PATH TO NIGERIAN GREATNESS: On the campaign trail Whither the poor under the new dispensatlon*

Continued from      last week

IN our approach to the problem of inflation, we have, in our mental indolence, tended to base our solution mainly on monetary manipulation and price control. The Unity Party of Nigeria will strive to do much better than these. Firstly, we will, under our integrated rural development scheme, produce much more food at home. Fortunately, most of our foodstuffs are yearly or twice-yearly crops. We will abolish price and other controls and produce more foods, more houses, more clothing material, and more consumer goods generally. Experiences over the years have demonstrated beyond any doubt that much control breeds much inefficiency and much corruption. Secondly, we will deliberately seek to export part of our international inflation to foreign countries.

This brings me to the issue of bans on various items of imports, the aim of these -bans is to conserve our foreign exchange; but in the process we have intensified the inflationary pressure at home.

We have even done worse; we have encouraged smuggling on a large scale, which ipso facto involves illicit dealings in foreign currencies also on a large scale, to the utter detriment of our foreign earnings and the frustration of our aim to conserve Nigeria’s foreign exchange reserve.

In spite of all the bans on imports, in spite of all the controls and monetary manipulations, our inflationary rate is steadily on the increase, and our balance of payments position is continually on the decline.

In the circumstances, the Unity Party of Nigeria will have no hesitation at all in lifting all the bans on imports, and abolishing all the existing controls. We will also bring about a radical change in the direction of our international trade. At present, we are too vulnerably’ exposed to the ruthless onslaughts of certain countries. And as soon as the Unity Party of Nigeria is in power, we will invite the countries concerned to bilateral talks, with a’ view to future balancing of the trades and payments between us and them. With these countries, it must be two-way traffic or no traffic at all. It is criminal folly for Nigeria, economically emaciated as it is, to submit meekly to being cannibalised by economically sleek industrial countries.

Similarly we will remove all the prevailing restraints on trade, as well as governmental interference in commercial activities. In other words, government owned companies and corporations like Nigerian National Supply Company will be folded up. Their operations have proved to be unwarranted interference with and inhibition on commercial activities, and they have more than any other institutions promoted colossal waste, scarcity, and corruption in the economy.

We will do more. We will sedulously encourage the local manufacture of commodities for which we have raw materials. For instance, why should we be importing even as much as one bag of cement into this country, when we have more than enough limestone deposits in the country to satisfy all our wants in the matter of cement? Accordingly, we will make a clean departure from the present policy of the Ministry of Industries by allowing any group of Nigerians with or without the association of expatriate investors to establish cement works, beer breweries, distilleries, textile mills, finished-lace factories, etc., anywhere in Nigeria. In this connection, I would like to state that what indigenously owned Nigerian industries need is not injudicious tariff protection which does more harm to many more people than the good it does to a few. What they need is assistance in various forms to enable their products to compete effectively with imported goods. Such assistance will take the form of cheaper and more dependable infrastructures, lower customs duties on imported materials, lower excise duties on finished goods, subsidised technical assistance; direct financial subsidy for food production, and so on and so forth. We will even do more than these. It will be possible, under the UPN Government, to obtain expatriate quota with absolute ease. Why should any Government department have the power to determine and limit the number of expatriates which a business concern should have? And why should it take weeks rather than minutes for anyone, who is certified to be in the employ of or connected with any business ,established or to be established in Nigeria, to obtain a visa to travel to Nigeria?

These measures were brought into being when our colonial masters were in charge and wanted to prevent their rivals from entrenching themselves here. Today, the measures constitute veritable clogs in the wheels of industrial and economic progress, and they should and will be removed.

Another instance of a facile approach to the solution of a knotty problem is the enactment last December of Decree No. 36 of 1978. This Decree makes provision for the pre-shipment inspection of imports. The aim and object of the inspection, which aim and object are undoubtedly laudable, are to stamp out the practice of invoice- loading, which is damaging both to our foreign reserve and to our economy.

The point I want to take up on this Decree is not its aim or object or reason. This, as I have said, is unexceptionable. But the method adopted and the underlying basic reason for the method are not easy to understand.

To be continued