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OPINION

Air Peace, Capitalism And National Interest

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By Dakuku Peterside*

Nigerian corporate influence and that of the West continue to collide. The rationale is straightforward: whereas corporate activity in Europe and America is part of their larger local and foreign policy engagement, privately owned enterprises in Nigeria or commercial interests are not part of Nigeria’s foreign policy ecosystem, neither is there a strong culture of government support for privately owned enterprises’ expansion locally and internationally. Nigerian firms’ competitiveness on a global scale can only be enhanced by the support of the Nigerian government.  The relationship between Nigerian businesses and foreign policy is crucial for the national interest. When backing domestic Nigerian companies to compete on a worldwide scale, the government should see it as a lever to drive foreign policy, and national strategic interest, promote trade, enhance national security considerations, and minimize distortion in the domestic market as the foreign airlines were doing, boost GDP, create employment opportunities, and optimize corporate returns for the firms. For example, the South Korean mega conglomerates within the chaebol corporate structure, such as Samsung, Daewoo, SK Group, LG, and others, have become globally recognizable brands thanks to the backing of the South Korean government. For Chaebol to succeed, strong collaboration with the government has been essential. Also, in telecommunications, Huawei would only be such a well-known brand worldwide with the backing of the Chinese government. The opposite is the case with Nigeria.

 

Admitted nations do not always interfere directly in their companies’ business and commercial dealings, and there are always exceptions. I can cite two areas of exception: military sales by companies because of their strategic implications and are, therefore, part of foreign and diplomatic policy and processes. The second is where the products or routes of a company have implications for foreign policy. Air Peace falls into the second category in the Lagos – London route.

 

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Two events demonstrate an emerging trend that, if not checked, will disincentivize Nigerian firms from competing in the global marketplace. There are other notable examples, but I am using these two examples because they are very recent and ongoing, and they are typological representations of the need for Nigerian government backing and support for local companies that are playing in a very competitive international market dominated by big foreign companies whose governments are using all forms of foreign policies and diplomacy to support and sustain.

 

The first is Airpeace. It is the only Nigerian-owned aviation company playing globally and checkmating the dominance of foreign airlines. The most recent advance is the commencement of flights on the Lagos – London route. In Nigeria, foreign airlines are well-established and accustomed to a lack of rivalry, yet a free-market economy depends on the existence of competition. Nigeria has significantly larger airline profits per passenger than other comparable African nations. Insufficient competition has resulted in high ticket costs and poor service quality. It is precisely this jinx that Airpeace is attempting to break. On March 30, 2024, Air Peace reciprocated the lopsided Bilateral Air Service Agreement (BASA) between Nigeria and the United Kingdom when the local airline began direct flight operations from Lagos to Gatwick Airport in London. This elicited several reactions from foreign airlines backed by their various sovereigns because of their strategic interest. A critical response is the commencement of a price war. Before the Airpeace entry, the price of international flight tickets on the Lagos-London route had soared to as much as N3.5 million for the economy ticket. However, after Airpeace introduced a return economy class ticket priced at N1.2 million, foreign carriers like British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, and Qatar Airways reduced their fares significantly to remain competitive.

 

In a price war, there is little the government can do. In an open-market competitive situation such as this, our government must not act in a manner that suggests it is antagonistic to foreign players and competitors. There must be an appearance of a level playing field. However, the government owes Airpeace protection against foreign competitors backed by their home governments. This is in the overall interest of the Nigerian consumer of goods and services. Competition history in the airspace works where the Consumer Protection Authority in the host country is active. This is almost absent in Nigeria and it is a reason why foreign airlines have been arbitrary in pricing their tickets. Nigerian consumers are often at the mercy of these foreign firms who lack any vista of patriotism and are more inclined to protect the national interest of their governments and countries.

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It would not be too much to expect Nigerian companies playing globally to benefit from the protection of the Nigerian government to limit influence peddling by foreign-owned companies. The success of Airpeace should enable a more competitive and sustainable market, allowing domestic players to grow their network and propel Nigeria to the forefront of international aviation.

 

The second is Proforce, a Nigerian-owned military hardware manufacturing firm active in Rwanda, Chad, Mali, Ghana, Niger, Burkina Faso, and South Sudan. Despite the growing capacity of Proforce in military hardware manufacturing, Nigeria entered two lopsided arrangements with two UAE firms to supply military equipment worth billions of dollars, respectively. Both deals are backed by the UAE government but executed by UAE firms. These deals on a more extensive web are not unconnected with the UAE’s national strategic interest. In pursuit of its strategic national interest, India is pushing Indian firms to supply military equipment to Nigeria. The Nigerian defence equipment market has seen weaker indigenous competitors driven out due to the combination of local manufacturers’ lack of competitive capacity and government patronage of Asian, European, and US firms in the defence equipment manufacturing sector. This is a misnomer and needs to be corrected. Not only should our government be the primary customer of this firm if its products meet international standards, but it should also support and protect it from the harsh competitive realities of a challenging but strategic market directly linked to our national military procurement ecosystem. The ability to produce military hardware locally is significant to our defence strategy. This firm and similar companies playing in this strategic defence area must be considered strategic and have a considerable place in Nigeria’s foreign policy calculations. Protecting Nigeria’s interests is the primary reason for our engagement in global diplomacy. The government must deliberately balance national interest with capacity and competence in military hardware purchases. It will not be too much to ask these foreign firms to partner with local companies so we can embed the technology transfer advantages.

 

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Increasingly, other companies, especially in the banking and fintech sectors, are making giant strides in global competitiveness. Our government must create an environment that enables our local companies to compete globally and ply their trades in various countries. It should be part of the government’s overall economic, strategic growth agenda to identify areas or sectors in which Nigerian companies have a competitive advantage, especially in the sub-region and across Africa and support the companies in these sectors to advance and grow to dominate in the African region to compete globally. Government support in the form of incentives such as competitive grants, tax credits for consumers, low-interest capital, patronage, G2G business, operational support, and diplomatic lobbying, amongst others, will alter the competitive landscape. Governments and key government agencies in the West retain the services of lobbying firms in pursuit of their strategic interest.

 

Nigerian firms’ competitiveness on a global scale can only be enhanced by the support of the Nigerian government. Foreign policy interests should be a key driver of Nigerian trade agreements. How does the Nigerian government support private companies to grow and compete globally? Is it intentionally mapping out growth areas and creating opportunities for Nigerian firms to maximize their potential? Is the government at the domestic level removing bottlenecks and impediments to private company growth, allowing a level playing field for these companies to compete with international companies? Why is the government patronising foreign firms against local firms if their products are of similar value? What was the rationale for flight tickets from Lagos to London costing N3.5M for the economy class just a few weeks ago only to come down to N1.3M with the entrance of Airpeace to the market? Why are Nigerian consumers left to the hands of international companies in some sectors without the government actively supporting the growth of local firms to compete in those sectors? These questions merit honest answers. Nigerian national interest must be the driving factor for our foreign policies, which must cover the private sector, just as is the case with most developed countries. The new global capitalism is not a product of accident or chance; the government has choreographed and shaped it by using foreign policies to support and protect local firms competing globally. Nigeria must learn to do the same to build a strong economy with more jobs.

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OPINION

The Scourge Of Rising Inflation

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By Dakuku Peterside*
An increasing number of Nigerians are being driven into poverty, not by choice, but by the current political and economic climate, shaped by stringent macroeconomic policies. These policies, such as subsidy removal, devaluation of Naira, and increase in electricity tariff, have had unintended consequences. For instance, removing subsidies has led to a significant increase in the cost of living, while the devaluation of Naira has made imported goods more expensive. These factors, combined with the high level of insecurity, have affected food security in Nigeria and created a perfect storm of economic hardship. The signs of this unavoidable reality are readily apparent. The interventions to prevent this descent into poverty are either ineffectual or remedy the condition too slowly.
An unprecedented rise in inflation has destroyed households’ disposable incomes and pushed many families into poverty. Spiralling inflation is having a devastating impact on all, but especially on households in the lower rungs of the working class, who in their millions are joining the already over 133 million multidimensionally poor Nigerians struggling to earn a living because high inflation has eroded the value of their income. As shown by the NBS Consumer Price Index of April 2024, published in May 2024, the headline inflation rate rose to 33.69% in April 2024 compared to March. The headline inflation rate was 11.47% higher in April 2024 compared to the previous year. During the same period, inflation in urban areas was higher than in rural areas. Even worse, the food inflation rate in April 2024 was 40.53%, increasing by 15.92% compared to April 2023. What does this mean for the ordinary citizen? More money can purchase fewer goods and services.
We cannot dismiss the direct correlation between rising inflation and rising poverty in Nigeria. A household with a monthly income of N300,000 in April 2023 would have lost 33.69% of its real purchasing power if it earned the same amount in April 2024. This means that the same amount of money can now buy significantly fewer goods and services, putting a strain on the household’s budget. Imagine this household struggled in 2023 to make ends meet; how will it cope with less than 33% of its value in goods and services this year? It is little wonder many Nigerians are in despair and are calling on the government to tweak its policies and salvage the situation before it is too late. Families in the earning bracket mentioned above are even better than many whose total income is less than N100,000 if both parents in the household earn minimum wages per month.
The government intervention so far, with the best of intentions, has yielded little result as inflation continues unabated. The monetary policies of increasing base interest rates to above 22%, improving the cash reserve ratio by banks to above 40%, and constantly engaging in the money market to mop up excess liquidity have yielded less than the expected result in curbing inflation. More is needed, and my little knowledge of street economics shows me that the Nigerian economy often defies some fundamental economic concepts that work in developed countries because of our economy’s informal and unregulated nature. The Nigerian government must creatively use other bespoke and practical fiscal and monetary measures to tame our raging inflation.
Paradoxically, there is compelling evidence that inflation continues to rise because of critical government policies. Instead of providing more concerted anti-inflationary measures, the government has added more inflationary steps to the economy. The government cannot confront inflation while imposing limitless taxes, tariffs, and charges on the things that people spend money on daily. The impact of excess tax is on everybody, but the burden is more on people experiencing poverty whose purchasing power has been eroded by inflation. The government cannot tax itself out of our economic predicament. Increasing personal income tax is one way the government reduces disposable income to curb demand-pull inflation, but the inflation in Nigeria is not because of an increase in household income, but caused by cost-induced factors. So tax on people whose income has not increased in the past year is a recipe for hardship.
Other factors also imperil government efforts to curb inflation. Imported inflation has been the bane of Nigeria, given the number of raw materials and goods imported into Nigeria from countries with high inflation rates. This is not helped by the new exchange rate regime that has seen the Naira fall to its lowest value in a generation. The government has been trying to control the erosion of the value of Naira to no avail. The increasing cost of energy has pushed some businesses to pack up. These factors have exacerbated the rise of inflation, and unless the government starts tackling them, it cannot effectively win its fight against runaway inflation.
The consequences of inaction are severe and far-reaching. The system requires a set of anti-inflationary measures to relieve the people and companies so that livelihoods can improve, and real incomes recover from shock to encourage people to live and save. Savings and prosperity will fire up investment, production, supply, and consequent demand. If inflation worsens, the economy will, at best, go into stasis, further regression, and possibly depression. More manufacturers will quit, and unemployment will worsen with even more crime and insecurity. The picture I painted above is not far from us.
Recent statistics about the hunger level in Nigeria occasioned by food inflation are alarming. There is a deteriorating food security and nutrition crisis in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe (BAY) states this lean season between May and September 2024. According to the Government-led Cadre Harmonise analysis released in March this year, in Borno, Adamawa, and Yobe states, some 4.8 million people are estimated to be facing severe food insecurity, the highest level in seven years. Children, pregnant and lactating women, older persons, and people living with disabilities are among those who are most vulnerable. About 2.8 million of these people need urgent interventions.
The prices of staple foods like beans and maize have increased by 300 to 400 per cent over the past year because of a cocktail of reasons. Inflation is outpacing the ability of families to cope, making essential food items unaffordable. Furthermore, the report stated that “malnutrition rates are of great concern. Approximately 700,000 children under five are projected to be acutely malnourished over the next six months, including 230,000 who are expected to be severely acutely malnourished and at risk of death if they do not receive timely treatment and nutrition support.”  The Acting Representative of UNICEF Nigeria argues that “this year alone, we have seen around 120,000 admissions for the treatment of severe acute malnutrition with complications, far exceeding our estimated target of 90,000”.  These statistics are for only 3 states in Northeast Nigeria. Imagine what it will be like for the whole 36 States in Nigeria. There is real fire on the mountain!
This rising hunger is not peculiar to the Northeast. From my knowledge of street economics, hunger and poverty is pervasive across all six geopolitics zones. Increasing poverty is directly linked with more severe economic outcomes. Increasing poverty can result in a more divided society, Issues with housing, homelessness, limited access to healthcare, nutrition poverty and poor living conditions that have a detrimental effect on one’s health. Children living in poverty have less access to education, which will reduce their chances in the future. More families facing poverty will experience conflicts, stress, and domestic violence. Poverty can set off a vicious cycle in which the effects of it act as catalysts for additional episodes of poverty. Increasing inflation and poverty are bad omens that blow us no good. They are bad for our economy. They are bad for our people. The government must pay attention to these factors and be more sensitive in our economic policy choices.
Only some anti-inflationary measures that comprehensively capture the macroeconomic dimensions and provide solutions may work. Poverty alleviation measures are barely temporary and, at best, work in the short run to cushion the effect of heightened inflation and food insecurity. The government should provide solid medium- to long-term solutions to tackle these problems. They should re-evaluate some of their policies to see whether they are inflationary and jettison them to allow good policies to thrive. We can only imagine the unintended consequences of allowing poverty and inflation to fester. The increasing inflation and poverty are creating desperation among a portion of society, which is increasingly becoming despondent and seeing itself at the fringes of society. The implications of this are plausible. Many ordinary citizens are burdened by poverty, hunger, and severe inflation, which have made their lives miserable. The government must take action to alleviate this scourge and help Nigerians lead meaningful lives.

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OPINION

New Approach To Combatting Terrorism In Nigeria: Truth Alliance And The Path Forward

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Terrorists

By Ahmed Mustapha*

Three weeks ago, a high-level UN counter-terrorism summit in Abuja concluded that a new approach to fighting terrorism was needed across Africa.

As the head of one of Nigeria’s largest NGOs dealing with this problem, I strongly agree and hope that the conclusions of this meeting will herald new and exciting approaches to reducing the risk of more violence and its terrifying consequences for the people of this country and the Continent of Africa.

The summit gathered one month after the brutal kidnapping of over 100 students from Kuriga, Kaduna State.  Even more recent kidnappings show how the terrifying reality of violent extremism remains in Nigeria. Both provide a stark reminder of the ruthless tactics of terrorist or violent extremist groups who target innocent civilians, using suicide bombers in markets, places of worship, and crowded venues, further exacerbating the region’s humanitarian crisis – all to further their cause.

As the summit discussed, the terror unleashed by Boko Haram, Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), and their likes has led to widespread displacement, with millions forced into refugee and internally displaced persons (IDP) camps under dire conditions. The social fabric of entire communities has been torn apart, with trust eroded and countless families mourning the loss of loved ones.

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But there is hope.  Our pioneering work to reduce the risk of violence and rehabilitate those who leave these groups and the tireless works of other groups like us give points to a new way forward.

Our work in affected communities is heralding great results and pointing to a new wave of defections and surrenders from Boko Haram for those fed up with the hypocrisy of its leadership, the brutality of its actions and the cruel manipulation of those whose job it is to recruit people into their ranks.

That is why a group of stakeholders, CSOs and concerned citizens formed the ‘The Truth Alliance’ – a network committed to unmasking the truth behind violent and extremist groups and empowering communities to resist tyranny and violence. Through education, outreach, and collaboration, the Truth Alliance strives to build a safer, more resilient society for all.

In a campaign tagged ‘Time to Tell the Truth’, the Truth Alliance has come together to expose the truth behind how violent extremist groups draw young people into their ranks. Their message is simple: these groups manipulate, they deceive, they control, they kill, and they destroy the hopes and dreams of people, their families and the communities in which they live.

In a new report, the Alliance has highlighted what we call “the significant revelations about the internal conflicts and growing disenchantment within Boko Haram.” We believe the group’s cohesion and operational effectiveness are weakening, illuminating the underlying vulnerabilities within its ranks.

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The personal testimonies from young insurgents who defected in April provide a disturbing glimpse into the group’s operations and the brutal reality that reveals the truth behind their recruitment practices, which contradict the group’s recruitment propaganda.  This manipulative recruitment strategy targets the most vulnerable, often deceiving them with twisted interpretations of religious texts.

The report also describes how Boko Haram, infamous for its brutal campaign of violence, has long engaged in atrocities, including mass kidnappings, indiscriminate killings, and the exploitation of children as soldiers. However, the growing number of surrenders and defections from Boko Haram indicates a loss of control and diminishing morale among its members.

If we act fast, these internal fractures are critical vulnerabilities that could provide opportunities for regional security forces to capitalise on. This could potentially accelerate the group’s decline and herald exactly what the summit asked for—a new scale of effort to tackle this enduring and terrifying problem facing the people of Nigeria.

*Mustapha is the spokesperson for The Truth Alliance and can be reached via info@truthalliance.org.ng

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OPINION

Manchester City Beat West Ham  To Become First Team To Win English League Title Four Seasons In A Row

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With Manchester City needing a win to be sure of holding off Arsenal, who started the final day two points behind but with a better goal difference, Phil Foden put Pep Guardiola’s side ahead after just two minutes.

The England star added another before the break and although Mohammed Kudus pulled one back, midfielder Rodri restored the home side’s two-goal cushion with a shot from the edge of the area after 59 minutes.

City survived a late scare when West Ham had a second goal ruled out by VAR for handball.

However, their victory was never seriously in doubt

The win completed a staggering run of 19 wins and four draws since their last defeat in the league, at Aston Villa on 6 December.

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City have now won six out of the past seven Premier League titles. Last term, they joined Huddersfield, Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United, twice, in winning the top flight three years in a row.

Now Guardiola’s team have achieved something no other side has managed since the English league was formed in 1888, 136 years ago.

On 25 May they will aim to become the first side to complete the domestic Double in successive seasons when they face Manchesterter United in the FA Cup final at Wembley.

Foden has already collected the Football Writers’ Association and Premier League Player of the Year awards. Few would argue against a clean sweep when the Professional Footballers’ Association eventually confirms theirs.

At 23, Foden now has six titles to his name. He is still a long way behind Ryan Giggs, who holds the record with 13.

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However, it is worth noting Giggs did not achieve his sixth until he was 26 and while the Welshman was 39 when he got his last, given City’s current dominance, Foden is likely to keep chipping away at that total in the short term.

Guardiola feels there is further improvement in the England international, but he has already developed his all-round game, makes better runs with and without the ball, and his close control is sublime.

James Ward-Prowse must have felt he was chasing shadows as he closed in to make a tackle when Bernardo Silva provided Foden with a square pass. But with one touch, Foden ghosted away from the West Ham man before delivering the perfect finish.

There was no real evidence of nerves in the crowd before kick-off. City had not lost at home all season and they had a 100% winning record against West Ham on home soil since Guardiola arrived in 2016 .

The visitors had nothing to play for, manager David Moyes is leaving and top-scorer Jarrod Bowen was ruled out with tonsillitis.

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But any home anxiety that did exist was rapidly swept away.

Foden’s second – his 26th goal of the season – wasn’t long in arriving as Jeremy Doku delivered a slide-rule, square pass through a crowd of bodies to the edge of the six-yard area. Foden was calmness personified in a frantic situation and found the net with a first-time finish.

Only a bit of bad luck and West Ham keeper Alphonse Areola prevented West Ham being completely swept away in the first half hour.

The France keeper turned away De Bruyne’s vicious free-kick, repelled Doku twice and also denied Manuel Akanji. Rodri, Erling Haaland, acrobatically, and Josko Gvardiol all missed the target from reasonably close range.

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