Nigerians fleeing xenophobic attacks in South Africa sang Nigeria’s national anthem as they returned to the country. They were brought home for free by a private airline, Air Peace, which belongs to Chief Onyema. Meanwhile, praises for this act of kindness mostly went to the Nigerian government; a quite usual scenario. But the reality Nigerians will have to come to terms with, is that it is private businesspersons—like it is on this occasion—that makes a country great, not the government.
While the government is still struggling to revive the defunct Nigerian Airways, the privately-owned Air Peace is flying Nigerians to more than 30 destinations worldwide. The airline’s success is a testimony to the fact that individual citizens have the ability to do things that the government finds difficult. Unfortunately, Nigeria has the highest population of poor people in the world. And due to the oppression of some inconsiderate rich men, the less rich often think that the wealthy are the reason why they have less. Therefore they usually prefer the government to run airlines, refineries, power companies, schools, and hospitals.
This vague belief in a government-run economy is the reason why politicians can easily manipulate citizens into supporting the nationalization of private businesses.
However, nationalization in Nigeria has a bad history.
Private businesses that Nigeria nationalized in the past went bankrupt shortly after they were taken over by the state. British Petroleum went comatose after it was nationalized for selling crude oil to South Africa in 1979. The missionary built schools also lost their quality after they were nationalized after independence for being owned by foreigners.
The spate of nationalizations in the 1970s led to the collapse of many important businesses. It caused an exodus of foreigners, many of whom were investors and expatriates. The effect was so strong, many Nigerians had to seek employment opportunities abroad. But instead of nationalization, Nigeria needs a private sector orientation.
Being dependent on the state to solve all problems affects the psyche in such a way that people become helpless when the government fails. Only a few like Chief Onyema, realize that every problem in the country is a business opportunity. Some of such persons have seized the opportunity to create wealthy businesses while providing needed goods and services and moving their employees from poverty to prosperity.
In fact, Chief Onyema was a poor man who had to walk long distances in order to board the train. However, he worked his way up to owning an airline, creating hundreds of jobs and offering free flights to rescue his countrymen. That is true heroism. If Chief Onyema can do it, Nigerian youths can also defeat poverty and become charitable millionaires if the state would encourage enterprise.
Globally, governments are hardly known for innovation, industry or wealth creation. It is the hardworking private businessmen that usually create wealth and rescue their country during economic or social turbulence.
Nigerians need to understand that what they need from government is an enabling environment for businesses to thrive, not an economy controlled and monopolized by the state. In most instances, for citizens to get an enabling environment for businesses to thrive, the government simply needs to get out of the way.