It’s Called Colonial Mentality By Simon Kolawole
No, I’m not making any excuses, but it seems we don’t know what we are doing in this country. And because we don’t know what we are doing, we keep doing things that hurt us. And because we keep doing things that hurt us, we keep going round and round in a vicious circle. I’m not making any excuses, I insist, but how can we defeat a mentality that perpetually keeps us under â”€ such that when we are making progress, we nullify it with another wrong step or a series of wrong steps? You will understand my argument as you read on, and I will cite two examples to make my point in this brief discussion on colonial mentality â”€ that mental illness that makes us think that the worst of our colonial masters is better than the best of us.
I’ll start with the recent guidelines issued by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) on rating agencies in Nigeria. In advanced economies, ratings are an integral part of the operations of the economy. There is the significance of placing companies or corporate entities in their proper categories, helping investors and customers make informed decisions, and setting benchmarks to engender competition and growth in the various sectors. But an addition to these “technical benefits” is that ratings are a full business on their own, a potential multibillion naira component of the financial sector. In other words, there are jobs to be created, there are taxes to be paid into government coffers and there are millionaires to be made, as in banking and industry.
So what’s the issue? SEC has come up with a very discriminatory policy which, if unchecked, will amount to a form of genocide â”€ mass-killing the local rating agencies and promoting foreign ones. I know we do that always, but maybe it has to stop someday. According to SEC, the capital requirement for Nigerian rating agencies should now be N150 million, up from N20 million. To start with, what’s capital base got to do with a job that is purely intellectual and has no fiduciary commitment to customers? Professor Chukwuma Soludo, as CBN governor, did consolidation in the banking industry, raising their capital base. There were arguments about how good or bad the policy was, but banks deal in cash and so we can consider the logic of it. But rating agencies are no banks.
The colonial mentality in SEC’s new policy is very evident in its exemption of foreign rating agencies from the capital requirement. In fact, foreign agencies are not required to register in Nigeria at all! They are virtually unregulated. They are not compelled to invest a dime in our economy. And you know what? They get all the juicy businesses. It is so easy for them to get these businesses because, well, they are foreigners. It is a vicious circle. We give them billion naira businesses because they are foreigners and are respected; they have enough cash to employ the best brains and maintain their positions at the top; they get more respect because of the quality of their jobs; they get more jobs as a result; and the virtues keep reinforcing themselves.
For the Nigerian companies, the fact that they are “Nigerian” means we undervalue them. We undervalue them and they get less jobs. They get less jobs, make less money and are unable to attract the best hands and improve their capacity. And so they are highly limited on how far they can go in an economy where the ratings business can generate billions of dollars if regulators decide to ramp it up. We are where we are now: Nigerian agencies, all numbering five, struggling to have their share of a business whose current local worth is a meagre N500 million per annum; foreign rating agencies will walk in with their brief cases, seal deals in billions of naira and fly out the following day. Let me say I am not intelligent enough to understand the logic behind this.
Clearly, we have no strategic national interest. Advanced countries make policies to favour themselves, to promote their own interests, to fly their flags all over the world. We make policies and take decisions to help outsiders and keep subjugating ourselves to them. And that takes me to the second example. The level of access foreign media enjoy in Nigeria is astonishing. It has got to a stage that we get the most authentic and up-to-date information about Nigeria from foreign media. Why is it so? It is easier for a trainee reporter from a foreign TV station to walk into Aso Rock and start talking to top government officials than for a Nigerian publisher to be granted audience.
Government officials are ready to go to any length to please foreign media â”€ perhaps because of the image they want to paint to the outside world or perhaps because they worship skin colour, or maybe both. On their own, the officials will offer security escort to take the journalists to the war zone, a privilege they will never offer to Nigerian journalists. They will give foreigners the contacts of people to interview. They will take them to the villages and encourage the villagers to talk to them. Yet, these guys go back and file reports painting Nigeria as the worst place to live on earth. Those who live outside Nigeria will not even believe we have up to one kilometre of tarred road. They think all our girls are not allowed to go to school. They think we’re picking up bullets from our doorsteps by the hour.
Ironically, government officials are ready to take “insulting” questions from these foreign journalists. Let a Nigerian journalist ask the same questions. He will be tongue-lashed and walked out by security operatives. It is called colonial mentality. Our government officials volunteer information to foreigners without shame. Go and read those diplomatic cables published by Wikileaks years ago. The way our people run their mouths in front of foreigners simply because of the colour of their skin is amazing. If you want to get a government contract, put a white man on your team during the negotiation. It is a done deal. Or put the address of your distant cousin in Peckham on your business card and letterhead as your “London address” and see the magic it will do. Shame.
I insist I am not making any excuses. We have our own faults and weaknesses as Nigerian entrepreneurs, journalists, contractors, etc etc. I will readily admit that. But how much encouragement do we get? What is our strategic national interest that we are projecting? How long are we going to be empowering foreigners at our own expense â”€ and them turn round to condemn ourselves?
“Clearly, we have no strategic national interest. Advanced countries make policies to favour themselves, to promote their own interests, to fly their flags all over the world. We make policies and take decisions to help outsiders and keep subjugating ourselves to them”
KNIFE AND YAM
President Goodluck Jonathan has taken a tough position on Boko Haram’s offer of a prisoner swap to free the schoolgirls. He said government would not do any deal. Was it brinkmanship? Maybe. One thing should be very clear to us: Boko Haram has an advantage in this matter. If the girls were not with them and they demanded the release of imprisoned militants as a condition for ceasefire, Jonathan’s position would be perfect. It would be like “meet me on the battlefront!” But, in this instance, they have the yam and the knife, as my Igbo friends would say. Dicey.
President Jonathan has been criticised for not visiting Chibok since the kidnap saga. It was widely reported that he would visit on May 16, but he reportedly cancelled the trip for “security reasons” – although his spokesman has denied all reports. I have a theory. Could it be that Jonathan actually planned to visit but changed his mind after the mutiny in Maiduguri when a soldier shot at his commander? There are reports of tensions and double-dealing among the soldiers and that, indeed, some of them are sympathetic to Boko Haram. Who wants a bullet in the head? #Gbam!
Many Nigerians will be wondering if the United Nations’ sanctions against Boko Haram would amount to anything. The assets of the leaders will be frozen; they will get a travel ban; and an arms embargo will be placed on them. To be honest, I don’t know what all these mean. Have they been having access to their assets? Have they been travelling officially? And have they been getting their arms through bilateral agreements? At best, this is symbolic: the UN has taken an official stand against Boko Haram. Coming after the insurgents have reportedly killed 10,000 persons! Bizarre.
When people say Nigeria is finished, when people stereotype our youths as shallow and wasted, I always beg to differ. Chude Jideonwo is a piece of evidence I always present to support my case that there is hope and plenty hope for us. I’ve monitored his career for over a decade, and it is heart-warming how he has progressed from a younger lawyer who fell in love with journalism to an entrepreneur, writer and publisher. Today, the brain behind YNaija! and The Future Project will launch his book, Are We the Turning Point Generation? It is a collection of essays on leadership that should inspire a new sense of change among the youth. Incisive.
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