• Monday, June 24, 2024
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BusinessDay

Year-end random thoughts

I Remember Wura..

As the year tails off into a new one; various thoughts come to mind. Predictably, many of them are not pleasant. They inevitably revolve around Nigeria. The mind goes back and remembers that we seem to be moving around in circles. But not quite.

For as we have often stated on these pages: roses have thorns. The former inevitably brings smiles to the face. Specifically, I am remembering here that, after a long and rather embarrassing pause, the railway system is back. It is good, save for the fact that the current administration is not getting enough credit for this initiative. Probably its sins are so many and to this extent, this achievement is being down-played. At a personal level, I have used this facility, and I am so proud of my country. But again, not quite. This is because the other railway system was brought into play by the British who definitely had their own ends.

This time around China is the new superstructure. So either way, we are still tied to external social forces. And talking of the external, one is reminded of the fact that our dear country is still beholden to the external realm in critical areas. Take the issue of the coronavirus and vaccines. Nigeria and much of Africa were largely absent. We lacked the internal resilience to produce the vaccines. So suppose the external world refuses to provide us with this critical resource. Then most of us would simply die off.

But then, the situation was not that simple, if only because, an afflicted Africa, would have infected the rest of the world. So the Caucasians knew better and they, therefore, decided to provide us with the necessary vaccines. Still, and given the seriousness of the story, this did not stop our leaders from holding massive receptions to celebrate the receipt of the vaccines. I cringed. Did we not know what it means? That here indeed was the disrobed state.

We lacked the internal resilience to produce the vaccines. So suppose the external world refuses to provide us with this critical resource. Then most of us would simply die-off

And talking of the disrobed state brings to mind other important areas of our helplessness. Take the most visible. For instance- in the oil industry, or what manages to pass for that- subsidy is the name of the new-old game as being pushed by the managers of the state and the so-called development partners; the IMF and The World Bank. At one level, the case for the removal of the so-called subsidy is very compelling. So compelling that subsidy should be done away with immediately.

But a deeper examination reveals another situation that speaks again to the nakedness of the Nigerian state. How can we honestly explain why an oil-producing country like ours, continues to lack functional refineries? So what to do? We have decided to fall back on the expediency of importation. And as we import, labor and landing costs, as well as the costs of transportation, have to be reckoned with. So, the government has to subsidize. Hence the seemingly unbearable burden of subsidy.

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Whereas, with functional refineries being fed with relatively low-cost crude from us, the issue of subsidy would not have arisen at all. It is something of irony of sorts in which OPEC-driven prices would now constitute the basis for determining the price of petrol and other derivatives in an oil-producing country like ours. This was not meant to be. For OPEC was established in 1960 to redress the historical injustice between the oil-producing countries and the developed countries. So for us to be tasting the harsh edge of OPEC-driven prices, speaks to the bankruptcy which hall-marks oil policy in Nigeria.

Unfortunately, what is being said here can be replicated in other areas of our life. As regards virtually all our primary products and commodities, we have been unable to add value. In the process, we have to contend with unemployment and helpless linkages with the external system. One former governor of the Central Bank put the situation in graphic terms at one public outing. According to him, when we add value to our primary products and as we move up the value chain, we create more jobs. It is such a simple process. But to date, our political masters are yet to grasp this seemingly simple, policy option.

I recall here my brief encounter with Kalu Idika Kalu at an Old Boys’ gathering. We got talking in the washroom and he made the revelation that our raw materials profile is like those of Malaysia. But there was a huge difference. Malaysia has put in place a policy of value addition and as such, unemployment is very low in that country.

As the year ends, I am asking this pointed question: can we not adopt this Malaysian model. But rather than focus on this and other relevant issues, we are obsessed with 2023 and who is going to drive the ship of the State. What, I wonder is the person going to drive under the circumstances-a disrobed State? I would have ended this piece here but it is not all gloom. A lot has been done by PTAD for some of the pensioners in Federal establishments. Even those who belong to erstwhile agencies like the Railways, NITEL, and Nigerian Airways are gradually being taken care of. This is very good and therefore, permit me to give kudos to the managers PTAD under the leadership of Dr. Ejikeme.

Still, as the year tails off, into 2022, I want to hope that my dear country will rise up to the challenges of nation-building. If this is done, then we can for instance afford to ignore a humiliating invitation from Turkey and other powers who summon African countries on a routine basis. So routine that the American President remarked recently that Nigeria and other African countries should come into their own as actors, as opposed to being mere vassals or arenas in the international system. Despite much of the foregoing, here is still wishing all our readers out there, the very best of 2022-under the circumstances