(Published in The PUNCH, on Monday, October 19, 2020)
When #ENDSARS protesters upended one of the czars of Nigeria’s 36 states, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, in Lagos and he fled in surrender to Aso Rock last week, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) burst into laughter.
Buhari’s laughter wasn’t hearty. It was dry and mirthless, whizzing like a horsewhip on bare skin in harmattan. The laughter echoes the snapping of the windpipe when the tiger buries its yellow fangs in the back of the antelope’s neck, eyes glazed.
To many, Buhari’s laughter, sardonically, betrays the ultimate insincerity of Aso Rock about solving Nigeria’s problems. To some others, the unsaid words behind the laughter was, “See how dis small boy governor dey shake like leaf because of common protest. Kai, he don see fire!” In truth, I agree that Sanwo-Olu is a small boy in comparison to General Buhari.
Agitated, small boy Sanwo-Olu, who has been sacked since about two weeks ago from the Governor’s Office, Alausa, by youths protesting non-stop police killings, brutality and extortion nationwide, was seen in a viral video eagerly explaining to Buhari what Lagos State has done about the requests of the youth protesters.
Wearing a face mask and clenching a big brown envelope containing the demands of the protesters, Sanwo-Olu gesticulated and physically presented his envelope to Buhari, who has formed a habit of receiving guests without wearing a face mask, unguardedly sending a signal to the citizenry that foolhardy defiance is a protection against the coronavirus.
Talking with the haste of a pilot whose plane is in distress, Sanwo-Olu told Buhari, “They (protesters) said we should release all the protesters, we’ve released them, they said we should set up a trust fund to pay compensation to the families of the ones that have died, I’ve set up my own trust fund. Today, I’ve announced it.”
Then Buhari laughed.
If Sanwo-Olu was shocked about the graceless laughter, he never showed it. He continued, “The third one, they said that we should set up some inquiry for the persons that are bitter…(Buhari interrupts, saying: “Yeah, I said that. I said that in response.”)
Sanwo-Olu continued, “So, tomorrow, the IGP is coming to the Governors Forum, he’s going to ask each of us to set up a four-man or five-man team. And the final one is, they said we should increase the salary of the police. The IGP said he was working on that. And (the) IGP said he’s going to be working to take some of them through some psychosocial treatments. Some, they’re going to go to the Force hospitals, they’re going to clean them up and check them. The ones that can still be absorbed, they will. So, everything is working but I just want to present this formally. (He hands over the envelope to Buhari). Thank you, sir.”
For mocking, instead of mourning those who have died, many Nigerians have called the President uncharitable names. But as annoying as the President’s inappropriate laughter was, I sincerely plead for forgiveness on his behalf. I plead for forgiveness for Buhari because I know that the sweat of the dog is masked by its fur just as our President’s sweat is masked by the splendour of Aso Rock.
As desirable as laughter is, it’s open to ambiguity, I need say. A laughter can be joyous or sorrowful or empty. If I was Buhari, my line of defence against wailers would be that my laughter during Sanwo-Olu’s presentation was sorrowful. I would remind them of the Yoruba proverb, “Oro buruku tohun terin,” which says misfortune walks side by side with laughter.
To those who seek to know whether the President would have laughed if any of his children was killed while protesting for a better Nigeria, I will say: Major General Buhari’s children are obedient, hard working ladies and gentlemen, too busy to lazy about on highways smoking, eating, drinking and singing. And why would Buhari’s children march on the streets to seek a better country when there’s nothing wrong in the Nigeria that fuels the presidential jets that keep them in the air and the limousines that convey them on land?
Buhari’s sweat or laughter, if you like, is seen by many protesting Nigerians as the gerontocratic trait of a leader in need of urgent retirement away from the rigours of critical thinking and the energy-sapping demands of nation-building. A majority of the protesting youths believes that in thought, word and deed, Buhari has no purpose in governance because he’s not in tandem with modern-day democratic realities.
This is why Major General Buhari deserves our collective empathy because he’s at the end of his tether. I’m sure Buhari is shocked and can’t understand why for the first time in the nation’s history, hitherto docile Nigerian youths have suddenly found their voice and massively risen to confront their oppressors. I can hear Buhari asking, who’s funding these protesting youths? I can imagine the loss on his face when a security report shows that the youths’ call for real change is fuelled by the misrule of his government. I can see worry on the President’s face when told that the youth agitation is being powered on the social media. I can hear, ‘social media kwo? Is social media contesting in 2023?’
Buhari deserves pity because he can’t do more than laugh as the events of the past two weeks are totally beyond him. This is why it took earth-shaking nationwide protests for Buhari to know that Nigerians are being slaughtered by the members of a police force long overdue for reformation.
Or, doesn’t Buhari together with his ministers, legislators in shallow chambers, principalities residing in Government Houses nationwide, the Inspector General of Police, secretaries to federal and state governments etc know that the police are killing, raping, maiming and extorting innocent Nigerians before these protests? They all kept quiet because they don’t represent the people. They only represent their pockets.
While Buhari and Nigeria’s past generation of leaders shout, “Off the mike,” the fresh blood out on the streets of Lagos, Kaduna, Abuja, Kano, Port Harcourt, Enugu, Osogbo, Ibadan, Owerri, shout, “Soro soke!” a synonym for, “Speak louder!” While Buhari, Goodluck Jonathan, Olusegun Obasanjo and their failed political leaderships are enmeshed in innumerable corruption allegations, the young generation of youths protesting on the streets demand openness, probity and equity.
Today, every Nigerian political office holder is afraid. They know the scales are falling off. Nigerian youths have torn the ‘lazy’ tag pinned on them by Buhari. They’ve also defied the notion that only money can mobilise the citizenry. For 60 years, the old order has failed the nation. A new order is rising. May it birth safely.
If the millions of jobs created by Obasanjo, Yar’Adua, Jonathan, Buhari administrations are true, no youth will be out on the streets today. If the thousands of hectares of farmlands they yearly vote billions of naira to cultivate are real, hungry youths won’t troop out to the streets for food at the protest grounds. If there was electricity in homes, some of the protesters would sit back at home to watch TV. If Buhari gave hope, the youths would cope.
Nigerians have perpetually listened to the broken record titled, “Nigeria’s unity is not negotiable.” Today, I laugh to see these funny leaders running helter-skelter, negotiating the country’s peace. Well, Buhari should know that being out of power for 21 years can’t kill the lust for power in Nigeria’s military. Half a word is enough for the wise.
In captivity, when a tiger or lion tastes human blood, it’s killed instantly because the big cats will kill more people after tasting human blood, for human blood is tastier than other animals’ blood because of its saltiness.
Nigerian youths have tasted the power to change the ills of their society. I pray they never remain the same again.
God bless Nigerian youths.
Facebook: @tunde odesola
Twitter: @tunde odesola
Devaluation is grossly overrated, by Simon Kolawole
On Monday, Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo might have made his boldest pitch yet for his expected presidential bid in 2023. Speaking at the administration’s midterm retreat — with President Muhammadu Buhari and Mr Godwin Emefiele, the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), in the room — Osinbajo appeared to have broken ranks with the government over its forex policy, faulting the demand management strategy and declaring the exchange rate as “artificially low” and “negatively affecting” the inflow of foreign exchange into the economy. The solution, he proposed, was to move “our rates” to be “reflective of the market” to encourage an inflow of “new dollars”.
The VP also raised issues with CBN’s direct intervention programmes which, he said, make it look like there is a competition between the monetary and fiscal authorities. (Interestingly, Osinbajo is the chairman of the steering committee of the Infrastructure Corporation of Nigeria Ltd, another brainchild of the CBN). His call for synergy between monetary and fiscal authorities is definitely in order and his worries over the potential room for arbitrage with multiple exchange rates are valid. But my little concern was that these are basic house-keeping issues that the VP should not be discussing on TV. We outsiders may get the impression that this government is divided against itself.
By being publicly critical of this administration’s demand management policy — which seeks to reduce forex outflow by curtailing importation of goods not considered as essential, such as rice and private jets — Osinbajo might also have sent a strong message to certain constituencies that he is his own man. That is, “Osinbajonomics” is going to be different from “Buharinomics”. This should please the World Bank/International Monetary Fund (IMF) and some Nigerian experts who have always maintained that for the country to attract foreign capital and boost forex supply, the naira has to be floated. They argue that like water, the national currency will eventually find its level.
Osinbajo’s position was quite clear and unambiguous, despite the attempted clarification by his media team. My first response was: “Shots fired!” Buhari has spoken openly against devaluation since he came to power. Why would the VP be openly critical of a policy that clearly has the imprimatur of the president all over it? Why make such comments at a televised forum? Why shout at someone you can whisper to? Was it an error of judgment? The headlines thereafter said Osinbajo called for devaluation. No matter his intention, the ordinary interpretation on the streets would be that the vice-president was campaigning for more hardship on Nigerian masses.
Nevertheless, the clarification begged the question: is devaluation a dirty word? In my own admittedly limited knowledge of economics, there could be justifications for devaluation. Three instantly come to mind (1) to make non-commodity exports cheaper in the global markets (2) to stimulate foreign investment (3) to encourage forex inflow into the system — as the vice-president himself was trying to suggest when he said “we can’t get new dollars into the system where the exchange rate is artificially low”. That is why I still do not understand why his media team tried to take back or re-phrase his words thereafter, saying he was only talking about eliminating arbitrage.
My point of departure with the vice-president is that he committed the same error as is the wont of many Nigerian neo-liberal economists and economic analysts: preaching the gospel of “seek ye first devaluation and every other thing shall be added unto thee”. Devaluation is packaged as the ultimate solution to all forex problems. The claim is that the moment you devalue your currency, foreign investors will come rushing in with tonnes of dollars. That is rather over-optimistic. There are many things that determine forex inflow. Devaluation is just one of them. And there is a limit to what devaluation can achieve in a poorly structured economy such as ours. That is my position.
For instance, while the VP was criticising CBN’s demand management policy, he was loudly silent on the elephant in the room: fuel subsidy. It is estimated that by the end of the year, the subsidy bill will be around N2tr. This is already a very big problem for public finance, but there is another sticky dimension. Ages ago, the NNPC used to sell its share of oil to earn “new dollars” and boost our reserves. However, the corporation now operates a direct sale direct purchase (DSDP) swap system under which we give crude to foreign refineries in exchange for refined products. That means no dollar exchanges hands. And that means billions of “new dollars” will not enter CBN reserves.
To be fair to the VP, arbitrage is serious economic distortion. The difference of N160 between official and parallel rates is huge. The CBN has argued that with the stringent rules in place and the calibre of those now getting forex legitimately — such as government agencies, manufacturers and airlines, etc — the room for arbitrage has shrunk. The parallel market, the CBN insists, accounts for less than 7% of our forex transactions. Nevertheless, eradicating arbitrage is a very simple “procedure”: just devalue the naira from N412/$ to N572/$. If supply issues persist, devalue again. But be assured that if rising cost of living leads to another #EndSARS uprising, our experts will be nowhere to be found.
To what do I liken this gospel of devaluation? It is like constantly repainting a commercial bus to make it attractive to passengers, whereas the seats are tattered, the air conditioning is broken and the engine is failing. We can keep devaluing the naira hoping to attract “new dollars” but our fundamental structural problems remain. While the value of the local currency may be a factor in attracting foreign investment, it is neither the sole nor the most important determinant. Capitalists also look critically at country risks. If the value of local currency was the magic pill, Zimbabwe and Venezuela would be the biggest recipients of “new dollars”. There are surely other factors at play.
In a country where separatists, kidnappers, herders, bandits and terrorists are having a ball, devaluation cannot be the tonic for “new dollars”. We have a country where there appears to be an official policy to muscle out some investors. The attorney-general just woke up one morning and said he dreamt that MTN evaded tax and immediately slammed a bill of $2bn on them. The information minister has been working overtime trying to chase Multichoice out of Nigeria. Potential foreign investors see all these things. They are aware of the hostile business environment, the frustrating legal system, the chaotic ports and the bureaucracy. But we somehow think devaluation is the cure.
Without a doubt, devaluation can temporarily relieve some symptoms and bring some inflow — with “temporarily” being the operative word. As a matter of fact, the CBN has been adjusting the exchange rate since 2016 while throwing even the kitchen sink to save the naira from drowning. The rate was N197/$ six years ago and is now N412/$. But, truth be told, devaluation as a tool of attracting foreign exchange is not sustainable, neither is it a sure pathway to economic development. The larger issue is: how do we attract multiple sources of forex into the economy so that we are not hopelessly tied to oil revenues and devaluation? How can we export more?
The fundamental flaws of our economy have always been there — papered over by cycles of oil boom. When oil revenues are high, we go binging. When oil revenues are low, we go begging. When oil prices crashed in the early 1980s, we faced our first major challenge in the oil era. It was a mess. Inflation went through the roof. Our reserves were so down we were no longer creditworthy to import essential commodities. We had to queue up to buy rice and tin milk. Civil servants were being owed salaries for up to seven months. Things were so bad that after the military took power, it was a major event on NTA Network News anytime workers were going to receive one-month pay cheque.
Under our current circumstances, the CBN has an option: it can actually fold its arms and watch the country go up in flames as government finances plummet and fiscal policies remain in disarray. Civil servants will be owed salaries for months and thousands will be retrenched. Forex demand will keep ballooning. The CBN governor will just be devaluing the naira every Monday to encourage “new dollars” and eliminate arbitrage. Easy-peasy! But by the time we reach N5000/$, our problems will still remain unsolved — because our economic structure is warped and the fundamentals are not solid. Panadol can never treat high blood pressure, no matter the relief it gives for a migraine.
I would love to be CBN governor if oil price is $80/barrel, production is over 2mb/d, revenues are in excess of $4bn monthly, reserves are $60bn, forex demand is $2bn, and the fiscal authorities are playing their part. I would just be sleeping and snoring. The real challenge comes when revenues are low and fiscal policies are all over the place. That is when everybody begins to see our nakedness. That is when it becomes more obvious that the foundations of our economy are fickle and feeble. There is no way devaluation can take the place of a proper restructuring of the economy. We need law and order, infrastructure and security for a conducive and productive investment climate.
We say we want to diversify exports to attract more non-oil forex inflow, but it is easier for a Nigerian entrepreneur to go to the moon than to export a bag of garlic through our shambolic ports. These are issues obstructing our progress. Osinbajo oversees the presidential committee on ease of doing business and should help tackle these hinderances. Really, devaluation is the easiest thing for any CBN governor to do. But with our structural and infrastructural deficiencies, it will not guarantee capital inflows. Instead, it can lead to more misery for an economy that relies heavily on imports, including food and intermediate goods. We cannot devalue our way to economic prosperity.
AND FOUR OTHER THINGS
Every time, we say we want more investments in the Nigeria. Every time, we do something that promotes the exactly opposite. According to Order 3 Rule 6 of the Tax Appeal Tribunal (Procedure) rules approved by the ministry of finance in June 2021, if you disagree with a tax assessment by the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), you have to first pay 50% of the amount before you can dispute it. This is directly in conflict with Paragraph 15(7) of the FIRS Act which allows the appellant to pay the lower amount between 50% of tax paid the previous year and the current assessment. The new rule opens up tax payers to blackmail and extortion and will hurt businesses. Dissonance.
The federal government has given two options to its workers: be vaccinated against COVID-19 or come with a negative test result, otherwise you can’t go to office from December 1. This comes with many dangers. Some will buy vaccination cards just to obey the directive. The anti-vax propaganda will grow more wings as every new death will be blamed on the vaccine. More so, government machinery may grind to a halt if unvaccinated key officers can’t come to work. Even though I am double-vaccinated, I am not in support of the new rule. Vaccination is an emotional issue for millions of people, most of whom have been brainwashed, so I prefer persuasion to coercion. Caution.
There has been excitement everywhere over the decision of the senate to allow electronic transmission of election results as well as direct primaries in which every member of a party will vote to pick candidates. However, I am sorry to say this: didn’t we say PVC would finally put an end to rigging in Nigeria? Why are we still worried about rigging six years after? You see, we always think the problem is the system. I keep saying the problem is the operators of the system. The problem is Nigerians. If Nigerians don’t change, Nigeria won’t change. I must admit, though, that I am enjoying the extremely optimistic public reaction. Unfortunately, it is these expectations that kill us. Gullible.
Crude oil price hit a three-year high of $85/barrel on Friday. Bad news for Nigeria. For one, our subsidy bill just went up, yet again. So, expect more deductions for “under recovery” by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) as we continue to use our forex to import millions of petrol for the rest of West Africa. Also, we are currently producing 1.25mb/d, way below our export quota — we are short by 360,000b/d. That is a lot of money we are losing every day. Our gain from price rise will, therefore, be marginal. What’s more, businesses that depend on diesel will now pay higher costs. Don’t say I am unpatriotic but I now prefer crude oil at $50/barrel or less. Beneficial.
Why Buhari can’t forgive Fani-Kayode, by Tunde Odesola
Opinion: Nigerian embassies of shame by Tunde Odesola (2)
(Published in The PUNCH on Monday, September 20, 2021)
With a tongue roughly twice the length of its body, and a brocade of dubious colours for skin, the chameleon is the ultimate invisible animal predator.
Without premonition, small creatures like worms and insects searching for daily bread disappear suddenly into the Bermuda Triangle in the belly of the dodgy chameleon via a sticky, snappy tongue.
Like worms and insects, in June 2021 alone, 1,032 Nigerians met sudden death in the hands of gunmen and kidnappers across the country, according to a fresh security report.
Approximately, the 1,032 casualty figure translates to 34.4 wasted lives per day, excluding deaths by sicknesses, auto accidents, extrajudicial killings, ritual killings, etc in a peaceful country in pieces.
Home or abroad, the fate of the average Nigerian is mournful.
Home-based Nigerians are plagued by physical and psychological deaths just like Nigerians abroad are not spared psychological torture and humiliation in Nigerian embassies.
The overwhelming corruption yet pervading most Nigerian embassies despite numberless media reports in the last six years attests to the failure of the retired Major General Muhammadu Buhari led-regime in curbing dishonest dealings that have cemented the green passport in the hall of infamy.
Lamenting the nasty treatment she went through in the hands of officials at the Nigeria High Commission in the UK, a registered nurse, Kemi Samuel, who has lived in England for over three decades, said she suffered Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder whenever she visited the commission.
A registered nurse with more than 30 years under her belt, Samuel recalled that every Nigerian in England, notwithstanding their locations, was required to physically come to obtain visas, renew passports or get new ones.
Samuel explained that it was ridiculous that she renewed her 10-year British passport within two hours at Her Royal Majesty Passport Office, Globe House, London, while she laboured to renew her five-year Nigerian passport after visiting the high commission on seven different occasions.
She said, “If you want your British passport to be done as an emergency, you need to visit the passport office, but if you want to follow the normal process, it will arrive in your mail within four to five days.
“The reverse is the case in the Nigeria High Commission, where officials allow applicants to shunt the queue after bribing them. The officials were nasty to young and old, and they’ve no regard for children, women and the physically challenged. I was breastfeeding my baby and I had to leave my work each time I visited, meaning that I was losing money.
“In 1997, an immigration officer wanted to steal my passport at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos. He hid my passport among the documents he was clutching and he said I didn’t give him my passport, and he was trying to walk away. I raised my voice and told him to bring out my passport from among the papers in his hands.
“In 2010 when I wanted to renew my passport, they said there were no booklets from Abuja, so I had to use my British passport.
“Between February and August of 2016, my daughter and I visited the high commission over 20 times to renew our passports! Nigerians came from other European countries to renew their passports, too.
“There was the pitiable case of a female Nigerian student who needed her passport to renew her studentship. She said that was the 11th time she had come to the commission.
“When we got to Nigeria, the carousel didn’t work as there was no light at the airport, prompting passengers to use the light of the phones. All that was strange to my daughter who suddenly felt pressed to use the toilet. She ran out of the toilet when she saw heaps of maggots.”
A Nigerian resident in Houston, Texas, who doesn’t want his name in print, lamented that he was asked to pay an unreceipted $20 as car park fee at the Nigerian embassy in Atlanta, Georgia.
The 50-year-old applicant, who is from southern Nigeria, said, “The embassy won’t process applications for more than one year, and after the expiration of one year, the applicant will be required to pay a fresh $195 as passport fee. Since it was the embassy that failed to produce passports as and when due, applicants should not be made to pay twice for passports.”
Nicknamed BB, the sad Nigerian also alleged that his online application was changed and ‘sold’ by embassy officials to another applicant who had bribed them.
“I picked up my American passport that can enable me to enter about 200 countries visa-free in my mailbox. I don’t know why my Nigerian passport, which nobody wants to see, is so problematic,” he said.
Complaining about the terrible treatment meted out to visa and passport applicants at the Nigeria High Commission in London, a Nigerian, Sunday John, said applicants were never given appointment when they apply online.
He said, “They won’t give you an appointment when you apply online because they make money by giving appointments to those who have bribed them.
“Passport fee is 75 pounds but they will charge you between 300 and 700 pounds through the backdoor. I refused to pay, and I’ve since not been able to take my wife and three children to see my mum in Nigeria.
“I wanted to open a business account but because I’m not British yet, my nationality was required. The non-issuance of a passport to me has put the business I’m planning to do on hold. I’ve vowed not to bribe them because if I do so, I’ll be encouraging corruption. Sadly, other African nationals in England get their passports in a matter of days.”
Sharing his ordeal, another Nigerian, Mr Frederick Oluwole, who has lived in New York for over 30 years, said passport production at the Nigerian embassy in Manhattan was delayed because of lack of ‘nylon’ covering for passport pages.
Oluwole said, “They took my unsigned money order from me. They didn’t allow me to write my name on it. What they would later do is to write their own name on it and collect the money on the order, and pocket it.
“They talk down on you as if they’re doing you a favour. An official had to fly to Nigeria to bring common ‘nylon’ which could have been sent through courier.”
It’s the same hopeless song in Ottawa where the Nigerian embassy in Canada is located.
Narrating his nightmare, a Nigerian, Valentine Abiodun, disclosed that calls to the embassy were never picked.
“When someone eventually picked my call after weeks of calling, I told him I had been calling the embassy repeatedly, the officer said he travelled. I was shocked, and I told him the embassy wasn’t a private business that should be held up by an official.
“I told him I had sent in my passport for renewal. He told me they’ve not received it. Because I was tracking the passport, I told him who received it at the embassy.
“Then, he said I should call back. When I called back, he said he had seen it, adding that he would stamp and send it to me through mail. I said he shouldn’t. By 2am that night, I got a car and travelled down to Ottawa, getting to the embassy in the morning to pick my passport.”
A young Nigerian living in Mississauga, Ontario, Emmanuel Ogunlade, said he just received his renewed passport, which he had been processing since January 2020, two weeks ago.
Ogunlade said, “It was a terrible experience. I travelled to the Nigerian embassy, Ottawa, a journey of 427km, thrice after uncountable calls that were not answered before my passport was renewed even as I paid $23 twice for prepaid envelopes. They sent an email saying that they’ve sent my passport to me, but it was false. They later admitted they’ve not sent it.”
An anonymous female resident of Dubai said Nigerians now go to Abu Dhabi from Dubai to obtain their passports because of the hardship encountered at the Nigerian embassy in Dubai.
Uhhmm, Nigeria, under Buhari, is rich in corruption, home and abroad.
Facebook: @tunde odesola
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