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Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Monday, 27 June 2016


  I have done my best to refrain from commenting on Senator Olusola Saraki's travails since he became the Senate President. In the first place I support every genuine effort to bring our political leaders to account and to fight the endemic corruption that has held Nigeria down in its 56 years of independence from Great Britain( Great?). Secondly,though I believe that the current anti-corruption campaign by the government has been one-sided , I have resolved this by saying that only the guilty will go to jail or be so declared. Those who have been wrongly accused or embarrassed by the accusations could always approach the Court to seek compensation. Thirdly, I have been angry with politicians who jump from one party to the other. My position has always been that Politicians elected on one political platform can not change their party without returning to their constituents to seek re-election on their new platform. Seeing Saraki being harassed and charged to court by his new found party looked like nemesis.
   But when last week he was charged to the high Court in Abuja along with Senator Ike Ekweremadu on a criminal charge of forging the Senate rules, I could no longer hold myself back. Something in me revolted. How come the Senate President, the leader of one arm of our government- the legislature is being harangued as a common criminal ? Is this still about fighting corruption or is he fighting for his political life. Many people believe that his case at the Code of Conduct Tribunal was politically motivated because he refused to allow the anointed party candidate to emerge as senate President. He was accused of going into alliance with the PDP to win the senate presidency. He committed Harakiri by conniving With the PDP to allow Senator Ekweremadu to emerge as the Deputy senate President. These are charges said to be prevailed against him by his new Party APC which he helped to fund and supported in several ways to win the 2015 Presidential elections. So far none of the other turncoat PDP members who joined the APC alliance has been given this treatment.
  To be fair, his party has a right to be angry that their preferred candidate was not elected as senate President on the 9th of June 2015 according to the doctrine of party supremacy. But should the Party not manage and minimize its anger especially considering what I regard the  intervention of fate that fateful morning. Rather than be at the Senate Floor for the inauguration,most of the APC senators were sold a dummy by their own leaders to be at another meeting that kept them away from the senate when the election of principal officers was taking place. That was not the fault of Senator Saraki or was it? Had they all been present, may be the result could have been different. As some commentators had pointed out, if PDP wanted the position of the Senate President, they probably would have gotten it that morning!
  Since that morning, APC and it leadership had done everything to dis grace Saraki and get him out of office. Luckily his colleagues in the Senate who put him in office have resisted all the attempts. To his credit, Senator Saraki seems to have discharged his office well, despite the long battle and certain distraction. Now he has been charged to another court for another offence. Hitherto, as Saraki was being pummeled at the code of conduct tribunal, a concurrent effort was being made to nail Deputy President Ike Ekweremadu  on a charge of criminal forgery of the Senate rules. At some point, it looked like the matter had been rested. Only to be resurrected last week by the office of the AGF who has now escalated the matter by charging both Ekweremadu and Saraki. 
 This new onslaught has miffed the Senate and indeed the entire National Assembly and last week, the legislative chambers were charged. First, Both chambers issued statements decrying this apparent determination of the executive to disgrace and remove the top senate leadership and summoned the AGF. Then the PDP caucus in the Senate announced that they were withdrawing their cooperation with the APC government. Over the weekend, there were reports that the Senate was strategizing to begin impeachment proceedings on President Muhammadu Buhari. 
 To be true this development has disturbed me . Destabilizing the legislature will have negative consequences on the stability of the polity. Creating a divided Senate may hinder the quick passage of critical bills and approval of Executive requests. We all know of the paralysis in the American Congress and its inability to pass bills or agree on anything because of the deep division between the Republican and Democratic senators. Now with the economic distress still biting hard, despite recent economic policy rethink, the increasing security challenge all over Nigeria, to add a clash between the Legislature and the executive and the distraction of an impeachment move,  may just be too much for us. We can not successfully fight too many battles at the same time without causing too much collateral damage.
  I therefore wish to advice that the Executive arm of government must stop any action that seems to suggest it is determined to undermine or subjugate the legislature. It must accept to allow the Legislature choose its leadership and handle its affairs. This term will soon run out before we know it. The current determination to get Saraki and Ekweremadu out of office willy nilly may backfire and cause  more damage to good governance and National security. A lot of wisdom and tact is required to avoid this looming clash which may hurt this economy further and cause unacceptable set-back at this critical moment.
Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa OFR

Monday, 20 June 2016


Over many years, the Scottish people were unhappy to belong to the United Kingdom( UK) and there were agitations to break up the union so that the Scots could go their own way as a separate and independent Nation. A couple of Parties emerged calling for what I may call Scottexit from the Uk. There were heated and rancorous debates all over the UK which tended to divide the Nation. To determine if this was truly the desire of the majority of the Scottish people or just the opinion of some of the the Politicians or a minority vocal protesters, a referendum was  conducted last year in Scotland. The Majority of the scots voted against living the Uk, preferring the semi autonomous status that gave them opportunity to have greater say in how they were governed. The agitation ended, at least for now. No bullets were fired and The Uk avoided reliving the experience of the violence that engulfed the Nation for several years as Irish People  of Northern Island sought self determination and self rule. The Scots are at peace right now being part of the Uk and they live at peace with their independent Neigbour-Northern Island.
 Similarly in the last couple of years, there has been a growing dissent among many British People regarding Britain's stay in the European Union( EU). This has led to stiff political debates that divided the Nation. To stop the debate degenerating into violence, the civilized political leadership of The UK decided to hold a referendum to decide, if it is really  true that the majority of the British people want to exit the EU. In the last couple of months, the debate has become intensive with Prime Minister David Cameron leading the campaign to Stay while the former London Mayor Boris Johnson is leading those who want to exit. Last week, MP Jo Cox was murdered on the streets of Northern England as she campaigned for Britain to stay in the EU. And on June 23 this year, a few days hence, the people of the United Kingdom will March out to the pools to freely express their desire. Who knows what the majority may desire. But what a civilized way to end disputes relating to self -determination and sovereignty.

 Are there lessons for Nigeria from these two examples related above? Between 1967-1970, Nigeria fought a bitter civil war in an effort to prevent the people of Biafra from leaving Nigeria. At that time the slogan was: "To keep Nigeria one was a task that must be done."Well we succeeded or did we? After  the loss of nearly three million people, not to talk of morbidities( we still have an army of disabled ex-Biafra soldiers left to die by instalment) loss of material resources of unquantifiable value and at least a three year delay in the development trajectory of Nigeria, it is surprising that we are where we are today. All over Nigeria, there are agitations for self determination while some are asking for sovereignty. Currently the most prominent are the agitations for Biafra by MASSOB & the IPOD, with their horde of supporters. There there is the Niger Delta Avengers( NDA) with their variants asking for the Republic of Niger Delta and what ever is left after all the oil wells and pipelines have been bombed or ruined. There is another group which seems to an almagamation of the two tendencies called the Lower Nigeria Congress( LNC) whose geographical territory extends to the Middle-belt of Nigeria. This group is speaking essentially about self determination which does not necessarily mean secession. In the South West and middle belt, there are dormant volcanoes which can become active anytime. I do not quite know if the technical defeat of Boko Haram is the end of that chapter.

 All over Nigeria, there have been increasing and strident calls for restructuring Nigeria. NADECO which included Balarabe Musa( North West),Tony Enahoro( South South),Wole Soyinka( South West), Bola Ahmed Tinubu( South West), Ndubuisi Kanu( South East) and a host of others started this campaign in the early 90's especially after the June12 debacle. They asked for a National sovereign Conference to restructure the Country.  This cry remained which compelled Olusegun Obasanjo to set up the National Political reform conference in 2005 that made far reaching suggestions on how to restructure the Country to create stability. Not much came out of this effort as the report was jettisoned at the National Assembly along with the third term agenda. Despite palliative efforts by Obasanjo, Yar'adua  and Jonathan to calm agitations, through all kinds of "bribery" and hand twisting including the amnesty program,the call remained disconcerting forcing Jonathan to call for another National Conference in 2014. This conference is said to have come up with suggestions on critical things that need to be done to bring peace and stability to our beleaguered Nation.

 So far, it looks to me that this government thinks there is no form of justification for any of the agitations and protests. Infact they seem to treat every agitation, armed or unarmed, peaceful or violent as criminal activity, which must be crushed with brutal force . I see that the mentality of 1967 still persists: To keep Nigeria one at all costs, so nobody would be allowed to say or do anything that that seems to threaten the current lopsided, unstable Nigerian political structure. If you ask me, my preference is to restructure this Nation and restore stability. My preference is for the leadership of our Country to invest serious effort in making our Country united with happy and contented citizens in every part of Nigeria. Of course if this becomes impossible, I will naturally consider other options.

 But it will be foolhardy to assume that is everybody's preference. That's why Prime minister David Cameron is not assuming that his preference of Keeping UK in the EU is everybody's preference. And since some British people have agitated for a Britexit, he decided to call for a referendum. My wish is that Britain remains in the UK. And eventually that might be what the  majority of British people want and if that happens, that will quieten the current rancorous agitation and if the People prefer to leave, that will be it. Everybody will have had their say but the majority would have their way and life continues. That is called self determination. So to keep Britain in the EU is desirable but not a task that must be done by all means. If the British got us into one Nigeria, we need to learn a few things on how to resolve Major National issues. The way of referendum seems to be the preferred option even to agree to adopt or reject the report or recommendations of the last National conference. That to me will be cheaper than arming the Nigerian army to kill Nigerians as we see all over Nigeria today in the bid to quell protests and agitations. And it may resolve matters faster and we may surprise ourselves to realize that there is more that unites us than divides us. May God help our leaders.

Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa OFR 

Monday, 13 June 2016


I was shocked to read the statement credited to the Minister of Labour & Employment where he was quoted as follows" The Federal Government gave licenses to the banks to operate and if its directives are not adhered to, their licenses will be withdrawn if the need arises. We will go a step further if they continue. We know what to do. They need to comply..." This threat was made as a reaction to the failure of Banks to stop laying off their staff as directed by the Minister. To be true, this is a very troubling development which makes me really sad.
In the first place, what is the locus of the Minister to issue orders to Banks? Even the CBN which supervises banks can not issue that type of order to Banks. Banks are private companies owned by private investors and managed by their Boards of Directors and the Executive Management Teams. They owe allegiance to their shareholders. They are not owned by the government, and are certainly not parastatals of the Ministry of Labour, which the Minister can issue orders to,often without regards that those Parastatals and Agencies are responsible to their governing Boards. 
To follow up such illegal order which at best constitutes undue interference in the affairs of private companies, with a threat to withdraw their licenses is to me the height of official rascality and indeed a most insensitive statement with dire consequences. I am downcast that after more than 20 years of pushing the liberalization and deregulation of our economy and with all the progress made to align to best global practices, a Minister in 2016 will be making such a retrogressive statement. Such statement may have been tolerable when Government owned Banks or owned controlling shares in financial and other business institutions. But that ended decades ago with the adoption of the Privatization  programme. To make statements or threaten to take action that seem to suggest that Government still controls banks is a dangerous throw back to a forgotten era.
What is more distressing is that this careless statement can cause untold damage to Nigeria's image in the investment world. A country that is desperate for new investments- domestic and foreign, and one with a history of policy flip flops can not be giving the impression to the Investing Public that Government may be planning to nationalize private companies. This is a major disservice to all the efforts being made to change the image of this Country and make it investment friendly. It smacks of a new height of impunity and it is dangerous. Other Government officials may follow this unsavory example. Infact a few days ago, I read of the threat of the Governor of Rivers State to withdraw the C of O of AGIP oil Company for some reason. This is preposterous! 
The Banks are private companies that employ and 'fire'as determined by their operational needs. They are set up to return profit for their shareholders while serving other economic purposes like paying taxes. They require resources to operate, one of the most important being Human Resources. Nobody tells them when to employ as they realize that without adequate human Resources( Quantity and Quality), they can not compete and may not make money for their shareholders. Similarly, when the economic space is contracting and their business is declining, it is within their discretion to decide to reduce their human resource load, so that they can remain afloat and achieve the objective of setting up the banks. This is similar to what obtains in all arms of the Private Sector all over the free World.
Of course there are Industrial Relations laws that determine how workers are treated by employers. And should any employer offend there are safeguards. First, the Industrial  Unions are there to protect the interest of their members. And even if they do not exist or are unable to protect their members, the National Industrial Courts are there to defend them and to ensure that the rights of the workers and the employers are protected. And as I have commented in this column in the recent past, the National industrial Court is one of the performing institutions in Nigeria. They have decided several cases in favour of workers who were wrongly sacked. These are the options that are followed in democratic and free societies including our African Neighbours.
The best the Minister could have done, was to appeal to the Banks and not to order or threaten them. May be the Minister and others who may be tempted to support this misguided 'populist' action, need to have a better understanding of how a free Economy operates. When an economy is contracting as we have seen in the last one year, with the GDP going negative as we saw in Q1(-0.4%) and when the right policies are not taken and implemented promptly as we have noticed in recent times, job losses are imperative. No one can wish it way or decree against it. Likewise when the right policies are promptly implemented and when the economy expands, Job gains follow. That is the Sequence. If the Minister or the government wants to command or order, then it can attempt ordering the economy to improve, so as to halt job losses and when the economy fails to respond, then it can go ahead and threaten the economy. 
Last weekend,the Nigerian Army dismissed about  50 senior military officers in an unprecedented  mass sack of senior military officers. And we are told to expect similar sacks from the Navy and Airforce. Why did the Minister not order the Military to stop the sack? Those sacked, are they not Nigerians or do they not have families?Infact, the military asked those not satisfied with the sack to go to seek redress in the courts. If the military can recognize the democratic process, I am surprised that a civilian Minister is talking like a Military administrator. Let it be known that If urgent steps, like the speedy and full implementation of the 2016 Budget are not taken to reverse the economic decline, the Minister may have to give more orders and make more threats because soon the  State governments and even Federal government agencies may begin sacking their own workers, in addition to the massive job losses in the Private sector which have been ongoing in the last 15 months. When people have not been paid salaries for over six months, can they still be said to be in employment? The Government seems to have conquered the Trade Unions and if it believes it can also cow and conquer the Banks,the Telecoms industry, the oil companies and indeed the Private sector through ill advised orders and threats, then it might soon find that it is shooting itself on the foot. And must be prepared not to pass the blame to the previous administration. 

              Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa OFR 

Monday, 6 June 2016


Last week end I was in the Niger Delta. As I drove up from the PH International Airport airport, Omagwa, towards Elele in my attempt to connect the East -West Road to head on to Yenagoa, capital of Bayelsa State, I was startled. First there was this long traffic back up and I was wondering what the matter was. Then I noticed that People were getting down from their buses and cars and moving forward with with their two hands raised. What was the matter? We inched on and I looked on the other side of the Road and saw a sea of people walking down towards where we were also with their hands raised, and then a picture flashed through my mind. The picture of the civil war when people walked through several check points with their hands raised up along this same axis. Is there another war?

We kept moving gradually until we could see the police and military barricades on the highway made with drums and sandbags. I then confirmed that it was indeed the checkpoint on the highway that was causing the traffic jam. But why would everybody get down and raise their hands to walk through the check point? When we drew level with the officers at the checkpoint, they were utterly angry with our driver. They reprimanded him for not dropping us to walk the nearly one kilometer distance with our hands raised in the air. They threatened the driver and the two of us who were passengers in the car. They considered detaining us for failing to come down and walk through the check point with our hands raised. And then my mind flashed again to a similar picture early last year when I visited the North East of Nigeria- Bauchi, Yobe and Borno. We passed through several military checkpoints. We saw people raising  their hands but no one asked us in our private car to step down and raise our hands. I began to imagine what the people of Gbaramatu Kingdom or other areas near the oil installations would be going through . And I then wondered . Is the Niger Delta about to become another war theatre to be ravaged by militancy as the North East was ravaged by insurgency? What is wrong with Nigeria?

Talking about ravage, I realized that the Niger Delta has been ravaged several times over. During the Civil war, the Niger Delta was ravaged. During the first round of Militancy( 2005-2009),the place was ravaged. But apparently the greatest of all the ravages is the one that has resulted from the exploration and production of crude oil from the region. That has occurred through accidents, negligence and outright sabotage. That's why all people of conscience were happy that the Federal Government and Shell Oil company have finally decided to implement the UNEP report. We congratulate the OGONI People for their steadfastness and for not letting the labours of their heroes past go in vain. The zeal of the Hon Minister of Environment to see the implementation launched was palpable. And to God be all the glory.

But I have a few worries. First is to say that what is good for the geese is good for the gander. There are many parts of the Region that are despoiled like OGONI. The FGN needs to reassure everyone that what is about to happen in Ogoni will be extended to all. Often,by government's  acts of omission, we seem to suggest that people must get into one form of struggle or the other, before government pays attention to them. We need a comprehensive and phased implementation plan to ensure total clean up of the Niger Delta. Second is that the clean up can not go hand in hand with the killing of the same people we say we are cleaning their environment. It may not be obvious to many that some of the unarmed civilians killed in cold blood in Onitsha,Asaba and elsewhere in the South East/ South South Regions on the 30th of May during the commemoration  of the Biafra day  were from the Niger Delta. It is tragic that young people who were unarmed and were in peaceful procession would be killed by our security forces while they have been incapable of arresting one of the Avengers who are blowing up pipelines and oil installations. What is the lesson from this? The unarmed killed and the armed untouched. I pray that none of the unarmed protesters will latch on this gross misnomer. We condemn armed or violent protests but democracy allows civil protests for what ever cause. Suppression of open civil protest often leads to violent secret protests.

But truly my greatest worry is that we may bungle this OGONI clean up project and end up creating more unhappiness that we set out to heal. This worry arises from our past history, where we have shown crass inability to handle projects of this size. First worry is, where is the money to do the clean up? Has Shell provided the 1billion dollars? Has it been lodged in our Single treasury account or with the UN? I am asking, because after the fanfare of the launch, the OGONI People will begin to ask, especially as soon as the pace of work slows down. Second, the 25-30 years time period to complete the clean up is rather long.  It will span over several regimes. Who can guarantee continuity and sustainability over different regimes and different parties? New regimes even of the same Party are known to abandon projects of the previous administration. How do we hedge against this likelihood? Third is how far have we aligned this clean up with the real need of the OGONI People which is how to come out of poverty at all levels. If it will take 25 years to clean up, what would the poor folks be doing in the interim? And if the truth must be told, most of the people campaigning for the clean up, actually are asking for economic empowerment. They want money in their pockets. So adequate financial provisions must be made to empower the people, including their leaders. Other wise, sooner than later , the cry may change : Na clean up we go chop?. Then accusations and counter accusations and the blame game which may flare up in another round of struggle. I pray and hope that this does not happen.

  Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa OFR 

Thursday, 2 June 2016


 After one year of economic nightmare, Nigeria seems about to take a turn for the better. A couple of positive policy shifts and some development in the global oil market give indication of hope that the intense suffering of Nigerians in the last year may begin to ameliorate.
The first indication was the guided deregulation of the downstream Petroleum sector. Almost instantly, the fuel queues disappeared and Nigerians'  double jeopardy retreated. For several years, Nigerians' common wealth was used to subsidize the price of fuel and yet many of us paid the market price. For many years especially in the last one year, Nigerians lost many valuable man-hours sleeping in filling stations and fighting for fuel. Those who could not endure this, patronized the parallel market- young men & women hawking fuel in Jerry cans and criss-crossing the highways. Very pitiable and demeaning experience. Those who do not understand how free market promotes efficiency, should learn lessons from what just happened. How come the fuel queues just disappeared over night, even when new suppliers are yet to enter the market? Answer: Rent seeking ended. Reasonable people struggled to buy the cheap petrol and went and resold at the true market price thereby creating exaggerated demand. Immediately the opportunity to 'round trip' was cut off with the deregulation, the exaggerated demand disappeared and with it the queues . Now what we have is approximately the true demand. Let's then watch what will happen when new suppliers enter the deregulated market which may lead to supply exceeding demand. Certainty is that prices will begin to moderate even if Government maintains the 145 Naira selling price. Different filling stations will begin to sell below the 145 Naira benchmark to attract more customers . Corruption in the Depots and in the filling stations have also largely disappeared. This is Economics 101 which we have learnt at great cost,after many years of cheating ourselves and shooting ourselves on the foot.
  The second indication is the decision of The CBN at its last MPC meeting to change direction and allow flexible exchange rate which simply means that the Naira will be allowed to find its level against the dollar, resulting in certain devaluation for now. This move will have similar effect as the deregulation of the downstream petroleum sector or the removal of subsidy. First, Supply of Dollar will quickly increase because all the reasonable people who have been resistant in the last one year to bring in their dollars either as Foreign Direct investment( FDI ), or as Portfolio investment or as home remittance, because it did not make sense for them to bring in their dollars and get 199 Naira when they could get 300 Naira or even 285 Naira. Second, the exaggerated demand for dollar will decline if not disappear completely as the rent will cease. Nobody will buy from CBN at 199 Naira and then turn around to sell to the parallel market at 300 or 285 Naira. Most people will buy at nearly the same rate or the difference will decline significantly that the incentive to 'round trip' may be virtually extinguished .As all these happen, the Country will earn  more Naira for its dollars, so it can provide more services to the people and the struggling states will have more cash to pay salaries; and the foreign reserves may rise as less dollar is demanded. Can anybody help me calculate the amount of incremental Naira, the Country would  have earned if it sold its dollars at 285 Naira to the dollar instead of 199 Naira in the official market in the last one year? That is why you all must join me in begging the CBN not to make any exceptions. We should have one window and one rate. Any other window, not matter how narrow WILL lead to rent seeking and round tripping, wiping out any purported benefit.
 The third glimmer of hope that I have seen is the gradual recovery of the price of crude oil in the international market. Last week, the price hit 50 dollars to the barrel. Though there is some irony to this, because the supply disruption in Nigeria is said to have contributed to this price recovery, it is nevertheless good news for Nigeria. With a budgeted price of 38 dollars, it means that Nigeria can begin to accumulate excess crude income and perhaps have an accretion in foreign reserves. If this situation remains sustained for a reasonable time frame, and given a regime of flexible exchange rate policy, the Currently battered Naira may begin to appreciate instead of its current burden of unending depreciation! 
Fourthly, after all the drama and avoidable delays, the reflationary 6.06 Trillion Naira budget has been passed and I believe the Federal government is about now injecting huge sums of money into the economy. I can see contractors being paid and the road  and rail projects resuming. Both the capital projects and the taunted special social projects should complement these new policy shifts and get the economic wheels spinning at faster speed.
For me these developments give me something to cheer about, raising my hopes that our economic nightmare may be coming to an end. I want to congratulate all those who must have worked real hard to convince our President that the "command & control "economic management regime was outdated and outmoded haven brought us to the precinct of an economic recession, and may have kept us queuing in the petrol Stations on the 29th of May, which will have prevented us From listening to his first anniversary broadcast to the Nation.
It is certain that we still have a very long road to travel before our economy can be revived, but we must remain steadfast on the new road we have begun to travel in the last two weeks or so. There should be no room for reversals and we must do what ever we can to consolidate on these recent gains. The Presidents gaze must shift squarely to the economy in the second year of his tenure without loss of momentum on the ANTICORRUPTION effort which must be broadened and deepened.                                                    As for the political and security eruptions, that threaten our sustained recovery,particularly the return of the Militants in the Niger Delta, the government needs to engage Nigerians and I believe Nigerians have the answer to the problems and challenges. This must be sincere engagement, devoid of propaganda and sophistry. Most Nigerians deprecate all forms of Violent agitation. I have repeatedly drawn attention to the fact that we need a department of HOME LAND SECURITY AND NATIONAL UNITY to undertake a painstaking and holistic effort to unite this Nation. From Boko Haram to MASSOP to IPOD to Fulani Herdsmen to Ekiti Hunters and now to the NDA( Niger Delta Avengers) and the Red Egbesu Sea Lions, something is fundamentally wrong with our Polity. It no longer matters who caused it. President Muhammadu Buhari and the leaders of the Ruling Party-APC must pay attention to this suggestion.The Government must do its utmost to give every Nigerian a sense of  belonging and ensure equity, Justice and FairPlay. I strongly believe that the Government must pay attention to the report of the 2014 National Conference. Many of the leaders of APC were once ardent proponents of Restructuring of the Country through a National Sovereign Conference.They were Leaders in PRONACO. I am surprised that they have gone cold and numb on these matters.  May we not wait until we are forced to start convening another conference. Let us learn to be proactive. If we were proactive in 1967, and implemented the ABURI Accord, perhaps we may have averted the Civil war and saved three million lives. My prayer is that no action or omission should extinguish these glimmers of hope for an incipient economic revival. Please join me in saying 'Amen'

   Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa OFR