All of a sudden, Nigerians are clamoring for made-in-Nigeria goods. Until this month, few Nigerians outside of Nnewi, Anambra State had heard of Innoson Motors, even though the company’s automobile plant was commissioned with fanfare by Goodluck Jonathan in 2010. Innoson “introduces automotive products from China, Japan and Germany into Nigeria” - whatever that means - but sounds like how South Korea started to manufacture those Kias and Daewoos we all buy today. The line of vehicles manufactured by Innoson includes SUVs, trucks, mini-buses and buses. Even if Innoson does not manufacture vehicles in the sense that Germany manufactures Mercedes, Volkswagen, and Audi; in the sense that Japan manufactures Toyota, Mazdas and Nissan; in the sense that America manufactures Dodges and Chevrolets, it is not importing whole vehicles into Nigeria. It is providing employment to Nigerians and setting the stage for automobile technology transfer. It was what we had when Peugeot Automobile Nigeria (PAN) and Leyland were churning vehicles in Nigeria in the 70s and early 80s.
Until this February, Nigerians were not talking much about buying locally-produced tomato purees and tomato pastes. We were all always looking for those imported brands. Even when Dangote acquired National Salt Company of Nigeria (NASCON) in 1996 and claimed to be producing tomato pastes and purees, he was actually importing them from overseas and distributing them here. But enter Erisco Foods Ltd last week and Nigerians have started to think about our own tomato pastes! Before Erisco came along, we had Tomato Jos and Gino Tomato Paste, both of which struggled for recognition in a country that was obsessed with everything and anything made outside her borders. We would not eat our own rice but rice imported from Thailand, the Philippines and South Korea. We would not wear guinea brocades and lace materials unless they were imported from Austria, Switzerland, South Korea or China. When we went to livestock markets, we wanted goats and cattle imported from Niger, Chad or Burkina Faso. We wore Brazilian hair attachments. In fact, many women in Lagos “imported” hairdressers from Benin Republic because they preferred the Beninese styles! Anybody who patronized Nigerian manufacturers was inferior to those who patronized foreign manufacturers. Whatever was left of our middle class now shopped at Shoprite rather than the local markets. There you would find imported cereal, assorted dairy products, pastries, toothpastes, toothpicks, toys and general groceries – mostly imported and funded with our scarce FOREX. Even the poor too were now finding their way to Shoprite!
But our come-to-Jesus or come-to-Allah moment is here now. Come yee now to God or perish in eternal economic servitude to other countries, Nigerians! The naira has crashed and is still crashing. The abyss into which the naira has fallen appears to be bottomless. As at the time of writing this, One US dollar ($1) exchanged for N400. Only last month, it was around $1 - N200, and we were complaining. If we are not already on our way to the church or the mosque, we may be left behind.
At the church or the mosque of reality, we need to be converted into believing in our own educational system. We need to stop sending our children abroad; not just to the UK or the US, but to places like Ghana, Egypt and even Benin Republic when we have hundreds of higher institutions in Nigeria. We, the middle class in particular, need to identify whatever is wrong with our educational system and help pressure the government into fixing it, instead of sending our children abroad. There was a time when Nigerians went abroad to study Nuclear Science or Petroleum Engineering and similar courses that were not available in Nigeria. But these days, we send our kids to America to study Yoruba, History, Philosophy and Linguistics. My friend’s son is in South Africa studying Arabic. Another is in the same South Africa studying Medicine. One is in Ukraine studying Microbiology. And every semester, all these kids’ parents go crazy chasing down FOREX to support their children abroad.
Nobody goes to see the doctor in our hospitals anymore, unless they were rushed there in an emergency. And as soon as they are stabilized, they jet out of the country for better treatment. For routine medical checkups, our middle class folks are now following the lead of the nouveau riche and getting seen by doctors in South Africa, Dubai, India, the UK or the US. Our own UCH, LUTH, ABUTH and even the National Hospital, Abuja, have become places you go to die rather than to get well. And if you are poor and in a rural area, just go see your native doctor. You have no hope of getting well. But with the naira so low in value now, many in the middle class are now leaving their dogs and housemaids behind when they go to Florida to treat that hypertension; that diabetes or that hemorrhoid. The rich though still take their dogs, cats, mice, fish as well as their maids and drivers to London and Washington DC when they go there to treat that sore thumb; that sore throat or that cough. Pretty soon, if the naira’s fall is not abated, they too will have to re-consider.
But this naira fall is probably what we need to galvanize us into our own industrial revolution. When the Korean War ended in in 1953, the Korean currency – the Won – exchanged at 63KRN to $1. The war had badly devastated South Korea physically and emotionally. Before reinforcement came from the US, North Korea (with help from China) had reached all the way to Daegu in the South of South Korea. Of course, by then, the whole of Seoul and everything north of it was in ruins. South Korea had nothing. But as their currency continued to fall precipitously like our naira is doing now, the people picked themselves up, dusted themselves up and put their country first.
They didn’t have oil money like we do. But the little they had, they invested in chemical and mechanical engineering. They first started borrowing technologies from the West, but soon they engaged in reverse engineering and later in their own modern manufacturing techniques, which soon weened them off importation of automobiles and heavy and light machineries. They invested in mass production of foods and started an agricultural revolution that saw them become self-sufficient and a major exporter of food, especially rice and seafood. They now compete favorably with Japan and Germany for automobile market in the US. In fact, they compete favorably with American automobile manufacturers in America!
Today, you could stand on a busy street in Seoul and count zero imported automobile out of your first 1000. Today, you could hardly find a home in South Korea with imported electronics. As close as Koreans are from Japan (less than two hours by air) you will not find a Japanese automobile in South Korea. Their currency fell so low and has remained so low that their people had no choice but to buy Korean. Today, the KRN exchanges for 1200 to $1. What will Nigerians do if the naira falls to that level?
South Koreans drive their own automobiles, package their own processed foods, eat their own foods, speak their own language and make it the language of instruction in their schools, even in science and math! Seoul is now the unofficial world capital for plastic surgeries…something so prevalent that Koreans reconstruct their noses and breasts while on their lunch breaks! Definitely, Koreans patronize their own hospitals for major ailments.
Above all, when Koreans are accused of corruption, even before prosecution and conviction, they resign their appointments. Many are so ashamed of themselves that they commit suicide. Koreans will never tolerate the kind of charade we saw recently in Nigeria where 90 or so SANs sheepishly trooped into a courtroom to shamelessly provide moral support to one of them being charged for corruption. Koreans will never have Senators trooping into court to provide moral support for one of them facing criminal charges. Our leaders have not the foggiest idea what “Country First” means. And we the led love Nigeria not. Otherwise, the kinds of mind boggling corruption being unearthed by the EFCC would be rare; not the norm as they are right now. And the outrage from the judiciary, the legislature, the law enforcement agencies, the press and the general public would be strident. Instead, we have people crying “selective prosecution” when their kinsmen are being charged to court for corruption. None of us has sat down to think about how Nigeria as a whole is being short-changed by these morally bankrupt entities.
We call ourselves Nigerians but do not think we owe Nigeria anything. We do not see ourselves as needing to do anything for Nigeria. We are all about what we can get from Nigeria. Our loyalty is to ourselves first, then to our immediate families, then to our home towns and then to our tribes. Nigeria as an entity does not come into our calculation at all. We do not know the meaning of patriotism. We will stand by while other nationals ruin our country and even encourage them to do so. We will participate and even lead other nationals in sabotaging our country and compromise our national security. We do not treat our flag as a sacred representation of our collective past, present and future. We recite our Pledge and National Anthem with perfunctory attention. We do not have that sense of patriotism…that filial connectivity that makes you want to proudly defend your country and if need be, die for her. We do not see our country as our own. And I am not even talking about those agitating for Biafra or Oodua or Arewa enclaves now. I am talking about all of us.
We have been blessed with Muhammadu Buhari’s second coming. We better get our acts together and come to Jesus or to Allah today. We may never get a third chance. We are at such an epochal point in our existence that we must choose whether to endure the present pain as we lay the foundation for a better tomorrow, or we want to keep strutting around the African neighborhood in borrowed robes and bouncing around in a vicious cycle of abject poverty where our survival depends on the generosity of other countries. By now, every Nigerian should know that Buhari is not a politician. And his actions are not driven by politics. If he is making mistakes, they are mistakes of the head, not of the heart. His heart is what we should worry about. And we all know it is in search of a truly enduring legacy for all of us. Therefore, we all must gird our loins and come to the aid of this Septuagenarian. The judiciary, the law enforcement agents, the media, the legislature, ordinary folks – all of us must help this man who is altruistically working for a better Nigeria. We all need to embrace him and embrace our flag. It is the least we can do.
By Abiodun Ladepo
Ibadan, Oyo State