By Ben Murray-Bruce
Many Nigerians are complaining about the constant fall in the value of the naira and they blame the government. But is the government really to blame? In truth, our insatiable appetite for all things foreign is to blame. No nation can become great if it is clothed, serviced and fed by other nations. It just will not happen.
In lay man’s terms, a nation’s currency is like a promise by the issuing authority, in this
case the Nigerian Government, to pay holders of the currency. In other words, currency is an assurance by a government on goods and services. What happens when we spend our naira buying imported items and not made-in-Nigeria products is that our government is assuring the nation’s from which those imports come from and not our own nation. So imagine this scenario, imagine that Nigeria and other nations are football teams. How can we win if our supporters club keeps patronising other teams and not our own football team? This is the self-inflicted injury we have inflicted on our dear naira and instead of blaming ourselves we are blaming government. I always fly Arik business class whenever I am travelling abroad except Arik does not fly on that route. Not only is an Arik ticket a fraction of the cost of a British Airways ticket, but the money I pay to Arik circulates in Nigeria and helps firm up the naira’s value. As I speak to you today, a British Airways business class to London is N2,103,666 while Arik business class is N551,545, yet our elite still fly BA.
But though Arik offers an affordable alternative to British Airways and other foreign airlines, our big men prefer to pay double what Arik charges to BA and other foreign airlines for the same services and yet they complain about the value of the naira. Arik’s planes are brand new and are more comfortable than British Airways. I know that for a fact because I have flown both. If we do not fly Arik, who would? I have Nasco cornflakes and I have eaten Kellogs cornflakes. In terms of nutrition and taste they are almost indistinguishable. Yet our elite who will rather eat Kellogs than Nasco cornflakes, wonder why the naira is falling! Even something like Quaker Oats can be substituted with corn meal known locally as pap. Obasanjo Farms of Nigeria and other large scale poultry farms have the capacity to provide chicken for the entire nation. Since that is the case, why are we even buying imported chicken? Imported chicken may be cheaper in financial terms but it is more expensive in health terms. These birds are heavily treated with various chemicals to plump them up and preserve them and artificially enhance their taste and by the time they hit our shores they are not as safe to consume as our domestic chicken. In fact, what is wrong if every family in Nigeria has a poultry in their backyard to give them eggs and meat? It is feasible. It is not beneath us.
My steward went to Makoko, which is one of the largest fishing communities in Lagos. He wanted to buy fish and they were selling imported frozen fish! Yet in the very waters in front of them, there exist fresh fish that is more nutritious than the cheap frozen fish they were selling. We keep spending over N1 billion importing rice when our own farmers are capable of meeting our national demand for rice. But for some reason, Nigerians just prefer to buy imported rice. The imported rice we buy in Nigeria is not as good as our local rice because it has been stored for years in silos and treated with chemicals. Moreover, every time you buy it, your money is going out of Nigeria to service an economy in Asia. The end result is that their currency gains value while ours loses value. Have you ever wondered why European Premiership clubs are so interested in Nigeria? It is because Nigerians spend billions travelling to Europe to watch their games, buy their merchandise and promote their leagues. Yet, back at home, we would not be caught dead watching our own local league. If we will not spend money on made-in-Nigeria goods and services, how can we expect our naira to hold its value and appreciate? Obviously we cannot cut ourselves off from the world. No nation is an island, but at least we can fly Nigerian airlines, eat locally produced food and patronise our football league. If we do this, not only will our economy grow and produce jobs for Nigerians, it will also make our goods and services improve in value such that they will be attractive enough to be imported.
We may approach the United Kingdom for loans to fund the 2016 budget. The funniest thing is that the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, is famous for using the London Underground public transport facilities. What is wrong if our ministers use public transportation once in a while? What is wrong if they enter a taxi to work? And even if we must buy cars for government officials why must we buy foreign cars? Silverbird bought Innoson vehicles as official cars for our staff. The buses are roomy, very comfortable and extremely durable. I have never lived to regret these purchases for even a day. But most of all, I know that my purchase helps to keep jobs in Nigeria and improve the value of the naira. I urge you to do the same. We have no other country but Nigeria and it is you and I that will make it what it is. Can you imagine how far Innoson would go if we spent the N30 billion we use in buying cars for our elected and appointed officials at the federal, state and local government levels on Innoson vehicles? We must make hard choices if we want Nigeria to be better and spending borrowed money on convoys for elected officials is not a priority. It is a luxury that Nigeria cannot afford at this time in her history. If we buy Naija We Will Grow the Naira.
Finally, I must say that I am pleasantly surprised at the level of support the hashtag, #BuyNaijaToGrowTheNaira has gotten since I originated it on Twitter. Within three days, the hashtag had featured on the BBC and on CNN. Let me thank the ordinary Nigerians who joined me in making the hashtag take off. If you are manufacturer or provider of made-in-Nigeria goods and services, tweet them at me using the hashtag #BuyNaijaToGrowTheNaira and I will help you promote your product. I also want to thank Dr. Innocent Chukwuma, the founder and Chief Executive of Innoson Motors for personally coming to Abuja to deliver my personal Innoson car which I now drive about in Abuja. I advised Dr. Chukwuma to make a bullet proof version so our high profile politicians will not have to buy imported bullet proof luxury car and he said to me ‘Distinguished Senator, just give me three months’.