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Wednesday, 30 December 2015

DEMYSTIFYING & REFORMING THE SECURITY VOTE CESSPOOL


  In many  of my commentaries and books, I had criticized the Security vote provisions for the executive arm of government at all levels in our Country. I had done so for a number of reasons. The first is that I felt that the amounts that are drawn monthly by the chief executives for 'security' purposes was too much and dis proportionate to the other needs of the governments. In some States, the security vote appropriation was higher than allocation to Health care for the entire State. And we know that in addition to this vote, specific budgetary provisions for most of the security agencies like the Military, Police, Civil Defence, etc are usually made. Worse is that these so called security votes were also given priority place in cash disbursement. Thus even when we do not have cash to pay workers salaries in many States of the Federation, we conjured cash to draw down security votes.
  The second reason I have been uncomfortable with the Security vote issue is that it lacked every modicum of transparency. One man, called a governor or President was officially allowed to expend public money without accounting to no body. I thought this was bad in a democracy and infringed on the rights of the citizens to know and hold their leaders accountable for the disbursement of public funds. The third concern which derives from two above is that if there is no accountability required, then abuse would naturally follow. If Governors and Presidents were allowed to spend the Security votes without accounting, then they would be tempted to use it for both public and private purposes. In fact I suspected that they would use it more for private and personal purposes. My suspicion was strengthened when I found that in many states, that despite the huge security votes, crime rate remained high. Armed robbery,kidnapping and later terrorism have become almost normal in Nigeria in spite of the huge security votes collected regularly by the State Chief executives. 
   I remember one state chief executive who in trying to say that he was 'clean ' and not greedy announced that he 'only took that which belonged to him and did not look elsewhere'. In which case he saw the security vote as an entitlement and thus appropriated it as personal, spending most of it for his personal use and perhaps using a small fraction for sundry token security gestures like buying a few pick up vans for the police! But in all my writings and criticisms of the security votes, nothing prepared me for the recent media reported use of Security votes as revealed by the former National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki. National income freely disbursed to politicians to pursue sundry partisan political and private objectives, most of which had nothing to do with National Security or did they?
 When I expressed my disgust and utter consternation at what I see as a brazen abuse of office, some of my friends told me that,there was nothing unusual in those revelations. That this was the way it was during the Military reign  and so it has been since the different regimes in our civilian democracy. I argued that it could not be, then they asked me to convince President Buhari to extend the demystification of the Security votes to the regimes before Jonathan and that I would faint if I got a glimpse of how the previous military and civilian presidents and governors spent their security votes.  I was downcast and crestfallen .
  It has been an open secret that our Nation has underperformed over many years. Everybody knows that our National resources have been poorly managed and there is agreement that our Nation has been a bastion of corruption. But as has been recently revealed, the security vote factor is a significant contributor to all these. Therefore, in addition to the ongoing probes of the former NSA and other probes that will follow, as Nigeria frontally confronts the challenge of endemic National wealth mismanagement and insidious corruption, I strongly believe that we must reform the Security vote concept immediately. First, we must specify what the vote will be used for, just the same way as we budget for items under the a Ministry of Works or defence. Second, we must have the National or State Assembly review, interrogate and approve the vote and its constituents through open debates as is done for other appropriation items. Third, is that the Chief executives must now openly account for the expenditures. The veil over security votes has been broken by Col Dasuki and so there is nothing else to hide. Fourthly, we must wean our current Chief executives from seeing the security vote as an entitlement or additional income source for them. We do not want to hear later, other Soddy stories of how they have misused our National patrimony only after they have left office. The fight against corruption must be more proactive than retroactive. And most importantly, it must be devoid of any political witch hunt if it is in the real interest of the ordinary Nigerian Citizen who wants a Nation led by shepherds and stewards and not hirelings and predators .
  Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa OFR 

2015: GOOD POLITICS, BAD ECONOMICS


  In many  of my commentaries and books, I had criticized the Security vote provisions for the executive arm of government at all levels in our Country. I had done so for a number of reasons. The first is that I felt that the amounts that are drawn monthly by the chief executives for 'security' purposes was too much and dis proportionate to the other needs of the governments. In some States, the security vote appropriation was higher than allocation to Health care for the entire State. And we know that in addition to this vote, specific budgetary provisions for most of the security agencies like the Military, Police, Civil Defence, etc are usually made. Worse is that these so called security votes were also given priority place in cash disbursement. Thus even when we do not have cash to pay workers salaries in many States of the Federation, we conjured cash to draw down security votes.
  The second reason I have been uncomfortable with the Security vote issue is that it lacked every modicum of transparency. One man, called a governor or President was officially allowed to expend public money without accounting to no body. I thought this was bad in a democracy and infringed on the rights of the citizens to know and hold their leaders accountable for the disbursement of public funds. The third concern which derives from two above is that if there is no accountability required, then abuse would naturally follow. If Governors and Presidents were allowed to spend the Security votes without accounting, then they would be tempted to use it for both public and private purposes. In fact I suspected that they would use it more for private and personal purposes. My suspicion was strengthened when I found that in many states, that despite the huge security votes, crime rate remained high. Armed robbery,kidnapping and later terrorism have become almost normal in Nigeria in spite of the huge security votes collected regularly by the State Chief executives. 
   I remember one state chief executive who in trying to say that he was 'clean ' and not greedy announced that he 'only took that which belonged to him and did not look elsewhere'. In which case he saw the security vote as an entitlement and thus appropriated it as personal, spending most of it for his personal use and perhaps using a small fraction for sundry token security gestures like buying a few pick up vans for the police! But in all my writings and criticisms of the security votes, nothing prepared me for the recent media reported use of Security votes as revealed by the former National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki. National income freely disbursed to politicians to pursue sundry partisan political and private objectives, most of which had nothing to do with National Security or did they?
 When I expressed my disgust and utter consternation at what I see as a brazen abuse of office, some of my friends told me that,there was nothing unusual in those revelations. That this was the way it was during the Military reign  and so it has been since the different regimes in our civilian democracy. I argued that it could not be, then they asked me to convince President Buhari to extend the demystification of the Security votes to the regimes before Jonathan and that I would faint if I got a glimpse of how the previous military and civilian presidents and governors spent their security votes.  I was downcast and crestfallen .
  It has been an open secret that our Nation has underperformed over many years. Everybody knows that our National resources have been poorly managed and there is agreement that our Nation has been a bastion of corruption. But as has been recently revealed, the security vote factor is a significant contributor to all these. Therefore, in addition to the ongoing probes of the former NSA and other probes that will follow, as Nigeria frontally confronts the challenge of endemic National wealth mismanagement and insidious corruption, I strongly believe that we must reform the Security vote concept immediately. First, we must specify what the vote will be used for, just the same way as we budget for items under the a Ministry of Works or defence. Second, we must have the National or State Assembly review, interrogate and approve the vote and its constituents through open debates as is done for other appropriation items. Third, is that the Chief executives must now openly account for the expenditures. The veil over security votes has been broken by Col Dasuki and so there is nothing else to hide. Fourthly, we must wean our current Chief executives from seeing the security vote as an entitlement or additional income source for them. We do not want to hear later, other Soddy stories of how they have misused our National patrimony only after they have left office. The fight against corruption must be more proactive than retroactive. And most importantly, it must be devoid of any political witch hunt if it is in the real interest of the ordinary Nigerian Citizen who wants a Nation led by shepherds and stewards and not hirelings and predators .
  Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa OFR 

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

THE JUDICIAL DECIMATION OF PDP AND ITS IMPLICATIONS



   In the history of elections in Nigeria I had never seen the type of reversals of electoral results by the courts as we have seen in recent times. Last week was particularly spectacular as the appeal courts in Abuja, Lafia, Owerri and Enugu went on a kind of stampede and by the time the week ran out, a significant number of seats won by the PDP in the legislature, especially the senate had been annulled. In Rivers state, it was more like a tsunami that completely wiped out all the electoral victories of the PDP in the last General elections. And except for one case in Nassarawa that affected the APC, almost all the judgements were against the PDP. Very Puzzling!
   By the last count PDP had lost Taraba and Rivers State, through judicial declarations and I have heard comments about the puzzle of the Taraba case. The tribunal that was seating in Abuja because of security conditions annulled the Taraba gubernatorial elections and handed victory to APC because the party primary that elected the PDP gubernatorial candidate was held outside Taraba, for the same security considerations! Preposterous ! Why not ask PDP to rerun the primaries?, that is assuming, some PDP candidates complained. As for Rivers, the verdict was not very surprising as the APC raised alarm from the day of the election. Now the fate of Akwa Ibom is hanging on the balance as the tribunal judges have reserved their judgement. Till when ?one may ask . Lately, Ayo Fayose of EKITI State raised fears that the long settled Ekiti elections may be revisited through some ongoing manouvres. How can this be ?But the decimation has been most devastating in the National Assembly where many of the PDP Senators from the North Central, South East and South South regions have been ousted. Those who escaped the tribunals got decapitated by the Appeal Courts. The judgements may well be deserved but the trend is shocking and disconcerting for our democracy.
   The way things are going, the opposition offered by PDP is largely whittled down and that portends some danger for our democracy. The APC already has majority in the Senate and in the house and with the recent court declarations, should the PDP lose the reruns, then the APC may have two thirds majority in the National Assembly. Thus they can pass any legislation without opposition. This will be like running a one - party state. Certainly this will not be the best for a democratic Nigeria. Some of the failures of governance noted during the reign of PDP can be traced to poor opposition especially when PDP had absolute majority due to electoral victories. After the formation of ACN, meaningful opposition became visible which improved significantly with the formation of APC. This created two big parties with almost equal strength which changed the nature of governance and legislative activity. Debates became robust and the Nation became better for it as the arrogance of PDP was moderated. Indeed most stable democracies all over the World have two strong parties, especially those who run the presidential system. This gives credible choice to the electorate as we saw in the last General elections  and creates alternative views. But if we continue on this current path of judicial decimation of PDP, we may end up with greater tyranny. It certainly will not be in the best interest of the generality of Nigerians.
  The other question that arises is what to make of the claim of INEC that it conducted free, fair and credible elections in 2015. How come such credible elections are being roundly upturned by the courts, especially the appeal Courts. Or could it be that credible elections were only held in the North, where APC had landslides, since there has hardly been any judicial revisions in most of the North except where the PDP won like in Taraba State gubernatorial or in the Benue  South senatorial where PDP's David Mark won. To be true this should be troubling to any fair minded person. 
  Now have we considered the costs of all these to the political contestants and even to the National economy? A candidate who spent money to win party primaries, then expends so much to prosecute the elections and then has to hire costly Senior Advocates of Nigeria( SAN) to defend them at the tribunals and appellate courts with associated costs, will go through this whole process again. The cost must be mind boggling. Of course the cost of rerunning the elections by INEC can also be heavy on the National treasury, much more so now that the Nation is facing economic challenges. What of disruption of work and social life that occurs during campaigns and elections. Add the violence and destructions of human lives and material assets that occur at each electoral season and which worsens when elections are repeated .These costs are becoming too heavy for the Nation and can also provide incentives for promoting corruption, rather than reducing it.
  I fully appreciate the need to let Justice have its way, but we can not make participating in the electoral process such an expensive project. Otherwise, it will be only money bags who will participate in elections in the future and this may deny the Country of other less financially endowed good people. And we can not be unmindful of  the possible  corrupting influence of these money bags and their cohorts on the entire electoral and judicial processes. Thus, the time has come for the INEC to ensure that its elections are TRULY FREE,FAIR and CREDIBLE. And when this is done, the need for judicial intervention will be minimal as the judges must have to give greater credibility to the INEC released electoral results.
 In all this, it is important that the will of the people is not thwarted. With all due respect to our Honourable judges, it will be a travesty of Justice and the repugnation of the sovereignty of the People, if the verdict of one or three judges over rides the true will and wish of the electorate. This may portend such great danger to our National democracy as some people may come to the wrongful conclusion that there is no need to spend money at the campaign or even to make much effort at the elections, since it is the courts that will ultimately decide who wins. That will not do our Nation any good irrespective of party affiliations, since what goes round,ultimately  comes back. And to be true that is my worry and the true motivation for this intervention. And it thus presents a major challenge for the current political leadership.

Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa OFR 


Monday, 7 December 2015

PRO- BIAFRA PROTESTS, NORTHERN TRADITIONAL RULERS & PEACE MAKING

  In late October this year, I wrote an article titled " The implications of the resurgence of the Biafra Movement". In that article I advised the Federal Government to learn a few lessons from our recent poor handling of dissents and conflicts in our Nation and to try to engage the agitators for Biafra and to find out their grouse. I had opined that the unity of our Country is work in progress and as a Nation, we have advertently or inadvertently injured certain individuals or groups to the extent that they feel so unhappy with the Nation and would wish to opt out or failing may wish to pull down the roof on all of us. I also indicated that from all I had seen and heard, the pro-Biafran agitation did not start after May this year when President Muhammadu Buhari came to power. Those who read news or watch Television would have read about or seen one Chief Ralph Uwazurike and his movement for the Actualization of the sovereign State of Biafra( MASSOB) in the last couple of years. I further said that given the increasing tempo of the agitation and the entry of other groups like the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra( IPOB) and the Radio Biafra, London of which the now popular Nnamdi Kanu is the director, care must be taken in handling this development. My point was that this kind of mass movement  could not easily be stopped by acts of repression or by just by a wave of the hand. Since these agitators were largely unarmed, our best option I suggested would be to engage them and find ways to resolve their issues and perhaps win them over. Fortunately, several other commentators agreed with me and even went further to advise the government to release Nnamdi Kanu from custody, more so that the court had granted him bail. 
   Last week we read that some of the protesters were killed by Security forces in Onitsha after several days of protests . Following the killings, the protest turned violent with the destruction of property and bodily injuries. With the refusal, reluctance or delay of the government to dialogue with the protesters or even to grant Nnamdi bail, it is apparent that our government believes it can resolve this matter by use of force.  Again given our experience with recent militant uprisings in Nigeria, we ought to be wary in allowing a non violent, non militant agitation turn violent or militant. I pray that The Lord will grant wisdom to our Political leaders to resolve this issue without violence. Right now, it must be realized that what brought the young men to the streets across the south East and some south south states, was not necessarily an agitation for Biafra, but a protest asking for the release of Nnamdi Kanu, who has been granted bail by the courts. And if we begin to shed blood, then the agitation and protests may take different turn. Many people from the South East Nigeria  may not like the idea of a radio Biafra, and many may not even support the style of agitation but the moment, blood begins to flow, many may be drawn in by sympathy.
 And that is where I doff my hat for the Northern Traditional Rulers. I was enthused when I read the statement credited to the Sultan of Sokoto where he spoke of the Igbo as peace loving people who live among other Nigerians in several parts of the Nigeria, making meaningful contributions to the economic development of their host communities and the Nigerian Nation as a whole. He wondered what could be making the youth angry and wanting out of Nigeria. He reasoned that something had gone really bad and indicated that he would arrange to get in touch with the traditional rulers in Igboland and see how the anger of the youth could be diffused , so that normalcy could be restored. I was really pleased to hear this from the exulted traditional Ruler. Previously and lately, I have also heard comments by the Emir of Kano who in several literature has shown an unusual understanding of the challenge of Ndigbo in Nigeria. These two leaders have expressed so much wisdom on this matter unlike what I hear from some other Nigerians,including Ndigbo who dismiss the agitation with a wave of hand, or those who have maintained inexplicable silence over this critical National matter.
  This past weekend, a delegation of Northern Traditional rulers visited Alaigbo and met with some key traditional and political leaders to discuss the problem and to find a way out. Even before this visit, when it was rumoured  that some religious houses were being destroyed in Onitsha, I was pleased to hear some of our Northern leaders, speaking of the effort and measures they had taken to prevent possible reprisals in the North. This is praise worthy and also worthy of emulation.  This is a good model for Nigeria. If our leaders will take such bold and empathetic measures to deal  with National issues, it may help to avert small problems snowballing into major conflicts . I just hope that the governments at all levels will take a cue from our Northern Traditional rulers and show empathy to group or regional complaints and work out a mechanism for dealing with the issues as they arise and above all take deliberate measures to unite the Nation by Word and deed. If indeed we want a united Country, then we must try to understand the pains of each other and then take a concerted effort to either ease the pain, or share the pain or at the least empathize with the pain. I strongly believe that we must all do our bit to unite this country and create a peaceful environment for the revival of our ailing economy.
 Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa OFR 

Thursday, 3 December 2015

NEED FOR AN ENTREPRENEURIAL REVOLUTION IN NIGERIA!

Global development is entering a phase where Entrepreneurship will increasingly play a more important role. An analysis of sources of economic growth by the World Bank( 2013), finds that the biggest differences between developed and developing economies are in innovation performances. It emphasizes that while Entrepreneurship and Innovation are very critical for economic growth,they have also become increasingly important for addressing major development Challenges, such as the ones related to poverty, inclusion and sustainability.
   According to the World Institute for Development Economics Research( United Nations University), it is expected that Entrepreneurship will continue to make significant contribution to growth and employment generation in advanced, emerging and least developed economies alike. This is a reasonable expectation- one that is supported by recent findings of historians, economists and management scientists.
  In the highly industrialized West, economy of the 1970s-2000s, characterized by reliance on big business and mass production has given way to an ' entrepreneurial economy'. In the emerging countries, most notably the BRICS countries, impressive growth has been driven by a veritable ' entrepreneurial revolution'. Even in the least developed countries, where aid dependency is high, donors have been shifting the emphasis in development cooperation towards private sector development.
 Unfortunately the developments in this sector in LDCs, Nigeria inclusive,remain a far cry from the quantity and quality required to effectively fire up the economies. Issues of infrastructural inadequacy,weak funding,and unaffordable financing, low entrepreneurial capacity, corruption and the surfeit of cheap foreign-made goods that choke locally made goods out of the market, coupled with a barrage of policies, like multiple taxes and difficulty in acquiring property, that appear insensitive to the existence of these challenges, particularly at the sub-national levels, all combine to militate against meaningful progress in this sector.
   World Bank statistics shows that, as at 2012, Nigeria had a new business density( a measure of the growth of Entrepreneurship) of 0.91.  Though this represents an appreciable growth from its rating in 2004, when it had a new business density of 0.32, the country is still significantly behind such developing economies as Uganda (1.17), Tunisia (1.52), Malaysia ( 2.28), South Africa ( 6.54), and Singapore ( 8.04).
  There is therefore a crying need to conscientiously transform the structure of Nigeria's economy by propelling positive industrial trends through growth in the small and medium scale industrial groups and eventually in the large scale manufacturing sector. This must involve a major and revolutionary effort to galvanize and motivate the entire citizenry to adopt the Entrepreneurial mindset. And to do so will require a holistic review of the Policies and incentives on ground to promote enterprise development. 
  First, we need to rethink our educational philosophy, to graduate students who are solution providers and job creators. The current preparation for seeking jobs and carriers in employment can no longer handle the volume of products from our institutions of higher learning, hence the unacceptably high level of chronic unemployment and underemployment, with its consequences on our social milieu. Thank God, the Government has taken some initiative in this direction but what is on the ground is only symbolic. Theoretical teaching only will not do it , we need a lot of experiential impartation and mentoring.
  Second, we need strong, consistent and carefully structured awareness creation. This must be run as a campaign, not propaganda and tokenism. Every person must know what is in place to promote entrepreneurship. The objective should be to make enterprise development a first option for young Nigerian graduates, not a fall back option when nothing else is forthcoming. For many young graduates today, their first option is political appointment, because that is where it is 'happening'.The few who are lucky to be employed in companies still depend on their parents, five years post graduation whereas the councillor, Local government Chairman's PA or Party youth leader achieves financial independence within 18 months with Jeep and house to booth.
 Third, we must maintain an unceasing focus on building capacity in all ramifications of the Entrepreneurial pursuits. It must be emphasized that possessing technical or vocational skills does not translate to entrepreneurial skills. The financial,the business management skills, the ability to measure and manage risks are critical skills for enterprise development and we must develop an integrated capacity building scheme that will enable our young business men and women build successful businesses  . 
  Fourth, we need to ensure that we have, develop and adopt appropriate technologies that will leverage product and service delivery. In the global competitive market environment of the 21st century, Technology has become a major differentiating competitive phenomenon. If we drive on the left when others are driving on the right, we may be the only ones who will buy our automobiles for example. The World has gone digital and the Nigerian business culture must therefore be run on this 21st century technological platform. Luckily our youth are highly adaptive to this new technology, all we need is to create generous access. 
 Fifth, there is a crying need for enhanced access to Venture capital. In Nigeria there is a deficit of entrepreneurial promotive capital. Some reasonable efforts are currently being made with the support of the Central Bank and the Federal Ministry of finance. As much as this is important and most welcome, private venture capital is more sustainable. Given the attractiveness of our market, we need to get other elements of competitiveness in place to build confidence and attract a lot more of venture and equity capital from the global private sector to complement the domestic public-sector supported initiatives.
  And sixth, we need to be deliberate in promoting Innovation and innovative entrepreneurship. Most of our current entrepreneurial pursuits are directed to meeting basic human needs-raw materials, cocoa, flour, sugar, cereals, cement,crude Petroleum, importation of refined fuels, trading, banking services,tele-communications etc. Most of these are commodities with global price ceilings. But in the innovative realm which is essentially creative destruction of what exists and creating new or bringing what only exists in the imaginary realm into present reality. Here, the inventor and creator determines his margin and can quickly ramp up wealth. Most of the wealthiest men in the developed world come from the knowledge and innovation realm- Microsoft,Apple, Yahoo, Goggle, and Alibaba. We are happy with the emergence of Jumia, Konga and other online trading and shopping platforms in Nigeria
 The truth is that these can be achieved only through strategic partnerships among key stakeholders- governments( and their agencies), Research centers, educational institutions and well-meaning private sector organizations( including NGOs) and individuals to form a network that can drive the movement for revolutionizing our entrepreneurial land scape. There is therefore a crying need for the new government of President Muhammadu Buhari to March words with action in this direction.I believe that it is in the pursuit of this need to form a coalition, that will take steps to ignite an Entrepreneurial revolution in Nigeria that the African Centre for Business Development, Strategy & Innovation ( ACBDSI) has organized the National Summit on Entrepreneurship & Innovation (NSEI) which is holding this week- hold 30th November/ 1st December at the Lagos Sheraton Hotel. 
  This summit with the theme: Entrepreneurship and Value Creation will bring together Policy Makers,Financial intermediaries, Industry Leaders,Business Promoters, Business Researchers, Professionals and budding Entrepreneurs in Nigeria and the West African sub-region to network, share ideas,question paradigms, challenge status quo and generate creative solutions to contemporary issues revolving around the use of entrepreneurship & innovation to stimulate economic renaissance. My hope is that the expected generous presence of the older and successful Entrepreneurs will motivate,stimulate and mentor the younger and struggling Entrepreneurs with their stories. This in my view will show that so much is possible in our country and help change the narrative.
  Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa OFR 

Monday, 23 November 2015

GLOBAL TERRORISM: LIVING THROUGH THE THIRD WORLD WAR


 Last year , I wrote an article titled "Alqueda, ISIS, Alshabab  & Boko Haram: Different manifestations of the devil set loose" in which I opined that the extreme Islamic Fundamentalism that we were witnessing in many parts of the World was nothing but the end time manifestations of the devil as predicted in the Holy Bible . But last week after the Paris multiple terrorist attacks that took more than 129 lives ( now risen to over 180), the Pope brought home to me the reality when he declared that was happening was akin to a Third World War . This categorization resonated with me so much and I presume with many other people. The French President called it a war against France but in reality  it is much more than that. It is a global war.
   Looking back now, we can see that the war started on the 11th of September, 2001 in the United States of America with Alqueda leading the war. In that first shot, over 2000 citizens of many Nations were killed. Before now, the group was preparing for the the war in Afghanistan and the Neighbouring Pakistan. After a major success in the USA, the battle front moved to the UK with the bombing of the London Underground transportation system. Then it moved to North America ( Egypt &Tanzania) and down East and Central Africa( Somalia & Kenya) with Alshabab  leading and soon Bokoharam came on board covering the West African flank( Nigeria, Chad, Niger & Cameroun). When George Bush and Barak Obama thought they had contained Alqueda , a more virulent division named Islamic State or ISIS joined in the offensive and became more brutal than all the earlier divisions put together. Their primary focus was in the Middle East where they took plenty of Iraqi and Syrian territory, introducing the savagery of beheading Foreign captives. Thereafter they moved to Europe with a lot of focus on France. After the Paris attack of November 13 this year, they have sent warning to the USA that they were on their way to US cities. Just as the People of the world were trying to absorb the pains of the Paris attack, the Alqueda  in the Maghreb hit a hotel in Bamako, Mali killing 21 people from Different Countries- French, Israeli,Lebanese, American amongst the dead.
Meanwhile in Nigeria and the Cameroons, Boko haram remains active sending innocent people to early graves on a daily basis in Maiduguri, Damaturu, Gombe, Yola and Kano, sometimes coming close to Abuja. Several attempts have been made by them to move to the South of Nigeria, but have been largely unsuccessful for now except for an incident in Owerri Imo State last year.
  This war has spread to all the continents- North America, Europe, Africa, Oceania, Middle East and Asia. The only continent that seems to be currently unaffected is South America. Thus in terms of territorial involvement, this third World war has affected more regions than both the first and second World wars which were concentrated essentially in Europe. It has consumed Nationals from almost all countries in the World. The battle is fought in all fronts and in all spheres. There are no fixed theaters ,there are no boundaries or battle lines, and no rules of engagement. In this war all is fair, no regard to Geneva convention or any convention at all. Air planes are bombed in situ or brought down by missiles . The war is fought in stadia, motor parks, in Churches, in Mosques, Hotels ,in Holiday resorts, along the highways and in cinema halls and night clubs. The weaponry is diverse and includes butchers knives, matchets, Bombs, IEDs, rockets, Ak-47 and extends to chemical weapons as we saw in Syria, and as is being threatened in Europe now. The combatants are of all ages and all sexes, including minors and teenage girls. The battle dresses are of all types including civilian mufti, army camouflage and Islamic hijab. No where is off limit and there are no rear positions. There are no prisoners of war except those used as pawns to extort funds. This Third World War is unconventional largely and asymmetric in conduct and creates extreme difficulty to confront.
 Unlike the first and second World wars that pitched many of the Nations against each other in the Triple Entente ( Britain, France and Russia) and the Triple Alliance( Germany,Italy, Austria and Hungary), this Third World War seems to unite most Nations, including arch rivals and arch enemies. After the recent Paris attack, and after ISIS claimed responsibility for bringing down the Russian Metrojet plane on flight from Egypt to Russia killing about 224 people on board the plane, it was nice to see US President, the Russian President, the French President and the German chancellor discuss with the Turkish President in Ankra on how to deal with a common enemy- Global terrorism. The challenge is that while there is apparent unity among the leaders of the world to fight terrorism, the enemy is not easy to identify. The guy sitting next to you at the mosque or riding the same train to whom you just said hi , may turn out the next minute to be the enemy. A fellow National who lives in the same neighbourhood may just turn out to be the leader of the next attack against the Neighbours .
 The reality is that we are in severe perilous times. The challenge is how to live through this third world war which started 14 years ago and which seems to be intensifying with increasing mortalities and morbidities. The first step is for us to come to accept the grim reality that we are at war. A global war that has no boundaries. Waiting to be hit or attacked before coming to this realization is dangerous. This reality helps us to contemplate preemptive and proactive measures. All Nations, States and Peoples must engage in debates and studies of the patterns of this war and design protocols to preempt or prevent attacks. Secondly, we must rev up our emergency preparedness. Many countries of Africa( Nigeria inclusive) are poorly equipped to handle emergencies. This should be a major preoccupation of States and Nations. Much lives can be saved, if victims of terrorist acts can be quickly evacuated for medical emergency management. Thirdly, at the individual level, a heightened level of surveillance and environmental monitoring is called for. To win this kind of war in which we are all potential enemies, then we are must all become combatants. To leave the battle to only the security agencies will not work. Every citizen must be trained or must train himself in the art of intelligence gathering and covert action. Most of the terrorist plots are made within the communities, even if they will be carried out in other locations. If we are sensitive and keep our eyes open, we can notice some of the moves and help to nip them in the bud. I strongly recommend that the governments should pay a lot more attention to citizen recruitment in the execution of this war against Global terrorism. Focusing only on arming the Security forces may limit insurgency but may never stop terrorist acts targeted at soft targets.
 It is important that this War is brought to an end at the earliest opportunity. The economic cost to the World is becoming humongous. Air travel has become a major risk. The inconvenience experienced by air travellers is getting more excruciating by the day. Tourism is gradually being killed all over the World after what happened in Tunisia, Kenya and Egypt. Resources for National and  Global economic development are being diverted to fighting this war. Indeed Global Economic growth is severely threatened and the progress in human civilization is either being slowed down or even being reversed with the conduct of such psychopaths like Jihadi John who cut off human heads in full television glare, acts which we thought ended 2000 years ago. Finally, is there any political solution to this war? I am not sure there is because, when ISIS says they want to create a global caliphate where everybody would be under Islamic law or when Boko Haram says they do not want anybody to go to school, what kind of political solution is possible? But then, if we can find the authentic leaders of these groups, discussing with them may not be completely out of place. In all of this, we must all go back to the creator of the World and ask for His Help in dealing with this very unusual challenge. Let us pray.
Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa OFR 
  

Monday, 16 November 2015

QUICK WINS FOR THE NEW MINISTERS



  1.   After nearly six months of being sworn in as President, Muhammadu Buhari in turn swore in 36 ministers last week. Thus ending his reign as a kind of sole administrator and setting a record as the President that took the longest time to swear in his ministers in the history of our 55year old Nation and perhaps competing for the top position globally. From all indications, it was clear that the President took all this time because he did not seem to fully appreciate the value these ministers will bring into his governance, or as was speculated, he was searching for " human Angels" to populate his cabinet. When he released a partial list at the last minute of the end of September in order not to fail his own chosen time limit, and then the second list early in October, Nigerians did not see any 'Angel'on the list. Except for a few exceptions, all the ministerial nominees were regular human beings, some previously recycled- past governors, past ministers, past senators ,past party chairmen & party officials and past loyalists.

   Well last week, the wait ended and our President could not delay any further, especially as the Senate, against initial expectations did not give any such opportunity for further delay. Even after the speedy confirmation by the Senate, Nigerians had another week to speculate the portfolios of the new ministers. When PMB was personally reading out the portfolios of the ministers, like a headmaster who was assigning classes to his teachers, he said he was putting the round pegs into round holes. The jury is still out as to how well he has achieved the fit. There is preponderance of opinion that suggests that a few pegs are square. But it is now futile to engage in this argument, because as it is said, the taste of the pudding is in the eating. We need to watch these ministers( square or round pegs) to perform in the next couple of months to determine the veracity of their fit into the portfolios they have been assigned .
  But there is no gain saying that Nigerians and the World are expecting much from these ministers and indeed from the Federal  Executive Council, now properly constituted. There is indeed so much to  be done. For example, the completion of the preparation of Budget 2016 will be a major and urgent assignment. But in the midst of all these, they will need to achieve quick wins to help restore the flagging morale of Nigerians who have waited for these 'long'Six months to see the promised change in their lives.
 President & Minister of Petroleum
As President, he will need to change the rhetoric and begin to raise hopes. He may not know it, the efforts he has made to dampen the expectations of Nigerians from him, including his speed of taking actions and the demonizing of the past regime, have tended to cast a gloom on the Nation. With the 'Nigeria is broke and all money stolen by the previous administration campaign', some feeling of hopelessness and despondency seems to have set in.  This is the time to begin to speak in positive tones to reignite morale. This will not cost us any money and will not tantamount to not telling the truth. A great leadership challenge is to keep the morale of followers high, despite the challenges.
 As Petroleum Minister, his first task should be to immediately stop this 'on and off' cycle of Petroleum products availability. It is costing this Nation a lot and dampens the morale of Citizens to be queuing up for days and nights to buy Refined Petroleum products. It is dehumanizing. And Nigerians were hoping that PMB would end this embarrassment .There are many ways to solve this perennial problem. But my advice is that the easiest and fastest way is to fully deregulate the downstream Petroleum Sector. Last week we bought one litre of PMS at 250 Naira from hawkers opposite the Refinery in PH, and that was after, my driver spent a whole day at the filling station on Olu Obasanjo Rd in PH without luck.When will this pain end?  Benefits that will accrue from this decision are many and will include attraction of new investments and job creation. That is in addition to full and regular product supply and the savings of subsidy removal.
  MINISTER OF FINANCE
 The first assignment of the Minister is to address the global investment community and assure them that Nigeria is open for business and that we plan to remain in the global Economic system. Right now the International Investment community is a bit confused about Nigeria's economic direction. With the apparent uncertainty in our Exchange rate management practices and issues related to other fiscal policies which have been exacerbated by the apparent highhandedness of our Regulatory agencies- FRCN, NCC and NAFDAC, the investment community is confused and I think the critical and urgent assignment of our new Minister is to calm the international investment community and that will have impact on our macroeconomic stability, investor confidence and credit rating.
 MINISTER OF INDUSTRY, TRADE & INVESTMENT
 My recommendation is for the Minister to have intense engagement with the Private Sector organizations to try and agree what needs to be done to reignite activities. Issues related to foreign exchange restrictions, the Common External tariff( CET) and how to moderate the apparent feeling of regulatory over kill must receive quick and urgent action of our Minister. He has to work with the Minister of Finance on these fundamental issues, to help release bottled investment energies.Vast improvement of the operating environment is called for.
  MINISTER OF POWER, WORKS & HOUSING 
 We are now in the dry season and the holiday season is close by. Immediate and urgent action is required to re mobilize the contractors to site. Work must resume on or intensify on the Lokoja-Abaji- Abuja Highway, the Lagos -Ibadan Express, the Ore -Shagamu, Highway, the Kano - Damaturu - Maiduguri and the Onitsha-Enugu- Portharcourt highways. So much progress had been made on these highways before the change of government, but momentum has been lost in the last six months, complicated by the heavy rains. Additionally, FERMA should be directed to make all federal roads motorable this Christmas season. Nigerians need to feel that they have a working government.
MINISTER OF TRANSPORTATION 
The frenzied effort to get the railways back to work by the Outgone regime should be completed right away. The last time I checked, things were cold. The new standard gauge Abuja- Kaduna Rail line should be  commissioned this year so that Nigerians can take advantage of the huge investment and effort made by the Government on this huge project. The Rehabilitation of the Portharcourt - Kafanchan - Bauchi-Gombe- Maiduguri should be speedily completed. The suspended works on our airports which have become eyesore should  be resumed immediately. These should help stimulate economic activities.
MINISTER OF AGRICULTURE 
  We do not change a winning team. So much effort had been made to change the face of Agriculture in Nigeria. My advice is that the new Minister should quickly ramp up the programs and projects that are ongoing to make Agriculture big business. We must not change course at this time. More effort must be made to improve access to inputs and finance.
 MINISTERS OF EDUCATION AND HEALTH
The critical issue right now is to ensure that our teachers, lecturers  and health care personnel are well treated, so that they do not continue to disrupt services. This must be a primary under staking of these ministers because over the years we have had cyclical strikes and disruption of services in these sectors. So let them take preemptive actions to ensure that the governments are keeping to all the agreements so that we do not give any excuses for another round of strikes by ASUU, NASU, NMA & NARD. If they can achieve this, then that would be a major change and create the enablement for implementing new policies to improve quality of service.
MINISTER OF INFORMATION 
  This minister who did a good job as the spokesperson of the APC, must quickly shed his partisan toga and remember that he is now the minister of all Nigerians. He must help the President to change the rhetoric and begin a healing and reconciliation of all Nigerians. I know it may not be easy but he must try. The elections are Long over and we must change the communication mode and begin to build consensus and speak as one a Nation. Not a Nation divided between APC and PDP!
  OTHER MINISTERS 
 Because of Space, it may not be feasible to offer advisory to all the Ministers in this write up. One, some of the Ministers, like those of Science & Technology and Solid Minerals may not have any quick wins because much of their work will require time to mature, while others like Justice, Foreign Affairs and Labour provide sometimes invisible services which may not be readily seen or appreciated. They will require a follow up advisory. But what is critical and urgent is that all Nigerians must be given a sense of a government that has taken responsibility to better their lives. The waiting has been long and the buck passing must end now that we have ministers on seat.
 Sam Ohuabunwa OFR 

Monday, 9 November 2015

PRESIDENT BUHARI AND THE FREEDOM OF SPEECH

  Where I grew up in Portharcourt, there was a woman fondly called "Madam Ho-Ha". She was not one to hold back on any information and she expressed her mind freely. She would call a spade by its name, not an instrument for digging because as we all know, several instruments can be used to dig a hole, including one aptly called digger, which of course is completely different from a spade. "Madam Ho-Ha" suffered no fools and did not understand the concept of diplomatic speaking or double speak. Many people liked her for her forthrightness, because she would say what many knew but were afraid to say. She was fearless and those who really did not like her, were those she freely commented on their follies or escapades in the community, some of which were done in the cover of the night, when they thought no one was watching. Of course some of those who did not like her, included those who liked her before, when she commented on or castigated other people, but started to dislike her, when she commented on their own antisocial Behaviour. 
  And we used to wonder how she got her information, which unlike madam "Amebo" of the Village Headmaster were not mere gossips. She spoke the bitter truth and there was not much anybody who felt really offended could do to "Madam Ho-Ha" because she had a kind of "immunity" in the community. Some people thought that she had a kind of mental challenge, while others felt she was only using that as a pretence  to acquire the 'immunity'to tell anybody what she felt without risking legal or other actions. She could always plead insanity if any one felt they could sue for libel or defamation of character.  People admired, feared and hated her in differing degrees. Looking back now, I believe the society will always need people who would speak their minds without considering if it was politically correct or not minding 'whose ox was goored'  as is commonly said.
  In Nigeria's recent history, we have not had a President or Head of State who seemed to speak his mind so freely as our current President Muhammadu Buhari ( PMB). He certainly must be causing a lot of headache for his handlers and spin doctors who would prefer that he was more circumspect and restrained in his speech. He does not speak often, but when he does, he says his mind and declares his conviction. Even during the elections, the man spoke his mind, even if what he said would 'offend' the prospective voters, he was supposed to be wooing. To minimize that, I noticed that some effort was made to get him read speeches. But it was clear that was not his natural inclination. Reading speeches caged him and if you watched his demeanor each time he read prepared speeches, you would notice some kind of labour and boredom. But ask the man a question and he will light up and shoot from the hip, revealing his beautiful calves and dimple. One thing I am sure is that this President will have several "quotable quotes" that will adorn our literature in the future. I will not be surprised that one smart Nigerian entrepreneur will jump on this my hint or idea and before the end of this week produce the first volume of "PMB's quotable quotes".May be I can take a patent on that title to restrain idea snatchers.
  Talking seriously, is it a bad thing that PMB insists on exercising his freedom of speech to the fullest as guaranteed by the constitution?Last week, as he is won't to doing, PMB sent a message to us and to the World from India that " Nigeria is broke". Some People have continued to criticize this announcement. They accused him of de-marketing Nigeria.Is it that what he said was not true or that even if it was true, our President should not be the one to say it? What is the meaning of being broke? When a man can not pay his bill, not because he does not want but because he has to borrow to pay, is that not 'brokage'? Today in Nigeria, paying workers salary areas is advertised as both political and economic breakthrough involving political wizardry and economic abadacabra. Public domestic debt is climbing by the day, perhaps prompting the Nigerian Communications Commission(NCC) to come to the rescue of the federal government . If only MTN could just play the' fall guy' and coughed out One trillion naira for 'helping' some kidnappers make contact with their victims ' families to demand ransom, perhaps we could pay down some of the domestic debts and get the contractors back to project sites, especially now that the rains have largely ceased. The matter is so bad that the President is hard put to find cash to pay the 36 ministers that the 1999 constitution has forced on him making him  to adopt Senator David Mark's 'doctrine of necessity 'to make some of them Ministers without portfolio and perhaps some as Ministers plenipotentiary or ministers-at-large so that they can be paid half salaries or sitting allowances. It is clear from the President's reasoning, that there is no how, those without portfolios and who may just be required to attend FEC meetings once a week to warm the chairs and fulfill all constitutional righteousness, would expect to be paid full ministers' salaries. Only a 'broke' or 'broken' country would consider resorting to this ingenious way of circumventing the constitution.
  But to be true, this discussion is not about the fate of Ministers who have been classified as noise makers and some of whom can only be tolerated because of the constitutional requirement. Someday we shall see how all this plays out on the  psychology of the class of 2015 ministers, though I had opined in a previous article that they would come to this job bearing plenty of burdens. My focus here is to interrogate those who think that PMB's freedom of speech should be curtailed or circumscribed. He himself has stoutly challenged this attempt by insisting that what he is doing is to tell Nigerians and the World the bitter truth about our situation, just as 'madam Ho-Ha' in my earlier story would  do and in contrast to what the past government did. Therefore in defending his right to speak his mind any time and any where, he is also challenging Nigerians to also speak the truth without fear or favour, I hope. When on May 29th he said that he belonged to nobody but belonged to every body, did he speak the truth? When he announced from the United  States that he would treat his constituents differently, depending on how they voted for him, did he speak the truth? When he said from France or so that Nigerians Called him 'Baba go slow', did he speak the truth?
   I know that the Rotary International subjects matters to the the 4-way Test. Is it the Truth?, Is it fair to all concerned?, Will it build goodwill and better friendships?, Will it be beneficial to all concerned?. I recommend we subject all the truth speaking to this four way test always. I say so, because I know that in no distant time, PMB's 'honey moon' will expire and then some People, especially journalists may stretch this truth telling business to a point that may remind us of Tunde Thompson and Nduka Irabor. Why ? Because Truth is a two-way traffic where the sender today, may be the receiver tomorrow.

Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa OFR. 

Thursday, 5 November 2015

CBN INTERVENTION FUND: DISMANTLING ROAD BLOCKS FOR SMES

As at February this year, only 40.3 Billion naira out of the 220Billion Naira intervention funds of the Micro,Small and Medium Enterprises Development Fund( MSMED) launched by President Goodluck Jonathan in 2014 has been disbursed. What is worse is that only 814 million had been released to the commercial banks to fund only 21 Projects, while 2 billion Naira had been released to Microfinance Banks( MFBs) and 100 million to Finance institutions. According to CBN, they were hoping that by the end of this year, they would have released up to half of the fund. But evidence on the ground shows that not much has improved since February when the above information was released. And before the MSMED there was the Real Sector Fund of about 500 billion Naira, more than half of which is still not disbursed and from which very few SMEs have benefitted.
STATUS OF THE ECONOMY
  The year started rather slowly because of the pending elections which eventually were concluded in April. Then we entered into the transition period as we waited for the new government to take over. Meanwhile, the precipitous decline in the price of crude petroleum persisted with National income declining by almost half . By the time the new government assumed office end of May, many States were in crisis as they could not pay workers salaries and emoluments .
  Many Nigerians who had expected President Muhammadu Buhari( PMB) to hit the ground running, were utterly disappointed. Five months into the new administration, the Nation is yet to have a working Federal cabinet. Following the oil price shock from about $115 per barrel in June 2014 to about  $50 dollars in June 2015, the Foreign reserves began to decline rapidly. In an effort to halt this decline, the CBN devalued the Naira twice, the second by about 20%. When that did not seem to be an effective remedy, the CBN crossed the line from Monetary Policy management to Fiscal regime by imposing what is to all intents and purposes a ban on the importation of 41 products which included food, food products, metallic products equipment and accessories. In addition to restricting these products from access to foreign exchange, CBN introduced other restrictive foreign exchange policies which effectively narrowed the market for SMEs.
   With policy prevarication or rather policy uncertainty of the Buhari admnistration and the adhoc restrictive policies undertaken by the CBN, in the face of severe national income shortages, the economy has been on the decline. For two consecutive quarters, the growth of the economy showed worrisome slowing down. At end of Q2, GDP growth had declined to 2.34% as against 6.45% at the same period last year. Truly worrisome was that the Manufacturing GDP went into negative ( - 3.45%) and Minning also declined steeply. All over the economy the signs of a distressed economy is evident, high unsold inventory due to sluggish consumer off take ,job losses, high inflation, high interest rates and overall increased misery index. It therefore becomes extremely important that the economy requires a strong stimulus for it to return to growth. And the quickest opportunity to achieve this is to make the already approved MSMED funds readily and easily accessible to business organizations.
HOW TO DEBOTTLE THE BOTTLE NECKS
To dismantle, the Road blocks on the way of SMEs to the intervention fund, will involve the following actions
1. The CBN will have to simplify the process and make it simple for all desirous SMEs to understand and follow. To help achieve this objective, then the CBN must come out of their offices and go to where the SMEs are to interact with them directly. Research indicates that there is very poor understanding of how to access the funds and the commercial banks are not doing enough to create the required awareness.
2. The requirement for collaterals must be made easy for borrowers. As suggested by the CBN themselves, the required collateral should cover maximum of 50% of the value of the loan. In addition, there should be flexibility as to the kind of items that will constitute the collateral. Indeed it should be specific to each borrower. It could be landed property, machinery, furniture, goodwill or discounted sales. What should be of optimum importance is the viability of the business and the assurance of the management integrity. In this wise the CBN may opt to have an oversight over the cash flow management to assure repayment.
3. Related to this, the CBN will need to partner with the borrowing SMEs and offer managerial assistance. This they may do directly or through third parties to prepare and assist SMEs produce bankable Business plans in the first place and then support the building of management competence. The model that the Bank of
Industry has adopted is in line with this suggestion to some degree.
4. The need for repayment moratorium especially for start ups must be considered by the CBN, so that the business is not cash strained. Repayment of capital must be from cash flow that will allow the business continue to meet other obligations, especially that to procure inputs and to effectively market the finished product or service
5. If it were possible, commercial banks should be excused from intervening in this fund, because of their well known penchant to short change SMEs: too high premiums over CBN rate, spurious fees and charges and short term focus and orientation. If they must of necessity intermediate, then they must acquire the capacity and attitude to support SMEs.They must find a way to realize that these intervention funds are not their own and do not belong to their depositors, as that is always their excuse for high charges and short term focus. As a matter of fact, it has become so important for commercial banks and MFBs to develop and man SME departments or desks with men and women who have the proper orientation to support SMEs. Currently this capacity is scarce in many of our banking institutions.
6. Additionally, it may be suggested that the CBN through the commercial banks can deal with SME member groups like MAN, NASME, NASSI,NACC and other sectoral groups like Shoe makers, furniture makers, paint manufacturers or service provider groups. In which case the CBN can treat these groups as cooperatives, charging them with providing guarantees for their members. This will reduce the road block of collaterals and through peer pressure improve repayment.
7. Overal, we must get the government to establish an equivalent of the Small Business Administration(SBA)agency as we have in the USA. This advocate government agency will be the answer for advocating better relationship with MSMEs and funding agencies like the CBN. They will have the critical manpower that truly understand  the challenges of MSMEs and can better negotiate on their behalf with CBN and other agencies, dismantling many of the road blocks. The Small and Medium Scale Enterprises Development Agency of Nigeria( SMEDAN) as currently structured, manned and funded is a mockery.
WISDOM FOR SUCCESSFUL UTILIZATION OF THE  FUND
 We can not conclude this discussion without reflecting on the internal challenges within the SME sector that so often make it hold the short end of the stick. Often lenders see the SME sector as being very risky. Yes it is true, but the risks can be better managed if we learn to keep our houses in order and adopt the best global business management principles. This will de-risk many of our businesses and make them more attractive for funding. Some of the wisdom nuggets I suggest are as follows
. Ensure Proper Project conception and viability
. Always do a proper business plan and stick to it
. Establish leak proof financial recording systems
. Work within a budget framework and measure achievement.
. Separate Business from self
. Employ competent managers
. Define jobs properly
. Train,Equip and motivate your staff
. Implement controls and minimize surprises
. Have a marketing orientation in your business
. Focus on the customer and work around him
. Deliver consistent quality and value
. Benchmark competition
. Enthrone corporate governance, separating it from corporate management.
. Develop good corporate image
. Adopt Good Business Ethics
It has become imperative that the Federal Government must do something urgently to stimulate the economy and prevent us from sliding  into recession as is being predicted by several analysts and organizations including the CBN. While the States are receiving bail out, the SME sector can be easily bailed out if the CBN can adopt a more liberal attitude to disbursing the 220 billion Naira Micro, Small ,and medium Enterprises Development Fund( MSMED). The bottlenecks and road blacks can be removed by simplifying the processes for accessing the funds by SMES as enumerated above. However, none of these will happen except we intensify our level of advocacy. Through MAN and other private sector organizations like the NESG,NECA, NASME and NASSI, we must be resolute in pushing the barriers. We must remain visible and audible. If the Private Sector ever needed to stand together, this is the time for it to engage this government, more so now that the long awaited ministers are finally coming on board, to adopt the right economic policies and do the right things. They must improve on what the last Government did for SMEs and indeed for the economy. That is the minimum expectation.
Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa 

THE IMPLICATIONS OF THE RESURGENCE OF THE BIAFRA MOVEMENT

  In the year 2001 or 2003, I can not quite remember exactly, I was on the road traveling between Umuahia and Aba in Abia State when we were forced to make way for a convoy of vehicles, mainly buses carrying young men, many literarily standing on the doors and roofs of the vehicles. I was wondering who these 'crazy' people were who pushed us out of the road as they blazed their siren and horns. I was startled when I saw in each of the vehicles, fluffing in the wind, flags bearing the Biafran coat of arms- the rising sun. I shook my head and told myself that these men were crazy. What the hell did they mean by flying the flags of the defunct Biafra brazenly in the face of all of us. When I enquired who these people were, my driver told me that they were the MASSOB-the Biafra boys. I shook my head again, and told my self that these guys did not know what they were doing. If they knew what we suffered in trying to actualize Biafra between 1996-1970, they would not be searching for trouble in broad day light. I finally concluded that it could be a rush of midday madness that would soon cool off as the dusk arrived. To be truthful, I even thought this was the handiwork of a desperate politician who had decided to ride to power on the blood of innocent job seekers.
  Subsequently, rather than fizzle out, I began to hear of the activities of this movement for the Actualization of the sovereign state of Biafra( MASSOB) more frequently. They observed the Biafra day in May of each year and often got markets across the country to close for the observance. Every once in a while, I would hear they had clashes with the Police and some people arrested and charged to court. Often I read that the leader of the movement, chief Ralph Uwazurike was arrested, held in detention, then he would be released. They carried on with their sundry activities and passive resistance through out the years Olusegun Obasanjo was President, they continued through the regime of Umaru Yardua and to my utmost wonder they remained active through out the reign of Goodluck Jonathan. To butt, a group known as the indigenous Peoples of Biafra emerged and took the Federal Government of Nigeria to Court making sundry demands including reparations for the losses they suffered during the Nigeria-Biafra war. I was amazed and alarmed that this matter was getting thicker by the day. Sometime last year, I read that MASSOB threatened to seize a radio station in Enugu. Towards the end of Jonathan's administration, I began to hear of Radio Biafra and one Mr Nnamdi Kanu who was the director and regular voice on the radio and who seemed to be unhappy with everybody and constantly criticized and abused many Nigerian leaders, including prominent Igbo leaders, especially those who opposed the radio or who said anything unpleasant or who disagreed with his modus operandi.
  But since the coming of President Muhammadu Buhari, the encounter between MASSOB and the promoters of the Biafra radio on one hand and the security forces on the other hand has increased, resulting in several fatalities. Beyond the police, the Nigerian Navy and the Nigerian Army have joined in the effort to quell the agitation or suppress the movement. Recently I heard that the Radio has been knocked out of service and the director arrested. But I was shocked to my bone marrow when a few days ago, I saw on Prime Television a mammoth crowd of young People protesting and demonstsating  in Portharcourt against the arrest of Mr Kanu. I was amazed that the radio Biafra man and his project has such a large following and support in PortHarcourt in Rivers State. I then began to imagine what will be their support base in Onitsha, Aba or Owerri. I further began to wonder what could be driving these young men to take the risk of exposing themselves to great danger in their protests, though one of the young demonstrators when interviewed said, they were being discriminated against and were being pushed to the margins.
   From my narrative above, it must be clear to those who may not be aware, that the Resurgence of the Biafra movement was not a reaction to the victory of President Muhammadu Buhari as some mischief makers have tended to present it. But its intensity seems to be growing across the regimes. And every regime seemed to have devised its method of containing the movement. But what I am not sure about is, if anybody in government has engaged these people to find out what their grudge against Nigeria is. To attempt to suppress the movement by strong arm tactics may be counterproductive and to dismiss it with a wave of the hand as I saw General Gowon do a few days ago may just be too simplistic. He may think that the Biafra issue has been settled, but from what we see and read, that may not be the true situation on the ground. With all due respect, I think General Gowon and the Nigerian Nation seem not to have learnt enough lessons from the Nigerian civil war, nor do we understand the current dynamics of passive resistance or self determination in the global setting. In 1967 after General Gowon threw away a golden non-violent chance to bring back the hurting Eastern Nigerians fully into the national fold, he declared a 'Police action' to bring down the Biafran 'rebellion'. We soon found that the matter was not a simple matter like a riot that the Police could quell with tear gas and water canisters. The Nigerian Army, Navy and  Airforce had to solicit the support of Britain, USA and Russia to bring the war to an end, aided by blockades and starvation.  With the current military and warfare technology, it would cost us much more money and blood to bring down a similar 'rebellion'. And when we throw in the emerging and growing unconventional war tactics successfully employed by the Niger Delta Militants and currently in use by the Boko Haram insurgents, it will be clear that another Biafra war or such similar war can not end clean as the one that ended on January 15, 1970.
   At the 2005 Political reform conference, the South South delegates walked out when they could not get an increase of the deviation formula, I was in a committee that was put together to reconcile their position with that of the North that firmly opposed any increase. At the meeting with our Northern compatriots, I made a passionate appeal that we should move the derivation from 13% to  at least 15%. When i saw that there was no willingness to make any concessions, I added in desperation, that it was better we made some concession to the Niger Delta than to face a situation, where they could block total access to the oil and gas in their region. To my utter consternation an elder of the Nation and past Minister of  Transport in the 2nd Republic, looked me straight in the face and retorted, " we shall send the military after them". Unfortunately what I had  predicted happened and the Niger Delta Militancy became real which threatened the prospecting and marketing of our crude oil. Also as the late Minister projected, we sent the military after them! What happened? Were it not for the wisdom of Umaru Yardua, who used the Amnesty programme to bring peace, I do not know where we will be today in the Niger delta. With the amnesty and the establishment of the Ministry of the Niger Delta Affairs coupled with the Niger Delta Development Commision( NDDC), the region is certainly getting more than the 13% derivation, perhaps even more than the 15% I had
suggested to avert all the trouble and losses that followed.
 Today, after all the mayhem which Boko Haram has visited on this Nation, we are looking for their authentic leaders to negotiate with them. I do not know how much the Jonathan administration spent on the '419' peace accord which they reached with alleged Boko haram leaders in order to ' bring back our girls'. If we had had the opportunity to avert the national calamity we have faced and continue to face from  Bokoharam by finding out what their grouse was and working to reach a compromise, would it not have been cheaper for our Nation. Also I am told that the group was originally largely benign until their leader, one Yusuf was killed extra judiciously and that transformed the group virulent and malignant. Let it be known that I am not a spokesperson for any of the groups currently agitating for Biafra, but my patriotic zeal compels me to draw attention, that rather than vilify them or repress them or kill them extra judiciously, we should find out what their grouse is and set in motion some mechanism to negotiate with them and assuage them. First is, that unlike the Niger Delta Militants, they are neither armed nor militarized and unlike Boko Haram, they are not terrorists and neither they do prepare IEDs nor produce suicide bombers. They have known leaders with whom we can enter into genuine discussions and negotiations. 
   This proposition of mine will apply to any other group,be they Arewa or Odua that has genuine grouse against this Nation. As I have said and written severally in recent times, this Country is at best a work in progress when it comes to National Unity and until God blesses us with  leaders who have the wisdom and determination to work for a truly united Nation, we will by acts of omission or commission continue to discriminate against some sections of the Country, sometimes so terribly that they may either opt to find succor somewhere else or insist on destroying the house. We must nip in the board anything that has the potential to disturb our social cohesion or economic development. History teaches that the best way to deal with any political situation, dispute or even conflict is through free speech, dialogue, compromise and concession, no matter how long it takes. Any other method only ends up in postponing the evil day. I just pray that we can be wise to adopt the better option in dealing with this mass resurgence of the Biafra Movement. May be a full review and implementation of the report of the 2014 National conference would be helpful.
Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa OFR 

SHOCKING THE ECONOMY BACK TO LIFE

  That the Nigerian Economy is in dire straits is pretty obvious to all. What may be in dispute is who or what caused the malaise. A section of the Nigerian People blames the last government. For them, the last government did nothing but ruin the economy. Another section blames the incumbent government. They accuse the President of having no idea on how to run the economy and that his inexcusable delay in constituting his cabinet has dragged our economy down.But irrespective of which side of this largely uninformed debate any one may belong, the signs of a struggling economy are evident. Blaming anybody or passing buck will not help.We have a national economic challenge which we must confront speedily.
 National income has dropped by half or so, Gross domestic product(GDP) has declined to 2.34%, the lowest in nearly 10 years, and analysts( including the CBN Governor) predict a recession in 2016, inflation is almost at 10%, the Naira continues to decline against the dollar at the parallel market reaching 225 Naira against the US dollar last week even in the face of strenuous effort by the CBN to hold up the value Unemployment has worsened exceeding 7%, interest rates have remained high in spite of a recent mild reduction in Cash Reserve Ratio( CRR) and with rising inflation,the misery index has worsened. Manufacturing has already gone into negative growth and there is much rumbling in that sector. Even the informal sector is in difficulty as the CBN has effectively shut most out of the forex market. The Nigerian stock market is in decline and foreign direct investment ( FDI) flow has slowed down. Externally, our Foreign Reserves though slowly recovering, are unimpressive and the International rating agents have marked us down. Standard & Poor's have moved our sovereign rating from BB- to B- and JP Morgan has delisted our Bonds from their Government index. 
  Many of our State governments are still owing workers' salaries despite the well advertised bail out or relief packages from the Federal Government and Pensioners are in great distress in some states. Many contractors have pulled out of sites because of unpaid bills and domestic debt is piling up and there are indications that the ratio of capital to recurrent expenditure which reached an all time low of 18: 82 in the 2015 Budget may worsen in 2016. In summary the economy is in real difficulty. There is no attempt here to exaggerate or cause panic, but to draw attention to the need for urgent remedial actions to be taken.
  Last week, the 21st Nigerian Economic Summit( NES) was held in Abuja and participants were confronted with this gory picture, but at the end, it was agreed that the situation was reversible and redeemable. But only if we were willing to make tough choices! To borrow from the Nika Gulari, former Prime Minister of Georgia, our economy needs to be put through shocks to come back to life- Competitiveness Shock, Confidence Shock, Mindset shock and Simplification Shock.
 COMPETITIVENESS SHOCK
Our Governments need to benchmark other economies and take immediate steps to make us competitive and thereby attractive for investment. We need a Quantum Leap in Business Climate. Smart regulations, de bottling of all bottlenecks, vast reduction in bureaucracy and plenty of incentives to attract private sector investment in infrastructure( Economic & Social) and strong enforcement of law and order, including sanctity of contracts are key to climbing the rungs of the ease of doing business ladder. We need to shock our economy with attractive and irresistible investment incentives to excite a new wave of both local and foreign investment. Investments create jobs. Jobs create wealth. And wealth drives away poverty.
CONFIDENCE SHOCK
We need to vastly ramp up confidence in our institutions through a Quantum leap in Citizen services. Our Public sector institutions must be fully oriented to provide courteous and satisfactory services to the citizens. Citizens will need to feel that Government and its institutions are established for their good, protection and well being, rather than the current pervasive feeling that the institutions are there to repress them and make life difficult. This confidence shock which will be helped by an unprecedented display of transparency and accountability at all levels and tiers of government will help in internal revenue generation and public asset protection amongst many other benefits. It will also result in fewer laws and regulations, not more! 
 MIND SET SHOCK
This shock will be realized by a Quantum leap in cost effective management of Public Finances. Subsidies have to be fully removed to enthrone efficient allocation and utilization of public finances. Targeted assistance to the poor and deprived can be determined and implemented as part of social services. The one budget principle that captures all public sector income and expenditure must be enthroned. The current TSA policy and the zero-based budgeting represent movement in this direction. The shock will elicit efficient deployment of public finance to achieve higher value for the citizens. The entitlement mindset and it is 'our turn' mentality must be abolished.. 
SIMPLIFICATION SHOCK
This is to be realized through a Quantum leap in the structural reform of Public Administration. We need to redesign our processes for service delivery, streamline regulations, change mind sets and create motivational formulas. Every MDA must be subjected to performance based bonuses depending on agreed Key Performance indicators( KPIs). All passengers must disembark and all dead weights must be dropped on the Dead Sea. Businesses should be registered in one day and multiple taxes can be paid to one agency of government. If an application for license or permit is not replied in 14 days, then the silence will be regarded as consent!
  In summary, what we need are the BEST REFORMS. These are Radical, Deep and Fast reforms that will arrest current decline, instigate rapid growth and stabilize the economy. That is the tough choice we must make, and that right early.
Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa OFR