Mr. President, Please Stop Teasing
By HENRY OKOROAFOR
World leaders gathered in Seoul, South Korea on 27 March, 2012 for Nuclear Security Summit and President Goodluck Jonathan was one of them.
He attended the summit in the company of his wife and a few delegates that includes two state governors. After the summit, President Jonathan addressed the Nigerian community in South Korea and commended them for their positive projection of Nigeria’s images in the Asian country. He also expressed his gratitude for their commitment to the development of Nigerian economy through funds remittances. I was overwhelmed with nostalgia, reading about this meeting between the President and the pack of Itaewon based Nigerian tycoons. I know most of these Nigerians in Seoul, having lived there on a military assignment for two years. I can also attest to the fact that they are a hardworking and very enterprising bunch. Although a good number of them live under very austere conditions, especially the new arrivals, South Korea still affords them the opportunity to realize the dream of a good standard of living through hardwork and obedience to the law.
During my two year assignment in South Korea, I saw firsthand how the government takes care of its people. So when President Jonathan talked about replicating the principles of the Asian Tigers, it only came across to me as a tease. The “Four Asian Tigers” is a term used in reference to the highly developed economies of Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea. These Dragons as they are also called have carved out and maintained a very bullish and steady economic growth through information technology development, industrialization and enviable global financial dealing between the early 1960s and 1990s. I know by now pundits are smelling blood based on my pessimistic attitude towards the President’s assertions or should I say rhetoric. If that is the case, so be it and I will stand my ground on this one. Yes, replicating the characteristics of the Asian Tigers is more of a moral obligation to the Nigerian people by the government. However, I am sorry to say that in this part of the Sub-Sahara Africa, morality has no residence. Without sounding too negative or extra critical of the President, let’s focus our attention only on South Korea since this medium is not enough to fully accommodate the other three Tigers’ résumés.
In an effort to at least credit the President’s speech with some substance if any, I was instantly drawn to a few obvious and public statistics of Nigeria and South Korea. Judging from what I have seen, I can say for a fact that our dear GEJ is a daydreamer. Perhaps the eight hour time difference between Abuja and Seoul had Mr. Jonathan hallucinating. South Korea is a country of 48,860,500 people. In comparison, it is about the size of 12 Nigerian states combined, but without significant natural resources such as oil. However, since we cannot compare apples to oranges, it is of no use boring you with too much economic data. So let’s stick the basics. With a purchasing power parity of $1.549 trillion in 2011, South Korea ranks number 13 in world economic index. They own KIA group, Hyundai group, Daewoo group, Samsung group, LG group as well as numerous other PLCs. These companies make up the heavily fortified economic arsenal from where Seoul fires on all cylinders at the world market. It took share determination and commitment by the government to bring Hyundai and KIA motors from being cheap, starters’ choices to their current and rightful speed lanes in the world class luxury vehicle roadways. So Mr. President Sir, if I may ask, what else are we bringing to the global road show apart from barrels of oil since most of their rides are now going hybrid?
Nigeria could be running on empty tank in a race to position itself even as a regional economic power, regardless of oil availability. But we can regain our place in the world rankings of emerging economies because we have the human capital and the funds to embark on any sustainable economic development project we so choose. We can establish speed train systems, with hubs in every major commercial, tourist, or academic city in Nigeria to include Abuja. The result of such endeavour would be unimaginable because someone could reside in Enugu and work in Abuja daily. This will help decongest major cities and empower most of the villages at the micro economic level. I can go on and on with this, but I reserve the details for Owelle Rochas who will actually make use of my advice as he has done with other well meaning Nigerians. South Korean economy is highly export intensive to the extent that residence permit or stay as it is called for most immigrants is based on how much containers of goods they are able to purchase and ship to their home countries. The government has laws that empower private companies to seek and invite potential customers into the country as long as they are able to buy certain amounts of goods from their companies. The Nigerian government can create many other export goods and services apart from oil if it invests in research and development in our universities and colleges. It can encourage companies and various organizations to develop research centres in schools at the exchange of reasonable tax credit. This is how developed countries do it.
For your information Mr. President, there are many deliberate, micro and macroeconomic efforts made by the Korean government that resulted in all the beautiful things you saw on you visit there. These wonders include Inch-eon Airport, which ranked number three in the 2011 world best airports list. Here are some of the initial mistakes the President made on this trip. Seoul is number eight in the list of most populous cities in Asia. Lagos is the most populous city in Nigeria. If the President had meant what he said, he would have made this trip in the company of Governor Fashola and Owelle Rochas just for a start. These two men command very unique segments of the Nigerian economic development initiatives at the moment. Fashola has impressively transformed Lagos, while Rochas has revamped the infrastructures of the previously crippled Eastern Heartland state of Imo within eight to nine months in office. The duo would have been a better match for Oh Se-Hoon the mayor of Seoul and his team in a round table discussion on economic development. Instead, the President went with two of his cronies who have nothing to show for the oil revenue and time in office except for their financial contributions to the President’s re-election funds and their active membership in the PDP gang. It is not my duty to chalk names into the President’s travel itinerary and I understand these two men are not really favoured by the President. They are not his friends because they could perhaps be interviewing for his job come 2015. To be honest, based on their impressive CV’s so far, Nigerians are likely to hire either of them if they apply for the job.
Hong Kong, South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan are called the “Four Asian Tigers” for their agility, focus, commitment and determination, but most importantly for their honesty; an inherent leadership attribute in Asia. The effects of South Korea’s industrialization efforts and its cultural behaviour have its citizens sitting pretty, with total population life expectancy of 79.3 years at birth; one of the highest in the world. Nigeria’s average life expectancy at birth is only 47.56 years. The 2011 corrupt nation’s world index of Transparency International for 183 nations places South Korea at number 43 and Nigeria at number 143. The index ranks countries from number 1 as least corrupt to number 183 as most corrupt. Okay the issue of corruption in Nigeria is almost a way of life especially for our leaders, which means that it is no longer newsworthy and would be just beating a dead horse. Even with South Korea’s wealth and economic development, the President’s annual salary is only $ 136,699; one of the lowest among both developed and third world nations. Meanwhile, Nigeria’s annual export income from oil is only $56 billion and the president officially earns $400,000 per annum besides allowances and whatever he can come up with in addition. Come to think of it, even the salary of the secretary to Nigeria’s cabinet at $197,000 per annum is more than what Mr. Lee Myung-bak makes.
How does the President plan to replicate the qualities of the four Asian Tigers when he also stated in the same forum that Nigerian leaders are playing politics with terrorism? Yes you heard clearly, playing politics as young graduates on youth service are being slaughtered by Boko Haram, Christians are blown up in churches here and there, innocent school children are set on fire in the comfort of their ravaged school yards, businesses continue to be looted and burnt down, and the wrath of the global community (UN building, U.S Embassy) aggravated with improvised explosives and bullets? Tell me how you Mr. President plan to feed the tiger when the keys to Nigerian treasury is duplicated and handed to the very few, who managed to scheme their ways to the political corridors of the nations from local government headquarters to Aso Rock? Former South Korean President Roh Moo-Hyun (2003-2008) committed suicide for being charged with corruption. Although he did not plead guilty, he left a suicide note for the media which read “Too many people have suffered because of me. And I cannot imagine the suffering they will go through in the future.” I do not advocate suicide as a measure of one’s integrity, but I can honestly say that in comparison to Hyun’s sense of remorse, our leaders are nothing but devil’s incarnates.
The distance from Taegu, South Korea the home town of the UN Secretary General Mr. Ban ki Moon to Seoul, is 235.81 KM and takes only 3 hours drive due to near perfect road conditions. The distance between Benin City and Lagos, Nigeria is 247.43 KM and is almost a near death experience to travel on due to deplorable road conditions. South Korea’s economic machine is fuelled in part by the collective efforts of its entire citizenry, who are able to perform to their full potentials because they are provided with the right leadership. This is a country where guns and concealed weapons are taboos. I remember rushing out of my apartment one day on my way to China and before I could land at terminal 3 of Beijing Capital International Airport, my landlord called to let me know that I left my bunch of keys on my door and that he had secured it. How does the President plan to copy a system (South Korea) that abhors corruption into one (Nigeria) that adores it?
In 1998, South Korean economy suffered major setbacks. The government reached out to its people and within few days, South Koreans, rich and poor, home and abroad started donating their precious gold jewelleries to help ignite its fading economy. The gesture was a giant leap forward and propelled the economy back to its high position in the world market. Why did they do it you may ask? They did it because they trust their government, they did it because their government is honest, they did it because their government is fair to them, and they did it because they had hope, but above all, because they were all in it together; the leaders and the led.
Once again Mr. President, please help us keep our expectations within realistic parameters. It is okay to dream, it is okay to talk the talk but with the pack of “Jackals and Hyenas” in charge of affairs in Nigeria, the only things we can replicate are empty vaults of a looted treasury. Thank you sir and please tell us something we can believe.