So we just came out of an election circle and there are winners and then there are mega winners. I see only the winners, however Nigeria as a Nation should use this momentum to push for a transformation of its structure to a more flexible one that accommodates all Nigerians, I believe that is the right thing to do at this time. Having said that, I believe that a very big winner in the entire election experience are the people of the old eastern region of Nigeria made of the Igbo Nation and the ethnic minorities of the South South States including these nationalities but not limited to the Edo, Itsekiri, Urhobo, Ogoni, Ijaw, Ibibio, Efik, Ikwerre etc. I say they won because they have demonstrated in three consistent election circles that they vote together as a block. And when they win they win together and when they lose they lose together, in other words these peoples are telling us that they sink and swim together. That is powerful and I think the leadership of Nigeria, political, business as well as the intellectual leadership, should take a closer look at this part of the country again. There may be some benefits of this emerging pattern of consolidation that can be harnessed for Nigeria and for all Nigerians.
The challenge of the next four years is not basically about putting a new government in place, appointing a few ministers and then you are good to go, as so many of the gladiators on both sides of the political divide think it is all about. My goodness NO, it is far more pertinent, far more complicated and much deeper than that. This next four years, from 2019 to 2023, I am sorry to say is Nigeria’s very last chance to prepare itself for the global disruptions that are coming from the global forth industrial revolution which is characterized by technology, efficiency, prudency and innovation. As Nigeria continues on its current path of monumental waste, corruption of Government officials at the federal and state levels, and its lukewarm investment in education, strategic systems and innovation centers for its bulging youth population, it is becoming clearer what will be the fate of Nigerians and Nigeria when the crude oil wells dry up. Please don’t get me wrong, with Nigeria’s crude oil reserves estimated at 37 billion barrels, it is not likely that our oil wells will dry up any time soon, however what is more likely to dry up are the global markets for crude oil. As crude oil buying Nations are currently replacing crude oil as an energy source to alternative sources for almost all forms of their energy requirements including but not limited to transportation, manufacturing and home power and heating systems.
This means that the folks that worked hard to give President Buhari a win, and securing for him a second term, must go the extra mile to remind Mr President that the clock is ticking. These next four years are the last and I mean the very last opportunity to get Nigeria ready for the monumental disruptions that are coming from technology and innovation over the next few years as the entire World continues to embrace the dynamics of the forth industrial revolution. My prediction is that crude oil has less than 15 years left as a strategic product around the World, and once it starts getting difficult for Nigeria to find markets to sell our crude oil, this is already happening slowly but surely, then the leadership of Nigeria when that time comes, will come to realize that their options for feeding a 200 to 250 million population (estimated Nigeria population by 2030) will suddenly become limited. The Nigerian leaders at that time will ask what were the Nigerian leaders in 2011 to 2015 to 2019, to 2023 doing to prepare the Nigerian people for this obvious eventuality. The answer to that question, will depend on what this new administration does over the next four years.
Back in the day, when a Nation had a work force willing to work for low wages, it stood out as a competitive advantage and it was factored into where manufacturing bases were sited across the globe. That is exactly how China repositioned itself and grew its economy as well as deepened its technology base. However I wish to sadly state that those days are long gone, even the lowest wage workers are being replaced by robots all across the World. So no major industries will site their manufacturing plants in Nigeria, at least not due to low wage workers anymore. In fact with the exciting recent developments in artificial intelligence, nano technology, blockchain technology, virtual reality, internet of things, autonomous vehicles, robotics, virtual medicine, value chain intelligence, crypto currency and so on, it is becoming clear what the World will look like in ten years’ time, and the question is where will Nigeria be?
“It is better to anticipate change, than to have change forced on you”
Nigeria is going to lose its traditional access to foreign investment over the next few years, investors have spoken loudly about their concerns with the economic management policies of the Nigerian Government. If President Buhari wishes to continue his approach to economic management which is a top down, Government driven approach which effectively denies the private sector and the market forces the driver’s seat and the flexibility to expand and grow the economy. In order to cope we will have to seek investment from home grown sources as opposed to foreign investment, in other words we must build on local direct investment and convince our FORBES listed mega entrepreneurs to lead the way. In addition, if the Buhari administration does not make heavy investment in the real sectors of technology, manufacturing and agriculture complimented by corresponding heavy investment in 21st century education curriculum, tools, systems and applications, then it will mean it’s not only foreign investment that will stop flowing to Nigeria but the likely hood of the local direct investment from our own people will seize to flow to Nigeria as well. This would be catastrophic. We cannot afford to let this happen and that is why I am appealing to the new administration that will be formed on 29th of May 2019, to take another look at its economic policy framework for the next four years. In particular, I want to make a SPECIAL case for investment in the eastern part of Nigeria, not just because I come from there, I grew up there and I love the land and its peoples but because it makes practical sense to invest in this region of Nigeria for both the public sector as well as the private sector, and the benefits will accrue to Nigeria and for all Nigerians and I will prove it to you.
Public Sector Investment in Eastern Nigeria
I started off this paper by pointing out that the eastern part of Nigeria have demonstrated that they sink or swim together as one. However this is not the best news. The most exciting news for the public sector is that the drive to shift Federal Government internal revenue framework from crude oil sales to corporate taxes, including VAT, levies and so on, will experience monumental boosts if the Federal Government makes just a little additional investment in this region of the Nigeria.
These are my reasons;
1. The eastern region of Nigeria has the highest number of Diaspora population (Nigerians living and working in foreign Countries) than any other region of Nigeria. So when Nigeria records official Diaspora remittances of $20 billion a year and unofficially another $10 billion coming home through unrecorded sources, these figures are already outperforming the federal government budget and becoming an increasing important source of Nigeria’s foreign exchange. The interesting thing is that these funds are NOT investment related, but these Diaspora Nigerians are only sending these funds to Nigeria because they love Nigeria and they choose to do so. In fact studies carried out have shown that these funds are consumption based mostly to support families back in Nigeria, and are used to buy recharge cards, fund wedding celebrations, funerals, build country homes and buy cars. The true migration of the Nigerian Diaspora population with their monumental capital and annual earning capacity estimated at over $150 billion annually, back home to Nigeria to invest, has not yet happened and the reason for this is that the eastern region, whose peoples makes up a sizeable portion of these remittances, is lacking in adequate Federal Government Investment in infrastructure. It is in the Federal Government of Nigeria’s interest to make heavy investment in infrastructure in this region which will in turn spark off a mass return of people and capital, the kind of which has never been seen before. It is my estimation that if the infrastructure such as federal highways, railways linking the entire zone, new and upgraded port facilities, ultra-modern industrial estates, world class 21st century innovation centers, and gas pipe lines linking power plants to much needed gas supplies etc, the Nigerian Nation will be able to attract an annual investment of over $10 billion from the Diaspora population of the peoples of this region alone. This is in additional to the $30 billion in remittances which will continue to grow as more qualified Nigerians come of age and join the high income brackets in the United States, Europe and Asia.
2. This eastern region of Nigeria is also producing some very smart people. In fact all the JAMB and WAEC scores released by these independent bodies have shown that the children of this region are arguably some of the smartest children on the African Continent, and with a little support they could be among the smartest children in the entire World. Only recently, a team of young school girls from Anambra State won a global competition for excellence in STEM studies (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) with their own invention of a sophisticated application to address the menace of fake drugs in Nigeria. The Regina Pacis Secondary School Onitsha school girls emerged winners of this year’s global finals of Technovation Challenge in Silicon Valley, California USA. The Anambra school girls were the only African team that even qualified for the competition and they competed against the smartest and the brightest children from around the entire World including from China, Singapore, Japan, United Kingdom, Canada, the United States etc. Talk about making a statement, where are our leaders? Can we build on this please. The World is shifting very rapidly from natural resource wealth to an era of intellectual wealth and it seems Nigeria is blessed in abundance in this area if the right investment is made now, and made today. Once the Federal Government invests in STEM education facilities and innovation centers in eastern region and off course across other parts of Nigeria, within four years we can be selling some of the most sophisticated software, applications and innovative solutions to the rest of the World. The Federal Government of Nigeria will reap from the extensive tax revenues that follow the building of affluent societies as well as in export taxes for the sales of home developed technology solutions. Additional revenues will come from the high VAT, incomes and other taxes and levies these new technology gurus will pay to the both the state and federal governments over the years. They will build businesses and these businesses will train even more talent which in turn will produce even more affluence in the Nigerian society, and more taxes are paid and this circle of wealth is created and sustained for the entire Nation of Nigeria. How can anyone argue against this strategy?
3. You cannot talk enterprise and entrepreneurship in Africa without calling on the Igbo Nation. We are upwardly mobile, dynamic and commercial in every sense of the word, and even our most uncharitable critics all agree that the entrepreneurship spirit, at least for the African people must have been created in Igbo land. So why hasn’t Nigeria benefited from this kind of energy and dynamism? I think it’s because the Nigerian Leadership hasn’t really sat down to properly understand the Entrepreneurship phenomenon that has been developed and is practiced by the Igbo people. And so this phenomenon has gone largely ignored for over 60 years. Now this phenomenon has grown to become a Monster, and it is just waiting for the right leadership of the Federal Government to mobilize it on unprecedented scales, in order to redefine business in Africa and expand the productivity of Nigeria to the shores of Europe, Asia and the United States in a formal way. Please, may I add that this is nothing new, to be honest it is already happening, don’t take my word for it, do a study of local businesses in any major city in the United States, in the United Kingdom, in Japan or China and you will find Nigerians especially Igbo, Yoruba or south south ethnic minority owned businesses and business people all over the World already, doing very well, creating wealth and expanding globally. Many more of them are doing modest business and they are growing, but if the Federal Government should step in as the Government of China did for its business people, then sky will be the limit. The resultant effect of this type of intervention is that hundreds of thousands of new jobs will be created at home in Nigeria as well as for Nigerians who live in the Diaspora. Currently China has 117 companies trading on the NASDAQ and raising capital in the United States, and there are hundreds more on other smaller exchanges. There are thousands other Chinese companies acquiring United States based companies, and doing business in the United States, using capital which has been either provided or guaranteed by the Chinese Government. We can do the same and we already have the foundation to build from, all we need is a Federal Government that understands strategy and is willing to expand the horizons of Nigerian interest beyond the shores of Nigeria.
Private Sector Investment in Eastern Nigeria
Nigeria is blessed to have the richest man in Africa, Alhaji Aliko Dangote who is well known to me, I happened to have co-founded a company with Aliko Dangote and others, Transcorp Plc, and I subsequently served on the board of directors of that company, alongside Aliko and others. This was all when I was much younger and I was burning with desire to reform Nigeria, and expand the opportunities of entrepreneurship to Nigerians across the entire globe, I still believe in that vision. However, most importantly, I got to observe Aliko Dangote up close and personal and I know for a fact that all his business decisions and investment decisions are based on cold hard facts and strategic positioning. Incidentally we had a few other remarkable super achievers who were also co-founders of Transcorp Plc, who I was honored and privileged to be mentored by and to be honest I learnt most of what I know of business strategy today from working closely with them and they included Ndi Okereke Onyiuke former CEO of the Nigerian Stock Exchange, Tony Elumelu founder of STB/UBA later CEO and current Chairman of UBA Plc, Jim Ovia founder of Zenith Bank and its current Chairman, Festus Odimegu former Managing Director of Nigerian Breweries Plc, Tony Ezenna founder and Chairman of Orange Drugs, Femi Otedola founder of Zenon, later to become Chairman of Forte Oil, Fola Adeola co-founder of GTB, Abdul Samad Rabiu founder of BUA, Sayyu Dantata founder of MRS and a host of other Nigeria’s crème dela crème of entrepreneurship. Other outstanding achievers who I had the privilege and honor of interacting with at that time, but who I did not serve on any board of directors with, included; Otumba Subomi Balogun founder of FCMB, Mike Adenuga founder of GLO, Leo Stan Ekeh founder of Zinox, TD and TASK, Dr ABC Orjiako co-founder and Chairman of SEPLAT, Chief Chika Okafor founder of Chicason Group, Cosmos Maduka founder of Coscharis, Uju Ifejika founder of Britannia U, Stella Okoli founder of EMZOR pharmaceuticals and a host of others. I did get the rare privilege to serve on the Obijackson Group supervisory board, a group founded by Ernest Azudialu Obiajesi and the group includes NEST OIL and a host of over 13 other companies operating in the industries of oil and gas, aviation, telecommunications and so on. I learnt a lot from working with Ernest, and I will always cherish that experience. Nigeria has since grown much larger since those days and a number of new outstanding achievers have emerged on the entrepreneurship landscape over the years, some of them are very young and their achievements are very remarkable. I call all these remarkable ladies and gentlemen the A-List of the Nigerian E-class (Entrepreneurship Class). I had the privilege to understudy, receive their mentorship and work with many of them, in my opinion they are still arguably the top team of entrepreneurship and local investment in Nigeria even up to today.
The issue that I am struggling with is where are their investments in eastern Nigeria?
I must be missing something, eastern Nigeria has a great well educated work force, its got the smartest kids on the African continent, it’s got a thriving population of over sixty million consumers and it is a strong location for a site of manufacturing or agri-processing facilities for export. So what seems to be the challenge?
On the eastern Nigerian side we do have a number of home grown conglomerates that are making some investment such as Obi Jackson / Nest Oil group, Coscharis Group, Ibeto Group, Tonimas Group, Chicason Group among others, these groups have put a strong foot print down in the eastern Nigeria region but my friends and mentors who make up the A-List of the E-Class (Entrepreneurship Class) are missing in action on the region. And they will forgive me, I am sure if I am wrong, but I would like to make a strong case for them to consider their next investment venture to be sited in eastern Nigeria.
These are my reasons ..
1. I have already stated clearly that crude oil will stop being a strategic product in World affairs in the next 15 years. And whereas it will take Africa maybe another 50 years before we stop using petrol powered cars ( Dangote Refinery is SAFE with Africa as its market) in Europe, Asia and the United States petrol powered cars are being phased out in 10 to 20 years. Many Nations are putting deadlines on their phase out plans already. This means that private investment that hopes to stand the test of time must seek to invest in technology, manufacturing and agriculture. And investments in agriculture that will make monumental impact must be the mechanized type, driven by technology. In eastern Nigeria there is still over 2 million hectares of palm produce that was cultivated in 1965, theses plantations have been left unattended and abandoned after the Government of Eastern Nigeria led by Michael Okpara fell in 1966. Palm produce is a wonder fruit, used in the global cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and many other industries and interestingly Nigerian palm produce has supported the rise of many global billion dollar conglomerates including but not limited to Olam a $20 billion global company now headquartered in Singapore and a few others. In addition to Palm, Eastern Nigeria has the best soil for cassava, Nigeria is already listed as the World number one producer of Cassava producing 54.8 million metric tonnes a year, with an estimated value of $3 billion and an estimated processed export value of $20 billion, we are currently not processing cassava in any commercial quantity, we do not produce starch or ethanol byproducts of cassava in any significant quantity, in-spite of the fact that we are the World’s largest producer of cassava. The eastern Nigeria zone is also in the cashew belt and Nigeria’s current production of raw cashew is over 629 thousand metric tonnes which places us as the World second largest producer of cashew. We currently earn just over $700 million USD from export of raw cashew, that is because its being exported unprocessed. If we could get our entrepreneurs to set up processing plants, best suited to be sited in eastern Nigeria, processed cashew has a ten times multiple on raw cashew, which means at current outputs we could earn over $7 billion a year selling processed cashew to global markets. However we don’t need to retain current output. The right Government policies and investment in new improved cashew varieties, we should be able to double outputs in five years giving us an estimated earning capacity of $14 billion all things being equal, this is estimated export revenue from just one agric-processed product. So just by processing two products, cassava and cashew Nigerian entrepreneurs could be earning $34 billion in five years if the investments are made today, compare this with the $26 billion crude oil is earning Nigeria annually. In the studies, my team and I, have carried out which has recently been collaborated by the Nigeria Export Processing Council, there are eight other strategic agric products which after processed, collectively can earn Nigerian over $50 billion in estimated export earnings.
2. The innovative youth population of eastern Nigeria has been identified by foreign corporate powers, Germany is currently offering eastern Nigerian software developers mouthwatering offers to emigrate with their families to Germany. Goldman Sachs conducted a recruiting initiative in Lagos recently for the identification of one hundred top talent in the field of software development, most of those who made the cut were young people of the eastern Nigeria extraction, I understand they are already on their way to Goldman’s offices in Europe and across the World. The forth industrial revolution is upon us however with the exception of Leo Stan Ekeh founder of Zinox Technologies, I am yet to see our mega entrepreneurs or any member of the A-List of the E-Class investing heavily in the technology space. I will like to see that change and I am willing to lead my friends and mentors and members of the A-List of the E-Class to eastern Nigeria to stake a claim and establish outposts that will support their empires well into the future. India is currently exporting technology and software to the World and they are earning over $50 billion a year, almost twice what Nigeria earns from crude oil. So if the truth be told we as a people have been barking up the wrong tree. Nigeria can thrive in this technology space if our private sector entrepreneurs are willing to invest in our young talents. We can start today, and may I suggest we start at the eastern part of Nigeria for obvious reasons.
3. One of the most exciting industries that constitutes the eastern Nigeria’s major competitive advantages is the creative and the entertainment industry talent that is bumbling beneath the surface. Some of our talent that live in the United States are already out-competing World renowned talent in music, movies and sports. At the last Olympic and international athletics championship games, Nigerians of the eastern Nigerian extraction were competing for such countries as United States, Italy, and Norway and other Nations, because they were NOT invited to compete for Nigeria. Ezinne Okparaebo competed in the 100m for Norway, Barbara Nwaba competed in the 100m hurdles for the United States, Ogechi Egonu competed as part of the Italian volley ball team and Keturah Orji competed in the triple jump for the United States and placed fourth in the Olympics overall. Many Nigerians of the Yoruba Nation were equally doing as well and competing for World Class sporting Nations. Across the United States Nigerians are the most respected immigrant sports men and women, in the National Basket Ball league, the National Football leagues and athletics. In Movies, the first full length Nollywood movie to be acquired by Netflix, the world’s largest and most valuable movie streaming platform, was initiated, funded and produced by a close friend of mine Ms. Genevieve Nnaji. In music, with the exception of Davido, Olamide, Tewa Savage and Wiz-Kid, the top African talent considered outstanding all over the World are Rude Boy (formerly known as P-Square), Mr P (formerly known as P-Square), Flavor, Phyno, Don Jazzy, the list is endless. These folks are conquering the World but they are doing it on their own. They need our help, they need our investment. I believe that if I got Femi Otedola, whose daughter DJ Cubby, is also World renowned in the entertainment industry in her own right, into a room with other A-listers, we would come out with an elaborate plan for raising a fund of $100 million to back up the entertainment industry in Nigeria, and we can make it an all-inclusive plan for all talents from all the regions of Nigeria. I will only appeal that the World class recording studio and entertainment village be sited in eastern Nigeria.
I will end with this note, the clock is ticking, the Nigerian political leadership, must find a way to work with the Nigerian business leadership and we who consider ourselves to be the intellectual leadership of Nigeria, should support the process of charting the course.
Having made the case for eastern Nigeria, let me say this clearly, all regions of Nigeria are in need of investment, the out of school children in Nigeria is recorded by the World Bank to be hitting 13 million children. And majority of them are in the North. The north east has been devastated by insurgency and badly needs new investment, the north west has a high poverty index and nothing could be more important to the north west than more jobs, the north central needs investment to expand its agricultural fields and extend its access to national and global markets, and the south west even though it has a highest concentration of industries, port facilities, educational institutions and modern housing, it still needs investment to help it deal with the high urban migration and population explosion it is experiencing as a result of the continued influx of unemployed young Nigerians from all the other regions of Nigeria, coming to settle and live in the south west especially in Lagos. However I have made the focus of this paper the eastern part of Nigeria, made up of what we call the south east and the south south, its lack of investment from the federal government is telling. The competitive advantages of the region speaks volumes of the opportunities awaiting the local investment community and the A-List of the E-Class I referred to earlier. I do not understand their hesitation to move into eastern Nigeria after all their investments in almost every other region of the country, I believe I have made the case for strategic investment in eastern Nigeria by both the Federal Government as well as the private sector and so my message to Aliko Dangote and the rest of the A-List of the E-Class as well as other mega entrepreneurs out there…..it is time to look at eastern Nigeria again, let me know if you need a professional guide.
Dr Nicky Okoye
Chief Strategy Officer/ founder
Nicky Okoye Organization Inc/ Anabel Group
Facebook: Dr Nicky Okoye