By: Salisu Suleiman
It was very embarrassing watching President Goodluck Jonathan repeating his jaded and, frankly, largely ineffective way of soliciting foreign investments during his recent meeting with German Chancellor, Angela Markel. Why has it been so difficult for our leaders and policy makers to understand one thing: if you have to beg investors to invest in a country, product or service, they probably wouldn’t?
As former American Secretary of State Colin Powel once said, “Capital is a coward. It flees from corruption and bad policies, conflict and unpredictability.” Without addressing these issues, few would invest in Nigeria. But, more importantly, investors want to make money. If our investment and business climate is safe and attractive, the President would not need to go cap in hand to beg for investments. Incidentally, if we want investments, why not make the pitch to business, and not political leaders? Politicians cannot compel businesses to invest in another country.
So, of what use is the experience of the Trade and Investment minister, Segun Aganga? Has our Investment Officer-in-Chief asked himself: of all the foreign concerns operating in Nigeria, how many did we beg to come and invest here? Did we beg the major oil companies to invest in Nigeria? Did we beg South African telecommunications firm, MTN, to invest in Nigeria? And if government asks them to leave Nigeria today, would they? If we stop British Airways from operating in Nigeria, wouldn’t there be a ‘diplomatic incident’?
The late Gani Fawahenmi once sued former president Olusegun Obasanjo for spending the equivalent of one whole year of his first term travelling about 100 different times across the world to seek investors. How many investors did he really bring to Nigeria and how many jobs and value-added did we get in return? Conversely, the question can also be asked, how much did it cost the Nigerian treasury to pay for the presidential entourage’s junketing around the world in the name of seeking foreign investments?
Not unexpectedly, the Jonathan administration has refused to learn from the mistakes of the Obasanjo government. At least, the former president seemed to believe in his mission, even if we saw no results. The timidity (and predictability) with which President Jonathan calls for these so-called foreign investments is inept and certainly not confidence-inspiring. By the way, while in Germany, did he inquire if we had to beg Julius Berger and Siemens to invest in Nigeria? They are here because they are making huge profits – and creating jobs and value for Germans and Germany.
As the President continues trying to attract foreign investors, has the Nigeria Investment Promotion Commission provided any analysis of the value-added of foreign investments in Nigeria? The point of seeking foreign investment is to create value, bring in needed capital, create employment, stimulate economic activity and transfer technology, skills and resources to local people.
MTN is a major investor in Nigeria, but apart from the ‘savage survivalism’ of selling recharge cards, how many real jobs has it created, and at what cost in terms of capital flight? Is MTN listed on the Nigerian Stock Exchange? Most Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in Nigeria goes to the oil sector. How many Nigerians are employed in the petroleum industry and how much real value has it added to the Nigerian economy?
Who regulates the activities of foreign investors? A cursory look clearly shows that many so-called foreign investors are taking advantage of lax regulators to carry out practices they cannot dare attempt elsewhere. A few examples would illustrate this point.
Located at Karu, on the outskirts of Abuja, is a so-called super specialty hospital, owned and run by Indian investors. Ordinarily, this would be good news, as it would supplement gaps in local healthcare. The problem, however, is that due to sloppy regulations, the hospital charges fees most medical professionals regard as outrageous even by international standards.
The high charges would have been tolerable if their services were really world class, but this ‘foreign investor’ brought along electricians and plumbers from India! Nigeria may not have all the qualified personnel needed to provide the specialized services the hospital offers, but we certainly have qualified plumbers and electricians. In the end, the hospital is only a local outreach for those who can actually afford to travel abroad for medical treatment, but chose not to. In real terms, where is the value-added to the Nigerian economy?
All over Nigeria, from global franchises to bakeries, supermarkets, car shops, restaurants and even retail outlets, one finds foreign nationals working as sales clerks, cashiers and waiters. A certain ‘foreign investor’ actually brought in domestic workers from China. So Nigerians are not even qualified to be houseboys in their own country?
The points are clear: without security, few foreign investors will be attracted, and without proper regulation, foreign investments will not add value nor create jobs for our economy.