Like a Thief in the Night By Simon Kolawole

Unprecedented. Dictatorial. Needful. Nigerians have deployed different adjectives to describe the overnight search of the homes of “corrupt” judges, including Supreme Court justices, by the Department of State Services (DSS). The DSS, on its part, said it was a “sting operation” — even when no suspect was caught in the act. DSS was obviously taught Use of English by the Nigerian army which recently said Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau was “fatally wounded” — but did not die! Well, if no death is involved, then it is not fatal. Simple. One man recently said he had a “domestic accident” on Lagos-Ibadan expressway. After all, English is not our language!

Unprecedented. Never in the history of Nigeria have homes of judges, including serving Supreme Court justices, been searched to obtain evidence of corruption. Never have Supreme Court justices been arrested on the allegations of corruption. Also unprecedented is the alleged discovery of millions of raw dollars and naira in the homes of judges. So many unprecedented things are happening in our country these days. How would the judges be tried? That is also unprecedented: taking serving Supreme Court justices to a magistrate or high court. The justices are livid with rage. They clearly never thought this could happen to them too. It used to happen to mere mortals.

Dictatorial. The centre point of the argument of many of those opposed to the DSS action is that President Muhammadu Buhari is becoming a full-blown dictator and is using state agencies to implement intimidation. There are fears that Nigeria is lapsing into a police state where security agencies are freely used to scare the hell out of everybody. In a democracy, many argue, civil institutions such as the police force, EFCC and ICPC should be allowed to engage directly with citizens when laws are broken. Involving the military, as we saw in the Zaria massacre of December 2015, will never end well. Unleashing the DSS, many have said, will also not end well.

I’m aware that many are pushing the “rule of law” argument out of ulterior motives — but I agree with them, in toto, that we are in real danger of dictatorship when DSS begins to take the centre stage in matters that could have been handled by EFCC or ICPC. (I do not trust the police with corruption cases, so I have left them out of the equation so that they can focus on armed robbery.) The DSS has the tendency to overdo things. Its operatives believe they are above the law and can do anything they like. A DSS operative once pulled the gun on my wife and myself for jogging on the road in front of their office at Shangisha, Lagos. We were a few seconds from premature death.

Nevertheless, those making the “separation of powers” argument are missing the point completely. I heard someone complain that there is “separation of powers in democracy” and, therefore, the executive should allow the judiciary to deal with its own cases of corruption. To start with, separation of powers means the three arms of government have their distinct functions: the legislature makes the law, the executive implements the law and the judiciary punishes those who break the law. Therefore, the legislature does not convict offenders, the judiciary does arrest lawbreakers, and the executive does not make laws.

Of course, roles overlap on occasion: the executive issues “executive orders” that tend to be laws on their own; cases settled at the Supreme Court which are not covered by existing legislations are essentially laws (“case laws”), although lawmakers can formally turn them to laws or make new laws to cover the loopholes; and the legislature is empowered to issue bench warrants for the arrest of public officers who refuse to honour its invitations — but it is still the executive, as represented by the police, that will carry out the arrest. That is the doctrine of separation of powers: no arm of government should do the job of the other.

It must also be noted that this is purely a presidential democracy concept. In the parliamentary system of government, the Westminster type practised in the UK which Nigeria inherited in 1960 before discarding in 1979, the legislature and executive are fused: ministers are picked from the parliament. Also, the House of Lords — the upper legislative chamber — was the final court of appeal in the British judicial system until the establishment of the Supreme Court in 2009. To equate separation of powers with democracy is, thus, a complete misconception. We don’t stand to lose anything by making our arguments within the facts.

As for those saying the National Judicial Council (NJC) should be the only body punishing the judges and anything else is a violation of the rule of law, I disagree. NJC deals with issues of ethics in the judiciary but the state can prosecute crimes committed by judges. The medical and dental council deals with ethics in the medical profession, but does that mean the police cannot arrest a doctor for murder? Does having a press council mean the police cannot arrest a journalist for blackmail and extortion? And, by the way, where are those who applauded the DSS for withdrawing operatives from Speaker Aminu Tambuwal after defecting to APC in 2014?

Needful. Many who support the DSS action have argued that the end justifies the means. They don’t mind if the rule of law is tampered with as long as the motive is to fight corruption. It is said that when Nigerians are committing the crime, they don’t remember the rule of law, but as soon as they are called to serve the time, they begin to wave the constitution in our face. Actually, many people who have been involved in court cases, especially election petitions, are unable to describe the extent of corruption in the judiciary. Some prominent lawyers specialise in bribing judges. Only God knows how many heartless billionaire judges and lawyers we have produced since 1999.

You see judges of equal jurisdiction granting opposing injunctions, even when we, non-lawyers, can tell that this is completely out of order. You see judges issuing perpetual injunctions that a former governor should not be quizzed or arrested over corruption allegations. Can you imagine that a governor has immunity from prosecution while in office, and the immunity continues after he has left office? Where was NJC? That is the perfidy that has been perpetrated by Nigerian judges. And what has the NJC done, if I may ask, apart from reprimand or retire rouge judges — while their loot remains intact and they walk free and become consultants? Is this the definition of justice?

Finally, can DSS dabble into corruption cases? The National Security Agencies Act of 1986 says in section 3(a) that the agency shall be charged with responsibility for the prevention and detection within Nigeria of any crime against “internal security”. So is corruption a matter of “internal security”? I would think DSS is duplicating the duties of EFCC and ICPC. But section 3(c) of the Act allows the National Assembly and the president to determine what constitutes “internal security”. To be clear, it was under former President Goodluck Jonathan that the DSS set up its anti-graft unit. Remember the case of ex-Jigawa governor Sule Lamido and his sons? Good.

Now to my takes on these arguments. One, judges, lawyers, priests and anybody else except governors, deputy governors, president and vice-president can be arrested for corruption, according to our laws. Two, it is not only the NJC that can or should punish erring judges. A disciplinary body cannot replace the courts — although the NJC itself is insisting on being the sole authority. Three, while tradition was broken by the DSS search, no law was violated since they reportedly secured search warrants from a court of law. Four, henceforth, the DSS should focus its attention on “internal security” and give whatever corruption evidence it has to EFCC and ICPC.

I would conclude by warning that the DSS must be restrained in its conduct. Invading citizens’ homes at midnight and breaking down walls and doors will only make sense if the DSS is dealing with terrorists, drug lords and other dangerous criminals. The DSS could have achieved the same result by simply going to the judges’ homes at 9am, knocking on the door, serving them court warrants and carting away the “evidence”. The resort to excessive use of force and violence is an overzealous display of power which traumatised us in the days of military rule. We must resist any attempt to normalise these Gestapo-inspired operations in a democracy. Draconian.

“DSS must be restrained in its conduct. Invading citizens’ homes at midnight and breaking down walls and doors will only make sense if the DSS is dealing with terrorists, drug lords and other dangerous criminals”

AND FOUR OTHER THINGS…

AISHA’S STUNNER
Are you as shocked as I am over the BBC interview with the first lady, Mrs Aisha Buhari, in which she effectively described her husband as weak and the APC government as rudderless? I have never heard any first lady launch such a politically explicit tirade. Her words were weighty and direct: clearly an indication that things are falling apart in President Buhari’s political family. I can’t read her mind, but it would appear she has chosen to take the bull by the horns by openly attacking members of Buhari’s inner circle. I am really confused. I am not convinced by most of the interpretations in the public. We have not heard the last about the intrigues inside Aso Rock. More!

‘THE OTHER ROOM’
Responding to his wife’s claims that his government has been hijacked, President Buhari cracked one of the most expensive jokes ever: “I don’t know which party my wife belongs to, but she belongs to my kitchen and my living room and the other room.” Although he laughed while saying it, he was touching a raw nerve on the archaic mindset about the role of women in the society. He reinforced stereotypes at a time significant gains are being made in gender promotion. Already, his failure to appoint a significant number of women as ministers has been seen as a big reversal for gender gains, and his latest utterance is just too damaging. Unfortunate.

CHIBOK GIRLS
Thank Goodness 21 Chibok girls have regained their freedom. We would love to have all of them back as soon as possible, but at least this raises hopes that many of them are still alive. The sight of malnourished and traumatised girls troubled my soul and deeply saddened me. I’m happy that the Bring Back Our Girls movement did not give up the fight; it appears we would have completely forgotten about these teenagers if the campaign had been abandoned all along. I am happy for the parents of the released girls but I can feel the pain and anxiety of the others who are hoping that their wards are also alive and would return someday. How do I describe that feeling? Mixed.

TRUMP CARD
It’s interesting, isn’t it, that whenever we think Republican candidate Donald Trump is down and out and should therefore shut up, he never gives up on himself. His recently exposed demeaning statements on women, which many men make but are lucky enough that they go unrecorded, should ordinarily make him accept that the game is over. However, his supporters are not abandoning him and he may have fans who are just quiet but would rather talk with their votes on November 8. Some are thoroughly disgusted by Trump but are not convinced by Senator Hillary Clinton either. That may just be Trump’s biggest card. Scary.

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Unleash $200bn To Grow The Naira By Simon Kolawole

With due respect, I would say Nigerian lawmakers are “fantastically” failing to earn their stripes. They love to be called “honourable” and “distinguished” — and I don’t have any problems with that, basically. We’ve had a Cardinal Rex Lawson who was not a cardinal and a General Levy who was a reggae rapper rather than a military officer. So I don’t really care what appellations and salutations lawmakers ascribe to themselves. What I care about is what they are doing to change the world, to make Nigeria habitable, to wipe away the tears of the people who elected them into office. They can call themselves “excellency” and “venerable” if they like.

Recently, the Nigeria Extractive Industry Transparency International (NEITI), in its Policy Brief, highlighted projections that Nigeria might have lost over $200bn since 2008 because of the failure to pass the petroleum industry bill (PIB). The bill was presented to the national assembly in September of that year by late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. The projections cover estimates of losses in investment, return on investment and losses owing to unclear fiscal terms and non-resolution of host community issues. Lost employment opportunities, both direct and indirect, run into hundreds of thousands in the upstream and downstream sectors.

At a time Nigeria is trapped in recession and thinking of all possible means to get out of the miry clay, including selling oil and gas assets, you should think that the PIB would be a matter of urgent national importance to the Nigerian lawmakers. As noted by NEITI, neighbouring Ghana started and completed its own oil industry law in less than two years. Hoping against hope, I was expecting one Nigerian “honourable” or “distinguished” to raise the PIB issue on the floor of the house after the NEITI report. I expected our lawmakers to push for the quick resolution of all pending issues so that we can finally begin to unlock the billions chained down in the sector.

What did I get for my expectation? There were more urgent matters, obviously. First, the house of reps suspended Hon. Abdulmumin Jibrin, former chairman of appropriation committee, for letting out the dirty budget-padding secrets of the legislative confraternity. You don’t do that and get away with it, even if you didn’t partake in the communion. (Jibrin actually partook; can you imagine eating and talking at the same time?) In Nigeria, you will be crushed if you think you can play the hero in our tragicomedy. Jibrin’s office was immediately sealed off with zeal. Case closed. I dare any other lawmaker to attempt to spill the beans again. It will be death by firing squad, I promise.

While I was still full of expectation that the PIB would take the centre stage at some point, another drama was staged in the theatre of the house of reps. This time, it was something like “Sack Emefiele to Grow the Naira”. Hon. Ali Isa (Balanga/Billiri constituency, Gombe state), sponsored a motion calling for investigation of central bank’s forex policies. In his contribution to the debate, Hon. Mojeed Alabi, representing Ede north/Ede south/Egbedore/Ejigbo (Osun state), and Hon. Wale Raji, representing Epe (Lagos), said Mr. Godwin Emefiele should be sacked as CBN governor because of the falling naira. That debate has national significance, at least.

I can understand the anger of members of the house of representatives. The forex situation is killing. Many of their children school abroad. The school fee of $10,000 that used to be N1.97 million is now N4.5 million! Given that many have also moved their families abroad to escape the stress of our Nigeria, you can imagine the maintenance cost. It is choking. Even BA tickets are quoted in dollars these days. The rich also cry. The ordinary people have been crying forever. Prices of goods and services are daily spinning out of control. There is too much import content in what we eat, drink, wear and use in Nigeria. No Nigerian can escape the dollar devastation.

However, I don’t know how Hon. Isa’s motion will increase crude oil price, stop Niger Delta avengers, improve oil production/export, boost reserves and lead to the recovery of the naira, in the long or short run — given that the monthly demand for forex is over $3bn while inflow is less than $1bn. How are we going to make up for the monthly shortfall? Print dollars? Borrow from IMF? Sell assets? Or sack Emefiele? Dissolve the CBN? If so, then let’s mobilise the army counter-terror unit to the CBN head office in Abuja, instruct the soldiers to shoot everybody from the ground floor to the executive floor and see how it will grow the naira. It would be a very exciting experiment.

By the time the lawmakers are done with their drama, however, I plead with them to look into the PIB again. The Nigerian economy is not only suffering, we have become a laughingstock across the civilised world. How can a law that was conceived by former President Olusegun Obasanjo 16 years ago still be undergoing legislative processing? In fact, it would appear that after all the expert inputs, stakeholder engagement, drafting and re-drafting, we are about to start the process all over again. Does that mean we have to go through another 16 years of processing? What new things are we going to write into the bill that will require starting all over again?

The journey to a single-dose bill to modernise, liberalise, streamline and consolidate our laws to unshackle the oil industry was kick-started on April 24, 2000 by Obasanjo, who inaugurated the Oil and Gas Reform Committee (OGRC) made of local and international experts. After four years of work, they produced the National Oil and Gas Policy (NOGP). In June 2005, Obasanjo constituted the Oil and Gas Implementation Committee (OGIC) to develop strategies for the implementation of the policies. Their recommendations included restructuring NNPC, deregulating the oil industry and providing incentives to private entrepreneurs to invest in new refineries.

With Obasanjo gone, Yar’Adua’s government approved the NOGP on September 5, 2007. He set up another OGIC to produce the policies based, and finally presented the bill to the national assembly in September 2008. That was when the politicking started, and every attempt to pass the bill since then has stalled. Arguments broke out over the fiscal terms which the international oil companies are uncomfortable with, as well as the deadly Nigerian political competition over which section would benefit more. In April 2016, the senate said the bill was too big and sought to break things down bill-by-bill by introducing the petroleum industry governance bill (PIGB) first. It is dead now.

Our failure to pass the law means the oil industry remains perpetually underdeveloped and undiversified. According to NEITI, industry experts estimate that we have lost over $120bn — that is, $15bn yearly — in investments withheld or diverted by investors to other countries because of the uncertainty. They are afraid that the old rules would no longer apply, and they don’t have any idea of what the new rules would be. Throw in another $100bn potential earnings in five years, from 2007-2012, and you have a total “loss” in excess of $200bn. In a world of fierce competition for investment, it beats the imagination that there is never a sense of urgency in Nigeria.

The forex crunch currently destroying the economy is often attributed to our failure to develop local industry — and this again applies to the petroleum sector. Our refineries have never worked and no one has been willing to invest in new ones since the rules are not clear on product pricing. So we import virtually every litre of fuel we consume. Between 2009-2014 alone, we imported $26.4bn worth of refined products. Multiply that by two from then till now. Our gas reserves, meanwhile, remain largely untapped. Investors want to know what they are getting into. I truly wish the legislators would spend more time on solving real problems and earning their stripes.

Above all, I agree with NEITI that President Muhammadu Buhari should lead the drive to get the PIB passed. One, it is, after all, an executive bill. Two, there are a lot of contentious issues that require the leadership bringing the stakeholders together to strike a compromise. Three, Buhari says he wants to reform the petroleum sector. Now that he is mending fences with the legislature, he should prioritise the PIB. We don’t have to re-invent the wheel. There are so many things we can do to grow the naira, and the billions of dollars lying inchoate in the oil industry is a very sure fertiliser. We “lost” $200bn in eight years. The “loss” could rise to $400bn in another eight years.

AND FOUR OTHER THINGS…

OBI’S LAW

I’ve known Mr. Peter Obi, former Anambra governor, for nearly 15 years — so I was not surprised his presentation on “frugal management” at Platform (organised by the Covenant Christian Centre, Lagos) went viral. You see, Obi was not called “aka gum” (“Mr. Stingy”) by Anambrarians for nothing: he has always insisted that every kobo of public money must be spent judiciously, and waste must be reduced to an insignificant minimum. He not only preached modesty, he practised it for eight years as governor. That was his life before office and remains so till today. If President Buhari and the governors really want to cut cost, they should borrow from Obi’s manual. Practical.

SELLING JETS

Still on cutting cost of running government, many Nigerians have been demanding since 2015 that Buhari should fulfil his election promise of disposing our bevy of presidential jets. It is thought that the 11 jets in the fleet cost us N5.3 billion in maintenance yearly. That alone can build an ultramodern hospital, trust me. The federal government has now put up two of the jets for sale. If I know Nigerians very well, they will say it is not enough to sell two. That is a good argument, no doubt, but selling at all is a good starting point. Rather than grumble, as we normally do, we should agitate for more cost centres to be shut down. Progress.

COMMITTEE COUNTRY

We have done it again! Buhari has set up a committee to repeat the work of another committee that repeated the work of a previous committee, and so on and so forth. The 24-man panel, led by former Senate President Ken Nnamani, is expected to “review electoral environment, laws and experiences from recent elections conducted in Nigeria and make recommendations to strengthen and achieve the conduct of free and fair elections in Nigeria”. All former presidents did it — either in the form of conference or panel — so why not Buhari? That is what makes us Nigerians. It’s our culture. One committee after the other. Change.

UP RANGERS!

Congratulations to Rangers International of Enugu for finally winning the Nigeria Professional Football League. What a co-incidence: the last time they won the league, Buhari was the head of state. That was back in 1984! Over all, I believe they deserved the title: it is just an extra spice that it came after 32 years. I found this season’s NPFL very interesting from the beginning, although I was surprised MFM FC started on a promising note and ended up escaping relegation by an inch (on goal difference, actually). I tip IfeanyiUbah FC for greater things next season. Some words of commendation to the League Management Company for a successful season. Hurray!

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What My Grandmother Taught Me By Simon Kolawole

Yesterday, as her casket was lowered into the grave and I performed the ashes-for-ashes ritual, my emotions ran riot. You can’t blame me: a bulky chapter of my life was being buried. My grandmother, Mrs Deborah Malomo Omolere Oludoyi, known variously as “Iya Kola”, “Iya Abayomi”, “Iya Idowu” and “Iya Ibeji” (but “Momo” to me), was my all-in-all in my childhood and teenage years. She was my father and mother rolled into one. She was my mentor, my philosopher, my role model. She was always cheerful. In the 1960s and 70s, her smiles earned her the moniker “Iya Eleyin Funfun” (the woman with the white teeth) in Yagbaland, where she hawked textile.

My father — her first born — died in an accident when I was just four. Mama, who saw me as the replacement, immediately took me to the village. She did everything in the world to spoil me. She never raised her hand against me, not even once. In me she saw a new “Kola” who would wipe away her tears and make her forget her loss, her pain, her hurt. Mama drew her last breath in the evening of July 26, 2016 in Kaduna, where she spent the last years of her life. Various accounts put her age between 90 and 97. Whatever, she remains an ageless figure in my life. Kindly indulge me to share with you some things she taught me in my formative years.

‘Correction is good for you’
As a little boy, I did something wrong one day and she chided me. I began to throw tantrums. After the drama, she pulled me into the room and told me a story. “When I was little, my mother withdrew me from school because a teacher beat me. She said she didn’t want anybody to kill her only child. My mother had eight children before me and all of them died. I was the first to survive (her younger sister would later survive). She thought she was helping me when she pulled me out of school, and I was very happy. Little did I know she was ruining my future. So when I correct you, be a good boy and take corrections. It is for your own good.”

‘Never too late to learn’
Mama used to tell me on a regular basis: “Mio mo we, sugbon mo mo way.” The rhyme had reason: “I may be unschooled, but I am not unintelligent.” Actually, she started learning writing around the age of 50, having spent the whole of her young life working day and night to fend for her eight children. She attended an adult education school. She was able to read Yoruba very well, but writing remained a challenge — perhaps it was a wee bit late co-ordinating her fingers to hold a pen. She would spend hours just to write “D Olu”, which she considered to be her signature. She read Yoruba devotionals every morning and recited the Bible excellently.

‘Don’t ever forget your mum’
Even though I saw Mama as my mother, she kept reminding me I had a biological mother. After my father’s death, my mum had relocated to Zaria with two of my younger ones and started working at ABU Teaching Hospital. I was in primary one when I penned my first letter in life — at the prompting of my grandma who urged me to communicate with my mum. I wrote in Yoruba. For the fun of it, I asked my mum to buy Big Omo detergent for me (I didn’t need it). She did! My scribble made sense! My grandma was so proud of me. She let everybody know her grandson could now write letters. My reward? Writing letters for her and her friends till I finished secondary school!

‘Muritala is the best’
I was a kid when Gen. Murtala Muhammed, former head of state, was killed in a failed military coup in 1976. Up till the point of her death, Mama believed Murtala (whom she called Muritala) was the best head of state or president ever. I asked her one day, while I was still in primary school, why she held that opinion. “During the time of Muritala,” she said, “we had food to eat. Rice was everywhere and it was affordable to the poor.” This is a basic lesson in leadership: although Murtala fought corruption, his real achievement, as far as Mama was concerned, was food on the table for the masses. (I hope President Muhammadu Buhari gets the hint.)

‘You sell as you buy’
Mama was an Awolowo devotee from the 1950s. She brought me to Lagos on holiday in 1983 when the presidential election was held. As soon as she heard the results, she told me: “Won ti ring (rig) ibo yi!” The election was rigged! I believed her. I furiously tore four pages from my exercise book and started writing “editorials” criticising President Shehu Shagari and NPN for “ringing” the election. She was happy when Buhari later seized power in a bloodless coup, but soon regretted it when soldiers started forcing market women to sell at “control price”. Mama told me: “This is unfair. It is as I buy that I sell. I can’t buy something at 80 kobo and sell it for 50 kobo.”

‘Never laugh at deformity’
As kids, we were not intelligent enough to understand that the man walking with a limp or the woman making inaudible sound did not choose that as their lot. Some were born disabled and others became disabled in the course of life. To us, we could not be bothered, neither could we feel any sympathy. Mama used to warn me not to make fun of disabled people. “The man that is walking with a limp today was probably born without disability,” she would say. “Some people get disabled as a result of accidents, so that means it can happen to anyone. Do not laugh at anyone’s disability.” This is a sacred instruction I’ve never joked with.

‘Nigeria is God’s idea’
Having lived in Lagos (where she had my dad) in the 1940s to 50s and travelled to many cities, Mama believed Nigeria was created by God “because the ethnic groups complement one another”. To prove her point, she would say when tomato is out of season in the north, it is due for harvest in the south. She described the Hausa-Fulani as “honest and simple people”. She said the Igbo are talented and hardworking. “They sacrifice personal comfort to build their businesses and can survive under the toughest conditions,” she said. Yet, she insisted I must marry from our village for “smooth in-law relations”. Sorry, Grandma, I disobeyed you on this and we’re doing just fine.

‘Se b’otimo kiite’
Mama was the most generous soul I’ve ever known. So generous she would not eat an egg alone. She must offer you part of it — and you must eat! I rank her generosity as unmatchable because she sweated for her money. It is easier to be generous with free money. She specialised in sponsoring other people’s kids to school. It was after her death that I discovered some people were not related to us by blood. She only took them under care and paid for their education or training. And she was such a humble woman. She always told me to live modestly. She would say: “Se b’otimo kiite.” Roughly translated, it means: “Live within your means and you’ll never be disgraced.”

‘Have a heart for God’
Growing up, I hated going to church. It was dead boring. We would go early morning, attend Sunday School and sing like one thousand hymns during service. We were Baptists: no service was complete without the hymn “Af’ope f’Olorun” (Now Thank We All Our God). After service, she would attend long meetings. I was the one carrying her “apamo” (handbag). I only looked forward to the pounded yam at those meetings. When I complained about the long Sundays, she said: “Your father died in the service of God. You must have a heart for God.” Although I never smoked, drank or womanised, I still never started going to church voluntarily until my national youth service in 1992!

‘Welcome home, my son’
In 1984, Mr. Richard Okoro, our vice-principal at ESSMO, was posted to Crowther Memorial College, Lokoja. Mama, for some strange reason, believed I needed a new life. She said I should go with him. I did and was instantly homesick. I spent exactly five days in Lokoja before packing my things from Mr. Okoro’s residence and running back home without his knowledge. I never heard from him again. (Please forgive me, Mr. Okoro, if you’re still alive and reading this). I expected Mama to be very angry with me. Apparently, she missed me as much as I missed her. She received me with open arms, saying: “Welcome home, my son.” She taught me unconditional love. I was in a pool of tears.

========

AND FOUR OTHER THINGS…

CHANGE BLUES
The hostile reception to President Buhari’s “Change Begins with Me” re-orientation campaign is, in my opinion, the clearest indication that the honeymoon is truly over. The real symbolism of Buhari is that of national rebirth and mobilisation of patriotic instincts — and if his campaign does not ignite positive reaction in Nigerians, then there is serious trouble. Many people think the launch could not have been more ill-timed, coming when Nigerians are groaning under economic hardship with no clear survival roadmap. If it is Buhari’s opponents that are on his case, that would be understandable. But even his erstwhile staunch supporters are battering him. Damaging.

AIRPORT ECLIPSE II
The third episode of Airport Eclipse Season 2 was recorded at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, on Monday September 12, 2016. It was spectacular. For hours, passengers groped in the dark. It was an opportunity for the romantics to have a candlelight, or torchlight, dinner. Every international passenger pays $50 as service charge to the Federal Airports Authority of Nigerian (FAAN), the MMIA landlords. With a conservative figure of 2000 passengers per day, that is a cool $100,000 daily — apparently not enough to buy a decent generator. Nigeria is indeed open for tourism business. We now eagerly await Airport Eclipse III. Jokers.

TURBULENT TIMES
Virtually every sector of the economy is facing hard times, but aviation must come in for special mention because of its critical role in business. Nigerian airlines are in a terrible place: high cost of doing business, shortage of forex to lease aircraft and settle obligations, shortage of fuel, and heavy indebtedness to banks, tax authorities, regulatory bodies and suppliers, and so on. Aviation is so central to modern economy that in some countries, airlines have had to enjoy government subsidies. The last time we did the aviation intervention fund to save the industry, the fat cats diverted the billions to other businesses. There is just no other country like Nigeria. Buccaneers.

HIGHWAY HELL
It is always a thing of joy when I see roads being constructed or rehabilitated. I was thus very happy when works on the Lagos-Ibadan expressway were restarted a few months ago. However, a good thing need not bring tears to the people. Because of the traffic bottleneck that comes with road works, armed robbers and muggers are taking full advantage of the situation. And, logically, you would expect the deployment of police in the area to protect motorists. One thing I have come to realise, though, is that you are more likely to see scores of police officers at roundabouts waiting to pounce on motorists who run red traffic lights. Pathetic.

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If Symptoms Persist after One Year… By Simon Kolawole

Time changes everything. My barber voted for change last year. Which means he voted for Candidate Muhammadu Buhari. After Buhari’s inauguration and the stable power supply that followed, he felt justified. “Power has become regular in just a few months,” he said triumphantly. Over time, though, he has transformed from Buhari’s admirer to critic. Last week, I drew his attention to the improved power supply in our neighbourhood. “Are you happy with Baba now?” I asked, partly in jest. He replied: “Oga, it has nothing to do with Buhari! Power always improves during the rainy season!” In just one year, his tune has changed.

Time also flies. It is already over a year that oil prices started tumbling mercilessly and Mr. Godwin Emefiele, the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), came up with the “demand management” policy to restrict the demand for forex and protect our reserves from haemorrhaging. He produced a list of 41 items, including toothpicks, starch and Indian incense, which he labelled “not eligible” for forex at the official window. His publicly stated aim was to encourage local production of many of those “not eligible” items, boost agriculture, encourage industrial growth and tackle unemployment in the land. “Buy Made in Nigeria” became a national anthem.

One year after, how well has the policy worked? The jury is still out. As some manufacturers are smiling to the bank, some are crying to the grave. True, some products we used to import are now being produced at home, but there is a natural limit to what monetary policy alone can do in this circumstance. A factory may close down because of the power situation. It could be because cheaper goods are being smuggled into the country. Factories could also be failing because of the general state of infrastructure. The business environment could be too hostile to complement monetary policy. What then happens is that we do not get the results we desire.

After all, monetary policy, which the central bank controls, is never going to be the driver of development. Economists would say monetary policy is “residual” — it is supposed to be applied AFTER other policies are in place. You have your fiscal and trade policies, and then the bank will use the key rates to help you achieve your goals. For instance, if your plan is to spend very big — on infrastructure, wages, or whatever — the bank will look at the impact on inflation and act accordingly through monetary policy instruments. If you are targeting export, the bank can play with the exchange rate. But monetary policy can never stand in for fiscal policies.

To be sure, when Emefiele came up with the “demand management” policy last year, I was one of those who criticised him. My point was very direct: the CBN cannot ban imports — that is the job of Buhari’s cabinet. Therefore, those items would still be imported and pressure would shift to the black market, thereby hurting the naira and creating room for arbitrage. Experts persistently asked the federal government to make policy statements to encourage investment. But there was no cabinet for months. At some point, I advised Buhari, through this column, to appoint an economic adviser to fill the vacuum, pending the composition of the cabinet. No dice.

A major problem area has been the exchange rate. I remember that Emefiele started adjusting it long before it became a topic of public debate. Between November 2014 and February 2015, the official rate moved from N155/$1 to N168/$1 before finally landing at N197/$1. Therefore, it was not as if the CBN did nothing in response to the falling forex inflow. I also remember that for 16 months, Emefiele held on to N197/$1 as we debated and argued and quarrelled over devaluation. In June 2016, he started to let go under the “flexible” exchange rate regime as forex inflow fell to as low as $400m in a month, compared to the glorious height of $3.6bn not too long ago.

But as the CBN finally floated the naira, the national currency started sinking. I can’t even recognise it again. Yet, the investors are not rushing down to Nigeria. Why? It is possible they think the CBN acted too late or the market is still not as they want it. But rather than for us to continue this blame game, my argument today is that since the symptoms have persisted after more than one year of CBN-led economic management, the managers of the economy will now have to sit down and decisively take control of the situation. We cannot rely on monetary policy alone to bail us out. The fiscal spending end of the bargain has become a matter of urgency. The TSA vault must be unlocked.

Since the foreign investors are foot-dragging, we can at least boost the local economy through fiscal spending. Our own banks do not even seem to have much faith in the economy as they continue to lend little or nothing to critical sectors, preferring instead to be frolicking with forex. Let the government implement economic policies to drive GDP growth. Let the budgetary allocations be released to stimulate consumption. When you stimulate consumption, economic activities will pick up. We are in September and there doesn’t seem to be much going on in the area of implementing the 2016 budget. Experts estimate that fiscal spending can activate up to 60% of the GDP.

Evidently, we need an overall economic agenda that is all-inclusive and well-coordinated. All hands must be on deck. We need input from all sectors and all segments of the economy, not just some ministers and consultants. There are too many bits and pieces coming from the government that we cannot weave together. As I write this, I cannot in true conscience say I fully understand the trade policies of this administration. Are we focusing on import substitution? Is it export-led growth? Is it both? Do we want to use tariffs to drive trade and industry? Is it subsidies? Is it exchange rate? Each policy thrust has its own dynamics.

We all know that power supply is non-negotiable in industrial growth. Are we expecting monetary policy to produce electricity? If you register a business and the permits to start production are taking ages to process, how does that help the economy? Have you ever tried to register a table water business or bakery? By the time NAFDAC, council and state government officials pounce on you with all kinds of fees, levies and demands, you will need extra courage to go ahead. You invest in rice production and cheaper ones are being effortlessly smuggled into Nigeria. Your investment is in trouble. All these actions and inactions are damaging the economy.

Finally — and very, very crucial in these troubled times — what is the government policy towards the Niger Delta militants? The urgent solution to our forex-induced economic crunch lies in what we do in the creeks. Do we want to pursue peace or we want to go to war? Both have good and bad sides. If we give in to the doves and pursue peace, it could be the fastest route to addressing the forex scarcity which is defacing the naira and crippling the economy, with the threat of another fuel price hike lurking in the corner. If we achieve peace in the short run and production rises to 2.2mbpd at the current price of $48 per barrel, we would do just fine. Power supply will also improve.

But the hawks would say negotiating with “criminals” will only weaken the state and create a permanent room for blackmail. The solution, they insist, is for the military to bomb the Niger Delta and flush out the boys so that the state can reassert itself. The good part of this position is that sovereignty will return to the government in the long run. The other side is twofold: our forex-cum-economic and power crises will continue in the short run and, who knows, the war may take longer to win, as we have seen in the case of Boko Haram. Buhari’s final decision is very critical to the resolution of this economic impasse.

My barber, by the way, is happy that power has improved. He is buying less petrol to fuel his generator and now has more money in his pocket. What this tells me is that this economic hardship can be lightened with even little things. Most of the economy managers know what to do. They cannot rely on Buhari’s body language or sign language alone. That cannot be an alternative to sound economic policies. The economy is starved of oxygen, and I mean funds. They should tell Buhari the home truth. As witty film producer Samuel Goldwyn would say, “I don’t want yes-men around me. I want everyone to tell the truth, even if it costs them their jobs.”

QUOTE: The managers of the economy will now have to sit down and decisively take control of the situation. We cannot rely on monetary policy alone to bail us out. The fiscal spending end of the bargain has become a matter of urgency. The TSA vault must be unlocked

AND FOUR OTHER THING…

INCONCLUSIVE INEC

A few hours after saying it would go ahead with the Edo governorship election, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) suddenly made a U-turn and postponed it. There is always something inconclusive about this INEC since Professor Attahiru Jega left. I do not for one minute think it is purely coincidental that INEC has not shown any sign of improvement since the new leadership took charge. I thought the 2015 general election, despite its flaws, was easily one of the best in our history — and all we needed to do was build on the success, rather than regress. But, you know, this is the way we are. Shame.

DÉJÀ VU

2014: Pro-Jonathan group clashes with members of the Bring Back Our Girls movement at Unity Fountain, Abuja. 2016: Pro-Buhari group clashes with members of the Bring Back Our Girls movement at Unity Fountain, Abuja. 2014: AIG Joseph Mbu warns BBOG “enough is enough”. 2016: IGP Ibrahim Idris warns BBOG “enough is enough”. 2015: Jonathan sympathisers say BBOG is working for his opponents. 2016: Buhari sympathisers say BBOG is working for his opponents. Wow. Why do I have this funny feeling I have seen and heard and read all these before? I get it: the more things seem to change, the more they remain the same. Replay.

VALUE CHANGE

In my teenage years, my dream was to visit Jamaica. I never knew the country was riddled with poverty and gun violence. All I heard from Jamaicans was how beautiful their country was. Bob Marley spoke lovingly about Trench Town. Yellowman affectionately sang “Jamaica nice”. Compare that to Eedris Abdulkareem’s “Nigeria jaga jaga”. I understand our frustration with our country, but it remains our country nonetheless. We must see beyond our current circumstances and dream of a great country. Change can start with each and every one of us. It’s not about President Buhari, Alhaji Lai Mohammed or APC. It’s about the future of our children. Introspection.

EID MUBARAK

For the first time in 14 years, I did not get a single ram gift for the eid-al-adha. And, weird as it sounds, I love it. I’m also not expecting any turkey gift at Christmas and I will be fine with it too. It is part of the adjustment we must make as we begin to cut our coats according to our clothes. We have been too used to all these gifts in Nigeria that we have come to conclude that they are our birthright. We love free lunch. I just hope we will keep to this newfound, if austerity-induced, modesty and keep it up when the economy improves. The crunch notwithstanding, I wish my Muslim friends a very happy and reflective eid. Felicitations.

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Recession, Recovery And Our Relapsing Fever By Simon Kolawole

Confirmed. The Nigerian economy is in recession, the first in decades. The official report by the National Bureau of Statistics is finally out, confirming what we suspected and expected all along. Many will hear the big word “recession” and ask: rece-gini? Economists define recession as two consecutive quarters of negative GDP growth. As a villager, I will define recession as when the all-important cows in our village ranch are getting leaner non-stop for six months. They are not robust anymore. That means less beef, less ponmo and less milk from the ranch. Water don pass garri. That is hunger and starvation for many villagers, in simplified English.

You don’t need to understand the graphs drawn by economists to know the meaning of recession. When was the last time your company employed more workers? If your goods or services are not in demand like before, you won’t employ more hands, would you? Instead, you would sack. If people are not buying your blocks and granite like before, why would you produce more? And why would people buy your sand and roofing sheets when they don’t have money? And how would people have money when — how do I put it — there is no money? Honey, we shrunk the cows! They are not producing milk like before. In fact, the cows themselves need milk.

There is an interesting argument out there between the supporters of the former and current village heads on who should be held responsible for the state of the ranch. Supporters of the ex-head said the cows were in rude health before the new man took over. They said it was in fact the biggest ranch in Africa. Supporters of the new head are saying although the cows looked healthy, the haystack, or hay reserve, was virtually empty, having been looted. They said some of the cows already had ketosis and are only showing symptoms of malnutrition under the new head. But many are asking why the new head did not treat the ketosis before it got out of hand.

I’m tired of the politicised arguments. Maybe we should just shut up and try to save the cows instead. And at this point, may we leave cows out of the picture and focus on the real meat of the discourse? I have read through several analyses on the economic crisis, and the resultant recession, by foreign and local experts, economists and non-economists, all and sundry. The sense I could make from them is that there are no short-cuts to recovery. There are bits of the crisis that are our own making, and there are bits that are beyond our control. However, there are no bits that were not foreseen long ago. The only problem is that we thought we were on top of the world.

Clearly, our failure to save for the rainy day as well as build a war chest of FX reserve has got us snookered. The freefall over the last 20 months has fully exposed our two destructive dependencies (1) oil exports for FX income (2) importation of goods and services. If we had bigger sources of FX or produce most of what we import, the naira would not be in coma. Oil income is the biggest financier of our economy, both directly and indirectly. So oil price crashes and FX inflow automatically plunges, and with inadequate FX reserves, the naira inevitably goes haywire — pumping up inflation, pulling down industries, destroying jobs and setting the economy ablaze.

The recession, by the way, is the result of the measurement of economic productivity over two quarters, from January to June 2016. It is a technical term. Even before the declaration of recession, our economy was in trouble. We may record positive GDP growth in the third quarter of 2016 and the word “recession” will disappear, but does that mean the trouble is over? Not at all. My thoughts today are, thus, more on the overall economic logjam than the recession. From all that I have read so far, I have distilled three possible recovery routes from the crisis. I call the first one The Miracle, the second one The Mayday and the third one The Marathon.

The Miracle route is very simple: oil jumps to $80 per barrel, the Avengers stop avenging and Nigeria’s export goes back to 2.2mbpd. I can assure you, we will be singing and dancing all day and all night. The impact will be instant. Imagine oil revenue going back to between $2bn and $4bn per month as it used to be. The Miracle is the easiest, the fastest and the laziest route out of the wilderness. It’s like hay falling from heaven for the starving cows. The Miracle will get us out of the recession quickly given the multiplier effects the massive injection of petrodollars will have on the economy. It will cure symptoms, but the structural disease will remain untouched.

In the absence of The Miracle, The Mayday can provide a lifesaver through massive FX inflow to settle urgent international trading obligations. It could be in form of loans or portfolio investments. It’s more of a stop-gap measure to ease the strain on the naira, stabilise prices and allow us to breathe again — temporarily. What we are currently chasing are development loans, the ones given by World Bank and bilateral agencies, but these are not designed to address the urgent FX problems hurting the economy. IMF is the place to get the “FX overdraft”. But the conditions can kill. Portfolio investors and their hot billions, meanwhile, remain unpredictable.

The Marathon is the long-term solution. We will build a water plant and grow grass across hundreds of acres to feed our cows — and also vaccinate the animals against killer infections. That is what the Buhari government is promising to do by focusing on restructuring the economy. The good news: if we are serious and consistent — and can endure the pains — we will have a self-sustaining and healthy ranch in the long run. The bad news: many cows may die in the short run. We want to stop importing hay, but we cannot plant grass today and get the feed tomorrow — especially as we did not make hay when the sun was shining. You can’t diversify government revenue base overnight.

What option do you prefer? The Miracle? I love miracles, trust me. But miracles can become a burden. When I sit in church and somebody is testifying that he did not read for an exam and still passed, I’m worried that this may become a model for some students. We’ve been through boom-bust cycles since 1973 and The Miracle has always come to our rescue, so it has become a recovery model for us. Deep inside of us, we still do not think oil prices will remain low for long. We think sooner or later, prices will rise again. We are just holding on, monitoring the news every second in search of The Miracle. And when The Miracle happens again, we instantly relapse to The Mess.

In Nigeria, let’s be honest, we don’t learn lessons. If we do, the country would not be in this horrible shape. We pretend to be sober when we are down, but as soon as there is some relief, our relapsing fever returns and we go back to riotous living. This economic hardship appears to be making us cut our coat according to our cloth. But is this for real? Even in these hard times, public resources are still being wasted. I recently heard of a government agency that sponsored 30 persons to accompany its acting chief executive to receive one funny Diaspora award. Each delegate got $4000 as PTA, in addition to $2000 per return ticket, in these austere times! Imagine when The Miracle returns!

I may not know the eventual route out of this economic crisis, but there is something I know very well: if we do not seize this opportunity to reform and restructure, we are going to hand over a dead country to our children and grandchildren. We are suffering from the consequences of what we failed to do yesterday, and by failing to sacrifice our today for a greater tomorrow, we will remain perpetually locked in this self-inflicted underdevelopment. With or without The Miracle, we need adjustment. It would be most tragic if this crisis goes to waste yet again. I don’t know of a better time to change our ways.

QUOTE ====
“In Nigeria, let’s be honest, we don’t learn lessons. If we do, the country would not be in this horrible shape. We pretend to be sober when we are down, but as soon as there is some relief, our relapsing fever returns and we go back to riotous living”
==========

AND FOUR OTHER THINGS…

AIRPORT ECLIPSE
Murtala Muhammad International Airport, Lagos, had its own eclipse on the night of August 27. It lasted for hours. The darkness, caused by power failure, was so grim airlines had to board and disembark passengers with torchlight. This must rank as an all-time low for us. I have been patiently waiting for reports that somebody has resigned or has been fired over the monumental shame. At this rate, I might wait forever. Which means life goes on as usual. An idea however came to my mind: we may actually start earning forex by creating “airport eclipse” and attracting tourists to flock to Nigeria to watch the inglorious spectacle. Disgrace.

ABUBAKAR SHEKAUS
After claiming to have killed Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau at least four times — on one occasion comically asking to be paid the $7m bounty promised by the US — the Nigerian army will not let the matter die. Most recently, Shekau was declared “fatally wounded” (meaning he DIED from his wounds). “I can confirm to you that the original Shekau was killed, the second Shekau was killed, and the man presenting himself as Shekau, I can also confirm to you that few days ago, he was wounded. We are yet to confirm whether he is dead or not,” Major General Lucky Irabor said on Thursday. You know his title? Theatre Commander of Operation Lafiya Dole. Apt.

HOME SWEET HOME
The Abubakar Shekau drama aside, there is no doubt that the Nigerian military is recording tremendous success in the war against Boko Haram. So much so we are now thinking of returning millions of internally displaced persons to their homes. It is very easy not to feel the plight of the war victims until you put yourself in their shoes. Imagine being unable to return home after work — because of a riot in your neighbourhood. Imagine being dislocated as a result. This is much less than what these hapless Nigerians have been suffering for years. And to think some government officials have also been robbing them blind in their misery. Heart-breaking.

MARK OF PRIDE
It was fun having Facebook co-founder, Mark Zuckerberg, in Nigeria during the week. There was a lot of excitement about his eating jollof rice, walking on the streets of Yaba and jogging on Ikoyi bridge. What really caught my attention was the angry reactions by Nigerians to a cheesy Kenyan blogger who said Zuckerberg learnt more from his visit to Kenya than Nigeria. Nigerians united to tackle him. It rekindled my belief that we really love our country and will not allow it to be maligned by foreigners. It seems to me that our real anger with Nigeria stems from disappointed love. We are getting far less than what we deserve from this potentially great country. Frustration.

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All Said And Done, Nigeria First, By Simon Kolawole

In November 2014, I penned an article, “My Grouse with President Jonathan”. I highlighted his major achievements in agriculture, infrastructure, finance and education. I, however, said Jonathan was not doing two things the right way: the fight against corruption and the war against Boko Haram. I called these “my grouse” with him. I concluded: “Mr. President, without brutally tackling corruption and caging Boko Haram with everything at your disposal, the job is not yet done. We need to free our resources for development, and we need peace and security to attain that goal.” Naturally, I came under heavy bombardment from rabid partisans from different directions.

The PDP mob, who believed Jonathan could do no wrong, classified me as an “opposition writer” with immediate effect, and called me names that are not on my birth certificate. Their most recurring argument was that APC chieftains were behind Boko Haram. The APC gang, who said Jonathan had achieved absolutely nothing in office, went wild, accusing me of campaigning for his re-election. As political narratives go in Nigeria, Jonathan was either 100% bad or 100% good. When you say, “Come on, Jonathan had good and bad attributes”, you are accused of “engaging in doublespeak”, “sitting on the fence”, etc. Thank God, you can’t be accused of blindness.

Unfortunately, I have observed that as we discuss and debate the progress of Nigeria, many of us have been turned to blind extremists, unable to submit our consciences to fairness in our assessment of our leaders. We take a position and stand by it, even when the facts don’t agree with us. We indulge in a lot of self-hypocrisy, justifying things we normally would condemn, and condemning things we ordinarily would justify — all because of politics, all to validate our biases and prejudices. So I am asking myself all the time: at what stage do we put the national interest first, no matter whose ox is gored? At what point do we rise above the fray?

Our pre-occupation as Nigerians, in my view, should be how our country can march to greatness. Not partisanship, not the president’s accent. Those are pre-election matters. As soon as a president is in situ, we have to put our divisions behind us and engage constructively as Nigerians. Same prescription for presidents and governors. It should no longer be about PDP or APC, north or south, Muslim or Christian. I illustrated today’s discussion with my November 2014 article for one reason: the same PDP/APC bitterness tints our spectacles till today. We are behaving as if the 2015 presidential election is still on — or was inconclusive (apologies to INEC).

Corrosive partisanship is a major impediment to our development. I have nothing against partisanship. To be sure, party politics is one of the strongest pillars of democracy. Plurality of opinion and choice must never be compromised. But things get corrosive when we blindly take positions not backed by accurate facts and sound logic. We don’t know the point at which to put the national interest above political sentiments. This does damage in at least two ways: one, the political leadership, on assuming power, seeks to undo what a previous administration has done, purely to score a political point; two, public debate becomes destructive, heating up the polity.

Indeed, there is often this tendency for a new administration to discard the policies of the previous one — because of politics. Let it not be said that it is the ideas of my predecessor or the other party that I am implementing. Thus, good policies and programmes are demonised, reversed or abandoned. It usually starts during electioneering when you say the incumbent has not achieved anything. So it becomes difficult to eat your words and continue with the same policies when you take over power. To me, though, as soon as the election is won and lost, partisanship should take the back seat in governance. Without shame, Nigeria should come first.

That is why I’m glad President Muhammadu Buhari has not dumped many of the projects started by Jonathan, despite the political discomfort. The deployment of BVN, which was a Jonathan project, has become the biggest weapon in the anti-graft war. The treasury single account (TSA) is being fully implemented. The reconstruction of the Lagos-Ibadan road, started by Jonathan, has resumed. Most of our projections on self-sufficiency in food production by 2017 are based on what was on the ground long before Buhari came in, dating back to the days of President Olusegun Obasanjo. The Kaduna-Abuja rail remained on track all through the years. Nigeria first, after all.

The notion that a previous administration is totally useless has been dragging us backward for decades. We deny them credit and discard their policies. The inimitable military dictator, Gen. Sani Abacha, was a bad man, in all fairness to him. How can we ever forget the political persecutions, the state-sponsored assassinations and the destruction of the refineries? Yet, it has to be said that he did more projects with fuel price hike than any other government before or after him. Also, he made the final investment decisions for the multi-billion dollar Trains 1 and 2 of the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG). In our anger, though, we fail to grant him any particle of credit.

One of the biggest mistakes of Obasanjo was discarding Vision 2010 produced by the Abacha government. You see, it was not written by Abacha. It was produced by some of the best brains in Nigeria. When Obasanjo came in 1999, he did not want to touch anything Abacha, so he fed Vision 2010 to the shredder. He produced his own Vision 20-2020, which subsequent governments have effectively avoided — as if it is an improvised explosive device. With Obasanjo’s Vision 20-2020, we were supposed to have hit 10,000mw by December 2007. But the change in government halted the plan. No matter the justification, it was a monumental set-back.

On our part as followers, I’m amazed that some people are desperately praying for Buhari to fail. They want the economy to continue its humpty-dumpty fall. They are praying fervently that oil prices would never recover so that the economy does not get a lifeline. They are hoping Boko Haram would stage a strong comeback. They are happy to see the Niger Delta militants continue avenging whatever. They are eager to see Buhari unable to do any meaningful project. All because they want to gloat at the end of it all. They want to have the “last laugh” and declare: “Didn’t we warn you?” It doesn’t occur to them that we will all suffer the consequences.

Of course, it was a similar situation under Jonathan. From day one, many were very passionate to see him fail. They worked to pull him down. They had this bitterness that he shouldn’t have stepped in after the death of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, and this resentment shaped their wishes for Jonathan’s government throughout. An APC member told me in 2014 that she hoped Jonathan would not be able to rescue the Chibok girls before the 2015 presidential election so that it won’t sway votes in his favour. If her daughter was among those abducted, would she be saying such a prayer? At what point do we put aside political bias for the greater good?

Do not get me wrong: I am not suggesting that anybody who criticised Jonathan had sinister motives. I am not saying anyone criticising Buhari is corrosively partisan. I want to be clear on that. There are several cases of disappointed love. There were, and are, people who expected far more than they got or are getting in terms of performance. I have nothing but respect for this community of critics. My grouse is with the community of those hoping and praying and working for the failure of our leaders just because of prejudices. Just because of biases. Just because of politics. They do everything possible to distract, discredit, destabilise and demonise whoever is in power.

As we continue to discuss and debate the progress of our country, I appeal to the non-partisans to remain calm and constructive, even if they are called names. We must always keep our eye on the ball. In all our arguments and anger and misgivings, the progress of Nigeria must remain the motive — and the motivation. Whenever I sit in front of my laptop tapping the QWERTY with determination, the last thing on my mind is party politics or religion or ethnicity. I worry more about the country my children and grandchildren will inherit. My generation inherited a disjointed and demoralised country. Should the next generation inherit the same nonsense?

AND FOUR OTHER THINGS…

AISHA’S ANSWER

Ekiti Governor Ayo Fayose once told Nigerians that Mrs Aisha Buhari, the president’s wife, would not dare step into the US because she is the same “Aisha Buhari” mentioned in a US court paper as having transferred $170,000 to Williams Jefferson, a US congressman who is currently in jail after an FBI sting operation. Well, Aisha arrived in the US on Thursday and she is yet to be arrested at the time of writing this. The focus of the argument has changed, not unexpectedly, from the Jefferson case to the price of the “designer bag” she carried on the trip. Politics.

ZAMFARA HELL

Recent reports tend to suggest that Zamfara is becoming one of the least secure states in Nigeria. Bandits are having wicked fun without let or hindrance. The Dansadau emirate, according to those who have been there, is the new definition of hell. The bandits reportedly launch attacks on the people at will, steal their farm produce and rape the women in the full glare of their husbands! Villagers run into the bush at night to escape the wrath of the marauders, and often feed their children with sedatives to prevent any sound that would alert the bandits. Tragic.

DOLLAR RAIN

Going for hajj? God bless you. Get your dollar at N197 — the rate the CBN once said has ceased to exist with the introduction of the so-called “flexible” exchange rate of N380/$1. BudgIT has calculated that the subsidy for the 65,167 pilgrims amounts to N11.92 billion at a time we are cutting down on expenditure because we don’t have money. Christian pilgrims got theirs at N160, we’ve been reminded to show “balance”. You know what? The Qur’an prescribes hajj only for Muslims who can afford it. And Christian pilgrimage is alien to the Bible. So what’s the point? Nigeria!

OLYMPIC FIASCO

Watching the national U-23 football team beat Japan with a beach soccer scoreline in their Rio Olympics opener really gladdened my heart. Having endured the international embarrassment of being stranded in Atlanta, US, and only arriving for the match a couple of hours to kick-off, they showed the Nigerian never-say-die spirit in taking a 5-2 lead before petering out as the Japanese ended strongly with two late goals. A lot has been said about who should be held responsible for the flight fiasco, but nothing surprises me about Nigerian sports authorities anymore. Typical.

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We Need An Economic War Room, By Simon Kolawole

The worst kept secret before the 2015 elections was that Nigeria’s economy was heading for a rough weather. Following a sharp drop in oil price, the 2015 budget was based on a benchmark of $65 per barrel, compared to $77.50 for 2014. Oil was selling for $115 in June 2014, but was down to $58 on December 17, 2014 when Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, then finance minister, presented President Goodluck Jonathan’s last budget to the National Assembly.

Despite the prevailing price of $58, we still fixed the benchmark at $65 — on the expectation that oil would rise to between $65 and $70 in 2015. In medical language, that budget was brought in dead (BID).

Indeed, late 2014 when the exchange rate was still N155/$1, it was predicted that the naira would exchange for over N200/$1 in 2015. Domestic and external debts were over $40 billion. The bills for on-going and uncompleted projects were over $50 billion.

With lower oil prices, reserves had gone down from a little over $34 billion in December 2014 to $28.6 billion in May 2015 when Jonathan handed over to President Muhammadu Buhari. In fact, Okonjo-Iweala revealed that the federal government had to take loans to pay workers for April and May 2015. There was no better indication of deep trouble ahead. That’s what happens when your life depends on oil rents.

The real catastrophe of the 2015 electioneering was that we never really debated issues. There was plenty to discuss on economic policy, falling oil prices, pressure on FX reserves, the fate of the naira, fuel subsidy, power sector and unemployment.

Instead of discussing ideas, PDP and APC were busy swapping insults. PDP was severely disadvantaged anyway, having been in power for 16 years and produced a mismatch of resources and results. What promises could it make again? Who would listen? Meanwhile, APC, mouthing “change”, seized the stage and promised Nigerians heaven on earth: free this, free that. The only thing they didn’t promise was free jollof rice.

In an article I wrote on December 21, 2014, titled “May We Now Discuss the Issues, Please?” I expressed worries about the vagueness of the campaigns. I wrote: “I am one of those Nigerians who cannot be easily moved by political slogans.

I love the music of ‘change’ as rendered by the APC, but talk is cheap. What we need to know now is the content of this ‘change’. Jonathan has said we should move ‘forward’ not ‘backward’. Whatever! Let Buhari and Jonathan come out and tell us to our face what they want to do about the Nigerian condition.” For some reason, Nigerians seemed to be more excited by gutter fight. And they got it in abundance.

In his widely circulated article, “Buhari vs. Jonathan: Beyond the Election”, published on January 27, 2015, Prof. Charles Soludo, former CBN governor, did warn that whoever won the presidential election would face a mountain of economic problems, caused partly by declining oil prices.

He wrote: “The tragedy of the current electioneering campaigns is that both parties are missing the golden opportunity to sensitise the citizenry about the enormous challenges ahead and hence mobilize them for the inevitable sacrifices they would be called upon to make soon.” Soludo got a fair dose of abuse for his effort. But after the assault, his prediction is here with us.

With the economy suffocating Nigerians, what now? In my last article, “Where do we go from here?” I traced our current economic challenges to the state of affairs inherited by President Buhari, compounded by his own ideological hangover. I said recovery would be slow and painful and there would be no easy answers.

I also posed three questions: One, how do we first stabilise the economy and stop this bleeding? Two, where is the recovery roadmap so that the average Nigerian can hope for light at the end of the tunnel? Three, how do we ensure that if there is another oil boom, we will utilise it intelligently and escape from the “petropathetic” syndrome?

CBN Governor, Mr. Godwin Emefiele, has been carrying the can for the economic wreckage since Buhari came to power. We all know that monetary policy, which he oversees, cannot on its own address the historical structural defects in the economy. Monetary policy can be more urgently implemented and immediately visible in exchange and interest rates, but can it lead to economic growth on its own? Can it improve trade on its own? Can it industrialise Nigeria on its own? Can it create jobs on its own? In the absence of a cabinet and important policy instruments to complement monetary policy, local and foreign investors despaired.

With the naira sleepwalking to the gulag, Emefiele started throwing everything but the kitchen sink at the forex market. But it would appear the more he did, the more the naira was determined to slide into the bottomless pit. Although the capital controls, the restriction of forex sale to 41 items, the restriction on the use of naira cards abroad and the dollar swap deals with the banks have combined to keep our reserves within reasonable range to maintain our access to international trade, we remain desperately in the woods. It’s like a vehicle on a long journey without enough fuel. It will stop breathing at some point. The naira started devaluing itself without waiting for anybody.

Debate went on for long over whether or not the CBN should officially devalue the naira. For 16 months, Emefiele — with the full backing of Buhari — resisted the pressure. Apparently, there was this hope that oil would miraculously recover to ease the forex crisis. It did recover at some point, but the Niger Delta Avengers made sure we did not reap the benefit. Forex inflow, which averaged $3.4 billion per month in previous years, kept nose-diving. In 2016, it has been undulating between $500 million and $400 million per month! There is no way the massive shortfall will not destroy the naira in an import-dependent country.

Boxed into a corner, the CBN finally introduced a “flexible” exchange rate to attract foreign capital. Now we cannot even recognise the naira anymore. From the official rate of N197/$1, it is going for N311 at the interbank market. Everything has gone haywire. The foreign investors we tried to attract by “floating” the naira are yet to board the plane, and we’re beginning to wonder if they are aware we still exist. Many economists say we are paying the price of delayed adjustment — which I agree with to a large extent — but, let’s be honest, monthly forex inflow cannot drop from $3.4 billion to $400 million without crippling consequences on the naira.

What next? We need to renew confidence in the economy. Last week, I proposed that Buhari should draw up a roadmap with timelines and milestones on his recovery plan. This will create a sense of urgency and direction. I have listened to Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, Mr. Udoma Udo Udoma, minister of budget and national planning, and Kemi Adeosun, finance minister, articulate plans to broaden the economy, eliminate inefficiencies, reduce waste and block leakages. These, to me, are good but not suited for the problems at hand. The economy is in A&E. What we need urgently is an emergency recovery plan. It doesn’t stop long-term planning, in any case.

That is why I am now thinking Buhari actually needs an economic war room, made up of experts from outside the government who would regularly advise him and his economic team on the way out of this crisis. It shouldn’t be party-based. Buhari needs the best talents he can get from anywhere, and he shouldn’t go for the usual suspects. The “group think” in Aso Rock needs to be subjected to some modulation from the outside. He should get competent advisers and pull them into the war room. This bleeding must stop. We are in a war situation, economically, and the president must look outside his immediate circle for ideas.

During the global economic crisis in 2008-2009, Mr. Barack Obama, on winning the US presidential election, appointed an economic recovery advisory board in spite of the White House structures. The board reported regularly to him and his economic team. It was chaired by former Federal Reserve chairman, Paul Volcker, with members drawn from business, labour and academia. Obama said he wanted to “pierce the insularity” of Washington decision-making processes. The American economy did not start recovering until his third year in office, but at least Americans knew he had a clear-cut recovery plan. Buhari should consider a similar support system.

“Buhari needs the best talents he can get from anywhere, and he shouldn’t go for the usual suspects. The group think in Aso Rock needs to be subjected to some modulation from the outside”

AND FOUR OTHER THINGS

HOUSE OF WAR
Pardon my gloating, but I am always excited when members of the Nigerian political elite enclave take on each other and let us into their dirty secrets. I am enjoying every second of the on-going public drama between Hon. Abdulmumin Jibrin, the former chairman of the house appropriations committee, and Speaker Yakubu Dogara. I’m inclined to believe everything I’m hearing about the budget padding and the pillaging. Unfortunately, because it is an “in-house” matter (pardon the pun), we are never going to get to the bottom of this. Nevertheless, I want to keep hearing the salacious details of what our leaders do with our money. More!

FILM FURY
I wept after reading Malam Jafar Jafar’s take on the scrapping of the proposed N3 billion Kano Films Village because of protests by clerics. The 20-hectare village, modelled after Indian and Chinese film centres, was to have a cinematography centre, a 400-capacity auditorium for training, a three-star hotel and a shopping mall, among others. In the view of the clerics, this is an invitation to sin, and an attempt to fast-track the end of the world. In the view of President Muhammadu Buhari, the clerics are right. So he has cancelled the project. I hereby advise the Plateau state government to lobby Buhari to relocate the “sin city” to Jos. Hell!

TRAIN OF THOUGHT
As President Muhammadu Buhari launched the Kaduna-Abuja rail on Tuesday, my heart glowed. The project was conceived by President Olusegun Obasanjo. President Goodluck Jonathan did the bulk of the work. Buhari completed it. Thank God it was not discarded. APC, characteristically, does not want to give any credit to Jonathan because of the narrative that he achieved nothing in five years. Does it matter — as long as the rail will make life better for millions of Nigerians, irrespective of tongue, religion and party affiliation? The Yoruba would say a woman spotted a snake and a man killed it, and so what? Progress!

TEENS TALK
Celebrated columnist and bestselling author, Mr. Olusegun Adeniyi, is not a deacon for nothing. He is working seriously to justify his “anointing”. He is co-ordinating the Teens Conference holding in Abuja on August 13, 2016, organised by The Everlasting Arms Parish of RCCG. The teens, who have to register at www.rccgteapteens.org to participate, will be listening to priceless advice on career choices from Mr. Godwin Emefiele, CBN governor; Mrs Ifueko Omoigui-Okauru, former chairperson Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS); Mrs Chinelo Anohu-Amazu, the DG of PenCom; and Ali Baba, ace comedian. Inspirational!

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Where Do We Go From Here? By Simon Kolawole

If you were a lover of reggae music in the 1970s, you would certainly know “Time Hard”, a hit song by The Pioneers, the Jamaican three-man band. “Everyday,” they sang, sonorously, “things are getting worse.” That song was released in 1972. At the time, Nigeria was producing two million barrels of crude oil per day and selling at an average price of $1.8 per barrel. We were not yet oil-dependent, so the revenue was basically a bonus. By 1974, oil was selling for $11, six times the 1972 price, and our stomach ballooned. We became helplessly hooked on petrodollars. The only song Nigerians could be singing was: “Things are getting better.” The Pioneers would not sell.

But their song still became very relevant in the early 1980s. Average oil price fell from $34 in 1981 to $32 in 1982 and $29 in 1983, meaning serious trouble. Oil boom had sent us into an expenditure overdrive and overkill. We had taken on massive projects, importing recklessly and accumulating debts like medals. Our foreign reserves began to sink as we struggled to import basic food items, such as rice and milk. President Shehu Shagari tried to stay afloat through a “stabilisation plan” that cut spending, reduced imports and hiked duties. After the 1983 elections, the government could no longer pretend. The economy went berserk. Things fell apart.

This is 2016 and the symptoms persist. In fact, our economy has been on a downward spiral since late 2014 when oil prices started plunging. It became more pronounced in 2015, and it appears we are now breaking records as we wake up everyday. Are The Pioneers singing in the background? The naira is officially at its worst since it replaced the pound as national currency in 1973; oil production has plunged from 2.2mbpd to probably its lowest in 10 years; FX reserves are going south; inflation has gone wild; and we are just awaiting figures from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) to confirm that we’re officially in a recession — first since 1987.

There are four points I would like to highlight as we discuss the state of the nation this morning. One, we cannot deny the fact that the crash in the price of crude oil is what got us into our current gridlock. We classically got carried away by the recent oil boom and failed to learn our lessons. Now history is mercilessly repeating itself. Two, Buhari did not inherit a healthy economy, contrary to whatever the critics say. Three, Buhari may not have been quick enough with his response to the economic crises since he assumed office, but there are no easy answers. Four, and this is the one that scares me silly, we may be in for a prolonged drought.

Here we go. My first point. If Buhari inherited crude oil price at $80 per barrel, with production levels remaining at over 2mbpd, the story would certainly be different. We have to face that fact without sentiments. The exchange rate, both official and parallel, could still be below N200/$1; our reserves would be still be fairly healthy because of the war chest; and — with subsidy — petrol would still be less than N100 per litre. Prices would stabilise. Foreign investors would likely remain attracted to us and the stock market would be bubbling. In other words, the relative growth we have enjoyed over the years owed largely to high oil prices.

Indeed, President Goodluck Jonathan was unable to build robust reserves in the time of boom — and this is very significant. Under President Olusegun Obasanjo, the highest price oil sold for was $60, and production was less than 2mbpd for the most part. He parted with $12 billion to settle foreign debts, and still left FX reserves of $43 billion, out of which $9 billion was excess crude savings. Under President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, oil went up and down, hitting $147 per barrel at some point, and sinking to $31 at its lowest. With that, Yar’Adua raised FX reserves to $62 billion by September 2008 — the highest in our history.

This is where the Jonathan team loses the argument. Oil sold for between $70 and $120 during his first four years in power (2010-2014) before the downward slide to $50 in 2015, when he left office. If our reserve management was anything like what we had under Obasanjo and Yar’Adua (when, by the way, Professor Chukwuma Soludo was the CBN governor), Jonathan could have left at least $100 billion in the reserves. If Buhari had inherited such a heft kitty, the naira would not be gasping for breath today. Clearly, our failure to build an FX war chest in the time of plenty exposed us to the infectious diseases we are battling with today.

Why couldn’t Jonathan build robust reserves? One, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, former finance minister, kept crying that Nigeria was bleeding from oil theft. Nobody listened. Over 400,000 barrels were being stolen daily. Two, NNPC failed to remit billions of dollars to CBN coffers. The man formerly known as Malam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, then CBN governor, raised the alarm. We didn’t listen. Three, governors opposed crude oil savings, saying it is unconstitutional. Four, we maintained an artificial value for the naira for long, insisting we had “robust reserves”, but our appetite for imports was more robust.  We failed to curtail the appetite because we were awash with dollars.

Our aggressive spending during the last oil boom is coming back to bite us. Instead of spending the oil wealth to deepen and regenerate the economy, we ran amok, bloating the civil service and turning political appointments to a sub-sector. The governors were hiring jets every minute to attend political meetings. Nigerians were buying jets like pure water. How many people were sending their children to foreign schools in 1999 compared to, say, 2014? We believed we had all the forex to buy the world. We totally savaged the economy. This is not about Jonathan alone — it was a national pastime: from councils and states to the colossal federal government.

My third point. Though Buhari did not inherit a wonderful economy, his ideological hangovers prevented him from acting on time to stem the tide. It’s like cancer. If you leave cancer stage one untreated, it gets bigger, and moves to stage two. Untreated, it gets worse and moves to stage three. And, finally, it gets to stage four where it has spread to other organs. The economy was probably at stage two when Buhari took over, but he felt chemotherapy would be too painful for the masses that elected him into office. Now the cancer is spreading and killing jobs and shredding the naira and shrinking the economy. That is the consequence of delayed adjustment.

My fourth and final point. Since we are still hopelessly sold to oil, and production is getting smaller by the day as a result of militant activities, I think The Pioneers will have to do a remix of “Time Hard”. Things will get even worse before they get better. You don’t transit from oil economy to industrial/service overnight. If we couldn’t do it in 40 years, I don’t expect us to do it in one year. Or even four years. Except oil recovers miraculously, this carnage will continue. Sadly, the bad situation is worsening because of socio-political tensions: the herdsmen, the Niger Delta militants and Biafra. Meanwhile, APC, the ruling party, is enmeshed in a civil war.

Where do we go from here? I honestly pity President Buhari. Despite shifting ideological grounds on the exchange rate and fuel price, the economy is still nowhere near recovering. The truth is that we are in a bad place and there are no easy ways out. It is a peculiar mess. The tasks he must face squarely now are critical. One, how do we first stabilise the economy and stop this bleeding? Two, where is the recovery road map so that the average Nigerian can hope for light at the end of the suffocating tunnel? Three, how do we ensure that if there is another oil boom, we will utilise it intelligently and finally escape from what I call the “petropathetic” syndrome?

It is very easy to point accusing fingers at Jonathan  for mismanaging the economy or Buhari for not finding a quick fix, but maybe we should begin to look at the mirror as well. With oil boom, we were living false lives, holidaying in Las Vegas and holding weddings in Dubai with unearned or dubiously earned income, pretending to be rich when it was all a bubble. Now the bubble has burst. We can see clearly now. As Buhari seeks to reform the economy, we too must discipline our appetite and endure the inescapable pains of adjustment. Without another oil boom, recovery is going to be slow and painful. But in due season we shall reap — if we faint not.

AND FOUR OTHER THINGS…

DRUMS OF WAR

The Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC) has issued an ultimatum to Niger Delta militants to cease attacks on Yoruba communities — failing which the brigandage will become “an eye for an eye”. In recent times, suspected militants have been unleashing havoc, unchecked, on coastal communities in Lagos and Ogun states, shooting and looting, raiding and raping, killing and kidnapping. The OPC threat, unfortunately, is not the solution. The basic reason there is a government is to provide security for lives and property, and it will be tragic if people have to resort to self-help. That’s a perfect recipe for civil war. Ominous.

OUT OF ORDER

Alhaji Ibrahim Idris, the acting inspector-general of police, has ordered the arrest of the killers of Chief Lazarus Agaie, the traditional ruler of Bokkos, Plateau state. Really? Do the law enforcement agents need any order before they unravel crime and apprehend the suspects? I thought that’s their primary duty! When VIPs are kidnapped, we are usually informed that the IG has “ordered” that the perpetrators be arrested. This “order” business must be unique to Nigeria. Should we assume that many murderers and kidnappers are yet to be arrested because the IG has not “ordered” the police to do so? Curious.

STUDENT AFFAIRS

The National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) has done the unusual — they have finally spoken about a matter concerning Nigerian students! They recently asked the federal government to reverse the policy on post-UME tests. I was very happy that for once, NANS is talking about student issues. In the last 17 years, they have been busy defending or promoting politicians. They have been endorsing, dishing out awards to, passing votes of confidence on politicians — and visiting state houses. Very lucrative stuff. I totally forgot that it was an association set up to fight for the interest of university students! Hilarious.

HIJAB SAGA

Honestly, I never knew that Muslim pupils were not allowed to wear hijab in public schools in some states until these court cases started showing up. All my life, I have been seeing female students wearing the hijab and “Deeper Life” scarves, and I have never objected to it. Indeed, it looks so normal to me. I’ve never lost my appetite or sleep because of the way people choose to dress to express their faith. Can somebody please educate me on how hijab is a catastrophe? I would like to implore all agitated parties to allow sleeping dogs lie. Precarious.

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Brexit, Biafra And The ‘Referendum’ By Simon Kolawole

I will start with a footnote: I believe in one, united Nigeria. Not that I am the best patriot in town, but I just love diversity. I love the Nigerian diversity. I love suya, edikaikong, ofe Owerri and banga. I love it when Onyeka Onwenu sings in Yoruba and Funmi Adams croons in Hausa. I love the Pidgin English woven from virtually every Nigerian tongue. I love it when I’m in church and everybody is singing Yoruba, Hausa, Igbo, Efik and Urhobo songs with excitement, dancing vigorously, waving handkerchiefs. I feel proud as a Nigerian. I love it when Chiemele marries Ayodeji and Mfon weds Efe. I am delighted when I see Emeka Ike in a Yoruba movie. That’s me.

Truth be told: I’m crazy about diversity — which I think is an attribute of God. It was TY Bello that sang: “And the universe/it shows me Lord how diverse You are/How wonderful/How beautiful You are.” I’m sorry, but I do not desire to live in a society where everybody is Yoruba, where everybody is Christian, where everybody is my height, where everybody is dark like me, where everybody dresses like me. It would be so, so boring. And I think nature abhors it. Look around you. We talk of birds in generic terms, but there over 8,000 species. Your dogs are not of the same species. Your cats are not. Diversity is a fact of life. I just love the Nigerian rainbow.

But I am also not an idiot, strictly speaking. The Nigerian union is clearly not a bed of roses. There is intense political competition among the big ethnic groupings, and the Igbo have for nearly 50 years expressed a desire to get out of the union, to be on their own. They feel marginalised. Yet, the Igbo — like many other groups — have distinguished themselves in virtually every field of human endeavour: science, technology, industry, sport, creative industry, media, finance, name it. Not just locally but also globally. In the opinion of many Igbo thought leaders, they would be better off in their own country, hence the perennial agitation for Biafra.

The Igbo have often found themselves on the periphery of power, starting from the events surrounding the January 1966 coup and the chain reactions thereafter. Although, the declaration of the Republic of Biafra in 1967 did not survive the horrendous civil war, there is no denying the fact that the sentiments are still strong in different gradients. The campaign for Biafra resurfaced in the early 2000s as Nigeria returned to democracy under President Olusegun Obasanjo. It seemed to have faded in the five years of President Goodluck “Azikiwe” Jonathan, but it has surfaced yet again under President Muhammadu Buhari.

Thursday’s decision by British voters to pull out the UK from the European Union is bringing another dimension to the Biafra agitation — a campaign was promptly started on the social media pushing for a similar referendum to determine if the Igbo should also exit the Nigerian union. And after giving the Biafra agitation a hard thought for years, I am coming to the conclusion that if it is indeed the wishes of the majority of Igbo people to leave Nigeria, perhaps the time has come to do something about it. It is now 46 years since the civil war ended, but the generations born during or after the war are still campaigning for the actualisation of Biafra.

I am beginning to think that we need to be more strategic in engaging with the Biafra idea. I am often reminded that it is only riff raff and rented crowds that are on the streets agitating for Biafra, and I wish it were that simple. The sentiments, may I repeat, are still very strong. Indeed, ideologies die a natural death when there are no new generations of purveyors and believers. But we cannot say the same thing about Biafra. It has diehard believers. Those at the forefront of the campaign today are offshoots of the original purveyors; some are even grand offshoots. But the sentiments remain the same: we want out; we want our own country.

Therefore, how long can the rest of Nigeria hold on against such a deep-seated emotion that has survived for at least 49 years? Will ignoring or criticising the agitations solve the problem? How long are we going to downplay this emotion? Of course, I can give you one million reasons why I think the Igbo are better off in Nigeria, and why I prefer them to remain in Nigeria, but it is not about what I feel but what the Igbo want for themselves. The real task, then, is to find out: what do the Igbo really want? Do they want Biafra or a bigger share of the political space? Do they want Balkanisation or a bigger say in Abuja? These are the critical questions, in my opinion.

Will a referendum be necessary to determine the fate of Biafra? No matter how popular this may be among the Biafra agitators, a referendum is highly complicated. One, there is no portion of the Nigerian laws that allows for a referendum, much less to determine the balkanisation of the country. The first step would be to amend the constitution to make a legal provision for the adoption of a referendum. This will require at least 24 state houses of assembly and two-thirds of the National Assembly to approve — and the assent of the president. I honestly do not see this sailing through, except it is pre-arranged and pre-agreed by all concerned.

Two, no president will sit down and wilfully crack up his country. One of my favourite quotes from former President Goodluck Jonathan is: “I inherited one Nigeria, and it is not under my watch that Nigeria will disintegrate.” I do not know how any president would go into a meeting and come out smiling that he just signed an agreement to break up Nigeria. It is very unrealistic to think President Buhari would push for a referendum as the British PM David Cameron did over Brexit. Many in the president’s corner will argue that he is dealing with agitations for different things from all the corners of the country and Biafra is just one of them.

Where do I stand? I stated it earlier — I prefer one Nigeria. Anyone who is familiar with my writings and opinions over the years will know that I have always argued that the problem with our nationhood is not our diversity but the political management of it. Every country has diversity issues to deal with — ethnic, language, race, class, sexuality, religion, gender, and so on. These issues stoke tensions, no matter how subtly, from time to time. But the countries that have made progress are those that are managing these tensions with equity, fairness, justice and accommodation. Luckily, they do not need any referendum for that.

More importantly, however, political tensions — often expressed, or evident, in ethno-religious agitations in Nigeria — are capable of being resolved when the economic issues are being genuinely addressed and economic opportunities are well spread across board. I have always believed that the average Nigerian is not asking for too much, but when you have unemployment and poverty and insecurity ravaging the land, political tensions are inevitable. That again highlights the need to develop a robust economy, create opportunities, provide infrastructure, improve security, and address youth unemployment and restiveness. It is a nationwide problem.

On the political management of our diversity, I would like to state yet again that every part of Nigeria must have a stake in government. No part must feel like there is an agenda to keep them out or relegate them. No matter how much we theorise, this feeling is a major driving force behind the resurgence of Biafra agitations and it has to be skilfully managed. I have no idea what is going through the mind of Buhari, but I would suggest that he should douse the tension created by this notion. He has enough problems in his hands; the ones that can be addressed with a stroke of the pen are the quick wins. That will not need a referendum.

QUOTE ============
“I do not know how any president would go into a meeting and come out smiling that he just signed an agreement to break up Nigeria. It is very unrealistic to think President Buhari would push for a referendum as the British PM David Cameron did over Brexit”
==================

FAITH’S FATE
I would like to inform those who are interested that Faith Andrews, the 14-year-old girl with end-stage kidney disease that I wrote about on April 10, 2016, has successfully undergone a transplant in Abuja. She is recovering very well. You would recall that Prof. Isaac Adewole, minister of health, took interest in the case. The surgery was paid for by the federal government. But there is one point I want to hammer home: kidney failure is becoming an epidemic and government must now classify it as a public health issue. I will keep saying this until it is done. Imperative.

COUP TALK
I thought it was a joke when some militants said, recently, that they were encouraged to continue their bombing campaign so that the military could overthrow our democracy. But the army chief, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai, has been holding meetings with senior officers to assure Nigerians that there would be no coup. Anybody old enough to experience military rule as recently as under Gen. Sani Abacha will never wish for a coup. Is it the underground detention cells that are attractive? Is it the bombing of media houses and killing of journalists? Is it the state-sponsored assassination of activists? Terrifying.

THREE LAWMAKERS
Three Nigerian lawmakers were accused of sexual misconduct in the US by the hotel staff, according to the American ambassador to Nigeria, Mr. James Entwistle. All of them have vehemently denied the allegation. Rt. Hon. Yakubu Dogara, the speaker of the house of representatives, has asked for evidence. In the interest of justice, fairness and closure, I think we have to get to the bottom of this matter. This was a development that generated global headlines. It would be very sad if events push it into oblivion and all we end up with are mere allegations and mere denials. Inconclusive.

BREXIT, AT LAST
So the British voted to leave the EU. Actually, those who swung the outcome were senior citizens above 60 who are still glamourising the “good old days” when the UK was an Island, metaphorically speaking. It is quite interesting, isn’t it, that it was after the result that many Britons started asking Google: “What is EU?” Shoot first, ask questions later. The outcome threw global economy into turmoil, but things will hopefully settle in the weeks ahead. The British economy will gain some and lose some, expectedly, but it will take years for the impact to be fully understood. Mistake?

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All’s Well That Ends Well By Simon Kolawole

At the end of the day, President Muhammadu Buhari appears to be loosening up. He came to power with a set of ideas, with the best of intentions, undeniably convinced that those ideas would help produce the Nigeria of his dreams. But as ideas go, they are not etched on the marble. As the beat changes, you have to adjust your dancing steps. You cannot be dancing reggae when the DJ is playing blues. The best of leaders are those who are rigid on principles and flexible on methods. This has been my consistent message to the president in the last one year. In recent times, though, he has demonstrated that he is no longer the rigid personality we thought him to be.

I will give four examples: the impending opening of a new forex window, the “deregulation” of fuel pricing, the decision to constructively engage with the Niger Delta militants and the final settlement of the MTN N1.04 trillion fine. I do not think that Buhari is very happy with some of these concessions, but when you have a bull in the china shop, pragmatism is an option you do not want to ignore. Fair enough, he has demonstrated that though he is very tough, he is also flexible. He has been battered locally and internationally for his “archaic” policies, and while some of these issues are highly ideological, he just needed to shift ground.

Any moment from now, Mr. Godwin Emefiele, governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), will announce a new window for the trading of forex. It will most likely be called the autonomous foreign exchange market (AFEX), and the rate will be determined by the forces of demand and supply that operate in that market. Essentially, exporters and investors who detest the unsustainable official band of N197-N199/$1 will be able to bring in their funds through AFEX at a liberal rate. If all goes well, there will now be more inflow of forex, and the pressure on the black market will reduce, meaning the naira will regain some muscle.

It is not the ultimate solution to the forex crisis, but that the government gave it a thought at all suggests Buhari is finally accepting that the current system is not working. There are two other big issues to deal with concerning the CBN rate: one, the three tiers of government will continue to be short-changed as they share oil revenue at the much lower exchange rate; two, who will be entitled to buy at the CBN rate? Emefiele must define “critical sectors” unambiguously to all and sundry. Of course, there is still the little matter of pent-up forex demand that CBN has to deal with, especially funds belonging to foreign airlines and investors.

When Buhari allowed the price of petrol to be adjusted from N86:50 to N145, he also shifted ground. He had always maintained that there was no subsidy and he, like me, believed Nigerians are entitled to cheaper petrol — after all, it is nature’s gift to us. But the reality is that the economy was going to grind to a halt and socio-political unrest was a real possibility if the fuel queues had continued. By agreeing that the price should be adjusted to allow marketers source forex from other sources to import petrol, Buhari was only being realistic. All that is left now is to summon the courage to properly deregulate the sector so that we can move on with our lives.

Meanwhile, by choosing dialogue with the Niger Delta militants, Buhari could avoid opening up another battlefront. Pardon my language: the militants are like a fly on the balls. The military man in him would ordinarily not invite these chaps to the negotiating table — he would rather pummel them to surrender, especially as the whole “renewed struggle” looks very suspicious. But, as I would always say, the military option could be costly and unpredictable. Our economy is in dire straits and we need to chase away the fox before we rebuke the hen. It could be humiliating, I admit, but we need all the peace we can buy for now. It is not weakness; it is wisdom.

Finally, the news of the week is that MTN and the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) have kissed and made up. After eight months of intense and tensed negotiations, the N1.04 trillion fine imposed on the telecoms giant for failing to disconnect unregistered SIM cards has come down to N330 billion. As “penance”, MTN will also list on the Nigerian stock exchange so that ordinary Nigerians can have a sip of the chilled juice. What’s more, MTN has promised to be of good behaviour, to abide by the code of corporate governance for the telecommunications industry. NCC has, in return, said: Go and sin no more, lest a worse thing cometh unto thee.

Can we now move on? This has been a teachable moment. What have I learnt? One, the regulator can do more than bark in Nigeria — if there is enough political backing. The NCC uncharacteristically slammed the hammer on the biggest operator in Nigeria, apparently because there are new sheriffs in town. Until now, operators merely got a slap on the wrist. Two, there is no harm in negotiating your way out of trouble. MTN initially took legal action, obviously afraid of the December 31, 2015 payment deadline, but soon withdrew its case and engaged the services of a mediator/negotiator. A seemingly hopeless situation was resolved.

Three, our leaders must learn to stand up for us anywhere in the world. President Jacob Zuma of South Africa came to put in a word for his country’s biggest corporate ambassador. Do our presidents do that for our companies? When Globacom was having problems in Ghana and Benin, we left them to their fate. We never saw the prosperity of Globacom as prosperity for Nigeria. Prosperity of MTN is prosperity for South Africa, in Zuma’s eyes. We will never stop arguing over the  relationship between the state and big business, but the problem of the Nigerian is that we do not define our interests in the larger world. We think the world order is by accident.

The MTN issue stressed virtually everybody — from NCC to Aso Rock to MTN in Nigeria and South Africa. Many MTN top executives lost their jobs. Government officials who advocated pragmatism in the interest of the Nigerian economy were blackmailed and accused of collecting bribe. The impasse created so much uncertainty that neither the government nor MTN could plan with the fine. Because of the uncertainty, MTN, one of the biggest spenders in the Nigerian economy, found itself unable to project its capital expenditure, unable to consider sponsorships. Government was also left wondering if the fine was indeed payable. It has ended a win-win for all.

Although some Nigerians want more blood, N330 billion looks like a reasonable compromise. When everybody has the impression that you are minting money, N330 billion will look like chickenfeed. At some point, though, we have to close the chapter and move on. We have often accused MTN Nigeria of arrogance, but throwing the baby away with the birth water could hurt the Nigerian economy more than we imagined. MTN is largely responsible for the transmission backbone for ATM transactions, to say nothing about jobs and the entire value chain. It doesn’t mean they can do whatever they like, but it also doesn’t mean we should lynch them.

Above all, I am now more optimistic about the success of Buhari than I was before his first anniversary in office. I am aware that some people are very desperate to see Buhari fail, as if there is a trophy to be won for it. Nevertheless, millions of Nigerians — even though hungry and angry — still trust Buhari as the leader. Added to his character, this trust is very vital to his ability to deliver the goods. His reasonable compromises will, in my opinion, work in our favour. All I desire now is that Buhari should improve on his human rights record — and be more inclusive. His appointments are awfully lopsided. Every part of Nigeria must have a sense of belonging. Non-negotiable.

AND FOUR OTHER THINGS…

FAREWELL, AMODU

Death visited Nigerian football twice within four days, cruelly claiming the legendary Stephen Keshi, and coldly adding Shaibu Amodu, former Super Eagles’ coach. Amodu, who had an uneventful playing career, was better known as the coach who took BCC Lions of Gboko to great heights. My first encounter with him was in 1994. I used to write his name as SHUAIBU but he told me it was SHAIBU. Twice, he was asked to rescue Nigeria in World Cup qualifiers, twice he got the job done, and twice he was dumped thereafter. Constantly at war with the football authorities — like Keshi — Amodu was easily one of the most accomplished Nigerian coaches ever. Unforgettable.

KANO KILLING

I’m very encouraged by the quick response of the Muslim and Christian communities to the murder of 74-year-old Bridget Agbahime in Kano for “blasphemy”. Governor Abdullahi Ganduje rose up to the occasion, swiftly forging an understanding between the communities to deescalate tension. The suspects have now been charged to court. The septuagenarian was allegedly falsely accused, but even if she actually insulted Prophet Mohammed, Muslim clerics have said the criminals masquerading as religious zealots are not allowed to take the law into their own hands. That, to me, is the message that must be constantly preached to our hearing. Peace.

RAMADAN RANGERS

Meanwhile, in Kaduna, a carpenter, Francis Emmanuel, should be thanking his God that he’s still alive. He was assaulted on Wednesday by overzealous youths who “caught” him eating lunch during Ramadan. But for little mercies, he would have eaten his dinner in the great beyond. He is not even a Muslim, so he is entitled to a decent lunch. Even if he were a Muslim, is it legal to brutalise anyone for not fasting? Governor Nasir el-Rufa’i has personally taken up the matter, sending a strong signal that these criminalities in the name of religion will not be pampered. Order.

REINSTATING STATISM

Hurray! The Nigerian National Shipping Line (NNSL) is on its way back! According to Rt. Hon. Rotimi Amaechi, the minister of transportation, the federal government will soon establish a shipping line “to ensure maximum exploitation of the potentials in our maritime sector”. The highly successful Nigerian Airways is already on its way back as the government pursues the lucrative business of aviation with vigour. Government may as well set up a telco to compete with MTN and co. Soon government may set up a pure water company for the masses. It is a sign of progress, right? Dirigisme.

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The Options Before President Buhari By Simon Kolawole

I remember this encounter all the time. My wife and I were on a trip to the US a few years back. When the immigration officer at the JF Kennedy International Airport, New York, began to check our passports, he launched into a conversation with me on “the problem with Nigeria”.

“Why do you think Nigeria is still struggling to develop?” he asked me.

I know the drill. He wanted me to pinpoint corruption — the international template for diagnosing Nigeria’s ailments. I would not fall for his trick, I told myself.

“I really can’t say. Maybe leadership deficiency?” I was half-stammering. I knew I was holding back my thoughts. But, hell, I didn’t travel to the US to discuss Nigeria’s problems. I spend all my life discussing the problems. I deserved a one-week holiday in the US with my family. Normal service would resume after the break.

He smiled, stamped the passports and returned them.

“I will tell you one thing,” he promised. “Some countries have political problems. Some have economic problems. Nigeria has both economic and political problems.”

I nodded sincerely. I could not agree less, and I praised him for his laconic diagnosis. He seemed gratified. Political problems plus economic problems. What a deadly combination. That is what Fela would call “double wahala for dead body”. There was a time in my life, particularly in the 1990s, when I believed the nonsense that Nigeria could develop in spite ofpolitical instability. My model in those days was Italy — which was changing governments and prime ministers the way a lady changes her shoes, yet the economy was stable. I used to conclude that political problems need not lead to economic problems. I wouldn’t repeat that statement again.

Recent socio-political upheavals in Nigeria are dampening my enthusiasm. Low oil prices and the resultant economic crunch should be enough trouble for us, but political tensions are arising from the menace of the herdsmen, the renewed agitations for Biafra and the rebirth of Niger Delta militancy. Without peace in the yard, we are going nowhere. We are already saddled with low oil income, forex scarcity, unpaid salaries, increasing unemployment, skyrocketing cost of living, and a looming recession. Now add herders, Biafra and Avengers. These are too much to bear. Political problems plus economic problems. Deadly.

I do not consider the issue of the herdsmen too much of a problem: it is mainly about enforcing law and order, on the one hand, and addressing grazing needs, on the other. The herders’ problem has been with us for decades and has nothing to do with a Fulani being president of Nigeria. But our bitter politics has worsened matters, and things easily got compounded when President Muhammadu Buhari himself did not as much as show some concern and empathy. At least, the menace is getting national attention now. I’m a bit more confident that concrete steps will be taken to address this issue decisively.

My bigger worries are coming from the south-east and the south-south. There is a renewed agitation for Biafra in the south-east, and no matter what we think, this will not go away easily. I know there is an attempt, even by the Igbo elite and intelligentsia, to dismiss this with a wave of the hand, but I am not that generous with cynicism. I have heard people argue that the Igbo stand to lose more if they leave Nigeria, but again that is not the point. We are not discussing facts and logic here: we are discussing political emotions. The Biafran flag is flying, even if at half-mast, in the hearts of a vast number of south-easterners. It is unhelpful to deny this.

Presidential spokesman, Mr. Femi Adesina, recently said the renewed Biafra agitations only came after President Goodluck Jonathan lost the 2015 election. That, exactly, is what bothers me. The south-east voted massively for Jonathan, who lost. Word started going round that they would pay dearly for it. I have heard well-marshalled arguments that since the Igbo voted for Jonathan, they know the score. They should pay the price. I shiver. No country can make progress with a winner-takes-all definition of politics. I don’t know what is driving the renewed Biafra agitation, but we must find a way to calm things down. We need the peace badly.

I can imagine Buhari being pulled in different directions by the hawks and the doves. The hawks would be saying: Mr. President, you owe the Igbo nothing; let them do whatever they want; make sure you use a strong arm to keep the protesters in check; do not yield an inch to blackmail. The doves would be saying: Mr. President, the election is over; it is time to embrace everybody and forget the past; accommodate everyone no matter their political choices in the past; let everybody have a stake in your government; we need all hands on deck. For me, I favour anything that will bring down the tension. We need political stability to build economic prosperity.

While we are at it, the Niger Delta militants have gone for our economic jugular. They have vowed to bring oil production to zero, and, so far, they are on target. They are even threatening to test-run surface-to-air missiles. Mr. Bismarck Rewane, respected economist and public affairs analyst, thinks there is a link between the attacks on oil pipelines and the stepping up of the anti-graft war. “The destruction of assets at this time happens to coincide with the step-up on the anti-corruption war. Is there a link between the anti-graft war and the militancy? What is this all about? There’s a riddle that needs to be unravelled,” he said on Channels TV on Monday.

Again, this worries me. All along, I thought it was all about the toning down of the amnesty programme and the reported scrapping of the maritime university. In my mind, these issues could easily be resolved: just restore the amnesty programme and bring back the university. But Rewane seems to suggest something more complex: the probes are hitting officials of the Jonathan administration below the waist; indeed, there have been rumours that Jonathan himself might be arrested and prosecuted. No former Nigerian president has been so treated, no matter the allegations. Many even argue that the anti-graft war is targeted only at PDP members.

Now the dilemma: are we going to advise Buhari to call off the chase, appease the militants and halt the bleeding of pipelines — if indeed it is a reaction to the probes? Or do we ask Buhari to assert Nigeria’s sovereignty and launch a full-scale military war? The hawks will be saying: Mr. President, go for it; crush them; you would be sending the wrong signal, or even a mixed message, by engaging with the militants or bargaining on the anti-graft war. The doves, on the other side, would be saying: you’ve arrested Jonathan’s associates; you’ve clamped them into detention; you’ve recovered billions of naira and dollars; what else do you want, Mr. President?

Ultimately, it is Buhari’s call. The one thing I can say — be that as it may — is that he can only tackle our economic problems when there is peace and stability. Upheavals will be a major distraction. The longer these agitations dominate the agenda, the more distracted we will be. I would also say the military option could be costly, time-consuming and unpredictable. Between asserting the sovereignty of the Nigerian state and working out compromises to keep the country going, Buhari will have to design a solution that will leave both his reputation and Nigeria intact. He must carefully weigh his options in this conundrum. He needs all the wisdom he can get.

AND FOUR OTHER THINGS…

BLASPHEMY MURDER

What’s the value of human life in Nigeria? Accused of blasphemy, 74-year-old Bridget Agbahime, a market woman in Kano state, was killed on Thursday by mobsters who heartlessly slit her throat. Last Sunday, Methodus Emmanuel, a 24-year-old trader in Padongari, Niger state, was accused of blasphemy and murdered by a mob. So I am asking: is there no proper mechanism for dealing with these issues rather than jungle justice? So if we just had argument on who is more beautiful between my wife and your wife, I can easily accuse you of blasphemy and get you murdered by the mob? Senseless.

JAMB AND JAMBOREE

So the federal government has scrapped the post-UTME (unified tertiary matriculation examination)  conducted by the tertiary institutions? The test came about as a result of distrust in the examination handled by the Joint Admissions Matriculation Board (JAMB). Well, I have a different problem. I thought the natural logic is to scrap JAMB itself. Where in the world does one body conduct entrance examinations for tertiary institutions? Can’t each school set its own standards and conduct its own entrance tests? JAMB is one of the leftovers of our military history that needs to be trashed and given a state burial. Anachronism.

BUHARI AND JONATHAN

Critics of former President Goodluck Jonathan will never agree with me, but conceding the 2015 presidential election and calling to congratulate President Muhammadu Buhari remains historic. You just can’t wish that feat away. We have seen politicians set the house on fire after losing elections, dating back to the 1960s. Buhari admitted on Monday that Jonathan’s phone call left him “shocked”, remarking: “For him to have conceded defeat even before the result was announced by INEC, that was quite gracious of him.” I’m happy it’s not everybody who thinks it was “normal” — and I’m glad it happened during my lifetime. Exemplary.

THE GREATEST

The Rumble in the Jungle. The Thrilla in Manila. Sting Like a Bee. Float like a Butterfly. Rope-a-dope. Dear God, we cannot thank you enough for creating Muhammad Ali, for allowing him to add so much colour to our lives, and for allowing him to live with us for 74 years. The boxing world will never forget his bitter rivalry with Joe Frazier whom he nicknamed “The Gorilla”, even giving us unforgettable poetry: “It will be a killa and a thrilla and a chilla when I get the Gorilla in Manila.” He won 56 of 61 professional fights, 37 by knockout. We can’t stop loving him. Adios.

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One Year Of President Buhari… By Simon Kolawole

A few days to the inauguration of President Muhammadu Buhari last year, a lady went to buy fuel at her neighbour’s station. In the commotion of a queue and lengthy frustration, the neighbour allowed her to jump the line based on their personal relationship. A riot almost broke out. One motorist yelled: “All this nonsense will stop on May 29 when Baba is sworn in as president. You people should continue to do whatever you like for now.” Instinctively, the motorcyclists started chanting: “Sai Baba! Sai Baba! Sai Baba!” The excitement was childlike. Change was hanging in the air like Christmas lights. Expectations went through the skies like a rocket.

Soon enough, after Buhari’s inauguration, fuel queues faded away, power supply became bright and stable, and social media flew into a whirlwind — celebrating the triumph of “body language”. Why did we suddenly start having petrol after what seemed like an end-time Tribulation? “Body language”. Why was PHCN suddenly giving us power almost twenty-four seven? “Body language”. There was breathless enthusiasm. Suddenly, Nigeria began to look like a proper country, not an asylum. For once, many sceptics began to see hope. They saw a country that could work. Welcome to the Nigeria of our dream. Praise the Lord.

May 2016. One year after. And what is left, for many Nigerians, is a huge carcass of the enthusiasm. The fuel queues got much longer at regular intervals, and power supply — supply??? — dimmed more often than not. Suddenly, things were no longer looking bright. It did not take very long for many critics to write Buhari off, with this told-you-so gloating. Even many hawkers of change were getting frustrated: only shame, or pride, or both, did not allow them to openly denounce Buhari, who took half-a-year to name a cabinet full of people we already knew would make the team long before he won the election in March 2015.

But has Buhari failed? Or have we failed him? By expecting too much? Was he over-marketed? He made precisely three promises during his campaign, although his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), made like 10,000 more. One, he said he would fight corruption. Two, he promised to tackle insecurity. Three, he pledged to create jobs. He would want to be judged by the promises he made when the microphone was in his hands, not the ones made on his behalf by APC in sugar-coated campaign leaflets. This excuse would not sell, of course. He ran on the party’s platform. Nobody would accept the pretext that APC was a mere coalition to win an election.

How has Buhari fared? One, Buhari promised to fight corruption. One year after, is Nigeria less corrupt? The jury is still out. Many jurists will point at the recovery of cash and property running into billions and billions of naira as evidence of a successful anti-graft war. And the rejuvenation of EFCC. And the wrapping of cold metals round the wrists of Olisa Metuh. And the arrest and trial of politicians and former security chiefs. And the implementation of treasury single account (TSA). And the “body language”. And, most importantly, the message out there that it is no longer business as usual. All these are bits and pieces to celebrate, if you are impressed.

However, Buhari must now go on and expand the scope of the anti-graft campaign. As I have often said, corruption is a mindset. Indiscipline is a mindset. We need reorientation. We need a surgery on the mind. Buhari’s biggest credential is his integrity. So if I were him, I would be thinking: how do I impart this integrity on the psyche of Nigerians? How do I catch the young? How do I get Nigerians to voluntarily enrol in my integrity academy, to begin doing things the right way with fewer bullets to the head? What would I do so that long after I have left the stage, integrity and discipline would remain alive in Nigerians? That is the next challenge, more difficult than buying handcuffs.

Two, Buhari promised to tackle insecurity. The seriousness with which he has confronted the insurgency in the north-east is a clear departure from the past when pot-bellied military chiefs were treating us to tragicomedy. There is no doubt whatsoever that the new service chiefs are not only trim and fit, their brains are more useful that those of their predecessors. Our soldiers are proud and eager to fight again, and they are no longer demoralised and endangered. We are yet to recover the Chibok girls, what a shame, but we have recovered our territories, and hopefully these Boko Haram thugs will never be able to mount a full-scale war against the country again.

But there you go again. As we fumigate the north-east and get rid of these retarded elements, we’ve dropped the ball in the Niger Delta, and the bad boys are back in town, ripping up pipelines and setting the economy on fire. At the rate they are going, oil export will be closer to zero mbpd than the 2.2mbpd on which 2016 budget is based. It will look like another budget padding. Kidnappers are unrelenting and more demanding. The herders are hounding us. They are now venerated as the new Boko Haram, a slight exaggeration. Alas, security is not just about ending Boko Haram. We quench a fire in the kitchen and another starts in the bedroom. There is more work to do.

Three, Buhari promised to create jobs. Millions of them. But the unemployment figures are not flattering. We are jogging to a recession. I mean running. Sprinting. We all know Buhari inherited a bad economy: low crude oil prices, foreign reserves that did not reflect the average oil price of $100 in the previous years, uncompleted projects running into trillions of naira, battered financial markets, and an over-milked treasury. However, many would argue that his antidotes so far have turned what looked like ulcer to cancer. His failure to act immediately and decisively may have inflicted a collateral damage on the economy and complicated the ailment.

All said and done, I think Buhari is making progress on his first two campaign promises, but the third — the economy — is not doing him any favours. I know we won’t finish tackling corruption and insecurity in one year. Things have to be done in stages and phases, and I am more inclined to think things can only get better on those two fronts. On the economy, though, Buhari is evidently on the back foot. Clearly, the economy is not his forte and he is, unfortunately, allowing ideological hangovers to get in the way. He needs some help and he must get some help. His policy positions in the last one year have not shown any signs of solving any problem.

Going into his second year, therefore, Buhari has another opportunity to renew his covenant with Nigerians, to revamp sagging hopes, to refresh enthusiasm. Change rides on the back of enthusiasm and once the enthusiasm wanes, it gets more difficult to secure the buy-in of the people. Plus, Buhari needs to communicate more to Nigerians and show more empathy. People are not unreasonable when they are spoken to — with respect. Some statements made by his ministers in recent weeks are very disrespectful of Nigerians. We don’t need anybody telling us change is not “instance coffee” or that we want “change in our picket”. Talk to us; don’t talk down on us.

Unlike many Nigerians, though, I am not in the mood to give up on Buhari. All the president needs is a larger heart, a flexible mind, a broader perspective, and Nigeria would be on the path to greatness again. He has demonstrated courage and tenacity. These are fantastic attributes you need in running an asylum. But to get the best out of the system and the people, pragmatism is key. Flexibility is non-negotiable. Pragmatism allows you to be flexible, to assess the facts, to evaluate your position and make the necessary adjustments. Even when a doctor gives you a medication, she wants to be sure it is working. Else, it needs to be changed. I repeat: pragmatism is not corruption.

AND FOUR OTHER THINGS…

TOMATO TROUBLE

As if the economic hardship was not enough torture, tomato has added its own sting. It is like shooting the wounded. A pest called tuta absoluta (the idiot even has a surname) is spreading havoc across northern states, wrecking not just the economies of farmers but also our dining tables.  A basket of tomatoes that used to sell for N5000 is now N40,000. You now get fewer grains of rice or smaller balls of pounded yam, since the food seller cannot react by giving you a teaspoon of stew. Government must act quickly. We can’t afford this food crisis. Calamity.

OIL AUDIT

The audit report on the extractive industries just released by the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) revealed too much for our own good. Unremitted revenue, undervaluation of national assets, confusion over who manages the NLNG dividends (federation or federal government?), the problem child called NPDC, and opaque crude oil deals. The list is depressingly endless. And to think the report is only for 2013! NEITI has promised to expedite the reports for 2014 and 2015, and there will now be interim reports. I hope President Buhari, the lawmakers and other key stakeholders will be guided by the recommendations. Reform.

SHARIA SHAKE-UP                                                                                                              

Americans will say “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. To be honest, I’m confused over the utility of the bill before the House of Representatives seeking to scale up the implementation of Sharia. Of all the challenges we are facing I would not rank expansion of Sharia as a matter of urgent national importance. Anything religious is always going to excite passion in Nigeria. Predictably, commotion has ensured in the public sphere and brickbats are flying in different directions. The lawmakers need caution. We have too much in our plate now. One headache at a time is enough. Reason.

THE BIAFRANS

We are all Biafrans, according to author, activist and journalist, Chido Onumah. Or that is the title of the book he is launching on Tuesday in Abuja. Former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar will chair the launch. The collection of essays is not about how to Balkanise Nigeria, but rather Onumah’s takes on the nation-building issues over which we’ve been yelling at each other since the 1960s. Unfortunately, we love to hide our heads in the sand, yet at various junctures virtually every component of Nigeria is raising these issues in different ways and forms. We are all Biafrans without knowing it. Irony.

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