Any Nigerian who has been anywhere near social media, especially twitter in the last few weeks will have noticed the #BuyNaijatoGrowtheNaira hash tag which Bayelsa State Senator Ben Murray Bruce has been using to tell anybody who cares to listen on twitter to buy made in Nigeria goods in order to help grow the Nigerian economy, and sharing pics of the Nigerian stuff he just bought from Nigerian makers. The sentiment behind the hash tag however did not start with Senator Ben Bruce though, it has always been around in one form or the other since Nigeria’s existence as an independent nation.
Over the last few years I have grown to become cynical about causes, especially when politicians like Senator Ben Murray Bruce, (whom anybody reasonable knows can be a pain to engage on social media) jump on those causes. However I cannot but admit that the good senator is “making common sense” with this one. One can only hope it doesn’t become a sudden phase like the conscience He developed just around the time his kinsman was ousted from power. But this post is not intended to bash Ben Bruce or any politician for that matter, it is just to mention the reservations this writer has about this campaign that the good senator has chosen to embark on.
The truth is #BuyingNaijaToGrowtheNaira is a laudable objective no matter how you look at it, after all as the Yoruba will say “if your daughter has Kim Kardashian booty, you shouldn’t be putting waistbeads around another girl’s waist” (okay that’s not exactly how the proverb goes, but it is the sentiment that counts right?) If as Nigerians we do not buy what we produce who else will buy it? and as the Yoruba will also say, if you use your mouth to say your own product is trash, will LAWMA not help you to pack it? (OK, no more remixing Yoruba proverbs I promise) The problem I have with this #buynaijatogrowthenaira cause, is the belief of people that it is when Nigerians buy made in Nigeria goods that the economy will grow, and that the government should even try a bit of protectionism to ensure that people buy only made in Nigeria goods whether they want to or not.
The, as a matter of fact, quote from Matthew 13:57 which I started this piece with was made by Christ more than two thousand years ago, way beyond Nigeria was even conceived and it proves the narrative that Nigerians are the only people who do not appreciate products made in their country unfounded. “Familiarity breeds contempt.” and that is a major reason why people don’t appreciate made in Nigeria goods much, it is pretty much the same mentality that made the Jews say of Jesus Christ 2000 years “is he not the carpenter’s son from down the street?” It is not a mentality that hash tags and protectionism can change, especially in the globalized world that we live in today where the internet is allowing Nigerians to buy foreign products without stress. Here is where we can learn from the essence of Christianity from a business standpoint. Jesus came from heaven and lived among the Jews, He recruited 12 salesmen and taught them his message, when his people rejected him and delivered him to be killed, he rose again and implemented the next phase of his plan, he then sent his salesmen out to go all over the world to sell his message and recruit more people to be his salesmen. Today about a third of the world’s population are devotees of a message that started from a small town in Israel, yet the population of Jewish Christians is not up to ten percent of the total population of Jews. The lesson is simple, growing the naira goes beyond begging, guilt tripping, or cajoling Nigerians to buy made in Nigeria goods. Like the message of Jesus Christ, it is a question of quality. For instance until Innoson the Nigerian car marker which has been at the centre of this campaign starts making cars to compete with the global standard it will not become a sustainable brand, because at this point how many Nigerians can afford luxuries like cars, that will make selling cars to Nigerians only a viable business?
I am still trying to not bash Ben Murray Bruce or his supporters, but given that the good senator owns a cinema and prides himself as one of the first Nigerian cinema owners to start showing Nollywood movies, it is pertinent to ask him what kind of Nollywood movies are screened in his cinemas? Are they the native Abija and Fadeyi Oloro and the Iweka Road Onitsha movies, or the Thirty Days in Atlanta and Half of A Yellow Sun types, where the only thing Nigerian about them is the names of members of the cast? For those of us who grew up on a diet Hubert Ogunde and Koto Aye type movies (OK we were not exactly that posh *rolls eyes*), we can’t argue that the Nigerian influence on Nollywood is waning, the most popular Nollywood movies these days is the Half of a Yellow Sun and October 1 type Nollywood movies.movies that are designed to pander to a non Nigerian audience. It comes back to the Christianity analogy, you can’t be taken seriously until you go abroad and get the world to listen to you. The interesting thing about Nollywood is that it has always had to compete with Hollywood, Bollywood, even the Chinese film industry, yet there was no point where anyone ever raised an hashtag or an attempt at protectionism for it, yet it has gone on to become the third largest industry in the movie world, we need to be learning how to replicate that with our other industries not trying to guilt trip or cajole Nigerians into buying made in Nigeria goods with pictures and hashtags. Still on Nollywood, don’t be fooled by the fact that the likes of Genevieve Nnaji and Omotola Jalade Ekehinde are flying high, Nigerians still treat Nollywood like “the son of the carpenter down the street” for example Thirty Days in Atlanta is the highest grossing movie ever in Nigerian Cinemas, compare its takings with how much 2 hours of giving Paul Walker a blowjob, AKA Fast and Furious 7 made in Nigerian cinemas and you might be tempted to wonder if Nollywood became the third largest movie industry in the world in spite of Nigerians and not because of Nigerians. Again let us ask the good Senator what percentage of the movies shown in his cinemas are Nollywood movies compared to the percentage of Hollywood movies?
As I said before, growing the economy goes beyond hash tags and snapping pics of the made in Aba products you bought, like Jesus Christ, it is time to start bypassing Nigerians and trying to sell to the world. These days even if they don’t still believe in his message, the Jews now know that Jesus Christ is more than just the Carpenter’s son down the road, not in the least because of the income their tourism industry generates from his followers, and the influence they as a people have in other nations (America I’m looking at You) because of him. The problem with Nigeria’s economy is not that we are buying too much, it is that we are selling too little. What you are going to create if you create a product which only Nigerians buy is an subsistence economy which won’t benefit the naira, or the economy for that matter.
I know the distinguished senator just wants to make common sense, but his current project, laudable as it is, is putting the cart before the horse and is just plenty of hot air, unless he changes his approach. The hash tag should not be #BuyNigeriaToGrowTheNaira, it should be #SellNaijaToGrowTheNaira or #MakeNigeriaToGrowTheNaira, if you cajole people or guilttrip them into buying stuff from you, they will buy the product once, if it is substandard they will not buy again, but if you ignore them like Nollywood did and make exportation your primary market, Nigerians will need no hashtag or pics to beat a path to your door, like they all beat a path to the good Senator’s cinema to watch 30 days in Atlanta and Half of a Yellow Sun. And before you respond with “it is a Nigerian attitude”, anybody else notice that only a few people in Argentina knew who Lionel Messi was until he went to FC Barcelona to prove himself? So to any of the good Senator’s followers who may be reading this, learn from Christianity Nollywood and Lionel Messi, forget the hash tag, sell yourself and look cool abroad then return to your home and become a star. It is as simple as that.