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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