Obodo is a research analyst with BusinessDay, he sent his piece from Colombia University, New York
One of the first things that struck me about New York was the lack of obvious chaos in the city. People seem to follow rules and codes here and those who disrupt order are immediate treated as the law prescribes.
Another thing that struck me was that for the first time in my life, and on the day I arrived, I actually saw a “white man” eating from the dustbin. This article is not however focused on those two observations. Rather, it is inspired by an advert I saw in the “USA Today,” a newspaper in New York.
The advert simply has a picture of several big and small machines, the name of the company that produces them and the bold words “Give Dad a gift built in America, give Dad a STIHL.” The first though that struck me was, assuming it read, “Give Dad a gift built in Nigeria,” what company name would follow? And what machine or tangible thing made in Nigeria would I have considered befitting for my clergy-man father?
Would I give him a pair of Aba shoes, a pair of glasses, or would I give him a bicycle made in Nigeria? None of these things are made in Nigeria, and even the one produced locally is often inferior and run off the mill.
So, if you are a father in Nigeria, you probably know that even the plastic gloves that were used to carry your child immediately he was born were imported from China. All the clothes he wore, at least till he was five years old, were imported from China! Even the food he ate was imported either from Europe or America.
As a country, we import sand and clay, in form of tiles from China, Europe and America; we import human tissues from India when we go for transplants; we even import grains that have been in Asian stores for, in some cases, as long as 15 years.
It is more mind bugging when you understand that most of these things can be produced effectively in Nigeria, given the right conditions. And if they are produced locally all the unemployed youths at the insistent of terrorist gangs will have a better lease to life!
Here at the Journalistic School in Colombia, the first professor who gave us a lecture digressed a bit into how we as economists who are also into journalism should write about the ills of untamed international flow of capital.
Those from Greece, Spain, Luxemburg and other parts of Europe were all at home with this. But I pointed out that the greatest problem of African economies is not necessarily the flow of international capital but the relentless flow of cheap goods we have comparative advantages of producing.
Recent data show that India’s exports to Nigeria increased by 29 percent between April 2010 – March 2011, and April 2011- March 2012, from $2.09 million to $2.70 million, and its imports grew between the same periods by 36 percent from $10.78 million to $14.6 million. While the figures may show that Nigeria has a better position based on percentages changes and dollar volumes, it makes more economic sense to analyse the composition of what was exchange.
For India, export to Nigeria is now composed mainly of manufactured goods, machines, textile, chemicals and medical supplies. But to India, import from Nigeria comes mainly in form of “very” crude oil and agricultural raw material (nothing has changed significantly since the 1960s!). And that is why it is not good business. No economy becomes a super power by exporting crude commodities forever.
This is because crude commodities are often cheap, their prices are volatile and they are simply sold back as refined products and at higher cost. The sensible thing is to add as much value to your crude commodities and sell them at more favourable terms.
Till date, Nigeria still exports leather in its rawest form to Italy. I saw this myself last year when the European manager of a cargo airliner showed me the facilities of his company. But most countries have moved far beyond this state and are doing everything possible to engender the production and consumption of the local manufactures.
It may not shock you to hear that the toilet seats at the American Embassy in Lagos are made in America, the ones on Delta Airline planes are made in America, the airport in Atlanta and the JFK Airport in New York have toilet seats made in America, even the hotels here all have toilets made in America. Why? Because America has clay to make toilet seats, simple!
And if you argue that even the Americans are the biggest consumers of Chinese good, then I will tell you that it was not always that way, and now they realise it as a problem they are trying to bring some order in that direction.
But why is it that we have not developed in local manufacturing? The truth is that there is a combination of reasons; but of concern to this piece is the absence of national pride and that model of nationalism which the Chinese, the Indians and the Americans have developed for themselves.
Even though, the theoretical economist would posit that it makes sense to open up the economy and foster international exchange, yet we must ask the question, “At what cost?” Do we foster international exchange and leave all the unemployed youth in the Niger-Delta and Northern Nigeria to waste away? Do we open our economies and export all the jobs and factories that we should have? No! We should learn from the Chinese.
What they did was to close their economy to most of the things Nigerians fall over themselves for today. In fact, China deliberately underreported its development so as to enjoy international sympathy and aid while systematically moving its economy from the shackles of import dependence. India did something similar in the 1990s. For China, the result was that when they showed the rest of the world their economic report card, we were almost blinded by its brilliance!
When our borders are strictly closed to rice, sugar, textile, frozen chicken, ceramics products and other products which we can produce locally, we will be forced to produce them.
If you doubt this, read the profile of Iran’s economy, investigate the country’s advancement in technology (of course not nuclear technology); their level of foreign reserves will even amaze you. Or better still ask a Biafran war veteran. This drive at self sustainability must be taken as a nationalistic agenda, just like Zik, Anthony Enahoro or Kwame Nkrumah took the liberation of Nigeria and Ghana from the British.
As I conclude this piece, I will like to say that our economic viability is not in doubt. Even the smallest and most overlooked corner of Nigeria is blessed beyond imagination. For instance, did you know that Adamawa, Yobe and Borno state have a combined land mass that is bigger than half of Japan? Did you know that they have lands, water and vegetation that can feed half of West Africa if effectively cultivated?
Those three states also have solid minerals including gypsum, kaolin, limestone, diatomite, granites, silica, potassium and soda ash, feldspars, flourspar, marble, magnesite, tantalite, rock crystal, laterites, topas, sandstones, mercury, glass sand, zircon, spinel, emerald, graphite, beryil, tourmaline, mica, iron ore, clay minerals, diatomite, coal, garnet, aquamarine, gold dust, zoisite, cassaterite, etc.
These three are just a part of the 36 great states that make up our great country. Our potential is left untapped. What we need is a new approach to economic emancipation. On that is based on our national interest and pride.
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