OP-ED Opinions 

Ndigbo Should Be Conscious Of Opportunity Cost Of Embracing Isolationism By Churchill Okonkwo

Per Malcolm Turnbull, in economics, one of the most important concepts is the ‘opportunity cost’ – the idea that once you spend your money on something, you can’t spend it again on something else. That’s why Igbos have a saying that a child that is consuming akara (bean cake) is consuming his money. People, therefore, for the most part, make decisions based on opportunity costs. 

Unfortunately, in the past several years, while the sound of “go home, go home” has been growing louder from the megaphone of IPOB, many Nigerians and international investors, have expanded (and is still expanding) their investments across the Nigerian landscape. The opportunity cost of embracing isolationism is that Igbos are missing out on the countless opportunities that come with leading the charge or multiculturalism. 

For example, sensing the huge opportunity in the downstream sector of the Nigerian Oil industry, Chief Aliko Dangote, through the Dangote Group, moved in to end Nigeria’s fuel importation. Dangote refinery took delivery of the world’s largest single crude distillation column, weighing 7,900 tons Nigeria last year. It is estimated that the project, expected for commissioning by the end of 2020, will save Nigeria about $10bn in Forex yearly.

Other multi-million/dollar investment in Nigeria in the last couple of years include a $450m cement factory in Sokoto due for completion in 2020 with a 45Mw power plant that will serve the company and the host communities; truck production plant in Lagos by Sinotruck; the $10bn Liquefied Natural Gas project by Daewoo and Saipem and about N30bn mining investment in Nasarawa by Multiverse. These are just a glimpse of the stories of massive economic expansion being undertaken by investors in Nigeria.

So, were the options for the attraction of investments and building a viable economy in Igbo states few in Nigeria, I would have been content with the choice of the political ideology of nationalism. But since the options for Igbos in Nigeria are practically infinite, the perfect choice for us, I believe, is embracing the countless opportunities somewhere out there. Choosing the path to isolationism in Nigeria is a lose-lose situation for Ndigbo. 

Per Ryan, Lilly “The opportunity cost of an unlived dream is not only that dream but also the dreams the dream was meant to inspire. The reason why I see the idea of encouraging Igbos to shrink as detrimental for our economic viability is that we are unknowingly repelling investors to the Southeast region. We are also, making it more difficult for employers of labor to be fair to our sons and daughters in the selection process in companies and government agencies.

Which investor will invest in a region that is antagonistic to other tribes if they are seen as an oppressor? We can hide under the fact that the Nigerian system has never been fair to Igbos, to begin with. That’s correct, but embracing a philosophy of isolationism is worsening the opportunities for our sons and daughter at government agencies and multinational corporations. 

For example, to put the Dangote-effect into perspective, Nairametrics reported that the Dangote Petroleum Refinery will create a $11 billion per annum market for Nigerian crude. What is the opportunity cost of agitating for secession? Do we think, as Igbos, that a chunk of the benefits from this huge market value will favor Igbos? 

There is an opportunity cost for everything we do. In the comfort zone of isolationism, Igbos will regret potentially missing out on something better in Nigeria. This is why Igbos must have the awareness to ensure that what we are pursuing is really what we value because the pursuit leaves countless lost opportunities in its wake.

In Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, the main character Okonkwo has a fear of failure. Okonkwo’s actions all arise from fear that he will end up like his father Unoka, who was seen as lazy and useless among the villagers. It was this fear that drove him to succeed at everything that he did. We see business opportunities where others see challenges and difficulties. We are Igbos. We are dreamers. We are fearless. 

Igbos should let the fear of marginalization; exclusion, victimization, and any other form of fear that is inevitable in multicultural society drive us to success. That success is in embracing the challenging nature of multiculturalism by; taking the time to build relationships and trust; learning about our differences; clarifying expectations and keeping open communication with all tribes.  

A sign that was hanging in Albert Einstein’s office at Princeton University read; not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts. What counts is that Igbos prepare for tomorrow, today. That preparation could not happen by going home, but rather, by rising above our fears, expanding our economic base and attracting investors to our backyards. 

International investors that conduct proper cost-benefit analysis will come up with the conclusion that it is potentially risky to invest heavily in states that are moving towards isolationism. Wisdom is not a product of schooling but of the lifelong attempt to acquire it. Wisdom demands that what Igbos need is the attraction of investment from key players in Nigeria and around the world. 

Per Winston Churchill, a pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty. We are Igbos. We are optimists.

In conclusion, William Arthur Ward said that opportunities are like sunrises. If you wait too long, you miss them. I hope that Ndigbo in Nigeria should not dwell long in the false comfort zone of isolationism. Per Chinua Achebe, “the rise of the Igbo in Nigerian affairs was due to the self-confidence engendered by their open society and their belief that one man is as good as another, that no condition is permanent.” We will not miss the infinite opportunity in open Nigeria because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.

Together, we can. 

On Twiter @churchillnnobi 

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