President Buhari's return from the Expo 2020 in Dubai felt like Jeff Bezos's return to earth when the American billionaire spent $5.5 billion to stay in Space for four minutes. 

Like Bezos, Nigerians would have preferred if Buhari had stayed away from the country so long he foots his bills and his entourage's. That shows how Buhari's influence and importance are waning across the country.

Dr Nasir Aminu

For context, Expo 2020 is a global event currently held in the United Arab Emirate (UAE), expected to last for 182 days. It is meant to bring the whole world together to solve humanity's main challenges. Participants are expected to set up exhibition spaces to present their ideas.

For UAE, the Expo 2020 is estimated to attract 25 million visitors, of which 17 million will be international. The event is expected to increase the UAE gross domestic product by 1.5% during the six months and tens of thousands of new long-term jobs. 

Of course, Nigeria will significantly contribute to the UAE boost. For example, the trip of the Nigerian delegates to UAE coincided with the announcement of the resumption of passenger operations between Dubai and Nigeria. The policy favours UAE, specifically their flagship airlines, as Nigeria does not have one. It shows we are good at contributing to developing other economies but not for our own.

Unlike other countries, the Nigerian delegation for Expo 2020 included the President, ten Ministers, two State Governors and some Special Advisers. The Ministers and Governors also travelled together with their Commissioners, Special Advisers and Senior Special Assistants. 

The trip came when countries were reducing their travelling burden given the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, the global economic slowdown, and the need to improve the environment. It shows that the government is utterly indifferent to ethical considerations.

As predicted by the UAE economy, the expenses for this large number of government officials will be contributing to its economy, not Nigeria's. For Nigeria, the costs include flight, accommodation, the estacode per day, and daily subsistence. The attendance of many officials cannot be explained, and the public will not be wrong to translate the trip as an extended holiday on taxpayer's money. It is worth reminding the average Nigerian that this is done by the government that came to power on the premise of eliminating financial waste and corruption. 

Optimistically, even if Nigeria would be financially worse-off, those who attended ought to have gained some innovative skills to attract foreign investment decisions. Nigeria faces problems that deter foreign investments into the country. These include macroeconomic challenges like persistent double-digit inflation, high unemployment, ease of doing business. And also, the socio-economic issues such as banditry, kidnapping, and insurgency. 

The optimism was short-lived when Buhari told the world that Nigeria is still the most viable investment destination. One wonders where he is getting his facts. His entourage will have to maintain this statement which will defeat their purpose of attendance – discussing reality with other participants. It is shocking because the country is currently experiencing its worst capital injection from foreign direct investment (FDI) since 2010. It is challenging to attract dialogue and cooperation with false statements.

According to the National Bureau of Statistics, the country's FDI has declined by over 50% compared to 2020. The investment ranking in Africa shows that Nigeria is not in the top 10 countries in 2021. However, Nigeria was ranked second only behind South Africa in 2014. The President's aides must know that the government is not more intelligent than the investors. Every information they provide will affect the investment decision.

Of course, Buhari stated some facts too. Nigeria plans to support people and small businesses with several kinds of incentives to kickstart the economy. It is also correct to state that Nigeria is planning to finance several infrastructure projects to enhance the viability of investments. Some would argue that these plans are why the government was voted in 2015 and won re-election in 2019. 

However, these plans have not come to fruition, and they do not change the facts. As the government steps into its last full fiscal year before the 2023 election, the trip to Dubai could have been one of the last opportunities to showcase its plans to the voters. 

The average voters are wiser now. They will be contemplating if the government does have their best interests at heart. But I doubt the government could have a bit of self-reflection from the recent lessons.

 

Dr Nasir Aminu – Cardiff Metropolitan University (Twitter: @AminuEcon)

 

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