Is the road show for show?

Osinbajo: Nigerian airports, seaports frustrating

The past week has been a significant one for Nigeria in our national quest to attract investment into the country. The second and third citizens of the country led separate delegations to the United States on different but similar missions – to strengthen relationship between the two countries, interact with investors and showcase the abundant opportunities in Nigeria to the waiting investors. The Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo’s visit is considered a public-private sector collaborative investment roadshow to the United States, whilst the Senate President, Dr.Bukola Saraki’s delegation has been described as a parliamentary visit. To ensure a robust and meaningful trip, the VP’s delegation had members of the recently inaugurated Advisory Group on Technology and Creativity – an integral part of the National Industrial Policy and Competitiveness Advisory Council – and some notable personalities in Nigerian creative industries. Apparently the VP’s delegation was more interested in showcasing Nigeria’s growing creative industries and the increasing youth participation in technology driven innovations in the country.

On the part of the Senate President, the parliamentary visit was designed, among others, to strengthen parliamentary and diplomatic relationship between Nigeria and the United States. However, apart from the parliamentary itinerary, the delegation also partook in a policy forum on “Doing Business and Investing in Nigeria” hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, where the Senate President made a presentation on opportunities in the country. What is however portentous is the non-collaboration between the two top government officials in their visit. It may be difficult to ignore the political undertones in such non-collaboration. Nevertheless, the visits show the commitment of the two arms of government in advancing the economic fortunes of the country. The road show led by the Vice President is also significant because the focus this time was to showcase Nigeria beyond its oil and gas endowment. By visiting Silicon Valley and meeting top Hollywood business drivers, the Vice President subtly endorsed the enormous opportunities in Nigeria’s creative industries, which also symbolises commitment to the economic diversification drive of the government. As rightly stated by the VP, the world is currently experiencing the fourth industrial revolution, largely driven by technology and the knowledge economy. Nigeria lost out in the previous industrial revolutions because of our over-reliance on the oil resource and short-sightedness of our leaders. Many countries that were rated on the same level with Nigeria at independence have forged ahead while Nigeria is still battling to graduate from the class of underdeveloped nations. The countries that sourced support from Nigeria in the 60s have built on the knowledge and resources transferred to them and many of them are now in the league of first world industrialised nations. Nigeria’s potentials are not unbeknownst to the nation’s economic planners and leaders. Yet we have remained in the same underdeveloped status for many years.

Whereas the roadshow and the parliamentary sojourns of the top personalities in government are highly appreciated, the challenge remains how the government intends to take this beyond another delegation on business tourism. The easiest task in attracting investment is to sell the enormous potential in the country to willing investors; the most difficult assignment is creating the business environment that not only attracts these investors but incentivises them to stay in business within the country. Since the VP’s visit seem to have paid considerable focus on the entertainment industry, perhaps it is essential to clarify here that the current structure of Nigeria’s entertainment and creative industries is not attractive for foreign investors. The market is huge and the potentials are enormous but the challenges are overwhelming and the government has been practically absent in alleviating the plight of investors in the industry. Nigerians have survived the harsh realities because it is easy to adapt to a familiar terrain. Not many foreign investors will survive this frustrating environment.

The same challenges are visible in other sectors of the economy. If we must attract investors into Nigeria’s creative industries then the government must show commitment by instituting policies that support the sector. The prospects are massive if only the government will pay attention to the yearnings of stakeholders in the industry. A report by the PwC suggests that Nigeria’s entertainment and media industry will be the fastest growing in the world by 2021. The report reveals that “Nigeria with a 12.1% CAGR (albeit strongly influenced by surging spending on mobile Internet access), will be the world’s fastest-growing E&M market over the coming five years while the slowest-growing will be Japan, growing at a 1.7% CAGR.” Not many nations can boast of such potentials. This sector is clearly a veritable avenue for employment generation if we put in place the right structures. Other nations have done it and proved that this sector is strategic to economic development.

For instance, the creative industries in the United Kingdom accounts for one in every eleven jobs and contributes over £90 to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The film industry in Nigeria has been acclaimed the second largest in the world in terms of quantity of films produced annually yet this has not translated significantly to quality employment generation and contribution to GDP primarily due to the absence of government. The creative industries cannot function optimally without the right infrastructure especially power and broadband. There is a subsisting National Broadband Plan conceived by the previous administration and designed to increase broadband penetration in the country. The former Minister of Communications, Omobola Johnson made considerable progress in actualising the intents of the plan. The vigorous pursuit of the plan led to the establishment of some tech hubs in certain areas in Nigeria. Perhaps, if the plan had been pursued more robustlyadditional innovation and tech hubs would have sprung up in different parts of the country.It is a known fact that broadband infrastructure is an enabler for economic and social growth in the digital economy, which we seek to pursue as a nation. Without these basic infrastructures road show to attract investors in the sector will not amount to anything meaningful.

The generally acknowledged fact is that broadband has the potential of enabling new industries and introducing significant efficiencies into education delivery, health care provision, energy management, ensuring public safety, government/citizen interaction, and the overall organization and dissemination of knowledge, and business operations in an economy. Studies have shown that growth in broadband triggers exponential growth in the Gross Domestic Products (GDP) of a country. Currently, Nigeria’s broadband penetration is about 21% compare to South Africa with nearly 70% penetration. An assiduous implementation of the National Broadband Plan would have resulted in penetration in rural communities in the country thereby creating the infrastructure that will transform not only the ICT industry in the country, but even agriculture and all other sectors.This low broadband penetration explains why our immigration service still relies on roadblocks for border control because many rural communities in Nigeria still do not have access to broadband.

The foregoing shows that road shows are good, and meeting investors is highly commendable but the most important thing is to come back home and dynamically pursue policies that truly support foreign direct investment. Investors will not come into a country where port operations will take two steps forward and five steps backwards. There is hardly any sector of the economy that can survive without efficient port operations. Every sector of the economy depends on efficient port operations and effective transport system. Transforming the creative industries in Nigeria would require the importation of heavy equipment, which will naturally come in through the ports. No investor would want to invest in an economy where there is so much uncertainty in its port operations even with the government drive on the ease of doing business.

It is an illusion to think that Nigeria has the population and fertile ground for business and investors would be falling over themselves to come into the country. Therefore all we need to do is tell them to come. Such thinking will amount to national arrogance on our part. Investors are looking for a destination that provides the most enticing return on investment and many countries that understand this reality are shaping their economies to become the destination of choice. We do not need to go far to see countries that are strategically creating policies to attract investors. Many African countries are in this drive and some companies that have left Nigeria are migrating to these nations. Even Nigerian business owners are also migrating to these nations. The reality is when the conditions are right, investors will come. But when the conditions are abysmal, we can entice them to come but sooner or later they may be forced to leave as we have seen in the case of P & G that has spent less than five years in the country. Road shows and investor forums are good, but more importantly we should fix our economy and make it welcoming to investors. That is the only way to progress and advance our economy.

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