BY DELE MOMODU (PENDULUM)
Fellow Nigerians, I am excited to report to you the feedback I got from my article last week, May 2, 2020, titled TIME TO PROTECT NIGERIAN COMPANIES AND JOBS. Reactions were varied but instructive. A few of the names I mentioned, who I had not seen or heard from for many years, reacted directly to thank me for the piece especially as they considered that they were doing a thankless task of trying to generate jobs for the mass of our citizens, and create wealth for a sizable proportion as well. Also, a top government functionary personally spoke copiously to me to give me the government perspective.
My simple conclusion is that while Nigerians from different walks of life moan and groan about lack of jobs, government needs to do much more about protecting those who create jobs and spread prosperity. My main grouse is that we are yet to understand the fact that we cannot harass businessmen and women in the same manner we treat politicians who run afoul of the law.
Everywhere in the world, the government would usually invite members of the business community to explain their challenges or inform them of whatever government has against them so that any issues can be resolved if they are capable of resolution. This is more so where the purported violations are more regulatory than anything else. When there are criminal allegations to be faced, the businessmen are to, and should, be treated with the same principle of innocence until proven guilty as that given to the ordinary citizen. The fact of his wealth, visibility and fame should not be used as an opportunity to create a circus out of the event in a bid to demonstrate that government can catch big fishes! They must not be pronounced guilty on the pages of newspapers or scandalised permanently and globally without considering the business and commercial implications, the impact on the economy or how many jobs may be lost if care is not taken.
Imagine how many times the Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg, has been invited to face charges bordering on suspected criminality. One of the most recent examples was the double-barrelled attack he got from lawmakers in the United Kingdom who labelled him a “digital gangster!” and from lawmakers in the United States where prosecutors frenetically scrutinised the activities of Facebook and subpoenaed two companies that had engaged in business with the powerful and influential social media platforms. As serious as the charges were, Zuckerberg was still accorded maximum respect and allowed to answer questions in a dignified atmosphere devoid of convictions before prosecutions!
As recent as March 30, 2020, Microsoft was accused of violating antitrust laws. Long before then, Microsoft and Bill Gates were charged at various times including in 1998 for the same antitrust issues. In 2019, Reuters reported that Microsoft Corp agreed to pay $25.3 million, plus a criminal fine, as settlement for “improper payments that were used to bribe government officials in Hungary and other countries…” Nothing you might say could be dastardlier. Yet, the countries involved did not seek to humiliate or scandalise Microsoft in the process. The government did not cut off the heads of the Microsoft operatives. Bill Gates was not treated like a pariah or made to appear responsible for the activities of his company. He was not forced into exile or made to withdraw into his shell because those countries understand the fact that throwing the baby and the bath water away simultaneously would spell bigger doom for the countries and the world at large. There was therefore no backlash at all on the promoter of Microsoft. Bill Gates continued to be the darling of the public because both government and the populace generally recognise the good work that he has done and still does, notwithstanding the major violations and the significant punishment that has been meted out to his company and the humongous fines the company had to pay.
The essence of my epistle today is to appeal to our country to learn didactic lessons and useful tips from other places. Many important companies and their owners have been ruined just for the fun of it or because someone wanted to play God and no one considered the plight of thousands, who may lose, or have lost their jobs! Some founders of big corporations lost their investments, hard work and sweat in a jiffy and even more painful, innocent shareholders, workers and indirect beneficiaries suffered collateral damage. This is unGodly. Mistakes are bound to be made and there are always remedies and punishments that are meant to be corrective and not destructive.
Recently one case resurfaced in the public consciousness. I was amazed, shocked and disheartened at the potential for ill-will and economic damage that this trait can portend. This trending case in point is that of Drexel Tech Nigeria Limited and the calumniation of one of its Directors and promoter. The media went agog, a feeding frenzy ensued, and the mission was basically to guillotine and kill the company and its principal owner, just like others who have fallen victim in similar circumstances. This type of systemic and systematic annihilation is most unfair and unfortunate.
What is more stupefying is that in this particular case, the matter is in court. Courts must be allowed do their job conscientiously without unnecessary pressure, distractions or possibility of bias by the sound and fury of the baying public who have no idea of the nature and amount of information being presented by either side. The business adversaries and detractors sneakily supply or provide the driblets of information that the media feasts on. They cannot take on the role of the investigator, prosecutors and judge. “Nemo judex in causa sua – no man shall be a Judge in his own cause.” It offends against every grain of the principle of fair hearing.
Incidentally, Mahmood Ahmadu is also the quintessential promoter and owner of OIS Integrated Ltd.
OIS Integrated is a wholly owned and driven Nigerian visa processing company. He grew this business from the rubble to the riches it has now attained, pitching it in the same league with some of the best visa service companies in the world. He is reputed to have employed about 1000 people mostly Nigerian formal workers in his group of companies, which has a presence in more than 56 countries traversing every corner of the globe and providing a technologically savvy algorithm for non-judgmental processing of visa applications and related matters.
Within a space of under 10 years, Ahmadu has changed the nuances of the Nigerian biometric visa ecosystem around the world so much that even his business adversaries acknowledge that he has done an extraordinary job on improving the Nigeria biometric visa regime to the surprise of the world.
Today, he stands tall among his peers because under the aegis of the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS), the Nigeria biometric visa ecosystem has become fair based and standardised, where everyone follows the same process according to their needs. He has technologically energised the biometric visa case management system where communications synergy between the Nigeria Immigration Service, the Nigerian overseas Missions and his OIS Integrated Ltd have become seamless.
Under the control of the Nigerian Immigration service, Mahmoud Amadu introduced the biometric visa management system in the Nigerian visa regime from start to finish of the application process as directed by the NIS, thus protecting the Nigerian border by linking it delicately with the relevant international agencies for the prevention of cross border and cyber crime including other related issues in line with international best standards and practices and Nigeria interest. In doing this, he is also assisting in ensuring the protection of our internal security apparatus because unwanted villains and migrants are deterred from entering the country. He has also set up several processing centres around the world with transparent application payment regimes boosting government revenue, alongside so many more dramatic value-added features. Under his watch and innovation, the Nigerian Biometric Visa system is reputed to be the best in the world next to only that of the United States of America and the United Kingdom.
Peeping into the corporate world that this silent Nigerian giant has created, under the most challenging conditions, inspires and justifies the quest for the desirable support of every patriotic Nigerian who understands that the architecture and framework of running a thriving business in a free market economy is predicated on the substructure of a sound, independent and vibrant private sector. Every serious free market economy thrives on the content value of its private sector and today, an all-embracing private sector must be global in nature and resonate resoundingly on all platforms.
Countries around the world have their strategic plans for international trade and development woven around the successful ones in their private sector. It is another reason for separating the individual from the company, unless in proven cases where the company is a mere sham. The vagaries weakness and foibles of the individual should not affect the fortunes of the company. In the same vein the misfortunes and misdemeanours of the company should have no negative impact on the progress and goodwill of the dynamic and enterprising entrepreneur. Our governments should realise that there is merit in separating these two compatible but discordant forces in the business terrain if our homegrown businesses are to simply survive not to talk of competing and flying.
Expectedly, business adversaries and detractors in all spheres of Mahmood Ahmadu’s theatres of engagement have gorged on the plight of his other company, Drexel Tech which merely set out to modernise the methodology of enlisting would-be applicants into our para military service to cast negative aspersions on their rival and competitor, the enviable OIS Integrated Limited. In the process, they have vilified the personality of the reserved and reticent Mahmood Ahmadu and crucified both Drexel Tech and OIS Integrated for their selfish and avaricious reasons without minding the domestic and global damage that such primordial actions have, and the consequential continued battering of the beleaguered image of Nigeria and its fledgling economy.
The world has become such a global village with information transmission being translucent. Every story attracts a global audience and thus affects the mind of the unsuspecting reader in other parts of the globe at a time when Nigeria haemorrhages for foreign exchange and for the Foreign Direct Investment that will allow that kind of investment to flow into the country again. Why do we hate ourselves so much that we are open and prone to self-destruction and self-immolation with a nonchalant and insouciant attitude that is devoid of any passion or commitment to our nation?
Incidentally, these business predators and unpatriotic Nigerians would stop at nothing in their apparent desperation to continue to destroy this consummate Nigerian who is favourably competing in the global space. It would seem that the anonymous marauders and their faceless allies keep yearning to torment and disparage the businessman, and his soaring business successes, for nefarious reasons, totally unconnected with the immigration recruitment saga. To do this they have resorted to media trial, whilst feeding the frenetic media half-truths and blatant falsehood. The efforts of these shenanigans to sully and besmirch the reputation of Mahmood Ahmadu lends credence to the desire of unknown traducers to destroy the astute business savvy gentleman and affect his competitive edge in his national and global endeavours.
The government requires to protect our investors and their companies from the hands of these rapacious entities that negate the mission and effect of the much vaunted ease of doing business in Nigeria which this present administration has declared is in the vanguard of its policies for the economic revival of the country.
It is preposterous that when government is assiduously engendering policies that would attract local, and foreign investments, some citizens in pursuit of their narrow, parochial interests would precariously jeopardise this and expose the entire country to ridicule, disrepute and odium. This certainly serves as a disincentive tonic and has been responsible for turning many businessmen and businesses away from Nigeria whether they are Nigerians or foreigners. It is time to put a stop to this inapt and regrettable tendency.
This is the time to provide the appropriate framework that would guarantee and protect our indigenous businesses and their promoters. We must allow the rule of law to prevail where litigants aren’t made to face trials in court and by the media at the same time. This smacks of double jeopardy and must be mitigated, if not eradicated, otherwise our international trade and development agenda cannot achieve its desired objectives.
Above all, the failure to entrench investigatory and prosecutorial practices that are fair, just and constitutional, and which recognise the fundamental right of innocence until proven guilty, will not augur well for the millions of unemployed youths that litter our country, because the few people that are seriously creating viable job opportunities are being serially persecuted and hounded.
We must celebrate our super stars and wealth creators not depreciate, deprecate, or denigrate them.