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Imo state governor, Rochas Okorocha

Recently, I took a trip to Imo State on a performance assessment tour of the government of Rochas Okorocha. The idea was to see for myself how far activities, or lack of them, of the Okorocha administration, have affected residents of the state.

I began from a small community in Obowo Local Government where, under an apu tree, a pregnant woman in her late twenties sat watching sturdy young men play table tennis. About ten feet from the tennis table parked a few motorbikes whose owners simply sat or stood by, chatting away the afternoon boredom. Behind the woman, under a mud house plastered with cement, two other young men sat on a bench, a draughtboard on their laps, moving pieces of the game up and about the board. One of them, dark and bespectacled, is a fresh graduate of Imo State University preparing to go for the mandatory National Youth Service in June or July.

He refused to give his name for safety reasons, but agreed to talk to me candidly. His tuition in 2011, before governor Rochas Okorocha’s ‘Free Education’ at all levels of education got implemented, was N53,750. Then free education happened, and he was informed tuition had more than doubled to N120,000.

The next session, he was issued a crossed-cheque of N100,000 from the state government, as part of his tuition. He had to beckon on his parents for the remaining N20,000 which made up the fee. He paid the N20,000 – described by students of Imo-owned-tertiary institutions as ‘ancillary fee’ – every of the remaining three sessions he spent in the school before graduation.  Now that he’s done with studies, he has paid N20,000 for the collection of his statement of result, N5000 for what the school termed ‘verification fee’ and another N5000 termed ‘accreditation levy’. He told me that before the era of the current administration, nobody paid a kobo to collect statement of result. He also said he didn’t understand what the other levies meant, but suspected the state government just conspired with the University authorities to impose such levies on students to offset the cost of the so-called free education.

Students of Imo State University who are not indigenous to the state pay the N120,000 in full without any subsidy from any quarters. I was told the N120,000 has recently been upwardly reviewed to N150,000 for certain courses, while departments like Medicine and Law pay tuition ranging from N170,000 to N190,000.

The story was corroborated by dozens of students of the tertiary institution, including others from Federal University of Technology Owerri (FUTO), who I talked to. Although students of FUTO are not part of the beneficiaries of the free education, some of them do have fair knowledge, for reason of proximity, of what goes on in IMSU.

In the State-owned Polytechnic in Umuagwo, indigenes pay ‘ancillary fee’ of N25,000, while non-indigenes pay the over N60,000 for new intakes and less for old ones. Many of the indigenes I spoke to in campus stated that they are on subsidized education, not ‘free’ education.

In the State-owned university, I noticed there were new, big buildings. But they were all TETFUND projects, funded by Nigeria’s Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND), formerly ETF. The buildings were massive, but scattered in a pattern that suggests the University compound lacked a plan.

A senior student in one of the Biological Sciences told me that lecturers ask students for money and/or sex for grades. I asked if she thinks the authorities are doing anything about it, to which she replied in the negative, insisting that students are victimized if they ever complain.

A male student and his girlfriend resting inside a garden at the centre of the school sounded like lecturers asking money and/or sex for grades was normal. He simply told me it’s what happens everywhere.


The pregnant woman I saw in Obowo told me she doesn’t go to state-owned hospitals or health centres. I asked why. She said there were considerable delays in attending to people, who throng the place in large numbers under the illusion of free healthcare for pregnant women and nursing mothers as always announced in state-owned radio and TV stations. She said people end up spending more in government-owned hospitals than they spend in private hospitals. She said the government-owned hospitals build bills into various exercises that end up amounting to something higher than can even be called medical bill.

The woman spoke in fluent English and dismissed the claim by the state government that healthcare in Imo State was free for certain individuals.

‘Why haven’t you people complained to the state government?’, I asked her.

She acted surprised, and told me everybody knew the state government should not be taken seriously.

‘They just go on radio to say pregnant women don’t pay anything in government hospitals. But we know they are lying’.

I confirmed her claim from a few other pregnant women and nursing mothers in different parts of the State, including Okwelle, in Onuimo Local Government Area and Umuchima, in Okigwe Local Government. A nursing mother in Okwelle told me she was not delivered in government hospital because it was just about the same cost as using a privately owned one. She said the private hospitals were better because the personnel in them treated patients more respectfully.

Among those I spoke with in Okigwe was a trader who pointed at his wife sitting just beside him doing some paper work. He said she gave birth to their last child in the state-owned General Hospital where they were asked to pay for all manner of things, except ‘bill on child delivery’. The sum of all they paid exceeded by far what would ordinarily have been termed bill on child delivery.

I asked his wife to confirm the story, and she smiled, insisting that whatever we heard about free healthcare for pregnant women in Imo State was just ‘a lie’.

To be continued…

Gideon Attah lives in Enugu

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Chude Jideonwo

You could feel the sense of panic when some of the enablers and voters (of which I am one, having personally and professionally supported him) of President Muhammadu Buhari heard that the president was returning to Nigeria last week. The question – uncomfortable, perhaps unseemly – hung in the air: why was he returning oh?


The joke in the city these days, the one you no doubt have heard if you have friends and family, is that the president should take all the time he needs to have the rest he requires, so that the vice president can continue to do the work and earn the respect he inspires.


Unsaid is the real calculation: Buhari retains credibility with the populace, the respect (due more to aesthetic than performance) of the local elite, the goodwill of the international elite and the political capital that comes from the sheer number of voters from the North. To this extent, it is useful for him to retain that political capital as cover for his deputy Yemi Osinbajo to continue the good work that we have seen since the latter became Acting President.


So his voters, now happy to beat their chest about Osinbajo, are suddenly worried that the president’s return would lead the country back to a narrative of mediocrity, and leave them vulnerable again to charges that they bear responsibility for the state of the nation.


It is understandable, of course. President Buhari’s performance has been, to put it kindly, so sub-par that it is incredibly difficult for any thinking person to say that she is “proud” of this presidency.


Why is this even more disappointing? There were many of the president’s supporters who were realistic enough not to hold out any hopes of magic – he after all was a vestige of a not-golden era of Nigerian leadership, at least by participation. But they expected that at the very least he would keep the ship steady, validating the transfer of power from one party to another as we continued the journey towards a more perfect union.


Instead, he has unnecessarily squandered considerable local goodwill and, even worse, rolled back some of the (economic) progress made under his unimpressive predecessor.


It is inexcusable that (using 2016 numbers) Gross Domestic Product has dropped to -0.4 from 2.35% when he took office, inflation grown to 13.9% from 8.7%, crude oil output dropped from 2.05 million barrels per day to 1.4 million, and external reserves declined from $29.1 billion to $27.6 billion.


There is the Federal Accounts Allocation Committee revenue, which has come down from N409 billion to N299 billion, market capitalization dropping from N11.42 trillion to N8.7, and unemployment numbers climbing from 24.1% to 29.2%.


Indeed you can call any local economic growth index and it is the same story: Business Confidence, Industrial Capacity Utilisation, Industrial Sector Growth, Aviation Passenger Traffic, Ease of Doing Business, Agricultural Sector Growth, Real Estate Vacancies, even bank bad loans!


Fitch Ratings this year revised the outlook on Nigeria from stable, putting it at ‘B+’, noting that growth at 1.5% is well below the 2011-15 annual growth average of 4.8%, and predicted “limited economic recovery” in 2017.


Then there is of course the abcradabra with the foreign exchange rate, the ultimate symbol of the government’s witlessness re global markets and steadily its equivalent of the oil subsidy scam.


In addition to that are the abominable communication failures in underscoring major security gains, improvements in road infrastructure and a coherent anti-corruption narrative. Even the mismanagement of his illness storytelling has been a master-class in ineffectiveness.


There is very little that one can point to with pride.


So, to reclaim their narrative and justify their decision, some of these supporters have insisted that Osinbajo’s performance is testament to their smart decision to vote for the All Progressives Congress, and to trust in the combined political machineries of Buhari, Bola Tinubu, Rotimi Amaechi and Atiku Abubakar.


That is a credible argument. You don’t just vote a man or woman after all; you vote a system of people and promises, built, in this case, on the structure of a viable political party. It is one ticket and one presidency, and obviously I share the sense of relief as to the government finally redeeming the huge promises that it made to the Nigerian people.


But it is important that we do not miss the real point Nigerians made with their votes in 2015.


Whether Osinbajo is doing well or not, whether Buhari eventually goes down in history for supervising an excellent presidency or not (and we still have over two years to go), that is beside the real point – and that point is that Nigerians made the right choice in 2015.


Let that point be repeated: Nigerians made the right choice in 2015.


You see, it is possible to hold two different thoughts in your head in the same breath, and on this decision, these are the two thoughts: 1. President Buhari has disappointed many of his supporters. 2. But voting him – and what he represented – was still the right thing to do in 2015.


It is easy to cop-out under Osinbajo’s goodwill and claim that this was the genius of the decision all along, but the intellectually honest point is a more nuanced one.


That point is that, irrespective of what the good we see today, no matter how the decision we made in 2015 had turned out in the short term, the majority of Nigerian voters had no choice but to make the decision they made between Goodluck Jonathan representing the People’s Democratic Party at the federal level and Muhammadu Buhari representing the APC.


Now here is the deal, and revisionist history cannot invalidate this point: Buhari was elected crucially and principally as a rejection of Jonathan. He was received and celebrated as the best and most viable option to unseat a decrepit ruling party and a feckless leadership, and our best chance to make a statement that power belongs to the people, especially the power to punish failure.


The choice for many citizens was clear: one between the certainty of failure and the possibility of success (which also came with the possibility of failure). One between a man who had led for five years and failed conclusively on the big issues of corruption and security, and the other who had led for one year and whose verdict was, by the fact of truncation, inconclusive.


The choice was between rewarding ineptitude and having to live with that choice for another four years, or choosing different and holding out for hope (and, please, the less said about third party options that had neither the depth of ideas nor political capacity to win even one local council, the better). Buhari represented that hope, and his victory was the best chance to at unseating the hegemony that represented the exact opposite of hope.


His victory reset the balance of power on the side of the people, and put fear into the hearts of elected leaders everywhere in our nation.


The Nigerian citizenry instinctively knows this, despite how unhappy it is at the moment. As a poll at the end of last year by the Governance Advancement Initiative for Nigeria (GAIN) showed, yes, Nigerians believe Jonathan handled the economy much better than Buhari, but they insist he is deeply responsible for this ultimate state of affairs.


“While 60% of Nigerians held the Buhari government partially or completely responsible for the recession, 74% believe that the Jonathan government is to blame,” the report said. “While nearly similar numbers (28% for PMB vs 25% for GEJ) believed both governments were partially to blame, more respondents (49% for GEJ vs 32% for PMB) believed that the Jonathan government was completely to blame for the recession. Those who argue that the profligacy of the Jonathan government led directly to Nigeria’s budgetary and economic crisis will take these results as vindication that Nigerians agree with their point of view.”


Common sense is as common sense does. Actions have consequences, sowing leads to reaping, nation building is a continuum and we, as a people, know the points at which the rain began to beat us.


So in justifying their decision to vote for Buhari in 2015, Nigerians who made that difficult – or for some, excited – choice, have no need to turn to Osinbajo as a crutch.


Yes, we should be thankful that the ticket that won the election is finally justifying the mandate it was given. It is possible as some people say that this is because democracy is not a sprint and it would take any government a bit of time to find its footing. It is possible that it is finally the dominance of the efficient Tinubu machinery doing the magic; it might be that the president’s light-touch, command-and-control approach to governance has finally been justified, or it might just be a coincidence of fate, luck and a little opportunity.


Whatever it is that brought us here, we should be thankful, but we must not forget the larger idea: As a nation we did the right thing in 2015.


We made a long-term decision to re-order the balance of power, create an equilibrium between the opposing forces holding our nation’s fate in their immediate palms, and made clear the barest minimum beyond which we will not allow our leaders to go, else they are punished.


In the long term, and if we consolidate on those gains in 2019, we will be fine.


We will be just fine.


*Jideonwo is co-founder and managing partner of RED (, which brands including Y!/ and governance communication firm, StateCraft Inc. Office of the Citizen (OOTC) is his latest essay series.



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Oby Ezekwesili, co-convener of Bring Back our Girls Movement

On that 30th April 2014 when diverse citizens gathered to march in solidarity, no one could have imagined that any out of our 219 Chibok Girls abducted from their secondary school in April 2014 would remain in captivity of terrorists 1000 days after the tragedy. One recalls pictures of distressed parents supported by local hunters foraging through the path they were told that the terrorists had hauled away their daughters. Meanwhile, their government was missing in action cynically indifferent to the cries for help. 

One of the parents said he was desperate to find his daughter by walking off into Sambisa Forest before the Nigeria Army prevented them, because the future of the entire family depended on that daughter finishing school and taking care of her siblings. How can we not be moved by such decisiveness on girls education in a region that topped both then and now, the chart of poor school enrollment and worse parity ratio of four boys for every one girl in school compared to the rest of the country? 

Nations that have bothered to know the value of having all their girls in school have since discovered the multiple and diverse benefits. More than ever before in history, the economic health of a country depends upon the skills, knowledge, and capacities of its people. Research validates that countries which have made dynamic progress in the last century, are also the ones that help each of their citizens – male and female- to acquire the human assets of values, skills, knowledge and capacities that education bestows. 

In addition to the obvious productivity and income earning benefit to the girl-child and their families, some of the data that validate a diverse range of benefits have global relevance. According to UNESCO, the “Children of mothers with secondary education or higher are twice as likely to survive beyond age 5 compared to those whose mothers have no education. Improvements in women’s education explained half of the reduction in child deaths between 1990 and 2009. A child born to a mother who can read is 50% more likely to survive past age 5″.

 We are products of the values that shaped us. A Value that some of us imbibed while growing up is that nothing makes a female child inferior and so nothing should keep them from being educated. Those of our parents that held strong to such value bequeathed them to us by sending us to school despite our being female. Like the parents of the 219 ChibokGirls, our parents overcame all barriers that are known to limit educational opportunities available to girls around the world or even more specifically, our various regions in Nigeria. 

For the forward thinking parents of the abducted girls, they desired that their daughters would not be part of the statistics of out-of-school adolescent girls. A recent report on Girls Education in Nigeria by the United Kingdom’s British Council found that in the North East, 54% of adolescent girls are out of school. In the North West, it is 53%, in the North Central, it is 21%, in the South South it is 9%, in the South West 6% and in the south-east, it is 4%. The ChibokGirls parents understood that at an individual and family level, the benefits of offering education to their daughters outweighed the associated social, cultural, religious, physical risks and economic constraints. 

What they did not imagine as part of that calculus was that the physical risk to life for those who dared to show up in their Chibok school has risen substantially to certainty. Boko Haram terrorists are driven by the hideous determination to make knowledge abominable thus challenging our civilization. None of our ChibokGirls parents could however have imagined that neither their own government nor those of the rest of the world would defend the dignity of endangered lives of their children if anything like abduction happened.  None of those parents could have imagined that the lives of their daughters would not be protected by the Nigerian nation-state which has a constitutional duty of providing for the security and welfare of citizens- especially its young ones. None of those parents could have thought that having their daughters show up from their various schools in that local government to take their certificate examination with peers in that Government Secondary School Chibok,  would become a fatal choice between being educated or staying alive. 

Doubly tragic is that as we mark #DAY1000 since the worst nightmare of those Chibok Parents materialized, two successive governments have completely failed to be as bold as the parents of our missing ChibokGirls. From the initial self-preserving coldness, indifference, mockery and tentativeness of the immediate past administration to the “cannot-be-taken-for-their-word” hubris, lethargy and inertia of the current one, any discerning observer can see a common thread. It is the same we-don’t-give-a-damn attitude that is making their successors who assumed office on the back of a strong promise to commit their utmost to rescuing the girls within six months in office;  to repeat history. 

What is the cause of this empathy-deficit toward citizens by those that govern,  regardless of their political symbol and hue? The disconcerting answer is that among our political class,  citizens – whether dead or alive – have no bearing on the incentives that drive the quest for the right to govern them. Unlike those countries where leaders set their country Development vision on their citizens’ values, knowledge, skills and capacities, our own “rulers” place their stewardship quest not on the lives of citizens but on the certainty that oil will flow. Oil will flow and the public purse will flourish whether a citizen dies or is missing. 

The logic is simple: As long as the proceeds from oil are guaranteed, the nation can afford to leave its children with terrorists for any length of time. For as long as oil flows and with that, the proceeds, the cutting short of any Nigerian life has no effect on the country.  It therefore has not mattered as much to any of the two successive Governments of Nigeria that losing our ChibokGirls is a loss to our national stock of human capital. That our Governments prolonged the time it is taking to give justice to children who were abducted in the course of their search for knowledge is a statement on the things we value. 

Should any think this assertion to be farfetched, all they need do,  is, compare the swiftness with which our governments -regardless of which political crew run it- responds to any threat to the flow of oil in the Niger Delta. For our governments, the cynicism towards citizens- who with a certain measure of education are converted to human capital- is that they are of less value than a barrel of oil. 

This is where the parents of our ChibokGirls have more than a lot to teach our political leaders. These parents may not have any “political clout” – part of the reason that many adduce for the way their daughters have been neglected by our government– but they know something that our political rulers are yet to graspNo commodity but our human beings like Chibok Girls, other abducted citizens, hundreds of Nigerians needlessly killed in distressed conditions in the North East, Mainland and South Kaduna, Agatu, Aba, Enugu, Onitsha, Jos, Keffi, Abuja, Lagos and such other places, can guarantee us the swift passage to economic development. 

The slight redeeming prospect of the President Muhammadu Buhari led government as far as the specific matter of ChibokGirls rescue goes, is that in the last three months, it has managed to bring back 24 of them mostly through negotiation with their terrorist abductors. For our freed school girls and their peers in all the internally dislocated peoples’ camps in the North East, it is the duty of the Government’s – Federal and State- to place a premium on their education and skills acquisition to ensure that Nigeria speeds up the accumulation of our human development scores. The education of the girl-child benefits not only the girls and their families but their communities, states and nations. 

Following its inauguration in May 2015, the administration was trapped in more than 15 months of numbing indecisiveness on how to rescue our ChibokGirls, whether through military option or by negotiation with the terrorists. Twenty one of them were eventually released on 13th October 2016 to our Government by the terrorists and embraced by their exuberantly joyous parents. Just a few days ago, another one of the girls returned, having been accidentally found among terrorists and their victims that the Nigerian Army captured. She returned after 997 days in the stronghold of terrorists clutching an innocent baby,  rather than the certificate her parents hoped for when they took a risk to send her to school. 

The tragic irony is that one of the reasons parents send their girl-children to school is to help delay marriage and child bearing while they acquire life skills for a better life. Rukiya Abubarka Gali’s parents while rejoicing at the return of their daughter yesterday, must be regretfully wondering like not a few other parents, whether it was worth it after all, to have made the choice for knowledge for their daughter. 

That DAY1000 is upon us with still more than 80% of our Chibok Girls still captives of terrorists, the only person that can assuage their deep regret is the President and the Federal Government of Nigeria. The way it can do this is to ensure that not one more day goes beyond the one thousand days of suffering of our young daughtersThis Federal Government must realize that the more it makes promises and fails to immediately back them with decisiveness and results-focused actions, it risks completely eroding its fast depleting stock of credibility and goodwill. 

The inability and perhaps unwillingness to learn from mistakes is reason this Federal Government has again relapsed into inertia, lethargy, contradictions and silence on the status of its public pledge last October that another 83 of our girls would be back “soonest”. Our ChibokGirls have always been a symbol of several other victims without identity that are captives of our common enemies or those whose lives were wasted needlessly across the country. Now is the time for our President to find the courage to accord the highest value to the Nigerian life regardless of their region, religion, ideology, political persuasion, social and economic status above any other thing in this country. 

We must not allow more deaths over and above 18 of the brave mothers and fathers who sent their girls to school.  The hope of those deceased parents and the ones alive  was that their girls would go on to become part of our more enduring capital. They did so, trusting that their Government cares about the dignity of life. It is time for the remaining 195 daughters of these courageous parents  to return. 1000 days are already too long. Mr President, we want more results! It is time to bring back home our girls now. And alive!!

 • Ezekwesili is co-convener of #BringBackOurGirls Movement 

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Kadaria Ahmed

I am in my late forties so I cannot be considered young by any stretch of the imagination. I am satisfied with my journey through life thus far and comfortable in my skin. However, some people believe I should actually be ashamed of my age.

Not once, not twice on Twitter, I have witnessed ‘young’ people employing the word ‘old’ when attempting to insult or shame people who are older than them, when an older person has dared express a view they find disagreeable.

They wear their ‘youth’ like a badge of honour. They strut and preen almost as if being young is an achievement like bagging a degree, setting up a successful business or having a positive impact on the lives of people.

The attacks that I speak of mostly occur when they can not engage with the subject under discussion because it is intellectually challenging. They are victims of our fault lines and are therefore incapable of cold, objective engagement with any issue. Their immediate solution is to obfuscate and muddy the waters but when that doesn’t work, they resort to abuse. It doesn’t matter what the subject is -music, the Arts, culture- but nothing riles them up more than an opposing political view! They pounce and before long, the word ‘old’ makes its debut. It’s the ultimate slap-down!

Given the many challenges we face in Nigeria, from our non-existent health care, to bad roads and the stress of earning a living in a difficult economic terrain, all of which have lead to a declining life expectancy; growing old is actually a feat that should be commended. It is a badge of honour that says look at me, I have survived, against all the odds. Instead, age has become a twitter weapon used to terrorise the not so ‘young’.

Maybe it is frustration with a generation that they believe has failed this country and therefore hasn’t earned the right to have an opinion. While this point might be pertinent, it is important to note that although I have witnessed a few men being ‘insulted’ by the tag of ‘old’ , the most vitriolic instances are reserved for women.

If one is female, one faces a more virulent attack if one even ventures to express an opinion that may be controversial in any way, shape or form. Age, gender, and marital status ‘shaming’ by an army of young trolls is now the order of the day on Nigerian twitter, actively and tacitly encouraged by a wider Nigeria society which remains mostly patriarchal, parochial and in some cases even misogynistic.

While the focus on marital status is clearly a result of patriarchy which promotes the idea that women have no worth unless they are tied to a man, why would a woman’s years determine whether or not she should have an opinion? One explanation is that because we are ‘old’ we are seen to be somewhat ‘deficient’. Which leads to the question what is the main difference between young and ‘old’ women? Well the most obvious and visible differences are tied to reproduction, in short sex.

As women approach fifty, they stop producing certain hormones, as result of this, most of us stop being able to conceive and begin to see changes in our body. The general belief is that we stop becoming desirable. So again, it comes back to our worth to men. While this is actually not true, the fact that female aging is seen as a ‘deficiency’ speaks to a system organised again to measure women through the eyes of patriarchy.

I remember a certain Senator saying if he were to rape a woman it wouldn’t be one who is past her menopause. Where does one begin to even engage with this sort of statement? Is it to talk about the seeming normalization of a hideous crime or the attempt to imply women who are past menopause are unworthy of even having something so base and atrocious as rape committed against them?

On Nigerian Twitter today, it is not unusual for an argument on politics with older women to end with suggestions that they need to find a man to have sex with, to rid them of their ‘bitterness’. This is how smart, articulate women are reduced to nothing more than sex objects.

In this society today, there is no attempt at subtlety by men who have no respect for women. They are all too aware that their actions have no consequences and life goes on as normal regardless of how egregious the remarks.

What is surprising is the number of young women who take part in this taunting. It amuses me no end and then it saddens me because at best they are unwittingly, building and nurturing a process that systematically reduces them and which eventually, is likely to be used against them. They are active connivers because they have bought Into the cultural ‘values’ that underpin and promote gender discrimination and misogyny. This is tragic.

Trust me, this isn’t an attempt to stifle debate. With any conversation, it is important to have multiple viewpoints. These are particularly critical as we seek to address significant problems ranging from violent religious and ethic clashes that have lead to thousands of deaths in a country which seems to simply refuse to grow and develop.

Inter-generational dialogue is also key as we have a large youth population ( 18 – 35) more than half of whom are disenfranchised and without hope. They need to take their destiny into their hands and force a change in an establishment that has let them down.

However, trolling ‘old’ people on Twitter, and targeting single women will not solve our problems. Despite our shortcomings and failures, and they are significant, most
of us believe that we have to contribute to nation-building.

The censorship and gagging, the attempt at cyber-bullying is unacceptable because it narrows the conversation. The good thing is that many of us simply refuse to be quiet. We won’t be cowed by the tyranny of government and politicians and we certainly won’t be cowered by the tyranny of often nameless, faceless ‘young’ trolls on twitter.

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Alex Otti, former Group CEO, Diamond Bank Plc

“I, however, place the economy among the first and most important of virtues, and public debt as the greatest of the dangers to be feared” Thomas Jefferson

I have been struggling to come to terms with the request of the presidency to borrow $30 billion, to no avail. I have tried to compute the numbers from available statistics with limited luck. I then decided to wait for clarifications or better still, a correction of the error by the authors, but still, no dice. I am sure I may be missing something somewhere.

Let me start by clarifying my position on borrowing, lest I be misunderstood. Those who have followed my views about the recession will agree that my preferred approach to dealing with the problem is stimulation of the economy. This is the approach that supports increased government expenditure, lowering of taxes and increasing consumer spending as a way of improving production and creating jobs. Some people refer to it as “spending our way out of recession”.

For stimulation to happen, there must be external funding. One of the most important sources is borrowing. Borrowing could be domestic or foreign. So in principle, I am not against borrowing in a period of recession. However, a lot of issues must be addressed before we can safely talk of borrowing. According to the Debt Management Office (DMO), Nigeria has external borrowing of $11.26 billion as at the end of June 2016. If you add that to the foreign debt stock of the 36 states of $12.71 billion, you end up with a total foreign dollar debt stock of circa $24 billion. Meanwhile, there is also some domestic dollar-denominated debt component of $48.74 billion outstanding against the federal government, bringing the total dollar debt to about $62 billion.

Details available on the current request indicate that the loan is to be broken down into projects and programmes loan, $11.274 billion; Special National Infrastructure Projects, $10.68 billion; Eurobonds, $4.5 billion; and federal government Budget Support, $3.5 billion.

Specifically, 61.2% of the proposed loan or $18.34 billion would go towards infrastructure projects comprising the Mambila hydro-electric power plant – $4.8 billion; railway modernisation coastal project (Calabar-Port Harcourt-Onne Deep Seaport segment) – $3.5  billion; Abuja mass rail transit project – $1.6 billion; Lagos-Kano railway modernisation project (Lagos-Ibadan segment double track) – $1.3 billion; Lagos-Kano railway modernisation project (Kano-Kaduna segment double track) – $1.1 billion; and others – $6 billion.

There is no doubt that we require to spend heavily to solve the problem of infrastructural decay in the country. A lot of money needs to be spent on power if we have to jump start production and ensure energy sufficiency for the take-off of an industrial and technologically-driven economy. We should have done this a long time. But since it has not been done, the only option we have is to do so now as no amount of whining and bellyaching will cure it. The same is true of our roads rails, health care delivery and education. According to the IMF, Nigeria needs to spend no less than $140 billion in the next decade to bridge the infrastructure gap in the country. That means that beyond the $30 billion, we will still need to source another $100 billion.  So, without bringing the recession discussion into the equation, there is little doubt that we require a lot of money to take this economy out of the woods. However, most people have a lot of concerns on the recent move by the federal government no matter how desirable it may appear. I shall discuss them under the following headings:


A lot of people will agree that the managers of the economy are yet to come up with an articulate and coordinated philosophy for managing this economy that is challenged by both recession and inflation. A clear strategy will define the steps government would take and point out how it intends to attain its defined goals, the time frame and what happens thereafter. A blue print will also help in measurement and evaluation. Other than the Medium Term Expenditure Framework and Fiscal Strategy Paper (MTEF/FSP) of the government which is at best very hazy, I am yet to see a clear planning document under whose framework, this borrowing is supposed to come. Specifically, the 2016 budget provided for a deficit of N2.2 trillion out of which N1.84 trillion is supposed to be borrowed. The budget makes provision for N984 billion to be raised from the domestic market while the balance of N900 billion was to be borrowed from the international market. The budget was based on the exchange rate assumption of N197 to the dollar. This means that the external loan for 2016 would be about $4.56 billion. Given that the MTEF/FSP (2017-2019) projects budget deficits of N2.7 trillion, N2.5 trillion, and N1.7 trillion for 2017, 2018 and 2019 respectively, with average exchange rate of N290/$, I have taken the liberty to work backwards to determine projected foreign borrowing for the years in question. Extrapolating from the 2016 numbers, it would be safe to assume that 84% of the deficits would be funded by debt out of which 50% would be foreign. Projected foreign borrowing would be $3.9 billion for 2017, $3.6 billion for 2018 and $2.46 billion for 2019. When you sum up the figures for the four years, the total foreign borrowing based on government’s own numbers should not be more than $14.52 billion. If one wanted to be more realistic in applying the current official exchange rate of N305 to the dollar to the foreign borrowing of N900 billion for this year, then the total figure will reduce by $1.61 billion to $12.91 billion. Given that 2019 is the terminal date of this administration, it would also be safe to back out the figures for 2019. The total loan this administration can take would therefore be in the region of $10.5 billion. In the light of all these analyses, the government needs to explain how it came by the humongous $29.96 billion foreign borrowing over a period of two or three years.


There also needs to be some clarity on where the loans are coming from. Government had indicated that five multilateral institutions namely, the World Bank, African Development Bank (AfDB), Japan International Co-operation Agency (JICA), Islamic Development Bank and China Exim Bank, are expected to provide most of the loan. Also, some $4.5 billion is to be sourced from the issuance of Eurobond. This is where the danger lies. Multilateral and bilateral loans are always cheaper than commercial loans. Even the fiscal responsibility act requires that governments should focus on concessional loans, from multilateral sources rather than the more expensive commercial sources like the Eurobond. In my previous life, I had led a bank to issue a five-year Eurobond whose process was not only cumbersome but pricing was very steep. Given our situation, I can say without fear of contradiction that we cannot access this market at any rate lower than double digits. Dr. Abraham Nwankwo of the DMO had talked of an average rate of 1.5%pa, but I am certain he was referring to concessional rates from multilateral agencies. Besides, rates in this market are normally floating and indexed to the London Interbank offer rate (LIBOR) just like the $1.5 billion Eurobond component of our existing outstanding debt stock whose yield is around 7% at the moment. A fresh issue would definitely be much more expensive. I will also be surprised if the multilateral organisations that have indicated interest in lending to us would not accompany the loan with “conditionalities” some of them may hurt our attempt at economic recovery.


While we are not clear about how this loan would be disbursed, we are compelled to point out that in a recession, any expenditure that happens outside the local economy does not stimulate the economy. The funds would end up stimulating the economy where the bulk of the money is spent. So if we are relying on a foreign country to build the infrastructure for which we are borrowing, the multiplier and the stimulus effects would not be felt in Nigeria but in that foreign country. Of particular concern is the outcry by some sections of the country that they were excluded from the proposed projects which should not be contemplated as the debt will be paid by all of us.


Because this loan is denominated in foreign currency, we need to think through how it would be affected by the present foreign exchange policy. We still run a managed foreign exchange policy based on allocation. The exchange rate is fixed by the CBN at levels below market. The difference between the CBN rate and the real market rate is in excess of N150 to the dollar. That is why people now pay premium to get allocation because CBN is unable to meet all requests at the subsidised rates. Assuming we are able to borrow the money, at what rate would it be exchanged? This is necessary because while we can afford to sell our oil money at subsidised rates, I don’t know that we will be willing to sell borrowed funds that way. To bring it further home, if we sold the entire funds at current CBN rate, we would be losing over N4.3 trillion with that singular action. The other issue is that this money would have to be paid back someday. At what rate is it going to be paid back? Assuming we exchanged at the current rate, we must also be able to exchange our naira to dollar as we must pay back dollars with interest. Except if we are sure that we will continue to generate enough foreign exchange for the repayment, we may be walking into a transaction fraught with unpredictable exchange rate risk which may ruin the economics of the loan. Investing in infrastructure is the best thing we can do for this country at this time. But we also know that most investments in infrastructure are social in nature and do not yield that much money to pay back loans with interest. Even where they do, they will yield local currency and not dollars.


This refers to the ability of the country to service the loan without impacting negatively on other important activities. In its current Debt Sustainability Analysis (DSA), the DMO had this to say: “The results of the 2016 DSA showed that for the first time since the exit from the Paris and London clubs of creditors in 2005 and 2006, Nigeria’s debt position experienced some deterioration and slipped from a Low-risk of debt distress to a medium-risk of debt distress. Although the level of debt stock is still appreciably low relative to the country’s aggregate output (GDP), the debt portfolio remains mostly vulnerable to the various shocks associated with revenue, exports and substantial currency devaluation. This meant that, as in the previous DSA, while the GDP-related indicators appear normal, as they remained below their respective thresholds, the revenue-based indicators were mostly sensitive to the revenue shocks”. Note that this analysis predates the current request of $30 billion. To buttress the point made by the DMO, it is useful to highlight that in the current budget, about 27% of government expenditure is earmarked for debt service. We do not have capacity to service the new borrowing. We need to diversify our foreign exchange earning capacity from the challenged oil to boost our foreign exchange revenue base.


In a democracy, there is need to communicate effectively and get the buy in and opinion of the populace before major decisions are made. It is easy to dismiss this comment by arguing that most people do not have the required knowledge to understand a complex issue like debt. However, we must know that opinion is moulded by those who know. If those who know have not been convinced, how would anyone expect that the rest of the people will buy it? I strongly believe that if an attempt had been made to socialise this with the people, someone would have realised that something is simply not adding up and probably returned it to sender.

All told, I believe that the government still needs to borrow to stimulate the economy. How much the government needs to borrow, where it needs to borrow from, for how long and the cost of the borrowing are details that require more serious work than has been done so far. I will recommend that we go back to the drawing board and diligently craft an integrated economic framework that will articulate all that is required to move this nation out the present economic doldrums. It is a lot of work. Very serious work, but it has to be done in a comprehensive manner and the earlier, the better.

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By Francis Igbokwe

A poorly hatched plan to smear the governor of Anambra State, Chief Willie Obiano went awry midweek when the general public was informed that the photographs of a private jet captured on the tarmac of the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu which were earlier published as images of the aircraft the governor had chartered for a trip to Abuja were actually pictures of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar’s private jet. I was at the Akanu Ibiam Airport in Enugu Friday [November 18, 2016] morning and witnessed it all.

While I waited for my Arik Airline flight to Abuja that morning, I saw Valentine Obienyem, the media aide of former governor Peter Obi snapping away with his camera at the parked aircraft while his boss performed airport formalities with the visiting former vice president.

Some eagle-eyed airport security operatives detected and accosted Obienyem. A mild drama ensued between him and the operatives, attracting attention but it was quickly resolved.

However, moments later, images of the aircraft flooded the social media from APGA Alaigbo with a story that Obiano had chartered the jet for his trip to Abuja. The story which ran under the heading, Obiano still chartering flights, alleged that Governor Obiano had just flown out of Enugu with 13 aides in the private jet which those of us at the airport at the time could still see parked on the tarmac while governor Obiano waited for the same Arik flight to Abuja in the VIP Lounge.

The story further claimed that Obiano had spent $15,000 to charter the private jet that would take him to a scheduled meeting in Abuja with some northerners then concluded with the usual attacks on the governor’s person and achievements.

I was horrified to read that. It suddenly dawned on me that most of the stories I had read on Facebook and elsewhere by APGA Alaigbo may have been written by Valentine Obienyem. The dubious story about the private jet was fabricated to create the impression that Obiano was wasting money on chartered flights in the midst of recession. But Obienyem and his sponsors had failed to think this one through and created a terrible mess out of it.

As a journalist from Anambra State, I was horrified to see first-hand and for the first time, the web of lies that Val Obienyem and his Internet boys have been weaving around my governor which I now deeply regret that I had believed all along to be true. I am one of the many Anambrarians who erroneously follow APGA Alaigbo on Facebook thinking that his stories which are always critical of Governor Obiano were factual and true.

But I felt gutted and disgusted that morning when I noticed how Obienyem had cleverly framed governor Obiano up with a totally false story that was made believable by the fact that the governor was at the airport that morning and that there was a private jet on the tarmac.

I felt pity for the governor who has been repeatedly cast in bad light by “clever” people like Obienyem and his colleagues in an attempt to turn the people against him. I felt even greater pity for him as I watched him boarding the same aircraft with me from my window seat that morning while the private jet that he was accused of hiring was still parked on the tarmac.

Indeed, after watching that sordid airport drama by Obienyem, I decided that I would not forgive myself if I failed to write what I saw and share with my fellow Anambrarians and other Nigerians before it is too late.

I personally think that Obienyem and his boys are trying too hard and have gone too far in their efforts to frustrate Obiano’s second term bid. I also think that creating such a controversy over former Vice President Atiku’s aircraft is tasteless and cruel.

I learned that the Vice President had landed in Enugu on his way to the 5th Nnamdi Azikiwe Annual Lecture holding in Awka that morning. The former Vice President deserved more respect from his hosts than Obienyem and his boys had accorded him with the noise over his aeroplane. I am therefore not surprised to read somewhere that Atiku had raised a very strong objection about that maltreatment to former governor Peter Obi who is strongly believed to be sponsoring the appalling activities of Obienyem and Stanley Chira who is the man behind the mask known as APGA Alaigbo.

If you ask me, I would advise that our people should avoid a scenario like this because it does not dignify us as a state that prides itself as the Light of the Nation.

As a concerned citizen of Anambra State, I also think that the time has come to tell our former governor, Peter Obi to leave his successor alone. It is no longer hidden that Obi is the one sponsoring the endless campaign of calumny against Obiano for almost two years now. Like so many Anambrarians, I had doubted this for a very long time thinking that attacks on Obiano were fair criticism until I saw Obienyem’s disingenuous airport drama last Wednesday morning. It became clear to me that Obi is desperate to force Obiano out of the Governor’s Lodge in Amawbia for reasons that many believe have to do with his personal ego. It is said that Obi wants to show that he alone decides who should rule Anambra State after him and how long each ruler will rule.

I am personally horrified that a Papal Knight like Peter Obi who likes travelling to Rome very often and taking pictures with Catholic nuns, finds it impossible to forgive our governor even after he had tendered a public apology to him before the dead body of their former principal and fellow old boys in Onitsha in August this year. I consider it ironic that Obi’s public rating rose recently after a famous public speech on governance but he is busy trying to destabilize the government of his home state which he helped establish.

I have followed politics in my home state for some time and I know that people don’t always play by the rule. However, I am riled by the fact that Obi who was distracted for a long time when he was governor and even suffered impeachment has now become the most consistent detractor of his successor, deploying his media aides to go after the governor and create obstacles that will prevent him from his plan to develop Anambra State from where Obi had left it almost three years ago. My dear Anambrarians, I don’t know what to make of this. That is why I decided to write what I saw at the airport that morning. I think that governor Obiano is a victim of Peter Obi’s megalomania!

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Nobel Laureate Professor Wole Soyinka

I shall begin on a morbid note. One of the horror stories that emerged from the Daesh (Isis) controlled parts of Iraq was the gruesome tale of the mother who had a daughter affected by wanderlust, even in that endangered zone. One day, when she looked for her to attend to some home chores, she found that she had gone missing yet again. As she searched, she shouted in frustration:  ”As Allah is my witness, I’ll kill that girl when I catch up with her”. A neighbor overheard and reported her to the Hisbah. The mother was summoned by the mullahs who ordered her to put the child to death, since she had sworn by Allah. She refused, so they took the child by the legs and smashed her head against a wall. End of story. True or false? It certainly was published as true testimony. That is all I have to say to the ”literalists” who obsess over a time scheme of their own assessment. Thus, failure to have torn my Green Card ”the moment” that I learnt that Mr. Donald Trump had won the presidential elections of the USA. It did not matter what I was doing at the time – teaching, eating, swimming, praying, under the shower or whatever. Or a family member saying, ”Wait for me!” – speculatively please, no such disturbance ever took place. If it did however, I am supposed to contact the Nigerian media – to whom I have never spoken, and who never contacted me – except one – to beg permission to pursue a realistic definition of ”the moment”. Media fascism is however a subject for another day,

For now, that moment having passed, I must be culpable of breaking a solemn promise. By the way, since we are on the terrain of literalism, has anyone attempted to ”tear” or rip apart a Green Card? Even a Credit Card? For the average hands, that would take some doing! I have actually considered garden shears for a dramatic resolution, this being closer to my real profession.

I have been asked several times – interestingly only by the foreign media, with the exception of THE INTERVIEW – whether indeed I did make such a statement at any time, and whether I still intended to carry it out, and the answer remains a categorical ’Yes’.  Not recently, mind you, nor, in the inaccurate blazing  PUNCH headline of Thursday Nov. 16 , but in the accurate wording that is contained in the actual story on page 9. So, where and when did I first notably make that declaration. Answer: Addressing a group of students at Oxford University and fielding questions. It was NOT a public lecture. I have never summoned a press conference on the issue. The organizers did not invite the (unregistered) Association of Nigerian Internet habituees.  It was the accustomed student seminar format that moved from the light-hearted to the serious, the ridiculous and (hopefully) the profound and back again. I even used the encounter to compare my threat with the public antics of a former president  – unnamed, I assure you – who tore up his party membership card of a moribund ruling party. Whatever my failings, I do not lack originality, and I was not about to be find myself indebted to that contumacious general!

Nonetheless, did I mean what I said – that is, ’exiting’ the USA? Absolutely, and that is the very theme of this address. It will not attempt to deal with the notion of an exit time-table as conceived by others, as if even the incumbent US president and his replacement are not even permitted over two months to pack their bags and prepare to move in and out of the White House, but must exchange positions the very moment that a winner was proclaimed. Anyone would think that the Brexit Vote made it imperative for the Brits to plunge into the English Channel instantly, instead of negotiating two years for an orderly withdrawal. Plebians like me of course need far less time, nevertheless they do not uproot overnight. Any other proposition speaks of a permanent agenda, of frustration and hidden histories – such as opportunities to rehabilitate themselves in the public eye. There is also recession in the land, and I can understand the psychology of impotence and thus, transferred aggression. Let it be understood – before I move even one word further – that I interrupted my present commitment in the United States  solely for an  urgent meeting with the Ooni of Ife on an ongoing project. I am obliged to return to the US in a matter of two or three days to complete my interrupted mission. Fortunately, that mision is guaranteed to end long before the United States becomes Trumpland Real Estate.

And now we move from absurd, frankly idiotic distractions to Substance. Why, in any case, am I pulling out of the United States? Why – as demanded of me by some of my genuinely concerned and sober interlocutors around the world – why such an extreme reaction? Why the terminal response to the elections of another land? Also, and perhaps most crucially, why am I left virtually mouth agape at the furore my stance has engendered? I simply fail to understand why this has gone beyond a flurry of public commentary and hilarious cartoons, and turned into a masturbatory for some, a vomitory for others, and an epilleptic sanatorium for a self-reproducing number? Why, in genuine bafflement, do I experience astonishment? Why do people find this commonplace, accessible-to-all act so extraordinary?

The answers to all the forgeoing can be summed up in a familiar expression: a life of environmental sanitation, or call it – sanity.  My temperament requires a certain minimum level of environmental health to function properly. I use the word ’temperament’ as a historical fact, a personality development that first manifested itself all the way back to student days, and has remained consistent all my life. Nowhere is perfect, certainly not all the time. Nonetheless, every human being has this need, however approximate, some perhaps with objective awareness, others intuitively, some more acutely and intensely than others, especially when defined by their professions, occupations, social and other involvements. The craving is common to all humanity – if I am wrong, then I must have dropped from Mars.

Here now is a potted history of the choices made by this contributor over the years in pursuit of this need, all the way from student days. Read carefully and learn!

As a student in Leeds University, one of whose subjects was Spanish, I steadily refused to accompany other students on long vacation job opportunities in Spain, designed to make us master the spoken part of the language. Apart from the Isle of Man, I went to France and Holland instead, whose languages were not part of my studies. And yet I had already fallen in love with flamenco music – played for us from records by our Spanish lecturer, and was dying to watch flamenco dancing in the flesh. Language study however involves, as we all know, the study of a people´s history and culture. I had encountered the history of the Spanish Civil War, the violent overthrow of a legitimate Republican government, and the ’white terror’ of the Falangist leader, General Franco. I identified with the volunteer soldiers of the International Brigade. Spain was under boycott in parts of Europe, so there was a choice to be made. I refused to step into Spain until years after I had graduated and returned home, and General Franco was certified dead and buried. A personal choice.

Australia: It is now some twelve to fifteen years since I issued a Red Card to Australia, unannounced. That Red Card subsists till today. The occasion was a conference of PEN International, and I had made the usual visa application. When the forms arrived, I found  the requirements for applicants over 70 years (I think) so obnoxious, intrusive, and degrading that I refused to fill them. Negotiations with the Australian government by Australian PEN led to an exception being made for me. When it was communicated, I wrote back: Absolutely Not. I refused to be the token geriatric. That application document was highly disrespectful of age and I wondered what kind of mentality had crafted it, wondered if the Australians themselves knew what image was being projected in their name. I said to our go-betweens: Not for a moment am I equating myself with Desmond Tutu or Nelson Mandela, but they are older. Does it mean that, if they decide to visit Australia, you would subject them to this form of degradation?

Till today, I have routinely declined any invitation to Australia, a country I had visited years earlier to sumptuous hospitality. I learnt some time ago that the obnoxious requirements have been removed but have not bothered to check. The reason was this follow-up: a journalist heard about my absence from the PEN conference and made enquiries. He interviewed me and I told him the cause. After visiting the Australian embassy for their side of the story, he reported back that the diplomat in charge responded to his questions with the comment that the embassy was too busy with more important matters. did not make a fuss. My position was based on principle but, basically, it was a personal affair between me and Australia. It remains so till today.

China: I did not, could not visit China for years after Tienanman Square. I was dying to visit that remarkable nation of culture and history, itching to go with every invitation. The Chinese ambassador in Nigeria tried to win me over after the ousting of the Gang of Four. I declined, but accepted the books he had told me did not exist while the Thought of Chairman Mao ruled the waves.  Even when, years later,  one of the top American travel agents organized a visit of Nobel laureates with mouth watering honoraria, I could not bring myself to join others. Constantly swimming before my eyes was the image of armored trucks and tanks running over students encamped in Tienanmen Square, leaving behind rivulets of blood.  Before I eventually accepted an invitation from the University of Beijing, I checked with some of the dissident poets – was it a decent time to visit? Had sufficient time passed for the average survivor of that carnage to obtain closure?  Until they gave me the green light, I refused all invitations.  Again I did not fuss. I did not call an international press conference in the interim.

Back home to our continent  – this time,  post-Apartheid South Africa. How many of these hysterical purveyors of Internet obscenities – including some printed media – are aware that for nearly two years, I handed South Africa the Red Card? And why? Because of her then astonishing display of xenophobia, most  notably against Nigerians. I was a personal recipient of that treatment which took place – of all occasions imaginable – on the occasion of my visit to deliver a three-part memorial lecture in honour of the late Nelson Mandela. Undoubtedly, on that very occasion, there had been a misunderstanding over visa issuance. Nonetheless,  taken in the context of the rampant humiliation of Nigerians at the hands of South African authorities, and the South African civic pockets also, I went to the final lecture with my luggage. The moment I concluded the last of  my lectures, I insisted on being driven to the airport, silently shaking off the South African dust off my feet for ever. It was only to my hosts that I uttered the declaration that they were seeing me in their nation for the last time. Until I withdrew the Red Card, I did not summon the Press.

Now, how did that boycott end? It is a remarkable story which deserves its place in the narratives of sheer serendipity. It involved Dennis Brutus, the South African poet, an enlightened Head of Nigerian Immigration and, indirectly, Archishop Desmond Tutu and Albie Sachs, former chairman of the South African Constitutional Court. Also, retrospectively, the role played by Nelson Mandela’s widow, Graca Machel, during my ordeal at the airport. While the boycott lasted however, I declined between seven to nine invitations to South Africa, including a UNESCO event that was however billed to take place there. The ending of that boycott, like the beginning, was ultimately my private and personal decision.

Shall we take Cuba, that revolutionary island where I was personally decorated by Fidel Castro with the Felix Valera medal of honour?  Despite all efforts by the then Cuban ambassador to Nigeria, and very valued friends and colleagues in Cuba, I issued her my usual silent card some years ago. I found the execution of those ill-fated adventurers who tried to escape on a raft excessive, not forgetting the shooting down of a hi-jacked plane. Were their acts condemnable? Indisputably! Did the punishment fit the crime however? My answer is obvious – No.  Jose Saramago, the late Portuguese Nobelist had apparently taken the same position, as I found out when we both met at a subsequent event in Cuba when our Cuban boycotts eventually ended. Were we wrong or right? That is immaterial. The point is that neither called a press conference or publicised our individual decisions. They were personal decisions, made independently.

And so on, and on, and on….brief to prolonged, reluctant to instant boycotts of places of normally congenial roosting, for a variety of reasons, and dictated by individual temperaments. And so we come finally to Donald Trump, and the sometimes travesty of collective choice.

I was in New York during the run-up to elections. I watched this face, its body language, listened to his uncouth, racist language, his imbecillic harangues, the insults to other peoples, other races, especially the Hispanics, Africans and Afro-Americans, even citing once – I was told – Nigeria as an instance of the burdensome occupation of global space. I watched and listened, disbelievingly, since this was America, supposedly now freed to a large extent – as we like to believe and have a right to expect – from its lamentable history of racism. But I saw, not only this would-be president but – enthusing followers on populist a populist roll at the expense of minorities! I followed the fluctuating poll statistics. I began to warn my colleagues, friends, my family: listen, this thing is happening right before our very eyes. This is how it begins, how humanity ends up with Cambodia, with Rwanda, with Da’esh. We are watching a Hitlerite phenomenon. We are witnessing history in reverse, unravelling before a complacent world. I said to them, if this man wins, I am relocating. It had gone beyond a joke. They all said, it will never happen. Even a day to elections, some Nigerians, with whom I had a meeting in New York,  waved off the possibility. The entire world goofed – T.B. Joshua and other pundits, charlatans and experts alike.  A colleague at Harvard mentioned the celebrations that would follow the election, but shortly after, confessed his concerns, cursing the FBI man who had chosen to intervene at an unprecedented stage in the elections.

Again, I said to him, I shall relocate if Trump wins. He said, I’m coming with you, echoing numerous other colleagues to whom I had sounded the same alert. I promised them all political asylum! So, it was nothing new, the Oxford comment.

Whatever language I used is my familiar language, not the language of Da’esh or its local impotent surrogates.

Finally, here is something very personal, but I have to answer the question of my genuine interlocutors in matching sincerity.

Our US base and family home in California – Abacha instigated – faces a rock hill known as Mount Baldy. It has survived the menace of fires, so close to disaster that we were placed on evacuation alert a number of times and were once actually bundled out by the police for over forty-eight hours. A fireball overflew the house on one occasion, landed some distance from ours and consumed that unlucky home. Not too far away, an escaping family took a wrong turn and lost their lives in the flames. Nothing of such menacing interludes ever brought to the fore the remotest consideration of relocating! However – and let this be stressed to all those who are strangers to the world of images – for this individual called Wole Soyinka, the superimposition of the Trumpian face on those bare mountain slabs began to take on reality, a reality that probably became even three-dimensional, like the massive faces of those former US presidents that remain gouged into the peaks of Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, visited by millions. My environment, albeit a substitute one for our authentic home in the forests of Ijegba – had become compromised. That is all I shall write on the reality of superimposition – the notion of waking up every day of habitation and seeing on that mountain slab the face of Donald Trump on my borrowed preserve, where, from upstairs, I sometimes stood in bouts of  contemplation, especially whenever the house was empty.

For me, something is gone. Again, I speak for myself, not for my family who are, in any case, also American citizens, an acquisition that I have declined I cannot recall how often. Let me repeat, even that portion of empathy that comes from intimate occupancy and usage over the years, and where the products of my ”extra mileage” were born, has become violated. It is still home, second home, but one individual named Donald Trump – and his cohorts – have ruined its hard-earned  companionship and serenity, built up over the years. As I keep repeating, these issues are personal.

And so, back from our quick excursions to Asia and the Antipodes, what is so special about America that an agenda of abandonment creates such hysteria? I am incapable of double standards in these matters. Why do individuals feel threatened? I have never invited anyone to join me in my purely personal odyssey, begun before most of these sniveling upstarts were born. Is it the Green Card that sets America apart? Then perhaps it iis time to repay the compliment with a Red card, as in soccer. I am not aware that the world’s oxygen storage tanks are located in the US of A, so that we cannot breathe away from it. I shall always compliment the American success story on many fronts, including the fact that millions of migrants derive their very living – including crucial send-home remittances – from her generosity. Many of us will always be grateful to her government at the time for sheltering both our persons and our mission during the Abacha years. However, we are also individuals, with specific needs, different sensibilities, and definitions of productive environments and thus, up to this moment, my Wolexit stands.

It is a personal thing. Perhaps it will help even further if I remind you of what I wrote in my memoirs: YOU MUST SET FORTH AT DAWN. There I confessed that my greatest – and irrational – fear in exile was that if I died outside Nigeria, my well-meaning family, colleagues and friends, would bring my body home. I took firm steps. The thought of resting within that earth while it was trampled over by a despotic monster whom I thoroughly despised, was the absurd but all-consuming fear that I had all through that deadly struggle. Obviously that fear has been eliminated, but then, having watched this American Wonder rise to power through a contemptible denigration of my sector of humanity, through mockery and jeers of my origin, I no longer find that environment congenial either for work or leisure, and I have signaled my unambiguous intent to exit. No one else is invited.

Well now, a remarkable development.  I stated earlier that the issue is not just one individual called Donald Trump, but the human environment that he and his ilk have spawned, one that contributes to a toxic environment across the globe, with the rise of ultra-nationalism and exclusionist politics. That environment is however engendering counter aspects to that created by Trump’s lowest common denominator in followership. Spontaneous protests have sprung up across the country. Too late, I’m afraid, and ineffectual, since Democracy has the last word, and its rituals have been concluded. The law of the land will prevail. However, I have been considerably cheered by the spontaneous manifestation of this rejection of the shame and horror that a ”majority” has imposed on the totality.  Americans will have to live with it, but there is hope. Even  before the street protests, something rather strange had taken place.

On the very morning of the conclusion of elections when I switched away from one news channel to the next, the screen went suddenly blank. Then came a scrolled message that called for a quiet, peaceful revolution. It went on and on, without voice or images, and it was non-partisan, since it rejected not only Trump but Clinton as befitting candidates but declared American democracy a sham. It went on to complicate matters by identifying an individual – Bernie Saunders – by name as an acceptable leader of a new movement.  It excoriated past governance policies, dismissed even Obamacare as a failure – I disagree by the way – and urged viewers again and again to LET’S TALK ABOUT IT. LET’S MEET ON THE INTERNET. LET A PEACEFUL REVOLUTION BEGIN etc. etc. It could have been Channel 33 or 34, I am no longer sure.  A serious, viable movement? Maybe not sustainable under the present system, but it goes into that multi-faceted network that leads to the eventual sanitization of any socio-political environment. And then, latest of the latest, the state of California has mounted a referendum for secession, within her constitutional rights. Quite an unpredictable prospect but, much as I am predisposed to upheavals by vox populi, I prefer to be out of the environment, being a non-citizen.

Let me end with a Red Card to those noisome creatures, the nattering nit-wits of Internet: maybe Trumpland is not as despicable as the Naijaland you impose on our reality from your secure cesspits of anonymity. Go back to school. Your problem is ignorance, ignorance of whatever subject you so readily comment upon. Learn to study your subject before opening up on issues beyond your grasp. Sometimes you make one feel like swapping one green for another, out of embarrassment for occupying the same national space as you.  But don’t get nervous, or start jumping for joy too soon – the Nigerian passport is just as tough to rip, physically, as is the Green Card, so I’ll stay put in my private Green Belt – the one I have named the Autonomous Republic of Ijegba. I negotiate my relations with both peoples and nations from its internal protocols – yes, that is indeed arrogance for you, but an arrogance of several decades’ principled growth. I carry that patch of green with me, everywhere, in a secure, invisible, and inaccessible pouch! It is that warehouse of ingrained sensibilities that engendered my decision.

WOLEXIT stands – I coined that deliberately, to signify repossession of my space of legitimate decisions. The media can nitpick over details – that is your profession. At long last, totally oblivious of the ongoing cacophony that had sprung up in my absence, I finally did receive for the first time a brief questionnaire from a Nigerian journal, The INTERVIEW, and one other. I responded. My exit time schema applies, not yours. If it even becomes convenient to bring it forward, I intend to do so, but please don’t come at me with plaints of time imprecision. ! never discussed it with you, nor invited you to a private decision whose execution was already in the making. Do not try to browbeat me. It’s a waste of time – all you have to do is  immerse yourselves in my antecedents.

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Alex Otti

“We are moving towards a (complex) global economy. One way of approaching that is to pull the covers over your head. Another is to say: It may be more complicated- but that’s the world I am going to live in, I might as well be good at it.” — Phil Condit


There can’t be a better way to describe our country’s current challenges than with the wise words of Phil Condit. It is a very complex and challenging economy that we are grappling with. But complex situations demand complex thinking and complex solutions. The easy way out like Condit aptly explains is to play the ostrich, hiding our heads in the sand and pretending that our entire body is covered when we all know that the rest of our body is exposed for the world to see. The rough and narrow route which is bound to produce better results is to gird our loins and take the bull by the horn, believing firmly that we can make lemonades out of the lemons that have been thrown at us. This option cannot happen by accident. It has to be a well-articulated and planned process and executed flawlessly by very brave and bold leadership. There may be some pain in the process, the pain may be severe, but must give way to sustainable gain in the final analysis.

A lot of attention has been paid on monetary policy in the recent times as we try to find our way out of the present economic challenges. Today, we intend to discuss fiscal policy as an instrument available to economic managers to help in navigating around our challenges and place us on a path of sustainable development.

Fiscal policy has been defined as the means by which a government adjusts its spending levels and tax rates to monitor and influence a nation’s economy. It has been described as the sister strategy to monetary policy. Monetary policy being a strategy which central banks use to control money supply, interest and exchange rates. Fiscal policy therefore refers to the use of government revenue collection, mainly taxes and expenditure (spending) to influence the economy. Using fiscal policy, regulators aim to control inflation, reduce unemployment, control interest rates and stabilise business cycles. An economy in recession would benefit from fiscal policy if the government reduces tax rates to induce consumer spending because if people and businesses are paying less in taxes, they would have more money to spend and invest. The other alternative is for the government itself to increase its spending by investing more, say in infrastructure in the case of Nigeria. All things being equal, the additional spending by government would create jobs directly and indirectly thereby reducing the unemployment rate. Of course, economists have identified some drawbacks of the implementation of fiscal policy but both policies (fiscal and monetary) are indispensable in rescuing a struggling economy, maintaining a strong economy or cooling off an overheated economy. What separates one government from another is the extent of their understanding of the right policy mix to achieve desired macroeconomic results of price stability, credit availability, financial stability and economic growth.

There seems to be an agreement that given the economic recession that the country is experiencing the government needs to adopt a fiscal stimulus package to resolve the issue. At least, there is no better way to support this view than to point readers’ attention to the fact that the N6.08 trillion budget for 2016 provided for a deficit of over N2 trillion. This was approved by the National Assembly earlier in the year. What is, however, an issue is the speed with which the implementation is being handled. As we approach the end of the year, activities seem to just be taking off at a very slow speed, threatening the chances that the benefits of the stimulus would be enjoyed in this financial year. Be that as it may, we want to devote the rest of the discussion to taxes. Generally, our tax administration has been very inefficient. My belief is that because government has access to cheap oil money, it has not considered it expedient to improve the administration of taxes in the country. So, when we join others to refer to tax payer’s money, some of us cringe and ask, which tax payer’s money? The standard measure for tax collection is to compare what component of the GDP is accounted for by taxes. This is referred to as tax to GDP ratio. This measure is important not just for purposes of understanding how efficient the tax collection system is, but also to show the level of real economic activities in the country. The assumption is that it is only that part of the population that is employed, and that part of businesses that is making profits that would pay taxes. Because one cannot give what one doesn’t have, it is not expected that the unemployed or businesses that are at the verge of extinction would pay taxes to government. Generally, it is accepted that the tax to GDP ratio for developed countries is always higher than that of developing countries. Thus, the average tax to GDP ratio for the EU countries is about 36%. One of the highest ratios is Denmark at around 51%. Nigeria’s tax to GDP ratio is presently 6%. This is abysmally low compared to some other African countries like Botswana 35%; Benin Republic 16%, Burkina Faso 12%; Burundi 17%, Cameroun 18%; Cape Verde 23%; Cote d’Ivoire 15%, DRC 13%, Egypt 16%; Ethiopia 12%; Gambia 19%; Kenya 18%, Malawi 21%; Rwanda 14%; Senegal 19%; Togo 16%; Zimbabwe 27% and Ghana 21%.

PWC in an extensive study provides answers as to why the situation is this way in Nigeria. Out of the over 180 million Nigerians, and a labour workforce of 77 million people, only about 10 million are registered for personal income tax across all the states of the federation. Out of this number, 46% are registered in Lagos. That explains why Lagos accounted for 40% (N268bn) of the total taxes (N684bn) collected by all the states in 2015. While only about 13% of the labour force pays some form of personal income tax, only about 12% pays VAT. Corporate income tax faces the same fate as only about 10% of companies file tax returns and we know that some of them are very good students of Donald Trump. According to PWC, the low level of tax compliance has to do with incoherent fiscal policies, cumbersome and inefficient tax administration system, high level of tax evasion, ambiguities in tax laws and lack of transparency regarding the utilisation of tax revenue for social services and visible development. The result of a survey they carried out is very interesting. 70% of the people surveyed claimed they do not pay tax because they do not see tax payer’s money at work, over 22% said it was because of unclear tax rules and complex compliance process while over 7% said it was due to poor enforcement by tax authorities. None of the respondents said it was due to people being poor or not being aware, the survey concluded.

Like I had indicated earlier, I believe the reason why government has not given its best to tax administration is because of the fact that it has come to rely heavily on oil revenue as the major, if not the only source of revenue and therefore sees tax collection as a minor irritant. Like we can see today, this may have been true in the past but definitely no more. Given that government has not been collecting much from the populace, it has also denied itself the use of this very important instrument for the management of the economy. From our analyses earlier, governments use fiscal policy of tax and spending to stabilise the economy. But not when the taxes were not being collected in the first instance.

Another unfortunate fallout is that the social contract between the rulers and the ruled cannot be enforced. The ruled do not feel they can hold the rulers to account because it cannot in all honesty, talk about tax payer’s money. The rulers don’t also feel compelled to deliver on the contract because they are not spending tax payer’s money in the real sense of it. That is probably why our power infrastructure was left to collapse, our roads and rail networks were left to decay, and our educational and health care delivery system have become a disaster amongst several others. If truly, government was dependent on tax payer’s money, it would be more interested in the wellbeing and survival of the tax payers, knowing very well that if anything happens to any of them, government revenue would be negatively affected.

The opportunity presented by the current economic recession is useful for government to completely restructure how it does things. It is an opportunity that should not be wasted. Government should start with proper documentation of the populace. We must digitally map the country so we know where everyone is. Everyone should have a tax payer’s identification number once they are of age. All the information should be in a central database accessible by different government agencies. Tax administration should be made very simple and straight forward and be made part of our culture.

It has also been reported that the current system is very complex and cumbersome and keeps away those that would have qualified as ‘voluntarily compliant’. In an annual report, “Paying Taxes 2016”, jointly issued by PWC and World Bank, Nigeria was rated no 181 out of the 189 countries measured along the lines of the ease of paying taxes. We were only better than eight countries in the whole world. This is a clear signal of how bad things are here with respect to paying taxes. It is sad that our system is hostile to even those who want to pay us money. We must take a serious look at the entire tax administration system to make it friendlier and more efficient.

Legislation and enforcement cannot be overemphasised in the reform journey. To encourage voluntary compliance, the law must not only make it a criminal offence to evade tax, but it must also be enforced. Awareness and education would follow to ensure that more people are brought into the tax net while government would also be required to be more transparent and responsible in the use of tax payer’s money.

We must begin to make the transition to funding public expenditure with tax payer’s money not with profit made by government from participating in business. This way, when government officials spend our money, they know they owe us explanations. When government is dealing with the taxpayer, it knows, it has to treat him as the one that pays the piper and should, therefore, dictate the tune. Even others living off tax payers, including those on benefits would realise that their life is dependent on the magnanimity of the tax payer.

As I conclude, I’d like to share a joke someone sent me: “My Income tax return form was rejected because my response to the question, ‘number of dependants’ was 2.1million illegal immigrants, 900,000 criminals in over 85 prisons and above all 769 idiots in parliament. They said it was not an acceptable answer! I’m still wondering… Who the hell did I miss out?”

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Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is the author of Half of a Yellow Sun and Americanah

Nigeria’s Failed Promises by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I was 7 years old the first time I recognized political fear. My parents and their friends were talking about the government, in our living room, in our relatively big house, set on relatively wide grounds at a southeastern Nigerian university, with doors shut and no strangers present. Yet they spoke in whispers. So ingrained was their apprehension that they whispered even when they did not need to. It was 1984 and Maj. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari was the military head of state.

Governmental controls had mangled the economy. Many imported goods were banned, scarcity was rife, black markets thrived, businesses were failing and soldiers stalked markets to enforce government-determined prices. My mother came home with precious cartons of subsidized milk and soap, which were sold in rationed quantities. Soldiers flogged people on the streets for “indiscipline” — such as littering or not standing in queues at the bus stop. On television, the head of state, stick-straight and authoritative, seemed remote, impassive on his throne amid the fear and uncertainty.

And yet when, 30 years later, in 2015, Mr. Buhari was elected as a democratic president, I welcomed it. Because for the first time, Nigerians had voted out an incumbent in an election that was largely free and fair. Because Mr. Buhari had sold himself as a near-ascetic reformer, as a man so personally aboveboard that he would wipe out Nigeria’s decades-long corruption. He represented a form of hope.

Nigeria is difficult to govern. It is Africa’s most populous country, with regional complexities, a scarred history and a patronage-based political culture. Still, Mr. Buhari ascended to the presidency with a rare advantage — not only did he have the good will of a majority of Nigerians, he elicited a peculiar mix of fear and respect. For the first weeks of his presidency, it was said that civil servants who were often absent from work suddenly appeared every day, on time, and that police officers and customs officials stopped demanding bribes.

He had an opportunity to make real reforms early on, to boldly reshape Nigeria’s path. He wasted it.

Nigeria’s economy is unwholesomely dependent on oil, and while the plunge in prices was bound to be catastrophic, Mr. Buhari’s actions made it even more so.

He adopted a policy of “defending” the naira, Nigeria’s currency. The official exchange rate was kept artificially low. On the black market, the exchange rate ballooned. Prices for everything rose: rice, bread, cooking oil. Fruit sellers and car sellers blamed “the price of dollars.” Complaints of hardship cut across class. Some businesses fired employees; others folded.

The government decided who would have access to the central bank’s now-reduced foreign currency reserves, and drew up an arbitrary list of worthy and unworthy goods — importers of toothpicks cannot, for example, but importers of oil can. Predictably, this policy spawned corruption: The exclusive few who were able to buy dollars at official rates could sell them on the black market and earn large, riskless profits — transactions that contribute nothing to the economy.

Mr. Buhari has spoken of his “good reasons” for ignoring the many economists who warned about the danger of his policies. He believes, rightly, that Nigeria needs to produce more of what it consumes, and he wants to spur local production. But local production cannot be willed into existence if the supporting infrastructure is absent, and banning goods has historically led not to local production but to a thriving shadow market. His intentions, good as they well might be, are rooted in an outdated economic model and an infantile view of Nigerians. For him, it seems, patriotism is not a voluntary and flexible thing, with room for dissent, but a martial enterprise: to obey without questioning. Nationalism is not negotiated, but enforced.

The president seems comfortable with conditions that make an economy uncomfortable — uncertainty and disillusion. But the economy is not the only reason for Nigerians’ declining hope.

A few months ago, a young woman, Chidera, came to work as a nanny in my Lagos home. A week into her job, I found her in tears in her room. She needed to go back to her ancestral home in the southeast, she said, because Fulani herdsmen had just murdered her grandfather on his farm. She showed me a gruesome cellphone photo of his corpse, desecrated by bullets, an old man crumpled on the farm he owned.

Chidera’s grandfather is only one of the hundreds of people who have been murdered by Fulani herdsmen — cattle herders from northern Nigeria who, until recently, were benign figures in the southern imagination, walking across the country with their grazing cattle.

Since Mr. Buhari came to power, villages in the middle-belt and southern regions have been raided, the inhabitants killed, their farmlands sacked. Those attacked believe the Fulani herdsmen want to forcibly take over their lands for cattle grazing.

It would be unfair to blame Mr. Buhari for these killings, which are in part a result of complex interactions between climate change and land use. But leadership is as much about perception as it is about action, and Mr. Buhari has appeared disengaged. It took him months, and much criticism from civil society, to finally issue a statement “condemning” the killings. His aloofness feels, at worst, like a tacit enabling of murder and, at best, an absence of sensitive leadership.

Nigerians who expected a fair and sweeping cleanup of corruption have been disappointed. Arrests have tended to be selective, targeting mostly those opposed to Mr. Buhari’s government. The anti-corruption agencies are perceived not only as partisan but as brazenly flouting the rule of law: The Department of State Security recently barged into the homes of various judges at midnight, harassing and threatening them and arresting a number of them, because the judges’ lifestyles “suggested” that they were corrupt.

There is an ad hoc air to the government that does not inspire that vital ingredient for a stable economy: confidence. There is, at all levels of government, a relentless blaming of previous administrations and a refusal to acknowledge mistakes. And there are eerie signs of the past’s repeating itself — Mr. Buhari’s tone and demeanor are reminiscent of 1984, and his military-era War Against Indiscipline program is being reintroduced.

There are no easy answers to Nigeria’s malaise, but the government’s intervention could be more salutary — by prioritizing infrastructure, creating a business-friendly environment and communicating to a populace mired in disappointment.

In a country enamored of dark humor, a common greeting among the middle class now is “Happy recession!”

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Alex Otti

That we are facing challenges with the economy is no longer news. Oil prices have remained low and around $50 per barrel in the last couple of months. This situation is exacerbated by the drop in crude export capacity from about 2.2m barrels of crude per day to less than 1.7m barrels owing to the activities of militants in the Niger Delta. Exchange rates have refused to come under control as N500 per dollar stares us in the face. Recall that not too long ago, it was less than N200 per dollar. Inflation rate is chasing 20 per cent from single digits in not too distant past. Youth unemployment is now over 24 per cent, though some analysts believe the figure is much higher. Industry capacity utilisation is at its lowest ebb. GDP has continued to decline leaving leadership with no option than to announce officially, that we are in a recession. These are therefore not normal times. In normal times, the economy must be positioned at the front burner of government activities.

Previous governments have underscored the importance of the economy by assembling experts and people who operate at very important sectors of the economy as an economic team to brainstorm and support government in maintaining optimum economic indices for the country. I would not give all the credit of successes recorded in the past to them, but I must acknowledge the work they did in stabilising the economy. It is important to note that besides putting sound economic policies in place, economic stability has a lot to do with confidence. Today, we talk about the activities of speculators as if someone brought them from outer space to attack the naira or is it dollar? The reality is that everyone can be a speculator. The only way to tame their activities is for them to have confidence that sound policies would continue to be implemented to protect their money.

Once their confidence “shakes or blinks”, they would act the way a rational being would. They would rather hold currencies that they don’t expect their value to depreciate significantly in the short to medium term. Foreign investors as well will hold off until some degree of stability is restored in the financial system. Confidence can be reinforced by the government having people who the market perceives to be sound, skilled, and experienced in its decision making process, particularly in the economic space. Today, other than the Minister of Finance, I am not sure there is any other economist on the president’s team. Considering that the subject matter of economics confuses a lot of people and even economists hardly agree on most major issues, the more of them you have, the better for the system, subject to those economists being sound and up to date. It is in this light that I advocate an economic management team for the president.

Before I continue, I must first of all, disqualify myself. I will not be part of the president’s economic team, if he agrees to constitute one. I hereby apply NOT to be considered for appointment and my reasons are simple. Even though I read Economics, because I have decided to comment on this matter, I have deliberately put myself in a position of conflict and therefore, hold myself disqualified from being a beneficiary of the outcome, if it turns out positive. It becomes very necessary in these days when different conspiracy interpretations are given to otherwise altruistic actions that I clarify my intentions. I will explain this with a story of what a former president of this country shared with a friend of mine a few years ago. He had visited to discuss a few matters with him. Midway into the discussion, he interjected with a remark that shot like a bolt from the blues. “Nigerians are very interesting people. Anytime they come to you with suggestions that look credible, there are always some hidden agenda. A few otherwise respectable people had visited me in the last couple of days to discuss the vacancy in so so institution. They will make a lot of sensible argument about the need to appoint a very well qualified and competent person for that role. When I enquire of an example of the person they had in mind, they would not only present themselves, they would hand me their already prepared CVs. That leaves me wondering where decency and selflessness have gone to”. It is in that light that I need to demonstrate that my “selflessness” has not taken flight.

Secondly, by the time I am through, I would make recommendations of more qualified, more accomplished, more experienced and better economists than myself who would add more value to the administration than I will be able to do. So, why would I want the president to settle for second 11, when he can get first 11? And I say this with all sense of responsibility. Some of them are actually people we learn from. Some have even had course to intervene publicly in the recent times. Where I come from, there is a saying that it is only a fool that does not recognise someone who is greater than him.

The third reason is that there is nothing I want to tell the president that I cannot say on my fortnightly column, ‘Outside the Box’, and I am told by those who have access to the president that he reads everything we write. I hope this information is correct. If it is, I will encourage the president to keep it up. If not, I will encourage him to start reading because there is a lot to learn from reading. I will continue to use this medium to make my own intervention. I am of the view that those who have something to say but don’t have my kind of platform are better appointed than those of us who you will hear from anyway, whether you like us or hate us.

A lot of times, leaders are unable to benefit from genuine advice from their subordinates and appointees for a whole lot of reasons ranging from “respect” through fear to culture. First, we respect age a lot in this part of the globe. If the boss is the older person, there is a tendency to genuflect and say nothing that may come out as rude to him. Our president at 74 is much older than virtually all the members of his cabinet. I can therefore understand if his cabinet members are unable to tell him things the way they are. The second point is that he is the president and an executive one at that. He had been president (Head of State) some 32 years ago when the present minister of finance and some others in the cabinet were just teenagers. One can understand the generation-gap coupled with the enormous powers. Because of the too much power around the president, people around him would not want to make it into his bad books. One president turned on the heat on a governor sometime ago and was almost crushing him.

A few of the governor’s friends went to plead on his behalf. The president roared that he had not started dealing with the then governor as he had not even used 20 per cent of his powers. That speaks of the enormous powers presidents command. In like manner, a governor who served at the federal level before winning elections in 2015 shared his experience with a mutual friend. He said he had come to realise why governors failed. He was shocked that everything he said or did was right. Sometimes, he decided to say the wrong thing in a bid to do a reality check. All commissioners and senior appointees without exception, applauded him as being the smartest thing they had heard. He would then say something diametrically opposed to the earlier statement and the same people would find reason to give an even louder applause.

Comparing this experience with his sojourn at the centre, he found that there was a world of difference. At the federal level, he couldn’t hire and fire anyone, but at the state, everyone from his deputy down served at his pleasure. So, who says it is not time to look again at this “democracy” that we “photocopied” from the US to ensure that it is serving our purposes. The governor took a decision: he would be the last to speak at meetings to ensure against the popular phrase, “just like His Excellency has said”. It was only then that his people started speaking out.

This attitude is not peculiar to the public sector. Sucking up, as it is often called, also exists, even if to a lesser extent, in the private sector. In my early years in banking, I had this general manager who knew very little about his job but was extremely loyal to the CEO who he had worked with most of his banking career. His lack of capacity was very visible in the bank. To the surprise of everyone, the CEO who was a major owner of the bank bought another bank that was ailing at that time and seconded the general manager to the new bank as CEO. Before every meeting with his team, he would go for a briefing with his boss. At management meetings in the new bank, he would address his team thus, “as the boss has directed…” Someone had to always give him a nudge to remind him that he was the boss in the new place. Any wonder why both banks have since collapsed?

President Muhammadu Buhari has left not a few people in no doubt that he is not a private sector apologist. In fact, his comment about the reason he doesn’t want to set up an economic team or why he thinks he doesn’t need one is very instructive. He was quoted to have insisted that the private sector would normally make recommendations that would serve its interest. While I cannot controvert the president on this, I wonder what is wrong with it. It has been demonstrated that the kind of economy we run works, not out of the benevolence of the butcher or baker, but out of their self-interest. The only thing government should not lose sight of is its duty of regulation. Besides, no one is advocating a ‘private-sector-only’ economic team. Others like academics, labour and government officials must be part of the team.

Like we had argued in the past, economics is a very complex subject that requires very complex thinking. Most economists do not have agreement on different issues in the field as I had stated earlier. Having a forum to ventilate divergent thoughts and thoroughly synthesise all possible models and scenarios as it relates to our present and future challenges can only be to the benefit of this government. Most importantly, the president reserves the right to discountenance any advice that he does not agree with, but he should not deny himself the opportunity to be advised.

Again, it is said that one does not give what one does not have. We do have a lot of competent people who would put their wealth of experience, training and skills at the disposal of the government. I wonder what the president stands to lose. I would expect that this team like others would neither be employed nor paid by government to ensure its independence.

I have taken liberty to draw up a list, though not exhaustive, of the kind of people that the president needs to approach for membership of the proposed team which I will send to him confidentially since I do not have their permission to publish their names. The government may also wish to choose some people from the private sector and join the trio of Minister of Finance, Minister of National Planning and Minister of Trade and Industries and of course, the CBN Governor with the vice-president presiding.

Finally, if truly Mr. President has a problem with the nomenclature, economic team, then we can call it any other name. Anyhow, I believe that the president needs a crack team of economists, technocrats and experts to assist him manage our very challenged economy. He actually needs this team quickly. He needs it yesterday.


Alex Otti is the immediate past GMD of Diamond Bank Plc

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