International businessman, investor and former governor of Abia State, Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu has urged African leaders to embrace economic diversification.
He urged them to allow the private sector to be in-charge of businesses or consider the alternate option of living in regrets .
He said government has no business in businesses and that selfishness and nepotism are what have driven the leaders to interfere in businesses.
Kalu made the remarks on Friday while delivering a lecture on “Economic Diversification: The role of the private sector versus government sector” at the University of International Business and Economics, Beijing, China.
Addressing the audience consisting of students of the University , diplomats, academic leaders, leaders from the private sector , African community in China , Kalu said the best many African leaders have done about diversification was just to talk about it. He said there have been no sincere efforts to move towards creating the environment that would enable the private sector to drive diversification .
He lamented that in a country like Nigeria in Africa, it is difficult for anybody in the world to believe that despite being a major oil producer, Nigeria still import refined oil. He said he sees no reason Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation- a public organization that manages Nigeria oil was not privatized. “If the NNPC were privatized long ago, we wouldn’t be hearing some of the pitiable stories. They should have taken their hands off and focused on policy making and regulations. Because of the stranglehold of the government, the oil industry has failed to meet the expectations of Nigerians.” Kalu stated
He also reiterated that Nigerian’s dependence on oil is no longer sustainable. He expressed his worry on the face of the rising alternative to oil and gradual elimination of combustible engines by car manufacturers. “The only sustainable option now is to diversify” He said
He however added that “the opportunity cost of the focus on oil is today’s quick rush to beat the tape on what we ought to have done several years ago. “Today, Nigeria’s government is looking back aggressively on agriculture. President Muhammadu Buhari’s led administration has taken the bull by the horn and is going practical in agricultural sector” He said .
The business mogul also commended the privatization policy of some African nations but decried that they were poorly executed. For instance, he noted that in Nigeria, during the execution of some of the policies, which he said was “aimed at handing over companies and businesses managed by government to private businesses, a lot of necessary factors were ignored.”
According to him,” expertise, financial capacity were sacrificed and nepotism took over as many of the businesses were sold to cronies and friends of those in government.
“What that has done is that those privatized companies are not faring any better than they were before being sold. Therefore the aim of selling them was defeated as they do not play major roles in leading economic change as expected.” He said.
Kalu also recalled how he had suggested to a former Nigerian president on how to solve the electricity problem in Nigerian through a substantial handover of the management of power to reputable and efficient multinational companies but was turned down. He said if the former president had listened to him, Nigeria would have had a better economy.
The former governor who used Africa and China as a case study in his lecture also recommended that some laws needed to be amended to accommodate new developments in Africa . He blamed lawlessness, injustice and political disagreement as the driving force of non economic diversification. He said the only difference between African nations and China is the existence of law and order . He recounted how his businesses suffered in the past because of political disagreements. He queried the rationale behind the clampdown of businesses of people perceived to be politically unfriendly arguing that “somehow, it was like the political leaders feared that a strong private sector would be a counterforce during elections.”
Continuing, he said ” such leaders are not visionary and should not be emulated as they failed to understand the link between the economic growth and private sector. Sometimes ,they think it’s affecting the owner of those businesses or the stakeholders but it doesn’t . The concern should be the trickle down effect it would have on the masses who were gainfully employed.” He said.