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Another look at Elumelu’s observations on western thoughts about Africa

Recent outpouring of leading African entrepreneur and chairman of United Bank for Africa (UBA), Mr. Tony Elumelu is mind boggling and has presented a serious challenge African.

At a gathering of senior policymakers and developments experts hosted by UK’s leading foreign policy institute, the Chairman of Heirs Holdings spoke  in  a panel alongside United Kingdom Minister of State, Department for International Development (DFID), Rory Stewart, OBE.

Speaking at Charhan House in London, Elumelu said Information presented about Africa is neither holistic nor properly contextualized, “and has led to the kind of narrative that we have had for so long on Africa.

The challenge is identifying the best strategy to correct the impression and the job cannot be done alone by leaders, but everybody.

According to Elumelu, “As an investor, when all you have heard about Africa is corruption, how would you pass a positive investment decision to go and invest in the continent? The result is that the vicious cycle of neglect continues and is even reinforced.”

Now, the key questions are who gathers, prepares and presents African information to the outside world?

In the process of answering these three questions, one comes to terms that for the fact that over governments in Africa do not see gathering of development data and process as germane to aggregate development and growth, the developed world who are in the know of the importance do so for us and in the process get a lot of things highly distorted and worst all, lord it on us at our detriment.

African and Nigeria in particular are not serious in data gathering and processing. The reasons are many.

One; many of the areas where data are supposed to be gathered and kept are neglected. Besides, issues bordering on data generation are on the hands of the government which had been on analogue procedural systems for too long.

For instance, if you visit any village hospital and ask for the birth records of children born in the last 20 years, you can hardly get them; because the records had been so dusty that they have been disposed off.

If you go to a school you left about 35 year ago to seek data about your performance during your days in the school, you are just wasting your time because you cannot get it and teachers you will meet will wonder why you are asking for a data you know that cannot still be here waiting.

Nigeria grew with this mentality and that is why, up till now, it is very hard for the Ministry of petroleum to beat its chest and tell Nigerians the exact number of barrels of oil produced daily today and exported.

Today, ordinary Nigerians and even those in government cannot know the exact volume of oil shipped, rather we keep hearing about oil thieves and nothing is being done to stop the menace.

Only recently, it was discovered that an international solid mineral mining company has been mining and exporting resources and exporting to the tune of N100 billion under the nose of the government.

Why?; because we do not keep data which the western world is suing to deal with us.

Elumelu was able to realize this because he has been very close to them and wishes to see how the narrative will be changed.

Due to lack of data keeping culture, Nigeria do not know when food production is excess or in shortage.

However, why the dataless culture is doing well is that it aids corruption and robbery of government or public assets and fund.

Otherwise, why should a former Minister amass well over 60 houses while in government and the statistics did not show anywhere until the EFCC bumped on it.

Otherwise, why money be starched away from government coffers and it was not discovered and recovered in time until security agencies sniff on it.

Few weeks ago, expatriates’ working for Zte telecoms services firm were swooped upon by immigration only to observe that several foreign nationals have no work permits.

Only last week, the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola asked the Immigration agency to work on the reality of the documentation of the managing director of Egbin Power Station, Mr. Pearvey, why simply because the man made some comments he was not comfortable with during the recent visit of the US lawmakers.

Analysts say the sudden request made by the minister means a lot. One, either he has been aware of the immigration status of the man and has to open up as a way of fighting back on his comments, or otherwise.

In the first instance, it is lack of data culture that gave room for Whistle Blowing Policy (WBP) of the government.

Otherwise, the meaning of WBP is simply very clear; help government with data and information because we do not have them.

It is still the same poor data gathering and processing that up till today, Nigeria cannot boost of a credible biometric identification system

Today in the country, the banks have their biometric system, Road Safety has, INEC has, National Identity management Commission (NIMC) is wobbling to have, Telecoms networks have, hospitals have, immigration authorities have.

Analysts say if we want to change the wrong perception and associated narratives of Nigeria and Africa in general as currently paraded by the western world, Nigeria need to begin data build up from the scratch.

However, can corruption allow that?

We at Business Hilights in fact, have seen what the Chairman of Heirs Holdings, a pan-African investment firm with interests in financial services, power and oil & gas, saw before calling for an urgent “reset of mindset” to attract the level of global private capital that will drive job creation and reduce poverty on the continent.

Elumelu said in London during the discursion that  “We must reset the way we see and discuss Africa. People do business with people they are comfortable with. Investors who repeatedly hear horrible things about our people and the continent will never invest here. We will continue to host national gatherings and seminars to discuss unemployment, poverty and income inequality if we do not fix the existing information asymmetry, the poor quality of information that is put out.”

Business Hilights gathered that the Founder of the Tony Elumelu Foundation also rallied public and private sector stakeholders and the development world to increase support to African SMEs, describing them as “the lifeblood of our economy”.

Elumelu, who has committed $100m to African entrepreneurs, emphasized the critical importance of mentoring and funding for the survival of small businesses. In a continent where only 700 companies generate over $500m in annual revenue, half the number in other regions, Elumelu called for targeted support to grow these small businesses into scalable companies capable of becoming big corporates in the future.