I have shared many ideas here on available natural resources in the country and how to tap them; exposing opportunities in diverse sectors of the economy especially in agriculture and mining. However, I sometimes get scathing comments from entrepreneurs who have tried those areas and had their fingers burnt. They are quick to point out to me that the government through its policies and agents stall many determined efforts that would have generated new wealth and employment. Vested interests have often instigated myopic policies and dubious implementation that have scared many local investors from trying. Nigeria can still transform from a consumption culture to a production one if the Government can provide the goodwill that would drive the transition. The real change would happen when a particular administration chooses to institute integrity and consistency to enable investors work surefootedly to achieve their set goals. This, to me, constitutes the real end to corruption.
Corruption goes beyond official venality. It encompasses all the inconsideration, vindictiveness, incompetence and all misapplications of power by government or corporations that ruin industry and human welfare. At the nurturing stage of the Nigerian Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, I attended a session where the consensus centred on the need for Nigerians to learn to scrutinise processes rather than figures which are necessary outcomes of faulty procedures.
There is currently a lot of hoopla over mind-boggling amounts alleged to have been frittered off to foreign countries or even subverted locally into incipient luxuries in a third world economy; luxury items that cannot be maintained here. Little attention is paid to the mindset and attitudinal sculpts that make such reality possible and the effect of such behavioural patterns on the collective drive to grow the economy and provide opportunities for the unemployed or underemployed workforce.
Many years ago, a minister (now late) overseeing the defunct Federal Superphosphate Fertilizer Company while investigating the asset stripping and pillage that had occurred in that organisation, wondered aloud at how some heavy plants had been lifted off the factory premises without the collusion of the workers. To me, this is what corruption is really about ? a mindset to subvert, desecrate, dismantle and cripple human and material structures to benefit a single individual or a group without sparing a thought for the future and the collective harm that would be suffered as a consequence. That company stopped production and workers were laid off; not because the raw materials had diminished from our earth crust or that our farmers no longer required the brand of fertilizer produced there, but because some people connived and robbed the enterprise lame for selfish ends.
Unfortunately, when nasty stories break, it is not easy to test their veracity because they sound too horrible to be true; yet they could be true? These stories emanate from highly placed sources which we are supposed to trust and where we may also find it difficult to investigate. Some years back, we heard in the news that finally, the government was exploiting its coal resources and that a large quantity had been exported. That meant that the ?erstwhile? moribund solid minerals industry was moving forward?
After that particular regime left office however, an elder statesman who had worked in that subsector in its heyday informed us that the minister who made that claim had lied. He told us he even confronted the minister as an insider and the politician replied that he did so to have the nation believe that the administration he served was not neglecting the solid minerals subsector. Many years later, I also met a retiree who, on learning of an administration?s interest in developing the nation?s coal resources and engaging major policy implementers for authentication, wholeheartedly invested in the manufacturing of coal briquettes; projecting that just as it is a viable investment area in Europe, China and other civilizations, it should do much more over here. He was soon to realise that the policy statements and media hype promoting the industry were mere sophistry meant to portray the government as one interested in developing the non-oil sector. Soon enough, the mines were shut and there were no raw materials to work with. He had to shut down; and he lost his investments.
Another scenario is that in an apparent move to encourage utilisation of indigenous resources for road construction, quarry owners and prospects were given concessions to import equipment with duty moratorium as incentive. Many jumped in with more optimism than the government?s pronouncement deserved and, before the machinery got to Nigeria, the policy had been reversed.