The futility of foreign “road shows” By Mohammed Haruna



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The Nigerian Tribune (August 16) called it “a jamboree that the country can ill-afford.” Actually it is worse; with due respect to Mrs Stella Oduah, the formidable Minister of Aviation who had proved herself a successful business woman long before her foray into high class politics as the principal organiser of Neighbour to Neighbour, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan’s controversial campaign organization for his presidential bid last year, her current “road show” to America, Canada and China to seek for investment in our aviation industry, is as reckless as it is wasteful.

As a successful business woman, Mrs.Oduah obviously knows a profitable investment proposition when she sees one. Certainly she knows that in its current state – insecure and suffering from a terrible infrastructure deficit, relatively poor skills and entrenched corruption – Nigeria is hardly anyone’s idea of a wise business destination, except, of course, the buccaneering business type that thrive best in crises-ridden political-economies.

In any case the minister must have known all too well how former president, Olusegun Obasanjo’s, frequent foreign “road shows” came to no good in the end. As he himself admitted in July 2002 after 96 trips abroad and an absence from the country for a total of 350 days, the country got zero investment. “In three years,” he said at the time in obvious frustration, “I went round the world and I didn’t get anything. From April 1999, I went round the countries in Europe twice over; I went to Japan, to America, to Canada and got good words and no action.”

By now you would’ve thought the lesson of Obasanjo’s fruitless foreign road shows has sunk into every government official from President Jonathan himself all the way down. However, given the incredible 11.2 billion Naira the Federal Government alone voted for foreign travels this year, nearly a billion of which was for the presidency only, it is obvious that no lessons have been learnt.

With the president himself apparently all too keen on trotting all over the globe in spite of his promise in January to “drastically” reduce foreign travels, it hardly came as a surprise that the aviation minister ignored the uproar her road show abroad provoked, especially after the federal legislators she’d invited to join her “gravy” train dismissed the invitation as a Greek gift and duly rejected it.

If the president – and, of course, his ministers by extension – want anyone to invest in Nigeria, they know what to do; invest the country’s own resources efficiently, sufficiently and transparently in the country’s infrastructure, especially power, education and agriculture, and make it safe and secure.

The idea that a country NEEDS foreign investment to develop, like the idea of unregulated market forces from which it is derived, is nothing but a myth. Foreign investments can be useful but if even Japan and the then West Germany, widely regarded as the successful foster-children of America’s so-called Marshal Plan following their collapse after World War II, depended on America’s help alone to develop as they eventually did, they would never have done so.

As Seymour Melman showed in his 1985 book, The Permanent War Economy: American Capitalism in Decline, between 1948 and 1971 the Marshal Plan cost the Americans only $21.8 million in aid to the Japanese and $1.6 billion to the West Germans. By comparison, said Melman, between 1967 and 1969 the average new capital investment within West Germany was $35 billion and in Japan $51.2 billion. Obviously the Marshal Plan was more symbolic than material in turning the two countries around after WW II.

The Marshal Plan was, of course, aid not investment. But that is all the more reason why it’s difficult to deny that the foreign junkets by our officials in the name of seeking for investment are essentially reckless and wasteful; even aids as charity that, unlike investment, should come with no strings attached invariably do. This obviously means few foreigners, if any, would like to invest in an economy which, like Nigeria’s, has all the signs of a basket case.

All of which is to say that if our leaders are truly serious about turning our country around they should stay home and face the unglamorous work of lifting it up by its bootstrap.

Specifically for our minister of aviation, she has enough work cut out for her at home to have time for foreign junkets. She will, I am sure, remember, for example, that barely five months ago she took on BA and Virgin Atlantic over their inflated fares, especially for Business and First Class, along the UK/Nigeria route. Both were reportedly charging double what they charged passengers for the premium classes elsewhere in West Africa.

Her threat to ban the two airlines if they continued with their exploitative fares within a month gained her widespread backing, including from the Senate.

Five months on today, BA and Virgin seemed to have called her bluff. Not only have they refused to reduce the fare, they have actually increased it.

Some aviation experts say the British are able to call the bluff of the minister because, first, her ministry lack the expertise to challenge foreign airlines on how they fix their fares for travellers out of Nigeria and second, but even worse, her officials collude all too often with the foreign airlines for their own private gain.

Dealing with this legacy of incompetence and alleged corruption in her ministry is enough to keep her attention on the domestic front – never mind the existential issue of the safety of our airways.

I am sure the minister would agree that the solution to these and other problems of our aviation industry are to be found not out there on any road shows abroad. They are to be found right here at home.

FEEDBACK

Back in the debt trap

Sir,

I certainly do not agree with you on some issues but not this one. It beats my imagination that so soon after our celebration of the so called debt free burden, we are back in debt. The question is whether we were really ever out of debt burden. Was it a farce? Who is really responsible for this spending like a drunken sailor? Is it President Jonathan? Is it the governors? Who are these people? They are not ghosts? They are killing Nigeria.

Chinedu C Onuorah, M.D

 

Sir,

Is it a crime for a nation to be free from debt?

+2348037041510

Sir,

Obasanjo, as president, was anything but patriotic. Iweala may be brilliant but that does not translate into patriotism. If the truth be told they are both propelled to act by selfish considerations and not by a sense of altruism. The debt payment of the duo was largely driven by the following: Obasanjo needed to curry favour with the West for his third term project; Iweala needed support to fulfil her ambition to become the first black woman CEO of the World Bank. They sold us out then, they will sell us out again through the Sovereign Wealth Fund and other such financial gimmicks at their disposal. And Jonathan, with an eye for 2015, will be a willing, even enthusiastic, accomplice. It is sad but true.

Manjadda Imah. Sokoto. +2347036619333

Sir,

You are indeed a bad critique. You just hate anything Obasanjo with a passion. But be reminded, in case you have forgotten or you don’t know, ” Na gaba ya yi gaba na baya sai labari ” +2348071075073

Sir,

Thanks for your  “Back in the debt trap”. As a Credit Analyst I do not see any sense in reserving about $36 billion which we are not sure is earning any interest and then turn around to borrow a far less amount on specified conditions.

Antai Antai. +2348178176768

The First Lady Syndrome and all that

Your article was spot-on! The entire argument on the function of the Office of First Lady is captured in the last paragraph of your article. But you failed to capture how the office was used for good as exemplified by Justice Fatima Abubakar. That should serve as model for others to emulate though, some people may say you are biased. It is however, the TRUTH.

Mohammed Naseer Ibraheem. Funtua, Katsina State. +2348166171222

Sir,

You wrote one of your best-argued pieces today (August 8); but, in the last two paragraphs, you smashed the prize to pieces after receiving it. That office should be abolished, crushed, burnt to ashes and the debris scattered in the wind.

AA +2348036794926

Salaam Nda,

You would have done better if you had suggested how OFL could be good! A question to you; suppose you are to be in a position of His Excellency, would you allow your wife to perform the role? Asha Koko da kuli-kuli lafiya.

LK +2348036401955

Sir,

You were making sense in your article “The First Lady Syndrome and all that” of August 8.  However, your last two paragraphs were evidence that you completely lost bearing. We do not need the OFL. We have enough MDA’s (ministries, departments and agencies) in this country. Call a spade a spade and stop twisting your tongue. One day, councillors’ wives will start seeking for their own wasteful relevance.

Okezie L. Mbuko. CRS. +2348160939383

I agree with you. The OFL should not be scrapped for now. The buffoonery we are witnessing now and indeed has been so since the 70’s, won’t last forever. When we start electing people for quality and not for primordial considerations, we will be fine. Most times, a wife is as good as the husband, and vice versa.

Victor Obichere (PH) +2348037235750

 


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