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Nigeria’s foreign investors’ shenanigans

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PHOTO: AFP

An obvious response to reduce unemployment in any country is to create more job opportunities. But such bold steps is no easy task for a government to accomplish especially with an economy such as Nigeria’s that has refused several economic stimulus to be stable for decades. That may explain why the Buhari administration’s option to tackle unemployment in the country is to woo foreign investors. Somehow it seems that aside wooing from foreign investors, the ruling government has no alternative to meet its election campaign promises of creating millions of jobs. In that sense, the country’s economic space has been exposed as the beautiful bride to foreign investors to explore and to a large extent exploit the people and country as they are hardly monitored. In its argument to win foreign investors, the Buhari administration advocates that Nigeria with a large population of young people the country would enjoy long-run economic advantage. This is because the human capital is the first raw material of economic growth. To further cajole foreign investors, the minister of Finance, budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed the other day while speaking during an investor conference call organised by Citibank said: “The Nigeria economy is resilient and the private sector has been cooperative with the government to ensure stability of the economy. We have a domestic market that is deep and we are inviting foreign investors to consider investing in Nigerian domestic market….”

At the moment, the ruling government has succeeded in pulling several foreign direct investors from across the world to invest in the country. In a way, it has positively established the argument by economic analysts that Nigeria’s potentials both in human and natural resources if properly harnessed would not only employ Nigerians but give many a sense of belonging.

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Regrettably, however, over the years, some foreign investors in Nigeria have exposed themselves to poor judgment while engaging Nigerians to work in their factories. There have been several complains concerning majority of the foreign investors who have sustained the negative narrative through their action and character. While some are bent on cutting corners to evade governments levies or shun international best practices to doing business, which will help their host country’s economy to grow many have developed penchant to enslave Nigerians in their factories. It is important to note that the multiplier effects of these negative narratives are counter-productive to the reasons behind inviting them to invest in the country. Of course, the ugly pattern is becoming familiar and gaining momentum among foreign investors doing business in Nigeria. It is believed that getting employed would make other things equal, but other things are never equal as employees become instant slaves for foreign investors once being employed. Therefore, it might be tempting to say that being unemployed is not a death knell that one should seek refuge in a slave labour camp called employment in foreign direct investment companies. You would be horrified by the atmosphere and carnival of slavery exhibited by these so-called foreign investors.

A case in point is the notoriously popular farm producer of one of the common rice in the market, which is located at Challawa industrial area of Kano. A company owned by Indian nationals has chosen to take the laws of the land into their hands. First, they flagrantly refused to comply with the federal government directives that all businesses should shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic. However, having fallen among companies with the federal government concession because it provides essential services, the Indian factory also refused to cut half its work force and second, the Indian owners locked its workers inside the factory and denied them their fundamental human rights, freedom and opportunity to visit their families and cramped them up in spaces not fit for animals. It was gathered that the Indian owners of the factory deceived the workers that they would only work for a few days in the factory. However, a few days went into weeks and months of incarceration. Of course, the workers were threatened that whoever leaves would not be considered for employment in the future. Without being told, such threat is as delicate a choice between the devil and the deep blue sea, knowing the biting nature of being unemployed in Nigeria toady. This Indian nationals’ rice producing factory outlaw behaviour is particularly telling and indeed worrisome as the Rice Processing Association of Nigeria (RPAN) an umbrella body that is supposed to play a self regulatory role and oversee best practice norms among its members claimed that this Indian company had been suspended from the organisation.

Therefore, the RPAN cannot monitor its activities or sanction them. Lets hear an official of the RPAN, “They are not our members because we suspended them long ago over some issues: we found them wanting… our focus was to enhance local production using home grown paddy in line with the policy of the federal government but we kept having issues with them… “.The question begging for answer from the RPAN association and indeed the Kano state and federal government respectively is: why is the Indian rice producing company still in operation when it contravenes the law?

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As intriguing as it is to consider the manner in which foreign investors are likely to nudge the ruling government and its officials to believe that its employees are happy with the employment opportunities but in reality it is a slave labour at play. One of the rescued workers from the Indian national rice mill, Hamza Ibrahim said, “we were allowed to rest for only a short time, no prayers were allowed, no family visits”. While an official from Global Human rights network, Karibu Yahaya Kabara noted, “What I saw was heartbreaking where the company kept these people to live is not fit for animals”.

It is indeed sad to note that one of the reasons Nigeria’s unemployment case continues to rise has been the result of a spurt for people who refuse to endure inhuman treatment that seems to be playing out around the country in the name of foreign direct investment. The audacity with which foreign investors become an outlaw in the country is indeed not far-fetched. No sooner than these foreign investors set up their businesses than they riddle the nation’s popular political elite and the leadership class with lobbyist for protection perhaps to enable them operate in dubious climate without sanction from regulatory bodies. It should be noted that the government and political elite protection advantage that foreign investors enjoy in Nigeria can never be obtained in the foreign investor’s home countries. It must be clearly stated that, foreign investors deserve to be sanctioned if found wanting. The government needs to expose their ugly side and sanction them accordingly so as to serve as a deterrent to others.

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