In this interview with NIKE POPOOLA, the Chief Executive Officer/Registrar, Institute of Credit Administration of Nigeria, Prof. Chris Onalo, speaks on the need for diversification of the economy and improved business ties with the United Kingdom
How is the challenge of forex scarcity affecting businesses in the country?
We have mismanaged our reserves over time, and again it is the fault of the past governments. We depleted our reserves. Nigerians were importing all kinds of things that were not necessary and the government closed its eyes. People make money at the expense of our collective wellbeing. That has depleted our reserves.
So, the reality is that we don’t have enough foreign exchange to cope with what Nigerians want to buy. Countries all over the world must be inward-looking by embracing what can be produced locally. If you don’t wake up with that mind-set, your economy will be floating. It will be at the mercy of other countries, because you are importing other countries goods and services.
What should be done to cushion the effect of forex scarcity on the local economy?
The crash in the forex market will affect internal investment. It can also boost investment coming from offshore. If a British investor, for example, has £20m to invest in Nigeria, he does not need to buy foreign exchange. He brings in the money straight. However, the situation will depress the internal investment capability of Nigerians, because the access to funds is not there. The internal investment capability of indigenous investors is greatly hampered by the weak naira and poor access to foreign exchange that we have.
The government must shut the door to some of the things we useforex to pay for. We should stop crying because we do not have to import what hurts all of us. We have to diversify from import to more of Nigerian products.
Why are some Nigerian investors showing interest in building better relationship with UK investors?
The UK-Nigeria Investment Summit is being planned to hold very soon in London. Originally, the date we contemplated was July, but certain recent politicalevents or developments necessitated a shift in date to sometime in October, depending on confirmation that we are expecting to get from some key people we are inviting from Nigeria.
The UK-Nigeria InvestmentSummit, as some observers have said, looks like the biggest of all the big ones in the past in that it is truly focusing on investment and not trade. This is kudos to the Nigeria-London Business Forum.
How can better collaboration between Nigeria and UK boost investment?
We must find a way to influence the British government to open door widely for British people, investors and business people to engage in business and investment relations with their Nigerian counterparts. That has given rise to desperate efforts by the organisers of the upcoming UK-Nigeria investment event to intensify efforts that the time has come not to withdraw but, to constructively evolve strategies and means that will eventually bring together the Nigerian business people and their counterparts from the UK.
New members of parliament of the Nigeria Trade and Investment Committee have stood up very strongly that they will want to see an end to the not cordial relationship that has existed between Nigeria and the UK over the years.
They are looking to have a new lease of life because back home in Nigeria, there are convincing signals that Nigerians are tired of what has held them down, which is undermining development, and they are looking to come up and make Nigeria tobecome a glorious country that plays its national economic and political issues constructively.
We leveraged on the board of the Nigerian Business Forum to begin to talk quickly with the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry. We now saw the need to collaborate with the Nigerian-London Business Forum to bring this event to reality.
Apparently, the Nigerian Business Forum wrote to the Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, informing him of the massive event coming up and for Nigeria to have the Vice President representing the country in order to tell the British government the new developments, thinking and opportunities that are here, as well as the need to remove hurdles and some of the challenges that have stood against the relationship that the two countries should have.
As we speak, there is a massive contact being made with key investment institutions in the UK as well as agencies of governments that made the UK business investment to come to this conference and look at various issues that have never augured well between the two countries in terms of relationship.
Is it ideal to call Nigerians in the diaspora to come home and invest?
Most of the time, we say that Nigerians in the diaspora should come back home. It is easier to say but I tell you, these are people have lived in different systems for decades and you don’t expect them to come home like that without doing anything.If I were in government, I will not make a call to Nigerians in the diaspora to come home. What is happening in the country will speak to them. It is your work that tells people who you are. The world has become a global place; they have different platforms to hear and read about what is going on in their country Nigeria.
So, if the economy is focused, if the economy and the government are excellent and attractive, and Nigeria is moving and investment is coming in, they will be encouraged. Of course, they know that Nigeria represents a massive and attractive investment destination because of the population.
We have about 180 million people, according to World Bank estimation. You are talking about a massive landscape. What on earth is good that you can’t find in Nigeria? So the government must lay a great structure for Nigeria and build on that structure to a level of visibility, which will attract people to come in.
You can’t just come; for what? Are you calling me to come and do what? Some of us that are here in the country today, what support have we got from the government in the past? And you are risking your own little investment and to your own face you are seeing your investment going down. Nobody cares; and you are telling me Nigerians in the diaspora should come back home.
You don’t have to call them to come back. You govern well and create an environment that attracts them. Even your hosts in the other countries will tell you to go back to Nigeria. They will ask what you are doing outside. It is not about calling them, it is about doing something in your own country that will attract them.
There are many Nigerians are in United Kingdom and they are doing wonderfully well. But for you to tell them to come back home; they really want to come back home but the driving force is not there for them to come back home.
So,the government should concentrate on development issues. What we are saying is that as Nigerians, we should not continue to think that we have to continue the way it has been, because it has never been too good for us.
Now, we have to go forward, and we must give this government a chance to do it. And then, within the next couple of years, we should be able to see a new Nigeria that will attract the new Nigerians coming home wherever they are in the world.
What should be done to address the country’s overdependence on oil revenue?
It is time for Nigeria to behave as if oil does not exist. That will be the good tiding that Nigeria needs; and in doing that, we cannot isolate agriculture. For other sectors to thrive, key driverssuch as good roads and electricity must be put in place. Construction still requires massive investment.
Even though government is trying to do something, the effort is not enough. We need the private sector to come in and because of the nature of capital that is required, there is no how foreign participation will not be envisaged.
Some other sectors such as the solid minerals sector and the hospitality industry are lying fallow. These things require massive foreign investment. Look at retail market, Nigerians are looking to get an organised market where you have avalanche of malls and supermarkets. We need foreign investments and that will foster collaboration. It will also influence the kind of politics that the two nations (Nigeria and UK) play with themselves.
We need to have massive investment of the British in the Nigerian economy and they should see us as part of them and we see them as part of us. That is how partnership thrives; but when two sovereignties are staying far apart, they pass words of abuse that offend because there is no stake between them.