By Ben Murray Bruce
In my last back page article for THISDAY, entitled 'If you Build it They Will Come', I had evangelised for Nigeria to develop some of the potential foreign exchange earners we are currently not tapping and for which we have a very good comparative advantage. I had singled out the aviation industry and tourism. I wrote in that piece about how certain nations had shifted their economy away from resources to services, writing that "by opening up her borders to the world, the UAE's economy has more than doubled and though she is an oil rich nation, over 30 per cent of her Gross Domestic Product (GDP) comes from her aviation industry. Between 10-12 per cent comes from the tourists industry. This is a total of over $180 billion per annum!
Since I wrote that article, there has been a positive development that vindicates what I had written. Only yesterday (August 24th, 2015), Ethiopian Airlines announced a revenue of $2.27 billion. To put this in perspective, this is more than the total budget of Nigeria's richest state of Lagos. This amount also dwarfs the total projected income from oil that Ghana expects to earn in fiscal year 2015 ($1.5 billion). The announcement by Ethiopian Airlines corroborates the statement I made in that last article to the effect that "to put things into even more perspective, oil is not a renewable resource. It has a shelf life. It will finish one day or lose value sooner than that. But tourism is a renewable resource. It will always exists. As an economic mainstay, it is safer than oil!" Indeed, tourism and its allied industries like aviation, are indeed safer than oil as an economic mainstay.
The question however is what is Nigeria doing right at this pivotal moment in our history to generate such headlines as that generated by Ethiopian Airlines for Ethiopia? Everywhere Ethiopian Airlines flies to (including to Enugu and Abuja), she is positively projecting the image of Ethiopia. As I have previously written before, no one buys your product until and unless they buy your culture and there is no better way to spread your culture than with a national carrier. I dare say that Ethiopian Airlines does more for Ethiopia's diplomatic ambitions than any or perhaps even all of her embassies combined. The question is, why can't Nigeria build and sustain her national carrier? The answer, to my mind, is the 'Nigerian Factor'!
Yes, the Nigerian factor. Do some research on Ethiopian Airlines and you will find that it is professionally managed with its board chosen without regard to ethnicity and religion. It is run in a businesslike fashion. Ownership is separated from management and the result has been growth that has resulted in Ethiopian Airline becoming the most successful airline in Africa, making 300 per cent more profit than South African Airways and more money than all the other African airlines combined! But Ethiopian Airlines did not write this playbook for airline efficiency. No! They learnt it from Dubai.
Emirates do not even employ the best the United Arab Emirates has to offer. No. They employ the best the world has to offer. Fly on any Emirate Airlines flight and you will be impressed by the quality of their air host and hostesses. They always boast that on each flight, they have nationals from multiple nations.
Even the Chief Executive Officer of Emirates Airlines, Sir Timothy Clark, is not from the UAE. He is British! That is how far the UAE has placed professionalism over ethnicity and the result is that professionals have built their airline and their aviation industry from a tiny airline that started off in 1985 with two airlines leased from Pakistan International Airlines to become perhaps the most successful aviation industry in the world with over 500 planes and operating over 3,300 flights a week from the Dubai International Airport. Even though it is foreign professionals that built their aviation industry, who is the money made from the industry coming to? It comes back to the people of the UAE.
What killed Nigeria Airways and almost every other national corporation that should have been a national asset? We brought in ethnicity and religion into these organisations and staffed them on the basis of federal character rather than on the basis of national interest and as a result, we went from a fleet of 30 aircraft in 1982 to bankruptcy and a debt of over $60 million by 2000! In rebuilding Nigeria and positioning her for life without oil, which is a matter of when, not if, Nigeria must slay the monster of ethnicity and promote merit as the only yardstick for the management of her economy.
Recently I asked a question on Twitter. I tweeted 'How can youths be loyal to a country where their cut off mark in JAMB and Common Entrance depends on their state not their intelligence'? I also tweeted another question thus 'How do you explain to your child that his cut off mark for Common Entrance Exam is 65 while that of the neighbour's child is 7'? That by the way is a true story!
If you go to the Wikipedia page for Nigeria Airways, it shamefully says that "corruption and mismanagement" killed Nigeria Airways. Why won't corruption thrive in an environment where upward mobility depends on your state of origin rather than your state of intelligence? Why won't mismanagement thrive in a nation where you are from rather than take preeminence over what you know?
Recently, I was reading about a Nigerian who was running a major government agency in America and doing such a good job and my sadness was that I know for a fact that if this fellow had been in Nigeria, he was very unlikely to rise very far because he is from an area that is considered educationally advanced and would have to struggle to get the few positions zoned to his geo-political area. This is the real reason I condemned those accusing President Muhammadu Buhari of not balancing the appointments he has made so far, in that they complain that an overwhelming majority of his appointees are from the North. I condemned that argument on Twitter and a few people called me a betrayer, saying that as a Southerner, I should not have such a mindset.
My traducers fail to realise that they are making the wrong arguments. Where those appointees are from should not be the argument. The argument should be whether or not they are the best Nigeria has to offer. If they are the best we have to offer in terms of merit, then it does not matter to me if President Buhari appoints all his appointees from one village. Nigeria must make progress "though tribe and tongue may differ" and the only way we can do that is by saying bye to ethnicity and hello to merit. Until we do that, our development goals will remain a pipe dream.
My name is Ben Murray Bruce and I just want to make common sense.
Mr. Murray Bruce is the senator representing Bayelsa East in the Senate and the Chairman of the Silverbird Entertainment Group