Nigeria’s former President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo has said private sector participation is key to the economic development of Nigeria despite the ongoing economic challenges facing the country.
Obasanjo said the growth of the economy is highly dependent on the private sector and for there to be proliferation of local industries that would transform the country into an economic hub ,power, basic infrastructures, conducive environment with a free and fair judiciary must be available.
He said this at the commissioning of the multi-million dollars building of the British American Tobacco Nigeria (BATN),tagged the ‘Rising Sun’, which would serve as the West African headquarters held yesterday in Lagos.
Obasanjo, who was the guest of honour, said the activities of BATN in various sectors of the economy like the agricultural sector, health, capacity building training afforded Nigerians and continuous investments despite the challenging economy, are all pointers to the fact that ‘’it is in time like this that we are reminded about the usefulness of the private sector’’.
He said he is happy to had sign the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with BATN in 2001 as they were the first tobacco company to sign MOU of $150 million with the Federal Government, which was a significant step then due to the fact that investors were afraid of investing in Nigeria, which they considered a pariah nation especially with the misrule of the military government of Gen Sani Abacha.
“When I came in as President in 1999,many investors were afraid of coming into Nigeria,we are not wanted in the international community, the nation was expelled by the Commonwealth,the economy was bad,social situation was bad, all because Abacha wants to perpetuate himself forever in office,we have OPC,Egbesu boys,different sects and even some said I will be the last President of Nigeria,so it was significant to had signed the MOU then”,he asserts.
Making reference to the legality of the tobacco industry Obasanjo said the health warnings on cigarette packs are conspicuous enough. “With the warning on cigarette packs, the government and tobacco companies have fully discharged their duties”he added.
The Managing Director,BATN, Chris McAllister said the building symbolises the success they have attained in the country which can be summarised into three which are ” before we arrive in the country,Nigeria was known as the ‘wild wild west’ as 80 per cent of the cigarettes in the country were smuggled in which has been reduced to 10 per cent now which is a huge tax revenue to the government.
“Secondly,there is now industrialisation as it is not only cigarette that we are producing here,we now have tobacco farming which means most of the ingredients are source locally,stimulating the economy and the third is the local people we have employed and are employing as they are the best and brightest in the country and are fit for leadership roles”,he added.
McAllister said the building is their commitment to the future of Nigeria and are waiting on the government to make the environment better for export so as to know how to further increase their investments in the country from the initial $150M investments so as to export to the more than 12 countries it is presently exporting to.
“As an economic development partner, we believe that by highlighting and celebrating the values and attributes that are unique to the Nigerian nation, the private sector can assist the government to achieve its global objectives. We are an ideal model of how, if properly structured, foreign direct investment can spur economic development,” he added.