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BUYING NIGERIAN IS BESIDE THE POINT.


Since reading Kenneth Ezaga's article on here yesterday, I have struggled a bit with whether or not to respond, and the tone that response would take. The fact is that there are many people who think like Kenneth in Nigeria, and quite a number of them are in decision making circles at various levels in our federal government. I will just say it as it is. People like Kenneth, the way they think, are part of why Nigeria is where it is today. I will explain.




But before I go into that, let me follow Kenneth's argument to its logical conclusion. I am very sure that the laptop/phone on which he typed that article was not made in Nigeria. In theory, he could be using a Zinox branded computer, but the less said about my personal experience with Zinox the better.  I am also very sure that the car Kenneth drives is not Innoson. I could go on and on. In short, Kenneth probably needs a bigger mirror than any of us, because the reflection he will see is that of a hypocrite.


However, the crime Kenneth commits in his article is far bigger than mere hypocrisy. He is guilty of peddling the same type of fact-free arguments that seem persuasive at first glance, but have little or no substance.

Let's start with some facts. The World Bank's last Ease of Doing Business Index ranks Nigeria 169th out of 189 countries. One hundred and sixty-nine. That means that there are only 20 countries on that survey where it is harder to do business, in the world, than Nigeria. Of course, if you are reading this and you have run (or are running) your own business, you will have a lot to say about dealing with the satanic Corporate Affairs Commission, dealing with multiple taxation, frequent changes in government policy (ban this today, unban it tomorrow), generating your own electricity, moving goods to market, and so on and so forth. All these factors raise the cost of production and make it uncompetitive with other alternatives. The cost of power alone makes many businesses that are no-brainers in this country, very difficult indeed.


Kenneth spends the entire article railing against the love Nigerians have for foreign goods, and then links this to the value of the Naira by saying:

"Even as you are reading this, stop for a moment and look around you. What you see will probably explain why we are lucky it is not N1000 to the USD yet. And don't think for a moment that it cannot get there."


Since oil is Nigeria's major foreign exchange export, then the decline of crude prices means that there are fewer dollars to be exchanged for Naira, which means the value of the Naira will fall. Much of the value of the Naira on the black market has been down to various attempts by the CBN to further restrict the amount of dollars in circulation through all sorts of gimmicks, many of which, as we can now see, have not worked. Other countries in our position like Russia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, and Argentina have either devalued or allowed their currencies to trade freely on the market, but in Nigeria, the sentimental attachment to a strong currency is still very much with us.


This sentiment has opened up a huge opportunity for those who can get dollars at the official rate, and then sell those dollars on the street. You will be very hard pressed to find any business you can do in Nigeria today that guarantees you north of 50% profit (except Dangote's overpriced cement, maybe) than trading forex. (Sidebar: Many of those who got rich in the banking sector in the mid-80s and early 90s, got that way through taking advantage of those wide forex margins).


So, this is déjà vu. In addition, and here is another fact, a weaker currency will make some locally produced goods more competitive relative to imports they are close substitutes to, and also make our exports more competitive as well. More than that, there is no country that has industrialised to any significant extent without a weaker currency. For years, China has kept its currency artificially low – earning the label of a 'currency manipulator' – in order to keep its products competitive and preserve its manufacturing base. Isn't it ironic that we are getting worked up about one of the major things that could help with economic diversification?

The kind of thinking that prevents us from seeing these advantages is exactly what Kenneth put forward. Rather than having a debate about the specific monetary, fiscal and industrial policies that the federal and state governments can use, the laws that need to be changed, and so on, there is a meaningless debate about how we should 'Buy Nigerian' and other such nonsense. In case anyone hasn't noticed, the world we live in globalised world, with everyone picking up one foreign taste or more. Nigerian music and movies are increasingly dominating Africa, and just the other day, part of the choreography for a Missy Elliot video was gotten from Shoki, and there are countless other examples of Nigerian culture making a mark in foreign lands. If you follow Piers Morgan, for example, you know that he tweets in Yoruba once in a while.


Did we need to write articles on articles before other African countries started playing our music or movies? No. Did we need to write 10,000 to Missy Elliot on why she should use a Nigerian dance step in her music video? No we did not. Did the makers of Tecno, Infinix, Injoo and others have to write a dissertation on why we should buy their phones, no they did not. And yet, here we are.

Where am I going with this? The talk of 'Buying Nigerian' is a non-starter because it addresses the symptom rather than the root cause. The free money gotten from federal allocations for decades have made our leaders lazy, and this is the price we have to pay. The pain we are feeling now as a result of low crude prices, also happened to our parents in the mid-80s. We had a lost decade of economic growth in the 1990s, but no lessons were learnt. As soon as crude prices picked up again, the bonanza continued.

Now, the music has stopped yet again. Now, we have another opportunity to do what needs to be done. To learn from the past. The solutions are there. They are all around us, but there is no guarantee those lessons will be learnt, no guarantee those policies that make our economy more resilient will be put in place.

Either way, there will be economic pain, but the issue is what is on the other side of that. More of the same? Or will we finally put in place the incentives that enable real entrepreneurship to thrive? That is the issue. Once the economic incentives align, all else follows. But that hasn't happened yet, and until it does, all exhortations to 'patriotism' and 'national interest' will fall on deaf ears.

I leave you with the immortal words of late American science fiction writer Robert Heinlein: "Never appeal to a man's better nature; he may not have one. Invoking his self-interest gives you more leverage".
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