It is sad that Nigeria’s foreign exchange earnings pall into insignificance when compared with the real needs facing the country. Even sadder is the penchant for anything foreign that is being exhibited by our leaders. This puts undue pressure on the foreign exchange market in the country.
Take for instance, the much talked about medical tourism, which has become a drain on Nigeria’s foreign exchange. Earlier this year, the minister of state for health, Osagie Ehanire, revealed that Nigeria lost about $1 billion every year as a result of medical tourism by Nigerians to India, USA, UK, among other countries.
The preference by Nigerians to seek medical care abroad is unfortunate.
This is taking place in spite of Nigeria’s potential to attract medical tourism in different fields of medicine. Some major and complicated medical operations such as kidney transplant and other surgeries have been undertaken in Nigeria. Nigeria’s presidents including Ibrahim Babangida and the current one, Muhammadu Buhari, are known to have spent weeks in foreign countries attending to some ailment that cost the nation millions of dollars.
Despite several calls for the government to disclose how much Buhari’s treatment in the UK cost Nigeria, the authorities refused to do so. But, even taking just the $1 billion yearly loss as indicated by the minister of state, it is certain that the loss is significant in a country that is deeply getting weighed down by debt.
This amount, converted to naira at the official central bank rate, is N306 billion. The real cost of medical tourism to Nigeria is whatever that money could be used to do in the country each year! Is there any hospital of world standard that could be built at this amount? That is the cost.
Perhaps the latest manifestation of this penchant for foreign products and services is the one emerging in the Nigerian advertising industry, which is the trend in the advertising industry. The local advertising industry involved in one form of foreign engagement or the other through advert shooting though Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria (APCON) has been able to tame this through its reform.
It is either pre-production, shooting and post-production of adverts are done outside the country where the models are foreign and the production crew are also foreigners and the Nigerian client and its agency representatives travel abroad to supervise the production or the creative, technical and administrative talents are flown in into the country to work on the production. In both types of productions, foreign exchange is involved to pay for the services, Jide Alade, a communication expert writes.
In addition to all these foreign exchange expenses, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is said to have contracted the services of Brian Balland, a top US lobbyist for $90,000 (N31.5m) per month, as communications consultants, ahead of the upcoming 2019 election.
Similarly, some Nigerians have also raised concern that the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) is said to be considering two options in that direction: either to re-engagement AKPD Message and Media, a United States-based public relations and public affairs consultancy firm, or hire a fresh agency from South Africa.
AKPD, which was co-founded by David Axelrod, ex-President Barack Obama’s campaign strategist and a former White House Advisor, handled the APC public relations brief during the build-up to the 2015 elections. The firm was paid in foreign currency.
Reacting to the preference for foreign agencies who will be paid in foreign currencies against local ones, Akonte Ekine, a public relations analyst, said it was unacceptable for the managers of the Nigerian economy to act this way. “How can the economy grow when we are patronising foreigners and paying them in dollars?” he said.
Akonte complained in 2014 when APC recruited the foreign agency to handle its campaign. “How can APC claim to represent change and yet show clear level of disregard to the business of marketing communication in the country with this appointment when we have communications outfits that can stand head and shoulder with AKPD. There are great Nigerian agencies with huge track records of building great and wonderful brands in the country,” he noted.
He said this syndrome of the usual choice of white man above the black man is baseless and this cannot hold when a political party claims to stand for change, particularly in Nigeria. He said the Nigeria Institute of Public Relations and the Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria should stand up against the APC and PDP preferences, especially when we have abundant capacity to deliver on strategic reputation and brand management across every phase of the country’s landscape.
Akonte further said that in building political brands the following should be the most paramount: the character of the individuals and the character of the party, the ideology that the party represents, and ultimately, the essence of the party in the society. “So what strategy are all the Nigerian political parties looking for in the foreign communications experts that is lacking in the ones that have existed for ages and the young and upcoming ones particularly now that there is huge unemployment in the country?”
Akonte wonders what the message that the foreign communications outfits will create that will resolve the various issues facing the country. According to him, the truth is that the challenges facing the communications programmes of the political parties is not the messages to be created or the platform to be used for the message; rather the identity of the parties.
Expectedly, the Public Relations Consultants Association of Nigeria (PRCANT), the umbrella body of public relations consultancy firms in Nigeria, has kicked against the move by the political parties for foreign firms. The body urged the two political parties to lead by example by respecting the provisions of the laws guiding the Nigerian marketing communication practice, which prescribes the protection and patronage of Nigerian businesses.
The President of PRCAN, John Ehiguese, told BusinessDay that Nigeria has enough capacity in the form of well-trained and experienced consultants, to handle the political campaigns of Nigeria’s political parties.
He stressed that Nigerian PR consultants and agencies understand the terrain better and are, therefore, better positioned to craft and project the right strategies and messages.
Like Akonte, Ehiguese argues that the best PR practices are found in local market and political communication is country-specific. As a communications expert, he said that local issues drive the campaigns, and certified local professionals, who live and do business in the country, are in the best position to understand the issues, as well as the local nuances and peculiarities of our media.
Ehiguese pointed out that the propensity of politicians to rush overseas to look for PR consultants smacks of inferiority complex and constitutes a stumbling block to the development of the Nigerian economy and marketing communications industry in particular.
Media agencies and other professional firms have positioned themselves through horning their skills to assist political parties in the forthcoming elections, but this will not materialise if the politicians are looking overseas for assistance.
The continuous quest to seek medical tourism abroad, foreign education and give foreigners jobs that local professionals can do, will continue to retard Nigeria’s development and keep unemployment always high with its attendant consequences.
Nigeria could learn from China. At the early stages of its march towards industrialisation, China shut up its economy and insisted on patronage for locally made goods. Today, the Chinese economy has grown to become the second- largest in the world. While one is not propagating recourse to complete autarky, it is fact that reliance on local goods and services assists a nation’s economy to grow. All that is required is government’s attention to sectors like education, health, and encouraging the citizens to patronise local goods and services.