By Kunle Sanyaolu.
After his first four years in office as President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo had cause to lament that upon all his junketing around the globe to woo foreign investors, his efforts came to nought because of the insecurity prevalent in the country, aside of other infrastructural challenges. At that time, Boko Haram was probably still in the bud; militancy was just about to flare and kidnaping was at very low ebb. All these problems, and more, have manifested fully. What the scenario suggests is that it will be doubly difficult now to attract foreign direct investment than it was say in 2005.
As a Nigerian and head of a national legislative unit, Yakubu Dogara, Speaker of the House of Representatives obviously is in the know of the security situation, vis-à-vis investment potentials. So when he visited Italy and addressed select Nigerian audience and some Italian businessmen, he was only saying all the nice things he is expected to say. Practically, Dogara urged the businessmen to take advantage of on-going reforms by President Muhammadu Buhari to invest in Nigeria.
He assured his listeners that The Nigerian National Assembly has passed a number of law to promote ease of doing business, to complement other measures by the executive arm of government. His words: “We passed a record number of bills within the shortest time to ease business condition in Nigeria. The whole environment is rife for foreign investors to exploit, and the time is now.” He listed areas waiting for exploitation to include agriculture and tourism, besides the oil sector, stressing that Nigeria has embarked on diversification of its economy.
The big question is whether Dogara can convince the Italian businessmen to buy into his advocacy. The first factor that will probably constrain his desire is that the international community, particularly the advanced countries including Italy keep abreast of happenings in Nigeria as they do in other countries. They know that the security situation in the country is far from being tolerable. The risks of kidnapping, robbery, assassination, swindle and exploitation among others are very high; and the operating factors in the business environment are very harsh.
Why, for instance does Nigeria, with her large market base, need to beg before attracting multinationals whose primary objective is to expand business level, production and profit? What happened to hundreds of other international companies that pumped money into their Nigerian businesses before now? Why are companies long-established in Nigeria relocating to neighbouring countries? Why are those which remain in the country struggling for survival and operating much below their capacity? Why are the businesses unable to meet their commitments to workers promptly and regularly?
The questions are legion; and the answers are glaring. The Nigerian business space is still awash with instability. What Dogara is doing is what former President Obasanjo did years ago with nothing to show for it, even on his own admission. It is impossible to put something on nothing and expect it to stand. Similarly, one cannot put the cart before the horse and expect to make progress. The issue of government policies which are sometimes anti-foreign investment, and the dearth of basic infrastructure such as reliable power supply is germane, but perhaps not as pressing as the physical threat of criminals running over the business or its personnel.
Dogara had also told the businessmen that the legislature was ready to come to their aid if they have any difficulty; but again is that promise really assuring, considering that lawmakers have their own limitation, their primary assignment being to make laws which in any case takes time to process? Besides, how many requests for aid can the lawmakers entertain? How many such complaints or calls for intervention have they been able to resolve from existing business operators? And is this how things are done in more stable climes?
Dogara should lay less emphasis on diplomatic garbage and try to mobilise his fellow leaders, both in the Legislature and the Executive, to address in practical terms the problems that are bogging the business environment. The problems are deep but not intractable, but they will require serious and holistic collaboration of all government and non-governmental agencies to resolve. Otherwise, the country will continue to fritter its resources and enrich a few individuals all in the deception of seeking FDI.
***Sanyaolu, a Lagos based lawyer, is Chairman of the Editorial Board of Everyday.ng