By Tope Fasua
The question is: Which of these should Nigeria be spending time and resources looking for – foreign investors or tourists? The foreign investor has been getting so much airtime in Nigeria for as long as I can remember. Each time they are mentioned – and that is too many times than necessary in my view – they conjure the image of either Europeans or Americans flying into Nigeria with briefcases full of dollars. In my head, they conjure the image of benevolent Chinese men who are looking for how to ‘help’ Nigeria. Nigerian governments – at the national and subnational levels – have spent so much resources looking for these foreign investors. In time, we tried to emphasise ‘direct’ investments i.e. those types which go into the construction of factories and whatnot. But in the absence of that, owing to their snail speed in coming, of late Nigerians have been begging for ‘portfolio’ investors to come too. We need the dollars any which way, I’ve been told.
My friend who is a Private Equity person tells me there is so much of these dollars in different parts of the world, seeking refuge in countries such as ours. I believe him, though I don’t play in that field. What I think though, is also that these guys are supersmart and I don’t believe that a country like Nigeria could really gain from them except on rare occasions. Because as much as these funds are heavy, and free, they seek the highest returns anywhere they can find them. And due to decades – if not centuries – of experience, these funds are wired to do several things; never to lose any bit of the principal, to be nimble enough to take flight at the first sign of projected trouble, to max out where they can. I don’t mean to paint them bad but these are businesses – many of them established over decades. Ok, if you want to paint them bad, people like the Rothschilds ran Private Equities and Venture Capitals with which slave traders and colonialists bought guns to capture other peoples. Many of these funds were amassed though these means and today they are merely going through the motions of further laundering and legitimisation. The only difference is, they are now too wise to gift out money to anyone. They are profit oriented and have no apologies for their past. Those who run the global economy have also learnt to ignore that past and so their legitimacy is total. That is the way of the world.
In short, I personally will not set store on foreign investors taking a country like ours out of the socioeconomic woods we find ourselves. For the Portfolio investors who love to play in our capital markets, we have seen how they played that market twice in eight years and always cashed out leaving us locals with the short end of the stick. The only real direct investment that comes into Nigeria comes into the petroleum sector. The people who bought asset in the power sector ended up accumulating loans in our local banks and at some point had to be bailed out by the Nigerian government to the tune of N223 billion.
In spite of all the travels, all the MOUs, all the photo opportunities, all the rhetoric, by our Federal and State governments, pray which industries will we say are feeling the impact of foreign investors in Nigeria today? Even in the Telecoms sector, we are aware of the many issues with MTN, which has been accused severally of milking Nigerians and remitting huge sums abroad, sometimes illegally. Is it Shoprite? Most of what they sell comes from abroad. Some have accused them of merely being a place where they sell leftovers from South Africa.
Which brings me to why I’m writing this article. A short while back I read someone somewhere complaining about the Buhari government’s bad economic policy. But it wasn’t a strong article because the person kept listing how airlines have left Nigeria. He also mentioned some shipping lines and hotel brands. If I was working for the government, it will be easy to swathe away those complaints. Why? Many of those industries he mentioned are a conduit pipes for Nigerian dollars. Yes, Nigerians need to travel, many times for purely legal reasons. But when we consider the other side of the Forex balance sheet, it doesn’t seem that we are getting any inflows on that line, comparable to what is flowing out. So if airlines stop coming, all President Buhari has to say, is ‘good riddance’. Are airlines really foreign investors? Yes they bring their aircrafts and dedicate a couple of them to Nigeria. In the books, it could be said that x billions of dollars have been ‘invested’ in Nigeria, being the value of the expensive aircrafts deployed to ferrying Nigerians to spend their dollars in different parts of the world.
What about the flip side? What are we doing in that regard? I wrote a long time ago, after visiting Uganda and Kenya, that what Nigeria is really missing is non-debt financial inflows. In these East Africa countries, and indeed in our neighbouring West African countries, one will see an embarrassing density of Europeans, most of them tourists. Uganda for one has developed its tourism sector greatly. To get a visa to Uganda you are encouraged (almost forced) to call one of the thousands of tourist guide companies run by Ugandans (available online), and pre-pay for a tour. Even if you travel to Uganda and seek a visa on arrival, you are asked which tourist firm have you contacted. This is good business sense. Nigeria keeps talking about job and business creation and this is one area we haven’t explored. If we will though, we have to be careful of our guys who will want to swindle people, and of course we have to be ready with the tourist sites.
There are two things to say regarding tourist sites. The first is that they don’t have to be all about animals and slaves. We can be ingenious about it. In Uganda, a one-day Kampala tour takes you to places like the Parliament, Makerere University and a Catholic Church. If you have more time, you can go to the wildlife resort at Entebbe. Meaning that in a place like Abuja, a visit to the National Assembly (people don’t have to go inside), Abuja University, the Space Centre, the Stadium, etc is enough for a one-day tour. The minimum is like $150! That is why I’ve been agonising that we like to build infrastructure but for some reason, we don’t know what to do with infrastructure.
The second issue is that our country is too broken and something needs to be done very urgently. The other day, a lion escaped from the Jos zoo. It had to be put down by the Civil Defense people. But the embarrassing thing is how that lion had been starved. Nigerians are so desperate they steal money from the dead and dying, how much more appropriating monies meant for meat for lions. The DG of whatever agency will use that money to acquire more wives, send his children abroad to school and build a few mansions and plazas. Whatever is left, the game-keeper sends to his wife to make food for the children. We have no controls here over anything. Our hunters kill anything they see in the forests. That is why, in the whole of Nigeria, we have nothing like the Entebbe games reserve where the animals are well kept and robust, in their natural environments. The professionalism of the tour guides is second to none, and must be partly as a result of frequent interaction with foreigners who have very high standards. For those who have more time, there is the Gorilla Trail, where you go with these tour guides into the jungle and see live gorillas, like they do with the safari in Kenya and tours of the Serengeti or Kruger National Park in SouthAfrica. In Nigeria, despite what we have in the Cross-River area and many parts, we are just not organised to do anything like that… and if we did, I’m afraid we are too accident-prone. Stray hunters will shoot the tourists!
Tope Fasua is a Public Policy Analyst.