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Wednesday, 24 February 2016

THAT CALL FOR EMERGENCY ECONOMIC SUMMIT


  Late last year I made a call asking that we should declare a state of emergency on our economy. As I watched the oil prices plummet without restrain, as I watched our income drop with with such rapidity, as I watched our Naira depreciate against the dollar and other foreign currencies at rates never seen before and as I watched President Muhammadu Buhari( PMB) take unusually long time in assembling his economic team, I went into panic. 
  I was troubled, that right in our faces, our economy was unravelling and the response by the only government institution that was working at the time- the CBN, though apparently sensible, only seemed to complicate the situation. The ban on 41 products from accessing Forex from Government funded Forex market made sense. If you did not have enough money to pay for all your needs, you would naturally prioritize and decide to go without some. If that caused you to have gastric ulcer or made you sweat profusely in the heat, that will be the consequence of your choice. The ban on payment of Foreign currencies into domiciliary accounts did not make as much sense and the accompanying ban on using the forex in your domiciliary account to pay for goods and services abroad was even more confusing and in my opinion wrong headed.  If you were short of Foreign exchange, would it not make better sense to encourage all those who have dollars or pounds to bring them in, rather than keep them out?
 As a consequence of some of these adhoc measures, our operating environment quickly lost allure. And as the gap between the parallel market and the official exchange market rates( N385 vs N198 as at weekend) enlarged, the more hesistant foreign Investors became. They would not bring their dollar and exchange at 198 Naira at the official window, whereas the same dollar could earn them 380 Naira . And so they wait. And with that the forex scarcity worsened. The matter of adjusting the official exchange rate of the Naira seems to be the central issue now. And with the repeated refusal of PMB to authorise the CBN to adjust the exchange rate of the Naira and bring it closer to reality, and the apparent lack of any worry by the government with the daily depreciation of the Naira at the parallel market, it is clear that we now have two clear foreign exchange markets. The official market which is supposed to be run by the CBN and which provides 'cheap'dollar for procuring 'necessities' as defined by government, and the parallel market which is run by Bureau De change ( BDC) operators and the ubiquitous Mallams designed to provide 'costly' dollars for those interested in procuring 'non-necessities' or ' luxury' goods. 
   Ordinarily, this would look like a very nice arrangement- choose ye this day which market you will patronize! But there are problems. The first problem is that the official forex market is currently and patently unable to meet the 'necessities' even as defined by the government. Many Manufacturers and importers of essential raw materials and other critical manufacturing inputs have not been able to open confirmed LCs for many months now. Many manufactures including drug makers report fast diminishing raw materials inventory and an impending scarcity.  The second problem is that many suppliers or producers of the 'necessities' do not even get the forex at the CBN quoted price from Banks. Many are paying premiums and others collecting arbitrage .This is of course a normal economic behaiour when the prices of scarce  commodities are fixed or controlled. There will always be arbitrage anywhere in the World! And often the corruption line is crossed as consumers lobby and pressurize the exclusive suppliers. In a Country fighting corruption, this may not be helpful to the cause. The third problem is that many of the producers or providers of the 'necessities' have to source other 'non-essentials' from suppliers who source forex from the parallel market. When the second and third problems are compounded,then manufacturers or suppliers of 'essential ' goods have to adjust their prices upwards and this is fuelling inflation in the economy. Today, this has resulted in a spiral effect on all items in the economy including locally produced agricultural products. Everybody is blaming the dollar! And the government seems to stand aloof and hoping that things will square up! 
  As I said, I had called for the declaration of the State of emergency on our economy before PMB finally appointed his cabinet and the economic team. On seeing the quality of the cabinet, with stars like Okey Enelamah , Udo Udoma , Babatunde Fashola ,Ogbonnaya Onu Audu Ogbeh, Chris Ngige, James Ocholi etc;watching some of the measures that have been taken since then, I was no longer sure that we needed to declare the emergency. The restoration of the effective use of the domiciliary account by account holders was one good step taken. I quickly applauded this move and asked the CBN to take more such steps in quick successions. And then a robust National debate on what we need to do concerning the Naira exchange rate spearhead by the cerebral Bismack Rewane and Moderated by PMB himself opened. Many writers have been writing opinions, conferences and Seminars are holding everyday discussing the economy and making very useful contributions. As if the voices of the local people are not loud enough, PMB and his economic team have been on an extended tour of the World and must be listening to many foreign and Nigerian diaspora voices.
  So when Professor Wole Soyinka walked into an unusual terrain last week, I was jolted .On a visit to Minister Lai Mohammed's office last week, he asked for an emergency economic conference or Summit to discuss Nigeria's economic future, I was jolted because I seldomly hear the Professor speak on the economy, nor have I seen him in any economic summit before. Yes, he comments often on  political and Socio- cultural issues, occasionally sparring with President Obasanjo and often acts as the conscience of the Nation. Ordinarily he is bold and speaks his mind . Though he is purely human with his own share of human weaknesses, he is generally a serious personality and when he speaks, many people take him seriously. He is not seen as frivolous. In that visit, he was very liberal with his praise for PMB's government on its ANTI CORRUPTION and other actions. But why will he call for an emergency economic summit? Is he not satisfied with the way the economy is currently being managed? Is he not comfortable with PMB's economic team? Is this an open admission that on the Economic front, the government needs help and needs to listen to more views?
   For me I think there are currently enough views on the table. What may be required is a cold-blooded review of all the views by the economic team and then the courage to present the options to PMB with the consequences of every option fully spelt out. If the President is being inflexible or too strongly or emotionally fixated on a suboptimal option, some body should be courageous to tell the  President  so . Now this is where Prof Wole Soyinka may come in handy. We should arm him with well reasoned options and get him to see the President. If there is one Nigerian who can face the President and tell him the truth- bitter or sweet, Wole Soyinka would be that one .One thing is sure, no one can take away his Nobel prize in literature! We may find this my proposal cheaper and faster than calling an emergency economic summit now. We can then await the next Nigerian Economic Summit( NES) 
  Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa OFR 

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

THE WORSENING UNEMPLOYMENT CRISIS AND OTHER PRESSURE POINTS


In the last six months or so, I have been under some intense pressure from two angles. Those looking for Jobs and those asking for financial help-outright dash or soft loans to pay Children's school fees or to pay for Accomodation . It is not as if any of this is new. In my days as CEO of Pfizer/ Neimeth, I was practically a one-man employment bureau. The biggest file in my office with several volumes bore the title: JOB SEEKERS. And if I went to church or travelled home with any amount of cash, I mean any amount, I never came back with any. And that was why I was one of the early supporters of CBN Governor Sanusi Lamido Sanusi's 'Cashless Lagos' campaign which later metamorphosed into ' Cashless Nigeria'.
 But as I have found out, that did not help matters for long. The arrival of Mobile banks in mobile phones has worsened the situation. The excuse that I have run out of cash( which most solicitors never believed), or that the banks have closed or that it is weekend are no longer tenable. Now, No body gives you any chance to offer any excuse, lame or not, believable or not. Every request, some made close to midnight, ends with "Can I send you my account details, so you can transfer the money." You can see that I did not put a question mark(?) after the last quoted line, because the sentence on the surface may sound like a question, but in truth it was never a question. Normally, if it were a question, one  should be given a chance to give a yes or no answer. But in these cases, before you can make up your mind, you receive the bank details by text..
  So the reason these matters have began to cause me intense pressure is that the dimension has taken unusual and frightening turn. In the last six months or so, I get an average of six calls a day by applicants and their parents asking me or reminding me to help find jobs for their wards. I notice that the frequency of calls jumps any day I appear on Television addressing one issue or another concerning Business or the Economy. These days, I receive up to ten CVs a day, many on-line. I have found that what is really causing my pressure is that unlike in the time past, I have practically no where to turn. Governments can't pay salaries, so why ask them to employ more. The oil companies have downsized and are in conflict with the Labour Unions( PENGASAN & NUPENG) who accuse Nigerian based oil companies of sacking more workers than their counterparts in Angola & Equatorial Guinea-other oil producing countries in similar 'pot of soup' with Nigeria. We can no longer turn to the Banks. Oh the Banks, for many years provided succor for employment bureaus like me. So much has happened to the banks in the very recent time, that even the contract staff arrangement is no longer feasible. I can no longer turn to the industry which is my forte, as many are in bad shape,trimming costs to stay afloat and everybody is blaming the economy, foreign exchange shortages and the high exchange rate. Wrongly or correctly, every where you turn, everybody is blaming the depreciating Naira for the growing inflation in the economy, including tomato and groundnut sellers! Prices are going up across the board and yet many more people are getting unemployed! 
  But for me the most distressing part of this worsening unemployment crisis, is that it is becoming practically impossible to find space for adhoc or short term employment for Students on Industrial Training( IT or SIWES),not to talk of Pharmacists or Medical Doctors who want a place for the one year compulsory post graduation internship or Housemanship, before they can be licensed to practice. I have written to practically all my friends in the Industry several times, that many seem tired of either replying me or even taking my calls. A few months ago, out of desperation,I had to send one guy looking for a place for his industrial attachment( Banking & Finance) to my friend who has a Bureau De change( BDC). Last week he called to say that he could no longer keep the guy since there was little or no business coming in. I tried to persuade him to keep the guy, since he had just two months to go but my friend only agreed on the condition that I would pay his allowance. After that we will then settle the matter with his School,if the BDC was a proper place to do IT. Last Sunday, I met a young Dental surgeon who graduated last year and since then he has been running from pillar to post looking for a place to do his house job. When I suggested to him to try outside Lagos, I was shocked when he told me that he had been to Sokoto and Maiduguri without luck. Maiduguri ? He flabbergasted me when he told me that they were nearly 1000 applicants that queued up at the University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital for only a few vacancies. And not coming from that catchment area, he was not lucky. I could not easily find words to console him. And what is more troubling for him, is that if he does not find a space before the year runs out, his temporary license will expire and he would be required to go back to School and retake the qualifying exams before restarting the wild goose chase for a house job. Preposterous! This week, a widow brought her medical doctor son asking me to help him get a job.  I took my pen and began to write. If such hitherto highly sought-after professionals as Medical doctors and Pharmacists who spend donkey years learning can not find jobs in Nigeria,or even a place to complete their education, I believe that we have reached a new low in the unemployment crisis.
 The matter of asking for financial help has also assumed a disconcerting proportion. It is no longer just young people, but adults,often respectable individuals,many with families, who apparently have lost their jobs or whose businesses have run aground.Some are Contractors who are owed both by Public and Private Sector institutions. A few weeks ago, a respectable acquaintance of mine sent me a text message asking for money to pay his Children's fees as two of them were freshmen in Nigerian Universities. I did not know how to tell him that I could not help, so I refused to reply his text message. He then resorted to calling my line and once I was forced to pick. He began his tale of woes about how one federal Agency was owing him and they told him the delay had to do with the Treasury single account( TSA), bla bla bla. I told him that I was short on cash and that I would look around to see what to do.The next minute, he sent his account details. I immediately sent him a reply: "My brother, you know that in the past I have reacted positively to every of your requests. But now, I have too many requests on me and you know I am retired, currently living on Pay as you go, I am sorry I can not help this time". 
  I did not hear from him, the rest of that evening, and I felt that had settled the matter. Early the next morning, my phone began to ring off the hook. When I checked the caller, it was the same guy. I got angry. Why would this guy wake me up from sleep this early morning?,he must be crazy and inconsiderate. After my morning devotion, where I actually prayed to God to help him sort out his problem, I picked up my phone. On reviewing my text messages, I saw one from this my old time friend: "My brother Sam, when I read your text last night, it took sleep out of my eyes. God bless you". I dressed up ,sent to the bank and transferred some money to him.
I hope you can now better understand my pressure points. God please help us and revive our economy!
   Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa OFR 

Monday, 8 February 2016

THE JUDICIAL RESUSCITATION OF PDP & MATTERS ARISING


 A couple of weeks ago following the worrisome sack of many PDP governors and Legislators by the Court of Appeal, I wrote an article " The Judicial decimation of PDP & Its Implications". Among other things, I drew the attention of Nigerians to the dangers of a one- party state. With the way things were going, it looked like most of the subdued electoral victories of the PDP in the States and in the legislature were being reversed. The matter disturbed all fair minded Nigerians. Even the Chief Justice of Nigeria noted the glaring inconsistency in the judicial declarations of the Justices of the Appeal Court. But in the last week or so, the tide seemed to have changed and the Supreme Court weighed in strongly on the side of PDP. This piece is therefore to bring a balance to the earlier one that spoke of Judicial decimation, because what has happened in the last couple of days is judicial resuscitation.
  The Supreme Court confirmed the elections of Governors Ayade of Cross River State, Okowa of Delta State and Umahi of EBONYI State who though had no problem with the Appeal Court, still faced litigation at the Supreme Court. Then it reversed the verdicts of the tribunal and appeal courts in Rivers State. To me that was the most outstanding of the Supreme Court adjudications. From the day the elections were held in April 2015, the APC had alleged that no elections held. The campaign was so strong that many people who live outside Rivers State were persuaded to believe this position. When the Tribunal cancelled the Election and asked for a re-run, many thought there was no other way to go. Then when the Appeal Court confirmed the verdict of the Tribunal, it was thought that APC had  proved its position beyond any doubts. Indeed if any iota of doubts still existed, it was completely obliterated by the massive sack of the Legislators who had been elected on the platform of the PDP. So when Governor Wike went on further appeal to the Supreme Court, such people concluded that he was on a wild goose chase, that there was no way the Appeal Court could reverse what the two lower courts had done. Such views were expressed by many legal luminaries including Prof Itsay Sagay. So when the Supreme Court eventually reversed the verdicts of the lower courts, and rather than ask for a rerun , affirmed that Wike was lawfully elected, many were  taken aback. 
   The Supreme Court affirmation of the elections of Governors Emmanuel Udom of Akwa Ibom State and Dr Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia State were not as shocking but they were equally impactful. In Akwa Ibom, the Appeal Court reversed the Tribunal and asked for a rerun but the Supreme Court said no, that Udom won the election fair and square. From the heat, the propaganda and legal muscle-flexing, it seemed that the APC was more than determined to win Akwa Ibom State. But the Supreme Court has denied them that. In the case of Abia, there were expectations that the Supreme Court would rather ask that the elections be rerun in the three troubled LGAs of Ossisioma, Obingwa and Isiala Ngwa North . This was where  the returning officer Prof Ozurumba over reached his powers by first canceling the elections and then changing his mind and then reinstating the results. So when the Appeal Court decided to go the way of Prof Ozurumba and cancelled the result from the three LGAs, denying Dr Ikpeazu the right to have voted in his own ward, many people raised their eye brows. So it was widely expected that the Supreme Court would bring a balance by asking for a rerun at least in the three LGAs. But the ultimate Court went for the jugular and confirmed that Dr Okezie won the election in the first ballot and there was no need to go through the cycle again.
 With these Supreme Court decisions, it is clear that a life line has been offered a party in apparent decline . There are implications and matters that have arisen from the clinical work that has been done by the Supreme Court.First is that what ever reservations anyone may have and I have heard and read many, the Supreme Court verdicts are final. Since that is the last appellate body, we have to accept the verdicts. In which case all litigants should follow the example of Dr. Alex Otti who recently addressed the Press to declare that despite their reservations, He and his party have accepted the judgement of the Supreme Court. To do otherwise will tantamount to overheating the polity and causing further distraction to good governance. The 2015 election cycle must be brought to a closure for the good of all. After all, he who fights and runs away, lives to fight another day.
  Secondly, it must be pointed out that the Supreme Court judgements have brought some stability to the Nation. It is certain that the Reverred Judges came to their verdicts on points of law, giving the evidence and records before them, but from my perspective, there seems to have been an effort to bring stability to the Nation. I may be wrong, but when I think of what would have happened should a rerun have happened in Rivers , Akwa Ibom and Abia States, I shudder. With what happened at Bayelsa rerun in only one local government, Rivers rerun would have been the equivalent of 'World War 3'. So intended or unintended the Supreme Court judgements have saved this Nation a lot of innocent and perhaps not -so -innocent lives, and other collateral damages. 
  Thirdly, this judicial resuscitation gives PDP a new opportunity to reinvent itself and properly assume the role of an opposition party. That the result of the 2015 elections battered the party is there for everybody to see. And if it had lost the the four States which were in hot judicial contention- Taraba, Rivers, Akwa Ibom and Abia, the party's descent to irrelevance would have been speeded up. I do not know how they would do it or who would do it for PDP, but it badly needs a new crop of leaders who play politics differently from the way the party had played it in recent times. The party must return to the path of its founders- The G28 and put service above self and National Interest above partisan political interest. 
It is a pity that People like Senator Ken Nnamani who are expected to lead this change are throwing in the towel. Well, it is human beings that bring change to every institution and I am hoping that God will send to PDP such people who can lead a rebirth. Jumping the ship to APC which is the popular move now by PDP decampees will not serve this Country well. It will weaken opposition and may actually in the long run destabilize the  APC. This Country deserves two strong parties that will offer the people a distinct choice and not the same of the same.
Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa OFR 

Sunday, 7 February 2016

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WITH LESSONS FROM SINGAPORE


 I have been in Singapore in the last week attending the Global Leadership Prayer Summit organized by the Full Gospel Global Forum and hosted by the FGB Gatekeepers Singapore, where among other things we have been praying for our Nations. In between our sessions, I have found time to move around Singapore and I have been awe stricken by the simple sophistication and splendor of a Country that got its Independence in 1965( 5years after Nigeria) and that was a third world country like Nigeria in the 70s, now a thoroughly advanced Nation in the First World, in the same league as The USA, Uk, Germany and France. The transformation is mind boggling.
  Singapore is one of the four Asian Tigers- Hong Kong, South Korea , Taiwan and Singapore that transformed within three decades of purposeful leadership anchored on sound economic policies and a Spartan work ethic to achieve consistent high growth rates, high income levels and high quality of life. Today Singapore is a global industrial and international financial centre. It has become a major gateway to many parts of the World with one of the World's greatest Ports and aviation operations. Per capita income of $55,182( fifty five thousand, one hundred and eighty two US dollars ) in 2013 is one of the highest in the World and it is about 27 times Nigeria's 2013 REBASED Per capita income of $2200( two thousand, two hundred US dollars).
 Last week in this column I opined that oil has failed in Nigeria and it was certain that we have finally arrived Nigeria without oil. Thinking of our current economic situation, I realized that Singapore did not have and still does not have any natural resource which it can exploit and export and that like Japan it has become a first world country without oil or such natural resource. I then began to think that perhaps President Muhammadu Buhari( PMB) and his troupe who have been on a kind of extended World tour since he came to power should visit Singapore soon and see if they can  learn a few lessons on how to run Nigeria without oil and in the longer run seek to move Nigeria away from chronic underdevelopment. But as for me I took away a few lessons which I wish to share with my readers.
 ECONOMIC MANAGEMENT 
Singapore runs a neoliberal  free market economy that actively promotes enterprise development. In Singapore, the Private sector is in charge. The government is in the background providing policies that support private initiatives and endeavor. Evidence is provided by the fact that Singapore is one of the Easiest places to do business in the World. The industrial estates and service companies are export oriented and there is a clear understanding that Singapore needs the World to succeed and they are very humble about this and therefore welcome opportunities to do business with The World.
  They are focused on maintaining a stable macroeconomic environment and therefore run an economy with minimum deficit, minimum or near-zero external borrowing, market determined but stable exchange rate mechanism. This creates a pull for foreign investments. Total trade in 2013 was 818, 800 million dollars with Export at 432,100 million while Import was 386,700 million dollars, thereby having a favorable balance of payment without any commodity export.
 Also the economic management is strategic and focused to the future. It is clear that the Country has a strategic Economic Vision. They want to continue to make Singapore attractive for Business, not resting on their oars, clear in their minds that investments flow only to where they are consciously invited and attracted by policies, incentives and actions, not by bland declarations and inconsistent policies. They believe that the more people that come to Singapore or use Singapore as a transit to else where in the World, the better their economy. As we were driving out from Terminal Three of the CHANGI International Airport, my taxi driver informed me that the Terminal Four  would be opened next year, but meanwhile, work has started on Terminal Five. Talk of Strategic planning!
ENVIRONMENTAL MANAGEMENT
Singapore is spick and span with plenty of high rise buildings. The place is neat and decent. The streets are adorned with flowers and well manicured grass lawns. Though it is close to the Equator like Nigeria, it has a harsher climate, with minimal rain. According to a Singaporean acquaintance, Singapore has three seasons- hot, hotter and hottest. Yet when you drive through the city in air conditioned cars you are regaled with stretch of lush ornamental vegetation on the streets. The houses looked neat and well looked after. I did not see refuse heap anywhere. Of course as a first World Nation, there was constant and unbroken electricity supply and the tap water is portable.
TOURISM AS INCOME EARNER
Singapore is designed to attract tourists. The clean environment, the multimodal and functional transport system, the iconic Buildings and water fronts, and friendliness of the people sign post a Nation that has realized that today Tourism- leisure or business has become a major foreign exchange earner. When you are in Singapore, you have a feeling of near absolute safety- in the hotels and in the streets. Yet except at the airport, I do not remember seeing any policeman, not to talk of soldiers. There must be a high level of intelligent security in the Country. They are welcoming and hospitable.
 NATIONAL UNITY
There are four distinct groups that make up Singapore. The Chinese, the Malay, the Indian and the Euroasian. Except by their looks, nothing else showed the difference. I was intrigued that they translated every official document in the four languages- Mandarin, Indian, Malay and English. Though English is the official language for conducting business in Singapore, effort is made to promote the other three. Though the Chinese are in majority, the minorities are treated equally. I am told that their late great Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew built a nation and enshrined equality of citizenship where fair play, Justice and equity reign supreme. The sense of National unity is palpable. In Singapore you can feel a people with National cultural values of Honesty, Hardwork, Time-consciousness and Service. 
ANTICORRUPTION AND JUDICIAL CERTAINTY
 Corruption and criminal activities are minimal in Singapore.  I was told that it was not always like that. There was a time Singapore was like Nigeria, where anything goes or should I say where everything went. I was told that their Judiciary was as bad as ours but I met and heard Judges who as gate keepers assumed the power to reform the judiciary and today Singapore's judiciary is the second most efficient in the World as acknowledged by the Word Bank. Lee Kuan Yew established zero tolerance for corruption and this seems to have been engrained into the National DNA. The court processes are swift and judicial pronouncements can be quite harsh but certain and predictable. Many people are inclined to stay on the right side of the law,because the same law applies to their own equivalent of our own APC and PDP.
 RESPONSIBLE LEADERSHIP & FOLLOWERSHIP
It is often said that a people deserve their leadership. And I had said that leaders deserve their followership. To achieve the Nation of our dreams, we need both responsible leadership and responsible followership. Without both, not much will be achieved. But which comes first?From what I heard and saw in Singapore,it is certain that Leadership must come first. And Prime minister Lee Kuan Yew  provided that leadership in an extraordinary manner. Some leaders are disciplined and incorruptible but they have no clue on how to run a modern economy. But Lee Kuan Yew was incorruptible and an extraordinary economic visionary. Some leaders are bold, courageous and Patriotic but they have problems rallying an entire Nation to buy into their Vision. The late Prime minister was bold, courageous, charismatic and a nation builder per excellence. Above all, he gave every Singaporean a sense of belonging and ownership, hence they all rallied to support his vision. Though he had long retired from office before his death last Year, his legacies are as fresh as morning dew, helped by the next generation of leaders whom he groomed through mentoring and personal example. Nigeria needs this kind of leaders to turn our Nation around. The opportunity is beckoning.
Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa OFR