Recently, in a conversation with a friend, it downed on us that slowly but surely, the Nigerian ruling class is definitely hammering the nails on the coffin of what used to be a proud Nigerian class—The Small Business Owners or Retailers. Once upon a time, the bulk of Nigerian “middle class” was essentially comprised of people/families engaged in the business of buying and selling–from small scale retailer, to some sort of pseudo wholesaler. The economies of cities such as Kano, Kaduna, Lagos, etc., were heavily propelled and kept alive by the activities of Mom and Pop businesses, where services as little as hawking food on the streets, local eatery/bakery, roadside vulcanizing were legitimate, albeit, marginally sufficient income earning businesses. It used to be that you could find that street-corner Carpenter to build your furniture from scratch.
But alas, we are beginning to see the death of this hope!
Let us forget for the moment, the widely known perversion of the oil sector. That is, the decimation of the refineries in preference for the importation of refined petrol–an objective nurtured and sustained by our very own abominable “leisure class”, to borrow from Thorstein Veblen. Let’s not even talk about the absurdity called “privatization”, where we have seen all sorts of permutations of “investors” consisting of our very own embezzling compradors, and all manners of shady characters from foreign lands. No, let’s look at more banal, mundane economic life. If you canvass cities such as Kaduna, Kano, etc., you will find out that, with respect to the business of bakery alone, local bakers have lost out to the Chinese. The reign of Idris Moro in Kaduna has come to an end. In places such as Kano, certain markets that used to be populated by “Kanawa” (e.g. Kanti Kwari) have been taken over by the Chinese as well, who now sell to us, things that they were never known to consume or produce until recently (e.g. printed fabric such as, batik, “atamfa”). Our fishermen are also fast losing out to the Chinese, as even the tilapia that we eat now come from China. The cabinet makers who used to produce locally made furniture from our local trees (e.g. mahogany) have been usurped by the Chinese, who now sell us substandard products, imported from China. Even our cobblers/shoemakers have lost out to the Chinese. The same Chinese people that were never known to be the first name in shoemaking; not even in the business of leather goods. All these while our callous elite class ‘grin’ all the way to the bank.
Our compradors, from national “leadership” to lowly pen-pushers have sold us out and they continue to do so, without batting an eyelid. They now serve as “fronts” or “facilitators” to both large and small foreign investors such as Shoprite, Walmart, or what have you, who somehow manage to secure visa and enter Nigeria to conduct business at the drop of a hat. In fact, in the case of entities such as Shoprite, they simply annihilate/obliterate our small scale retailers and not to the chagrin of our “leaders”. Unfortunately, our somewhat educated but unenlightened city dwellers have been sold the idea that mega stores, such as Shoprite, Walmart are indicators of progress.
The poor Nigerian retailer has been so beaten down that he/she has had to engage in his/her own little paradigm shift—if you cannot beat them; cannot join them, then crawl over there and take some crumbs off their table. Now we have our retailers “sub-wholesaling” from the Chinese or from those serving as fronts for the Chinese. Look around, you will find that whatever is left of your local shop is full of Chinese substandard goods; notice the goods being hawked by those kids who put their lives on the line at various traffic intersections and you will find that they are all made in China or India. In fact, it wouldn’t be far-fetched to say that pretty soon, the old lady frying ‘Kosai/akara’ by the roadside, as well as the old ‘Buka’ owner, aka “Mama Put” will soon be overtaken by Chinese, who will set up a Kiosk with Chinese-made gas stove and shoddy plastic benches to impress poor Nigerians, who will be oblivious to the fact that their mothers/grandmothers have just been trampeled! If you are in doubt, observe the sudden proliferation of Chinese eateries in the country.
Already, the business of bore hole drilling has been taken over by those teaming Indians, who now enter Nigeria in droves. This, in spite of the fact that one will be hard pressed to find Nigerians doing business in India with the assistance of Indian governments at any level. One has to wonder how it is possible for Indians in faraway India to be able to figure out that there is money to be made, by going to Nigeria to dig holes all over the place in search of water, while throngs of Nigerian college graduates are roaming the streets unemployed. Nigeria’s “patriotic” leadership never thought it fit to divert the opportunity granted these Indians to helping Nigerians for the sake of Nigeria. An example here might be, granting loans to the unemployed graduates who are willing to take on bore hole drilling business. After all, the Indians trooping into Nigeria might have taken loans from their own governments or family members, with the guaranteed hope of repatriating handsome remuneration right before the eyes of Nigeria’s heartless elite.
Even Ethiopian Airlines has edged out whatever Nigeria/Nigerians can boast of in the airline industry, thanks to the grand gamin from Otta, Obasanjo, who supervised the
shredding auctioning of our erstwhile Nigerian Airways. Not to be left behind, the Nigerian Police is already being “rented” out to serve the Chinese; even protect Chinese laborers. I suppose this is what happens when reprobates are at the helms of affairs.
While Nigerians may have been sold a dummy—that mega stores are good things, let us remember that, even in mega wealthy America, with its diversified economy, local communities often shiver, and rise up against intrusion from large corporations such as Walmart, due to the ‘Pac-man’-like mentality of these mega corporations. It has never been lost on their small business owners that mega stores mean the death of their own future or the future of their community as they know it. In fact, even American large corporations enjoy government protection against foreign competition!
Love him or hate him, one of the things General Buhari did as chairman of PTF was to enforce a policy that PTF contractors MUST patronize Nigerian businesses and manufacturers. Call it import-substitution, with a little dose of mercantilism. However, since that agency was sent to the “defunct pile”, none of the subsequent governments since 1999 has thought it necessary to continue such sensible policy. One wonders why our “economic policy experts” never bother to fashion a development strategy based on one of the two prominent competing choices available to developing countries. That is, import-substitution or export-led growth. For, as we have been witnessing, “consumption” whether conspicuous or not, is a dead end for Nigeria. Remember the countries formerly known as (NICs) Newly Industrializing Countries (e.g. Singapore, Korea, Taiwan, Malaysia, Brazil)? They are light years ahead of Nigeria now, thanks to good governance and commitment to sound economic policies. Not the policy of “its own turn to chop”. Instead of fashioning sensible economic policy, we are being led down the path of stupendous borrowing (in billions, trillions, centillions of Naira). All these, in the midst of plenty–Nigeria’s oil revenue has never been quite as high as it has been in recent years.
We recently read that the Carpet Crosser of Bauchi, Governor Isa Yuguda has committed the lives of the people of Bauchi state, for 25 years, into the hands of some Chinese investors, to the tune of $201 million dollars (320 billion Naira), in order to provide the state with 140 mega watts of electricity. Since no plebiscite was ever approved by the poor people of Bauchi state, who, by the way, are still reeling from the devastating menace of Boko Haram, one wonders why this moral hypocrite of the Northern Governors Forum, did not invite his mother-in-law, Turai ‘Yar Adua, the one time cabal comandante and a master pilferer in her own right, to step forward and join in this “sensible” venture. After all, coughing up some ill-gotten wealth may expiate some sins.
All these events, coupled with the seemingly endless insecurity; unabated vertical and horizontal corruption; and unbearable hardships make one wonders if Nigeria is not fast becoming a form of dystopia, managed by anti-human compradors. Unfortunately, such is the Cul de Sac that we have found ourselves. We can only hope that the country’s rulership will one day ‘find religion’, and realize the value of good governance.