CHANGE BEGINS WITH THEM…

61

Anyone with the slightest idea of the magnitude of economic sabotage and perfidy by a cross section of Nigerians and foreigners will marvel that the Nigerian economy still stands. These set of individuals work seamlessly with their cohorts across MDA’s, regimes and seasons to entrench poverty and failure of all Nigerian economic and development plans, programmes and policies while they enrich themselves and cronies obscenely. Unless we put these groups of saboteurs in check Nigeria’s development and long-term survival may just be wishful thinking.

Thoughts of these groups of individuals came to my mind recently as the President of Nigeria Economic Society, World Bank consultant and professor of development economics, Professor Olu Ajakaiye delivered a lecture at the 2017 Bullion Lecture organised by the Centre for Financial Journalism (CFJ) titled: “Financing Nigeria’s Economic Recovery and Growth” in Lagos. The learned Prof decried the hodgepodge approach to development through the years and noted that ‘collective will’ was necessary to make any plan succeed. But therein lies our problem as the saboteurs have a ‘collective will’ to pervert and derail any plan for their own selfish gains.

These economic saboteurs come in different hues and usually disguise as industrialists, businessmen, experts, professionals, bureaucrats and political leaders and they are very united in greed. These are the people I would like to label the ‘economy cabal’. They are powerful, loaded with cash, suave, cunning and mean and they have unfettered access to the ‘who is who’ in government across all levels. If Nigeria must thrive, change must begin with these group of people. Obviously, they will not do it willingly, so the way to go is force them to change or get them shoved into the gallows or exile.

I will use one of my several personal experiences to illustrate this. In February 2015, NAFDAC under Prof. Paul Orrhi, invited tomato paste importers from China to a stakeholders’ meeting. The agenda was to discuss the recent NAFDAC discovery at that time that a survey of about 325 tomato pastes showed that 91.1 percent of the studied tomato pastes were substandard. I attended that meeting, representing a client, Erisco Foods Limited, a Nigerian based tomato paste manufacturer. At the meeting, we were told that the importers were filling up their products with bulking agents and using unapproved colouring agents to make the products red and ‘attractive. We were also informed that the colouring agents were carcinogenous due to the production processes involved in producing tomato paste. They went further to ask for information on the factories of in China that they import from and that importers must henceforth adhere to the strict rules on the production of tomato pastes.

Alarmed, a few of us asked what was going on. We asked whether NAFDAC will not name the offending pastes to the public. We asked if there will not be a mop up of the products and if the importers of the dangerous products will not be arrested and prosecuted. The directors who represented the DG, looking very uncomfortable, responded that they wanted to first engage the importers and that subsequently there could be a mop up as they did not want to create panic among the Nigerian public. They claimed that they had no money for an enlightenment campaign and appealed to the stakeholders to partner NAFDAC on public enlightenment. This is despite them running a syndicated television programme at the time.

Later, we learnt that a discreet mop up exercise in Lagos and Ibadan was promptly halted by Paul Orrhi with a serious reprimand of the officers involved. Attempts by Erisco Foods to ‘partner’ NAFDAC’ was roundly frustrated and met with rebuff and malice from the respective officers down the line. We were informed that the importers had been inundating NAFDAC with complaints that Erisco Foods was trying to de-market them. Rather than the importers taking on Erisco Foods in the public space or the courts, NAFDAC did everything to protect them. After making us go through endless reviews, they still refused to approve the ads. When Erisco Foods went ahead anyway to communicate the information duly released to them by NAFDAC, the then DG, Paul Orrhi personally called their CEO to warn and threaten him to cease. While he had refused to meet with Erisco Foods MD since the stakeholders meeting, Orrhi had been meeting variously with the fake tomato paste cabal. No one requires a fertile imagination to guess what must have transpired.

The fake tomato paste cabal continued with their business unhindered while Erisco Foods was demonised as being greedy. This was NAFDAC’s position before the House of Representatives in 2016 under a new acting DG and under a new presidency. In fact, the Director in charge of supervising NAFDAC at the ministry of health, led the NAFDAC team and declared that NAFDAC never conducted any survey of tomato pastes in 2015 and there was no substandard tomato paste in Nigeria. I almost passed out!

They spun the narrative that Erisco Foods was only interested in dominating the market because it had a massive factory in Nigeria. In a sane country, with the economic problems in Nigeria and the scourge of sub-standard tomato pastes, NAFDAC will have encouraged other importers to join Erisco Foods and begin to produce locally but of course that will not generate the humungous profits of importing and smuggling substandard tomato products and thus there will not be enough to ‘share’.

This state of affairs is replicated in virtually all MDAs. Officials are either hoodwinked by these smooth operating cabals with misinformation or they are compromised with the huge ‘war-chest’ of cash which genuine Nigerian and foreign manufacturers do not have or are unwilling to deploy. This is the reason we get into outrageous agreements where, for instance, we release our ports to one company to ‘manage’ and give Nigeria peanuts in return, that is the reason we sold Air Nigeria to a man whose own airline was tottering in near bankruptcy, the reason we sold Daily Times to a man who neither had the resources nor the expertise to manage and transform the national asset, that is why we sold unbundled PHCN to new owners only to turn around and begin to arrange financing for these new owners while darkness prevails, why we made a policy that made cost of automobiles rise to over twice the price and beyond the reach of the average honest Nigerian, why we keep importing things we should be producing, why budget-padding continues till today, why our economy suffers and jobs are being lost daily, why the naira takes routine beatings, the reason for recurring policy flip-flops and why progress is a mirage.

The cabal never sleeps. Until we become more vigilant, more nationalistic, more progressive and more visionary, the cabal will continue to have Nigeria for a song, while Nigerians will continue reeling in its melancholic dirge. We must have the collective will to make sure that change begins with the economy cabal, lest we die!

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