Reflections on Nigeria’s romance with India

Casmir Igbokwe

Published Sunday, 28 Oct. 2007

Last April, female civil servants in India almost revolted against their government. Their grouse had to do with new appraisal forms, which required them to reveal details of their menstrual cycles. They were also to write down their detailed menstrual history, history of last menstrual period and date of last maternity leave. These were besides the health checks that are conducted among civil servants every year.

This tended to confirm the fear of some Nigerians that some Indian companies care less about the welfare of their workers. Remember that labour leaders of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria, earlier this month, kicked against the proposed concession of electricity transmission in the country to the Power Grid Company of India. One of the points they raised was that Indian firms within the country lacked good staff welfare record.

These, among others, occupied my mind as I reflected on our current romance with India. Penultimate week, the Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, was in Nigeria on an official visit. The visit led to the signing of strategic pacts between Nigeria and India. Among the key decisions taken is that within the next six months, Nigerian travellers to India can do so by direct flight. There will not be any need to connect flights in Dubai or Addis-Ababa. The two countries also agreed to strengthen cooperation in the areas of culture, health, education, information and communication technology, infrastructure and small and medium enterprises.

These are steps in the right direction. We are now in a global village, and countries achieve more by cooperating with one another. Recall that India once gave Nigeria $5 million to resuscitate the Nigerian Machine Tools Company in Osogbo. It has also promised to give more grants to Nigeria. Besides, there are Indian companies doing businesses in this country. Global Infrastructure, for instance, is running our Ajaokuta and Aladja iron and steel industries.

No doubt, India is Nigeria’s largest trading partner in Africa. That country has achieved successes in the ICT sector. If it could replicate those successes in Nigeria, that will be good. In the area of electric power, the PHCN has failed Nigerians woefully. If an Indian company could transform electricity transmission in the country, that will also be wonderful. But beyond oil, and perhaps, 419, what else has Nigeria got to offer that country?

The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Chief Ojo Maduekwe, reportedly noted that Singh’s visit would make a way for Nigerians to establish businesses in India. I only hope his optimism will not be like that of young Nigerians who travel to India to play football and end up as drug couriers and advance fee fraudsters. As the Nigerian High Commissioner to India, Ambassador Mohammed Lawal, put it, over 75 per cent of Nigerians living in India have no meaningful means of livelihood.

A few years ago, Nigeria and India were almost on the same economic pedestal. Today, that country has overtaken us. Malaysia has left us behind. Singapore is far ahead of us. These countries did not look up to any country for salvation. They looked inwards, tapped the talents they have within to achieve their goals.

I have my doubts about the successes of any business we intend to establish in India. If it will not be to the benefit of that country, it may not work. Remember that Nigeria reaffirmed its support for India’s permanent membership of the United Nations’ Security Council. India, on its part, said it would respect Africa’s consensus on new permanent membership from Africa. What does that mean? Why can’t India express unalloyed support to Nigeria?

Our salvation lies more within us. Not with India. Not with China. Not even with the United States. Individually, Nigerians have excelled in any endeavour they find themselves. Just recently, former Finance Minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, was appointed the Managing Director of the World Bank. Also, a Nigerian scholar of international law, Dr. Obi Aginam, has just been appointed as the Director of Studies, Policy and Institutional Frameworks, Peace and Governance Programme of the UN’s University Centre in Tokyo, Japan. Three Nigerian dons were also reported to be part of the work of the UN’s Inter-governmental panel on Climate Change that won this year’s Nobel Peace prize with Al Gore of the US. A Nigerian undergraduate, Mubarak Abdullahi, was recently reported to have built a helicopter with scraps from old cars and motorbikes in Kano.

Charity, the cliché goes, begins at home. Maduekwe should first go to the cabinet meeting in Abuja and help in initiating policies that will encourage Nigerians to establish businesses in their country first. The Nigerian environment is too hostile to businesses. Do we talk of poor and irregular electricity supply? Do we talk of bad roads? Do we talk of inconsistent government policies that stifle businesses? These are the issues Maduekwe and his colleagues should concern themselves with first. We cannot talk of establishing businesses abroad when we don’t have a firm root at home.

I only hope the enthusiasm to consummate our affairs with India or any other Asian nation does not leave us brooding like a woman with painful and irregular menstruation.      

Feedback

Re: Sudden death, spiritual protection and our lawmakers

Dear Mr Igbokwe,

I left Nigeria many years ago and came to visit a few months ago. I had to go outside Lagos to another state. It was like a race to hell in commercial (combi) bus I travelled in. The roads were bad all right, but the drivers! Have you ever noticed how very careless, reckless, impatient and irresponsible Nigerian drivers, both privates and commercials are?

Everyone drives like they are running a race on a bad road. Can you imagine a car on a speed of 160 kilometres per hour even on a bad road and the people talk about accident being the work of the devil. Yes, the devil that is in them…their impatience, carelessness, etc. Even the many air disasters are as a result of carelessness and irresponsibility.

I decided to fly back to Lagos because of my experience and boy, what a disaster, what a nightmare! The Virgin Air almost collided with a flight that was just taxiing off. Thank God the pilot was quick to act (they were white). Can you believe that the air controller gave them the order to land? Carelessness in the highest order..! I hope the authorities will create awareness on the issue of over-speeding and have a minimum speed limit put into effect in the cities as well as on the highways.

Elizabeth Sodipo

easodipo@hotmail.com

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