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By: Basil Jide Fadipe
Medical Surgeon, Teacher, Social Commentator
Justin Fadipe Centre
Commonwealth of Dominica
To be black, no matter how straight or nuanced the story behind the blackness, is also in the end more to be viewed as African….. for good or bad. And though blacks dispersed around the world no longer represent a homogenous group, ….courtesy history and accidents of history and the penetrant or overriding impact of the two on geneticisation and phenotypic pluralisms, to be black ( shade or sound irrespective) is to be tied into the challenged African historiography, ….its labored mix of plusses and minuses deriving from the dreary image problem, fair and unfair, that Africanity for all of its recorded centuries has engendered. Out there in the larger world blackness equates to africanness and with it constantly comes the risk of being kicked to the sociologic kerb or pond base some, more victim than others, but none ever not a victim, one tint or another, in the fierce global dynamics between colors and racial classes.
So plenty and so often are the relative minuses of being viewed an African that m many blacks would rather pant away at m historical revisionism, hastily ready to excise any part of a story that seeks to cant them in the direction of an African rootedness. If success can be lumbered with a thousand fathers, failure or any appearance of it can often painfully look an orphan, no one willing to be its parent . The African trajectory till date can hardly be canvassed in colorful inks ; for reasons as much her fault as they are not, her story and her reality a somber concatenation of tasteless misadventures that give her a Cinderalla profile Cinderallas may be many things to many people but never anyone’s envy.
To be sure , at the individual level, there are Africans (and blacks generally) whose tenacity of purpose and the attendant exceptionalism have earned them upward mobility, gravitas and uncommon respect, the pervading tendency however has always been to calibrate any black or groups of them against the generic visual scales that the parent continent produces. Those scales have never been flattering and so no black has ever been able to fully escape the wrench, once he wanders away from base . Hyphenated blacks in their various incarnations ( black-American, black english, Caribbean-blacks or black-anything ) are regularly more profiled for the blackness than the hyphens and therefore may be no more than few dangling shades away from the plight of the unhyphenated. The plight of blacks ( hyphenated or not ) is a common one though tangible differentials ( time and space ocassioned) can be imported into the dynamics to pitch one black or group of blacks agsinst another in a craftily calculated and disingenuous attempt by those who may wish to create and exploit wedges .
So it is not uncommon to find blacks staking out ‘superiority’ positions between and betwixt themselves, using calibrations that are in reality ungrounded in anything but superfices. Inside campuses and work places around the world it is not uncommon to find particular black grouping viewing itself as superior to another black grouping, disingeniously unmindful of the common plight before all when all the superfices ( or even artifices) are subtracted. For as long as it seems convenient or self serving either to the ego or the moment or the grand purpose, the fratricidality looms larger and larger , playing into the hands of none but the very agents likely to benefit from any wedge .
Over years of traveling and mingling with various kinds of blacks and non-blacks , the sobering reality in my view has come to be that the ‘fastest’ blacks ( hyphenated or not ) will on the global stage, always be judged by the standards of the ‘slowest’ blacks. Until the slowest blacks ( however the calibration is done ) anywhere and most certainly in Africa are able to up their game, no black anywhere will ever get his or her full due of respect . The American white , more guiltily so the poorly educated and poorly travelled amongst them , sees every black as an African and his views of Africanness remains hardly improved over the years, buttressed daily by the kind of news about African affairs hitting his optics at every turn . And though his African American brethren has lived next to him for scores of hundred years now , all he still sees of him is an African undeserving of equal status or equal dividends.
If only Africa will rise even by her own standards so the benefits of respect can spill over into everything black including for those who now find themselves hyphenated in different lands and climes. It hurts to see how blacks are being felled like game in American cities day upon days . The police kills the black, the media smears the victim and the prosecutor tips the scale; ….over and over, the paranoia of the killer is packaged as acceptable defence inside a sour system that still views the black as a savage import from Africa. Then the post murder parades of talk and analyses, more talk and effete protests ….. then snap into silence. And then again !
Africa on her own part must pick up speed to reinvent herself whilst dispersed or hyphenated blacks everywhere on their own part must realize that unless Africa is respected , neither they nor the continental Africans can ever expect to live respectably when once outside of their own genetic base . Taunting each other from inside own respective cubby holes as to who is superior or inferior is being penny wise, pound foolish. Such fratricidal taunts only pull down everyone to the fatigue of all but the detractors .
By: Basil Jide Fadipe
Medical Surgeon, Teacher, Social Commentator
Justin Fadipe Centre
Commonwealth of Dominica
We are faced with monumental levels of corruption in Nigeria today. In the armed-forces, the civil service, the judiciary, legislature, and even the private sector, corrupt practises are rife. People that are remunerated to defend the interests of institutions and organisations turn around to undermine, and in some cases, destroy the very offices that granted them leverage and a livelihood. In the Badeh case, one is amazed, and galled, at just how easily one person could corrupt and fleece the air force, and by extension Nigeria, of so much, and for so long! But he is just one among many others like Dasuki et al.
Some years ago, my family and I were driving past Hyde Park Corner in London. Suddenly we spotted three outriders and a Jaguar approaching. As the small entourage sped past, we spotted the Prince of Wales (Charles Windsor) in the back seat of the Jaguar – and he waved at us! We did not know they were due to pass by, neither did we notice their approach. But his security detail would have seen us, long before we saw the prince, and they would have made preparations for most outcomes of any encounter. Much more valuable than the limited armoury on the Jaguar and the small weapons of the outriders and escorts, was the information about the route and likely risks. This informational vantage-point afforded the prince and his entourage the confidence to travel with a lightweight security detail. Without it, they would need a battery.
Now, one would be remiss to imagine that there is something egregious about the Nigerian psyche. Allow me to illustrate. Sometime last year, residents of St Albans discovered a caveat in parking laws. They quickly took advantage of it, causing chaos in the city centre. The point here is that Nigerians are not any worse off than humans in other parts of the world. The residents of this city, like other human beings, spotting a lacuna in law, enforcement, or justice, elevate personal interest over the public weal. These folk acted, as Nigerians, or other humans would when authority is absent. The focus here though is not on law, enforcement, or justice. Rather it is the means whereby signals and constraints can be visibly availed to personal interest, and thereby to prevent and preempt a conflict with the greater good, and the law.
Let us take a look at information and how it is abused at the lowest levels of society. Special focus is given to the public service, where much of the corrupt practises in Nigeria today is engineered. In almost every institution of government, the citizen accesses services provided by an authority, physically and by submitting and/or receiving documents. However, having initiated the dialogue by handing in said documents, both the citizen and the authority become disconnected from an intermediary, and often frustrating, process. The citizen has to plead or pay corrupt officers to glean so much as an update on the current status of the process. The authority, whether by omission or commission, remains unaware, and perhaps, justifiably aloof, to the process and the pending documents. In the time that plays out, the citizen is frustrated and fleeced, and the perception of the authority suffers damage.
This does not have to be so! Technology that can be deployed to short-circuit this routine hijacking of information by scurrilous middlemen. In this case, something as simple as a document management system (DMS). This allows for the electronic management of all documents passing through an institution or organisation. Where properly implemented, this would free citizens from having to be physically present to interact with an authority. The system provides continued visibility for citizens and the authority, after the document(s) have been submitted to the process.
One immediate side-effect should be increased activity. Since a lot of time is saved from each transaction, there is opportunity to invest those savings in other transactions with government or an organisation. An astute government could also proviso access on availability of tax identification for validation. The auditing function within the institution could thereafter leverage historical records. The performance of systems, as well as those responsible for delivering services can be analysed to gauge the perception, accessibility.
Beyond technology though, is motivation and goal. It would be credulous to read this and immediately jump out to hire a technology firm to advise and implement. Equally unwise would be to buy some DMS software and do-it-yourself. If those advising and/or implementing the solution have divergent motivations, or their objectives do not match those of the leadership, even a noble initiative such as this will fail. That would be a tragedy. Leadership that desires to see better service delivery, must entrust the introduction of enabling technology to partners that share same motivation.
Having chosen like-minded partners who, for whatever reasons, share the vision of the institution or organisation, there will still be work to do, during and after the implementation. Technology by itself is not enough, it must be evolved, and audited from time to time to ensure that it is still functional and satisfactory. Medieval castles of were not sufficient to keep out invaders or keep prisoners in. Likewise, information management systems will be subject to assault from those that have lost revenue due to its introduction, or those that stand to gain from its demise. That should never be a disincentive though.
If institutions such as the CIA, KGB, Mossad, and organisations such as Microsoft, Google, EBay, Apple, etc are still standing today despite the attacks that they face daily, any institution or organisation should have hope. Attackers usually measure the assault to fit the calibre of the target. As long as those with the vision invest a little more time, effort and resource than those seeking to undermine the system, all should be well.
To ensure that the new technology is accommodated, changes may be required to legislation, rules, or code of conduct. The case of card readers and the 2015 general elections is a lesson to all. When we dare to fight corruption, the corrupt fight back. Beyond fighting corruption though these changes offer other benefits. The flip-side of this brass coin is pure gold. Information may be power but information can also be very valuable! But that is a story for another day. We should take control of the information that drives our public services to reduce corrupt practises, improve our services, and perhaps generate some revenue along the way.
The problems of our present conundrum are not intractable, we however need imagination, resilience and more belief in our own selves to solve our own problems. Together we can.
May God bless Nigeria; amen.
Viva New Nigeria!
Oyewole, Olanrewaju J (Mr.)
London SE18 3PD
+44  793 920 3120
Mr Oyewole is a social and political commentator, blogger. He is a technology consultant with significant experience in the UK security sector. He has participated in key IT initiatives for the UK police and army.
But why? The matters at hand are not beyond the comprehension of even laypersons in our society, the issues can be analysed by any reasonably educated and logical mind. Let us examine the tealeaves, beginning with the one on top.
1). CJN attempts to promote PCA
Now why would such an altruistic move by the CJN be rebuffed by the PCA, after all it could be said that the Supreme Court is the pinnacle of aspiration and career for any professional in the Nigerian judiciary. The CJN is not obliged to offer such prized elevations to any judge. In recognising Salami’s contribution to the judiciary, the CJN had demonstrated leadership and patriotism, and an unfailing commitment to the Nigeria project; even in the last hours of his tenure.
But was this a Greek gift, did the silk robe conceal an unsheathed sword? From the grapevine we discover that Salami was by-passed for promotion to the Supreme Court because of federal character. After taking advice from senior judges that he respected, Salami apparently made the decision to work the path towards PCA rather than queue up behind his juniors in the Supreme Court. The offer of a seat in the Supreme Court, from his perspective, would therefore amount to a demotion rather than a promotion. The CJN should have known, and empathised with this fact.
Secondly, in the Court of Appeal, Salami had the liberty to shape and nurture a select core of next generation lawyers within his fiefdom in the disciplines that made names for the likes of Kayode Eso, Chukwudifu Oputa, Andrews Obaseki and others – simplicity, honesty, diligence, courage and personal conviction. But then that is just one side of the coin, others would say that Salami was more Fagin to their artful dodger, and that he was actually grooming his proteges in the finer arts of duplicity and sophistry.
2). PCA raises an alarm
One should not be surprised that the PCA resisted the elevation; leaving corruption aside, there is greater prestige in being the PCA than in assuming facelessness in the Supreme Court. More so, as the image of the judiciary in Nigeria today is at an all time low. Supreme Court judges are held in the same low esteem as most of the rest of the judiciary. In fact, when recently (in the media), Nigerians have talked of the judiciary being the last bastion of the nation, they often referred to the actions of the Appeal Court, and not the Supreme Court. Since the 12 2/3 case, it would appear, to most Nigerians, that the Supreme Court, in composition and general standing, has been on a downward spiral.
So, whether for prestige, or to avoid the stigma of the Supreme Court, the CJN’s offer would be a poison chalice to the PCA. But then again, it is just possible that, unknown to Nigerians, the PCA had cornered the market on large settlements for favourable judgement in the Appeal Court, and the CJN, having the best interests of Nigeria at heart decided to break up the party for Salami and his merry men. Yea or Nay, I guess one would need to examine the antecedents of Salami, his lifestyle, colleague/peer opinions and his present economic circumstance in order to gain an inkling on what the truth is.
3). NBA and NJC constitute panels
You would have expected that these august bodies would come together and form one panel, or at least consult each other and then save face with a press release explaining the need for two “linked” panels. But perhaps the composition and aspirations of these groups are so different that their horses cannot be watered from the same trough. The NBA and NJC, in theory, should include some of the best minds and the most esteemed lawyers should be counted in their gatherings, one therefore wonders why such intelligent, distinguished and mature persons, could not even agree to cooperate in an investigation that impinges on all! The question that comes to mind is this: is not the same law that they practise?
4). The panels disagree on cause and fault!
But what were these panels constituted for? What was their remit? Was it to adjudicate/rule or provide opinion on the matter? What was the mandate given to each, and was there any overlap, or perhaps the matter involved such legal technicalities that only the cognoscenti could begin to comprehend it. To the common man, there appeared to be no disagreement in the scope that would justify the contradiction in the panels’ pronouncement. So, what could be so complex and subjective about the events that transpired, and the interpretation of same in the light of the laws of Nigeria. Given the experience of those appointed to the panels, could the details be so complex and subjective that they not only disagree, but that the outcomes from both panels are irreconciliable. Further, the root cause analysis differs, and the interpretation of conduct disagrees; but the laws from which these conclusions were synthesised are the same!
5). NBA indicts the CJN
In what would turn out to be a half-hearted attempt to deal with a major issue that threatens the nation, the NBA arrives at a verdict that identifies a culprit, and immediately lets him off with a reprimand and a disagreeable letter. The NBA indicted the CJN for misconduct and overreaching the limits of his office, they also identified two collaborators.
But they should have gone further and recommended sanctions against the CJN for abuse of office, and taken action against the two lawyers accused alongside the CJN for aiding and abetting him. If this man was guilty, he had brought the judiciary into disrepute and the sword should not have been sheathed; his ox should have been gored, mauled, or whatever befit the occasion. Also, his accomplices should have been sanctioned, so far as the constitution allows the NBA to, and the NBA should have supported this with the sternest language – it was an opportunity lost! But then, maybe those who live in glass houses have learnt not to throw stones. On reflection and retrospection, the NBA may have recognised that far worse offences had gone by without so much as a blink of the eye. Better not to make a scene, and attract the community to one’s moral nakedness.
6). NJC indicts the PCA
The NJC responded with a judgement of its own. Now, one would have expected a CJN who is indicted by everyday lawyers to have stepped down voluntarily, especially as his term was almost up, and to retain some shreds of dignity, in what appears, on the surface to be some indiscretion on his part. Nevertheless, pride/dignity seemed a distant concern in the battle at hand, and so the NJC responded with its own broadside, indicting the PCA for perjury.
The stakes were suddenly much higher! The NJC also recommended that the PCA be suspended and dismissed from the judiciary for not apologising to the CJN when told to do so.
But they should have gone further. If the PCA perjured himself, it is a criminal offence and must not be swept under the carpet. He should be charged to court and the full weight of the law brought to bear on him with due punishment to serve as deterrent to others. All the other judges that sat on the compromised tribunals should likewise be dismissed and the lawyers that colluded with said judges should be disbarred. In the fight for a New Nigeria, these crimes tear at the very foundations of our society and they must not be allowed to lie, rather they must, as a matter of priority be rooted out. So it was a shock and a sick joke for the NJC to have asked the PCA to apologise and so to end the matter. Fortunately for Nigeria, he did not, and now, maybe we will have an opportunity to hear the truth in a competent court. Yet how could the courts act? The NJC sat and deliberated in contempt of court, so it would be something of an abormality to return to the court to put the seal on a fait accompli! Then again, pigs have been known to fly in Nigeria.
7). President concurs with NJC
In a press release issued by the Office of the president, the executive acceded to the request of the NJC, and that, within a few days of said request being received!
Given the sensitivity of the matter at hand, the precariousness of the security situation in the country, and the pressing problems of political and social disconnect caused by the last elections, one would have expected the presidency to give very deep thought to the matters at hand. The national interest must be of the highest priority in making a decision, even if not for posterity, then for the present peace and stability for the many millions that inhabit the country today. It was vital that the president be seen to be impartial, in the face of personal interest; after all, the man at the centre of the controversy had been involved in a number of judgements given against the president’s party.
Justice they say, must not only be done, it must be seen to be done. President Jonathan should have taken time out to think and consider such a weighty issue, perhaps even to pray. It appears he didn’t. To avoid a perception of conflict of personal interest and for the sakes of national security, the president should have commissioned his most trusted aides to research the issue, and for the sake of Nigeria today and tomorrow, find out the facts. Mr president should also have consulted broadly, involving the legislature, whose support he would need, if the PCA were to be dismissed; and he should have sounded out some of respected elders in the legal community. Finally, having decided on a course of action, the president should have ensured that from A to Z, the constitution was observed, to the letter. In essence act decisively but holistically, not for a palliative but rather towards a panacea. Mr president did not prevaricate, but was the decision holistic and was it a good first step towards a lasting solution?
8). Nigerians react
The Nobel laureate, Wole Soyinka, in his 1972 book “The Man Died…” issued a famous quotable, to wit, “The man dies in all who keep silent in the face of tyranny.” For all the alleged timidity of Nigerians, our fear is not so deep that people refrain from complaining, when the government of the day is perceived to be acting against the national interest as seen by the masses. In some cases, the complaining may be reduced to murmuring, as sometimes happens under military regimes when speaking has become hazardous to health. We thank God that is not the case today in Nigeria. And so the people spoke, and very few were in support of the president’s decision. Notable lawyers, the NBA, the Nigeria Labour Council (NLC), the main opposition parties, people from all walks of life, both home and abroad; all spoke against what was generally perceived as a travesty. The Office of the president was undeterred.
Meanwhile, the NJC, yet fulminating, continued to breathe threats against the PCA. This “inbred” body, with the majority appointed by the CJN, a party to the dispute, was not bothered that its initial action and ongoing pronouncements were in contempt of an existing case before a competent court. The third arm of government had arrived at the zero game, and they did not even know it. Following the disastrous outing of the UK and the USA in Iraq, Tony Blair opined that history would be the judge of what they did in that country; whether good or bad. The president may like to take the same line; perhaps history will indeed say differently, but Mr president must hope that history is not a few months away as in the case of Mr Blair, and that the folly of his actions does not become apparent in the very immediate future.
Philosophers are grounded in a truth that the executive would benefit from learning: that it is hard to know better than the man, what is good for the man, and it is not often the case that leaders know better than the people on matters that impinge on their daily lives in fundamental ways. But then what is our duty as the people, citizens of Nigeria; at a time like this? We cannot afford to keep quiet, while the axe is swung relentlessly at the foundation of our home, our silence will not stop the attacks on the pillars that hold us up. We therefore need to complain loudly and publicly, we should not let this be swept under the carpet nor forgotten out of hand; we must press the case, and see that proper justice is done either way. To keep quiet now would be to regret at leisure and with pain.
God bless Nigeria.
Remember; if you are not part of the solution, then you must be part of the problem.
That is the question
How come is it that the daughters of the Niger wash their hands with sputum, and the sons of the Iroko build their houses with bark? By what providence do the citizens of this great country find themselves begging bread in the midst of a great abundance of natural and human resources. In an oil-producing country such as ours, citizens should be able to take the availability of petrol/diesel for granted. That though, is not the case with Nigeria. Fuel shortages are a perennial problem that we all have to contend with. In Ilorin, where the son of a Nigerian is commonly to be found, it is not unusual to find petrol queues snaking on for about two miles. Taxi drivers and the common man are the main fare of this problem, as most “able” citizens have friends behind the petrol pumps and in the offices that they can see about conjuring up a keg or two of the stuff. These queues take time, courage, and some measure of luck or Grace (depending on your perspective) to navigate. It is not uncommon to hear of people spending two or three days inching their way along to the front of the queue; only to discover that the station had now run out of petrol. Now, if that were all, it would not be so bad, one being quit for loss of time only. However, folk are on occasion forced to leave their vehicles on the queue overnight, and men of the underworld, not being the type to miss an opportunity for illicit gain, take advantage of absent car owners, and spoil the vehicles for parts. In medicine, iatrogenic is analogous of a person who comes in suffering from a broken arm, and leaves with Cholera. I guess, in a way, one could describe the loss of car parts while queuing for petrol under the same label – if only this were a hospital, and not the roadside.
One is forced to wonder, that, Is it really worth one’s while to spend half a day queuing for petrol, simply because it is subsidised? Is it correct to suggest that the value of subsidy on a tank of petrol is more valuable than four/five hours of the average Nigerian’s day? Surely that should not be right! For even if it was right, it is not proper, and should therefore be wrong. Of strength, courage-in-adversity, faith, and entrepreneurial spirit, this nation is second to none. Surely the day of the average Nigerian is worth many times the value of subsidy on a tank of petrol, and the safety and security of car-owner and car, including parts, cannot be bartered, at least not in the same market as petrol.
The question that begs asking, is “how come? How is it that a country that produces x million barrels of oil per day cannot cater for the needs of its own local population, while at the same time indulging the world?”. This column is man enough to ask the question, but will we find a person to answer?
Whether tis better to subsidise …
and so please powerful foes, even at the cost of further undermining the economy. There are not many Nigerians who will question the veracity of the statement that a sizeable proportion of our subsidised petrol/diesel ends up across the border. But many of us still believe in the subsidy; afterall, this is an oil producing country. A point that we miss though, is that the goodwill of subsidy is being abused up and down the country by, racketeers, bunkerers and black-marketeers; and that rather than aid economic recovery, the constrained access to subsidised petrol actually slows the pace of business activity. All this has not dampened the enthusiasm of the pro-subsidy camp.
A popular argument in favour of the subsidy takes the line that the money raked in from the removal of subsidies would end up in the pockets of our treacherous leaders. I must pause here to say that I felt challenged in my spirit using the words “treacherous” and “leaders” in the context of Nigeria because not all our leaders are bad, but since neither you nor I have a hand in these traitorous acts, the finger is left pointing at the seat of power, however reluctantly. The other argument for the justification of subsidy is that Nigerians are too poor to afford the cost of unsubsidised petroleum products.
I very strongly disagree with these two arguments. In the first instance; because a cabal of looters sit on top of the revenue from petroleum mining does not in itself form an argument for subsidisation. The issue here is one of accountability, and that is what we should be taking up. The second argument is premised on the poverty of Nigerians today; a counter-reality super-imposed on an erstwhile hard-working people with boundless reserves of energy and enthusiasm for honest work and entrepreneurism. The poverty we see today is a mask; and once government removes the obstacles of infrastructure and security, the true identity of Nigerians will be revealed in an explosion of productive activity that may not be witnessed again in the time-line of humanity in this dimension.
Here again, the issue that must be pushed is not how to make Nigerians comfortable in the current state of poverty, rather, it should be how to get us out of the state of affairs, and into an activity mode that can afford unsubsidised petroleum products. Paradoxically, the very removal of subsidy is likely to create the impetus for improved, increased, or higher priced output required to cope with the removal of subsidy. >”What about inflation!?”<
Or to refrain from subsidy …
And thereby to irk powerful foes and not-so-patriotic allies, or so to say, “take Arms against a Sea of troubles”. It is clear that there is a real and present danger in confronting vested interests, especially those with a lot to loose when cesspits of filthy lucre are filled in. There is no doubt that the president has a lot at stake in taking on those power houses that have an interest in subsidisation, especially those folk who have been plying our neighbour countries with not-so-subsidised petroleum, in exchange for Forex. These are the real losers, not the average Nigerian who has to queue for several hours to gain access to this subsidised petrol. The president also has to contend against the trade unions, who it seems, jump on the bandwagon of any populist idea, no matter how extra-ordinary. One only needs to refer to their position on a minimum wage, to see how unrealistic they can be. Trade Union leaders were content to argue for a higher minimum wage, in a country where the largest employer is still the government, and that same government struggles to keep up with salaries, even before the hike in wages! It is high time that Union leaders start thinking, first of the interests of Nigeria as a whole, before that of their members; for those who would consider that a contradiction-nigh-on-schizophrenia, I would retort that so also is the situation of the country today. Desperate ills evoke desperate pills; we are all in this ship together, it may not be sinking, but neither is it sailing; does it really matter who is sitting on the bow, stern, or mast? Following on from deregulation, we now have a situation where petrol goes for an average of =N=45 per litre, and much higher in certain parts of the north of the country. This is considerably higher than the =N=40 post-subsidy price advanced by the president. Would it not have been better to remove the subsidy at source and then peg the retail price? As things stand, the very subsidy that was being clamoured for has effectively disappeared into the pockets of those in the petroleum products supply chain. And yet, the Trade Union leaders are still breathing threats!
Between a rock and a hard place
Caught between the Trade Unions and a contracting economy, who would offer to be in the president’s shoes today. For many, the issue of subsidies is just another excuse for a lack of improvement in the economy of Nigeria, even after four years of PDP/Obasanjo rule. Why cut subsidies, they ask, when everywhere else, the citizen is confronted with untold hardships, and forced into paying bribes to the police, judiciary, government officials, and civil servants. And now the last bastion of solace is threatened by this government. Anyone who has lived in Nigeria will not argue with these accusations. However, to imagine that the mismanagement of over two decades can be corrected within four years is naive. Change will take a bit more time, and finger pointing is not going to change that reality; ask the British under Tony Blair’s Labour government, the South Africans, and even the Ghanaians. The problem I believe is that inputs that are a sine qua non for maximising productive output are missing, or are still in an early state of development. Despite the best efforts of this government, ploughing upwards of =N=32 billion into the National Electric Power Authority (N.E.P.A.), the grapevine has it that less than a quarter of that money actually hit the ground; behemoths with huge throats, and an even broader appetite for looting filtered, or should we say frittered, away the majority of the money. For all that, it is still clear that even with 25% of actual input, the electricity situation is now considerably better than it once was. Similar focus and investment will be needed for telecommunications, roads, water, and public transport. However, a crucial lesson needs to be learnt from the NEPA exercise, to wit, before you start spending money, make sure you have the right people on the ground. Due diligence must be exercised to ensure that extant Leviathan are forced into extinction. The hard truth is that the fall, and fall, of the Naira today are down to one activity alone – consumption. We have no substantial productive output to counter the inflationary pressures on the Naira. The only output we can leverage right now is crude oil, and it is doubly imperative that we employ it wisely, firstly to develop our economy by investing in ourselves, and secondly to wean ourselves of any overt dependence on what we are better off selling. Just as the president encourages Nigerians to eat less cassava, so that we can export it, we should likewise prioritise the sale of petroleum products (locally or internationally) over its consumption, since the sale brings in much needed revenue that the economy needs. We need to choose between the short-term agonies of an immediate removal of subsidy, or the long-term risks of failing to diversify while petrodollars were still readily available.
Choosing what is best for Nigeria
Never mind whose ox is gored; We all must be willing to consider all options for getting this country moving again. While it is clear that the record of the present government is not without blemish, it is also clear that the man at the helm is neither a robber nor a leper. For once in a long time, we have a disposition which is amenable to the survival of progressives, even if it does not actively support them to thrive. Casting an eye on the cabinet of the president, there are elements therein who would not have considered taking the same job under any other past president – I refrain from naming names. This says something about the habitat of government as it exists today. We have, I believe, genuine goodwill in certain quarters of government, and proposals for change, however unpalatable in the short term should be given the benefit of objective analysis. This country has an estimated population of 120 million people, of which only a fraction are enjoy the subsidy, the goal of government must be to increase the proportion of Nigerians who have access to petroleum products, and by extension, any such subsidies. Is it conceivable that we will be able to afford subsidisation of petroleum for much longer? And who decides when we draw the line. It is my firm belief that the argument against subsidy is strong and well founded, and that among governments in Nigeria till date, this government above the others has the credibility to advance that argument. Nigerians must give this issue, the serious attention and rational debate that it evokes, never minding who has what to lose or gain. This will not be the last of such issues to be raised, and we must now start getting used to making difficult, even unpopular decisions, in the interest of the nation.
The famous coach of the Arsenal football club in England once said, that everyone becomes your teacher when things are not going well. That statement is as apt for football as it is for politics and especially national governance. When all is well, we are content to keep our counsel or measure out sparing plaudits. But and if there is delay, faltering or failure, the pens, drums and megaphones are whipped out in a trice. It is the brigade of the pocket economists. Who would be a leader in such times as these. But it is said that uneasy lies the head that wears the crown. Let him/her who feels the need wear it.
The grouse this time is the exchange rate, or should I say, the multiple Naira exchange rates. You see, one has struggled to understand the logic behind having multiple exchange rates. But then again, as a pocket economist, I do not have to! Indeed I have neither a degree nor professional training in economics. Has that restrained me from pontificating? No. I hide behind the coat-tails of HRH Sanusi who has come out to criticise the regime. He goes as far as to describe it as a racket by the rent-seeking elite of Nigeria. This wacky policy is a red cloth to pocket economists and a no-entry sign to foreign investors. If we are hoping to build our economy with input from externally sourced funds, it is important to create an alluring environment.
We all know that Nigeria enjoys annual remittances in excess of $20 billion yearly. A large percentage of which is sent through informal channels. Most of this money goes to subsistence of family members and support for friends. However, a lot more idle funds could be remitted by Nigerians in Diaspora but for three reasons:
The first two are major issues and will take some time to resolve. The third is a policy that can be changed on short notice, but its impact would be great.
Many Diaspora Nigerians could liquidate slow-growing assets worth tens of thousands of USD/Sterling/etc. in a short time. But those investors would be bringing in their Forex at the official exchange rate. As of yesterday afternoon, the official rate traded 306 Naira to the US Dollar. At the same time, the black market traded 408 Naira to the US Dollar. Imagine then that our Diaspora investor remitted $10,000 USD via the official rate. That would have fetched him N3,060,000=, whereas he could have had N4,080,000= on the black market. In real terms, such a person would have lost 33% of the real value of their USD in the Nigerian economy, on entry!
Supposing that the Naira and Dollar remain at the same exchange rate for the next 12 months. Let us also assume that our investor bought into a business that grew by 20% in the same period. At the end of the year to date, his N3.06m would have grown to N3.67m. If at that point he/she decides to repatriate the capital, they would have to buy back the USD from the black market. Of course the N3.67m would only buy $8995= USD. The investor would have failed to make up the initial investment despite a very impressive 20% annual growth. This cannot be a formula for mobilising foreign investors. Most certainly not the Diaspora Nigerian with small holdings. When balanced against the risks and the opportunity cost of relatives/friends not helped, investing in Nigeria is not persuasive.
We all understand that the government seeks to protect some key industries from the vagaries of exchange rates, and guarantee that they can operate with reduced exposure to rate swings. That is a good thing. This OECD report shows that many countries around the world provide agricultural subsidies to their citizens. It would therefore make sense for the FGN to “subsidise” those sectors officially and let the Naira float. And whereas we have had a bad experience with subsidies for hydrocarbons, we can learn from our mistakes. Rather than distort our economy with confusing and counterproductive exchange rates that are being abused, we should revisit subsidies. Subsidies are localised; they can be tailored to specific needs and with careful administration, abuse can be eliminated.
The word “subsidy” is used here with a twist. It means that any organisation in the named sectors can buy their inputs at the single “floating” exchange rate. Thereafter, the producer can apply for subsidy credits, having provided documentation from non-affiliated third parties that have purchased their outputs. There would also be need for corroboration by bank(s) involved in the transaction(s). The subsidy credit could then be cashed, or applied as a discount on the next purchase of foreign exchange. This approach discourages round-tripping, decreases pressure on foreign exchange, and defers subsidy payment to align with productive output.
Mr Emefelie may be struggling at the helm of the CBN, but surely he is not entirely and solely responsible for this warped policy on exchange rates. It is about time the federal government realises that this thing is doing more harm than good. There has been a net loss of productive output since this policy was hatched. Is it not about time that we admit our error and change course?
But then again; I am just a pocket economist! What would I know?
May God bless Nigeria; amen.
Viva New Nigeria!
Oyewole, Olanrewaju J (Mr.)
London SE18 3PD
+44  793 920 3120
Mr Oyewole is a social and political commentator, blogger. He is a technology consultant with significant experience in the UK security sector. He has participated in key IT initiatives for the UK police and army.