Atolaiye: Buhari Must Do More to Enhance Ease of Doing Business

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Samuel Atolaiye

Samuel Atolaiye is a Kogi State-born Nigerian living in the United States of America. He is also the Coordinator, Nigeria Diaspora Network mobilising Nigerians abroad to come back and help their fatherland. He spoke to Tobi Soniyi on what President Muhammadu Buhari must do to attract more foreign investors into the country: Excerpts:

What is the driving force for setting up the Nigeria Diaspora Network?

Nigeria is a Country that is blessed by the almighty God. A country that has got what it takes to be great and be a force to reckon with in the comity of nations. Unfortunately, its people are not experiencing that greatness or the impact in their daily living. This was a country that was at par with the United Arab Emirates and Malaysia about 20 years ago, but today, Nigeria is left behind in infrastructural development, Economy and in other areas. People are living below their potential; poverty has ravaged most communities and security has become a scarce commodity. Corruption has eaten deep into the fabric of the society that people have thrown caution to the winds just to make money. If we allow things to continue this way without a boundary, very soon we shall have no Nation called Nigeria again. This is the reason why we believe it is time to bring people of like mind together to create awareness and work the people of Nigeria to help in rebuilding the Nation. Please note that I have used the word‘re-building’ carefully. What I meant is that the very value of our Society that has been destroyed by corruption can be rebuilt. Professional Nigerians in the diaspora are being mobilized to help in this way.

At a recent event in Washington DC, you talked about assisting President Buhari as Diaspora Professional Volunteers, can you please give further clarifications?

Watching President Buhari publicly admitting that the people he trusted have betrayed him is most troubling to say the least. President Buhari has demonstrated both as a military head of state and a civilian president that he is not corruptible, a man of great integrity that Nigerians should be proud of. There is no doubt that the President has good intentions for Nigeria as a Country, but his lieutenants appear to be busy helping themselves instead of the people. How can we explain the award of Contract at NDDC? Where we learnt on the TV that one will not need more than N30M to do a Contract awarded for N700M or NNPC where a particular Refinery is not generating profit for over two years and the management is getting Bonuses and Contracts are been awarded without merits or where we borrow money from the Chinese government and bring in Chinese laborers who pose as professional at the expense of Nigerian graduates without employment. To crown it all, a minister of the Federal Republic defended the conditions of such loans. Terrible! Terrible! Terrible. The President cannot succeed with such people around the president unless something urgent and strategic that kick-starts an effective process is done. Nigerians in the Diaspora are doing very well in the strata of the society where they are located. They excel in complex situations and get things done. These are the people we are discussing with who have the interest of the Nigerian people and are willing to bring in creative ideas that will have a significant impact in resolving some issues. Make no mistake, these people are not coming to beg for Contracts, instead they are willing to use their contacts to bring in capitals to develop our Nation.

If you sit with President Buhari on the breakfast table today, what will you tell him frankly to work on immediately?

This is a difficult question to answer as so many things are going on in my head that I am trying to sort out in the order of priority. Haven’t said that, I will ask him to initiate and sign into law conditions that will make it easy to do business in Nigeria. This law could include effective and practicable Good Governance. This will motivate investors to come to do business in Nigeria. Investors are pouring in droves to Rwanda, Morocco and Kenya because of the ease to do business. When I was the Division Chief for Construction Management in one of the US Cities, during the time of President Jonathan, specifically year 2011, one of Nigerian politicians who is a long-time friend discussed his desire with me to have American based Contractors doing all those he discussed with turned down his offer. The reason being the stories they had about the way business is done in Nigeria. If we want development, we need to be able to make the atmosphere conducive for potential investors. Once we gain the confidence of investors, our infrastructures and economy will experience the needed boost.

What is your advice to the federal government in the areas of economy and security?

Work to eradicate corruption, do everything in its power to protect the citizens. President Buhari should replace non-performers and political opportunists in his cabinet with tested professionals who are hungry to get things done, to deliver projects that will bring about better life for the people. This has to happen sooner than later.
On the issue of the monster called insecurity, this is the product of corruption in the society. Addressing the issue of corruption will greatly reduce the security issue. For an immediate action, Buhari should constitute a think-tank consisting of people of integrity like Rtr Col. Umar Kangiwa, Femi Falana (SAN), incorruptible military leaders, police and technocrats and even community leaders including Nigerians in the Diaspora who have vast experience in security matter to strategise and advise the government on how best to solve the nation’s security issue.

Nigeria continues to borrow from China and thereby creating a huge debt burden for the future of the country. What is your reaction to this?

This is really an issue that is very disturbing. I wish to categorically state that I am against Nigerian continuous borrowing from China for whatever reason. The Government is putting the future generation in great danger with these loans. I understand that China is not only active in Nigeria but currently constitutes the largest overseas trade partner and one of the largest creditors in many African countries. It is pertinent to keep in mind that no nation has ever carried out a foreign policy without its national interest in mind. Chinese loans to Africa can be considered as an extension of China’s foreign policy in Africa. Some Nigerians especially those in the Government may argue that Nigeria’s infrastructural development has benefited from China and this has been through aid and loans, which at present seem like a charity donation. The question is “at what cost?” In 2018, the White House criticised Chinese engagement in Africa, claiming that China was using bribes, opaque agreements, and debt to hold states in Africa captive to its interests. Several observers, including some of the United States Representatives, have warned many nations on what they described as Chinese Debt trap diplomacy. Nigerian Government should be able to discern that China’s loans often include conditionalities which are strongly orientated towards Beijing’s strategic interests and increase the risk that many countries in the developing country plunge into a monetary disaster. The government should be careful that China does not re-colonise Nigeria especially when all collateral is taken over by China when the Country cannot meet its obligation to pay its debt. One of the most cited examples of alleged debt-trap diplomacy by China is a loan given to the Sri Lankan Government by the Exim Bank of China to build the Magampura Mahinda Rajapaksa Port and Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport. The state-owned Chinese firms’ China Harbor Engineering Company and Sinohydro Corporation were hired to build the Magampura Port at a cost of $361 million, which was 85 per cent funded by China’s state-owned Export-Import Bank at an annual interest rate of 6.3 per cent. Due to Sri Lanka’s inability to service the debt on the port, it was leased to the Chinese state-owned China Merchants Port Holdings Company Limited on a 99-year lease in 2017.

It was reported in late 2018 that the Zambian Government was in talks with China that might result in the total surrender of the state electricity company ZESCO as a form of debt repayment since the country had defaulted on the plethora of Chinese loans for Zambia’s infrastructure projects. Also, Kenya may soon lose its largest and most lucrative port, Port of Mombasa to its creditor (China) after it defaulted in the refund. This could force Kenya to relinquish control of the port to China.

Nigeria is where the Procurement Act is hardly followed: no public information is available on how these infrastructure projects were conceived and what appraisal process they went through, other than Presidential and Federal Executive Council’s approvals. There are no architectural or structural drawings for interested members of the public to view. The loan conditions with China are not transparent. The future of this Country is in grave danger and further loans from China should be discontinued.

You once said that there is an economic justification to allow Nigerians in Diaspora to vote. Can you explain this?

It is critical that Nigerians should be allowed to vote anywhere they may live in the world. Voting is a powerful weapon to ensure that the right leadership is put in place to help develop the Country. In Countries like the USA, there are provisions for American citizens to vote from anywhere during elections. The almost 30 Million Nigerians in the Diaspora contribute a lot to the economy of the nation through financial inflow and they should be allowed a strong voice through the voting process from the Country where they live. Sometimes some of these Nigerians have had to incur huge travel costs and dedicate time commuting to and fro in a bid to exercise their franchise at each electioneering period. This is a shame and must stop. While we understand that the process to enable Nigerians in the Diaspora to vote is an uphill task, it is a serious matter that is practicable and achievable.

That is why we are calling for the adoption of electronic voting.
This will ensure that election results are sent directly from the polling units to the server where wards and INEC headquarters in Abuja can see it. This will also make voting more convenient and accessible to Nigerian citizens. Electronic Voting Mechanism (EVM) will ensure a fraud free election and will also speed up the processing of the results. The vote buying, political thuggery and intimation experience in some states in the last elections did not make a proud nation. EVM will mitigate some of those societal ills and politicians who refuse to serve people can be removed at will without knowing who voted them out. Generally, it will bring credibility to Nigerian Electoral system.