Comical Foreign Trips in Search of Investors

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Muhammadu Buhari
Ring  True  

By Yemi Adebowale; yemiadebowale@thisdaylive.com; 0701394052

The standard in sane climes is for their leaders to engage in strategic foreign trips for the benefit of the country. In this part of the world, the reverse is the case. Our leaders embark on trips abroad largely for the fun of it. It’s usually a jamboree, with a retinue of aides and millions of Dollars down the drain. The one that pains me the most is that they run abroad in search of so-called foreign investors when their homes are in tatters. President Muhammadu Buhari was at it again, dashing to Jordan and Dubai in search of investors. On Monday, he met with six groups of investors at the sidelines of the Annual Investment Meeting (AIM) in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE), telling them, “Come to Nigeria and prosper. Come and have handsome returns on your investments, within the shortest possible time.”

Among those Buhari met was Sheikh Ahmed Al Maktoum, a member of the Dubai ruling family. He is also a private investor and member of several boards of companies. We were told that Sheikh Maktoum was interested in establishing a power plant in Lagos. I am sure that he would halt the move as soon as he gets a full dossier of the bitter odyssey of existing investors in power generation in Nigeria.

Other big boys Buhari met with were Sheikh Hussain Al Nowais, Chairman of Amea Power. The company develops, owns, and operates thermal and renewable energy projects in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Sheikh Nowais also owns Rotana Hotel chain; Sheikh Ali Rashid Lootah, Chairman, Nakheel Properties and Limitless Group, one of the world’s leading developers and a major contributor to Dubai’s real estate transformation; Sheikh Khalid Bin Kalban, who is the CEO of Dubai Investments, centred on real estate, processing industries, mergers and acquisitions, health care, education, and financial investments; Sheikh Mohammed Saif Al Suwaidi, CEO of Abu Dhabi Fund for Development (ADFD) which has supported over 66 projects in 29 African countries and Jitender Sachdeva, CEO Skipperseil Group.

Deep down, these investors must have been having a good laugh about motherland Nigeria. While these meetings were on, all that the potential investors were hearing about our dear country were gory stories of insecurity, hundreds of Nigerians being hacked to death, abductions and killings by Boko Haram, herders, bandits and armed robbers. These negatives about Nigeria have been on for about 10 years now, but the last four years of Buhari have been horrendous. We’ve never had it so bad. I wonder which investor will be willing to take his money to a country where he and his workers run a very high risk of being killed.

There is a long list of grisly stories involving expatriates. Just on March 15, Sagir Ahmed, a Lebanese engineer working for Triacta Construction Company was abducted while inspecting an underpass bridge at Dangi roundabout, Zoo Road, Kano State, and eventually hacked to death. As at press time, the police were yet to find his killers. So, which investor will be willing to move his money to such a lawless country?

How many foreign investors has Buhari attracted to this country in all these four years of his globetrotting? It is a surefire fact that a country needs to first put its house in order, before talking about attracting distant investors. The operating environment must be conducive. Electricity supply, security and infrastructure must be of world-class standard. The tax system and ease of doing business must be attractive. All these attractions have deteriorated in Nigeria. It is an illusion to expect foreign businessmen to bring their money into a country where they will have to struggle to operate and also struggle to take their profit out. No foreigner will bring his hard-earned money into a hostile environment. This is what exists in our country at present.

With infrastructure in ruins/unfriendly operating environment, existing investors are gasping for breath. In Nigeria, electricity generation is less than one-sixth of South Africa’s, though our population is three times bigger. So, businesses must provide their own power at a very high cost. Recall that Nigeria was ranked 146 out of 190 countries in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business index in 2018. Many foreign investors pulled out of Nigeria as a result of the stifling environment, coupled with Buhari administration’s muggy policies.

I can clearly remember that when South African retail giant, Truworths shut its four outlets in Nigeria in February 2016, the company’s Chief Executive Officer, Michael Mark remarked: “We were unable to operate the stores properly any longer because we were unable to send merchandise to the stores; there’s regulation preventing that. Aside being unable to stock our shelves, we were struggling to pay rent and get access to foreign exchange which has dried up. We can’t get money out, so there was no point staying any longer.” I am sure that Mr. Yusuff Alli, Chairman of the Lulu Group, which operates a chain of supermarkets in the Middle East and Asia will not find the Truworths’ story exciting. Alli was one of the potential investors that our President met with in Dubai

Buhari should stop deceiving Nigerians with stories about going to attract foreign investors. He should think of other ways to justify his fascination with foreign trips. This country lacks the enabling environment for foreign investment. The hefty $5.2 billion fine levied on MTN Nigeria by this government is one of such disincentives to Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). It is having dire consequences on the country’s economy; investors are now wary of Nigeria.

If we do the right things, foreign investors will come on their own. With the new media, foreign investors have true picture of developments in all countries. They will come once they know that the environment in any country is conducive. It seems most of them even understand Nigeria more than our President does.

Again, Buhari needs to understand that foreign investors are not charities; they are profit optimising and risk minimising capitalists looking for good environment for the investment of their cash. Places like Hong Kong, Malaysia, UAE and Singapore that are favourites of investors are known for their world-class facilities. The most attractive destinations for FDI also have unwavering macro-economic environment.

Global confidence in the Nigerian economy is diminishing. Money that flowed into stocks and bonds in Nigeria four years back, which back then, McKinsey & Co. said could make Nigeria become one of the world’s 20 biggest economies by 2030, is now being moved out as growth prospects diminish. Buhari should spend quality time engaging the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) and National Association of Chambers of Commerce, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA) on how to encourage existing investors and save our economy from ongoing crisis instead of looking for imaginary foreign investors.

The MAN and the NACCIMA have persistently raised the alarm about many if their members shutting down due to stifling environment; yet, the response from governments at all levels have been lethargic.

Honestly, Buhari should spare a thought for the suffering masses of this country by spending quality time at home to tackle the countless problems facing us instead of wasting our limited resources on worthless foreign trips. Nigerians are fatigued by this same old story of searching for overseas investors. Within the first nine months of his first term, our President visited 26 countries in search of foreign investors, looted money and other humdrum things for poor Nigerians. There are few results to justify these trips while state resources are being depleted on them. This dreariness must end.

I believe our President ought to have cut short his jamboree to Jordan and Dubai much earlier, following escalating security crisis at home. His precedence should be the home front. He ought to have returned home swiftly to directly take charge of pressing security issues. Buhari must learn to connect with people who have lost loved ones.

On the flip side, another recent sickening jamboree was the five-day trip to Doha, Qatar, for the 140th meeting of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) by a 15-man National Assembly team led by the President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki. Over N100 million have gone down the drain for a trip that is incapable of putting food on the tables of Nigerians. The nine legislators on the list aside, I am still struggling to understand why they included six bureaucrats – the Clerk to the Senate, Mr. Nelson Ayewoh; Director, General Duties, Ms. Navati Illiya; Director (H/R), Mr. Atiku Ibrahim; Director and Secretary to the Delegation, Shehu Umar and Clerk, Inter-Parliamentary Affairs, Mr. Bernard Okoh. What a country!

This should not be happening in a country where millions of people go to bed without meals. Ours is now the poverty capital of the world, with more than half of our people living below poverty line. For me, considering the hunger, disease, poverty and gigantic unemployment in this country, Saraki should have attended the IPU meeting with not more than one legislator and a bureaucrat. In real terms, this country has never benefited from all their years of attending IPU meetings.