Nigerians: the most foolish people on earth?
By Idang Alibi
Some three or four years ago, one funny organization came out one day to tell the world one funny story that it had carried out a most funny research whose objective was to find out who the happiest people on earth were. And surprise of all surprises, the organization announced that its finding was that Nigerians were the happiest people on earth.
Many Nigerians were stupefied by this conclusion. How can a people who suffer so much; a majority of whom live in penury in the midst of such plenty, be said to be the happiest people on earth, some asked in all honesty. Perhaps because all humans love words that sound like a compliment, some who had serious doubt about the conclusion of that alleged research nevertheless accepted that Nigerians were indeed the happiest people on earth. If we can not be distinguished in concrete achievements in areas like scientific research, invention, administrative wizardry, etc, it is hard warming to hear something positive said about us even if such sounds more or less like a mockery. That is why, I think, some of my countrymen have accepted that tag of being a people who smile in the face of real suffering as if it were a badge of honour.
I am certain that today, if that same organization which carried out that research or some other one is given a research topic to find out which country has the most foolish people on earth, it will find out that Nigerians are. What are my grounds for saying so?
In December last year, the story about my country Nigeria was that about 78 ships laden with various imported goods were waiting in the high seas to off load their contents for Nigeria but the ports were too congested and there was no where for them to berth and discharge the cargo they were carrying. Till today we are hearing about ports congestion. The matter became so worrisome and so embarrassing that the Federal Government a few days ago set up a committee to decongest the ports.
It is not in my character to use strong words or else I would have said that we are a very stupid people. How can a people who earn the bulk of their foreign exchange from one commodity (oil) whose price is so volatile, use the bulk of that money in importing commodities of every description most of which it can conveniently produce here at home? Is that not the mark of a stupid, foolish people?
If you take the pains to investigate the contents of those ships you are likely to find out that they are carrying mostly consumer products. You will not find any ship bringing in essential raw materials, machines and spare-parts for our industries. You will see tooth picks, serviettes, toilet tissues, canned drinks, rice, baked beans, sardines, textile materials and fully sewn dresses. You will see pants, bras and powder. What a people called Nigerians. They do things that amaze the civilized world.
For me the most amazing part of this sad, scandalous story about 78 ships waiting at the high seas because there is no space for them to disgorge their cargoes which are harmful to the growth and development of our domestic industries, is that very few people are showing outrage. Not even government seems sufficiently angry to do really angry thing about this clear scandal.
In other lands some big heads would have rolled by now. Whose responsibility is it to ensure that ships do not have to be made to wait for unreasonably long time to discharge their contents but who shirked that responsibility to the great harm of this woe-begotten country? What has been done to that man or woman or those men or women?
The more important question is: why must we continue to depend on imports for our survival? Has any law been passed forbidding us from producing or manufacturing goods for ourselves, not to talk of for exports to other less endowed people?
Are we a mentally retarded, physically crippled or challenged people who are also blind to the resources that abound in our country? If it were not so, how come we can not use our heads and our hands to harness the free gifts of nature in our environment to clothe, feed and house ourselves? Why must we forever depend on the foundries and granaries of other nations even for some of our basic need like farming implements and foodstuffs?
Surely, if we are not the most foolish people on earth we must be the most indolent, the laziest people in the use of their God-given faculties to improve their circumstances.
Since independence some 49 years ago, we have been talking about import substitution mode of industrialisation. Curiously, in the past few years we are hearing less and less about the need to produce things for ourselves. Our industrialization strategy now seems to be: import, import and import all importables. The unspoken philosophy seems to be that we will somehow become industrialised through osmosis! The more you import what others produce; mysteriously, their abilities and creative ingenuity will rub off on you! Shame on Nigeria.
I feel really, really angry because we portray ourselves as unthinking people. Since we have cultivated taste for foreign made goods, why can we not do importation in a manner that will not at least show us to be so stupid? Why must we use our scarce foreign exchange to pay for goods we can produce and then have to pay for foreign ships to wait at the high seas to deliver goods to us?
Two years ago, we were boasting of foreign reserves of 64 billion dollars. Last week we were told that it is now down to about 50 billion dollars. The Naira which for several years had stabilized at about 120 to the dollar has crashed miserably to over 153 to the dollar. Yet 78 ships are waiting to give us more imported goods.
Given our love for imports and the crash in the world oil market, you need no pessimist to tell you that we have a tough, rough road ahead of us to travel as a nation. Who and where are the people who are paid and well are cared for to think for Nigeria? What are the doing?
Other nations that have oil have the good sense to realize that the black gold is an exhaustible wealth. In Norway, oil money is seen as a bonus and is kept in investments for the future generation. The Arabs are every where in the safe parts of the world investing their oil wealth for a future rainy day. One Arab king has decided to plant millions of date palm trees as an alternative to the black gold which he knows will not last forever as a revenue earner for his country.
But what is Nigeria doing with her oil money? Every month end officials of the Federal Government, the states and the local governments converge on Abuja to share the oil money. After collecting their states' share, some state governors simply move to the black market zone in Wuse Zone 4 to change a large chunk of what they got for the people of their states into dollars and keep for themselves. Local government chairmen go back home, call a few of their officials, find a safe hotel somewhere in their state capitals and share what they got in Abuja. The bulk of our oil money is used to finance frivolous imports.
Nigeria is like a cursed nation. A land that can grow a variety of food crops spends precious foreign exchange importing foodstuffs that it can grow.
Our ministry of agriculture exists to import, allocate and distribute fertilizer. Its officials hold countless meetings to this end. Our ministry of commerce and industry exists to preside over the death of industries. Many textile industries in Kano and Kaduna which employed thousands of Nigerians closed down long before the so-called global economic crisis reached our shores. The commerce ministry watched as cheap textiles imports from Asia killed our own textile industry. Our ministry of finance is there to grant import waivers and to negotiate foreign loans. The ministry of education is not there to orientate our people to love what they can produce by themselves. We have a strange kind of education which teaches us to hate ourselves and to hate the things that are made here.
In other serious countries their defense industries produce jets, arms and ammunitions and contribute substantially to the economy. Our own defense industry corporation in Kaduna produces salt! And then we have to import arms from nations that may become our enemies tomorrow. We are a wonderful people. We truly are. We do things contrary to reason and to common sense. Our mumu is too much.