Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Government Beyond Oil

 There were two PriceWaterhouseCooper, PwC, reports released in the month of May. One was the report on the unaudited NNPC accounts from 2005, while the other was a hospitality and tourism report, titled The African Traveller, 5th edition, covering the tourism potentials of four countries – Nigeria, South Africa, Mauritius and Kenya. While the NNPC reported generated intense acrimony and interest locally and internationally, I am sure that only half a dozen persons have seen the 14th of May, 2015 report on tourism and hospitality business in Africa. In our country, all the alveoli and arteries that should pump blood to the heart of our economy pump oil instead, and we seem content that nearly 90% of our earnings are from oil. As a matter of fact, the remainder non-oil income comes from enterprises that ordinarily shouldn’t generate any income to government and individuals apparently because of government inability to create and sustain the platform for their growth. But hey, here we are with a PwC report on tourism and hospitality that highlights a curious twist on oil as our economic mainstay that I think we should consider.

We will recognize this twist after we examine some of the innards of The African Traveller, and of the two countries – Nigeria and South Africa - that are perpetually at each other’s throats in a perpetually epic battle to assert a political and economic superiority. According to the PwC Report, three South African cities, Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban each have what they contribute to the tourism potentials of South Africa. While Johannesburg is said to attract the crème de la crème of the international business community for its impeccable conference centres and functional infrastructure, Cape Town maintains its unique position in having some of the most breathtaking and picturesque landscapes that could rival any elsewhere. Tourists all over the world troop to Cape Town again, some say because of Nelson Mandela, other say because of the reputation of resilience that he left as a legacy for the whole of South Africa. Visitors to Durban according to the May PwC Report are mostly fun-seeking South Africans who love to lounge on the clean beaches.  But that is half the story. Durban is the busiest container port in the whole of Africa and a gateway to the national parks of South Africa to the Zulu Kingdom.

All of this movement of people all over the world to South Africa, with pockets stuffed with hard currency, translates to a nice income that helps drive a unique sector of the South African economy – its hotels, its nightlife, its museums, walkways and wildlife. For instance the real GDP of South Africa in 2014 was just a paltry 2.1%, but this is expected to shoot to 3.0% in 2019 what with the fever of hotel constructions and the cultivation of her cultural sites and monuments. But here is the twist - while South Africa can boast of attracting visitors at three levels – business, pleasure & leisure and recreation, Nigeria attracts visitors only because of oil and discussions about oil. Two of our cities – Lagos and Abuja – where these discussions take place – only Lagos can try to attract just a few persons who are not likely going to see the first storey building in Badagry. Abuja is where you go to, to lobby for juicy oil  contracts – the city has no monuments, no public toilets, no history, no character and no fun spots that a visitor seeking to spend a few bucks is likely to come. Everybody coming to Abuja locally or internationally comes to get something remotely or immediately connected to proceeds from oil. The other cities in the North where there is history and character have been ravaged by terrorists, and those in the South like the Obudu Cattle Ranch (a wonderful place) are either relegated to the background or are dormant both in patronage and in support. I remember a visit to Ghana some years back. The German organizers factored a cultural itinerary into our programme because apart from the workshop on ECOWAS and learning about its institutions, they seem to want to make it clear that that part of our lives as Africans cannot be ignored if we will indeed integrate politically and economically. Therefore going to see the Valley of No Return, the Great Kakum National Park, together with the little bars of chocolate left by my hotel bed every evening, produced directly from the Cocoa in Ghana left a sweet taste long after I travelled back home to Nigeria.

As a matter of fact, the scenario reminds me of a recent visit that I made to one of the zoos in Nigeria recently. The governor of the state was reported to have said that he saw no sense in feeding wild animals when human beings had not fed. So he made to shut the place down. Now the place is in the hands of a private enterprise, still struggling to keep the zoo from the forest. Key animals like the zebra and giraffe that drive patronage are not there, and another significant one, the lion is almost dead from starvation. The only foreigner who was there that evening was moved to tears at the sight of the King of beasts looking so sickly. On weekdays only a handful patronizes the zoo, and they leave sad and frustrated after seeing the state of the star attraction – the lion. And just last month, one of our partners from Germany visited. Part of his itinerary included a meeting with recipients of the projects that his institution had funded. As we drove to government house, our visitor kept on asking about important cultural and traditional landmarks. And bingo - from nowhere he sighted banners and billboards advertising the ‘Okpekpe Race – his eyes lit up. Even though he said he was disappointed that our local airport had no air conditioner, he appeared eager to go to ‘Okpekpe’ to see the local race. Luckily for us all, he didn’t ask to go see the animals in the zoo.

A key lesson from this is that you may have easy money from oil with which to build five-star hotels like the Hilton and Sheraton, but without the deliberate cultivation of our social and cultural heritages and institutions as a potential for export, we will remain a de-jure rather than a de-facto leader of Africa. In no time, those hotels will lose their shine once the oil loses its relevance. The PwC Report states categorically that ‘Nigeria has an energy-based economy – oil and gas. With energy prices falling however, we look for somewhat slower economic growth. The hospitality industry is at risk of losing investments or experiencing delays in investment between 2015 and 2017 due to the falling oil price and the devaluation of the naira’.

At the Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice, ANEEJ, we look forward to a time when there will be transparency and accountability, to the extent that proceeds from oil are not just shared monthly. We look to a time when some of these proceeds from oil will be used to promote the cultivation of alternative incomes apart from what we are presently getting from oil. 

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