By Ahmed Garba
Recently, in a conversation with a friend, it dawned on us that slowly but surely, the Nigerian ruling class is hammering the nails on the coffin of what used to be a proud Nigerian class – the small business owners or retailers. Once upon a time, the bulk of Nigerian “middle class” essentially comprised people/families engaged in the business of buying and selling; from small scale retailer to some sort of pseudo wholesaler. The economies of cities such as Kano, Kaduna, Lagos, etc., were heavily propelled and kept alive by the activities of mom and pop businesses, where services as little as hawking food on the streets, local eatery/bakery, roadside vulcanizing were legitimate, albeit, marginally sufficient income earning businesses. It used to be that you could find that street-corner carpenter to build your furniture from scratch.Alas, we are beginning to see the death of this hope!
The poor Nigerian retailer has been so beaten down that he has had to engage in his own little paradigm shift—if you cannot beat them; cannot join them, then crawl over there and take some crumbs off their table. Now we have our retailers “sub-wholesaling” from the Chinese or from those serving as fronts for the Chinese. Look around, you will find that whatever is left of your local shop is full of Chinese substandard goods; notice the goods being hawked by those kids who put their lives on the line at various traffic intersections and you will find that they are all made in China or India. In fact, it wouldn’t be far-fetched to say that pretty soon, the old lady frying ‘kosai/akara’ by the roadside, as well as the old ‘Buka’ owner, aka “Mama Put” will soon be overtaken by Chinese, who will set up a Kiosk with Chinese-made gas stove and shoddy plastic benches to impress poor Nigerians, who will be oblivious to the fact that their mothers/grandmothers have just been trampeled! If you are in doubt, observe the sudden proliferation of Chinese eateries in the country.
Already, the business of borehole drilling has been taken over by those teaming Indians, who now enter Nigeria in droves. This, in spite of the fact that one will be hard pressed to find Nigerians doing business in India with the assistance of the Indian government at any level. One has to wonder how it is possible for Indians to figure out that there is money to be made, by going to Nigeria to dig holes all over the place in search of water, while throngs of Nigerian college graduates are roaming the streets unemployed. Nigeria’s “patriotic” leadership never thought it fit to divert the opportunity granted these Indians to helping Nigerians for the sake of Nigeria. An example here might be, granting loans to the unemployed graduates who are willing to take on bore hole drilling business. After all, the Indians trooping into Nigeria might have taken loans from their own governments or family members, with the guaranteed hope of repatriating handsome remuneration right before the eyes of Nigeria’s heartless elite.
Even Ethiopian Airlines has edged out whatever Nigeria/Nigerians can boast of in the airline industry, thanks to the grand gamin from Otta, Obasanjo, who supervised the shredding auctioning of our erstwhile Nigerian Airways. Not to be left behind, the Nigerian Police is already being “rented” out to serve the Chinese; even protect Chinese laborers. I suppose this is what happens when reprobates are at the helms of affairs.
While Nigerians may have been sold a dummy—that mega stores are good things, let us remember that, even in mega wealthy America, with its diversified economy, local communities often shiver, and rise up against intrusion from large corporations such as Walmart, due to the ‘Pac-man’-like mentality of these mega corporations. It has never been lost on their small business owners that mega stores mean the death of their own future or the future of their community as they know it. In fact, even American large corporations eAnjoy government protection against foreign competition!
Love or hate him, one of the things General Buhari did as chairman of PTF was to enforce a policy that PTF contractors MUST patronize Nigerian businesses and manufacturers. Call it import-substitution, with a little dose of mercantilism. However, since that agency was sent to the “defunct pile”, none of the subsequent governments since 1999 has thought it necessary to continue such sensible policy.
One wonders why our “economic policy experts” never bother to fashion a development strategy based on one of the two prominent competing choices available to developing countries. That is, import-substitution or export-led growth. For, as we have been witnessing, “consumption” whether conspicuous or not, is a dead end for Nigeria. Remember the countries formerly known as (NICs) Newly Industrializing Countries (e.g. Singapore, Korea, Taiwan, Malaysia, Brazil)? They are light years ahead of Nigeria now, thanks to good governance and commitment to sound economic policies. Not the policy of “its own turn to chop”. Instead of fashioning sensible economic policy, we are being led down the path of stupendous borrowing (in billions, trillions of Naira).
Ahmed Garba via email@example.com
Hussaini Mohammed is reachable on firstname.lastname@example.org