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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)