APC’S WELFARE PACKAGE COMMENCES NEXT MONTH.

A MODEST PROPOSAL ON GRAZING AND RANCHING – 2

HAVE BANDIT BANKERS STRUCK AGAIN?

 

“Banka’ toxic assets may hit N3.0 trillion”.
Emeka Anaeto, Economy Editor, VAGUARD, July 17, 2016.

When George Santayana, 1863-1952, warned that “Those who do not remember the past [mistakes] are condemned to repeat it” (VANGUARD BOOK p 93), he did not have Nigeria’s banking sector in mind. In fact, that sector had recorded more high profile crooks than any other since the first authentic Nigerian banks were established in the 1950s by individuals whose names would not be mentioned now. Out of the over twenty indigenous banks established during that period, none had survived till today. In fact, most went under within two or three years. Nigerians with any kind of memory would and old enough, should remember the rash of Community Banks which opened up as part of the Structural Adjustment Programme, SAP, of the Babangida administration. Less than ten still operate today.

Deregulation of banking during IBB’s regime brought a whole rash of financial institutions – commercial banks, investment banks, finance houses etc. When Chief Ernest Shonekan, GCFR, as the Head of Government under Babangida launched the first ever NIGERIA ECONOMIC SUMMIT GROUP, NESG in 1992, the leading lights of that gathering were bankers whose banks were declaring bogus profits, dividends and bonus shares. The toast of the 1992 NESG was one Jimi Lawal, Managing Director of then Alpha Merchant Bank, which apparently had its own mint to print funny money eagerly accepted by the deluded until the dream became a nightmare for all concerned. Laval ran away when the bubble burst he created occurred. Writing in an article, FUNNY MONEY, in VANGUARD on Monday at the time under the title MARKET FACT, my Fellow Nigerians were warned that those declarations by the bankers were falsified and nobody should rely on them. The next banking crisis occurred two years after and the bankers fled leaving millions of Nigerians in ruins and tears.

Below are the comments made right here in VANGUARD on March 2, 1992, at a time when bandit bankers of that era were still being worshipped by the captains of industry and governments of Nigeria.  It was predictive of what followed in 1993 and 1994.

“Despite their cool exteriors knowledgeable bank officials are aware of the time bomb on which they sit. Bank chiefs now sweat under their Saint Laurent suits right down to their Gucci suits and under-wears. Tempers flare at Board and management meetings as the chances of making the required share capital becomes slimmer for some of them.

Resort to private placement and open capital market operations have failed to yield results for quite a lot of them for obvious reasons. All the people who could in¬vest heavily in bank shares have done so either by raiding their personal accounts in established banks or by pawn¬ing precious properties (houses, land, factories, wives, jewelry, blue chip company’s shares etc) for the purchase of bank share in anticipation of quick and substantial dividends as in the good old days. Slowly and painfully many now realize that the. party’s over in banking; they  now realize they may have to wait quite a while recover their original investment; profits will take a little longer still”.

Despite our flattering image of ourselves as one of the most intelligent people on the globe, Nigerians must be among the slowest learners on earth. Incredibly, after what was supposed to be clean-up of the banking sector, bankers, who by then I had defined as “armed robbers in designer suits”, were soon back at their old game. By 1997/8, the sector was in such distress that the Abacha regime had to promulgate the FAILED BANKS decree of 1998 resulting in mass arrest of leading bankers and jailing of some of them who were unlucky not to escape.

Like other banks worldwide whose primary mandate and reason for existence was to create wealth, Nigerian banks had instead, on the whole, created the greatest misery for the greatest number of our citizens. That explains why an unusual percentage of money in circulation is still not in the banking sector. People don’t trust them because they are mostly untrustworthy. Banking in Nigeria is not a profession, it is a racket controlled in every era by a few who have no vision of creating lasting financial institutions.

A MODEST PROPOSAL ON GRAZING AND RANCHING.

“It requires wisdom to understand wisdom; the music is nothing if the audience is deaf.” Walter Lippmann, 1899-1974.
(VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS, VBQ p 275).

It was not too long ago when the nation appeared to be on the verge of a total break-up on account of the activities of herdsmen and the atrocities they have allegedly perpetrated countrywide. Governor Fayose, who speaks first and thinks later (if he thinks at all) had pronounced that grazing was no longer allowed in any part of Ekiti State and became an instant hero to people who would not ordinarily consider him a sage. Similar noises have been raised in other places including on the pages of newspapers by respected columnists. One of them after allowing his own opinion to become “the voice of the people” had ordered Buhari to pack all the cattle to Northern ranches immediately. His position found resonance in editorials and articles written by Southerners. Well, while elections are decided by majority vote, wisdom is not a matter of numbers. The majority can be wrong.

That was why good old Alcuin, 735-804 A.D, warned leaders in words cast on stone. “Nor should we listen to those who say ‘The voice of the people is the voice of God’, for the turbulence of the mob is always close to insanity”. The mob demanding immediate ranching included elder statesmen, governors, columnists, agitators for secession, clergy, sages, professors, and dimwits. Remember “a group without a leader is a mob.” (VBQ p 82).  Because the agitation lacked focused leadership, it had ended up as just a lot of noise and the management of Nigerian livestock had continued as usual. There has been no change and there might never be unless we try a different approach to solving the problem which will remain with us for ever.  Buhari has rightly ignored all the noisemakers because they made no sense.

First, just as there is no reliable census of Nigerians, there is no credible data on the population of Nigerian livestock which would be placed in ranches if that becomes the national policy. One expected “eggheads” in our ivory towers and established columnists to at least understand that little bit. Policy formulation without data is a waste of time especially since it will entail trillions of naira worth of investment to make it work. That is commonsense. Unfortunately, commonsense is not common. Estimates of Nigeria’s cattle population range from fifteen million to thirty million. Just as we learnt back in the 1990s that “Housing for ALL by 2000” was an illusion, because we had no information regarding the number of homeless people, the current “turbulence of the mob” on ranching will come to nothing until we develop the basic data. Those clapping for Fayose for his pronouncement have simply demonstrated that they are not better thinkers than the Governor of Ekiti State. Anybody expecting ranching immediately is living in a fools’ paradise of his own making.

Second, cattle from many countries roam all over the ECOWAS region. At any one point in time, not all the cattle in Nigeria are owned by Nigerians and there might be cattle owned by Nigerians in Chad, Niger, Cameroun and Republic of Benin. A national ranching policy, prohibiting grazing totally, once established, would call for sealing Nigeria’s borders against encroachment from neigbouring countries, and restricting the free movement of people from other countries in Nigeria. Without claiming to be an expert on the ECOWAS Treaty, there is every possibility that such a policy would violate some aspects of the agreements binding all of us in West Africa. That will also cause delay – which could mean months or even years before the details are worked out. In none of the announcements by proponents of ranching have the complexities of the international dimensions been addressed. From the utterances, one would think that Nigeria is an island instead of a nation hemmed in on three sides by other nations which have a stake in the policy decision.

Ignorant Nigerians across the country have relied on the Land Use Act of 1978, which, in the main, made  governors custodians of the land in their states. From that they have jumped to the erroneous conclusion that a state governor can absolutely prevent grazing in his state. A quick look at our history should disabuse them of such notions.

When Alhaji Shehu Shagari became President in 1979, he appointed late Dr Wahab Dosumu as Minister for Housing who immediately embarked on building Shagari Low Income Housing Estates nationwide. Most states readily granted land requests by the National Party of Nigeria, NPN, government’s except one. Late Chief Bola Ige was the governor of Oyo (then including Osun) State – elected on the platform of the Unity Party of Nigeria, UPN. Ige sensing that the NPN might use the housing scheme to attract voters in subsequent elections refused to allocate land to the Federal Government until he was told bluntly by Dosumu that “The Federal Government has the power to acquire land in any part of Nigeria for public purposes and only has to pay compensation. We can even acquire the Governor’s Mansion and we only need to pay compensation.” Ige got the message and quickly granted land at Ikire – which is now in Osun State. Buhari’s government can acquire the Ekiti Governor’s Mansion and turn it to grazing land and the sky will not fall – once compensation is paid. Those playing to the gallery should stop and think about that…..

NPA MD’S APPOINTMENT: THE LAST STRAW –2

When those in office regard the power vested in them as personal prerogative, they inevitably enrich themselves, promote their families, favour their friends…Lee Kuan Yew. (VBQ p2).

I spent at least ten years working and living in the North including residences in at least seven states. As a senior Manager of a large company, I was a member of all the elite Clubs and got to know various families in many states. That was the reason I first became apprehensive about the appointments Buhari was making.  Granted, I did not possess the depth of knowledge demonstrated by Dr Junaid Mohammed who listed several relatives and friends, I was aware of a few including those who were involved in the clandestine recruitment into the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN. I had prayed that the President would put a stop to it. The appointment of Mrs Hadiza Bala-Usman as Managing Director of the Nigeria Ports Authority, NPA, has proved to me conclusively that nepotism is not inadvertent, as previously assumed. It is delibrate and Buhari doesn’t give a damn what other Nigerians think. It is very unfortunate. Appointing an incompetent person to head one of our biggest parastatals is the beginning of my next book; APC: CORRUPTION INCORPORATED. The faith in Buhari is gone..

GUESS WHO IS POINTING FINGERS?

“I am worried that the expectation of the  public is yet to be met by the judiciary…President Buhari, PUNCH, July 20, 2016, back page.

Who has the President not castigated? Ministers, before their appointments were called “noisemakers who only want to help their friends. National Assembly, Civil servants and even the media had been verbally whipped by our self-righteous leader. Even those who sacked him from office in 1985 have come under the hammer.

I just hope Buhari is aware that finger-pointing is perilous business. As you point one at others, four are pointing back. After Mohammed’s disclosure, which nobody had disclaimed, our national leader is risking adding hypocrisy to his list of known faults.  We are also worried that all we are getting are excuses for the poor performance so far.

NPA MD’S APPOINTMENT: THE LAST STRAW.

 

“When those in office regard the power vested in them as personal prerogative, they inevitably enrich themselves, promote their families, favour their friends. The fundamental structures of the modern state are eroded like the supporting beams of a house after termites have attacked them. Then the people have to pay dearly….Lee Kuan Yew, c. 1988. VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS, VBQ p 2.

Yew should need no introduction to those who read widely. He was the Prime Minister of Singapore who took his country from third world status to first world category in one generation. Nigeria will celebrate the 56th anniversary of out independence from Britain on October 1, 2016. In almost two generations, our country which was far more developed than Singapore in 1960 remains grounded in the third world and might even be sliding into the ranks of the fourth world. Fourth world means countries which are either becoming ungovernable or where hope is totally lost by the people in their leaders.

From 2010, when Buhari declared for the presidency under the Congress for Progressive Change, CPC, until now, I had faith in him as the leader who might help us to begin our march towards becoming a first world country. Faith is defined by Elton Trueblood who said, “Faith is not belief without proof; it is trust without reservation.” (VBQ p 55). Despite the mistakes he made as Military Head of State in 1984-5, I still believed that the man had something in him different from others which would provide the foundation for our national redemption. I worked for him in 2011 and again in 2015 focusing attention on Christians, Southerners and Yoruba people – in short, the people having faith in Buhari and who were least likely to listen to me. But, I was undeterred. All his mistakes of the past were forgiven because they were presumed to be inadvertent; meaning human errors.

My joy knew no bounds when in 2014 he emerged as the Presidential candidate of the All Progressive Congress, APC. More people were going to join the effort to get him elected. The task was made much easier by the lackluster performance of Goodluck Jonathan, who had power in his hands and spent five years without knowing what to do with it. Even then, supporting Buhari was not easy. In 2014/2015, I was fighting for a Christian Governor to emerge in Lagos state and for Buhari a Muslim to be elected President. More than one very close friend had queried my “sanity” at the time. The rest is history. Today Lagos has a Christian Governor – who is doing very well, thank you. Nigeria has Buhari as President. That is the heart break. And, of all the appointments that Buhari had made, many of which are questionable and mostly parochial, the appointment of Mrs Bala-Usman as the Managing Director, MD, of the Nigeria Ports Authority, NPA, is the last straw that has eroded so much of the trust reposed in Buhari. It took me over two hours after the news report was made to be able to speak to anybody. And, it was a call from one church leader in a small community in Lagos State who had campaigned with us for Buhari and who had earlier become disenchanted with the President, which brought me to my senses. “Have you heard the bad news about NPA from your friend Buhari?” That was the question. “I have and I am sorry”. That was my answer. I never thought I would ever find myself apologizing to others about anything done by a politician because they were always kept at arms length out of two abiding beliefs. First, “You cannot adopt politics as a profession and be honest” (L. Howe, 1871-1936, VBQ p 192) and, second, “Politicians are their own grave diggers” (Will Rogers, 1879-1935, VBQ p 191).

But, with Jonathan in charge Nigeria was headed for the graveyard if nothing was done. Buhari was the only option available and his past suggested he might save the situation. Now, it appears that what we have is Problem Has Changed Name, PHCN. Jonathan was nepotistic; but at least, he appointed people who on paper were qualified to head important Ministries and parastatals. NPA is our biggest cash cow in terms of generating foreign exchange – apart from the oil sector. Its operations are global and extremely complex. Nobody who has never managed a huge business organization with global reaches can master it in ten years or more. I should know because of research being conducted into the operations of the NPA. It has taken six years and we are still unable to understand the inner workings of that gargantuan organization. Is that the same NPA to be headed by a total novice and incompetent? Certainly not.
But, just in case defenders of the President want to excuse the indefensible by anchoring their statements on the anti-corruption campaign, I have bad news for them. It is open secret who sponsored the young lady to be appointed to that position. Governor El-Rufai of Kaduna State is the “god-father”. She had been with him since 1999 when el-Rufai was appointed to head the Bureau of Public Enterprises, BPE. President Buhari and everybody else interested in what happed to NITEL, thanks to El-Rufai, should go and read Chapter 8 of my book, PDP: CORRUPTION INCORPORATED. Beg, borrow or steal, just read it and you will discover that Buhari is risking his hard-earned reputation by associating with some people. The young lady was first featured at the time, together with El-Rufai in one of the most brazenly audacious assaults on the public purse. The entire episode was one of the most corrupt in Nigeria’s history. Furthermore, my files are full of questionable and documented activities involving El-Rufai in the past which question Buhari’s posture as a corruption fighter.

Buhari recently lamented attacks on his Ministers, and perhaps by extension, his advisers and close associates. It was an error of judgment. No President is elected to defend his appointees. Appointees thinking they have suffered defamation should seek redress in the courts, and not cry on the President’s shoulders. And, if they can’t stand the heat, they should get out of the kitchen. Public life is not abed of roses…

RESTRUCTURING IS INEVITABLE; IRRESPECTIVE OF WHO IS AGAINST IT NOW – 2

“In a sick country, every step to health is an insult to those who live on its sickness.” Bernard Malamud, in THE FIXER.

If you look hard enough, there are usually historical parallels to every issue confronting people in any country at any one point in time. And invariably, the issues have always been resolved by the forces at work. Kings, emperors, Prime Ministers and Presidents taking one position or another later become minor entries in the march of history. Nigeria is only 102 years old and young compared to nations that were stitched together by conquerors but which later broke apart by forces too powerful for their rulers to hold together after a while.

When Nigerian presidents, Obasanjo, Jonathan and now Buhari, declare that the unity of Nigeria is non-negotiable, they presume to have a longer life time than the country itself. The negotiations might not take place in a president’s life time, but that does not mean it will never occur. One example will help in this regard. Late Nelson Mandela, wrote a book, TIME IS LONGER THAN ROPE, which was smuggled out of South Africa and was recommended for a course I took on African Politics in 1966 as an undergraduate in the US. The Prime Minister of South Africa, at the time, had frequently announced that whites would never dismantle the apartheid system and Africans will never be allowed to vote, never mind run, in elections for Prime Minister. Mandela’s reply to him was the titled of that book.

NIGERIA’S ECONOMIC OUTLOOK FOR THE REST OF 2016.

 

“We are simply saying that we have a very credible plan for dealing with the challenges we are facing, which we’ve been very honest about…there is still a long way to go…diversifying and repositioning” will bear fruit..”.
Minister of Finance, PUNCH, July 25, 2016, p 40.

That the Nigerian economy is in a recession is no longer news. In fact, for some of us, it was predictable, even long before the Economic Management Team was aware that it was on the way. The International Monetary Fund, IMF, recently projected contraction of 1.8% for 2016. The Federal Government while not officially contesting the IMF estimates still clings to the faint hope that “the economy will show recovery in the third quarter of this year” (Mrs Adeosun). One month of that quarter is over and there is no sign of recovery simply because there is no money to bring about a rebound. The statements quoted above raise the question: what is the outlook for the rest of 2016? Asking government officials is useless. They will be the last to forecast bad news. They prefer the unpleasant surprise first and they can offer excuses after for the failure.

In the report by PUNCH, Mrs Adeosun, is on her way to the World Bank , cap in hand, to present the nation’s policy support document which would make it possible for us to source for $11bn [N387bn] from the external financial markets to help plug the hole created by budget deficits already incurred this year. Before addressing the statements credited to the Minister, we need to quickly summarise where the nation stood as at the end of the first four months and then make projections for the rest of the year. Those figures will help us in deciding how much reliance we can place on the utterances of what the President calls his Economic Management Team, EMT.

In that same PUNCH, President Buhari reportedly asked, obviously in anger, ‘What do they mean by team? The Vice-President heads our economic management team.” It probably never occurred to Buhari that the question keeps occurring because most Nigerians with vast experience in economics and finance don’t think much about the quality of his “team”. To be quite candid, it is lightweight compared to others in the past and there has been nothing to induce confidence in the group. The VP is a magnificent lawyer but nobody has ever accused him of being a great economist; the same goes for the Ministers of Finance, Budget and Trade. Even the CBN Governor is a banker and one of the best bankers Nigeria has ever produced, Mr Atedo Peterside, during the race for banking consolidation in 2004/5 told the truth that “it is much more difficult to be a great economist than to be a banker.” At any rate, the CBN Governor is only responsible for monetary policy. Without sound fiscal policy, which the President, or his surrogate (in this case the VP) and the Minister of Finance provide, the economy is like a bird flying with one wing.

Until recently, the CBN Governor was even prevented from introducing the measures required to soften the impact of an inevitable recession by a President who adamantly refused to consider devaluation of the currency until it was almost too late. Nobody on the EMT had the guts to argue until Buhari went to London and was persuaded. Even then the CBN “floated” the currency and only recently permitted market forces to determine the rates. These were the pre-conditions imposed by the global financial markets from which we seek the loans. We wasted precious time and Mrs Adeosun is now just on her way to start discussions which should have been concluded in April. This is the end of July and the funds will not start to flow, if at all,  until August by which time our debt burden would have increased and our ability to repay would have been further impaired.

A quick look at the results for the first four months suggest the economy is in far worse condition than anybody envisaged. In fact, the results are so off the mark the 2016 budget might as well be thrown into the dust bin. Nothingdone from August to December would redeem it.

Against a revenue budget of N1.5tn, the actual revenue generated was N660bn or 44% of budget and the deficit was N890bn or -56%. Results for May and June are not yet available, but, one needs no doctorate in economics to realize that the trend started in January and continued to April had not been reversed. Governments still have no money to spend. No major new private investment had occurred, aggregate consumption is either stagnant or declining and foreign exchange inflow is low. All the variables which can stimulate a reversal were going down and there is no light at the end of the dark tunnel.

Mrs Adeosun, like all government officials, is forced to be optimistic, even if there is no evidence to support her predictions.  When she claims that “a boost in [agricultural] output is expected this year”, one is forced to ask if she had consulted the Meteorological Services who would have told her that the nation, on the whole, has experienced the lowest rainfall in decades this year. “Low cost loans to farmers” is more fiction than real and “improved distribution” can only take place if there is any fertilizer to distribute in the first place. For most of the year, farmers have had little fertilizer supplied. How can imaginary boost in agricultural output help to “bridge the shortfall in oil revenue” as she falsely claimed? The outlook for the rest of 2016 is discouraging because what the President’s Economic Management Team announces is pure drivel.

DIVING HEADLONG INTO ANOTHER DEBT TRAP – 2

“It is no longer news that the Nigerian is in dire straits. As corporate organizations are groaning, so are citizens lamenting. Worse still, not many people believe that the government is working at the desired pace to get the country out of the woods.”
THE NATION, Editorial, July 11, 2016, p 17.

Popularity, real or imagined, is the opium of the political classes. The only way to wound a politician’s ego is to tell him that he is no longer popular or that his popularity is nosing downwards. Two weeks ago, President Buhari announced that the goodwill he started with among Nigerians is still intact. That shows the reader what the shift from candidate to President can do to anybody. As the Chief Self-admiring Officer of Aso Rock, he thereafter assumes that everything done by him commands total support and only detractors or those who don’t wish his government.
Government means him because like Louis XIV, 1638-1715, every African President believes that “L’Etat C’est moi”, or I am the state”. So to state that people no longer believe him amounts to proclaiming that they no longer believe in the country. Pity Buhari; because as Francis Bacon, 1561-1626, had observed, “The arch-flatterer, with whom all the petty flatterers have intelligence, is a man’s self.” (VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS, VBQ p 61). Buhari and his closest advisers, appointed or not, are entitled to their delusions, but as an ardent supporter since 2011 and active member of several Non-Government Organisations, NGOs, established to promote his election, it can be stated authoritatively that many of the supporters of the President and the party he represented are now living in shock. There is nothing comforting in being mocked by people whose lives have taken a turn for the worse saying “You asked for change and you’ve got it”. Nobody campaigned for a change for the worse and nobody promised it. Among other things, the economy has taken a turn for the worse – irrespective of the excuses being offered.

The place to start is the economy and the NATION’s editorial which sums up pretty much what most economists and financial experts think on the subject. The President only needs to go back to the July and August 2014 editions of the paper, when he was just the candidate of the All Progressives Congress, APC, and its ringing endorsement of his party and himself to understand how much confidence his government had lost among his strongest supporters in the past. Even when the alarming economic indices stumble upon each other, the Federal Government carries on as if nothing has changed.

Last week, for the fifth time, the Minister of Finance had been castigated for setting a bad example for the states by adopting a “borrow-and-spend” fiscal policy. Today, readers will see how far down the road to financial hell that policy had taken us. For the first time since the debt-redemption of 2004, made possible by Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nigeria has a Federal Minister of Finance who apparently does not believe there is a limit to borrowing – as long as you can find somebody “stupid” enough to lend you money or coerce the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, to cough out more funds through Ways and Means. Take a look at some of the raw figures which should scare anybody whose thinking cap is straight on.

The Minister is a member of the Economic Management Team headed by the Vice President, VP. So, that might be the place to start analyzing how we got into the woods which the NATION mentioned. The VP, long before the Ministers were appointed, had announced at a retreat that the 2016 budget might be up to N8 trillion –setting off alarms in financial circles. The 2015 budget was just about N4.3 trillion and it was already clear that the revenue estimates were unlikely to be met. The price of crude and exports in 2015 were also higher than the 2016 expectations. How was the huge budget increase going to be financed? The answer was prompt: borrowing more money.
By the time the 2016 budget was passed, after all the comedy about padding, two facts were indisputable. The price of crude will stay down and the volume, set at 2.2 million per day, will not be realized. Larger deficit loomed. How was that to be financed? More borrowing. The N6 trillion budget submitted and passed contained N500 billion Social Welfare package of giveaway programmes. That is 8.3 per cent of the budget was going to be financed, not from Internally Generated Revenue, IGR, but from more borrowing.

This year’s budget called for N1.8 trillion to be borrowed – about 50% from domestic and external sources. Yet, according to the Debt Management Office, DMO, about 30 per cent of domestic debt or N2.6 trillion is due for repayment this year. That alone should frighten all of us. External debts coming die have not been factored into the account. When that is done, almost 60 per cent of this year’s total budget would be required to pay off debts. Nobody needs to be a financial expert to predict that Nigeria is at the risk of defaulting on some loans due this year. If that does not send shivers down anybody’s spine, then consider this. The Secretary to the Federal Government, SFG, recently disclosed that aggregate revenue this year is down by about 50% from estimates. If the trend continues, or gets worse, total revenue for 2016 might be just about sufficient to pay this year’s debts as we go around seeking for more loans.

If that is not financial recklessness, would somebody please tell us what this is? Buhari was not elected on account of his economic sagacity. Nigerians, however, expect he would appoint the best people he can find to handle that aspect and monitor the results closely. That has not happened. Nigerians will pay dearly for it.

“The rate of change in our time is so swift, that an individual of ordinary length of life, will be called on to face novel situations, which have no parallel in the past. The fixed person for the fixed duties, who in the old society was such a “God-send”, will in the future be a public danger.”
Alfred North Whitehead, 1861-1947.
“Those who make peaceful [change] impossible, will make violent [change] inevitable.” President John Kennedy, 1917-1963.

Kennedy’s statement, perhaps his most widely quoted observation, slightly amended, not to frighten people, was made to Latin American diplomats on March 12, 1962. It is a befitting reminder to those who are opposed to the idea of restructuring Nigeria today – including President Buhari and Vice President Osinbajo. If it needs repeating, I was a fanatical Buhari supporter from 2011 till recently. And, until a better leader emerges, Buhari, with all his faults (and they keep growing daily), still has my vote. However, when the issue is restructuring, he can forget about me for support. In fact, I can state categorically that restructuring is inevitable.

Just in case anybody thinks this is a Christian or Southern issue, let me remind readers what happened when Obasanjo as President once proclaimed that the unity of Nigeria was not negotiable. I wrote an article pointing out to him that neither his father, whose birth date he does not know, nor mine who was born in 1890, was born a Nigerian. My grandfather who was born in 1828 was even far removed from any geographical expression (apologies to Awolowo) called Nigeria. If one bloody Englishman can gather my ancestors together and name them Nigerians, why can I not reject that name? After all, I was christened Jacob, I dropped it for Biola in 1960. Why can we not seat at a conference to determine what we want to be called?Why for God’s sake.

At any rate, restructuring is inevitable and the signs of a total breakdown of the existing structure are there for all to see. Only a liar would deny that the present federal structure of thirty-six (36) states and seven hundred and seventy-four (774) Local governments had long lost its usefulness and necessity. Even that structure was imposed on “captured” Nigerians by badly educated military Heads of State, HoS – starting with Gowon. A brief history is necessary at this point.

All the military HoS, leading armed robbers of the peoples sovereignty, except Buhari and Abubakar, had by fiat, and at the point of guns trained at us, forced us to accept state creation accomplished on basis that were never discussed with the people. Gowon took us from four regions to twelve states. Murtala/Obasanjo increased the number of states to nineteen. Babangida, the most destructive of them all, started by adding two – to make it twenty-one states. Then, in one fit of rage, jumped to thirty states. Abacha finished the demolition job by adding six more to take us to the present situation. Each time the state multiplication took place, the governors and other officials of the new states were allowed to earn the same salaries and other entitlements as the original states. So today, the governors of Osun and Oyo each take home the same amount the Oyo governor earned before the break-up. Anambra State had become Anambra, Enugu and Ebonyi states in the hands of the military destroyers. Sokoto had given birth to Kebbi, Sokoto and Zamfara. In the process, they created all the economically unviable states which had been dependent on crude oil revenue and which cannot now exist on their own as the price of crude had gone to the basement. Yet, there is no light at the end of the dark tunnel.

The states have collapsed as economic units and nothing in the near future will revive them. The Federal government, like a father dressed in rags, wanting to bail-out his equally destitute kids, cuts a sorry figure and will end up making things worse for all concerned. If Buhari’s military colleagues got us into this mess, why on earth can’t we get ourselves out of it without one of them standing in the way of the only meaningful change Nigeria needs today.
It is not only the states, created by those who did not love Nigeria, that are in dire straits. The Federal Government itself is in a big mess. All those talking about diversification forget that it requires peace and loads of money to achieve that. Peace has eluded us for some time and is not in sight. Money we certainly don’t have. We don’t even have the money that would be required to pay all the debt due for this year – with aggregate revenue only sixty per cent of what was budgeted by wishful thinkers in November/December last year. They were warned that the budget was over-ambitious. But, as usual they refused to listen. A Federal Government going begging is not the one to lead the way to diversification or anything else. Those truths point to a need to take another look at the fundamental structure of governance in Nigeria.

“Once to every man and nation comes the moment to decide, in the strife of truth and falsehood…” James Russell Lowell, 1819-1891. (VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS, VBQ, p 254)
This is not a matter of being for or against Buhari. I like Buhari and this is stated not because I am afraid of anything. After what Abacha did to me, nobody scares me anymore. But, I like the truth more. As the states collapse one by one, restructuring will become inevitable. Buhari is standing in front of a moving train. “An invasion of armies can be resisted, but not an idea whose time has come.” Victor Hugo, 1802-1885.

MANAGING STREET TRADING IN NIGERIA –2

“The intention is not to take food away from anybody’s mouth. It is to make sure that a megacity like Lagos aiming to be a smart city cannot allow the level of degeneration that we have on our highways”.
Mr Steve Ayorinde, Lagos State Commissioner for Information.
“The government seems to be fighting on the part of the oppressors..the government does not look at the issue of reckless driving anymore; the government has shifted its attention away from drivers who do not obey traffic rules.” Mr Debo Adeniran, of Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders.

The two statements were lifted from the CROSSFIRE edition of July 10, 2016, on pages 12 and 13 of PUNCH and they illustrate how many different perspectives there are on street trading and what should be done about it. Steve and Debo could just as easily have been Commissioner and “Concerned Citizen” from any state of Nigeria. Obviously, the fact that there are different views on the matter would indicate to governors wanting to enact and enforce such laws to pause before proceeding. The chances are they will legislate in vain. Just as obvious is the need for mediators to emerge in every state to work out compromises which might work better.

Ayorinde and Adeniran would appear to take two extreme positions which on the surface are totally irreconcilable. But, on second thoughts, they are not. One thing those holding the two positions can agree upon is the fact that total ban and unlimited street trading are not only unworkable, they are not mutually exclusive. Compromises can be reached which meet the needs of each city, town and even village or community. Those compromises must be found and nurtured for the benefit of the people of Nigeria which remains a nation of street traders.
Since government is in the best position to act, let me point out a flaw in the statement made by my former “pen-pusher” colleague, Steve Ayorinde. Stating that government has no intention to take food from peoples’ mouth is meaningless when it introduces a law which does precisely that to millions of people living in the state. Good intentions are never enough. In fact, one of the oldest sayings has warned us that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” If care is not taken we might be on the road to hell on this issue.
And to Adeniran, a question will point to the fault in his position which seems to divert from the issue involved. Is it because there are no reckless drivers, hold-ups and accidents on the world’s best known major highways that we don’t have street trading on them? The answer is a clear NO!. Street traders don’t emerge on American British, French and even South African highways because those societies have cautioned their traders and they observe limits. Unlimited street trading is inimical to every society. It must be checked by all of us.
The rest of us can help by refusing, as start, to buy anything offered on the major highways in our cities.

DIVING HEADLONG INTO ANOTHER DEBT TRAP

 

“History never repeats itself; man does.” Barbara Tuchmann; Harvard University History Professor on 13th and 14th century European history.

There are two Ministries scaring the hell out of a lot of experts these days — the Ministries of Justice and Finance. Right now, it is difficult to know which of the two will finish us in first. This is not the Law page, comments on the activities of the Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation will be left to others versed in litigation. Finance is another matter and here what is easily discernible is that the Federal Government is setting a bad example in fiscal irresponsibility for the states by adopting a “borrow-and-spend” policy. If it needs to be repeated, if for no other reason than for the records, the Minister of Finance has embarked on a self-imposed assignment of rescuing states which had fallen into disrepute on account of fiscal irresponsibility. That is not, and should never be, part of her responsibilities. She should be told to leave the states strictly alone instead of drawing them into a debt trap from which most will find it to escape in the future.  Her latest escapade is already inducing the sort of consequences many experts predicted when she negotiated the N90 billion loan on their behalf. The last time the Federal government negotiated loans on behalf of states was in 1993/4 when the Babangida administration imposed the National Water Rehabilitation Loan Scheme on the thirty states then in existence. It became a heavy burden on the states and in the end the scheme was a colossal failure. Mrs Adeosun is embarking on another adventure which will get the states nowhere.

Ordinary elementary school arithmetic suggests that N90 billion for 36 states comes to N2.5 billion per state. Most states owe several months’ salaries — far more than N2.5 billion can liquidate. Obviously, after paying one month’s arrears of salaries, the states will be back where they started. So, what happens next? Another loan? This is not financial management; this is fiscal irresponsibility.

Nothing has supported that view more than the fact that the first six states to apply for loans, under the scheme, have requested for about N60 billion or 66 per cent of what is available. Are the remaining thirty states supposed to make do with 34 per cent when they are ready to apply? Or would the Federal Ministry of Finance get itself involved in allocating the insufficient funds and risk getting the Federal Government accused of favouring some states?  More to the point, Governor Ajimobi of Oyo State after applying for N14.6 billion quickly pointed out that it will not permanently solve the state’s problems. What it will certainly do is to add to the state’s debt burden which will have to be discharged with rapidly declining aggregate revenue.
That said; Nigerians need to see the situation in which the nation finds itself clearly. So, a quick summary is necessary. But, before that a brief history is also essential.

When in 2004, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, as the Federal Minister for Finance negotiated Nigeria’s exit, “Nexit”, from crippling debt trap, few people were aware that the debt burden of US$36 billion started from a mere US$2.8 billion taken by Obasanjo’s military government in 1978. At the time, acting on the advice of “technocrats”, who assured that the country was “under-borrowed” (meaning we had not borrowed enough), they persuaded the government that the loan could easily be repaid. The price of crude then was near record (for that era) at over USS18 per barrel. Obasanjo’s exit, followed by the wasteful and corrupt government of President Shehu Shagari, increased the debt burden simultaneously as the price of crude was going steadily down. When late Chief Obafemi Awolowo warned the Shagari administration early in 1983 that the economy was heading for a crash, the sage was asked to shut up. By December 1983, it was clear to all, but fools and liars that the economic crash had occurred. Buhari and his co-conspirators seized power and inherited an economy in distress made harsher by the nation’s inability to pay its accumulated debt.

Babangida, IBB, followed Buhari and introduced the humiliating debt-rescheduling programme under which unpaid debt was rolled over with interest and penalties were imposed by our creditors. By the time Abacha took over from IBB, the debt had amounted to over US$30 billion. Between Abacha and Abubakar another US$6 billion was added. But, the “hand of God” was on the way to help the country out. The last two years of Abacha and Abubakar and Obasanjo’s first term witnessed a steady increase in the global price of crude oil as the world economy expanded by more than 4% annually and the demand for crude grew exponentially. For once we were earning more than our annual budget and could save and pay our current debts. By 2004, we had accumulated over US$36 billion in external reserves, most of which Okonjo-Iweala used to get us out of debt – with a strong warning to governments which will follow Obasanjos. The warning briefly summarized was: cut your coat according to your cloth; and save. Unfortunately, it was a lesson lost on the next two successors to Obasanjo – especially to President Goodluck Jonathan. His government combined alarming profligacy with unprecedented grand larceny to bring us to where we are today.

Jonathan re-introduced the “borrow-and-spend carelessly” concept of governance and operated as if corruption is a virtue to be supported by government. The country is paying dearly for it. Despite the fact that the price of crude oil reached its highest level, US$143 per barrel, in 2012/2013, and averaged over US$100 per barrel in the five years Jonathan ruled, the country’s external reserves plummeted disastrously. Despite warnings by well-meaning observers that the price of crude was undergoing another cyclical downturn, GEJ went on spending and wasting as if nothing has changed. By 2015, it was clear to Nigerians as well as foreigners that a change of leadership was inevitable if the nation was to survive.  The change of leader came, but, unfortunately, the “borrow-and-spend” policy persists till today. That is the problem….

 

“The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets and to steal bread.” Anatole France, 1844-1924. (VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS p120.
History has recorded that the law, even in today’s Europe (before Brexit) has failed miserably to totally wipe out sleeping under bridges, begging in the streets and stealing bread. Napoleon Bonaparte, 1769-1821, emperor of most of Europe, at one time, once scornfully called the British “a nation of shopkeepers”. If a modern day Napoleon were to come to Nigeria and travel all our thirty-six states as well as the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, he could, with irrefutable justification describe Nigeria as a nation of street traders. From Abia to Zamfara, with the exception of farming, no other means of employment engages our people than street trading. Having traveled to all the thirty-six states more than ten times each, this columnist and compulsive traveler can state with absolute certainty that if a census of street traders is ever undertaken in Nigeria, it will reveal nothing less than 40 million people involved in what some states now want to criminalize. Furthermore, it is the only means of employment available to that large number of people – without which they will simply starve to death. If Nigerian street traders were to be a country, they would be one of the largest nations in the world – the second largest in Africa. Think of that for a moment.
To some extent, the states which had enacted laws banning street trading and begging (that is an issue for another day), although seemingly applying them equally to all, are to some extent elitist. The street trading laws in Nigeria also forbid Dangote, Elumelu, Otedola and Atiku from street trading; just as they prohibit Dauda in Ningi, Ngozi in Onitsha, Ochefu in Makurdi, and Salami in Ibadan from doing so. To that extent they are seemingly not discriminatory. However, when Madam Ngozi, serving proxy for millions of such traders, opens shop to sell cooked Dangote noodles on the street at Nkpor, Dangote is the major beneficiary of the trade; more than the cook. Cold Coke, Pepsi and Fanta sold to sweating commuters held up in traffic, anywhere in Nigeria, serve several social purposes whose discussion need not delay us here. But, Coca-Cola and Seven-UP, whose managers will never get arrested, benefit more than the vendors of those goods.

Perhaps one fact which had eluded the framers of the laws is the operation of the principle of self-preservation. When the state forbids millions of people who have no other means of earning their daily bread to stop doing so, it is inherently asking them to “go and die” (as one Governor told a street trader in full view of cameras and journalists). Though the governor belatedly “explained” himself, in reality, he  uttered what other governors feel about poor street traders. They would rather have clean streets even if it means the traders go and die. That brings us to a question.
Who are the people governments are elected to satisfy? Alfred North Whitehead, 1861-1947, had observed that “Governments are best classified by considering who are the “somebodies” they are, in fact, endeavoring to satisfy.” Applying that principle to the states and the FCT which had attempted to ban street trading without success, one can ask: who are the expected beneficiaries of the laws? There are more street traders than any other class of workers. Certainly, more than the Dangotes and Otedolas. We know the victims of the laws; they include the traders themselves and their dependents which would swell the population of sufferers to over 80 million. That is almost half of our population who would be adversely affected by rigorous enforcement.

Governments are among the major beneficiaries because street trading indisputably promotes monumental environmental problems. A recent global report which ranked Onitsha and Aba among the world’s dirtiest twenty cities, merely confirms what those of us who had spent decades in marketing consumer goods know –Onitsha and Aba constitute the spark plug of trade in Nigeria. Mountains of packaging materials end up in those two cities everyday challenging, and obviously overcoming, States and Local governments. The major beneficiaries of the mountains of filth in Onitsha and Aba are the manufacturers located in Lagos and Ogun States. How Lagos and Ibadan managed to escape being included among the dirtiest cities is a mystery to me. But, be that as it may, governments want to maintain a clean environment and street trading negates all efforts to achieve that environment.

Motorists constitute another segment wanting street trading banned to allow free movement of traffic. But, here there is a clear divergence of perspectives between those driving their private cars and those engaged in commuter transport and their passengers. The drivers want to move as fast as possible but the passengers want to shop on the go. For the passengers especially in traffic hold-ups, on hot days, buying those cold drinks in indispensable. After all, the hold-up was not their fault.

Without belabouring the point, it is clear that governments cannot successfully ban street trading. In fact, the only way any government in Nigeria will succeed is to build gas chambers and ask the traders to voluntarily walk into them. For too many millions of our Fellow Nigerians, street trading is the only means of livelihood and asking them to stop amounts to requesting for voluntary euthanasia. It won’t happen and governments might as well try another approach.

The first step in “thinking out of the box” is to accept that the current approach is not working and for the reasons (too many people involved and no jobs as alternatives) stated above will NEVER work. The recent re-statement of the law by the Lagos State Government and the obvious almost total defiance would serve as the take-off point for how we might collectively manage this monster of a problem. Tough talk will not do it and the second part will demonstrate why we should discard it before government is shown to be powerless.
Why am I starting with Lagos, instead of any of the other cities in Nigeria, all known to me? The reason is simple: charity always begins at home. This is my state and it will eventually face a more difficult task than Onitsha and Aba in the future and might become dirtier.

PDP AND THE SHIP OF FOOLS

Folly is matter, and cannot be destroyed. Destroy its form and it takes another. Horace Walpole, 1717-1797. (VBQ p 61).

One of the mysteries facing historians in the future about our era must be how to explain that the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, which started with the G-34, a bunch of the brightest and best leaders in Nigeria degenerated to the point where it is now led by bumbling morons called leaders. Dr Alex Ekwueme, former Vice President was the founding leader and he once fondly called the PDP “my baby”. He was not the only founding father still alive today.

One would have thought that the present contenders for leadership, having reached a stalemate, would, like the Biblical prodigal son go to the founding fathers still alive and beg them to take back the party. But, no; they don’t have sense. They want to continue on the path of self-destruction. Ordinarily, that should be no concern of mine. But, they are also driving us towards a one-party and one-man dictatorship. When they do, I hope they will be the first people to be consumed by it.