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‘Inconsistency in government policies is undermining developmental efforts in Nigeria’

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Maduka. Photo: NAIRAMETRICS

Dr. Cosmas Maduka, the Chief Executive of Coscharis Group, in this interview with LEO SOBECHI says that after 59 years of independence, Nigeria should separate politics from development, stressing that inconsistency in government policies has been at the root of the slow rate of growth of the country’s economy. While praising the closure of the nation’s borders, the industrialist maintains that Nigeria should be made to achieve food sufficiency and be able to produce the bulk of what the citizens consume. He regretted that the accumulation of unbridled consumerism has made the country unable to occupy its rightful place in the comity of developing nations.

9 years after Nigeria’s independence, how do you feel that Nigeria has not manufactured its own car?
Well, the truth is that looking at a population of close to 200 million people and if World Bank’s prediction is anything to go by, by 2050, we will become close to 500 million people, we should be producing our own automobile. It is not something that anyone should feel proud of. 

South Africa with less than one-quarter of the Nigerian population has close to 18 brands being produced in South Africa. Not until recently, many people might not know that all the brands of BMW that are driven in Japan, in the UK, the United States of America and Mercedes C Class that are driven in countries like Australia, Singapore, around the world are produced in South Africa. 

Now, BMW has invested an additional 500 million Rand and they are going to start producing the X3 in South Africa to be shipped to America, Australia and around the world. So, car manufacturing has supported the South African GDP and has continued to create jobs. But it is very unfortunate that we have not done anything as a country to encourage entrepreneurship because of inconsistency in government policies. We are not building a nation because building a nation requires separating politics from the economic development of the country. You cannot play politics with it! But we play politics with everything and that is why many people continue to wonder what our hope is, where is our future?  You need to have a country for you to have anyone to rule. When you do not have a country, you run away. 

Let us even get back to the basics that Nigeria spends 3 billion dollars importing wheat to make bread, spend over 3 billion dollars to eat rice and the population is still exploding on year to year basis. Over 86 million youths are in this country, which other markets do you find this in the world? How many youths are in Europe?  How many youths are in Asia? Over 86 million youths between the age bracket of 15 and 32 are in this country. The leaders must understand the economic power within their control and harness it for economic development by creating an enabling environment and empowering this power horse to recreate itself because, in another 20 years, they will not be useful for this country. 

Government has been making so much noise about building infrastructure here and there; do you think there is a plan or systematic way of going about this?
There is no doubt that there are a few things you can see and relate with. We cannot deny it, but I think we should do better than what we are doing. Look at major highways that connect cities in this country and tell me which of them can you drive confidently and think you will have a sheer driving pleasure both in the northern part of Nigeria, in the western part of Nigeria and the eastern part of Nigeria? You cannot go from Enugu to Asaba or Port Harcourt. Why should we fix roads after 20 years? Some of the roads that were two-way roads when I was 14/15 years old remain the same while the population continues to geometrically increase. The government must understand their responsibilities. Can this thing be done?  It can be done, it is about leadership. These roads can be fixed, put a toll on these roads and people will get back their money.  If you find the right leader, create jobs and infrastructure, this country will move.

Very soon, Ghana with over 30 million people, no matter what we say, will lead us. Ghana’s economy and Cote d’Ivoire’s economy has been growing consistently with over 6 per cent, 7 per cent on an annual basis. Toyota is going to Ghana for manufacturing and Suzuki is planning to do the same. Ghana, with 30 million people, wants to produce an automobile. We have been talking about auto policy, but we do not have the will.  We play politics with everything. Many of us have invested in agriculture, planting rice, milling them. Let us wait, Buhari may leave office tomorrow and under 24 months, somebody says people are suffering, open the border, imported rice is all over the place again. There has never been consistency and it is the politicians that need to be blamed for this shortcoming.

How do you think Nigeria can get away from the inconsistency in policies?
There is no two-way about it, the leadership has to change, they have to change their mindset. The leaders themselves have to understand the responsibility and hold themselves accountable. When you feel responsible, you become accountable. When they begin to hold themselves accountable, then we can begin to get results. Things cannot continue the way it is, things happen in a very tickle manner but these are not the things that can change the economy. One person comes and says pour a little water here and a little water there. We need an economic revolution.  Somebody needs to grow this economy by a double-digit percentage in the next ten consecutive years if we are to see the light of the day in this country. They should stop playing politics with the lives of the people. 

If I were the president of this country I will look for the best brains in this country. We have everything we need. It is a question of using the best brains to get the best results. If I am in power and I feel you are not in my party therefore you are not good or I will tell people from my party, please nominate somebody and they bring me their grandmother who does not contribute anything and politics is that you help me, I help you.  You do not use your weak ones to get results, you use your best. 

Let us be honest and beat our chest, the people we present in a position of leadership; is it the best that Nigeria has in many fronts and aspects?  You go to competition with your best but politics does not require that because if you want to enter into politics, you need to play it from the local grounds, to get people to get you the votes, so, once you get that position and you are in that system, you can become a champion and that is why we are saying let us have constitutional conference, weaken the centre, but the politicians like it and do not want the centre to be weakened. 

If we go back to the way we were before, we were making progress and it was obvious that we were making tremendous progress with little or no resources until we found oil and the military took over. Few people came to write the constitution, things we did not agree with, things that suit them and we say let us review it and many of us are saying no, let us leave it like that.  Injustice does not last forever. It has an expiry date. We do not know how long it will last but one day, we will find out that we are doing the wrong thing. Look at how many young people we are producing as a nation, look at all the boys driving Okada, can’t they do better. What is our productivity on a daily basis as a nation? The word poor is a lack of productivity. 

Look at where Nigeria is today in the world’s indices of economic development! We are regarded as poor people because we are not adding value. The people at the top should galvanise the people, give them an enabling environment and release them to produce and that is how safe all of us are. If we do not produce, we are going to get more Boko Haram. Nobody believed that Boko Haram would be in Nigeria.  If you ask me the foundation of Boko Haram, it is due to the economic situation, when people are discontented, what is the value of life? We never had about kidnapping, and we have been hearing of armed robbery, but it has gone to another dimension. All these vices are good expressions that the economy is not doing well. I do not care if you want to go into politics but have something in mind to help get people out of poverty and turn the lives of people around. History will hold several leaders of this country accountable if something happens to Nigeria whether now or in the future.  Everybody that has been a leader in this country has something to explain because they must give account of their leadership and what they have done to turn this economy around and give people a sense of future and life.

I was in China a few months ago and I saw the gradual impetus being given to the electricians, technicians and so on. 
Let us have power for our children to study at home. Let us have power to start cottage industry before we use power to mobilise automobile that is too far away for us. We are good at taking used things. We are getting used wrapper, we are using used underwear, we are getting used bras, we are getting used cars and trucks, everything that is dead in the world is dumped in Nigeria and we have accepted it gladly and our leaders say that is how to help the masses. People are poor, but they do not use any of such things. Very soon, we shall import used toilet roll.  We import toothpicks, what do we not import in this country?  Since I was a child, we drank imported peak milk and we are still importing milk. Do we have ranches to grow milk and be able to produce milk? Nigeria has not produced it and we have people who have claimed to be leaders that have led us for eight (8) years. It is easy for everybody to blame everything now on Buhari under his four years. The system has been corrupt and bad. I am not saying it is better today. I am not PDP, neither am I APC. They are all the same.  I have seen the same people move around, they are all the same because it is the same people that move around.

A lot of people make issues with the fact that there is the fear that a portion of the country wants to run away and leave the country, and that is why some policies are put in place. Take, for instance, the port system concentrating everything in one area.  Do you think Nigeria is too big to be one country?
I do not think Nigeria is too big to be one country. Nigeria is not anywhere close to the United States of America. By land size, Nigeria is not as big as Libya. There are many countries that are much bigger than us but the truth is that people are not committed and do not believe we are one country. If you do not believe we are not one, is it not better to go through federalism as they have in the United States of America? If you cannot develop your area if that is what you derive satisfaction from, if what you feel that helps your future is to impoverish your people and make them pay homage to you and don’t get them empowered, if that makes you happy, then let everybody be free. 

If you go to the USA, you cannot find skyscraper in Akinson but they grow chicken and if you want chicken, you go there.  I read a story recently that Singapore used to be part of Malaysia.  I never knew I am not that educated, I never knew but each time they went to the meeting, everybody accused Singapore that they were very arrogant and one time they called a meeting excluding the Singaporeans and they expelled them. 

Singaporeans were devastated but today Singapore is not amongst the third world countries but Malaysia is still among the third world countries. They have made their progress but they will never catch up with Singapore. They put their ass together, the things they claimed they could do, they did it and we have seen it. It was not that they were arrogant but they found a better way of doing things but it was seen as arrogance so that is why I said, let us be one. If you come to our company, I am running a business; I do not know who is Yoruba or Igbo or who is Hausa?  I use the strength of my people to get what I want and that is the strength of Coscharis. Go and ask Aliko Dangote if all the people he employed are from the North or if all the people he has are from the South. He uses the best people he has. If you are Japanese and you will give him results, he will employ you. 

I have Ghanaians working for me who are Directors of my company because I am running as an entrepreneur. A country has to be run like a business, use your best people to get the best results. I will never be Coscharis. People say this thing you are doing is not fair as you do not follow your people. I am not running a church and this is not politics, it is about entrepreneurship. Somebody said why do you make a plateau man you’re second in command and my response was to let other people do what the Plateau man can do and I will employ you or whether you come from Lagos State or Anambra, it is immaterial. I go to the hospital where the doctor has the competence and knows better to fix me. We do not go to the hospital and ask the doctor, are you a Muslim or a Christian, a Buddhist or a free thinker? If you are a free-thinker, don’t touch me! It is only when the things that matter to us, we play down our religion and ethnicity, but when it comes to our country, it becomes a priority which is very unfortunate and I can tell you we are disobeying the law of God. 

A law is inherent in creation and it is about obeying principles, no matter my theory and logic, I do not need a prophet to prophesy to me. I do not need a witch doctor to protect me because if I violate the principle of gravity, death will be eminent. Nigeria is violating the principle of using the best people they have to get the best results. If we do not promote the principle of excellence, what do you think will be our best results by using people who are not competent, our weak people as our front runners? I have met the best brain you can find in the country from the northern part of Nigeria, but they will not give them opportunity that is why I said I blame politics for what is happening in Nigeria not ethnicity, it is politics. I know the capability of somebody like El Rufai and the Sultan of Sokoto, I know seasoned people. They can stand anybody in any part of the world. 

Do you know that a guy born in Sokoto, a northerner is the designer of General Motors in USA, one of their top designers? He is not an Ibo man or a Yoruba man, so why should people claim that we are weak. The things you claim belong to you; you do not want to claim you are strong. They say, we are backward, who told you that you are backward, empower your people, give them what they require and you will be amazed to see what comes out of this country. 

God blessed this country better than many other countries. If you promote excellence, everybody will work towards it. You will see someone that will come from behind and beat the man who is in front. Did America ask the boy, you are a Muslim, so, you cannot design cars for us?  They are looking for the best brains and anywhere they see it, they import it. You can keep your religion and your beliefs, it is immaterial but what people are looking for is what you can produce. There are people like me who will not talk because they will say I am an Ibo man and so on, therefore we live in mediocrity and nobody is speaking out and I am over 60 now and anything that I do not achieve now, is it when I am over 80 years that I will achieve it? If I have opportunity to speak, I go to places to talk to people, I go to universities to say do not fight ethnicity, fight politics. Politicians have used you and have got you confused. It is not about the east or the south or the west. It is about politics.  We play politics with the lives of the people and that is what I am fighting against.

Nigeria is still grappling with food insufficiency. Instead of going comprehensive with agriculture, the talk is about rice and selecting foodstuffs?
Let us even find enough carbohydrates to eat. So rice is important. Let us grow yam and cassava but a few years ago, before Buhari came, we were having bananas from Cameroun in malls at Abuja. Are we not supposed to be ashamed that we were importing bananas? We can grow apple in Plateau State because we have the temperature and the atmosphere to grow it. We should be exporting food, exporting fruits; let us do that one first before we talk about building aircraft. If we cannot feed ourselves, we have no foundation. Let us have good three square meals produced by us. I can accept, let us spend 10 billion dollars to buy spacecraft or whatever, but let us not spend 3 billion dollars to import food. 

Statistics clearly show that people at Cotonou are suffering because the President closed the border for about two (2) weeks. The highest rice importers are in Cotonou. Nigeria needs to feed itself. So Buhari has tried. If he solves the food problem in Nigeria, I will give him credit for it. Another person should come and solve the electrical problem and not that when he leaves, another person will come and scatter what he has done because that is part of the problems we have, there is no continuity. Let us be consistent. If PDP comes tomorrow, let them say Buhari has tried in agriculture; give Buhari the credit; continue his policy of agriculture; add your own! Not when you come, you scatter it. Jonathan started an auto policy, where have they taken it to? It has been left in shambles if something should be encouraged, give Jonathan credit for it, make it work; add your agriculture to it. Nigeria is making progress and that way, it shall add up and everything will come up into place. Do not say this is another man’s policy, you let the whole thing die off.  Let us be consistent!

There is this confusion about what to do with young people. Is it skill acquisition or going to school that is the problem today?
Skill acquisition is part of the problem. I am an employer of labour and I can tell you that many people passed through school but the school did not pass through them. You will be shocked when you see what is going on in schools today.  The military destroyed this country. How much do we vote for education? Please be honest! Less than 10 per cent! How many new universities have the government built in the last 40 years?  The universities that exist today are older than us. Nigeria used to be a country of excellence. People leave Ghana and other places to come and study here. Things they did not have, we had. 

Do you know that the first African television was in Ibadan? So what has gone wrong with us in this country? Our founding fathers have tried, but it is like we live like people that are cursed! But I have the hope that if the politicians can come together and make up their minds to fix us because they have to show the roadmap for people to follow. If they stop playing politics with the lives of people and decide to really affect the lives of people, Nigeria’s development will be in the Guinness book of records as it will be so unprecedented if we find the right leadership. What will happen here in four years will be amazing to the rest of the world, but it must be somebody who is active and can engage people every day and be willing to take criticisms and fix the country.

How do you think we can get out of this leadership selection problem where people say, let us do it like this or that?
We need to set the criteria and allow excellence to thrive.  Don’t we have intelligent people in this country?  Go around the world and see what is happening. Give Dangote the opportunity, for instance, to be the president of Nigeria and he uses his business sense to rule Nigeria. Dangote has factories all over this country. Did he say the factories must be in the North that is where I come from?  He used the best plan! It is not the lack of skilled and intelligent people who know what to do, but they will not give them the opportunity. The problem is we are not respecting skills and capacity. We have quality people from all parts of this country.

Nigeria will be 60 next year. What kind of future do you foresee for the country?
I have hope. I am not among those that have given up. Things never get dark forever. Sometimes, it gets dark before the new day dawns. Nigerians are complaining but many of us need to take our eyes back 30 years ago and see the condition that Ghana met. It will get to a point that all these people that have led this country, whether they like it or not, will be held accountable for what has gone wrong. 
 
After Ghanaians came to Nigeria and got involved in menial jobs as housekeepers and all sorts to earn a living, they went back to their country and the rest is history. Now, they are making consistent progress. You need to go to Ghana and see the traffic at Accra. 
 
Ghana is leaving us behind in terms of development and they are being recognized. International investors know that they can trust them; because when they say it they will do it. What we have is the number, but we are not making use of the population, because that number may eventually consume us. If you do not make use of it, that number may become something else for you. 

There is hope. I believe that one day God will give us a leader that will fix this country. I am optimistic that one day we shall get the leader that will fix this country and you will see what will happen in four years!


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