Even as the world has become a global village, nations still defend their territorial integrity. It is not likely that God blessed Nigeria with ample natural resources so that the resources of the country would be used to enrich citizens of other nations and to develop those other nations.
While no nation can be an island in today’s world, certain assets and chattels of each nation must be respected and protected. No doubt, there is a need for international trade and collaborations, but there must be limits to which the citizens of a nation are exploited and denied.
Nigeria belatedly came up with the Local Content Act when the cream of the oil industry had been taken wholly by foreigners. We are having challenges passing the Petroleum Industry Bill because foreigners have seized our oil industry. As the oil assets of Nigeria have been taken by foreigners, these foreigners are the majors in the oil industry while we belatedly introduced the concept of “marginal players” to accommodate Nigerians; the owners of the oil.
Oil is now history and Nigeria lost the opportunity of developing itself and its people with proceeds from it. The Nigeria Extractive Industries and Transparency Initiative (NEITI) is supposed to get our people into the mainstream, but it amounted to doing too little too late. Even the NEITI stated clearly: “A country’s natural resources, such as oil, gas, metals and minerals belong to its citizens. Extraction of these resources can lead to economic growth and social development.”
Today that our nation is focusing on mining and agriculture, again Chinese have more or less taken over our mining sector while the Indians are the major exporters of our agro produce. There is hardly any mineral bearing community that you will not find the Chinese, even in the most remote hamlets. They are in our bushes, hewing down our trees for transportation to their country.
Nigerians cannot compete in the export of our minerals and agro produce because we lack the financial muscle to do so. The few who obtain small-scale mining leases are compelled to sell them to the Chinese because of the lack of resources to operate such mines. To make matters worse, our financial institutions are more inclined to lend to foreigners than support Nigerian businesses. Even when the Central Bank of Nigeria comes up with some financial intervention packages, such funds usually are inaccessible because of the kinds of conditions attached to them. The funds end up lying idle in bank vaults while our economy continues to lie prostrate.
Foreigners come in with cheap financial support from their home countries to create a competitive environment that throws out the locals. Nigerians are intelligent and hardworking people, but they lack support. As the necessary encouragement is absent, so is the environment hostile. These conditions give impetus to the foreigners, supported by their home countries, to straddle our land, taking away our resources for almost nothing, all for the purpose of developing their own industrial bases.
The singsong in government circles is the attraction of foreign investment, as if any foreign country would be interested in our development. If we built our industries, they would lose our market, if we kept our money at home, they would lose the billions of dollars that Nigerians stash away in their banks; if we built our schools, they would lose the school fees that we remit to their schools for the education of our children. Essentially if we develop ourselves, we would diminish their growth. Why then would they want to help develop us, when it would be to their own detriment? Some foreigners have boldly come out to call us fools.
They are mining engineers, geologists, metallurgists, agricultural engineers, agronomists and, in fact, all manner of professionals. Yet the Chinese and the Indians are controlling our mining and agro sectors. It has to be noted that most of the earnings from these exports by foreigners are never repatriated to Nigeria, thereby frustrating the initiative of earning foreign exchange from raw materials exports. There are Nigerians with the financial muscle to help us develop ourselves but most of them are more interested in owning private jets without having a clear and verifiable means of income. Our educated young men and women are being used as servants and drivers by these invaders. Some of them are abused and insulted and even called names and they have no option than to bear the insults, as there are no alternative jobs out there.
Could our raw materials have been for export to other countries for their development? Why is it so difficult for us to see that we can add value to our raw materials and use locally besides exporting finished or value-added products to the world and earning even much more foreign exchange? There must be a deliberate effort to protect, project and support our own. We ridicule ourselves when we believe that it is the export of raw materials that will solve our foreign exchange problems. What manner of raw materials export does America make that makes the dollar such a strong currency?
We should not allow foreigners in these very primary activities that Nigerians can successfully carry out. We must create jobs; we must develop our land and create an industrial revolution. We can start by insisting that raw materials must be converted before export or local usage. Nigeria has no business importing iron rods and such other iron products, not with the large deposits of iron ore and manganese that litter our country. We must also note that the technologies of smelting metals and converting agro produce are not in the realm of rocket science that would make them difficult to achieve. When we convert these materials locally and use them locally, we will no longer need to reimport them as we are doing today, thereby conserving foreign exchange and strengthening our currency.
It is funny that while we allow foreigners to export our casseterite (the ore of tin), we turnaround to import tin plate for our food industries at a cost that is more than 10 times the value of what was exported. We must act fast so that the situation we have in the oil sector, where we export crude and import refined products, does not extend to other commodities. This is an advocacy for the development of deliberate policies that will protect and stimulate our local industries, give us opportunities to benefit from our resources and redirect our focus from seeking foreign investment to creating a healthy environment for self-development. Thereafter the foreign investors would be hungry to be part of the Nigerian industrial revolution. China was developed by intentional policies that encouraged local production, even at the smallest scale.
We are on the path to re-colonisation and if nothing is done our children shall be slaves in our own land. The urgency of the situation cannot be overstated.
• Udo wrote in from Abuja.