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Saturday, 21 December 2013

SOMETHING GOOD IS HAPPENING IN NIGERIA, AT THE LEAST IN THE STATES


For over a week now, our airports and motor parks are overflowing with passengers. People are hustling and pushing to get a seat to travel out to the States to spend the Christmas and New Year holidays with their folks. A friend of mine was struggling to get a ticket to Calabar on his way to Calabar Carnival and then on to Obudu Cattle Ranch. If you live in Lagos you will have noticed that the traffic situation has gotten so terrible in the last two weeks and I am wondering what the matter is. During this week, I was in Abuja and I could not distinguish Abuja from Lagos when it came to traffic congestion. Where have all these cars come from? Are they owned by ghosts or aliens? Are the drivers on sightseeing? They must be pursuing economic activities and that can only happen where something is happening.
But if you read the headlines in our Newspapers or some of the commentaries, you are encouraged to think that nothing is happening in Nigeria, except of course Poltics. Yes Politics, that has become the "opium" for Nigerians. They consume it waking up and lying down to sleep. And the recent (in)famous letter from the two term or three term(two terms civilian and one term military) President Obasanjo to the one term or one and half term( that is plus the approximate half term of Yardua's term) President Jonathan has added to the 'high' of the Nigerian Consumers. Even the purported reply by Dr Iyabo Obasanjo- ( I can not quite remember the suffix on the compound name or has the suffix been dropped, I am not sure, please forgive my amnesia) has only added spice to the cocktail. Then with our eyes quite open, yet it looks as if we were in a dream or watching a new version of the sinking of the Titanic, we are seeing the behemoth PDP seemingly disintegrate by an internal implosion,with its Governors and house members scattering and the new Mega Party APC gaining size apparently effortlessly. The implosion is heating up the polity and I hope I can wake up and find its all a dream. But yet, with all these Some people insist on trying to persuade us that Nothing is happening in Nigeria. Are they blind or what?
If you travel often by air, you will see except you are having visual defects that our Airports are getting prettier as FAAN works feverishly to complete one of the biggest Airport remodelling and upgrading projects I have seen in my life. Last week, I returned from a trip abroad and was pleasantly ushered into a remodelled wing of the Murtala Mohammed International Airport with three new luggage conveyor belts, bringing the total to five in that wing and with so much space and welcoming ambiance that I felt like dancing. So this has finally come to happen,after many years of complaining, wishing and praying. A few days ago, on my flight from Owerri back to Lagos, the Captain of the Aero flight announced openly that we should thank the MD of the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency(NAMA) and his Agency for the innovations they have brought into air Navigational services. I was told that there is now total Radar coverage of all the airports in Nigeria, and that the journey between airports is now shorter, helping the airlines save some money on aviation fuel. Men, something is happening in the aviation sector.
Those of us who travel by roads will admit,if they are fair minded that the conditions of our trunk A roads have improved dramatically over the last two years. The journey to Benin from Lagos is now between 3-4 hours as against 6-8 hours in the recent past. If you pass through, the Abuja- Abaji - Lokoja road, the Enugu- Onitsha road, the Enugu- Portharcout highway, the East- West road in the Niger delta or even the Kano-Yobe-Maiduguri road in the troubled North East region, you will be impressed by the amount of work going on on those major arteries, some even nearing completion, ably supported by the SURE-P funds. I think something real good is happening in the Road sector and with the restart of the Lagos-Kano Western rail line, we could even say something good is happening in the transport sector. I am told that the Eastern line,will reopen for traffic early next year. That is indeed goodnews. It will give me the opportunity to relive my youthful experience of going by train from PH to Kaduna. This will of course be helped if the new Railway bill outstanding in the National Assembly can be passed, so that Private carriers can bring modern coaches and put new investment in the sector to make the journey fast and enjoyable as it used to be. I made this case in this column last week.
Every where we look in this beleaguered and often evil-spoken-of Nation of ours, things are happening. Just very recently,large chunks of investments flowed into this Nation through the Power Privitisation programme and I am told, the new owners are sourcing funds and concluding plans to revolutionise services in this critical sector, even as the Federal Government is unrelenting in making new investments to complete ongoing projects especially in Transmission. Here again, we expect that the transmission lines will be concessioned if not totally privitised in the shortest possible time to further debottle all bottlenecks.
Something is happening indeed and every where you look, you will see the evidence.
Now if you can not see anything happening on the National scene, then let me take you to the Sub-National scene. Have you been to Ondo, the Sunshine State to see how that hitherto rural state is being transformed? In deed Ondo has been singled out by the UN agencies as one the best places to be born on this Earth today, because of the revolutionary work the government is doing in healthcare,particularly in Maternal and Childcare. Has any one gone to Ekiti State recently to witness the excitement created by the transformational thinking in Education or have you not seen what the government in Ogun State is doing to create attractive infrastructure that is attracting significant Private sector investment into the State. Despite the security challenges in the North, the sustained investment in heathcare and education is bringing a lot of excitement among the young in Bauchi State. I passed through Enugu and Ebonyi States recently and was completely blown by the fine networks of roads across the length and breadth of the states. I was particularly amazed by the attention being paid to rural development in Ebonyi State using the political structure of Development Areas created around Each Local Government adminstration. I could not easily recover from my pleasant surprise to see the Chairman of Ohaozara local government gather his management staff from all the development areas and the councillors to a two-day Leadership and Management training at the Local Government headquarters in Obiozara, at which I was invited to be one of the facilitators. Riding on the the beautiful roads linking Enugu-PH highway to ,Ishiagu, to MPU ( Senate Deputy President's home),to Uburu( Dr Ogbonnaya Onu,s home), to Obiozara, some built by the Federal Government and some by the Statement Governments, I was angrily looking for those chronically pessimistic and negative or perhaps ignorant Nigerians who are busy poisoning the minds of other Nigerians that 'Nothing is happening in Nigeria'.
Across the length and breadth of this Nation, things are happening in States, some more significant than others.In many cities today, the night is as bright as the day with blazing streetlights. The infrastructural transformation of Akwa Ibom for me must be counted as one of the wonders of our time. I was thinking that the Governor would slow down with Road construction, after demystifying road construction, urban renewal and Julius Berger. But I was 'embarrased' to see something that looked like a Six lane new highway being constructed between Uyo and Ikot Ekpene and perhaps beyond. No body can know with this 'bulldozer' of a governor will do next or how far he can push the frontiers of physical development. Even before Rivers State became politically challenged and some how got distracted, the rate of infrastructural development( both Economic and Social) was dizzying. Even in Abia State with a history of poor governance, things have picked up in the last two years or so. I passed through Umuahia last week on my way to Elu-Ohafia, and almost missed my way. I was looking for the central Umuahia market( Ogwumabiri) to take my bearing and was shocked that this old market that has occupied the centre of the State capital for decades,making the town retain its rural image had 'vanished'. On my way to Uzuakoli after retracing my way, I found a modern market tucked away in a nice spacious and serene environment. When I asked, I was told that was the Umuahia Central market reincarnated. The current government of Abia has been engaging in legacy projects like a befitting State House, a new Civil Service Secretariat, adequate court rooms, upgrading of health institutions, basic things which a state needs to function as a proper state, but which had been left unattended after nearly 12 years of Civil Democracy. So even in my own Abia something good is happening. And then when you come to Lagos, you will be proud to be a Nigerian. A city once touted as one of the dirtiest and most lawless in the World has become a beautiful and ordered city where many things are happening and many things are working. Guys, Nigeria is on the move and nothing can stop us, neither PDP nor APC, neither the Senate nor the House except WE Nigerians!
Of course I am not saying that Nigeria or its constituent parts has or have become Eldorado. No, far from that. Our Country is still underperforming,no doubt; we are not where we ought to be at this time, nor can we show commensurate results for all of our income and expenditure as a Nation. Unemployment and Poverty remain high in our Nation and we are struggling with security in many parts of our Country but good things are happening in our Country all the same. Indeed more good things than bad. And I believe that as we look forward to celebrating 2013 Christmas in a few days time, we should pause to count our blessings and give thanks to God.Merry Christmas Nigerians!

Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa ofr

Tuesday, 17 December 2013



NIGERIA'S 2014 ECONOMY: DEBOTTLING THE BOTTLENECKS







Early in the week, the Minister of Finance and the Coordinating Minister for the Economy(CME), Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala held a top level interaction with the creme of the private Sector in Lagos midwifed by the Nigerian Economic Summit Group(NESG). She made a presentation about the performance of the Economy in 2013 so far and gave some insight into Government thinking for 2014. In my view I think that her presentation was balanced.
The statistics which she reeled out, generally agreed with the report just released by the IMF following their recent article 4 review and consultations with the Government of Nigeria. The Economy has been growing in GDP at decent and competitive rate,in the 7% range, though below the the 9-11% recommended for Vision 2020. Inflation has decelerated to single digit( below 9%), which to me is a feat which needs to applauded, given where we were coming from in the last couple of years. The Banks are generally stable, with the help of AMCON, and interest rates are trending down. Nigeria's Eurobond and other International financial instruments are sought after by global investors, attracting competitive yields. Despite our subsisting internal challenges, Nigeria continues to receive the highest Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in Africa,a significant proportion going to the non-oil sector; all these indicating the growing interest in Nigeria by the International Community. Government has increased focus and investment in the Agricultural Sector and with the completion of the critical segment of the Power sector Privitisation, there is real hope that the real sector( incidentally, manufacturing grew by over 8% in Q3) will accelerate in growth in 2014. But it was not all good news.
The CME admitted that there is a shortfall in National Revenue emanating from a decline in oil revenue caused largely by an embarrassingly high level of oil theft. This has led to the draw down of the Excess Crude Account(ECA ) to augment Federation account, though the States are still complaining of shortfalls in revenue. These short falls have impacted the capital releases to the MDAs somewhat. As at the end of Q3 this year, capital releases was at the 70% range. On how to stop this revenue haemorrhage, she said the Federal Government was making strenuous efforts to stop it. But some participants were sceptical and opined that they they did not think, enough efforts had been made. This oil theft and illegal bunkering has been with us for a long term and rather than abate,it has assumed such huge dimensions that it has become a major threat to National budgets.
Perhaps to find a way to compensate and shore up revenues, she announced an intensification of efforts to increase Tax revenue . Though she was careful to emphasise that tax rates rates will not go high, there is a certainty this new tax effort will ruffle many feathers, especially in the SME sector, which already feels over burdened by multiple taxes,even if many are illegal or inappropriate. Increasing tax income is usually an economic imperative even in the developed climes and is long overdue in Nigeria but launching into it at this time of shortfalls in oil revenue, not because our oil has has dried up, or because prices have fallen in the international oil market or even as a strategic effort to conserve our oil or the revenue, but in response to our inability to stop the oil thieves is being viewed by some Nigerians as the response of a man who can not stand up to the insult and challenge of his mate in the village square but returns home to beat up his wife,as a way of letting off his anger and regaining his ego. There is nothing wrong with expanding our tax base but it should not be a replacement for allowing thieves to deprive us of our National wealth and we keep acting as though we are helpless. I am thoroughly bewildered as criminals seem to have the upper hand. What do we have the Police, Navy, Army SSS,and the Civil defence for?
She also stated that despite the great interventionist efforts by government through SURE-P and other initiatives ( You-Win, community service, Graduate Internship Scheme(GIS), Ferma Public Works,etc), the Youth unemployment rate remains unacceptably high and appealed to the Private Sector to assist Government in tackling the problem head on. Commentators agreed that to create more Jobs, the Government needs to further free and expand the Economy. They pointed out that certain bottlenecks exist in the Economy which still constrict private sector activities. I shall return to these shortly. There was also the plan to make special developmental investments in the North East Region as part of the 'carrot' to help normalise the Security situation in that region. While this is a welcome effort, there is this feeling that we tend to be very reactive in the Country. We wait for Militancy in the Niger Delta to establish NDDC and the Ministry of Niger Delta. Now we are about to establish a special Developmental effort in the North East because of Boko Haram. Are we saying that every section or region must get into rebellion before we can pay attention to their plight. I am praying that the forthcoming National dialogue will fashion a way to ensure equitable development of all parts of the Nation to prevent perpetuating this patently destabilising trend.
The greatest bad news by my own reckoning from CME was the announcement that the Capital expenditure ratio will further decline in 2014 in favour of recurrent expenditure. All the hefty increases in the emoluments of Public and Civil servants that started in 2010, with their Pension implications are taking heavy toll on our income. And yet ASUU is insistent on forcing the federal government to swallow another poisonous pill. That will spell disaster for infrastructural development in 2014
DEBOTTLING THE BOTTLENECKS
Now let me now turn to some of the issues which I believe are still constraining the Economy which I believe should deserve governmental attention in 2014, if we intend to sustain our growth trajectory
PASS THE PETROLEUM INDUSTRY BILL(PIB) OR KILL IT FOR GOOD
I am amazed how both the executive and National Assembly have gone cold on the PIB. And yet investment in the golden goose- oil and gas by the IOCs has virtually stagnated over the last couple of years since the PIB story started. Is anybody worried that the IOCs are divesting and going to Ghana and Angola? Is anybody perturbed that jobs are being lost rapidly in the oil and gas sector?. Yes Nigeria may be receiving the highest FDI in Africa but that declined by a worrisome 21% in 2012. Can some one tell me why we must kill the only industry that is providing our life blood. Is it Politics or what? I request Mr President to make a decision and confront the National Assembly. If for any reason the bill is unapprovable, we can kill it and return to status quo. It is the uncertainty that is driving away the IOCs and investment. I am tired of this unending feud on the PIB. Perhaps I am an unusual Nigerian !
FREE UP GAS FOR POWER
If there divisive politics is holding back the PIB from being passed, then let us just extract the gas to power section and pass it into a law, thus freeing up the gas production and gas pricing. We need gas to power our power and other industrial plants. The present legal regime is a bottleneck for the huge investment required to make gas readily available to meet our Electric power ambition for example. Now that the Gencos have become private with very huge investment, then let us free up the gas market so that they can be assured of uninterrupted supply of the critical feed stock required for firing most of the thermal plants. This can come as a private members bill and with adequate lobbying could be passed in a matter of weeks. This should be a must in 2014.
PASS THE AMMENDED RAILWAY BILL
Movement of goods in our country is still heavily constrained by poor transportation infrastructure. For years our ancient rail system collapsed. Even now that it is resurrecting helped by the SURE-P funding, it is still to slow and too inadequate to support the emerging Nigerian Economy. Let us remove government monopoly and allow the private Sector to invest in Railways. As at now,even State governments have difficulty participating in this industry because of our archaic law. I am told that an executive bill to open up the Railways has been gathering dust in the National Assembly. And I am asking why ? Who is benefitting by the current situation where we build highways today and they get bad tomorrow because of high axle load on the roads. The National Assembly must be persuaded to pass the Railway Act in 2014
END THE UNENDING PORT AND CUSTOM REFORMS
In the last twelve years or more, we have been on Port reforms and custom reforms. Port users still complain of undue delays and continued sharp practices. Let us conclude these reforms and allow time for them to work. As suggested at the interaction,let us involve more Private Sector people in monitoring the performance of these reforms, before we launch into another round.
Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa OFR
Immediate Past Chairman, NESG

Sunday, 8 December 2013

MANDELA NELSON MADIBA(1918-2013): A METAPHOR FOR TRUE LEADERSHIP



MANDELA NELSON MADIBA(1918-2013): A METAPHOR FOR TRUE LEADERSHIP

The World has seen Men and Leaders but Nelson Mandela is a type. It is indeed true that some of the worst leaders the World has known come from Africa and generally when the World wants to give examples of bad political leadership, they go quickly to Africa. From the Mobutus to the the Idi Amins; from the Muamar Ghadafis to the Abachas, Africa is replete with poor leadership, especially in the political arena.

But thank God that Africa, black Africa that is, has produced to my mind the greatest Leader of Modern History ( if you prefer one of the greatest, I hold no grudge). Nelson Mandela born 95 years ago on July 18, 1918, died this Thursday December 4, 2013 and the World lost a man, a leader in the truest sense. He was educated and comfortable, a lawyer, but chose to devote his life to fighting for freedom and went to jail for 27 years(1964-1990) to achieve his vision for his native South Africa. What was more, when he was released he decided to forgive his jailers, preached reconciliation and united his severely divided Country that had suffered the worst type of racial discrimination in human history. He was elected the first black President of a free South Africa in 1994.He opted to serve for only one term and retired to serve as a national icon, a symbol of unity and strength for South Africa, Africa and the free World. Mandela is a study in true leadership.


VISIONARY


When Mandella was jailed on June 12 ( remember this date?), 1964, he made a remarkable statement which I paraphrase as follows " I have fought against White domination, I have fought against black domination. I am committed to achieving a South Africa where freedom for all in the country is assured. I will pursue this ideal and will do whatever it will take to achieve it and if it will require my life, I am prepared to die". Nelson Mandela espoused a vision of a free south Africa, where all men will be free and where each man's vote will carry the same weight as any other- white, black or coloured. He kept his focus on the vision despite all the physical deprivations and suffering. Indeed he prepared himself for that day .He achieved this vision in 1994 when he won a massive victory on the platform of ANC with the demise of the obnoxious apartheid regime.


SACRIFICIAL


To the best of my knowledge, MADIBA showed the World, that it was possible to imitate the ideals of Jesus Christ. That of self sacrifice. Extreme self sacrifice. He was prepared to die for the freedom of his fellow South Africans. Actually he was to die. His sentence was to be death sentence which was commuted to life imprisonment. When he regained his freedom and became the first black President of a free and democratic South Africa, he sought nothing for himself. He lived a simple life relating with and treating all South Africans as equals. He even gave up his right to do a second term as President.Relate that with the Mugabes,Musevenis and the Jerry Rawlings who believe that they have the right to rule their Nations for ever because they helped 'liberate' their countries from their fellow predator leaders.


COURAGEOUS


This man was an epitome of courage. He was not afraid to speak the truth and to stand up against oppression and Man's inhumanity to Man. When the need arose, he burnt his pass card publicly and took up alms and when it was time to pay the penalty for resisting evil, he did not flinch. He went to jail defiantly and never cowed. His spirit was unbowed and unbroken for 27 years in jail. When the day came, he worked out tall. What a display of fearlessness and courage.


MAGNANIMITY IN VICTORY


Except Jesus Christ, I had never seen a man show such magnanimity in victory as Nelson Mandela did. After suffering for many years in the hands of the white Afrikaner minority who had political and military power,27 of which were spent in jail in Roben Island,You would expect a bitter man emerge from that situation, but he freely forgave his tormentors and did nothing to extract revenge or seek restitution. He asked for freedom for all, including those who denied him freedom. His jailers sat with his family on the front seat on the day of his inauguration as the first Black President. Rather than institute Judicial commissions of Enquiry and charge many with murder and gross abuse of human rights, he set up a truth and reconciliation commission. It was like Jesus Christ asking God to forgive His tormentors and crucifers, just as Saint Stephen did later instead of calling for 'Holy Ghost Fire'. He refused to Lead the ANC and quickly relinquished political power. What magnanimity!


GRACEFUL & COMPASSIONATE


Nelson Mandela was an epitome of compassion and grace. He was compassionate to the poor and the voiceless. He felt the pain of his people and when the opportunity came, he was compassionate and gracious to all South Africans. He used his enormous global goodwill to garner help for the poor, the deprived and the disadvantaged. He spent most of his life after leaving office in 1999 setting up foundations and pursuing good causes and global peace.


GREAT ORGANIZER & TEAM LEADER


MADIBA was a wonderful ORGANIZER and team leader. He organised a powerful resistance to apartheid and developed a most cohesive team that fought the battles. He went to jail with some of his team members like Walter Sisulu and Tokyo Sexwale. He retained their loyalty even in jail. His charisma was so magnetic that even those who were not in jail like Zuma and....( who eventually succeeded him as President)Kept the resistance and took orders from Mandela even from jail. He had a vision, recruited a team to whom he sold the vision and designed a strategy that they pursued for over 30 years to achieve their vision. When he came out from Prison, he quickly rallied the ANC to a momentous victory in the Democratic elections of 1994. When he left the political space in1999 he arranged a peaceful succession. What great organisational skills!


SERVANT LEADER


Mandela was exceptionally humble and came to serve rather than being served. All through his life he exhibited the best characters of a servant leader, gentle, caring, loyal to his team and led from the front. He never asked anybody to do what he would not do. He derived the greatest joy by seeing his people free and joyful even at his own peril and expense. He was a great motivator and mentor to his team. Here again Nelson Mandela modelled the leadership quality exhibited by Jesus Christ.


DRIVEN BY VALUES AND NOBLE CHARACTER


The greatest leadership deficit of most African Political leaders is not walking the talk. Many can preach, but most are hypocrites. Because they want power by all means, they are willing to cheat, lie and steal and even kill. Though Mandela said he was no saint but I believe he was or must have been closest to being one. We are told that by their fruits we shall know them. Mandela was noble in character, extraordinarily honest and displayed the highest level of integrity.He loved his people, fought for them, indeed literally sacrificed him self and brought freedom and honour to his Nation. Such a metaphor for true leadership!


GOD GIVE US LEADERS!


How I wish that we can have many more leaders in Africa and indeed in the World who are like Mandela. They may not need to fight battles against apartheid or against colonial oppressors. They do not have to go to jails or be sent on exile. All we require are leaders who love their people and who are ready to work for them exclusively, not just for their friends, cliques, ethnic or tribal groups. We need leaders who are humble and honest, leaders who want nothing for themselves and who are self sacrificing, men and women who are visionary and can design strategies that can achieve their vision. We need leaders of Noble Character, who want nothing for themselves but who end up getting the best of all for themselves- the love and eternal gratitude of their people. Leaders who will leave behind monumental and immortal legacies - just like Nelson MADIBA "troublemaker" Mandela, whom I believe must be with the Lord now. God, please send us more Mandelas!






Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa OFR




Monday, 2 December 2013

2014: THE GLOBAL REALITIES OF A PACIFIST AMERICA

2014: THE GLOBAL REALITIES OF A PACIFIST AMERICA
 
 There can be no denying the fact that President Obama is leading America away from war and cowboy combative stance to a more pacifist and diplomatic conduct of global affairs. President Obama rode on the back of battle-weary Americans to the White House. His predecessor had pursued Alqueda to Afghanistan and got embroiled in a physical combat they could never win, depending of course on the definition of victory in this matter. Is it when Alqueda surrenders or when their key leaders are killed or when the rebels are driven out of the critical Afghanistan territory. Looking for whom to hit as immediate retaliation of the humiliation of America by Alqueda terrorists who invaded the 'all powerful' America' on the 11th of September,2001,President Bush went after Saddam Hussein and Iraq. America visited its fury on Iraq as a 'wounded' lion.
May be it would have been wise for America to have departed after the fall of Sadam. But they stayed behind possibly to recoup their investment in the liberation of Iraq from Sadam or to stabilise and secure Iraq as a new democratic Nation.
Perhaps they made initial progress on both scores but thereafter, Iraq became virtually ungovernable, the way Libya is turning to or should I say has turned to. I guess that America feared that what is happening in Libya today would happen to Iraq if they did not stabilise the Nation and set up a democratic government. But it cost America so much in human lives and in other resources. No body today knows what Libya will be, but it is in a really terrible shape. To have liberated Libya from Qhadafi and then walked away as America and their Allies did, ostensibly to prevent the Iraqi experience and pander to domestic public opinion has exposed Libya to greater danger and soon, the ordinary Libyan to whom Life has become brutish and short under the reign of unregulated militia groups, may begin to question the rationale for the liberation and perhaps begin to wish for life under Muamar Ghadafi. This is a paradox and a dilemma .
President Obama promised to bring the troops home from Iraq and he has done so and has reduced the forces in Afghanistan and threatens to take all home in 2014 if Kezai does not sign soon the Security treaty that will keep some American and other NATO forces back to support Afghanistan security forces for a few more years. Recently he had been tempted from home and Abroad to undertake a military salvage operation in Syria. The Pressure and temptation were so fierce but he mustered every effort to resist. To force his hand, some people conspired to use chemical weapon against Civilians so as to cross the red line which Obama had set as what will force his hand to undertake a military expedition. But he was helped first by Great Britain who voted against military intervention. With tact and wisdom, He sought approval from the Congress to undertake limited air strike, and while, the Congress was being persuaded by Americans and the rest of the World to give a nod, John Kerry, President Obama's highly itinerant second term secretary of State organised a 'coup' against everybody ( except Obama) to fizzle out the military option and embarked on a new diplomatic blitz and all of a sudden or so it seems, American diplomats are criss-crossing the seas signing or midwiving agreements, that seem to be lowering the global warfare temperature.
Rather than send troops( with or without boots on the ground )to Syria to oust Assad or even undertake a limited air strike to weaken Assad's capability to harm his own people with dangerous weapons( chemical, nuclear or mortar) or to cling to power after nearly 3 years of civil war, Obama has succeeded in getting Syria to voluntarily destroy or give up its chemical warfare arsenal. In addition to this coup de grace, it has been announced by the United Nations that an International Peace Conference on Syria will open in January 2014 in Geneva and this may bring the Civil war to a much orderly end and perhaps avert a repeat of what has happened in Libya and Egypt. This is a wise move and should be supported by all men of goodwill.
For nearly two decades, Iran has become an 'infant terrible' to the World, but particularly to the US. Since the revolution that drove away the Shah and installed the Ayotullahs , Iran seemed to have become an antithesis of the United States of America. No wonder, George Bush Jnr.had included Iran, Iraq and North Korea in the ' axis of evil ' and had the Republicans retained power after him, America would have intervened militarily in Iran, not with the taunting and challenge posed by the 'short man devil' who governed Iran in the last 8 years or so. Of course, Iran gave the World and America an excuse to attack them with their brazen development of Nuclear Power and the enrichment of Uranium. Indeed, Israel had been ready to strike Iran but had been strongly restrained by the US. Again by deft diplomatic moves of the man Obama including a historic phone call to president Rhouhani of Iran ( the first in nearly 20 years between leaders of the Countries), Iran has been persuaded to halt further development of their nuclear programme except for peaceful purposes and to open up to UN verification. It is believed that these will be the first steps to returning Iran into the global mainstream that will help keep them in good behaviour.
With these two almost concurrent developments, at least two potential wars have been halted if not totally eliminated. Yes the hawks in the US Congress are barking at these diplomatic successes of Obama, egged on by the Powerful gun lobby who mourn loss of business opportunities to sell their hardware to both sides of the Syrian conflict and the potential war against Iran, possibly with Israel as proxy. What are the global realities of this current diplomatic forays and successes of President Obama and the new pacifist America that seems to be emerging?
First and most importantly, is the prospect for Global peace. It had been thought that the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the cold-war was going to make the World a peaceful place. But the USA and Russia came close to squaring up recently over Syria. Both Countries deployed their warships in the seas near Syria and only God knows what will have happened. For many months, Russia and China stood up against any action against Assad and his Syria, not even a strong worded resolution by the UN. Russia seemed to prop up all the rogue regimes. They are ( or were ?) supporting Iran's nuclear efforts and their defiance of World opinion. They were behind Syria and also Behind North korea's apparent megalomania. But it has been a refreshing and comforting sight to see Russia's Foreign Minister back slap with John Kerry and other Western diplomats as they cut Assad and Iran to some size. All that bitter rhetoric that tended to raise global warfare temperature seems to be abating. And Global peace is the beneficiary.
It may not be too optimistic, to expect that soon North Korea will tow the line. Indeed the 'baby face' leader of North Korea seems to have been calmed in the last couple of months. His reopening of an industrial zone, they share with their brothers in the South recently and a few other moves indicate to me that he does not want to be isolated as the only standing global rebel. Iam also optimistic that if Iran and Syria are finally reigned in,the middle East crisis might take a new twist for the better. Yes Israel seems to oppose the Nuclear peace deal and the lifting of some economic sanctions against Iran, but I feel that this is a decoy aimed at putting pressure on Iran to honour the agreement and on the USA to force aggressive compliance by Iran. They want to maintain this level of scepticism, so that Iran will be compelled to prove that they are a Nation to be trusted. There is so much potential for trouble in the Middle East and the current moves to get Syria and Iran on the side of the World will help speedier resolution in my view and actually will help the Kerry-induced restart of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations yield the much sought outcomes.
So I see 2014 as a year with the best potential for increased Global peace since we arrived the 21st Century. It is well known that Peace promotes global trade and development. Not only will Iran, Syria, Israel and other countries engaged in the arms race find opportunity to focus more on the development of their economies, international trade will increase as relationships between Nations improve. Increased global trade will promote development and better standard of living globally. Iran's oil may come back to the global market and an improved spectre of peace in the Middle East will generally put more crude into the market. So oil prices may moderate in 2014. And that is why Countries like Nigeria that 'pray' for high oil prices may have to change their 'prayer point'. The Nigerian National Assembly that wants to raise the oil price benchmark must try to understand the potential dynamics of the trade, with a high possibility of over supply in 2014, leading to significant drop in prices.
I am of the view that President Barak Obama is working to leave a Legacy of America that is a Peace maker, instead of a bully or the World Policeman. Historians may not only credit him with ending two wars ( Iraq and Afghanistan) but they may also credit him with averting two others( Syria and Iran).This may not go down with the cowboys and the Gun lobby, who did everything doable to prevent him returning for a second term. While I believe that America must maintain its restraining capabilities, it is right policy to respect other Nations and Culture and reduce the perception ( wrong or right) that America is arrogant and wants to dictate to every Nation how to live their lives. It is clear that America has lost some global competitiveness in certain critical areas because of too much focus on the world's policeman role. Some of the deficit America is currently grabbing with can be traced to military spending and the prosecution of too many wars- some direct, some by proxy. I truly believe that this new pacifist role rather than undermine will improve America's National Security. Or what do you think?



Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa, OFR
President, Nigerian-American Chamber of Commerce( NACC)





Monday, 25 November 2013



NOW THAT THE GENCOS & DISCOS HAVE BEEN SOLD....is that the end of the story?

We should be thankful to God that we have come this far in the Privitisation and deregulation of the Electricity Power Sector. It has been a very long and tortuous journey with so many twists and bends. From Electricity Corporation of Nigeria (ECN) to National Electric Power Authority ( NEPA) to Power Holding Company of Nigeria( PHCN). From a monolithic hegemony to an unbundled behemoth . From Gencos and Discos that were owned by the government to privately owned and managed Power generating and distribution companies. We have come a long way.
We must congratulate the Government for staying the course and showing uncommon determination to see the programme through. Well you may say that they really had no other choice. Having tried everything and having invested( some Nigerians think wasted) billions of Naira and yet ended with only 4000 MW of electricity and epileptic supply to thoroughly dissatisfied customers, there were only few options left.The story of our inefficient Electricity Power Sector and our long struggle with it seems to epitomise our National Development dilemma. Next to corruption,It has contributed most to our National image and Stigma. From 'Never Expect Power Always' to 'Never Expect Power At all',NEPA characterised and stigmatised Nigeria.
Little wonder President Olusegun Obasanjo thought that the major problem with NEPA was Corruption and reasoned that if corruption was eliminated or minimised, then power supply and distribution would improve dramatically. So he searched for an incorruptible Nigerian to make Minister of Power. And he found one in the late Chief Bola Ige. True to type, Ige came and roused the sleeping behemoth and for a few months, Nigerians noticed a kind of American wonder as electricity blazed all over the Nation and in some areas, a 24 hour unbroken supply was achieved. But just as we were about to heave a sigh of relief, the whole thing just 'yakata'. The entire system collapsed and we went back to epileptic supply. It was said that Chief Bola Ige had made a few changes in Management and ordered them to produce electricity. Zealously, they responded and fired all the equipment and there was light. But no sooner were the equipment put on maximum output, than they crumbled, because they had been unserviced for many years,especially in the last years of Military rule. Obasanjo was embarrassed and disillusioned. Next he decided that NEPA should be sold as he was not ready to pour money down the drain pipe any more. But who would buy a dead horse?
Seeing that he had about two years left and sensing that he had failed to deliver on one of his key promises to the People of Nigeria, he furiously launched the National Independent Power Projects and did all in his power to fast track the projects, while trying to complete some abandoned NEPA ( now PHCN) projects. Obasanjo left office without accomplishing his Power objectives but he laid the foundation for the Privitisation and deregulation of the Electricity Sector. Then enter President Umaru Musa Yardua. He was piqued,like many Nigerians that so much had been thrown at the power problem with apparent limited success. He therefore halted further investment in the Power sector and connived with the National Assembly to probe Obasanjo's Power Sector reform. Though we do not have the final report of the Elumelu Committee, it is safe to assume that the report had nothing new to reveal, meanwhile the power situation remained unsatisfactory.
Then enter President Goodluck Jonathan and he went headlong for the jugular of the Power demons. Working with the advice of the Presidential Advisory Council which he set up early in his presidency and using the instrumentality of the Presidential Task force on Power, he developed the Power Sector Road map and has not looked back since then. He remained focused, completing the independent Power Stations and housed them under the Niger delta Power holding company. He went on with Prof Barth Nnaji, who had transformed from the Presidential Advisory Council member to chair the Presidential Task force on Power and onto the office of the Minister of Power. Prof Nnaji and his team with ample support from the International community was firing on all cylinders. They completed the unbundling of PHCN, granted semi autonomy to the new operating units and technically liquidated PHCN. Working with the National Electricity Regulatory Commission(NERC)and other Stakeholders, they set up the Electricity Bulk Buyer, hired Manitoba corporation of Canada to run the National Electricity Transmission grid and got the National Electricity supply stabilized.
Next President Goodluck Jonathan focused on the Privitisation of the Generating Plants and the





Distribution Companies. And despite all the obstacles on the way, least of all being the strident opposition of Labour, he has delivered on the Privitisation of almost all the Power Plants and distribution network owned by the defunct PHCN. Thanks to the professional competence exhibited by the National committee on Privitisation and the Bureau for Public Enterprises(BPE). President Jonathan and his government must be applauded for this landmark and game- changing accomplishment.But Is this the end of the story?
It certainly is not and should not be. The Niger Delta independent Power Stations owned by the Federation are nearing full Privitisation as well and will soon be in private hands. On top of that, it is cheering that the Federal Govt is still investing in Power. The Mambilla and Geregu projects are new amongst other greenfield power projects being embarked by the Government alone or in joint venture Partnership. Added to that several State Governments, especially Lagos and Rivers are building independent plants and there is really hope that one day soon, the image of Nigeria defined by 'NEPA' will change for good,just as that defined by ' NITEL' has long changed and Nigeria is now known as one of the Countries with the biggest Telecoms market, attracting interest from all over the World.
But now that the 'Power' is in Private Sector hands, what will the beleaguered Nigerian Consumers be expecting? Certainly, they are not expecting to see what happened at the Ajaokuta Steel Plants where the new owners just stripped and canabalised the plant, leaving Nigerians with neither iron nor steel. They are not expecting to exchange baboons for monkeys. They are not looking for Private People who will make their situation worse. Yes Retail price of Electricity will increase with deregulation and appropriate pricing. But that should not be the primary focus at this stage. Consumers will like to see gradual improvement of service levels and will not mind paying more as service improves. But to see rise in prices at the same level of service will not be acceptable to Nigerian Consumers. The Private Sector owners must see their investment as long term and must not rush to recoup investment. Of course, the expectation is that they will make additional major investments both in Generation and distribution to vastly improve service levels and bring us at par with global best standards.
Because, the distribution companies will still enjoy monopoly of service in their jurisdictions, they must work hard to exorcise the 'NEPA' mentality. This is particularly important because most of their staff in the short to medium term will be NEPA legacy staff. So a whole lot of training and reorientation is indicated. But here I think the hope of Consumers will be on the regulatory agency -NERC and the Consumer Protection Agency. This is very important because as we know, Private Monopoly is much much worse than Public monopoly.
The ultimate question is when are we going to introduce competition in the retail sales of electricity. Just as we have in Telecoms today. Right in my village in Arochukwu, any day MTN messes me up, I quickly 'port' like Saka to Etisalat. But with Electric supply, if Interstate decides to mess me up with either poor service or crazy bills, I can not 'port', unless to my generator, that is If I can find where to buy diesel at the deregulated prices ( here fuel sellers sell at their prices, no DPR, no controls)which operate in the South East Region of Nigeria. So it is good that the Gencos and Discos have been successfully sold to private operators. But that is not the end of the story. Infact the story has just started.

Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa OFR

NIGERIA AND LATE BUDGET APPROVALS: BACK TO SQUARE ZERO



NIGERIA AND LATE BUDGET APPROVALS: BACK TO SQUARE ZERO

We seem to be back at it again. One step forward, two steps backwards. Recent media reports about a brewing budget crisis between the Executive and the Legislature is discomforting and portends a real danger to the orderly development of our political economy.
For many years, we have had disjointed budget implementation cycles that have left many questions than answers. National budgets are approved march or April, four months into the budget year and six months later, by November, further releases are stopped and unused funds returned to the treasury. How much of the Nation's budget can be executed in six months, not with with the delays due to civil service bureaucracy and the 'Undue Process' bottleneck. So year on year, we go through the rigours of a budgeting process and we derive sub optimal benefits because of delays at every stage.
In the last two years, we have noticed some effort at changing this depressing trend. Preparations for Budget 2013 set new records in our recent history. The President sent the Appropriation bill to the National Assembly in October? and before the members shut down for the Christmas holidays in late December, the bill had been passed in both houses of the Legislature. An unprecedented record! Though the delay caused by the reluctance of the President to accent to the bill based on three key issues, almost blunted the advantage of the early passage.
The President I understand, objected to the oil price benchmark, the relocation of certain SURE-P funding from Community Services and Public works to constituency projects and the unusual and never-heard of refusal to appropriate funds for the Securities Exchange Commission(SEC) just because they had some problem with the DG ( who did the unthinkable by spilling the beans on the honourables). The Executive felt strongly that the Legislature needed to ammend the budget and it took several weeks before the President reconsidered his position and signed the appropriation bill into law. Subsequently, the President sent an amended appropriation bill to the National Assembly. It took another several weeks of going forth and backwards before the National Assembly ate the humble pie and halfheartedly approved the amendments, though implementation of some of the so called amendments remains difficult,if not impossible.

With all these impediments to a flawless implementation of the 2013 budget,it is estimated that between 65-70% of the Capital budget will be released at year end. This is some improvement over the previous years where we hardly reached 60% of the capital budget releases and utilization. And this is on top of the claim by the Government that it has had shortages in revenue this year, largely due to unprecedented wholesale thefts of Nigeria's crude. So we can conclude, that if this shortage did not occur, may be the capital releases would have been higher. I personally feel that these oil thefts can be significantly minimised if not eliminated completely. I am not persuaded that we have done our best in dealing with this economically devastating and globally embarrassing debacle. Sources from some of the oil majors suggest that helicopters flying over the Niger Delta coast will see the illegal ships and tankers loading Nigeria's crude oil illegally. As for those who are stealing and refining in make-shift refineries in the swamps, their locations are well established. Why we can neither prevent nor wipe out these illegal activities leave me bemused.

And so we were hoping that that the budget process and cycle will improve further this year for the 2014 budget. If the Executive submitted the Budget proposals to the National Assembly in October last year, my hope was that they would submit in September this year at the least. If the National Assembly passed the 2013 bill on the 24th of December last year, I had the hope that this year, they would pass the 2014 budget on the 1st of December. But alas! As at today,almost the end of November, the budget proposals are yet to be presented to the National Assembly. Media reports indicate that the presentation by Mr President has been postponed twice already.

The reasons for this delay and a return to our old ways are difficult to fathom. The media reports that it had to do with disagreements on oil benchmark price does not make much meaning to me. Every year, there have been arguements between the Executive and the Legislature on the appropriate oil price benchmark. Indeed, often, the Senate and the House start with different positions on this. But as part of the review process and the negotiations that go on, a common benchmark is agreed, most times involving compromises from all sides. Though the arguement as to what arm of Government is better placed( statutorily or by competency) to determine this benchmark has been going on for years, that has not been and should not be why the appropriation bill can not be submitted up till now. The other reason I heard for the last postponement, which was that the President had to travel for an investment forum in London is even more mundane. The appropriation bill to my mind, is the most important bill the President sends to the National Assembly every year and therefore must have higher priority than investment forum of any kind. What is more, the President is the one who determines his schedule and I can not see why there would be a conflict and even if one arose, the priority should be given to sorting out a critical National assignment. So somebody should give me a more intelligible reason!

We may be lucky, unlike the American Government that can be SHUT DOWN when appropriation is late in coming or who FALL OFF THE CLIFF when debt sealings are not approved by the Congress. But unlike America, our Country's Economy is heavily dependent on the Federal Government's annual budgets. In addition to the allocation of National resources to different sectors of the economy ,the budget sets the ground rules for the economic conduct for the year. Trade policies, tariffs and investment incentives are often embedded in our annual budgets. Indeed, the entire economy virtually freezes at the end of each year waiting for the new policies that will be released in the budget. So when we delay the approval of the annual budget, we do not only delay government or public sector activities but we paralyse Private Sector businesses as well.

For a Nation that professes that it is in a hurry to develop and join the league of most productive Nations in terms of GDP,anything that has the potential to slow down economic activities must be avoided by all means. I believe that our Political Leaders and Public 'Masters' at all levels must come to term with this fact and stop being clogs in the wheel of progress of our Nation. Let us develop a better budgeting and implementation culture that will show that we are truly serious to achieve Vision 2020.

Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa OFR
President, Nigerian-American Chamber of Commerce
Immediate Past Chairman, Nigerian Economic Summit Group(NESG)




Wednesday, 20 November 2013

                      NIGERIA ,ARM-CHAIR CRITICS AND HYPOCRITES
 Nigerians are very good in several things and we know it. Plenty of good and Plenty of Bad. Some people say more bad than good, but I stoutly insist that we do a whole lot of good, wonderful and noble things. Infact the World knows that we are a special breed and that we can accomplish several things if we put our minds to them though sometimes, it looks like they focus too much on our bad side, perhaps because, we unwittingly focus them there through our Public discourse. If the truth must be told, many Nigerians who TRULY Succeed in our Country in Business or their professions will be outstanding in other climes. Please mind my word. TRUE SUCCESS. I am not referring to the criminally minded. There is good success and there is bad success. Criminals and the short circuiters may achieve pyrrhic success by whatever means. But I do not think they will easily succeed in other climes. The bar to become a criminal and short circuiter in our Country is very low and many be there that enter and easily make quick success. When I see the pictures of criminals and deviants who have made bad success in our Country, I am amazed. Look at the guy called 'Osisikankwu' who held Aba and it's environ hostage for several months, a few years ago, there was nothing to recommend him for such stardom except that in Nigeria crime seems to be cheap.When these so called Kingpins are nabbed,they look so scruffy and scraggy and they soon begin to sing like canaries, blaming the devil and their circumstances.Elsewhere you need to be really tough and smart to venture into any form of crime in a sustainable manner, because for many, their first attempt is their last. There, the security agents are much smarter and tougher than the criminals but here, it is difficult to determine.
  One area that has attracted my attention, is the capacity of Nigerians to criticise and pontificate. Outside lampooning our country, our other area of comparative advantage is the competency in criticism. Nigerians will criticise their leaders- political, traditional, Business and cultural. They will criticise the football team and their coaches. They will criticise the Police and all the security agencies including the Federal Road Safety and the LASTMA( if you live in Lagos). They will criticise their Neighbours, friends and foes. They will criticise When the airport arrival/ departure lounges are dilapidated and they will complain and criticise when the lounges are being renovated. They will criticise the contractor for not working fast on the road and when he starts working, they will criticise or complain that he is raising too much dust or causing traffic delays.Some Nigerians want to eat their cake and then have it back.
  Let me state that there is nothing really wrong with being a critic. I am one my self and most normal People, Nigerians or not, will have cause to criticise some body or something every once in a while. Indeed, criticism is essential for growth and without it, development and innovation may be imperilled . But crtiticism can become counter productive, when it is not informed and this is one the constraints of Nigeria's genre of criticism. Many Nigerians jump into criticism without bothering to obtain sufficient information to enable them evaluate the issue before passing judgement. They only read the head lines or hear only half of the story and then they pass judgement.
 The consequence is that they can cause confusion and slow down activities and projects or lead to an unjustified and hasty termination of an activity because of the negative feed back that comes from hasty criticism. Secondly, many Nigerians jump to criticise things they have no understanding or familiarity with. And in doing so, they exhibit great ignorance or confuse the real issues. When certain football spectators begin to criticise the Coach for fielding a particular player, when they have no technical understanding of how teams are organised and how games are read,they either confuse the coach or demoralise him. If some one wants to criticise an engineering design, he must make an effort to understand how engineering designs are interpreted . Otherwise he will make a fool of himself as many Nigerians do when they criticise what they have have no real knowledge about.
  Thirdly certain Nigerians criticise from a biased or jaundiced view point. They have made up their minds that nothing good can come from a particular person, Organization or institution. So they spend no time evaluating the matter. As long as it is from the Nigerian Police, the Nigerian Custom Service, the People's Democratic Party, then it is wrong. This kind of stereotyping is injurious and punishes innovation and creative efforts at change. It is akin to the bias in biblical times: can any thing good come out of Nazareth? This stereotype blinded many from recognising the Messiah.
  Fourthly, there is the destructive criticism, where facts and figures are deliberately distorted  to confuse and damage. Ordinarily, criticism is aimed at causing improvement and perfection, but destructive criticism aims to stultify and destroy. And in my experience, there are many destructive critics in our clime and rather than promote communal good, they prefer to satisfy morbid personal desires which rejoice at the suffering of others. They form the ' Pull him down club' whose appetite is satisfied only when People fall, when Organizations fail and when Governments are pulled down. They are always baying for blood.
  What is worse is that some people criticise for criticism sake. They just go on criticising and offer no suggestions( superior or inferior). That is cheap talk. Everybody can criticise, everybody can always point out errors, everybody can always see things differently, but it makes no sense if one persists in pointing out perceived errors without putting forward ideas or thoughts on how those errors can be corrected or offering alternative views. Criticism ought to be constructive.
 But the worst and basest form of criticism is hypocrisy. Here many Nigerians will criticise all others, point out all the faults of others and be so vehement and condemn all the evils in the Society. But these same People move out from their grandstanding platforms only to go and steep into those same things they condemned. Some Nigerians who openly criticise Public officials of corruption are either those who corrupt the Public officials or who themselves practice corruption or become more corrupt if they have a small opportunity. Infact many critcise and accuse because, their requests were denied by the Public officials.Those who point out the speck in other people's eyes while ignoring the beam in their own eyes are called HYPOCRITES by God. And The Lord says 'woe' to such people. Thou that Preaches that people should not steal,dost thou steal?
  Another variant of Hypocrisy, is expecting or asking People to do what we can not do or what we have neglected to do. These are called arm-chair critics.When People criticise, they ought to ask themselves what they have done or what they can do about the the issue they are criticising or complaining about. People criticise that our cities are dirty and you wonder what they themselves have done to help the situation to change. When people mount rostrums and criticise our country for being import dependant for our food and other necessities of life, I ask, what have they done or what are they doing to increase local production? We seem to be waiting for the government to do all things or hoping that somebody or some 'messiah' will come and do all things for us. It is morally wrong for any one to stand up and pontificate or pick up a pen to write or criticise or moan over a problem they are part of, or of which they have failed to do anything about or for which they are incapable of doing anything about. It is more honourable to be quiet than to indulge in hypocrisy and all of its variants.
 Let me conclude by saying that I am not in any way just criticising critics. Iam only stating that those who come to equity must come with clean hands. Every game must be played according to some rules for us to have an ordered society. Complainants and Critics are very necessary for the good of every society . But for it to yield positive results that will truly benefit the Society, critics must be well informed,looking at all sides of the matter, they must be knowledgeable,with deep understanding of the subject matter, they must be fair and constructive. What is more, critics must be doers themselves, not just talkers and pontificators. And lastly, arm- chair critics, hired-critics , pull-him-down critics and hypocrites of all shades must depart our public space and allow constructive, fair and balanced crtiticism to reign, so that we can elevate the quality of Public debate and discourse in our Country. That will add to this list of good things that Nigerians know how to do.
 Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa OFR

Monday, 11 November 2013

IS NIGERIA 'BROKE', CASH-STRAPPED, INSOLVENT OR WHAT?




 
In the last couple of weeks I have heard various complaints from different quarters which are troubling. The first shots came from the States. On more than two occasions, the State Commissioners of Finance came back from Abuja without Collecting money from the Federation account. The monthly FAAC meetings were aborted or abandoned. I understand that the commissioners were protesting that the Federal Government was owing them and that they were not putting all the money to be shared on the table. I have watched some Governors on the Television complaining bitterly.
 Just as we thought that the matter was being resolved, we began to hear other stories, indicating that We are having challenges with funding our budget and meeting our cash commitments. And I am wondering what is the matter. As far as I know we have been selling our crude oil above the budgeted benchmark price per barrel.Certainly not less than 90 dollars per barrel. I am also not aware of any major disruptions to oil drilling or export. Yes we have heard several Lamentations of oil theft and all that but are we saying that the theft is such that our National Budgetted income is grossly threatened. If that were so, then a National Emergency should have long been established.
 Recently, I was confronted with the reality that some MDAs are finding it difficult to fund their capital budget and that some are currently unable to even reach 50% of their budget, essentially due to inadequate cash backing by the Budget office. A few days ago, I saw the Hon Minister of Finance before the National Assembly, defending these matters. She admitted that there is a shortfall in National income but that the releases had been steady,higher than many were claiming .She denied that any money was missing in the excess crude account though that story has persisted in the media.
 I am worried because across the States and even within the Federal Ministries, Departments and Agencies(MDAs),there are loud complaints that the Budget office is not releasing money. Consequent on that,Contractors and suppliers all over are crying that they are not being paid and a number are stalling work or threatening to pull out of sites. Even in some States, Salaries are being owed and everybody seems to be blaming the federal ministry of Finance and it's budget office. How come we are in this situation which has the potential to slow down the economy. Yet release from the Ministry of Finance indicates that 1.01 Trillion naira has been released as capital budget( 400 Billion in Q1, 200 Billion in Q2, 250 Billion in Q3 and now 160 Billion in this Q4) and that 72.3% of the releases have been utilised by the MDAs leaving about 229 Billion unspent at end of Q3. Nevertheless the total releases so far falls short of the Budget at about 65%( 1.01T vs 1.59 T).

  It is convenient to blame the Budget office. But is it really their fault? I hate to think that the money is in the Central Bank and the Minister  and the director of Budget are sitting on it and starving the State Governments and the MDAs. Why would they do that ? What benefit would they derive? Does it give them joy to be accused,abused and harassed by the State Governors, the National Assembly and even by fellow ministers and officers of the Central government.
 First, there is so much misinformation and disinformation floating around, some trumped up by the National Assembly and given vent by the Media, which many times act as Robots regurgitating statements and data which are unverified. A few days ago, I read a headline in a National Newspaper that 500 Billion Naira was missing from the SURE-P funds. The newspaper quoted the Chairman of a Senate Committee as the source of the information. The Senator was said to have said that according to the NNPC, about 800B had accrued from the Subsidy savings since last year but that the Chairman of the SURE-P Committee said that only 300 billion had been remitted to it. On the basis of this, a Senator of the Federal Republic announced to Nigerians that 500 billion Naira was missing. And the media carried it verbatim, some as headline, without asking any questions or even doing any analysis.
  A few days earlier another story was in the media credited to the same Senator and his adhoc committee that the SURE-P programme was a failure. Why? Because the Minister of Works failed to show up at the National Assembly to explain how the SURE-P money allocated to projects under his ministry had been used. I am at a loss to understand why the fact that a minister of Works did not honour the invitation to meet with the Senate Adhoc committee translates to the fact that the SURE-P has failed. This assertion is made more ridiculous by the fact that the SURE - P Committee had appeared before this same Senate Committee to account for how all SURE-P monies, including those for projects under the Ministry of Works have been utilised up to date. I do not hold brief for the Works Ministry nor do I support any official of Government not responding to invitations by the Senate Committee but these alarmist and unfounded declarations can not be justified.
 When we raise false alarms of missing monies too frequently, two things happen. One is that, it gives the wrong impression of our Country and worsens our ranking in the Corruption Perception Index (CPI) and two, readers begin to ignore such declarations and may lead to their ignoring the correct stories, because they have difficulty in knowing which alarm is correct and which one is a hoax. There have been many such alarms in the past and nothing seems to have eventually come out of them.Take the example of the false alarm that 500 Billion SURE-P money was missing. How could this be? First is that the Senator knows that all expenditure by the Federal government is appropriated by the National Assembly. If he checks the record, he will find that the total appropriation in 2012 and 2013 for SURE-P will be in the range of 300 billion naira, which is in sync with the statement allegedly made by the Chairman of the SURE-P Committee. Infact the maximum accruable to the Federal Govt each year is 180 billion naira and for two years since the programme began would be a maximum of 360 billion naira, though there were shortfalls in 2012, because the programme started late.
 Second is that the Senator ought to know and if he had forgotten ought to have been reminded by an informed media that the SUBDIDY SAVINGs are shared by the three tiers of Government. The Federal governments share is about 41% or so while the other tiers receive the balance of about 59% or so. If therefore 800 billion naira is the Subsidy savings, then the Federal Government's portion will be around 300 billion naira and the balance 500 billion naira or so will have gone to States and Local governments. So the missing money will be in the coffers of the 36 States, plus Abuja and the 774 LGAs. And yet the headline news that 500 billion naira is missing has been beamed to the whole world. An informed press would have been asking the States and Local  Governments to declare how they are utilising the bigger portion of the Sudsidy savings, just as the Federal Government has been making efforts to account for its portion. It is worse that this lack of understanding still exists after the Federal Ministry of Finance recently published the account of the August distribution of the Subsidy savings in the media.

If we must fight corruption and if we ever intend to win, we must separate facts from fiction. Our Media should stop over sensationalisation of Corruption, because it is not yielding any good result. Rather, it assaults the psyche of the ordinary Nigerian who often believes these stories and begins to wonder why he must keep working hard and keeping straight while 500 billion has 'disappeared' into some people's pockets. There is so much Corruption in Nigeria and I believe we must expose and fight corruption. But for the fight to be meaningful and to yield the expected result, we must not just dramatise or sensationalise every accusation or declaration, We should carry out preliminary enquiries and reviews before being parties to circulating false information that only glamorises corruption, makes us look worse than we truly are and worsens our global image and our competitiveness, including our ability to attract investments. If 500 billion naira can just disappear, then anything can disappear in  Nigeria.
  But for me, the real critical issue in all these stories about our being 'broke' or cash- strapped is that it truly exposes the risk our Country is running by fully depending on the sale of crude oil to fund our budget. If we are in dire straits just because of sudden or temporary short falls in production or sales of crude petroleum, I shudder to think of what will happen if there is a prolonged shortfall. Yes we have experienced the burst of the bubble more than once and it seems  that we have learnt nothing or are not taking appropriate strategic decisions and actions fast enough to avert this impending 'doom'. America has found shale oil and has become a major oil producing Country, drastically reducing its reliance on imported fossil fuels. And America is Nigeria's biggest importer of crude oil! Soon, America will be exporting oil and Energy. On top of that Many African Countries have found crude oil and gas in their territories, thereby increasing global supplies, with potential for a supply glut and the crashing of prices soon. Again Asia especially China and the other importers of our crude oil are aggressively seeking cleaner energy and soon their demand for fossil fuels will decline. The signs are ominous. It may be more strategic for us to declare a state of Emergency now on diversifying our economy, than blaming the Minister of Finance or Director of Budget alone. The diversification of our Economy though being led by the Government must be driven by the Private Sector but we are certainly moving too slowly. We can be 'BROKE' now or CASH-STRAPPED but we may eventually become INSOLVENT  and that would be really terrible, except that there may no longer be any 500 Billion Naira that will disappear or be declared missing in fact. It would only be fiction!
 
                           Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa OFR

Monday, 4 November 2013

HALTING THE UNWHOLESOME MIGRATION AND THE WANTON EMIGRATION


Lagos is bursting on its seams and so is Abuja. Everyday lorry loads of human beings land on the outskirts of Lagos and Abuja. Men and women, mostly men; young and old, mostly young; educated and uneducated, mostly both. What are they looking for? Work! Means of livelihood. Or Safety as in the recent times. During the militancy they moved from South-South, during the kidnapping, they moved from the South-East and now in the reign of Boko haram,they are moving from the North East.Some come prepared but most unprepared, no relation and no friend. They land and just begin to 'hustle', some ending up on the streets, some into crime and then into the prisons. Indeed some end up as destitutes, lucky ones repatriated overnight in trailers to their States of Origin.
   When you go to the Foreign Embassies in Lagos and in Abuja, you get the wrong impression that Nigeria is at war. People arrive at Embassies by 4am to queue day after day, others pay visa agents who procure genuine and fake visas. Nigerians are emigrating to every Country on the globe, a few in pursuit of Education, but most in search of greener pasture and better lives. And since most arrive with visitor's visa, they can not work legitimately. And as soon as the visa expires they go underground and either join the grey labour market or are forced into crime and soon end up in Jails. Go to Vietnam, Indonesia, China and even Myrnmar(Burma), their jails are filled with Nigerians who are either illegal immigrants, drug peddlers or petty thieves. The situation is not different in the West,though, they seem to be more liberal or more tolerant to illegal immigrants.This week,at the South East Economic Summit in Enugu, the Nigerian Ambassadors to Vietnam and Canada were telling gory stories of what embarrassment they faced everyday, going to bail or visit Nigerians in Police cells or Prisons.
  This Exodus has been unceasing in the last twenty years or more. At one time, especially during the Military era, there was a wave of emigration by Nigerian Professionals to the US, Uk, Asia and the middle East. Some claimed they were refugees or Prisoners of conscience.Now it has become a game for all,including young graduates, the unskilled and the half-baked. How come the World's 6th Major Crude oil exporter, a land of great agricultural and Solid minerals potentials is unattractive for this horde of emigrants. What is the driving force?
    From all indications, all this unwholesome migration and wanton emigration is in search of OPPORTUNITIES. Opportunities to have a decent Job, to do business unfettered, to live a decent life. Of course we know that a few migrate or emigrate out of greed whereby they engage in crimes like Drug peddling, armed robbery and kidnapping. Even here, sociologists and behavioural scientists argue that many are forced into crimes when they are denied fair opportunities. While I understand the logic of this assertion, I do not think such crimes can be justified. Petty stealing,may be but not premeditated crimes. Anyway, whether justified or not, lack of opportunities or deprivation of fair opportunities is the major motivation of the internal migration to Lagos and Abuja and other major cities and the emigration to every country under the sun by Nigerians.
 It therefore follows that if we must halt this unsavoury phenomenon,we must focus a great deal of effort in creating and expanding opportunities for Nigerians at home. I believe that the ongoing establishment of Private Universities for example,will help to stem the emigration in search of higher education. I propose that more Private Universities and other institutions of higher learning should be licensed by the government until we reach the point of equilibrium . If the National Universities Commission( NUC) works to assure the maintenance of minimum standards, some day,we may have excess capacity and we will then begin to market Nigerian Universities, the same way, Turkish and Polish Universities are marketed in Nigeria today. The recent criticism of the so called proliferation of Private Universities is ill informed. Even the complaint about high fees is untenable.If Nigerians pay so much in Ghana and Togo, why should we complain that much. Good and qualitative education is expensive. I am hopeful that the Private Universities will help to set new standards for some of our Public ones, whose standards have fallen, aided by ASUU's frequent strikes.
  Central to halting this malady,is the creation of opportunities for Nigerians to be gainfully employed. Nigeria's operating environment still leaves much to be desired when it comes to the ease of doing business. Yes, some praiseworthy efforts are being made, like the recent ban on the use of Consultants to collect taxes by States and Local Governments,the deregulation of the Power sector to help improve Electricity and a couple of other measures, but we are still million light years behind. Ok,some attention is being paid to the big companies and investors but nobody is sufficiently interested in the small guys. All odds are against them. And they are the ones who produce the largest number of jobs in any economy. I strongly recommend that we go and understudy the Small Business Administation(SBA) agency in the United States of America, so that we can begin to support our small businesses and keep our young men at home. A definite decision must be made to give support to our young men and women in establishing and running businesses. We must stop pulling down their shops without offering them adequate compensation or alternative shops. We must show our Youth that the Country cares for their success and well being and stop 'pushing' them away with repressive policies and anti-business behaviour. We must not model favouritism nor implement policies that indicate that Merit has no relevance in the allocation of resources and priveleges. Our Youth must be made to believe in this Country and be proud to be Nigerians.
   Critical to creating a business Promotive environment and expanding opportunities for gainful employment is GOOD GOVERNANCE- using the resources of the State judiciously and efficiently to make the place habitable for human comfort and hospitable for enterprise development under a regime of law and order. The State must take interest in the wellbeing of every citizen and ensure that both the poor and the rich are protected and treated fairly. When some people feel alienated,that no one really cares, then they will naturally go looking for where some one will care any where.
     When you check the States with the highest levels of internal migration out of their States to other States, and the highest rate of emigration to foreign lands, you will begin to see a correlation. When I tried to check, I was startled to note that the States in the South East were high on both lists-unwholesome migration to Lagos and Abuja and other major cities and Wanton emigration to every Nation on Earth- including Iceland, Iraq and Somalia! Why are we deserting our homestead and going everywhere else in search of opportunities. What is constricting the opportunities in the region?
 Yes, we can hide under the fact that the Igbos like to travel and that many are traders or that we are marginalised with minimum Federal presence especially since after the Civil War or that the Federal Capitals ( Political and Commercial) exist outside our region,but does that explain why many are languishing in the Vietnamese Prisons? Does that explain why the Igbos now conduct traditional weddings in Lagos and Abuja? Can that explain why many Igbos now spend their Christmas in Dubai and China. No, something is not right. This frightening trend must be halted by all means. Biko! Why can we not repair our towns, to expand the opportunities for our young men and women. Why can we not deliberately court our People to come home and provide them those things that are taking them all over the World, often at  great peril and costs. Why cant those who have businesses in other parts of Nigeria and Overseas bring home branches or subsidiaries to create opportunities for the Youth just like Innoson Motors, Geometric and others. Why can we not make other People-  Nigerians and all to come to our towns and States to do business and to live. Perhaps that's why the Abia Think Tank is collaborating with the Abia State Government, Geometric Power, Masters Energy, Crown Realties, Fidelity Bank, Diamond Bank, the Ukwa-Ngwa concerned Professionals and a host of other Organizations to host the ABA SUMMIT, November 20/21. The main objective is to mobilise a new wave of interest and investment inflow into Aba on the heels of the increased Electric power supply, to help recreate a Node of development that can absorb some of those seeking opportunities for good life in the region,and some how help reduce the pressure on Lagos and Abuja, at the least.
    Finally, If we must truly halt this malady, then mothers and fathers must exercise some restraint on their children and wards. Yes,opportunities may be inadequate but they still exist perhaps for those who are ready to pay the price in diligence and endurance.Some of the money spent in buying visas and tickets to foreign lands and can be wisely deployed to build local businesses if well harnessed . Let us encourage our Children to play by the rules. Let us model good morals to them and let them know that money is not everything. The get rich quick syndrome must be condemned and the Youth made to know that success in life is not all about Money and houses and cars. We must moderate our penchant for materialism. A number of those in jails in Asia, some facing death penalties were lured more by the prospects of making it fast and going home in  jeeps at the next Christmas.This craze must stop. Let the Leaders stand up! And please let us make this an agenda item at the forthcoming National Conference
    Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa OFR