Last December, Nigeria’s currency the Naira slumped to its lowest level in 42 years as it traded at N260/1$. Today, it is over 300 naira to one US dollar and could plunge to as low as N1000/1$. Femi Onukoya, in this eye-opening piece, explains why. Enjoy it.
It is either I do not understand economics and how exchange rates work or a vast majority of us Nigerians still don’t get how we have wrecked our country with our own curious choices. Just this morning I was listening to the radio and the lady on air went on and on about how she thought CBN governor Godwin Emefiele was incompetent and should be sacked because the naira was now exchanging at 309 or so to the USD. That view pretty much echoes the sentiments expressed by many people I know and it amazes me that there are Nigerians who actually think there is some magic POLICY that can make the Naira strong in the near term. If my economics and my understanding of the way the world works are right, then that is as far from the truth as Jesus Christ is black.
The simple fact of the matter is that apart from oil that accounts for over 90% of our revenues, we really don’t have much of an economy. We hardly produce anything, we import even toothpicks, so exactly what policy is going to be implemented that will turn Nigeria into a top exporting economy in the near term? Where are our Apples, IBMs, Disneys, GMs, General Electrics, Coca Colas, Empire State buildings, Statues of Liberties, Lockheeds, Citibanks, JP Morgans, ExxonMobils, NBAs, Super Bowls etc? Let me bring that closer home.
There was a time long ago when Nigeria had a truly strong economy and the naira was one to the dollar – even exchanged for higher than the USD, but that Nigeria is not this Nigeria. Sadly that Nigeria was laid by the British, and this Nigeria (if you don’t believe in the nonsensical imperialist conspiracies like me) – fueled by the DAMAGING Indigenisation Decree, has been the creation of us Nigerians. Back then we had a booming economy.
We were either the top, or among the top exporters, of timbre, cocoa, groundnuts, rubber, palm oil, etc, in the world. Nigerians not only holidayed at home in their villages, at Yankari Games Reserve, at Obudu Cattle Ranch, at Oguta Lake, at Ikogosi springs, at Gurara Falls, at Mambilla Platueau, etc, we attracted international tourists who brought in loads of foreign exchange. Even Nigerian schools were foreign exchange earners because they attracted foreign students. We had different car assembly plants – Peugeot, Volkswagen, Anamco etc. Nigerian government officials only bought vehicles assembled in Nigeria for official cars. We had a thriving sports industry.
We were not Man United or Chelsea fans, we were Rangers or IICC fans. We had the Nduka Odizors, people made money from sports. We also had companies like Lennards and Bata producing school shoes in their thousands, we had the thriving Nigerian Airways and the Aviation School in the north that produced some of the best pilots in the world. In those days if you were brilliant you were respected much more than the crass money-miss-road contractors of today. Most of the Aje Butters I knew had fathers who were university dons. Back then it meant something to ‘know book’. Our textile industry was alive and well.
Just recently I watched a news report on the textile industry in Nigeria on CCTV News. Though the main focus was on the comatose status of the industry, I was stunned by the gigantic Kaduna Textile Mill built in 1957. I could go on and on.
Today however, no thanks to our parents (and we must call them out the way Wole Soyinka did his generation) and many of us (and we should be remembered for failing our children if we continue like this), we have destroyed everything. Today for instance Nigerian football (which comes easy to me obviously) doesn’t appeal to us, we have to fly across thousands of miles to watch ‘our’ clubs play. Every year we collectively burn billions of Naira being fans of clubs that give us nothing back, but some ‘entertainment value’ – simple pleasures for which we are ready to destroy the future of our children. Well people, payback time is here. Even with our ta-she-re money we all want to wear designer clothes and carry designer bags, Armani, Givenchy, Louis Vuitton etc.
We all want to drive jeeps with American specs, our children must now school overseas and acquire the necessary accents to come back home and bamboozle their ‘bush and crass’ contemporaries that they left behind. Who holidays in Nigeria anymore, is there Disneyland here? No one buys made-in-Nigeria school bags for their children, after all no Superman or Incredible Hulk or Cinderella on them.
We are no longer top exporters of anything and the demise of oil means we have zilch… zero. A country of 170m fashion-conscious people has no textile industry. We take delight in showing how our made-in-Switzerland Aso Ebi is different class to everyone else’s. When we help our musicians grow and pay them millions, they repay us by immediately shipping the monies overseas to produce their “i-don-dey-different-level”music videos. It makes no difference that distinctly Zulu dancers are dancing to a Nigerian highlife song. As stars concerned they also wed and holiday overseas to impress us all. All the musicians who acknowledge their Ajegunle roots now speak in a cocktail of strange accents to symbolise how much they have blown their monies overseas.
Were we a more serious people, the highly popular Kingsway Stores of the past would probably have a thousand outlets pan Nigeria today supporting a massive agriculture industry among others, but today we have the likes of SPAR, Shoprite, dominating the retail industry while Kingsway is dead. And we Nigerians make it a special point to shop from the Oyinbos who have ‘cleaner shops’, ‘better this and better that’. For our personal pleasure we don’t mind them dominating us in our own backyard and shipping proceeds overseas.
I could go on and on, but I don tire. Even as you are reading this, stop for a moment and look around you. What you see will probably explain why we are lucky it is not N1000 to the USD yet. And don’t think for a moment that it cannot get there. Just continue to wear your Armani gear and Swiss-made lace, continue to spend your money on Man United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Barca and encourage your children to do same. (My article tomorrow in my Saturday column in This Day is on the Nigerian champions Enyimba FC – Nigeria’s most successful club – not having a sponsor, yet Nigerian brands pay over N600m to Man United and Arsenal for sponsorship to impress us.) Ehhh, no problem, continue to tell me the NPFL is rubbish or the clubs should clean up their act if they want sponsorship, mo gbo . Don’t curtail your interest in choice wines ( we were the number one champagne consumers in the world in 2015), continue to love your American specs, cheer the education ministry for letting schools sink to pitiable levels, don’t fight them to improve our schools, don’t chide them for letting schools drop Nigerian history and embrace British, America and whatever else curricula.
Carry on with your love of French wines and Chinese silk, don’t bother about Jamiu Alli when there is Roger Federer. Stock up on your Italian, American, British products which you cannot live without, including the ‘baby soft’ toilet rolls produced only in that small unique village in England – the days are long gone since you were a broke student who used wet newspapers to wipe your butt. Don’t even consider holidaying in Nigeria, it’s too dangerous – you have to fulfill your dream of being Nigeria’s Henry Ford. Don’t listen to people like me who have a wardrobe full of only cheap adire that is actually cheaper than just one of your Tom Ford blazers. Please keep dressing in fine silk made in some exotic place so you can be addressed accordingly.
Finally keep letting corrupt leaders who have looted your commonwealth and shipped all the monies overseas get away because to attack them does not fit your political narrative. Let us continue with the fine life, let us all continue to work for Oyinbo. But don’t forget that there is payback time and Emefiele is not your problem. Time for us all to look in the mirror and take responsibility.
First published by theheraldng.com.