Fashola PMB

OP-UNEDITED | Response to Fashola: “Buhari’s Foreign Trips: My Takeaway” – By Timi Olagunju

I read yesterday’s write up by the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola SAN, explaining the inherent value of the President’s trip.

It is quite of great concern that neither the Presidency or the Ministry of Information could clearly articulate answers to questions about the Presidency’s foreign trips as brilliant as Mr. Fashola did — perhaps we need a little reshuffling of the cabinet, so the cap is worn by who it fits. So far, it seems the Ministry of Information has not properly distinguished ‘propaganda’ during election from ‘information’ after elections.

Thank you, Mr. Fashola, for this clarification. However, as stated in the court of law, evidence is the end of arguments, and I would attempt to proceed.

I would like to ask you two key questions to clarify issues; firstly, is the agitation by Nigerians (on the President’s trips) about whether the Presidency travelled for personal or national reasons? You know that PMB is not the first President to travel since 1999 – President Obasanjo had such reputation, and Nigerians never complained — so why now? Secondly, were the Presidency’s travels limited to the Conferences you mentioned? So far, you have explained six of the trips – thank you, Mr, Fashola. But how do you explain 26 trips, in less than 90 days out of less than 320 days in office approximating over 190, 000 km in flight distance and 245 hours in flight time?

Explaining to Nigerians that the trips was for our good begs the real question. The question is: ‘how good is this good?’, because evidence is the end of argument, and so far, it seems Nigerians are banking on promises (we aren’t losing hope now) and poor communication whilst many Nigerians have no electricity for months, the budget is still hanging into the second quarter of the year, and many are queuing at the Petrol station — for some queuing has become a full time job, in the face of massive unemployment.

Mr. Fashola, you mentioned that “the green passport was becoming, if it had not already become a burden”. In your further statement you seem to suggest this is changing in the face of PMB’s administration and trips. But here is the fact. According to Passport Index, reputed for ranking passports according to the number of countries a country has ‘visa free’ access to, Nigeria in 2015 was ranked 57, but has experienced a sharp declined, ranking 77 in 2016, despite the travels in this administration; this meant that in 2015, Nigerians could visit 61 countries but in 2016 can only visit 47 countries ‘visa free’. In contrast, in 2015, Ghana ranked 66 (9 ranks behind Nigeria) in Passport ranking and could visit 52 countries (9 countries below Nigeria) visa free, but in 2016, has stepped up above Nigeria, ranking 65 (12 ranks above Nigeria), with ‘visa free’ access to 61 countries (14 countries above Nigeria).

On investors and investments, Nigeria is 168 out of 190 in the league table of countries with favorable business environment. ‘Strategic’ trips might or might not earn Nigeria respect, but one thing is sure, a favorable business environment has nothing to do with respect. If you doubt, see how many American companies do business in China, despite how they feel ‘strongly’ about China. Investors look for actions, not promises. Investors follow the wisdom of Shakespeare who says ‘what you do speaks so loud, I cannot hear what you say’. So far, between last year and now, Virgin Atlantic, has already recorded a total decline of $11.68 billion (N2.3 trillion) in investment inflow. Honeywell Flour Mills recorded 66.27% decline in full year profit, while Guinness Nigeria suffers a 76% profit decline. Lafarge Africa’s profit dipped amidst slow sales. Pre and post-tax profits dropped in the third quarter of 2015 as the cement company struggled with slow sales and rising costs. Profit before tax declined by 12 per cent from N38.09 billion to N33.67 billion, while profit after tax also dropped by six per cent from N31.47 billion to N29.52 billion. Lafarge Africa attributed the decline to the current challenging operating environment in Nigeria. There are other companies but to save face – I am sure the many Nigerians who have lost their jobs can tell a better tale of woes.

Mr. Fashola, you mentioned that the last administration failed in meeting up with the 15% commitment on the airport and rail project agreement with the Chinese investors. But you have forgotten that during some of the President’s trip, particularly at India-Africa Summit, he stated that “of, course, the country is broke”. I ask, with the kind of statements from the Presidency, won’t investors (who are not father Christmas), think that Nigeria would be struggling to meet up with its basic financial commitments on projects.

On tourism, has there been any increase? Well, I can’t see any — can you? I know the usual argument is that we need time, but even the Chinese say ‘the journey of a billion miles begins with a step’. Nigeria is still not one of the top ten international tourist attractions in Africa and has declined in ranking. You could argue that the current state of insurgency attributes to the decline, but France had Paris attack and South Africa had xenophobic attacks but they still top the rank. The question I have for this administration on tourism are: what efforts are being put to document the tourism potentials of each state and each local government in Nigeria? What efforts is put to attract the kind of tourists that we want, and are we prepared to receive and manage them to increase the benefits and minimize the problems? Tourism strategy is not about Presidential tours and visits, and it must not only be about selling – it is about management, about optimizing the social, economic and environmental benefits that tourism can bring. Mr. Fashola, to state that the Presidency’s 26 tours and many such tours in the future, is a strategy to increase tourism is like saying a child will grow without being born.

On Corruption, do you think the current ‘siren’ approach to fighting corruption has yielded any local benefits? I need not say more. And to say the progress on security is visible — is to exaggerate that ‘boko haram’ is the only security issue facing Nigeria. On any particular occasion, please ask the woman on the street what she sincerely feels about this government’s communication style, and you’ll hear something about the government heaping blame(s) on the past — I am not absolving those political parties and people who managed or mismanaged the past. But to be frank, PDP took over government from the decay of the military, and there was no time that President Obasanjo complained that the years of military interregnum and decay was to blame for any inefficiency in government. Metaphorically speaking, let’s leave this propaganda trash for ‘LAWMA’ and let’s inform the Nigerian people.

Mr. Fashola, our deal with China needs be viewed with care and lesser excitement that the Presidency is currently doing, so we would not jeopardize our relationships for decades with other allies – China is not Nigeria’s biggest trading partner in terms of exports — and by common sense economics, only an increase in exports can guarantee real increase in GDP, not imports. The top export destinations for Nigeria are India ($12.4B), the United States ($10.9B), Brazil ($9.7B), Spain ($7B) and the Netherlands ($5.12B) in the last year. But on the other end, the top import countries are China ($11.6B), the United States ($5.89B), the Netherlands ($3.59B), Belgium-Luxembourg ($3.08B) and India ($2.69B). Interestingly, hope the deal also emphasizes the need for China to increase its demand for Nigeria’s export? We have not heard any of that articulated. Mr. Fashola, wouldn’t this deal hurt Nigeria’s exports with previous allies?

On Solar, what logic – why would we have a policy that encourages more solar in the North and middle belt, and no plans or policies to move towards renewal energy in the South? If countries with lesser levels of sunlight than any Southern parts of Nigeria, could think solar and renewable energy on a national scale, why would Nigeria be thinking solar on a regional basis. Isn’t that lip service on the same issue of climate change you claimed the Presidency is committed to dealing with and attended a conference for?

As for China, the President is not the first, second, or third Nigerian President to visit or meet with Chinese leaders. Celebrating the visit to China the way this government is, is like a farmer counting her chicks before they hatch. How can we celebrate, exaggerate, and prioritize activity, before results?

Well, respect is important to every nation — but I once heard that the role of the leader, like that of the President of a nation (not a head of family) is that she delivers real value (not hardship) that translates into greater benefits for her people; in this case ‘Nigerians’, because ‘salus populi est suprema lex’ (the welfare of the people is the supreme law).

This is my take and I wish PMB and his team well — we need more divergent thinking as Nigerians and Nigeria will be great again!

Timi Olagunju can be contacted on Twitter via @timithelaw or by email [email protected]

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