Taking Nigeria's charity abroad

THE PUNCH Newspaper

There has been a huge outcry over the N10bn budgeted for Nigeria’s 50th independence anniversary and a louder one over the London summit where President Goodluck Jonathan, ministers, state governors and other distinguished Nigerians are expected to sit and talk (yes, talk) about various matters affecting Nigeria as part of activities marking Nigeria’s impending anniversary. The summit is to discuss business development opportunities in Nigeria and the list of invited personalities is legion. Due to the outrage trailing the choice of location, Goodluck, tactically, put his gear into reverse and pulled out of the event.

Thank God Jonathan’s fedora hat doesn’t cover his ears.

There is some sense in the choice of London as the location after all. Nigeria obtained her Independence from Britain. What better place to choose then, than the colonial master’s front yard, to hold meetings and chinwag about the things we are yet to learn to do by ourselves 50 years after they cut us loose with a blunt scissors?

Even though the organisers are tacitly denying the claim that the summit is being sponsored at public expense saying private donors will pick the bill, the issue at stake, for me, is the fixation to discuss domestic issues abroad. But again, this is a throw back from our colonial past!

The summit might not be so different from everything we are used to: delegates will claim travel allowances, rake in estacodes, meet old and new acquaintances, have a gourmet lunch, and come home. All said and done, nothing still gets done.

It is difficult to really lay a finger on where the ‘anything that comes from abroad is above all’ mentality started in Nigeria. Maybe when the first set of elites who travelled abroad started naming their children ‘Tokunbo’ to show that it is not enough to be conceived and born but that the location counts.

However, it is an idea that has gained ground that anyone who wants to throw a party or stage a programme had better take it abroad and send the pictures to folks at home. Do we recall Tery Wayas and his London birthday party?

Nowadays, women go abroad to be delivered of babies; people travel abroad to celebrate birthdays, weddings and hold parapo meetings even after they have done same in Nigeria. It is a status booster to say one’s children are schooling abroad or that all one’s children live abroad or at the very worst, a relative lives abroad even when all the poor guy does is to flip burgers in front of a 250 degrees Celsius oven. I have a friend who boasts that her daughter doesn’t carry a Nigerian passport but an American one.

But those acts of vanity do not really matter if one can afford them. The dimension that vexes is the tendency for politicians to hop abroad at the slightest excuse and say their doing so will improve their country. From 774 local government chairmen who wanted to go to London for a meeting, to African first ladies who met in the United States to discuss health in Africa, to Nigerian senators who wanted to earn a degree in Harvard, to Ondo legislators who wanted to go to the US for some frivolous reasons but were denied visa to so many other cases we just don’t get to hear, there seems to be some sort of craze about travelling abroad to solve our domestic problems.

A summit on business investment opportunities in Nigeria is being held in London. Next week, a similar one will be held in the US for Ondo State to discuss investment opportunities in various sectors of the state economy with the claim that Ondo state is ‘an investment haven and place of pride.’ The governor, Olusegun Mimiko, is the guest of honour.

The practice of seeking foreign investors, which started under the administration of ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo, has become the habit of wasteful politicians who just want to holiday at public expense.

By holding summits on your country’s investment opportunities abroad will first of all give room for a potential investor who will be invited to listen to these ‘opportunities’ to suspect dishonesty. The world has shrunk to a clichéd global village and no foreign investor of any country is ignorant of the state of things in Nigeria, even if we pretend it is otherwise. They follow the news and they know that Nigeria is still grappling with power supply and that even her own citizens have relocated to neighbouring countries because of the huge overhead involved in running business here. Which foreign investor will hear that and will still pick his suitcase to come here believing Nigeria is truly a haven for investment?

Apart from a select few who are here to bleed Nigeria (with the connivance of our government, of course), who, in his right senses wants to do business with a country that has been tagged with all manner of illegalities like a designer label?

Foreign investor (whoever that is), is no Santa Claus and is not out to help anybody develop his country; he is out to make money out of any country that guarantees it and if they are not smart enough, he makes the money at their expense. If Nigerians themselves have not been able to make much out of their own economy, does it make sense that a foreigner will jump in?

I am not against Nigeria marketing itself to a foreigner or to Nigerians in the Diaspora who want to come home and settle. But who will want to throw hard-earned funds into an environment where policies fluctuate like the British weather? Which of those who are canvassing business opportunities in Nigeria abroad have put their money in those ‘opportunities? We have trodden this path before and what came out of it? By how much has our Foreign Direct Investment improved as a result of such jamborees?

What we should be keen on is how to grow the economy and make it attractive enough for, first of all, home based investors. If the summit had taken place in Nigeria, apart from the fact the hotels and some other industries would have made some income out of it, those who will be pontificating about investment opportunities in Nigeria will not be talking about theories that might not find feet on the grounds of reality. They will see firsthand what Nigeria’s issues are and will know whether their textbook theories will work or not.

An online news site quotes one of the organisers of the London jamboree, one Christian. C. Udechukwu: ”Government officials were invited to use the event to promote trade and investment into Nigeria, through attracting over 500 delegates from around the world. The event helps to lift the profile of Nigeria‘s 50th anniversary.”(emphasis mine).

See? Nigeria has to hold a foreign party to boost the profile of the 50th year celebration at home. Need one say more?


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