashir Ahmad is also on board as Personal Assistant on New Media. Of course, Femi Adesina and Garba Shehu are still there as senior media assistants. There are now four men working on the media for our president. This is clearly not justifiable in an era where emphasis ought to be on reducing the cost of governance. For me, Buhari has simply strengthened his propaganda machinery instead of economic management machinery. This will not get him anywhere. Only the truth and pragmatic actions will make the desired change in the perception of this administration. After nine months with a prostrate economy, our President still can’t appoint a Chief Economic Adviser. Yet, the number of media aides keeps mounting. Something is clearly wrong somewhere.
The Travails of Citizen Ali Abdullahi
For those who have not been following the story, Ali Gambo Abdullahi is the Personal Assistant to Danladi Umar, the Chairman of the Code of Conduct Tribunal. He was the one who allegedly collected N1.8 million bribe on behalf of his boss from a retired Deputy Comptroller General of Customs, Mr. Rasheed Owolabi Taiwo, who is standing trial before the tribunal for alleged false asset declaration.
Taiwo had accused the Chairman of the tribunal of demanding N10 million from him to influence his case before the tribunal.
Taiwo also admitted that he paid N1.8 million to the tribunal Chairman through the Zenith Bank account of Abdullahi. The PA, for obvious reasons told the EFCC that the N1.8 million was paid into his account by Taiwo to assist him settle his father’s medical bills. He refused to indict his boss. Abdullahi has since been arraigned by the EFCC for giving officials of the EFCC false information about the money he collected from the former official of the Customs Service. In spite of Taiwo’s indictment of Danladi, the man now on trial is Abdullahi while Danladi is a free man. The EFCC itself concluded that Abdullahi’s statement was false. When will the EFCC arrest the real beneficiary of the bribe? This is food for thought for all of us.