Wednesday, December 1, 2010

One Step Forward,Two Steps Backwards!

Bob Marley, the great raggae musician sang a song,and the refrain of that song,was one step forward,two steps backwards.

That is the refrain playing in my head this morning. The reason for the song is the Federal Government unbanning some items,previously prohibited.

We all know that it is the government's discretionary prerogative to ban,"unban", and "reban" whatever items it deems fit. Be that as it may,we all know that the government does not have a monopoly on commonsense. In fact, with this new action, I am beginning to suspect, that government does not own a house on Commonsense street!

The items that have been approved for import into the country are used cars up to fifteen years of age,textile,embroidered fabrics made up of garments, lace, toothpicks, furniture, and cassava!

The list looks innocuous enough. None of these items can destabilize the state,or can they?

But first,why were they unbanned? They were unbanned because government felt that the country was loosing revenue to neighbouring ports in other countries where these items are coming through,and are subsequently smuggled into Nigeria.

Government's solution,is for purely economic reasons,Uncle Jonathan sees an opportunity to make an extra naira or two!

We have not considered the more difficult,but economically sensible policy of policing our borders better!

No that is hard work,and no Nigerian government wants to be seen dirtying her hands with work. Why work when you have oil?

It is policy somersaults  like this that make our country one of the most unfriendly places to do business in the world.

We complain that we are not attracting enough foreign investments one day, and the next we throw the baby,the bathwater, the bathroom,and the house, away!

Have we considered that our previous policy on this matter,resulted in some people coming to establish manufacturing concerns here?

Last year,and the year before,when governments around the world were intervening in various industries in their economy,Nigeria, wishing to be like like the Joneses,also intervened. We gave eighty billion naira, as subsidy to the textile industry! Is it that the industry has experienced such a phenomenal recovery, and is now producing above three hundred percent installed capacity, and still cannot meet local needs, that we now seek to undermine it with this new policy of unbridled,profligate, and perfidious,liberalization? 

If you must know the truth,our textile industry is still in intensive care, it is still in a coma! This policy is like asking a comatose patient to come and run a hundred meters race with Usain Bolt! 

It is not fair! 

Does this government understand that every time we buy an imported item, we are supporting a job abroad,and destroying one here? Do they get it at all?

It has also unbanned tooth picks,and furniture? Of what strategic importance,are the importation of these items,apart from the desire to please a faceless campaign contributor somewhere? 

Due to the ban in the importation of furniture, many indigenous companies rose up to fill the gap, they have been struggling against the hydra monster every manufacturer fights with in Nigeria, epileptic power supply,multiple taxation, and policy inconsistencies. Now, we should expect many of them to "fall down,and die!

The cassava policy is the one I do not understand at all. As recently as when General Obasanjo was president,Nigeria was the number one exporter of cassava chips in the world! What happened? How did we decline so rapidly? Is it that cassava no longer grows in Nigeria,or people no longer have an interest in the business of growing cassava? Why undermine a comparative advantage, this is just what they mean when they say a person is snatching defeat from the jaws of victory!

And saddest of all,is the policy of importing clunkers into the country. Clunkers,is what old vehicles,particularly the ones that have spent a decade,and have failed all emission tests,and cannot be guaranteed anymore,are called. In some countries like Germany, the government actually pays a subsidy to people to bring in their clunkers to be destroyed,so that they can buy new ones. The policy achieves two things,it stimulates the economy from the purchase of new vehicles,and protects the environment by the removal of environmentally unsound vehicles.

It might interest you to note that Peugeot Automobile Nigeria,PAN,Nigeria's last vehicle manufacturing? assembly? ( Take your pick) plant, about two years ago,announced that it was no longer importing completely knocked down parts to assemble cars in Nigeria. It indicated that it was now going to be importing second hand cars! That must be a first anywhere in the world. Sadly,under the People's Democratic Party,PDP, government,Nigeria has been distinguished by some undignifying distinctions. How can a company meant to assemble,or make cars,now turn around to begin to imports used ones?

I have seen enough of this government,and what I have seen, has very little sense behind it. The reason for the new policy is money,government wants to get the twenty percent import duty currently going to  neighbouring countries!

Money! Money!! Money!!! No more,no less!

No one has considered the long-term overall impact of this new policy on the nation. No one is seeing that we are about to extinguish the last ember flickering in the textile industry.

I will close with a story, a true story. It happened to me. I once met a commissioner for women affairs in Ogun state,in South Western Nigeria. I told her I wanted to help the local women who were involved in the production of batik,and tie and dye fabrics in the state. I told her that cheap Chinese imports were killing their business. What the Chinese were doing was to come to the state, buy one fabric,take it back to China,produce it with industrial machines,and bring them back to Nigeria to flood the market.

You could see that the women could not compete. So I told this commissioner, give me permission to photograph these fabrics for these women,then let us register the designs as the women's patents. I was willing to do this pro bono. The woman declined! She said the Chinese were bringing so much investment into Ogun state,that she did not want to do anything to antagonize them! I was shocked,disappointed,overwhelmed,and all the other words that express consternation!

It all boiled down to money. How much they stood to make from the Chinese. The people were not important,they have never been,and they will never be,unless we rise up , and tell them that government is about us! The first duty of government is the protection of her citizens,and the promotion of their well being. Anything outside this sacred inalienable mandate is null and void,and of no consequence!

When we said Jonathan was not good enough to be president, people thought it was because he was not from our region of the country. That is not true. I look at Nigeria like a first time parent considers an only child, only the best is good for that child,and no less!

Stand Up Nigeria! Stand Up!


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