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Tested in many ways he never could have imagined on assumption of office, the Governor of Lagos State, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, isn’t just getting better at what he does as the Chief Marketer of the State of Aquatic Splendour, he has also shown that beyond theoretical misgivings, nothing really is esoteric about governance, administration and leadership. With a little over two years in office, Sanwo-Olu has learnt to deal with the heat in the kitchen without appearing disturbed or overwhelmed and yet, he gets the work done without shifting blames or side-stepping responsibilities. In almost two hours of interaction with THISDAY, he shares his experience about the journey so far, the challenges then and now, the progress reports, plans for the future and why being Lagos governor is not a job for small minds. Excerpts:

It’s over two years since you assumed office, and most of that time have been defined by challenges. Indeed, more of challenges than opportunities, so to say. How have these affected your initial enthusiasm?
You’re right. It’s been over two years. Indeed, it’s almost 58.3 per cent of my 100 per cent four-year tenure. You know, it’s supposed to be 1,460 days and to date, I think we’ve done slightly over 850 days, which means that indeed, we’ve crossed well over half of the time. And you’re right with the observation that there’s been a whole lot of challenges than opportunities. But, this is it: this is how to govern the biggest economy in the country.

It’s the biggest city that has the largest population in the entire black race. This is how to govern a place that is less than 0.5 per cent of the total landmass of our country, in which over 10 per cent of the population resides. To imagine that you want to come and run the shop called Lagos State; you want to be the chairman and chief executive of Lagos State, you need to think twice.

 
 

You need to know that it’s not going to be a tea party. This is where the real movers and shakers of thought process, a well-informed audience, are. So, it’s not something that you’re going to carpet under the rug and believe that nobody is looking. No! People are going to ask questions. People are going to ask you difficult questions. So, to be honest with you, I wasn’t expecting less.

But, not that I was expecting a pandemic from hell or I was expecting a security issue. But I know that to run a state given the challenges and complexities, that I just talked about, I will indeed need to continually roll up my sleeves, have shorter nights, and burn the midnight candlelight and be ready to appreciate what your people want. And you have to be up to it. But, it’s all about taking your people to a better level from where you met them. It is what leadership is all about.

The question is what should be your own commitment to ensuring that you leave the place better than you met it. So, it’s going to take something out of your body and at the end of the day, it’s a position of honour. It’s a position of grace, when your people believe and see that you have deliberately and consciously made an attempt to improve their lives. We are just trying to make an impact in the lives of Lagosians who gave us the sacred mandate to govern.

I think it’s only generations and historians that can write the script of how you fared, and how your life and your time had turned out while you were in government and what belief and what people believed was the outcome of it. But, I’m grateful to God for giving me the energy, for giving me the strength, for equipping me also with people that are on the same page with me and understanding that what we’ve promised as citizens is that we will not shy away from every bit of energy that we have to make this place better than we met.

How much has the pandemic disrupted that promise to the people of Lagos?
It has actually, and it’s not localised. It’s a global thing. It has because what it meant was, for example, all throughout last year, we couldn’t mobilise as many contractors as we’d have wanted to. We couldn’t supervise as many projects as we’d have wanted to. We couldn’t see the real brick and mortar growth as we’d have wanted to. That’s not to say that we didn’t do anything at all. But, wanted to do a lot of things quicker, faster and smarter.

So, in terms of our deliverables and timelines by the second end of the second year, we thought we’d have rolled out a lot of schools, a lot of hospitals and all of that. So, in that sense, it has disrupted our workplan. It also affected the revenue or the proceeds that would have helped us and our ability to raise enough funding, because businesses were not on. When life had been all threatened, so, everybody just needed to slow down, you know, and reappraise themselves.

 

Last year, for example, we had to take about a 30 per cent cut in our budget, but, we couldn’t take a cut in the health budget. We couldn’t take a cut in some critical sectors, where we needed to help people out of a very difficult time and ensure that we support even the organised private sector. One of the things we said to them during the pandemic was, do not retrench people, or lay people off from your payroll.

So, for us to have asked them to do that for us you can imagine what that means and appreciate the extent we were willing to go to keep people employed – things around delayed payment in remitting pay as you earn (PAYE); things around delayed returns in terms of their taxes. We also needed to be gracious and not come with a big stick and ask them to continue to do this, when we knew that indeed, it’s been a difficult time for everyone; for all of us and for all of them. It’s also been a learning point.

Like people say, you never let a crisis get bad, or you never lose the lesson of a crisis. It taught us how to think very quickly and very smartly. For instance, we were able to wrap up infrastructure in health sector very quickly. For example, in health training, we were able to wrap that up rapidly, not wasting time, thinking about what to do. We needed to identify the skills we required in some of those places and get them in place – up and running. But then, like people say, we’ve learnt what we’ve learnt. It sort of toughened us in some areas, but, at the end of the day, you will also see a human face to everything that we’re talking about, and doing.

How has lessons from the first and second waves, helped to prepare you for the third wave of the virus?
To be honest, I think we’re a bit lucky. We’re luckier, because we understand how the virus moves now; we understand what we need to do, and I will tell you some. We believe that the graph is coming down. It has actually tilted up, and we have begun to see it come down. I’ve had a lot of things that we were able to do with this. We have telemedicine and a platform that is working well, which means you can call people twice daily to know how they’re doing to respond quicker.

That’s number one. Number two, we have stocked up all the medicines we require. Everything is sealed up in a pack. So, we can give it like a goody pack but, it’s a COVID-19 pack. Also, our first responders know all of the symptoms better. Thirdly, we also have a ramped-up stock of oxygen. We’ve done three oxygen plants, you know, like in the second wave, when we didn’t have anything at all. Now, we have three oxygen plants on our own. We produce almost three hundred bottles of oxygen every day. I mean the Lagos State government owned. This is apart from the private sector.

We understand that the virus affects the chest when you’re heavily infected, so, it’s really good to have oxygen to continue to breathe. So, in terms of our response, we understand the virus better. However, they talk about the Delta variant that is more potent, and it’s true. It’s a lot more potent but, the bottom line is that we have studied how the virus itself moves. We know how it evolves and then, there’s been a lot of communication; there’s been a lot of community engagement. We did not stop at that at all.

We continue to communicate with our citizens in the various communities, and we’ve also ramped up testing. Now, in Lagos, I think we have almost 30 testing centres from a year and half ago, when there was only one or two. So, there’s been a lot of investments by the private sector side. So, basically, we now have a load of testing centres and PCR laboratories. In terms of infrastructure, it has been extensively improved. Communication has been ramped up, medicine and response have been improved. We can indeed nip it in the bud, as it were.

Can you put a cost to all that?
I’ll give you an example. To date, the state has done almost 400,000 free tests. If you calculate at the rate of N50, 000 per test and we have done 400,000, that is almost like N20 billion, that’s on testing alone. If we monetise the cost of testing, because that’s what the private labs charge, and Lagos State had to do that number free from the beginning till now. We have had to carry all of that free. So, that is just one expense line.

By the time you talk of the three oxygen plants that we have built, the training and retraining of the staff that we have done, the isolation centres that we have done and when we begin to look at the numbers, in a very strict sense, are massive. But, because it’s health, it’s a public health thing. We want to keep our people well. We want to keep them alive and in good health. In that sense, we are not bothered by the cost. Lagosians must be safe and we are willing to go any length to achieve that.

And, numbers in terms of expense, there are things that we can work back but, I just wanted to give you just that one single line. By the way, we’re still paying all of our frontline health workers. Maybe we owe them one month in arrears as critical frontline workers that are dealing with COVID-19. But, we’re still paying allowances, and the allowances are a lot of money, so, all of that we’ll continue to do; we’ll continue to help; we’ll continue to ensure that we keep the state safe and secure.

Away from health concerns, the Rivers State government recently took the federal government to court over VAT collection and won. Lagos, too, has applied to be joined in the case even though the FIRS has opposed your application. But Rivers has also gone ahead to enact its VAT collection law. What took Lagos, a state that usually leads in things like this, so long to be prompted by Rivers? Why did Lagos drop the ball?

We did not drop the ball. Go and check the history. This whole war actually started during Asiwaju Bola Tinubu’s tenure. Incidentally, the current Vice President (Prof. Yemi Osinbajo) was the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice then. If you had studied the case, it’s his case in 2004, that is, the sales tax case that they used as a reference in the court of appeal right now, even as we speak. What happened then? I was in that same government. We took the FIRS to court, and the decision at that time – the ruling was that we should go and settle out of court.

They didn’t care. Mind you, the Lagos State government was in opposition at that time. So, it’s like they threw you under the bus when they said we should go and sort it outside the court. They also now said something: the federal government at that time said Lagos didn’t sue the federal government. It was an agency of the federal government, the FIRS, so, if Lagos State court gave a ruling – Lagos State went and now tried that federal agency in a Federal High Court – go back and go and start all over at the federal high court.

So, it’s like they hung it. We couldn’t make a lot of movement at that time. There was nobody ready to sit at the table. That is the real fact. It’s the same Prof. Yemi Osinbajo that led the case for Lagos State at that time. Lagos State was like an orphan (at that time). It was alone, as it were, and nobody wanted to take it up or talk to them further, and the FIRS at that time did not even listen to them. They said no, it was an abuse of court process for us to have gone to Lagos State court, because we won and wanted to go forward, they said no, go and start it all over again.

When we got to the Court of Appeal, the court said, ‘go and sort it out yourselves.’ So, they didn’t make a pronouncement. What does that tell you? It shows that, indeed, we didn’t want to get around it. That was what happened, and that has been there. If you remember, we now set up a sales tax shop. We now said okay, if you guys are good, we now set up a sales tax. We won that one at the Court of Appeal. I think that case is currently in the Supreme Court. Some people are still fighting us on that. We have actually made progress, because when they said we couldn’t touch VAT, we went to sales tax. So we never for once stopped in the championing of fiscal federalism.

Let’s step back a bit. What we’re talking about is really not about, who collects VAT or how VAT is collected; it’s about the fabric of federalism. If, indeed, we’ve agreed to stay together as a federation called Nigeria, that fiscal federalism or federalism, as it were, is important for us to continue to engage and live. A component of fiscal federalism is monetary control from resources generated from the states. Which include revenue from taxes. These are things that should be controlled by sub-national government in the spirit of true federalism.

It is not in the constitution that it is an exclusive tax. It’s not there that it’s a concurrent tax. So, meaning that it’s a residual tax and so if we’re talking about fiscal federalism right, this is one of the two tests of fiscal federalism and coincidentally, at our Asaba first declaration, we made it clear. If you remember, the communique that came out of that meeting, was that we all believed in federalism, restructuring. It was clearly stated in that very first much-talked about Asaba declaration.

Three meetings after that, we now have a real test of what we had just spoken about eight months ago, and we will not now be able to push it? No. It will amount to flip-flopping, and a lot of us are very decent gentlemen to say if this was what we said six months ago, what has changed? Let’s stay the course and continue to push about what we’ve talked about, and this is one case of testing what we have all seen, and that’s what we’re doing.

What, really, is the difference between sales tax and VAT?
If you listened to an interview and it’s very recent, and I think it was also on ARISE TV by a famous tax practitioner, Chief Ijewere, he was the expert that during the military, I think it was President Babangida, that set up a tax regime and listening to him a couple of days ago, I also got a lot of answers and closure for some of the things. It was meant to be a sub-national tax at that time, and because they wanted to improve, they added some luxury items to it.

That’s why they now use the updated VAT regime. That’s how it’s done in other lands in which VAT is charged. Go to America that we all talk about, there are different value-added taxes charged. It’s really the same thing as a sales tax. But, sales is just for sales. VAT takes charge of goods and services, not just consumption. It takes care of also goods and services and other services like import transaction and all of that.

That is why the listed items have been increased, but, essentially, it is supposed to mitigate the challenges: the problems that emanate from the sub-national or the entity or from the area, where all of that services and activity had taken place. That is the overall understanding of it. It was meant to help the sub-national, locality, or entity where that transaction took place.

The argument of FIRS is that this is not a tax that sub-national governments collect and that it could lead to multiple taxations if states collect VAT as well as affect foreign direct investment. Are there some merits in that submission?
Essentially, there are two or three fundamental issues around maybe multiple taxes. There would, indeed, be for us, for example, a closure on some of the conversations, because we have got experts to review that and be sure that everything has been done. So, that we don’t have any overlap or double taxing, but the fundamental thing is the test of the fabric of our constitution. It is not there. It is not stated. It is a residual thing. It is not even a concurrent thing. So, it’s there fundamentally, and that’s why we need to look at it.

You and I can now sit and say, okay, how do I collect it? What are the things that I need to do? We’re speaking with the organised private sector. We’re speaking with everybody that is a stakeholder in this. We’re not just irresponsible and unreasonable with it. And like you said, if I choose and say someone should collect it on my behalf, it’s a different conversation. But, let’s first understand that it is me that owns it. That’s the point that we’re trying to make for closure.

By the way, when Mr. Ijewere was also speaking, the only reason they got involved at that time was because they said, okay, we’ll help you collect it and now, to help you collect it, and the deviation coming out of it has since changed. Some people might say, ‘okay, continue to help me collect it, but, wait a minute, let’s agree that it is we that should be collecting it. you. It’s interesting for us, even as a nation, to continue to sit together, not political now, try and get the very best for our people at every point in time.

Based on the Asaba declaration and the different tunes coming from some southern states, are you sure the southern governors are united on this? Governor David Umahi is opposing the stance of Rivers and Lagos on the VAT issue. Some governors did not even show up at the recent Enugu meeting, sending their deputies. Are the southern governors united?
It will be a bit presumptuous for me to know the reasons their governors were not there and their deputies sent. Among ourselves, we raised the question, and the response we got was that these are joined mandates. They had the full support of their governors to be at the meeting. So, all of that we needed to respect, as to all of us being together and this is the beauty of democracy, and this is the beauty of everybody sitting in a room – everybody would have a say. I don’t want to use the word majority will have their way, but it’s also an engagement that we all need to continue to have, going forward.

It’s really around understanding and appreciating. What is the real essence of what you are trying to drive at? VAT is being talked about today. There might be other things around fiscal federalism or federalism, as it were, that may come up tomorrow that might affect these other states that’ll come up in a seemingly more positive manner than some other states. The question will be that because it’s not also Lagos. Lagos is the smallest state, for example. If we’re now going to be talking about natural resources and the rest of it, it’s almost certain that Lagos can never be comparable to other states with bigger land areas, where they can have a lot of natural resources.

These are some of the things that we need to look at, that sometimes, some of these things might not be 100 per cent in the same way and manner, but, we can all be gracious and sit on a table to discuss. We can all be very statesmanlike. It’s unfortunate, but, we’ll continue to engage ourselves. We’re brothers, and we’ll continue to ensure that we speak to ourselves and sort out whatever differences we have.

There’s growing insecurity across the country, and either by design or accident, Lagos tends to be lucky. Is there something you’re doing in particular, or everything is left to providence?
To imagine that we’re leaving everything to providence will mean lighting gunpowder and closing the entire doors to the house and expect that it’ll not explode. Far from it! We’re doing a lot. We’ve started from the very first thing, when we came into government. What are the things that we have set for ourselves to do? Remember that we’ve always had a working Lagos State security trust fund that has continued to help out in terms of resources, equipment, allowances, and logistics that security operatives across the line will require, not only police, also the military and other paramilitary agencies.

This also includes immigration and correctional centres. So, that has been a model that I was privileged to have set up in Lagos several years ago. Therefore, it wasn’t very difficult for me to further engage it, widen it, and give it a lot more depth. So, that is going on. Secondly, we also have that, whilst we are gradually part of the Southwest security formation, we have about 7,000-strong neighborhood watch complementing policing. They go into various communities and bring back intelligence.

They’re feeding this back to support the main security operatives, which means things can happen faster if they’re sharing information quicker. These are in terms of the background that we have working for ourselves. But more important, security is also not too far off from the economy and poverty. We say to ourselves that we need to be deliberate at ensuring that we can make the environment in which our people work, we can make it a sort of. We can create a sort of livelihood for our people in that environment, where people can’t get something to do, and move away from any act of criminality.

We’re ensuring our communication engagement with various stakeholders. Regularly, we talk among ourselves and ask questions, what is going on in the community? What are the things we need to do differently? All that information is plugged with the security architecture in the state, allowing us to go around very quickly. Maybe the other thing that is also working well for us is that we don’t have many border posts. Apart from Ogun state, the only border that we have, apart from Benin, which is an international border, is really the Atlantic Ocean.

If we can protect our waterways well, the inland border is only one state. We have a working relationship with Ogun State. We have a joint commission. We have security movement. We have a planning approval movement. We have a traffic management movement. But one that is peculiar to us, I will not shy away from it, is cultism demonstrated in some neighbourhoods. In the past six months, cult-related activities have actually come down. What we’ve done is that we’ve engaged them extensively at the community level. We’ve picked up some of the arrowheads, and we’ve sat with them to say what exactly the issues are?

They’re fighting around, who controls the street, who controls this and who controls that. We sat down and engaged with them: ‘Let’s give you a source of livelihood.’ All of that is going on and it’s because we always have a means of engagement. I can tell you that some of them are even working with us. So, all of those security issues are being attacked, taken up, and dealt with at the grassroots level. But we’re not dropping our eyes on the ball. We’re not complacent. We’re not taking anything for granted. We’re also checking. We’re monitoring. We’re ensuring that even at the community level, there’s relative peace through the cooperation of all.

There are assumptions that the federal government is handling insecurity with laxity. Will it be right to say that could be undoing your efforts in Lagos?
I feel it’d be unfair to assume that things are not happening extensively at the federal level. I might not have all indices and parameters of the local issues in various states. I might not have, but I certainly know that, on a broad basis, given the information and what we read, things are really up for it. For example, the Chief of Army staff probably would be meeting with me on Monday (today). It’s also part of their engagement at that level. You could see that they’ve also made it a duty among themselves. I believe that their eyes are on the ball.

How are you dealing with the growing influx of people into Lagos, especially, those difficult to identify their origin and may pose security risk to the state?
These are real facts. These are real challenges. If you noticed, in the last two weeks, we’ve actually heightened our call on picking up miscreants and beggars on the street. There are social media videos that you see claiming that we are just deliberately picking people. We’re not just picking, we try to identify them and know where they come from and if there’s a means of rehabilitating them. That is actually going on. Many people flood Lagos for economic reasons and for prosperity. We do not have a problem with that. But if you are here with criminal intentions or security challenges, we would make this place uninhabitable for you.

Where are you on the Lagos rail project?
We’re actually on track. We’re on budget. There are two rail projects that we are doing. There’s the red line, and there’s the blue line. Outside of the State House, Marina, here, is the blue line. And you could see while you were driving down that there is more piling work now than in the last three or four months than has ever been. It’s because we are driving straight to completion. The completion time that I gave a commitment to at the beginning of the year is the last quarter of 2022. We’re on track regarding the delivery date, ensuring that phase one of the blue line. The blue line is from Okokomaiko to Marina.

The phase one of it is from Mile 2 to Marina. We’ve done the C-crossing. We’re doing the final piles; we’re doing the final piers for them to now have the columns that will stay on top. All of the columns have already been fabricated. Then, we’re building the Marina station. All the standing piles that you’re seeing, Marina station is going to be an elevated station. It’s going to be an iconic station, a station we’ll all be truly proud of. That’s the blue line. We’ve ordered the coaches; the maintenance and other things have been signed.

The red line is from Ebute Meta, on the old corridor that the federal government is also doing the Lagos-Ibadan rail, up to Alagbado. That one is also on track, and what are we doing? The federal government is running from the big Ebute Meta station to Ogun state every two hours. We have some rail tracks that we need to build. Our own rail station at Ebute Meta is in Ebute Meta proper, not the old Alagomeji. We’re building seven stations, as we speak, concurrently.

We have in Yaba, Ilupeju, Oshodi, Ikeja, Agege, and Agbado Oke. We’re not just building stations. We’re also building overpasses. We’re building four overpasses concurrently. There’s an overpass at Ebute Meta as you enter Apapa road. There’re overpasses at Yaba, Ikeja, and Ayoola Coker by Iju – all of them have been awarded, and contractors are on site. So, we believe that by the third or last quarter of 2022, we’ll also be meeting our target. We’re very excited that the infrastructure will be delivered before the end of our administration in 2023.

But let me quickly use this opportunity to talk about the transportation master plan. The whole idea is that those are two rail lines. The plan is to have seven rail lines. So, the expression of interest and the documentation, and the five others are going on concurrently. We have international consultants and financial advisers helping us develop the PPP model that we have. One of them is on the Lekki corridor. There’s another one that will take you on Ikorodu and Abule Egba. That’s on the rail. But the master plan for transportation in Lagos is what we call an integrated master plan, including rail, waterways, and road infrastructure.

We’re building 15 jetties as we speak on the waterways – small terminals and jetties concurrently. About eight of them should be completed this year. We’re dredging. We’ve bought more ferries, about 24 with various carrying capacity. So, we’re pushing a lot of traffic on the waterways. We’re investing in the command and control centre for the waterways and buying security equipment, including emergency and safety boats. We’re trying to motivate our citizens to use the abundant waterways in Lagos.

The third component is the road. We’ve done the large-capacity buses, and we have done the medium-buses and the last-mile small buses. Finally, we’re going to do the taxis as well. On the road too, we give you options: you can go the 60-seater, the 30-seater, the 10-seater and the one-seater, which is the taxi. We’re providing options for the citizens: options on the road, rail, and the waterway. At the end of the day, you’ll have one payment system.

Any option for the air space?
We’re actually going back to our Lekki airport project. We’re actually having an extensive conversation. We’re bringing the Lekki airport project. We’ve done extensive study on it, and we believe that it’s a viable project given all the investments that we have at the Ibeju-Lekki corridor. The airport will complement the refinery, which is the biggest in the world. It will complement the deep seaport.

It will complement all of the investments and companies. And the road, being a six-lane highway on the Lagos-Epe expressway, will complement all of that. The study on the airport is ongoing, and we’re checking the numbers. Maybe we’ll make an announcement in another three or four months as to the partners we intend to work with. All of that will help to develop Lagos into a megacity that’s resilient, competitive, and can be equated with other big cities across the globe.

Where in all of these is the fourth mainland bridge?
Like we did promise, it has been a very extensive and elaborate process. For the bidders, we started with about 32 international firms, now it has come down to about three. So, the final three are going to get their final request for proposal (RFP) and the final analysis of their bid document would be done. We are hoping that before the end of October, that should come in. Once that comes out, we would be able to identify in November, then we go into final negotiation with that person.
So, there will a preferred bidder and a reserved bidder. And, with the preferred bidder, we can go into negotiation. If we are able to complete the negotiation in one or two months, we should do ground-breaking immediately. So, I have committed to doing groundbreaking by December this year. Latest, by January, we should have done the groundbreaking.

Is it going to be a fully private sector-driven project?
Absolutely, it going to be private sector-funded. It is 37 kilometres. It has bridge and it is going to finally terminate on Lagos-Ibadan expressway.

When is the completion period?
Those are some of the things the builders would push in. But I think they would take it like in two phases and it is a safe thing to say in two or two and a half years, it should be completed. There are a lot of benefits to derive from that project, especially, the traffic that is going to be addressed. So, for you to embark on a project like this, its viability is very important and so you need to have extensive social impact assessment. And we are also going to be throwing in some real estate around there and there would be some land acquisition so that there would development on both sides.

The Dangote refinery is the biggest in the world right now, and the NNPC is taking 20 per cent equity. Why is Lagos the host state not taking equity, too?
It was dealt with as a pure commercial conversation at that time. What Dangote said he wanted at that time was a purely commercial transaction, where he would fully be in charge. But as you’ve seen, it’s now live, and that’s why I think he’s selling down gradually to investors. For us, we’re landowners; we’re the landlords, and we’re the stakeholders around this. I believe that on a CSR basis, there will be some conversation that he also would be thinking about. So that there will be that community protection and acceptability. We’ll have a conversation with him, possibly about just having a peep into the room, a small peep. It is a conversation worth having.

There’s so much going on in terms of projects in Lagos. These cost a lot of money. How is it affecting the state’s debt profile?
What we have done is to continue to make sure that Lagos sustainability indices are one of the lowest in the country. Given the size of our GDP, given the size of the budget that we have, if you look at our sustainability ratio, the World Bank at least would expect you to have almost 40 per cent sustainability ratio, but we’re still below 30 per cent even with the debts incurred.

But the question we should ask ourselves is: what’s the quality of the debts taken? What are we using the debts for? If a debt is being used for infrastructure, it means that you’re just building a future, bringing it to reality today. You’re building a future at a cheaper cost. Indeed, it will pay itself back, because of the economics and the benefit that it will give your general citizens over the life of that infrastructure. You’re not borrowing to pay salaries. You’re borrowing to develop infrastructure like rails and roads. These are some of the drivers of the economy that will make a state and city more sustainable.

Fitch Ratings recently upgraded Lagos from AA+ (nga) to AAA (nga) in terms of its debt sustainability and resilience. How did you receive the news?
We are very excited about the Fitch rating, because it is the best in the country. It is an ‘AAA’ rating by the foremost rating agency in the world. It looked at our debt ratio and our bond. Last year, we raised the biggest sub-national bond which was N100 billion and the utilisation was 100 per cent on capital project. And we are going back to the market again. We are trying to do an 8-year or a 10-year bond. But we did something very creative during the year. What we did was that for the first time in history of this country, we pulled the call option on our existing bond.

So, we have bonds that were running, and there was an option in which you can do what we call an early redemption of those bonds. We recalled it because we realise that we can re-price the bond at a cheaper price. When we called those bonds and we saw how the market was moving, we were able to save almost 500 to 600 basis points from what it was to what we are able to re-price our borrowing to. It means that over the next couple of years, we have saved interest expense that goes into billions.

From the calculation, it could be between N10 billion or N14 billion that was saved from that exercise. So, we have a team we are working with and these are people that are very cerebral. We did not default, it was just an option that was available in the bond programme and we took it and we are able to pay. So, we did for about N85 billion. We paid early and re-priced ourselves and we were able to make savings of about 5.56 per cent to six per cent on the interest expense, which is helping us to even clean up our books.

So, we are very excited about how we are managing our debt and we are believing that everything that we are doing are things that can bring about infrastructure development, improve the quality of life, improve the economy of the state so that people can do a lot more, have reduction in the time they spend on the road and have better property valuation on their investment. That is how economies are grown everywhere in the world. So, we have both internal and external consultants that are working with us and are doing a great job. I want to continue to thank them for that.

And we’d continue to assure our citizens that we will never be irresponsible with the finances of the state. It is something that I personally take responsibility for and I continue to look at it, given my personal experience in the finance industry. You also talked about something very top in my heart and it is something that last year was taken up seriously. It is the unfortunate incident of October last year, the #ENDSARS.

First, is to tell you that we still have the judicial panel working and I can say that we are the only one in the country that still have an active panel, which you all see on daily or on weekly basis still working. I must quickly add and I am saying this with all sense of responsibility, that since we inaugurated that panel, I have not seen the chairman of the panel for one day. I have never called her, not that I don’t follow what is going on, but I don’t have any form of interaction with anybody on that panel.

All they bring to me is that they need funding to continue to run the panel, they need funding to get experts, they need funding to pay their bills and we give to them. That has been my only engagement with them. Moving forward, they asked for an extension, which I think they have said to us that they will be ending sometime in October and they will be able to bring up their recommendations.

At the National Economic Council (NEC), we have given a small note to NEC, because all state governments that have a panel were asked to submit report, so we had to report to NEC that our panel is still active and working and we requested that they should give them time to finish up. But for the lessons from this, there are several things that we can take away.

First, is to say that even the men of the Nigeria Police Force, in my reckoning, now understand their responsibility to the citizens better. I even helped them to ensure that they become better officers and men, who understand that they are there because the citizens are the ones they are protecting. And so, we continue to have extensive community engagement with them. We have also seen and understand that we need to continue to engage our youths at various levels and that we have done extensively with all channels available to us over the last one year.

In tourism, art, sports and in community engagements, we have continued to open up the space and engage them. Part of the problem that we saw, studying the effect of it was that the lockdown had a lot of psychological effects on everyone. People were held back for months and so, it brought out a negative response at that time. And so, we have learnt about the psycho-social effects of a pandemic and a lockdown and how it affects the economy. But, more importantly, is to say that at the end of the day, whatever are their recommendations, we would take them seriously and we will ensure that we deal with all of the issues they are going to be telling us about.

The government would face them squarely and ensure that we have a mechanism in place to ensure that we do not have to repeat of the unfortunate incident. And for us, it is to continue to appeal and appraise ourselves. We all need ourselves and we can see things from different sides of the same coin, but the bottom-line is that we are all in this together and at the end of day, we all can build a bigger, stronger state and economy for everyone, create space for all of us to sit and resolve issues.

You recently launched a Joint Development Commission with the Ogun State government, what is it all about?
The only neighbour that I have among the states is Ogun, so, it makes economic sense to have such an arrangement. The joint commission is for us to look at areas of common interest – security, fiscal planning transportation, public transportation, especially, road infrastructure, boundary issues and land. And we have started. And I will give you several examples.

As recent as two weeks ago, when the Governor of Ogun had a huge traffic in his state during the burial of his father, the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA),for example, based on the engagement that we have, moved beyond Berger Bus Stop, into Mowe, which is in Ogun State, to help. So, we were able to deploy towing vehicles, men, bicycles and all that, and we are able to push the traffic and eased congestion on the Lagos-Ibadan expressway so that people could move.

You can imagine moving officers from Abeokuta to control traffic at Mowe or on that long bridge, because both are in Ogun State. But because it is closer to Lagos, we are able to do it quicker, better and faster. But we can only do it if we have this kind of Commission. At the end of the day, our citizens really don’t know the difference; they just want traffic to move and not be held down. So, it makes sense for both of us to sit back and develop this Commission.

Security is also another thing. We have joint border patrols by our police officers, neighborhood watch, Amotekun and they are all speaking with each other by exchanging information. Another one is infrastructure. If you go to Epe, Lagos, we have done the road from Ibeju Lekki to Epe, to the border town of Ogun State, going towards Ijebu Ode. The Ogun State governor has also done same thing, and we used same contractor.

So, you would see a seamless ride moving from Epe to Ijebu Ode – first class road, which has been done very well and there is a toll plaza that has been put there. The revenue coming out from the toll plaza, we are having a conversation to see how we would share it because both of us have done different parts of the road and so, we just have to share the resources. There are several other engagements like that such as in transportation. They want some of our buses to be getting to Ota. So, these are some of the things that the Joint Commission is working on.

Has the disagreement over Pay-As-You-Earn (PAYE) tax between both states been resolved?
We don’t have any problem with that. We are actually paying Ogun state. There has been some reconciliation of accounts. So, we don’t have any problem at all.
By this time next year, preparations for the general election would have started, are you seeking re-election and if yes, why do you think you deserve to come back?
This is September 2021. Like I started this conversation with, I have done 58.3 per cent of my 100 per cent of four-year tenure. Lagosians need all of my energy and strength to continue to provide security, public transportation, carry refuse and ensure that I make their lives better and deal with issues of Okada. I swore to a four-year tenure, I didn’t swear to two and a half years; I didn’t swear to do 58 per cent of my term, I swore to do 100 per cent.

But I am not naïve and I am not politically unaware that there have been several drums coming up. But Lagosians need me to focus. What I will plead for is let me even do 75 per cent of my four years first. I test myself on a daily basis. Let me get to around 75 per cent of my time and I can now go back to Lagosians and say, see, what do you people think? Do you think I should come back? Do you think I have done enough job? That conversation has to happen. I cannot imagine that it is right here for me to just pluck and take them for granted.

So, you are saying Lagosians will decide for you?
Yes, Lagosians will determine my fate.

Let’s put it differently, do you think you have done enough to deserve a second term?
To be honest, I think so and I say this at the risk of rating myself, because I am a humble person. And why do I say this? You do not see leadership being put to test back to back as what we have seen in Lagos in the last two and a half years. It happened so often and so quick, that one could be stretched to its limit. And it is like a question you need to ask yourself: if you have a crisis, who do you call?
When you guys came in here some minutes ago, I told you that the only thing I check in the morning is if my emergency general manager has called me; If my Commissioner of Police has called and if my Transportation Commissioner has called me. That is because this is what I live and dream – to see how I keep the state and the city alive and well – working for the citizens.

And this is an experience that is only when you are in the eyes of it that you can get it. People can talk, people can assume, but indeed you need to be on the seat for you to appreciate and see. As I said earlier, you don’t throw away an experience that is so critical and so forceful – you certainly cannot throw it away. I never imagined it is going to be this tough, but with God and all the people I have been surrounded with in terms of support, and Lagosians giving me the full backing, I think we have done a fairly good job.

What is the COVID-19 vaccination percentage in the state currently and are you impressed with it?
To be honest with you, we can do a lot more. The vaccination percentage is still very low. It is about two per cent now and it is a function of how much we have taken in as a country. It has to do with availability. So, part of the things that we are doing is to be able to continue the advocacy and get a lot more people in to get vaccination. I want us to have piles of people waiting to take the vaccines such that as soon as additional vaccines are gotten in, you have a huge influx of people, who need to take them.

But why are you waiting for the federal government to give you vaccines?
Not only in Nigeria, but in most countries, it is a national health issue. That is, it is a primary national health issue. And a lot of the nations have taken it up nationally as a sovereign. We have also done same. However, we are at a stage, where we are having conversation with the Presidential Task Force (PTF) to see see if we can make an in road as a sub-national and see if we can actually engage the private sector, quicker and faster in terms of access to it. But, fundamentally, when you have a pandemic like that, it is usually a national response everywhere in the world.
So, we cannot outrun Nigeria. We needed to stay under a national health response so as to deal with it nationally. But like I said, getting vaccines and all of that, we are having that conversation with the PTF and also trying to see if we can engage more of the private sector and the private hospitals. As we have been able to reduce the pressure on testing by engaging the private labs, let’s also do the same thing with vaccines by engaging some of the private hospitals.

Aside availability, are there concerns about hesitancy?
Oh, well, it is latent somewhere. So, it is more of advocacy and continuous communication that people need. This is a fairly mature state and citizens, but sometimes people need to be nudged on and encouraged. So, sometimes you just need to tell them that it’s available and it is not costing you anything. But it is not as if people are running away completely, there are lots of people that want to have it.

Recently, the FIFA President, Infantino, came to Lagos and you met and even hosted him many people had wondered what the meeting was about. Is there something in the offering…?
Yes, we were excited that FIFA President and also the CAF President were around. So, everybody that is involved in football in the entire world were in Lagos earlier in week. We were lucky to have been asked to host the maiden edition of the Aisha Buhari Cup, which is for female national teams. It is a six-nation invitational tournament for Nigeria and five other African countries. It brought together their female national teams to have like a round-robin competition among themselves. By the way, it is a FIFA-rated competition, so, it is going to count for the countries’ ratings.

But it speaks to our own deliberate intention to improve our interventions in sports for our youths and for our citizens. And what do I mean? You have seen that we have consistently signed something with the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), where the last three matches of the Super Eagles games are to be played in Lagos. So, you are going to see that all the qualifying matches are going to be played in Lagos, due to the deliberate investment that we have made, not only because Lagos is home to football in Nigeria, but we also want to use it to wrap up our infrastructure.

So, concurrently, we are building about nine mini stadia. We are revamping the Teslim Balogun Stadium and we are building eight new ones in different nooks and crannies of the state, so that we can have our youths go to all of these facilities, expend their energy, grow the future of football, tennis, and every other sporting activities and take them to their various communities and make sure that organically, they have infrastructure and amenities and they can be the future world players. But we needed a competition like this to be able to put Lagos on the map and to be able to activate all the investments we are making in sports for our citizens to know that it is a deliberate attempt for us.

We are very excited about this and the female national teams that are in the state are extremely excited. We have got pitch and I dare say one of the best in the country is the Mobolaji Johnson stadium at Onikan. We believe that in the next three to six months, the Teslim Balogun stadium will have similar quality in terms of the grade of the pitch. So, it is part of our deliberate intervention under our T.H.E.M.E.S agenda. We have got stadia coming up in Igbogbo, Epe, Badagry, Ibeju Lekki, Ajeromi, Ifako Ijaye, and so, it is everywhere.

Lagos is the richest state in Nigeria, why is it so difficult to build a world class healthcare centre in the state to stop people from going abroad to seek good medical care?
For us, as a government, we are spending more on health than ever before. Last year, as I did mention, during COVID-19, we reduced the entire budget by about 20 per cent, but only the budget for health and education increased. So, year-on-year, we have increased our budget on health from 10 per cent to 11 per cent, 11.5 per cent and this year it is almost 13 per cent. We are currently building four brand new hospitals; we are renovating six general hospitals concurrently. We are building the biggest child hospital in Africa; we are building a health rehabilitation facility at Ketu; we are building a renal cardiac hospital at Ojo. And these are major infrastructure.

And as I said, the general hospital here at Lagos Island, in fact, on your way out, go there and you will see the level of infrastructure and the new development there. You can put me to test, go there and take pictures today. So, deliberately there are infrastructure that we are developing. But the next question you ask yourself is affordability? Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH) today is the foremost tertiary health institution in the country. Well, LUTH used to be, but unfortunately LASUTH has over-taken it.

If you go to LASUTH at 6am in the morning and do a demographic statistics of where patients are coming from, a lot of them are coming from outside the state. Some will take night bus, come into Lagos, just for medical care at LASUTH. And by the way, we are recruiting more doctors than we have ever done in the history of the state. Concurrently, we have approval to recruit about 700 new doctors and there is a standing rule of a quarterly replacement if you have any exit of either retirement or for whatever reason. It is unfortunate that the resident doctors nationally are on strike, but we have managed our own case in Lagos.

All of their issues – that we should build residency accommodation, we have started building it in LASUTH; we should pay residency allowance, we have signed it off, and we have paid; that we should pay outstanding on some federal government allowances, we have paid. So, really, we are doing our best. But back to your question, which is why don’t we have a first class international health facility? The question we ask ourselves is, who are those to be using these facilities, because it must be something that is comparable to anywhere in the world? What we are looking at are people that travel so that we can stem medical tourism and be able to give them the facility they want to see here?

I am glad to announce to you that the old school of nursing at Awolowo road, Ikoyi, we have gone through an extensive appraisal and pre-qualification process, and we have just identified, a concessionaire on a Public-Private Partnership model that is going to build an international first class medical park. I don’t want to announce the name now, because I signed it off during the week. So, we have identified a partner that is going to build it.
And if you drive through there, you will see that the place is becoming ground zero and all the buildings are being taken down. So, it is going to be an international medical park, where the wealthy can have a place to go. But based on the model that we are working with, they are going to give us a percentage that will be subsidised so that the poor and the middle class can also access it.

Where do you stand on the agitation by the separatist groups in the country as seen in those clamouring for Yoruba nation and others for Biafra?
Nigeria, as we have seen, is big; it is complex, but we believe that we are stronger together. I believe that we can deal with all of our problems if we are sincere and we come to the table and solve the issues. There are classical cases in the world that we have seen. All agitators come back to the table at the end of the day. Agitations never end. You will see people that even beyond the South-east and South-west, go to the clans and tribes and still say for example, let’s divide Lagos into seven and some will tell you that Awori is different from Badagry; Badagry is different from Ijebu Epe and all that.

That is how myopic we could get when some people are saying that some places are for some indigenes. These are all rubbish. On the one hand, we celebrate when we see Nigerians appointed abroad as ministers in the cabinet of Joe Biden in the United States and some people will be here saying it must be indigenes only that should get appointments. It won’t work. So, for me, it is for us to be sincere. Yes, we have problems, but let’s deal with them. It might appear as if it favours you today, but another one will favour another person tomorrow. All we need to do is to understand and appreciate the skills and strength we all have. Let’s appreciate it and be able to genuinely resolve our problems and give responsibility to everyone and we will all be bigger and better together.

 

 ThisDay

Lolo Ebelechukwu Obi, wife of the chief priest, Idemili Cultural Centre, Agulu in Anaocha Local Government Area of Anambra State, Chief Ralph Ndidi Obi has revealed how pastors patronize her husband for powers.

 

In an interview with BBC pidgin, the young lady who got married to the chief priest eight years ago, said some popular pastors usually visit her husband seeking for spiritual power to enable them perform miracles in their churches.

She revealed that prior to her marriage with the chief priest, she was a prayer warrior in church, stressing that she was dismayed when she saw the secret of some ‘men of God’ who display power in church.

“After getting married to my husband, some pastors that I cannot even mention, I started seeing them here and my husband, the chief priest, usually works for them.

“They used to come to him for power but when they return to their church, they will begin to cast the water spirit. We deliver people from spiritual husbands and wives. When you come to us, we just settle the spirit and you will go and marry your spouse”, she stated.

 

According to her, there is nothing wrong with being a traditional worshipper, saying Nigerians’ perception of the religion was wrong.

“When I was a prayer warrior in church, I used to see traditional worshippers as bad people but after marrying my husband, I found out that it is not even a bad thing”, she added.

 

 DailyPost

The naira faces one of the darkest eras in its over five decades’ history, crashing to a new low of N570/$ in the parallel market. This status paints a gloomy picture of an uncertain future that needs drastic action to fix. The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has descended on AbokiFx, accusing the website of rates manipulation and illegal forex deals, allegations it denied. Accounts of eight Fintech firms were frozen for forex-related frauds as the regulator ordered that banks caught round-tripping will lose their forex licenses. COLLINS NWEZE writes that beyond these measures is the urgent need to raise dollar liquidity and bring reprieve to the troubled naira.

Moshood Abdulrasheed, a currency speculator, was preparing for the Suri prayer when he got a WhatsApp message that made him richer. His business partner, Abubakar Idris, had on September 16, informed him that the naira was exchanging for N570/$ at the parallel market.

Abdulrasheed hurriedly said his prayer, moved to the vault where he kept $100,000 to confirm it was intact. He then called five of his most trusted aides and gave them $20,000 each to exchange for Naira. “I made N159.25 extra on every dollar sold because I bought at N410.57/$,” he disclosed.

 

The transactions concluded within three hours because the number of manufacturers, importers and other end-users of foreign exchange (forex) waiting to buy the greenback, earned him N15.92 million profit.

Abdulrasheed is one of the thousands of currency speculators capitalising on the heightened forex supply shortage, demand pressure and rationing by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to create fear, panic and volatility in the market.

These speculators have also made it difficult for the local currency rates to converge as they kept manipulating the parallel market exchange rates against official rates.

The naira is exchanging at $410.57/$ on the Investors’ and Exporters’ (I&E) Window- official market, but in the parallel market where a large part of the demand is settled, the local currency is facing the highest level of volatility in its over 50 years’ history where it has met series of devaluations and adjustments based on market realities.

It was not only devalued by 60 per cent in the last 17 years but in 2001 alone, its value was slashed 27 per cent. If one thinks that the 2001 debacle was worrisome, the naira has exceeded that loss, as it has depreciated by nearly 30 per cent this year alone.

At the parallel market, the value of the naira fell to N570/$  on September 17 from less than N520/$  it traded before the ban of forex sales to the Bureaux De Change (BDCs) on July 27, representing N50 depreciation in 41 days.

The local currency first hit double digits in 1991, moving from N9.9 to N17.2/$ the following year. That constituted a significant 73.7 per cent change. Thereafter, a continuous slide ensued, attaining triple digits in 2000.

Although it was considered stable between 2000 and 2003 (below N120/$), the recent adverse global capital flows especially to developing economies and drop in oil prices, among other factors, have culminated in the current low of N570/$ at the parallel market.

 

At the official market, the naira exchange rate has been severally adjusted to N305/$, N360/$, N379/$ and now $410.57/$ in the I&E window.

 

An economist, Bismark Rewane, explained why the naira was on the downside. “As oil prices dipped, the CBN has prioritised stability of exchange rate in the official market. It has drawn an exclusion list of avoidable imports from being funded in the official market. With the forex demand for the items transferred to the parallel market, rates in that market have soared,” he said.

Former CBN Deputy Governor, Financial System Stability, Prof. Kingsley Moghalu, said the most important determinant of the value of the naira is productivity and the competitive state of the economy.

He disclosed that currency speculators make a very good fortune from weakened currency. “Such traders “attack” currencies for profit, especially where the currency is using fixed, official exchange rate determined by the central bank instead of the market,” he said.

“If reserves are weak, and demand for dollars massively outstrips supply, currency devaluation is inevitable. Currency speculators borrow the naira from Nigerian banks, convert it to, say, dollars, then buy short-interest paying Nigerian bonds,” he added.

Continuing, Moghalu added: “If, as the speculators anticipate, the central bank devalues the naira, the traders sell the bonds in the foreign currency, convert them into naira, and repay the original naira loan. The steeper the devaluation the higher the speculator’s profit.”

Other factors like terms of trade, inflation differential, public debt, current-account deficits, interest rates, political stability and the overall economic health determine the exchange rate of a currency.

Hence, the fall in crude oil prices has reduced Nigeria’s dollar earnings, making it difficult for the apex bank to fund imports. Record oil prices had helped Nigeria to build the largest currency reserves in sub-Saharan Africa. The reserves peaked at $63 billion in September 2008. After attaining a record-high of $147 in July of that year, Nigeria’s crude oil prices – bonny light, plummeted to less than $40 per barrel before the current gradual uptick.

As of September 18, crude oil was trading at $73.33 per barrel while the foreign reserves stood at $35.27 billion based on September 11 data obtained from the CBN website.

Goldman Sachs recently agreed oil could tumble as low as $30 a barrel, a level that would decimate the already heavily damaged economies of Nigeria, Saudi Arabia and Russia. The Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) predicts the price won’t go back above $100 until 2040.

Trading Desk Manager, AZA, a global forex trading firm, Murega Mungai, said the depreciation of the naira will continue until there are regulatory sanctions against illegal forex dealers, especially exporters who fail to remit export proceeds to government coffers as spelt out in the CBN’s Foreign Exchange Manual.

The manual, which stipulates that exporters repatriate export proceeds to Nigeria to support the naira and boost the economy are usually not followed by the parties concerned. Also, dollar demand pressure has continued to weigh in from importers stocking up for Christmas sales and finding it difficult to source from the official market, they are directing their demand to the parallel market.

Shipping and airline companies have also been accused of depriving Nigeria of the much-needed dollar earnings by not remitting export proceeds.

 

Despite the CBN intervention through weekly dollar sales to banks, the huge demand backlog by manufacturers and foreign investors, estimated at $2.5 billion, still puts pressure and creates a volatile situation in the forex market.

What the CBN is doing

The CBN never stood idly watching the naira slide into oblivion. The regulator took certain stringent measures, including imposing some currency control measures to save the naira.

Firstly, it curbed access to the interbank currency market for importers bringing in a variety of goods. To conserve its dollar reserves, the bank said importers could no longer get hard currency to buy 43 items, ranging from toothpicks and rice to steel products and private jets. The banks are also turning down payment requests from customers paying business partners abroad with naira debit cards.

They are now asking customers paying clients abroad to do so in the currency of the beneficiary’s country, not in naira. The new practice differs from the previous one where lenders debited the naira accounts of customers at the prevailing exchange rate and remitted dollar equivalent to the offshore beneficiary’s account.

Many banks are not only insisting that customers pay in the currency of the recipient’s country but through inflows from abroad in line with CBN’s domiciliary account policy. The policy mandated that only electronic fund transfers into domiciliary accounts can be transferred from such accounts to third parties while cash deposits into such accounts can only be withdrawn in cash.These policies have limited the ability of Nigerians to pay their foreign business partners. In an emailed explanation to a customer on why her transaction request was declined, GT Bank said a temporary restriction is placed on Dynamic Currency Conversion (DCC) on all banks’ cards was responsible. The DCC allows customers to pay in naira but has been temporarily restricted on all bank cards due to a dollar crunch.

The impact of dollar scarcity is also felt by the banks and multinational companies. Group CEO GTBank Segun Agabje said banks may not have enough dollars to fund clients seeking to acquire oil assets put on sale by the local unit of Royal Dutch Shell Plc.

For him, there is no likelihood of any client raising the estimated $2.3 billion needed to purchase the Shell assets, as the global oil giant prepares to exit its onshore oil position in Nigeria, which is no longer considered compatible with its strategic ambitions.

“When I look at the books of Nigerian banks today, I don’t see a lot of dollar liquidity,” Agbaje told an investor conference call in Lagos. “It’s becoming a very difficult deal for people to pull off.”

This has not always been the case for Nigerian banks which in 2013, syndicated $3.3 billion debt to Dangote Industries for a refinery and petrochemical plant and recently financed Heirs Holding’s $1.1 billion acquisition of Oil Mining License (OML) 17.

The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of InvestAdvocate, Peter Obiora, said the dollar crunch has made it difficult for him to pay for server space for his online web business. He said unlike previously when he could use his naira debit card to pay for offshore transactions, now the card must be linked to a dollar-denominated domiciliary account that must be funded locally.

Former Executive Director, Keystone Bank, Richard Obire, said that just like a coin, the debit card restriction has two sides because Nigeria is integrated into the global economy, and her citizens should get intangible services that promote businesses. The use of naira denominated debit cards abroad, he said, is one of such benefits.

 

Overall, the economic downturn arising from the coronavirus pandemic curbed foreign-currency flows into the economy and pressured reserves. The pandemic pushed foreign investors to withdraw over $100 billion from emerging markets including Nigeria, between February and April last year.

 Move against AbokiFx, Fintech firms

CBN Governor Godwin Emefiele last Friday accused the publisher of AbokiFx (parallel market rates publication website), Oniwinde Adedotun, of using the platform for “illegal forex trading”. He alleged that Adedotun lives in the UK and publishes arbitrary rates without contacting BDCs.  However, AbokiFx management debunked the CBN claims, saying all allegations against its director were not confirmed.

“All allegations against our director are yet to be confirmed but we at AbokiFx do not trade forex nor do we manipulate parallel market rates,” it said, before temporarily suspending rate updates on all its platforms.

Likewise, Fintech firms have come under regulatory scrutiny after the Federal High Court, Abuja granted the request of the CBN to freeze the accounts of eight firms accused of using forex sourced from the Nigerian market to purchase foreign bonds/shares in contravention of its directive issued in July 2015.

The request granted by Justice Ahmed Mohammed, was filed by former Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Michael Aondoakaa (SAN), on behalf of the CBN. Aondoakaa said that the forex deals by the defendants were undercutting the strength of the naira against the dollar.

The affected companies include Rise Vest Technologies Limited, Bamboo Systems Technology Limited, Bamboo Systems Tech. Ltd., CTL/Business Expenses, Trove Technologies Limited, Chayomi Multi Services Limited, Ningbo Excel Enterprises Limited and Dagang Enterprises.

Some of the firms are owned by individuals and organisations based in the United States. Risevest, Bamboo, Chaka, and Trove have assured users of the safety of their funds adding that they are negotiating with government authorities.

Investigations showed that between 2014 and 2019, Nigeria’s Fintechs raised over $600 million in funding, attracting 25 per cent ($122 million) of the $491.6 million raised by African tech startups in 2019 alone—second only to Kenya, which attracted $149 million.

Way out by stakeholders

Despite the naira crisis, Managing Director – Head of Macroeconomic Analysis at EFG Hermes, investment banking service provider, Mohamed Basha, advised the CBN to use $6 billion Eurobond issuance expected later in the year to further devalue the naira. He said the upcoming Eurobond issuance potentially means that a $6 billion reserve boost would be available to the CBN.

“We anticipate the CBN to use this by devaluing the naira to N430/440, pushing the parallel rates (currently trading at N570) to converge to the said range. We believe the devaluation, which would still add some inflationary pressure, should be accompanied by a tightening of monetary policy in order to bring interest rates to levels that are attractive to foreign investors.”

Global Chief Economist at Renaissance Capital, an investment bank focusing on emerging and frontier markets, Charlie Robertson, agreed with Basha. Robertson noted that the Nigerian economy has been going through a rough patch since 2014 when the price of oil crashed. He explained that a persistently high inflation rate means a persistently weak currency.

According to him, using the Real Effective Exchange Rate methodology, an approach used to determine the value of a currency vis-à-vis a basket of other currencies based on the relative trade balance, the naira is overvalued “by a good 20 to 30 per cent”.

He warned that with persistent inflation, the naira would depreciate to N1,000 per dollar in the next 10 years. Robertson urged the CBN to focus more on controlling inflation. “If the central bank can get inflation to three per cent and sticks there, then in 10 years the naira could be N400/N450 per dollar. So it’s all about inflation and the central bank’s success in fighting it,” he added.

The Managing Director, Afrinvest West Africa Plc, Ike Chioke, believes the incorporation of a long-term diversified strategy in fiscal policy is required to cushion shocks in various segments of the economy.

For him, the persistent pressure on the naira could have been minimised if a counter fiscal policy had been developed, as the CBN cannot continue to defend the naira with foreign reserves.

“To reduce this pressure, an inward-looking policy (tax incentives, infrastructure development and production subsidy) should be emphasised to reduce the dependence on imported goods,” he said.

He explained that asides from oil receipts, the development of the agricultural sector will in the short term reduce the forex burden of food imports and in the long run, enhance foreign exchange receipts if its comparative advantage in the sector is efficiently deployed.

Moghalu advised the CBN to stop subsidising the naira. For him, although such a step will lead to an immediate spike in the price of the dollar, over time, the laws of demand and supply will work in favour of the naira.  “Alongside this, maintaining different exchange rates for different kinds of transactions must end. This is called rate convergence. Since the current practice of the CBN pumping dollars in the forex market is essentially a subsidy for imports, which has made Nigeria more and more import-dependent, letting go of the subsidy on the naira will refocus the economy towards exports,” he said.

Other analysts insisted that Nigeria’s current managed floating exchange rate regime combined features of both the fixed and flexible exchange rate. A lightly managed floating exchange rate regime is advocated given that the exchange rate becomes determined essentially by demand and supply forces. This would allow the CBN to intervene occasionally to moderate excessive fluctuations, which are prone in developing countries, including Nigeria. As these policy implementations to save the naira are sustained, many Nigerians expect that the local currency bounces back to command the respect of both local and foreign investors.

 

With the State Congress of APC in Akwa Ibom slated for October 2, the race for the Chairman of the Party has officially commenced. But there is a snag: the Party is yet to indicate which part of the state the position and other SWC positions are zoned to. Since the governorship slot is going to Uyo Senatorial District, it is natural that the two important party positions of Chairman and Secretary will go to Eket and Ikot Ekpene Districts. But the silence of the Party on the zoning arrangement less than two weeks to Congress has left many potential aspirants in a quandary. How do you buy a nomination form if you do not know where the position you’re interested in would be zoned to? In addition to zoning, other factors will influence the character and composition of the next SWC, chief among which is the Udoedeghe factor.

In a typical APC tradition, it is expected that the SWC members will emerge through a consensus determined by key leaders and stakeholders of the party. They include Atuekong Don Etiebet, Senator Godswill Akpabio, Senator John James Udoedehe, Senator Ita Enang, Mr Nsima Ekere, Mr Umana Umana, Group Captain Sam Enwang (rtd); Dr Amadu , just to mention a few. But it is also known that Senator Akpabio, Senator Enang, Group Captain Sam Enwang and many others have expressed their grievances against the manner previous congresses have been conducted. While Enang has openly complained about the fact that he’s been schemed out of the congresses, Akpabio has maintained a dignified silence on the conduct of the affairs of the party and has stayed aloof from the fray. But his political group, Akwa Ibom Democratic Forum, (ADF), has been up in arms with the party, fighting against its dominance by Senator Udoedeghe and his political associates and allies in Akwa Ibom APC Coalition, AAC. I understand that some ADF leaders and other key leaders of the party (who are not even ADF members) are meeting today in Abuja to take a decision on how they will participation in the Congress. They are Hon Ekperikpe Ekpo; Dr Emaeyak Ukpong; Senator Ita Enang; Hon Bassey Etim (BAFIL); Group Captain Sam Enwang; Arc Out Ita Toyo (Total Chair) and Atuekong Don Etiebet, among many others. ‘’Yes, we will participate in the State Congress, and I am already in Abuja for the meeting. We shall decide on zoning and other things’’, Dr Emaeyak Ukpong told me this morning.

But the State Party Chairman, Dr. Ita Udosen says the Party is still expecting the Guidelines on the Conduct of the State Congress from the National Secretariat. ‘’When we receive the Guidelines, we will further communicate the details of the Congress to our members’’, he said when I called him today, apparently referring to mode of the election and the zoning arrangement to be adopted. It is clear that the two contending forces in the party are at now at work to undo and outdo each other. The electoral fortunes of the party in 2023 would be greatly influenced by their activities now and in the next 15 months. So far, many party members, including those who are not aligned with any of the groups, have expressed anxiety over the lack of inclusiveness in the manner the last two congresses were conducted.

Many party members are rooting for the next Chairman to emerge from Oron Federal Constituency. ‘’Oron is the bastion of APC in the state; the chairmanship should go to them’’, says a party leader from Nsit Ibom LGA who does not want his name in print. Besides, there is an overwhelming sense within the party that Oron federal constituency deserves a better deal in the scheme of things in the party. Perhaps it is for this reason that a few party chieftains from there are being mentioned as possible contenders for the job. Prominent among them are Chief Victor Iyanam; Barr. Edet Eyo Bassey and Chief Efiong Abia. The three of them are lawyers. ‘’It would be a great honour if I am so honoured by our leaders and members. I will work with our leaders and build the party to a formidable platform if I am chosen’’, Chief Iyanam, a former Commissioner for Justice and Attorney General of the state said. Edet Bassey, a former State Publicity of the party, I understand, is also interested in the job. He was equally effusive when I spoke to him. ‘’Well, as the State Publicity Secretary, I worked with Dr Amadu Atai, who was then the State Party Chairman. He mentored me and I learned a lot from him. It would be a great honour if the Party leaders consider me fit for the job. But I am convinced that I will do a great job for our party’’, he said. I could not reach Chief Abia for his comments.

Whoever emerges the next Chairman will have his job cut out for him. He will have to assuage huge grievances, bring everybody back under one roof and strengthen the party for 2023. The next Party Chairman will have to be an independent and neutral leader who would never be pocketed by anybody or group. My prognosis is that if AAC and its associated groups like Senator JJ Udoedeghe Support Group decide to sideline the other leaders and stakeholders and impose their own preferred candidates as the Chairman and SWC members, a major crisis will erupt and this will further weaken the party till we get to the 2023 elections. I recall that in the 2018 Congresses, the late Ini Okopido was picked as the Chairman, although he was not among the frontline candidates, because he was seen as a bridge builder. Okopido was widely accepted by all the leaders who sat in a conclave that night. It was also to the credit of Obong Nsima Ekere (ONE), who was then the putative governorship candidate, that the 2018 State congress was so peaceful and harmonious. ONE’s dictum was that since he was seeking the governorship ticket, it was more prudent and wise for him to be tolerant of the expectations of other leaders. ONE therefore went into that meeting seeking a consensus among the leaders, ready to compromise and shift grounds without preconceived views and predetermined preferences on who got what.

Senator Udoedeghe should approach Congress of October 2 with the same mindset. With some leaders seething and with many party members aggrieved, it is now up to him to understand the very essence of the 9th Law of Power as enunciated by the erudite Dr. Robert Greene: Win through your actions, never through argument. He elucidates: ‘’Any momentary triumph you think you have gained through augment is really a Pyrrhic victory: the resentment and ill will you stir up is stronger and lasts longer than any momentary change of opinion. It is much more powerful to get others to agree with you through your actions, without saying a word. Demonstrate. Do not explicate’’. In other words, it would be more helpful if Senator Udoedeghe works with others and arrive at a broad-based consensus. But if he populates the SWC with only his choices to the utter exclusion of the other leaders, he will create so much resentment that would seep through the rank and file and lasts till the election. I do not know how this would help the party to confront an incumbent governor with a vast war chest.

 

 

The Middle Belt Forum says Obadiah Mailafia, the former deputy governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), endured a miserable ordeal in the hands of doctors before he died on Sunday morning.

 

In a statement released by Isuwa Dogo, the national publicity secretary, the Middle Belt Forum narrated the series of events it claims led to Mailafia’s death.

The forum said he died at the University of Abuja Teaching Hospital Gwagwalada, after which he had been taken to the CBN Hospital and EHA Clinics, respectively.

“Arising from various enquiries from Nigerians over the circumstances of his death, the Forum wishes to state as follows: That Dr Mailafia arrived Abuja last Sunday September 12, 2021 from Akure and was received at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport by his wife,” the statement reads.

“On arrival at home, the wife noticed he was not in the best of health conditions and seemed to be suffering from malaria. After three days of treatment without signs of improvement, he went to the CBN Hospital on Friday September 17, 2021 where he was shabbily treated. It took the intervention of a senior medic who immediately placed him on oxygen and admitted him.

“Dr Mailafia’s was later given the option of choosing three hospitals: Gwagwalada Hospital, National Hospital and EHA Clinics. The wife opted for the third choice. On arrival at the EHA Clinics, the wife was subjected to yet another moment of anxiety as it took a direct order from the top management of the hospital to accept him.

“After few hours of treatment, the EHA Clinics told the wife that it was expedient to transfer the former CBN Deputy Governor to Gwagwalada as the clinic was not fully equipped to handle the case.

“The wife opposed the decision and insisted that she was opposed to the idea of taking her husband to Gwagwalada. Mailafia’s wife only succumbed when the consultant assured her that nothing bad will happen to her husband.

“Yesterday, Saturday September 18, 2021, Dr Obadiah was transferred to Gwagwalada. on arrival, the name of the doctor that was billed to attend to Dr Mailafia was not on duty. Even when an attempt was made by foreign health consultants to save the situation, the doctor on duty got angry and said he was not obligated to listen to any foreign consultants that had been brought into the matter with the sole purpose of ensuring nothing goes wrong.

“Wife of the former CBN Deputy Governor was asked to pay the sum of N600’000 as deposit even when it was a referral case, with accruing medical bill to be settled by the CBN. At a point, Dr Mailafia complained over his breathing problems and pleaded with the doctors to place him on a ventilator. The doctors flatly refused.

“Even after the doctors declared Dr. Mailafia dead, foreign consultants who were brought into the matter through Dr Mailafia’s son that is living abroad, had directed a family member who is a medical professional, with the wife of the CBN Deputy Governor, to mount pressure on the chest of Dr. Mailafia for resuscitation and thereafter place him on life support. 

“The doctors in Gwagwalada refused all entreaties by the family members of Dr Mailafia to follow the advice of the foreign consultants, insisting that they have already pronounced him dead. Even when the wife could feel the pulse of her husband, the doctor flatly declared there was nothing they could do since they had already pronounced him dead.”

The forum said it is anticipating the autopsy report, adding that Mailafia’s passing “represents a dark day” for the middle belt and Nigeria.

 

 TheCable

Chris Ngige, minister of labour and productivity, has appealed to striking resident doctors to resume work.

Speaking on Sunday during an interview on Channels Television, Ngige said the resident doctors should come for discussions after they return to work.

On August 2, the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) embarked on strike over “irregular payment of salaries”, among other issues.

Efforts of different stakeholders, including President Muhammadu Buhari and the house of representatives, to ensure the resident doctors shelve the strike did not yield the desired result.

On Friday, the National Industrial Court, in a ruling by Bashir Alkali, had asked the resident doctors to return to work.

But the striking doctors faulted the court’s ruling, vowing to appeal the order.

Reacting to the development, Ngige described the decision of the resident doctors to continue the strike despite the court order as “contemptuous”.

The labour minister said he is determined to protect the profession from being “vandalised”.

“I want to appeal to NARD for them to reconsider their position, get back to work tomorrow or next and then come back again for discussions. We have so many things to discuss,” the minister said.

“I have nephews who are resident doctors. I have three of them in the east — at the Nnamdi Azikiwe Teaching hospital, UNTH Enugu, Orthopaedic Hospital, Enugu. I have so many of them.

“I have my son — a house officer. I have my daughter who is joining housemanship in October. I have a son, God willing, who is going to graduate again in October. I cannot destroy the profession but I have to protect the profession too if it is going to be vandalised.”

[TheCable]

Beyond the Rotation of Presidency between the north and south arrangement, which seems to be taking up a huge chunk of media space as 2023 general elections loom large , there are other critical factors which are nuanced but Germaine to the matter of who becomes the president of Nigeria in 2023. The word on the streets is that the fast approaching 2023 presidential contest would as usual be a two horse race between the ruling All Progressive Party, APC and the main opposition, People Democratic Party, PDP. It is also being predicted that the battle would be waged between former Vice President Atiku Abubakar of PDP and former Lagos state governor , Bola Tinubu of APC.

The permutations that the ex Vice President would fly the flag of the main opposition, PDP, and ex Lagos state governor is likely the flag bearer for the ruling party , APC may be based on the first movers advantage being enjoyed by the duo who happen to have been the most visible and active politicians that are angling for the presidency from both parties at this point in time.

 

But the question of who would become the candidate for the presidency in 2023 still depends on if the ruling party, APC zones the presidency to the south as agreed when the coalition of opposition political parties against then ruling party PDP was in the making in 2013/14. In the event that the presidential power shift agreement is upheld , then Bola Tinubu who was instrumental to APC clinching the presidency in 2015 would be waiting in the wings to collect the flag.
And in the case of the PDP, the possibility of the presidential candidate being Atiku Abubakar would become clearer, if the party accepts the Bala Mohammed led committee recommendations that the main opposition party jettisons her presidential power rotation policy and declare the ticket open to all interested parties .
Should the foregoing proposition become manifest, the PDP may decide to rally once again behind Atiku Abubakar, her presidential candidate in 2019.

But the aforementioned simple calculus about who becomes the president of Nigeria in 2023 is just scratching the surface. That’s simply because politics of the presidency of Nigeria is more complex than what meets the eyes.
Consequently, given the complexities of the ethno-religious issues in the country, particularly with respect to the unprecedented levels of insecurity of lives and properties, and how polarized the society currently is on the issue of ethnicity and religion, both the ruling and main opposition parties are yet to hold their conventions which is unusual because it is barely 20 months to the 2023 general elections.

The delay is partly because both parties are shadowing each other so as to be guided in their decision about whether the presidential pendulum would remain in the north or swing to the south .
The slack in holding their conventions is also exacerbated by the fact that both parties are currently facing leadership schisms.

Given the cracks on the wall of the political parties caused by the internal wrangling , a factor that could prove fatal to both parties if they go into the 2023 general elections as fractured entities, holding a party convention to set the agenda for the general elections in 2023 appears to be in abeyance until they are able to put their respective houses in order.

As the conventional wisdom dictates ‘a house divided cannot stand’.
Therefore, the sooner both the ruling and main opposition parties settle the rifts within their ranks , the better their chances of victory in the 2023 general elections.

While the APC is led by a care taker committee headed by Mai Mala Buni, the seating governor of Yobe state, which is deemed as illegal in some quarters, because the APC party constitution forbids anyone in an executive position doubling as the party’s chairman, opinion from another quarter in the same party is that the Buni led Caretaker committee of the party is legitimate and in order .

 

Similarly, the PDP leadership is being tossed up and down like a ship caught in a stormy sea by a series of law suits (4 in number) sacking the chairman, Uche Secondus two times, and another reinstating him to the position twice. As the embattled Secondus insists that his tenure as chairman does not expire until December, his traducers vow that he has been sacked at both the ward and national levels and a convention would be held in October to replace him. Should Secondus’ contentions be ignored and elections are held in October to elect new National Working Committee, NWC members , and thereafter the Supreme Court gives judgement in his favor, the decisions of the executives to be elected in October would be ultra vires.
Presently, the jury is still out on the matter of legality besetting the leadership of both the ruling APC and main opposition party, PDP.

While the legal battles remain unsettled , one thing for sure is that there would be cataclysmic implications for both parties, if the courts contradict the advise of the legal counsels to the respective parties upon which their present actions are predicated.

In view of the energy that both the ruling and main opposition parties are dissipating in internal conflicts, instead of designing and releasing manifestoes which they should be selling to Nigerians right now , untangling the noose which they may have unwittingly tied around their own necks is currently palpably giving the leadership of both parties indigestion .

So given the web of legal complications shackling the leadership of both the ruling and main opposition parties , the implementation of the recommendations of the committees independently set up by both parties to chart the way forward for our beloved country maybe in jeopardy as they are no longer in the front burner . Rather, the proposals are gathering dust in the archives at a time that both parties should be trying to woo the electorate by sharing with them the positive changes that the masses should expect in the coming dispensation if given the opportunity to call the shorts in Aso Rock Villa from 2023. The package of new approach to governance including presidential power rotation between the south and north as well as the restructuring of the political system that are the major policy planks upon which the ruling and main opposition parties can predicate their manifestos that can motivate the Nigerian masses into having faith in politics , and policies that are supposed to have been captured in the reports of both the APC and PDP committees awaiting ratification by the respective parties, have been overshadowed by the cases in the courts as the leaders are being preoccupied with quelling insurrections within their parties.

 

On the part of the PDP, whereas there are indications that it would like to continue with its Policy of rotating the presidency between the north and south, which has proven to be a winning formula and the ingredient for its pan Nigeria outlook, it is not clear whether it would nominate a southerner as its presidential candidate. That is owed to an apparent dearth of presidential ‘material’ in the south East whose turn it is, (on equity basis) to produce Nigeria’s next president in 2023.

In the absence of somebody with a national stature , formidable financial resources (a war chest of least N100 billon naira ) and national name recognition, the question is : would pragmatism compel the PDP to keep the game open for the best candidate from any part of the country based on Meritocracy and in tandem with the recommendation of the Bala Mohamed led committee that was set up to chart the way forward for the former ruling party after her repeated loss of the presidency to the incumbent ruling political Party, APC and president, Muhammadu Buhari in 2015 and 2019?
Assuming the PDP decides to sustain the zoning calculus, which PDP politician even from the entire southern states have the national exposure, stature and exposure ?

There appears to be no candidate currently in the arena or horizon. As there seems to be no lgbo man/woman with name recognition nationally in the political arena and who posses a magnetic force that can pull together the lgbos, who are by nature republicans, the lgbo quest for the presidency in 2023 may be in jeopardy . Of course , there are lgbo politicians with average name recognition, but lack the nationwide structure and financial muscle. Those that readily come to mind are, Emmanuel Iwuayanwu and Peter Obi.

The former, is the owner of a defunct national newspaper – Champion and proprietor of an erstwhile popular football club-Iwuayanwu Babes which made him a household name. But he is now too old to be president and in retirement from active politics.
Some would like to make a case for Peter Obi-former Anambra state governor and vice presidential candidate in 2019. But does he have a robust nationwide structure or platform like the PDM projecting him ? I think not.

While it is true that youths admire him for his understanding of street economics that he exhibits online and some Nigerians admire his frugality, but it takes much more than those two qualities to be the president of Nigeria in 2023. It took the military class and political platform of late Musa Yar’adua’s (elder brother to Umaru Yar’adua and former chief of staff supreme headquarters under Obasanjo’s military regime) PDM to make Olusegun Obasanjo president in 1999.

And as a seating president, it also took Obasanjo’s personal effort to reward the Yar’adua family for rendering their support to him pre 1999 by equally supporting Umaru Yar’adua (of blessed memory) to become president in 2007.
Ex-president Goodluck Jonathan idiomatically had his palm kernel cracked by benevolent spirits when Yar’adua passed away in 2010 and the ‘doctrine of necessity’ propelled him from Vice President to President for two years after which he leveraged the power of incumbency to get himself re-elected as president in 2011.

As for the current incumbent, Muhammadu Buhari , he succeeded on a forth attempt only after Bola Tinubu, ex Lagos state governor who was effectively the leader and controller of politics in Yoruba land in 2015 swung the Yoruba votes in his favor after a successful combination of multiple opposition political parties to unseat then ruling party, PDP. Now, as a side comment, not many people recognize the role that the late Balarabe Musa , one time governor of Kaduna state played in getting opposition parties to forge a common front against the ruling party.

Only a slew of Nigerians may recall that he is the one that started the concept of fusion of opposition parties. Although he did not succeed in 2007 and 2011, but his idea gathered momentum and made it easy for the initiative to be attractive to politicians, especially those of Buhari’s CPC that had made three previous attempts at clinching the presidency and failed. Even Tinubu’s ACN that fielded Nuhu Ribadu, the former anti corruption tzar as presidential candidate and Fola Adeola, ex-Gtbank co-founder and managing director, as vice presidential candidate, also lost woefully.

That is perhaps owing to the power of incumbency that makes it extraordinarily difficult to unseat a candidate in office except a catastrophic event happens.

Returning to the matter of presidential ‘material’ of lgbo extraction for the 2023 presidential race , unfortunately , Peter Obi, the only active lgbo politician with some footprints beyond lgbo land does not possess the type of political clout commanded by Alex Ekwueme of blessed memory who served as Vice President in the presidency of Shehu Shagari, (1979-83) and also led the G-34 that took on then military head of state, Sani Abacha and succeeded in ending military dictatorship. Owing to the republican nature of the lgbos, Ekwueme suffered a whiff of the negative effect of lgbo republicanism after he was once again propelled into national prominence with the G-34 in 1998.

It is on record that as soon as Ekwueme was proposed by the late Lawal Keita during a G-34 meeting as the presidential candidate following the demise of the military dictator , Sani Abacha , instead of rallying around him, other lgbo leaders went back home to declare their own presidential ambitions. That internal rebellion ended up fracturing Ekwueme’s support base which led to his subsequent loss in the party primaries to president Olusegun Obasanjo who was the preferred candidate of the ruling military class at that time. So , for an lgbo to become a presidential candidate for 2023 and for him/her to have the chance of winning, that person must have structures in the three major tribes of Yoruba and Hausa/Fulani in addition to the home base .

The late Isa Funtua said it best in one of his profound television interviews early 2020 when he narrated how Ekwueme worked towards becoming the Vice presidential candidate to Shehu Shagari during the second republic in 1979. Here is what he had to say about lgbo politicians.
“They should belong. They should join the party. They want to do things on their own and because they are Igbo, we should dash them the presidency? That was the reason I asked if it is turn by turn Nigeria limited.

“You are talking about politics, which is an issue of votes. My very good friend of blessed memory, MKO Abiola defeated Bashir Tofa in Kano. Was MKO Abiola from Kano? But he defeated Bashir in his town, Kano. Why? Because the man played politics, he embraced everybody.
“Ekwueme of blessed memory was my boss. We campaigned for him throughout this country. Nobody will carry you like a newly born baby.

With due respect to the Igbo, they fail to understand that when the South-West chose to remain on their own as opposition, they did not go near (national) power”
In essence, the late Mallam Funtua was basically telling the lgbos that they have to sow political seeds beyond lgbo land which is what enabled MKO Abiola to beat Bashir Tofa in Kano. Recall that Abiola was a pillar of sports and a football club owner too.

While emphasizing Abiola’s winning formula,
Mallam Funtua offered the lgbos what looked like a basic tutorial on how to become the president of Nigeria, 2023. Hear him:
“If you send him (Abiola) invitation from any part of the country, he will be there. If not , his representative will be there to make his contribution”

Invariably , becoming a national figure does not happen over the night except you are a soldier that seized political power via a coup detat which is the case of Olusegun Obasanjo and Muhammadu Buhari who later became president of our country at different times. My free advise to future presidential candidates is: in order to gain popularity and recognition ahead of your presidential contests, own football clubs like Abiola and Iwuayanwu and also be newspaper proprietors like the duo.

Just as the PDP leadership is in quandary as to how it could find an Igho man with presidential stature to fly its flag in 2023 , the APC may suffer a similar dilemma of being unable to find a presidential material from amongst the lgbos in the event that it decides to promote equity and inclusiveness of all the nationalities which the Nasir El-Rufai committee recommended and which president Buhari seem to be amenable to, going by his positive response to the case for an lgbo presidency when a question in that regard was posed to him by Rueben Abati in an ice breaking AriseTv interview with the president . Since the ruling party, APC leaders may not be disposed to the south west producing the president twice given the fact that ex president Olusegun

Obasanjo that is Yoruba had served from 1999-2007, it may not be expedient to, (as is being speculated) field as her presidential candidate the party’s national leader , Bola Tinubu – a former governor of Lagos state and the foremost political godfather in the south west. That is basically because it would inequitable for another president to emerge from the Yoruba land while the other member ethnic nationalities in the zone stand aside and look. So the APC may have to rely on the creative ingenuity of its think tank to resolve the logjam without the liability of the acrimony that could cause the party to implode.

On the part of the PDP, in the absence of an lgbo man/woman of the significant stature of, for instance, an Obasanjo or Buhari when they contested for the office in 1999 and 2003-2015 respectively, it may be pragmatic for her to build on the success that it had achieved with her three (3)times presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar who contested for the presidency in 2007 against Umaru Yar’adua of blessed memory and squared up with Goodluck Jonathan in 2011 and then president Buhari in 2019.

If ex Vice President Abubakar picks up the gauntlet for a fourth (4th) shot at the presidency in 2023, ( and it appears that he is inclined to do so) he could achieve the goal with an lgbo Vice Presidential candidate who would acquire national stature in the fours years that he would serve under an Atiku Abubakar presidency. That would be a sort of mentorship arrangement for the new Vice President who would be propped up to take over after Atiku Abubakar serves only one term instead of the two terms that he is constitutionally entitled.

The unique proposition is underscored by the fact that Abubakar who is currently 74 years old in November, would be 76 in 2023 and may be too old to seek re-election in 2027 when he would be 80.

Nelson Mandela, the late ex president of South Africa served only one term and bowed out due to age and president Joe Biden of the USA would likely also do so by handing over to Vice President Kamala Harris after his first term as he would be 82 years older in 2024.

I am not unaware that the proposition is inconsistent with the expectations of the lgbos and therefore would be susceptible to resistance. But it is an innovative solution to an apparent political lacuna arising from the non-availability of an lgbo man with the political clout to be the president of Nigeria in 2023.

The unique proposal above needs no further elucidation for those that are ready to think out of the box in order to figure out that it would lead to a win-win outcome for the lgbo nation, Atiku Abubakar and the PDP. That is more so as it would be an action borne out of necessity. Take for instance , the ‘doctrine of necessity’ that was enacted by the National Assembly , NASS to save our democracy in 2010 when president Yar’adua suddenly passed away and the constitution did not make provision for automatic take over of the presidency by the Vice President resulting in a lacuna . Certain situations require specific innovative actions and politics is about deal making so the lgbos and Atiku Abubakar would have to be guided by the prevailing circumstances in the country, and put on their creative thinking caps.

By the way , should Atiku Abubakar throw his political hat into the ring for the fourth time , he would be in good company. That is because the incumbent president, Buhari is known to have vied for the presidency four (4) times before he succeeded in 2015. Going farther ashore , one time prime minister of England, Harold Wilson is also known to have contested for the office a record four (4) times before he succeeded in becoming UK’s prime minister. As evidenced by the cases referenced above, there is virtue in building on a foundation already laid which is underscored by the principle of incremental value based upon the power of repetition which helps transition a skill from the conscious to the subconscious. Having vied for the office three times, it can be imagined that becoming the President of Nigeria must have by now become easier for Atiku Abubakar , who is also a treasure trove of sorts about governance of Nigeria since he has served as vice president for 8 years along side president Olusegun Obasanjo, from 1999-2007.

Akin to the dire straits in which the PDP finds itself with respect to sourcing a presidential candidate of lgbo stock in the fast approaching presidential election in 2023, and of which its last resort may be to also fall back on the good old efficacious strategy of adding more blocks to an existing solid foundation, rather than starting from ground zero, the APC which is similarly grappling with the dearth of a presidential candidate of lgbo extraction with national name recognition may be left with no better option than to consider adopting the PDP formula for dealing with the complex 2023 presidency game that appears to be as complicated as chess Olympiad.

And one of such innovative approach would be for the APC to settle for or adopt the immediate past president Goodluck Jonathan , who the rumor mill claim is already being wooed by the ruling party, with the consent of president Buhari that is presumed to be championing the candidacy of Jonathan as president in 2023.

In the event that Jonathan cross carpets from the PDP to the APC and he is fielded as the ruling party’s presidential candidate in 2023, what would become of the morality of the APC leadership which in the first four (4) years of its being in power has made a fetish of demonizing Jonathan and his presidency as clueless, reckless and corruption personified?

Would it not be hypocritical and amount to the ruling party swallowing its own vomit ? Does such a scenario not re-echo the situation that arose during the last Edo state gubernatorial contest whereby then APC chairman and former Edo state governor, Adams Oshiomhole did an about face by backing Osagie Ize-Iyamu, ‘pelebe’ whom he had practically destroyed via a vicious campaign when Ize-Iyamu was the candidate of then opposition party, PDP in the state’s governorship election in 2016?

It may be recalled that following a vicious supremacy battle between Oshiomhole and his erstwhile protégée, Edo state governor, Godwin Obaseki, the latter switched parties from APC to PDP and the table turned when lze-Iyamu got adopted by his nemesis in the previous election-Oshiomhole, and he thus became the APC candidate in the 2020 governorship election .

Keeping in mind the experience of what Edo state voters did to demystify the presumed godfather of Edo state politics, Adams Oshiomhole who was alleged to have been playing god by approbating and reprobating, hence the electorate literarily pulled the carpet from under his feet by voting for Obaseki while shunning Ize-Iyamu, his preferred candidate .

By that gesture, Edo people exhibited uncommon political awareness and voting savviness which Nigerians could replicate at the national level, should the APC field Goodluck Jonathan as her presidential candidate in 2023.

The question is : should the politically fatal outcome of the elections in Edo state not be an ominous sign and lesson for the APC to learn the consequences of playing with the intelligence of the electorate which the fielding of Goodluck Jonathan as APC’s presidential candidate in 2023 would boil down to?

Of course, many more twists and turns on the road to Aso Rock Villa in 2023 are expected.

Because there abound in both the APC and PDP alike , other political juggernauts who are also preparing for the race to Aso Rock Villa seat of power, but are yet to come out of the closet to formally declare their interests.

Of all of them , only Bola Tinubu, a very formidable contender earlier mentioned is currently the APC candidate from the south that has tacitly shown interest in becoming the president of Nigeria, 2023 via body language. All the other consequential contenders , particularly from the north are clearly tarring awhile perhaps because they prefer not to beat the gun by jumping into the contest before the leader of the party , president Buhari green-lights it.

On the side of the PDP , there are the immediate past senate President Bukola Saraki and current governor of Sokoto state , Aminu Tambuwal. The aforementioned PDP stalwarts faced-off in the primaries for the elections in 2019 which Atiku Abubakar won leveraging the PDM advantage . Subsequently, Saraki with candor, remarkably became the campaign director general for Atiku Abubakar’s campaign , his erstwhile rival, and which was quite an extraordinary demonstration of togetherness by the leadership of PDP. And a lot of the credit for the peaceful and decorous conduct of the PDP presidential primary elections for 2019, are attributable to Ifeanyi Okowa, Delta state governor led committee that dexterously executed the task .

Since both the APC and PDP are yet to officially decide on whether they would be sustaining the unwritten rotation of presidency agreement between the south and north, a zoning system that has been in practice since 1999; some of the potential presidential candidates may also be holding their peace in expectation of the outcome of the much awaited conventions which both the ruling and main opposition parties have been postponing with a view to first of all settling internal wrangling that could trigger implosion, if not dexterously managed. Tellingly, the APC had shifted the date of her convention from October to December when the PDC fixed her convention for December. But as things currently stand , the PDP has moved the date of her convention forward to October , APC’s originally chosen date.

That implies that the political parties may also be deliberately pushing the date that their conventions would hold back and forth or very close to the general election date so that it may be too late for aggrieved politicians to cross carpet to other parties to contest for elective offices if they do not agree with the new policy directions of their existing political platforms.

Whatever the case may be, one thing that is certain is that the jostle for the presidency of Nigeria in 2023 would be more complex than any other election.

One of the reasons for the assertion above is that owing to the high caliber of contenders and how polarized our country has become , the journey to the presidency which has very high stakes would be fraught with twists and turns as the candidates would have to navigate their ways through tribal, cultural and religious cliffs, valleys, rapids and mountains which currently define our political landscape .

For instance, it is the first time that southern governors would speak with the same voice on the vexed issue of open grazing of cattle and the consequential deadly herders /farmers clashes that has created alarming human casualties which they unanimously agreed should be banned.

Additionally, irrespective of the political platforms that they belong, southern states governors have also resolved that the presidency should return to the south upon the expiration of president Buhari’s tenure in 2023. How can we forget the Value Added Tax , VAT wrangling that has caused further polarization of Nigeria as the apparent inequity in its collection and sharing has pitched the south against the north, Christians against Muslims with respect to the hypocrisy of VAT collected on alcohol being shared to states in the north that regard consumption of alcohol as taboo . So in many ways than one, with Lagos state joining in the legal battle initiated by Nyesom Wike , governor of Rivers state currently gaining momentum, resource control is no longer a mere Niger delta struggle, as it is assuming a new dimension with VAT wars in the courts as proxy and potential game changer.

Apart from the gentleman agreement hashed out during the 1994/5 national conference for presidential power to swing between the north and south, with the south taking the first shot with Olusegun Obasanjo’s presidency under the umbrella of PDP as then ruling party, elder statesman, ex governor of Ogun state and media royalty, Segun Osoba has on multiple occasions in media interviews confirmed that there was also an agreement between the leaders of the parties that fused together to return the presidency to the south after residing for eight (8) years in the north. The agreement was reached in the cause of the multiple political parties merger talks that held between 2013/14 and subsequently birthed the APC.

Ordinarily, the Southern governors could be said to be re-affirming an existing agreement. But their northern counterparts do not see it as such. Instead, they deem the decision of the southern governors as an imposition. Apparently, the northern governors are affronted by the fact that what should have been negotiated was turned into a grandstanding affair. Hopefully, after the initial filibustering which is a major part of politics, both the southern governors who needed to show their constituents that they are not Lily-livered, but posses some spunk, and the northern governors who may be intent on getting something in return for the likely impending concession of the presidency to the south in 2023, which is typical of politicians who often get a kick from horse-trading, would settle their differences.

In the event that the PDP fields Atiku Abubakar , (the wind seem to be behind his back) and Bukola Saraki once more graciously accepts to be his campaign director general, a role he played in 2019, Abubakar would be squaring up against Goodluck Jonathan, if the APC decides to feature the former president as its candidate, which is possible, based on the rumors that have been swirling around about president Buhari having a soft spot for him. And it would be an epic battle, since that would be the second time that Atiku Abubakar and Goodluck Jonathan would be locking horns politically. The first was during the PDP primaries in 2011 of which Jonathan as the incumbent president walked away with the victory trophy .

Would the momentum which Atiku Abubakar had built up in the course of his last presidential contest in 2019 stand him in a better stead to win the contest against Jonathan and subsequently the presidency the forth time around?

Likewise , in the event that Goodluck Jonathan emerges APC’s presidential flag bearer in 2023, can he leverage the goodwill that he enjoyed as president from 2011 up to 2015 to win the contest against Abubakar a second time?

As the saying goes, you do not change a winning team. So would the APC be giving transport minister, Rotimi Amaechi , a two time director general of Buhari campaign organization, the responsibility to ‘deliver’ Jonathan as he did for Buhari in 2015 and 2019?

Being the one who literarily ignited the fire that engulfed then ruling party, PDP and which eventually consumed Jonathan politically, would a scenario whereby Amaechi is Jonathan’s presidential campaign director be possible? In the event that it happens, it would be interesting to see how Amaechi markets Jonathan.

It would also be such a perfect imperfection, especially if Bukola Saraki also becomes Atiku Abubakar’s campaign director general.

In that case, there would be a replay of the 2019 presidential campaign scenario where both Saraki and Amaechi were the chief drivers of the presidential campaigns of both the opposition and ruling parties respectively.

Should Saraki and Amaechi go toe to toe again as presidential campaign directors in 2023, would Saraki get the wrong end of the stick again or would he trump Amaechi this time around?

And the quirks do not end there.

That is because how to become the president of Nigeria in 2023 has been occupying the mind of former military president, Ibrahim Babangida. Thankfully, the man tagged Maradona for his ability to dribble politically and labeled evil genius for having the cleverness to stage bloodless coup and the confidence to willingly give away military power where others could have dug in their heels in Aso Rock Villa by hook or crook , is not Interested in the presidency for himself.

In a recent interview granted AriseTv, Babangida, who was Nigeria’s military head of state from 1985 to 1993, and recently clocked 80 years , offered a template of who should be Nigeria’s president in 2023.

Below is IBB’s recipe of the Characteristics that should be internal and external in the person who would be president of Nigeria in 2023:

“I have started visualising a good Nigerian leader. That is, a person, who travels across the country and has a friend virtually everywhere he travels to and he knows at least one person that he can communicate with.

“That is a person, who is very verse in economics and is also a good politician, who should be able to talk to Nigerians and so on. I have seen one, or two or three of such persons already in his sixties.”

The retired military general’s audacious expectation is not without foundation. It is underscored by the fact that general Babangida (retd) is one of the young military officers involved in the counter coup of July 1966 after the major Kaduna Nzeogu led putsch of 1966 barely six (6) years post-independence from the British colonialists and self governance. He did so as an army Lieutenant along side the likes of Major TY Danjuma and Muhammadu Buhari, also an army Lieutenant at the time.

Subsequently, Babangida was involved in the coup that ousted General , Yakubu Gowon, who was replaced with the late , General Murtala Mohamed in 1976. After that , he was also instrumental to the coup that installed Muhammadu Buhari on 31/12/1983 and he eventually led the putsch that also toppled the same general Buhari in a bloodless coup detat in 1985.

So the story about Babangida’s involvement in coups resulting in the suspension of the practice of democracy and the consequential legendary leadership challenges that Nigeria has been grappling with, is similar to the African folkloric narrative about the tortoise which is always involved in every story of sinister activities.

For the reasons above, some Nigerians are questioning lBB’s moral standing and justification for his pontification on the personification of the president of Nigeria in 2023. More so because he actually ‘ stepped aside’ (more or less abdicated office) in 1994 after failing to steer the drifting ship of state into calm waters. Rather he allegedly drove the ship of state of Nigeria to the edge of a water fall before literarily abandoning the ship.

The counter argument to those espousing anti-Babangida rhetoric’s would be that ,since the octogenarian military icon has been watching from the sidelines from as far back as 1993,(28 years ago) he must have learnt a thing or two that might have given him a better world view and understanding of the trouble with Nigeria, apologies to Chinua Achebe, author of the famous book: The Trouble With Nigeria.

Hence he has decided to weigh in with his wise counsel on the way forward for our beloved country.

The bottomline is that whether most of us agree or disagree with Babangida’s definition and characterization of who would be the president of Nigeria in 2023, he has had his say and the rest of us can have our way by voting for our preferred candidate.

That is the beauty of democracy which stipulates that while the minority will have their say , the majority will carry the vote.

ONYIBE, an entrepreneur, public policy analyst, author, development strategist, alumnus of Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts university, Massachusetts, USA and a former commissioner in Delta state government, sent this piece from Lagos.

U.S investigations into Binance Holdings Ltd. has expanded, with authorities now investigating the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchange for possible insider trading and market manipulation.

According to a Bloomberg report, U.S officials have been looking into whether Binance or its employees profited by taking advantage of its customers, citing people with knowledge of the matter who asked not to be identified because the probe is confidential. The review involves Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) investigators, who in recent weeks have been reaching out to potential witnesses, one of the informants said.

Binance runs one of the largest cryptocurrency exchanges by volume of transactions which gives them a bird’s eye view into millions of transactions. U.S authorities want to uncover whether or not the cryptocurrency exchange exploited that access, including by trading on customer orders before executing them.

Binance has come out to say that there is no foul play in their dealings in a statement. A spokesperson for Binance said the firm has a “zero-tolerance” policy for insider trading and a “strict ethical code” to prevent any misconduct that could hurt its customers or the crypto industry. The spokesperson also added that Binance’s security team has long-standing guidelines for investigating wrongdoing and holding workers accountable, with termination being the minimal repercussion.

 While Binance claims to take strict measures against any misconduct, U.S. regulatory authorities are still keen on finding out if the world’s biggest crypto trading platform allows insider trading and manipulation of the crypto market.

Binance has become the focus of many other regulators worldwide, including those in the U.K, Netherlands, Thailand, Malaysia, Japan, Germany, Hong Kong, Lithuania, and South Africa. They claimed Binance had been operating without authorization in their jurisdictions. Japan, Germany, U.K. and the Canadian province of Ontario all cracked down on Binance exchange offerings a few months ago. The most recent country is South Africa whose financial watchdog warned its citizens that Binance is not authorized to operate in the country. Before this probe, the U.S Justice Department and Internal Revenue Service have launched criminal probes into whether Binance has been a conduit for money laundering and tax evasion.

Bottomline

Although Binance hasn’t been accused of any wrongdoings and the investigations may not lead to any official action, the consistent outcry of many regulators worldwide about Binance’s operations has been one that makes many investors and customers worry about using Binance’s platform. The firm has however made significant efforts in ensuring they are regulatory compliant in their dealings as Binance’s Changpeng Zhao stated that Binance had grown its international compliance team and advisory board by 500% since 2020 and expects to grow the team by another 1000% before the end of the year. Notable appointments include Greg Monahan, former US Treasury Criminal Investigator, as Global Money Laundering Reporting Officer (GMLRO), Jonathan Farnell as Director of Compliance, former FATF executives Rick McDonell and Josée Nadeau as compliance and regulatory advisors and former US Senator Max Baucus as policy and government relations advisor.

Binance’s native token BNB is currently trading at $410, down 2% for the day, as of the time of this writing.

[Nairametrics]

Former President Olusegun Obasanjo said in South Africa yesterday that  the Federal Government’s plan to source for fresh loans is understandable if the borrowing is for development and not recurrent expenditure.

President Muhammadu Buhari last week wrote to the National Assembly, seeking approval to borrow fresh sums of $4,054,476,863 and €710 million in an addendum to the 2018-2020 borrowing plan. At the weekend, Presidency also clarified that  major proportion of the loan would be used to finance 15 infrastructure projects

In July, the national assembly approved the sums of $8.3 billion and €490 million loans contained in the initial 2018-2020 borrowing plan.

Speaking to Channels Television on the sidelines of an event in South Africa, he said if the existing debt is left unserviced or unpaid, it might become a problem for successive administrations.

Obasanjo said, “If we are borrowing for recurrent expenditure, it is the height of folly. If we are borrowing for development that can pay for itself, that is understandable. Then the payment, how long will it take to pay itself?”

While noting that borrowing is not a problem, the former Nigerian leader stated that what could be a problem would be what one is borrowing for and the plan or capacity to pay back.

“But if you are borrowing and accumulating debts for the next generation and the next generation after them, it is criminal. What are you borrowing for?” Obasanjo asked.

The ex-president recalled that during his tenure in 1999, the country was spending $3.5 billion to service debts that kept on increasing.

“When I came into government as elected President, we were spending $3.5 billion to service debts. Even with that, our quantum of debts was not going down.”

Nigeria’s debts have continued to rise as the Federal Government seeks foreign loans to deliver key infrastructural projects.

In the letter, Buhari  explained that owing to “emerging needs,” there is a need to raise more funds for some “critical projects,” while seeking the parliament’s nod to also approve grant components of $125 million.

The request was in a letter read by Senate President Ahmad Lawan on the floor of the upper legislative chamber on Tuesday.

[NewsDirect]

Covenant University retained her status as the best private institution in Nigeria and one of the topmost generally, as the Times Higher Education (THE) released the 2022 World University Rankings on Thursday, September 2, 2021.

Hitherto ranked 801-1000, Covenant soared to 601-800 in the rankings.

The metrics for the rankings indicated an improvement in the University’s comparative performance in the five metrics for the current orders, which included Teaching, Research, Citation, and International Outlook.

In teaching, Covenant improved in the 2022 rankings by 19%, showing a 3.83 percentage change. Equally, there was an 11.41% improvement in her research ratings. Similarly, Covenant had an 11.18% improvement in her citation ratings, and the University recorded a 7.5% upgrade in international outlook in the 2022 rankings compared to the 2021 rankings.

The list of Nigerian institutions in the 2022 rankings featured six other Nigerian institutions. The University of Ibadan led the pack, having been ranked 401-500 and the University of Lagos 501-600. The University of Lagos, University of Ilorin, and Obafemi Awolowo University all ranked 1201+.

Reportedly, the World University Rankings 2022 included a total of 1,662 Universities compared to 1,527 in 2021. Covenant progressed from the fourth position in the 2021 rankings with her third-place ranking among Nigerian institutions in 2022.

The University of Oxford tops the ranking for the sixth consecutive year, while mainland China had two institutions in the top 20 for the first time. These were Peking University and Tsinghua University that shared 16th place.

The United States was the most-represented country overall, with 183 institutions and the most represented in the top 200 (57).

[NewsDirect]

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