Gloomy tones of the day’s newspapers
Good news is not marketable, the old saying goes. To this extent, newspapers thrive primarily on the dismal. So if the news is good, the editor might ignore it because the reader might not be interested. Thus, the situation is such that a quick reading of the daily newspapers may tell you that all is not well in our country.
Take the example of what happened in today’s edition of BusinessDay, May 19, 2022. It was basically an interpretation of the different shades of bad news running through our political system. The “big story”, which is our unique style, was about: Nigeria’s currency problems. These woes, as reported in the headlines, claimed that they, that is, the woes should persist beyond 2022. You begin to wonder why this should be so; especially in light of rising oil prices. Such a thought naturally brings you to what is happening in the Nigerian oil industry.
This is indeed a paradoxical situation in which an oil producer like Nigeria cannot benefit significantly from rising oil prices. It’s kind of a puzzle.
And for those who remember, at one time there was indeed a national airline – Nigeria Airways. But it has since been devoured by a rebellious ruling class
However, clarity dawns on the realization that Nigeria’s status as an oil producer has been seriously compromised. This is due to a number of reasons. The first has to do with the country not being able to meet its quota allocated by OPEC. Such a situation is in turn due to the dystopia that characterizes this oil-producing country. Such an anomaly can be seen in the decaying state of pipelines that have been vandalized by aggrieved groups. So, in a sense, Nigeria is caught between the proverbial rock and the anvil.
When oil prices are low, the country is in trouble; when they are high, the same situation occurs. The mind is also inclined to dig deeper into this question, why is the country so obsessed with foreign currencies anyway. This is largely an indicator of the continuing malaise in the economy. When a social formation is perpetually addicted to currencies, it means that the country’s economy is also perpetually and helplessly locked in the international system.
At a seemingly pedestrian level, this can be seen at airports. Every day when Nigerians arrive from abroad, they arrive loaded with several suitcases – mostly clothes and other soft items. The main reason for this is that our own industries are practically dead. From then on, the unbridled recourse to imports became the norm. That might just be the pretty face of this company. The other side is the contraband dimension.
Yes!, smugglers are at work in an import-dependent economy like ours. Yet much of what has been described so far is just the tip of the iceberg. Indeed, everything from vehicles to other heavy goods and even food must come from outside. Thus, there is persistent pressure on our foreign exchange reserves. This is a stark contrast to other climates that thrive on self-sufficiency when it comes to their respective economies.
A very human dimension of what is said came to me with force a few years ago. Here I was at the picturesque Rockefeller Center Bellagio, Italy. I was in the company of other academics. I could only notice differences in the attitudes of the group. Those in developed countries were not taken by the shopping mania, which was the lot of those in developing countries. Those in the first category could always source whatever they wanted from their respective bases. But for this Nigerian and others like him, it was another opportunity to buy whatever one could. This is because all of our industries have since died.
What this means is that Nigeria and other countries in the same situation are in fact caught in a perpetual situation in which, perhaps the most worrying sign, can be seen in the forex problem. In other words, tackling the exchange problem requires action on the structure of the economy as well as on society itself.
In arguing like this, it suffices to remember that even the ongoing ASUU strike also touches on the foreign exchange issue. As far-fetched as it may sound, just consider the cases where members of the elite have to educate their children abroad.
Even neighboring Ghana benefits from these largesse from Nigeria. Billions of naira are exported from here to educate the elite children. Therefore, it is easy to understand that a serious and thoughtful disconnection is necessary for Nigeria in relation to the rest of the world. This disconnection must necessarily take the form of an overhaul of our whole society in order to build our own internal resilience.
Among other things, this can be done by relying on our own internal assets and variables. Otherwise, our woes will persist regarding currency availability or non-availability.
Also Read: When Will Exchange Rates Converge?
As the mind continues to dwell on that negative aspect of our lives, which was triggered by this front-page news story, another leaps into view. It goes like this, “Airlines raise minimum fares above 50,000 naira as fuel crisis persists.” It is also possible to take another deep breath here. Again, this is an unsightly dimension of Nigerian politics, which, by the way, is totally avoidable.
The relevant question here is why there should be a fuel crisis in an oil producing country like ours. This anomaly is actually a hint that our status as an oil producer may, in realistic terms, be on a mythical platform. If indeed, we are concretely an oil producing country, we will not have to face this type of problem. Because a genuine oil-producing country could have provided added value to its crude oil. In the process, imported aviation fuel costs will have nothing to do with our airlines.
Even then, and speaking of airlines, other gloomy thoughts cannot but engage the mind. Specifically, and to date, Nigeria does not have a National Carrier (NC). And for those who remember, at one time there was indeed a national airline – Nigeria Airways. But it has since been devoured by a rebellious ruling class. The consequence of this is that the reciprocity that should underpin the Bilateral Air Services Agreement (BASA) does not exist.
Concretely, this means that as the various foreign airlines flood our airspace, we are not able to respond in this way, if only because there is no national carrier. With an NC, we could have invoked the provisions of BASA. On the contrary, Nigerians and Nigerians have fallen back on the expediency of rent seeking and kickbacks when it comes to the management of what passes for our aviation industry.
The Virgin Atlantic point man has recounted his sordid experiences when he tried to establish a foothold here. According to him, he was bombarded with all kinds of sneaky requests. Invariably, he had to flee! What this means brings us back to our earlier concern with forex. We have to use our naira to buy plane tickets, which the airlines will mop up in dollars and other foreign currencies. No wonder then that the naira is in perpetual trouble. And so, the list of bad news continues.
For what has been sketched above is by no means unique to BusinessDay. Throughout the world of the press, we observe a similar disposition. The hope is that one day the tenor of the narrative will change. And then our newspapers will begin to dwell on the happy times. But then, if the current trend is something to follow; it will be the day!