Step on their necks till they can’t breathe
Claim they five stars but sell you dreams
– Pusha-T (The New God Flow)
I have a small circle of foreigner friends who unfortunately think of me as a trusted source of information about the validity of business opportunities in Nigeria. They imagine, perhaps correctly, that given my obsession with the country, its economics and its politics, I’ll show them what the government’s guided tours won’t. As you can imagine, I do – and it is never a pretty site. At first, it broke my heart to have to choose between loyalty to friends relying on my good judgement and patriotism to a father land with a promising but floundering economy. Now, in these assessments, I just do my best to be fair.
Unlike much of our diaspora, too eager to condemn Nigeria to the status of some Nazareth, I actually take my time to talk to trusted people on the ground about these opportunities. Very often, I even go the extra mile to directly connect my friends with Nigerians on the ground so they can get a more nuanced picture from the horses’ mouth. The reviews are rarely ever good – and this surprises a good number of my friends.
I remember one of them; an Arab prince looking to grab a slice of Nigeria’s artificially lucrative cement market sat me down the other day. “So E, you mean to tell me there is no way we can do this business in Nigeria? We are talking a lot of money. I am sure if we can find a honest person like you to run this business in Nigeria, we won’t have any problem.” Despite several repeated explanations that the cement business in Nigeria was far beyond a matter of principalities and powers, my friend was convinced I must be hiding some holy grail from him. A few stories of importers who had gone to their graves fighting a certain pseudo commander in chief who must not be named quickly convinced him to voluntarily extend his life span by avoiding the Nigerian cement market – despite its attractiveness on paper.
Another one of my friends, a kind hearted older Canadian gentleman with an interest in infrastructure had been charmed by the government’s seeming commitment to the power privatisation project. “This is such a great opportunity for Nigeria” he used to tell me, “and this government looks like it has the political will to see it through. They have a brilliant professor and entrepreneur heading the project.” Having been properly educated via twitter and in private conversations with knowledgeable individuals about Barth (Simpson?); I gently expressed my skepticism to him, sharing the many stories of corrupt excess I had heard. My friend will have none of it. “I believe in Nigeria. You are a young Nigerian. You should too.” For half a second there, I felt like a national traitor. We met up again recently, after the Power sector privatization timeline had been delayed for the umpteenth time. “I guess you were right about Barth. He never struck me as one of the particularly bright ones anyway”. It felt good to be right. Then again, I can’t in good conscience call what I felt vindication. That would be too crude.
It is easy to see where my foreigner friends are missing the plot. If they have been properly exposed to Nigerians (not the 419 breed), they can tell Nigerians are some the most determined, hardworking and honest people on the planet. So you can understand why they really can’t fathom why a people so enterprising and industrious can’t make their country work, filled to the brim with promise as it is. What they don’t understand is that in the unique order of Nigerian politics and democracy, Nigeria belongs to politicians, not Nigerians.
At the end of the day, as much as I like to think of myself as an ambassador of all things Nigerian, I’ld be remiss to conclude anything other than the fact that the politicians are making Nigeria an increasingly difficult product to market. Until we can round up the politicians and commit them to a mental asylum somewhere safe, my guidance on Nigeria will remain “Sell. You’ll be saner for it.”
Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.