Okello Oculi argues that the banks could do more in their pan-African exploits

A wind that blew across 2002 urged several Nigerian banks to cross borders and establish branches in a number of African countries. The countries that benefitted from this ‘’walk for profits’’ were: Cameroun, Ghana, Uganda, Gambia, Sierra Leone, Congo D.R., Rwanda, Cote d’Ivoire, Senegal, Kenya, Gabon, Tanzania, and Liberia.. The United Bank for Africa and Skye Bank had a combined total of 20 subsidiaries operating in other African countries. Money had gone walking without being prodded by the politics of a foreign policy.

Following the collapse of oil prices in the international market, however, the banks began to scramble back. A Central Bank of Nigeria analyst noted that their home offices were running short of capital, while their host economies had narrow financial markets and weak economies. Poverty was felling the gallop of economic pan-Africanism. The banks withdrew their flags in several countries and wiped off the soil thrown at their brands and prestige.

At Nigeria’s 25th birthday, Professor Okwodiba Nnoli named those countries which had benefited from funds rolled out by Nigeria’s foreign policy operatives in answer to the spirit of African brotherhood. As examples, Zambia and Sudan received grants worth N500,000 and N400,000, respectively. Guinea Bissau and Mozambique received independence gifts worth N500,000 and N675,890, respectively. Somalia gulped N1,007,893, and Mali received N432,579. This was at a time when one naira was worth $1.50 .

In Professor Nnoli’s review, there was a fatal dent in that ‘naira splash’, because the money bonanza was ‘’not done through appeals to their latent desire for economic liberation and complete independence, their patriotic yearnings’’. Having made the mistake of asking for ‘democratic’’ goods, such as: the end of racist exclusion from hotels and social clubs monopolised by European officials businessmen; freedom to vote and be voted into political offices; justice and equality –values ‘’which had no economic content’’- Prime Minister Balewa’s government could not lead other African leaders into seizing the ‘’commanding pillars’’ of economic freedom.

By way of contrast, European politicians and business groups had fought for and obtained these values only after successful struggles for economic rights: including securing patent rights to their individual invention and freedom to sell their products in overseas markets and retaining the profits for themselves. These fights involved extreme measures like chopping off the head of a greedy English King Charles of England; and those of the French aristocracy. Fighting for democracy came later and included protests by working classes.

The budding modern sector of the Nigerian ruling class also mistook obtaining qualifications in law, accountancy, insurance, commerce and public administration for engagement in modern economic production. When oil revenues arrived in the 1970s, they even abandoned support for peasant farmers – the real group that were already accustomed to the production of wealth for colonial global markets.

Consequently Nigeria’s slogan of Africa being the centre piece of her foreign policy was hollow because it left natural resources in every African country to be exploited and monopolised by Euro-American multinational corporations. As an example, Nigeria’s troops fought in the Congo against the patriotic prime minister, Patrice Lumumba, while the American, British and French companies directed their governments to ensure their access to uranium, copper, gold and high quality coffee and timber. An Israeli newspaper would later report that their intelligence officers paid special attention to recruiting those who would later carry out military coups in several African countries from among African troops who fought in the Congo under the banner of the United Nations.

In the new millennium, the management of Nigeria’s banks seem to have been dressed in similar intellectual handicaps as the politicians of the 1960s and 1970s. The banks with trans-African operations have withdrawn from countries that are very rich in natural resources and in which Euro-American banks are financing their multinationals engaged in mining, extraction of high quality wood, grabbing vast lands for large-scale farming and manufacturing. China’s banks are financing huge infrastructure, notably constructing railway lines, hospitals and educational facilities. The Congo D.R., for example, is a vast geography of natural resources in the face of a horrendous brutalisation and neglect of the welfare of its population. Despite a record of Nigerian soldiers fighting in that country, there has been a withdrawal of the scanty number of Nigerian banks from its economy.

The Americans are, however, livid with range that President Joseph Kabila has signed huge infrastructure and mining contracts with China. Professor Nzongola-Ntalaja has reported that the World Bank has criticised the $9 billion that China may put into its barter deal with Kabila’s government , insisting on a maximum of $6 billion. Whatever the amount, China has put its fingers into the vast pot.

While in charge of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGS), Hajiya Amina Mohammed was far-sighted enough to fund Ms Debrah Ogazuma’s television documentary based on a long trek to interview women leaders and female students in Kenya, South Africa, Rwanda, Uganda, Liberia, Ghana and Nigeria. It was a celluloid ploy to make Africa the centre-piece of Nigeria’s intellectual and political development. It is not clear that any of the banks doing cross-border business has taken an interest in the work, let alone its follow-up. Likewise, it is not clear that they have shown interest in the relevance of the content of Nollyhood’s exports, with a view to promoting their economic pan-Africanism

As Samora Machel shouted into the political wind: ‘’ALUTA CONTINUA’’! The banks have made a commendable, if timid and narrowly conceived, scratch across the face of Professor Okwodiba Nnoli’s charge to vigorously compete for the exploitation of Africa’s natural resources within dynamic productive economies across the continent.