Nigerians rarely play their beliefs like cards close to the chest. They are politically impassioned and never miss a moment to voice their opinion, be it online, at a press conference, or at a gathering in the family home. However, despite unique agribusiness opportunity within the near-80% of arable land that comprises the nation, gains in foreign direct investment (FDI) and the development of a Sovereign Wealth Fund, political candor can sometimes echo a comfort in pessimism.
Certainly it is far easier to reverberate the negatives, it seems, than to highlight the prospects during this ascendancy to the aptly titled ‘MINT’ (Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria, Turkey) echelon. It is simpler to lean on the age-old adages of the regional and religious fragmentation that has divided this West African juggernaut than to discuss the multifaceted intentions to bridge the voids that had at one point greatly diminished our purchasing power parity (PPP) potential.
And it is out of this complacency turned disillusionment and ahead of elections in 2015 that it is no coincidence that the Federal Government disclosed plans to use the World Economic Forum on Africa (WEF) in 2014 as a platform to drive greater FDI into Nigeria, precisely when it announced its intention (albeit met with a necessary degree of doubt domestically) to privatize the nation’s four refineries within the next four months.
The only question remaining is indeed why this liberalization has taken so long?
Nigerian citizens have framed our political leadership as not just accountable but as directly responsible for what they perceive to be a sorry state of affairs – widespread violence in the North, kidnapping and environmental degradation in the South, poverty at a near unfathomable scale, as most recently and certainly controversially suggested by the World Bank, which claimed that over 100 million are destitute in-country at present.
In light of this and the absolute ambivalence towards political promises for greater reform, Nigerians today have sought out inspiration elsewhere. They have looked toward the private sector, putting newfound faith in the resolute entrepreneurs and enterprises that can cut through bureaucracy and guarantee sustainability as it directly correlates to their own bottom line.
Nigerians are day on day placing greater support behind these men and women who can unlock the binds of political corruption, liberalize the nation’s marketplace, and work with the country State to State in order to collectively chart our roadmap to prosperity.
The Federal Government has had no choice but to accept that change is necessary and certain degrees of power must fall out of their so-called regulatory hands, if Nigeria is to match the ambitions proposed for it
This liberalization is mandatory, really a prerequisite if the nation is to meet specifically what British qualitative analysis firm Oxford Economics recently prognosticated; within the budding continent of Africa, ahead of the year 2030, Lagos, Nigeria has been projected to take the pole position as a top city for doing business. Indeed it has been further suggested that by 2030, Abuja, the Nigerian capital, will see its purchasing power increase five-fold.
These findings support the fact that more and more influencers realize that the policy of trade liberalization and the lowering of average tariff rates will open up the economy to greater foreign investment and will enhance productivity in the Nigerian procurement and manufacturing sectors, oil and non-oil alike.
And intrepid enterprises aren’t keeping mum on the subject, nor are they sitting on the sidelines while this opportunity begins to unveil itself. Much like my enterprise SLOK Nigeria, major natural gas grid operator Gaslink, for example, has consistently advised the Federal Government to facilitate the full commercial liberalization of the domestic gas division in order to allow the private sector to spearhead development of infrastructure under its National Gas Masterplan (NGMP).
While announcing the planned privatization in London, the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, stated that the Federal Government “would like to see major infrastructural entities such as refineries moving out of government”.
“Government does not want to be in the business of running major infrastructure entities,” she noted, “…and we haven’t done a very good job at it over all these years.”
The minister went on to suggest that said refineries, which have a combined near half million barrels-a day capacity, should be privatized within 18 months.
Nigeria ranked 131st out of 185 countries surveyed by the World Bank’s Doing Business report in 2013. And Nigerian citizens and private enterprises, of great capital and influence and humbler means alike have begun to collectively blame the bureaucracy that has long gone unchecked for this positioning.
As I have been often cited by the international press community as stating, one “cannot make public officials less corrupt by appealing to virtue. We have to swiftly eliminate the sources of corruption by significantly reducing the number of permits and licenses”.
Mahatma Gandhi once remarked that “if we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him”. I believe that in this vein, Nigeria must change the nature of ‘Doing Business’ from within while opening up our marketplace outward.
It is up to ourselves to meet the ambitious goals and perhaps desires the world has projected for us. We understand now that we must look to those who can get the job done, perhaps out of their own self-interest but indeed to our mutual benefit, to do so.