Thank You Mr. President


Segun Akande

I want to thank our dear Mr. President for graciously addressing the nation on Democracy Day. Actually that sounds a little sarky; no sarcasm intended at all.
I’ll start again. As I read Mr. President’s speech on Sunday afternoon, I couldn’t help but feel a little more chirpy.

Reasons for my chirpiness?
First. It just feels so damn good when the president you voted for addresses you doesn’t it?!

Simply being remembered and cared about enough to be addressed makes one feel somewhat special.
Second. For the first time since he took office I actually got a little glimpse of where Mr. President wants to take us. In a nutshell we now have a president that is determined to correct the acute social imbalances that have plagued this nation for so many decades. Indeed his ideals are very dear to me – a Nigeria in which every individual has equal opportunity to not only survive but prosper – an equal playing field in which those that work hard and add value are fairly compensated, as against a nation wherein a select few get richer and richer via dubious transactions, questionable connections, and down-right stealing.

This nation has depended on imports – food, petrol, education, healthcare, and so much more for far too long; relying on the wiser and better organised developed nations over and over and over again. Even our stolen billions are siphoned off to foreign accounts!!

One has to ask oneself whether we actually produce anything at all of any real significance or value. Hence the administration’s commitment to a self sufficient Nigeria wherein we not only feed and develop ourselves but also export our produce, be they crops, food, or petrol is one that augers well for all our futures. Furthermore imagine an education system so exceptional that it attracts pupils from all over Africa, possibly even worldwide; likewise healthcare. The possibilities are not only endless but almost too exciting to ponder. This is what can be achieved with Honest and Diligent Governance, Sustained Investment, Planning, Patience, and Focus.
Allow me to use Japan’s growing Whiskey export industry to buttress my point.

If you had searched online for Japanese whiskeys fifteen years ago you would have found absolute zilch. However in Jim Murray’s Whiskey Bible for 2015, Yamazaki Cherry Cask 2013, a single malt made by Tokyo based Suntory Holdings Ltd, was named ‘world whiskey of the year’. The popularity of Japanese whiskey has risen to phenomenal heights during the past eight years or so. According to Euromonitor, while global sales revenue from all whiskey producing countries rose at 5% per annum from 2009 to 2014, Japan’s rose at 5.6%. In 2015 the country sold US$95m worth of it abroad – an eleven fold increase over the past decade.

How did this happen?

Simple – via foresight, sustained investment, planning, and patience.
All the above require the type of good leadership Nigeria has lacked since independence.
So I applaud President Buhari for his vision and foresight.
However on the matter of investment I’m not so sure. For any industry to grow, the necessary infrastructure must be on ground. Infrastructure needs money. Money will either come from export proceeds, investments, or loans. This is where pragmaticism comes in, or not, as the case may be. The nation’s coffers are more or less empty. Even the Finance Minister pointed out a few days ago that the government may not have the funds to meet the current budget.

For all the foresight and positively impressive virtues of Buhari’s commitment to self sufficiency, the simple fact is it will be at least ten to fifteen years before we see the necessary output for self sufficiency and any real significant export revenue. Are we supposed to starve until 2030?

Surely there needs to be some form of a bridge between commencement and delivery. In order for Nigeria and hence the people to survive the next fifteen years we need to ensure our economy is attractive to foreign investors. For whether we like it or not, until our self sufficiency drive begins to bear fruit we will continue to rely heavily on imports; and to adequately cater for this we need foreign exchange. I probably sound like a broken record but I’ll continue to point this out until this administration yields to common sense. Foreign exchange is acquired either via exports or foreign investments. At present the meagre revenue from crude oil sales is not even close to halfway meeting our needs; and our economic policies are driving investors away as opposed to attracting them.

Unless we liberalise the FX market, we will continue to see plane-loads of foreign investors and companies fleeing our shores on a daily basis. During the past one year the Nigerian Stock Exchange has lost over US$20b – yes Twenty Billion Dollars – of foreign investment funds!
Once again I heartily applaud the president’s commitment to a self sufficient Nigeria. But the journey to fruition is a long and arduous one; practical measures must be taken to bridge the gap in the meantime. Otherwise by the time we arrive at the finish line there will be nothing and nobody left to enjoy it.

Mr. President, if by any chance you’re reading this, I want to say a big ‘Thank You’ for your vision and foresight. But please please please be practical in the meantime. Simple economics and the reality on ground tells us we must create an environment that is attractive to investors in order for the nation to meet its financial obligations.

How to do this?

Liberalise the foreign exchange market. Let the markets determine the value of the naira.
Fact of the matter is no matter how hard and systematically you try to stem the devaluation of the naira, not only will most business continue to be done at black market rates, but foreign investors won’t even glance in our general direction let alone bring their money here. Would you invest your hard earned money in an economy wherein you have no idea what the value will be when you want to cash-in Mr. President?

Thousands are losing their jobs on a daily basis. The price of foodstuffs is now way past reasonable levels of discomfort. Electricity distribution is at an all-time low. This suffering is across board – rich, middle class, and the poor. Everywhere I turn I hear voices of discontent. Everywhere I go I see the consequences of your administration’s inability to be pragmatic. People are not only suffering as a result of your impractical policies your Excellency, they are literally dying.

By this time next year most of your administration will be positioning themselves for 2019. So you basically have about eleven months to show us we made the right choice by voting for you. The time for ‘it’s still early days’ is long gone.
To make matters worse your administration’s attempts to communicate with the people is at best arrogant in nature and clumsy in delivery; resulting in a total disconnect.

We need to see some tangible results during the next eleven months. As I pointed out in a previous article, the average Nigerian has no affiliation to any particular party – I know I certainly don’t. And now we have an electorate which is a lot more conscious of the power that lies within its hands it is vitally important your administration recognises the stark reality of the Honeymoon Period being well and truly over.

I have absolutely no doubt about your sincerity and commitment to a self sufficient Nigeria, which by the way will take at least two terms in office to achieve. I genuinely hope you actualise your vision Sir- for all our sakes. However unless things significantly change for the better in the next eleven months, I fear your administration may not be in power long enough to see it through.

– Akande, a businessman wrote from Lagos