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Before you drink that expensive champagne

OF all the advertisements that I have seen published in Nigerian newspapers in recent times, none has captured my attention as the one placed by The Policy Research Centre, which I presume to be a think tank on public policy in Nigeria. The bold and irreverent advert, which features an alluring bottle of the luxury Moet champagne, asked:” Wondering Why Our Forex Reserves Are Diminishing?”

The question dovetailed into a quote by Whitey Basson, the Chief Executive Officer of the international mega store chain, Shoprite. He said: “The seven Nigerian Shoprite stores have already sold more Moet Champagne than all our South African stores put together.”

This statement of the Shoprite CEO, made in September 2013, should be food for thought for all well meaning Nigerians. As simple as it sounds, the statement is pregnant with meanings for Nigeria, Nigerians and the Nigerian economy. This, however, is no happy pregnancy that could be expected to lead to the delivery of a bouncing baby in nine months. It is the kind of pregnancy that should worry all Nigerians. What does this statement really mean to Nigeria? Definitely, as the advert said, the CEO could not have made the statement with ill-will for Nigeria.

He probably made it as compliment to Nigeria’s vibrant economy and the huge potential that the economy has in the world market. Nigerians who are wise enough to read between the lines will know, however, that the unbridled consumption of imported expensive champagne is no compliment to any serious economy. It suggests a country where imports are uncontrolled and all manner of goods are brought in and freely consumed to the detriment of the national economy. It suggests a people with one of the highest poverty rates in the world who love the consumption of imported luxury drinks at the detriment of the development of their own local economy.

It indicates a country where the leaders are not ready to do what is required to develop the local economy but are ready to leave room for importation of all what not while unemployment ravages its population. It is a monumental testimony to our love for expensive wines and other luxury items that we cannot produce. This is quite unlike the situation in South Africa and many other countries where importation is not left unbridled and efforts to bring non-essential items into the country could be likened to that of a camel trying to pass through the eye of a needle. Now, Nigerians’ abiding love for all things foreign is not at all new. It has been with us over the years. We are a country of people who cannot manufacture good textiles, yet we want to wear the best that is available from any corner of the world.

We cannot manufacture even our basic underwear but we must use the best ever made by humankind in any part of the world. We largely do not appreciate our own local goods, but must eat rice imported from Thailand, wear shoes from Italy, lace from Switzerland, gowns from Turkey and America, and use toothpicks from China. Not at all for us the shoes made in Aba, or the rice grown in the country. Our love for foreign goods have today stretched to imported tomatoes, pepper, pineapples, oranges, apples, cucumbers and even bush meat, as came to light during the battle against Ebola virus when a truckload of imported bush meat was stopped from entering the country from the border of one of the northern states with a neighbouring country.

As that advert asked: what rocket science would it take for Nigerians to produce some of these things and create jobs for our teeming population? Unfortunately, all the promises by our past governments on imports substitution have ended in nought, and our engineering graduates and others have continued to roam the streets searching for non-existing jobs while we keep the factories in China, Taiwan and Switzerland roaring with life and busy producing non-essential goods that we can jolly well produce by ourselves, for us. Before now, this unchecked importation of items like toothpicks, toilet rolls, soaps and wines had not been a problem at all, since we had the foreign exchange to procure them. Our problem, it appeared, was not how to get forex but how to expend it, as petro-dol Before you pop that Moet champagne lars rained into the country.The nation’s imports bill rose from N148 billion in 2005 to N917 billion in 2015, an increase of 529 percent. A lot of this money went into the importation of fish (when we could grow fish in the country), wheat flour (when yam is a healthier alternative) and rice (when we have our local rice and other local staples). Today, the situation has changed. The price of oil in the international market has crashed from above $100 a barrel a few years ago to about $30 per barrel today. The implication of this is that the petrodollars are drying up and we can no longer fund the huge imports as we had been doing before.

The solution, before we pop that next bottle of Moet Champagne, is to look inward and ask if there is really no local alternative. It is to buy the made in Nigeria goods wherever they are available instead of rushing for the imported ones. It is for Nigeria’s leaders to begin to actively promote the local manufacturing of all essential goods and encourage their use by Nigerians to create jobs that will take many Nigerians off the unemployment list. Nigeria should grow in production of goods for both local consumption and exports and not in the importation of goods for consumption, which can only deplete our forex earnings.

In the era of change promised by the Muhammadu Buhari administration, the promotion of production and consumption of local goods is the way to go. The restriction of exports will naturally lead to a lot of hues and cries. Lovers of luxury items in Nigeria will cry to the high heavens, but manufacturers will smile and the people they will employ to produce the goods will be happy.

The undue pressure on our foreign exchange will be reduced. We will save our forex for essential items and boost our local industries. We will lose nothing, other than our penchant for foreign goods.