The reason why Nigeria is at this point is that our relevance as a nation has greatly diminished. What do we sell? Crude oil. And some farm products. Whereas countries are establishing Ministries of the Future, our own dreams are stuck at growing rice, yet it is possible to walk and chew gum at the same time. Rather than focus on such futuristic things… we are fixated on impressing the World Bank by showing that owe can meet up with their ‘Ease of Doing Business’ Index…
A few years ago, I wrote a book with the above title. It was an idea that I needed to document. It was in the time that the world of Economics was buzzing with the problem of income inequality. It still is. Beyond being concerned with how incomes were diverging between the top one per cent (who now own maybe 15-20 per cent of global wealth), and the bottom 20 per cent or even what they call the ‘Bottom Billion’ who face extreme poverty, I was more interested in who was getting the money and why. I am still working on that.
The discourse over capital and income inequality dovetailed into taxation. The world wanted to know how best to deal with the issue. Some suggested that rich people be taxed more. I think that is a weak proposition. Others suggested that in time, the matter of accumulating cash will soon become extinct and archaic. I liked that proposition, especially by Paul Mason, the Chief Economist at the Guardian UK. His idea is that the way things are going, majority of us will never catch up in this race for capital (my words), even if we start taxing the super-rich very heavily; and we are not supposed to be seen as envious of their successes anyway. Plus we must not be seen as killing the entrepreneurship drive of a few who are smarter, stronger or even luckier. And so the best way forward, according to guys like him, was to ensure that governments get very responsible and use taxes so well, such that they create a very great society where people are not really forced to work. He believes that that is where the world is heading to anyway – with the growth of Artificial Intelligence, robots, and super computers, in spite of expanding populations. The idea is that there will be fewer and fewer jobs, so the way we live life must now change.
In countries that work, the governments are working hard to ensure that the basic necessities of life cost next to nothing. Food prices don’t fluctuate anyhow like it does here. I’m pretty sure that one can get potatoes at fairly stable prices all year round, irrespective of the farming season. These countries have also ensured that public transportation is superb, such that someone could get anywhere within the cities that they lived for almost next to nothing. If food, simple clothing and basic shelter is removed from a man’s needs, the rest is easy. So they reckon. And I agree. Their proposition is even more imperative when we consider the fact that jobs are thinning out and will thin out some more as stated earlier.
Look at us in Africa. Countries like Nigeria are thinking of how to industrialise. No one is even thinking of which products we would produce and what the competition is presently doing and is likely to do in that regards. Since we are not an innovative country and the products of our academia hardly make it into the public space (seems like they don’t even innovate at all), our leaders are hoping that we will buy the latest machineries for production from abroad, and commence industrialisation, till those machineries become inefficient and uncompetitive. After which we would buy new ones – of course at massive costs. We are busy pining away presently; living on borrowed time, literally speaking.
Of course the path we have chosen will never work in several lifetimes because it is a path devoid of critical thinking. In the chess game of global commerce and economic development, we are playing as complete novices, against opponents who are masters of the art and the science. This is all I’ve been saying since. It’s a pitiable place for us to be.
And so, as much as I would love to be as enthusiastic that a day is coming soon, when it will not matter at all that Mark Zuckerberg at 33 is sitting on a fortune of $45 billion, while I’m still slaving away, and contributing to the wealth of the young man and other smart guys like him all over the world, the truth is that money is not about to go out of circulation. For as far as the eyes can see, capital is going to continue to matter and those who are smart are getting it. It is Mark, and a vast bunch of smart Americans, who are leading innovation that are making the money now. It is companies that have been established in places like the U.S.A, and which produce stuff that people need all over the world that are getting the money, not only young techies. It is tech companies like Apple, Microsoft and the rest. It is defence companies like Dassault Systems, Boeing, Lockheed, and energy companies around the world that are getting this capital. What scares me, really, is the speed with which they get the capital; the ferociousness, and the volumes they get. They certainly know a lot more than the rest of us. These companies and individuals are tanking on cash like there is no tomorrow. They are totally in a different world from the rest of us
We are a country hoping to ‘industrialise’ when the world has moved on from ‘industries’. Even if we want to look in that direction, we should have timelines. For how long do we want to remain there? Otherwise just as the textile companies in Kaduna, Sharada Kano and Isolo/Ikeja shut down in the 1990s, whatever ‘industries’ we want to bring in at great cost will also shut down in 10 years or less, in this frenetic world of supersonic innovations.
Oh, and lest I forget, it is no longer the preserve of Americans. In the list of the youngest self-made billionaires (in dollars), we now have a handful of Chinese, a Brazillian, a couple of Indians and also Australians. We also now have a few young ladies. What we don’t have are black Africans. When I think of a country like Nigeria, I realise our dreams are too small, and our thinking too slow. Please see below a list I compiled of the 20 youngest dollar billionaires as at 2016. References are provided.
The other day I wrote that our budget as a nation is too low in comparison to even those of other countries in Africa. Since then I’ve been seeing people write to complain that the N9.1 trillion ($25 billion) that Nigeria has budgeted for the year 2018 is too large. Ahah! How will will fund it?, they always ask, even as they curse under their breath at Buhari’s recklessness. Sad thing is that Buhari and his government are also slow thinkers. Imagine that a whole country of 180 million people are depending on this lousy budget for a whole year! South Africa is doing seven times that. That is how you know countries that are thinking forward. Even Angola does twice our budget on a national level. It is a shame, no matter how we consider this. Imagine that the budget of 180 million people is half the net worth of 33 years old Zuckerberg!
One thing about this life is that ultimately your value and net worth will be commensurate with your relevance to the world. two billion people around the world wake up daily to make Zuckerberg rich. How? Many people advertise on Facebook. And they pay. And the adverts will be charged according to the numbers of people who view and use Facebook. Then the internet people have a way of sharing the data that we buy to the most relevant sites around the world. Mark is relevant to the world. So also are those boys who created the ‘hotel’ chain, Airbnb; or the boys that created Uber and Taxify; or those boys in India who created Flipkart. You see, I must confess, I have prayed to God to give me inspiration to create something relevant to the world. Maybe if I was a techie it’ll have come earlier but for now I have to manage until I get that epiphany. I will not rest until then. Not because I need the money, but I always want to contribute to progress. But I’m thankful. For now, our political project ANRP is a great place to start. I sometimes ruminate about how we can use the idea of ANRP as creative disruption, just like some of these boys have done. I’m not even sure what we need the most in Nigeria right now is a groundbreaking technology, more than something to push away our unimaginative, antiquated, retrogressive, cheating and looting leaders and politicians – as well as their collaborators in the public and private sectors, so that we can THINK and EVOLVE. This country MUST move on. Look at us? We are bean-counters in a world on financial steroid!
We are a country hoping to ‘industrialise’ when the world has moved on from ‘industries’. Even if we want to look in that direction, we should have timelines. For how long do we want to remain there? Otherwise just as the textile companies in Kaduna, Sharada Kano and Isolo/Ikeja shut down in the 1990s, whatever ‘industries’ we want to bring in at great cost will also shut down in 10 years or less, in this frenetic world of supersonic innovations. Why did they shut down? It is because we are not innovators. The single biggest flaw in our strategy – and a fatal flaw at that – is that we hope to import the machines that we shall use for our industrialisation, and certainly the spares and maybe the expertise to operate them. We love temporary solutions. Not for us to see what we could possibly produce on our own out of all the components. Not for us to start today – diligently – to produce little things that will become significant in 20 years. We are all in for the quick fix. Everyone wants big money to make a quick dash to their villages and announce that they have arrived. But leadership is what we lack. And the vision that comes with it.
The reason why Nigeria is at this point is that our relevance as a nation has greatly diminished. What do we sell? Crude oil. And some farm products. Whereas countries are establishing Ministries of the Future, our own dreams are stuck at growing rice, yet it is possible to walk and chew gum at the same time. Rather than focus on such futuristic things as I write about here, we are fixated on impressing the World Bank by showing that owe can meet up with their ‘Ease of Doing Business’ Index, which actually measures the ease with which Western companies can come into our country but does not guarantee they will come. What is more? The more we work on such industries and struggle to get these foreign companies in here, the less marketable we are and the more we are unable to deploy what we need the most – our own home-grown knowledge and abilities. It is all about the lack of imagination.
The other day I was looking at the picture of Kim Jung Un, the leader of North Korea, who is always being mocked in the western media. Apart from the fanatically precise armed forces members who marched in front of the chubby guy, the other thing that caught my attention were the buildings in the foreground. Some of them are skyscrapers. From looking at the pictures, one could tell that these are solidly built edifices. Whereas the Western media always mocks North Korea for being such a horrible place to live in, I could see that these are a people who could stand on their own. No matter how much Westerners know about science, engineering and technology, the North Korean people will never invite them to come and put up infrastructure for them. They will do it themselves. And they have. I started to wonder what it was that could allow a North Korea understand technology but which we don’t have. I think we are so far behind, asking us to put up a bungalow without any foreign input materials and knowledge is a tall order. We need to go and start from the very basics, the ABC of science and technology. Take it from me. I started this article in January 2018. By May, as I finalised it, Kim was reaching an unprecedented rapprochement with his Southern counterpart. No longer will the Koreas be used as a theatre of war.
To make matters worse, in countries like Nigeria, in spite of our ignorance of the race for capital, we believe the best we can do is invite foreign capital, which never goes where it will not maximise profits. We are on hands and knees begging for any and every ‘investor’ to come and run roughshod over us. It is double tragedy. Not only are we not getting any of the new waves of capital into our own coffers, we are mortgaging our own future through debts.
Why Did I Write This?
I’m not sure I will ever be able to pour out my mind in full over the issue of the race for capital. It’s a question for the ages. Maybe the accumulators of capital have a plan to leave us all here one day. If they announce that this earth will be destroyed and only people with $1 billion in cash can get into the spaceship going to Mars, what do we do? I know some uber-corrupt looters of impunity who are agents of the Devil himself will step forward from Nigeria. Those are the people ensuring that this country will never get its act right. Whatever the case is, Nigeria has let down itself and let down the Black world. You see, if the rest of the world was speeding at say 150 kilometres per hour (kmph), Nigeria should be speeding at 350 kmph. But here we are, in reverse!
I wrote this because one day I visited Emaar Square, one of the financial centres in Dubai. I was seeing many smart white chaps, all looking really great, trim, well-dressed, well-monied. I imagined what financial transactions they were carrying out then; who were they financing? I didn’t see any black person among them. Not one. All the black people I met in that area during that trip, were security men, or odd jobs people. Even in the Malls, black people had all but disappeared but for the cleaners, occasional shop girl and, of course, the security men. Nigerians were tough to find shopping, which could be a good thing but is also a sign of economic downturn, after all those who were there in their millions from countries that worked were human beings. There is a tradition I have noticed about retirees from Europe who go yearly for vacations and tours in Dubai. These people don’t have to be top government officials. They are just the regular people: taxi drivers, clerks, welders, plumbers. But they live life. Nigerians don’t know how to live life. When Buhari came, his idea was to restrict all that good life to himself and a few around him. He travels at the drop of a hat, and treats himself abroad without even bothering to account to the people whose money he is spending.
So I watched all those smart guys and imagined the money they are making. It’s very much unlike our own financial sector. I believe that the failure to dream affects us all in Nigeria. Then there was another level. The Indians. The Pakistanis. The Filipinos. The Indians are in Dubai in their millions. They own the place. They are providing services to the Emiratis and getting the next level of income with which they are sustaining themselves and building India. No wonder the Indian economy has been the world’s fastest growing for almost three years now. I imagined how many billions of dollars go to these Indian middle level workers on a yearly basis. The Pakistanis come lower in the rung, most of them being taxi drivers, while a great many work in construction, alongside Bangladeshis, Sri Lankans and the rest. It is rare to find a black person as a construction worker here, much less a Nigerian in Nigeria. So in may head I’m thinking, ‘how are we supposed to get some knowledge transfer’ when every wave of development and innovation escapes us. These Pakistanis, Indians, Banglas and so on, have built EVERY skyscraper in Dubai. The British, Americans and Europeans have designed and supervised ALL the buildings and fantastic places we admire, cashed out tens of billions of dollars and vamoosed. Like our people will say, ‘Eeyan Dudu o r’aiye wa’. Yes, I don’t think black people know what trouble they are in. We don’t figure at all in the scheme of events in this world. We celebrate too early, over too little.
To make matters worse, in countries like Nigeria, in spite of our ignorance of the race for capital, we believe the best we can do is invite foreign capital, which never goes where it will not maximise profits. We are on hands and knees begging for any and every ‘investor’ to come and run roughshod over us. It is double tragedy. Not only are we not getting any of the new waves of capital into our own coffers, we are mortgaging our own future through debts. I don’t expect most of those who ‘lead’ us to know about this. Even the ‘enlightened’ ones out of them – like Fashola – are local champions. Have they done business elsewhere but Nigeria before? Do they know how it feels? Do they know how the white man fiercely protects his businesses and keeps the money always within the family? Or do they only believe the hype that is sold to them by visiting ‘investors’ and agents of foreign capital, as represented by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the likes?
Now let me confess, my real impetus for writing this is that I put on my Mac computer early one morning and it showed some static signals on the surface, and then went blank. I tried a couple more times, no luck. So off I went to Computer Plaza at Bur Dubai, to the shop where I bought a similar one years back. You see, I enjoy using Mac as I see it is much more rugged than the other brands. Anyway, I was given the verdict that the Graphic Card was bad, and that is the end of the laptop. A new one costs around $3,000 – over N1 million. Take it or leave it. In this dry season of our struggles, this is not good news for me. But that is how Steve Jobs rigged things at Apple. Just like the people who produce HP printers, there is probably a timeframe after which you have to buy another. They own the innovation. My Mac was so old, they said, that Apple no longer produces its Graphic Card. Phased out! I muttered under my breath, swore for Jobs in heaven or wherever he is, and sauntered away ruing my fate, for not minting capital legitimately like many of the lucky chaps I’ve seen earlier in the day, and being unlucky enough to have come from a country where innovation is an unknown virtue.
The race for capital is still on. And Nigeria, indeed the whole of Black Africa, is NOT in that race. In fact, we are merely at the receiving end. Where this will end, no one knows.
Below is a list of the world’s top ten largest companies by market value. We can see that innovation leads.