Nigeria’s destiny is in Nigerian hands. The country you get is the country you work for—or fail to work for. Foreigners cannot develop your country for you. They are here to make money any way they can—providing, when possible, some genuine service in the process. They export their profits back to their home countries, thereby boosting their economies and creating jobs and better lifestyle for their people. Their commitment is to the 3X formula: Extract, Export, Exit. How could it be otherwise? If foreigners create jobs for your people, or leave behind something of value such as the X-shaped Nigerian railway system, it is incidental and accidental.
The Nigerian railway system is a fitting symbol of our historical experience with foreign investors: the system runs only north-south, connecting the hinterland with the coast. It was built for the evacuation of agricultural and mineral products from the hinterland to ships waiting to haul them across the ocean to Europe. It was not intended to service Nigerians as an internal transportation network—otherwise it would have included integrative, east-west lines.
The difference between FDI (foreign direct investment, which is all the rage) and LDI (local direct investment, which Nigeria’s monied class shy away from) is this: Hankering after and waiting for FDI smacks of laziness, low intelligence, lack of imagination, lack of initiative, all hallmarks of inferiority complex and dependency syndrome. On the other hand, LDI is cued to smartness, boldness, independence, nationalism, patriotism, initiative, self-help, do-for-self, self-directed autonomous development.
These may sound like formulations from the ideology-laden past; the times have grown quite pragmatic, haven’t they? But the fact remains that foreign investors are no fools. Their driving force remains the same as in the past 500 years. What they did in the past they will do again.
Why do the global investment indices now rank Nigeria (and Africa) as the investment destination of choice? It is not enough to say that US/EU economies are “saturated” or “played out”; that they need a “new (economic) frontier”—and Africa is it. Have you observed how aesthetic and well ordered and efficient their homeland environments are? Surely you must ask yourself why would anyone leave such a “comfort zone” for the volatile “hardship jungle” of Nigeria crawling with tricksters, kidnappers and suicide bombers, notorious for bureaucratic obstacles, “corruption” and “high cost of doing business”?
Coming to Nigeria to do business is as dangerous as diving to ocean-bed to recover treasures from shipwrecks of centuries ago, or burrowing half a mile underground in search of diamonds, gold or tin. Only the hardiest can brave it, irresistibly driven by greed for gold or glory. For devotees of “adventure” and “achievement” in the abstract, coming to Nigeria is like climbing Kilimanjaro or Everest “because it is there”—for the Book of Records. And make no mistake, plenty lives are lost in the process.
With treasures won through such danger and pain, any wonder these adventurers do not believe in “monkey work, baboon chop” but in “lion’s share” and “heads I win, tails you lose”?
But what these foreigners can do, Nigerians can equally do—not so? If it takes madness to extract treasure from the bowels of the earth, or to construct complex machines and factories to produce everything producible—Nigerians can be just as driven and crazy.
The “sons of the soil” who know the terrain and are at home in it—are they really so lazy, and believe so little in themselves, that they will sit and passively wait for “foreign investment” (whatever happened to “foreign aid”?), expecting strangers to do for them what they are perfectly capable of doing for themselves?
Is our greed, boldness and ambition limited to stealing public funds and hiding it abroad? So pitiful. And then we celebrate, celebrate, celebrate! Celebrate what? That you were once poor and now you are rich? That your family will never again be in want? Not that you have accomplished anything of worth, or discovered something hidden or created something new—as they are doing almost daily in Japan, India, China, Europe and America. No, just celebrating that you are alive—and there is no end to the fancy clothes you can wear, the photographs you can take, and the quantity of food and drinks you can consume! Celebration, and the services that feed it—consumption, in this unimproved wilderness—is our biggest industry!
EU/USA authorities know exactly where every penny of stolen money is hidden; but they pretend ignorance because these huge inflows of cash boost their economies. And the final irony: it is mostly this stolen money that “foreign direct investors” will bring to invest in this country, reaping mountainous profits!
As the saying goes, a fool and his money are soon parted. If Nigerians continue to play the fool, poverty, wretchedness and “infrastructure deficit” will continue to run rampant over this land. But if stolen monies are re-invested by “local direct investment” (as recent history shows, just about any thief can obtain amnesty), these stolen monies can transform Nigeria from a primitive backwater to a modern industrial state—just as America’s Robber Barons transformed their country by investing their ill-gotten gains at home.
Jemie is the Editor-in-Chief of BusinessDay