10 Things to Pay Attention to in 2014 By Tolu Ogunlesi
There’s an ambitious plan for marking Nigeria’s centenary, which the government insists will be private sector led and funded. What I’m not very comfortable with is referring to or regarding it as a “Celebration.” If we are not given to celebrating the Berlin Conference of 1884/5, then why would we be celebrating the Proclamation of 1914, which we now know was not such a noble decision (and which someone once famously referred to as “the mistake of 1914.”)
Instead of ‘celebration’, I think ‘commemoration’ is a much more suitable approach, evoking the solemnity that ought to colour our attitude to 1914. There isn’t very much to be ‘celebrating’ especially considering that a hundred years on we still haven’t worked out a practicable way of sensibly relating with one another as a tenuous assortment of disparate peoples.
2. A post-Sanusi Central Bank
Lamido Sanusi’s tenure as Nigeria’s Central Banker comes to an end in Q2. He is the sort of Central Banker who can boldly pen scathing criticism of the neo-imperialist ways of China while simultaneously leading efforts to convert some of Nigeria’s foreign reserves into Yuan. That powerful blend of bluntness and realism makes him arguably the most colourful central banker in Nigerian history.
The way he took on the bigwigs of a badly-run banking industry was impressive, and inspiring, and will continue to be a standard, I think, for public servants faced with daunting rescue missions. He was decisive, and ambitious – two qualities in short supply in Nigeria’s public sector (it’s necessary to acknowledge that he had the support of President Yar’Adua –a game-changer like no other in a country where powerful vested interests mount checkpoints at every corner of the economy).
Of course, he isn’t without his faults. There were the questionable decisions (those large charitable donations of CBN funds); there was the fact that all of his battles were necessary, or even helpful; and he probably did more talking than was necessary, considering the sensitivity of his position. But no doubt his tenure was – cliché alert – a breath of fresh air. It was nice to know we had one senior government official who could be counted upon for his candour (and eloquence to boot), regardless of who was going to bear the brunt.
Sometime in the second quarter, Sanusi’s successor will be announced. This being Nigeria, talk of a ‘power-shift’ might come up, considering that the last three Central Bankers have been Fulani, Igbo and Yoruba respectively. Gender might also be a factor: will Nigeria follow closely in the steps of the USA (Janet Yellen) and Israel (Karnit Flug) and get its first female Central Banker in 2014?
3. Kongi’s 9th decade
In July, Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka will turn eighty. Expect a bounteous parade of birthday events within and outside Nigeria, in celebration of Nigeria’s first, and only, Nobel Laureate, and the first ever African to win a Nobel in Literature. The passing of Chinua Achebe last year was a startling reminder of the mortality of our heroes and icons. Nigerians will therefore be celebrating Soyinka fully conscious of the fact that we will not have him with us forever.
4. The Year of ‘Oil-ptimism’?
The oil industry will be in the news a great deal, as hopes rise that there will be one last chance to pass the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB).
In 2014 construction is expected to start on the Dangote Refinery Project. If successful, it will be the biggest ever intervention in Nigeria’s downstream oil industry.
There will also some excitement from the marginal fields bid round that opened late 2013; the last time Nigeria auctioned marginal oil fields was 2001. The new bidding process is scheduled to take place in Q1/Q2; we will probably see the emergence of a new set of local players in the upstream oil business; and the consolidation of existing ones, with fresh acquisitions.
All who are ambitious, and can raise cash, take note.
5. For the umpteenth time, let there be light!
We started the year without the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) – it vanished into the history books with the handover, late last year, of its constituent companies to new owners. But as many Nigerians will attest to, the shadow of ‘Please Hold Candle Now’ still looms large. (I for example have virtually given up on public electricity, living almost exclusively on a generator that I imagine will soon work itself into a coma).
But in theory – and I’ve written about this before – the power sector reforms have come quite far; privatisation is on course, the commercial framework of gas and electricity supply is being worked out, and construction work on the NIPP power plants is, according to government accounts, almost completed.
However, the only thing the ordinary Nigerian is concerned about, and legitimately so, is this: when will I see the light? After decades of broken promises, 2014 might actually be the year in which we start to see a difference. Power generation is set to more than double as the ten brand new NIPP plants come on stream and are privatised. We will be holding our breath to see if the grid can accommodate the expected surge.
6. Click here for a million dollars
Internet technologies will continue to redefine the way business is done in Nigeria. Five years ago the names Linda Ikeji and Jason Njoku were virtually unknown. Today they are two of the most prominent faces of internet-enabled entrepreneurship in Nigeria. Linda for her entertainment blog – the most widely read in Nigeria today (and potentially a platform for the beginnings of an internet-age media empire); Jason for his work building the largest online platform for Nollywood movies in the world, and, on the back of that, for his foray into e-commerce (working with partners to fund and build a string of online businesses that will potentially transform the way we approach everything from tourism to shopping to insurance.
In 2014 fortunes will be made – and lost – on the Internet – and no, we aren’t talking about ‘Yahoo-Yahoo’ here.
7. 2014 Sale: Everything Must Go!
Last year the privatisation of the GenCos and DisCos raised more than $3bn for the Federal Government. This year the money will continue to flow; there are the ten NIPP power plants slated to be sold. It is also believed that the four government-owned refineries – bound by disrepair and disuse – will be sold this year.
Nigeria’s banking industry is going to be very busy, no doubt (Much of the GenCo/DisCo privatization funds came from local bank debt). I’ve heard insiders express fears about the possibilities of another round of banking crises based on exposure to power sector debt; but at the moment there’s no evidence that the ongoing scrambling for power deals by the banks will not end up being a fruitful venture.
8. Abuja welcomes the World
Nigeria will be hosting this year’s World Economic Forum for Africa, in May. There will be those asking what the country seeks to benefit from spending all that money. There will also be the argument that it makes sense, as Africa’s second largest economy – and soon to be largest, if plans to rebase the economy go ahead as planned – deserves to host one of the biggest Africa-focused economic events in the world.
It will be an opportunity for President Jonathan and his government to showcase what they consider their greatest achievements to a captive audience of the world’s government and business elite.
9. Good luck on the playing fields of Brazil
The year of the World Cup. Nigeria will again be going to the World Cup with a lot of optimism, on the strength of last year’s Nation’s Cup Win. We will be hoping to at least reach the quarterfinals for the first time.
An outstanding performance at the World Cup will boost Gross Domestic Happiness, and, knowing how the Nigerian mind works, potentially improve President Jonathan’s 2015 electoral chances. A dismal performance, like the one four years ago will very likely help crystallize national anger against him, and undermine his campaign.
10. We the Politicians…
This is the year of presidential declarations. President Jonathan will run for a second term. And of course he is more than entitled to do that, regardless of all the rumours flying around about how he once promised some people he’d only seek one term.
In-built into this democracy should be the realisation that everyone should be able to aspire to the presidency of Nigeria, regardless of where s/he comes from and of what those who consider themselves ‘power brokers’ feel.
Also this year INEC will be busy with the Ekiti and Osun state governorship elections, and we will all be looking to see if any lessons have been learnt from the dangerous and disgraceful proceedings in Anambra last November.
The electoral timetable will also be eagerly awaited; by the terms of the Electoral Act 2010, elections will hold between December 2014 and April 2015.
The Presidency is still the PDP’s to lose, of course; it will be going into the elections with a 10-million-vote lead from 2011 – it’s that commanding lead that a resurgent opposition will be looking to undermine.
Please send/tweet your suggestions on other 2014 events and trends worth paying attention to.
Do not hesitate to leave your opinion in the comment section below.
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