(Published in The PUNCH, on Monday, November 8, 2021)
The throttle of the stationary molue stuck out like the heel of a prostitute’s stiletto. Abere, the bus driver, pedalled hard on the throttle while exhaust fumes drifted through the slits in the floorboard, smarting passengers’ eyes and noses. Coughs and curses followed.
The driver gulped the herbal alcoholic content in a green bottle labelled Oshaprapra and let out a belch.
A policeman, OC, walked to the side of the driver and held out his left hand, a baton under his right armpit. Abere thrust the small bottle at the cop, who grabbed and downed the liquor, grimacing as he let out a belch that sounded like a distant ocean roar. OC uncrumpled the N100 Abere squeezed into his hand and walked to the next bus.
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Though Abere’s bus was filled to capacity, the conductor, Ororo, still shouted on the top of his voice, “Oshodi straaaight! Enter wit your N350 change o! I no get change o. I dey talk my own before we comot Obalende now o! Your house no go collapse o!”
Ororo looked inside the bus and gestured to the standing passengers: “Ehsss, Young Man, move forward! Ehsss, Fine girl, move forward! Oga wey wear suit inside sun, abeg, move forward! Oga driver, compress dem with your brake! Let’s go dia! Ko si were!”
The rickety bus snaked out of the filthy garage and headed to Oshodi. Abere switched on the bus stereo, and the voice of Pasuma Wonder boomed, “Or-or-or! Bayi naa ni, bayi naa ni, Alabiiiiiii! Jibola Amama, bayi naa ni, ‘Dekunle Lagata Labaika, bayi naa ni…”
The Oga-wey-wear-suit-inside-sun and some other passengers appealed to Abere to tune the radio to Truth FM station for the 3pm news talk in order to get updates on the 21-storey building that collapsed on the island the day before.
The voice of the radio host came on air:
“It’s easier for the camel to pass through the eye of the needle than for a day to pass in Nigeria without the occurrence of teeth-gnashing woes like terrorism, killings, kidnapping, banditry and Boko Haram.
“The latest on the list of nightmares afflicting the country is the worrisome manner in which buildings have been falling like a pack of cards.
“A report by the BBC says between 2005 and 2020, 152 buildings fell down in Lagos, adding that a six-storey church building collapsed in 2014 during a service by Pastor TB Joshua, killing 116 people.
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“According to the BBC report, unqualified builders were used with substandard building materials…”
“Switch off that stupid radio! I say switch off that radio immediately or I’ll get you arrested for abetting hate news!,” a voice boomed from the back of the bus.
“Why you wan make I off the radio, sir o,” the driver asked, peering into his rearview mirror to see an old man sporting an agbada and a green fez, adding: “Na una dey spoil dis country with una lie-lie, Oga Lie.”
Oga Lie: We should be supporting our government. Nigerians are never appreciative…
Passengers (in unison): Which yeye government? Dis one na government or gutterment? Dis government wey specialise in condolence message? Dis government wey Boko Haram, bandits, kidnappers dey yeye anyhow?
Oga Lie: If people die, shouldn’t the government condole the families of the deceased?
Conductor: Nigeria no need wailing government, oga; make government prevent how Nigerians dey die like cockroach everyday, biko!
Young Man: Government should provide adequate security, stop financial and ethical corruption.
Oga Lie: Nigerians should be grateful that people were not living in the whole building when it crashed. That would’ve been more disastrous.
Driver: Dis oga dey talk as if say life mata for dis country. Country wey bandits go burgle House-o-Rock, shey dat one na country? Country wey terrorists attack NDA, kill and kidnap soldiers? Which kain yeye country bi dat? And we say we get goofment? Abeg, oga talk anoda tin, jare.
Conductor: All di houses wey don dey fall since in dis country, who dem punish? Many innocent people just die like dat for dat Ikoyi building. Na family wey lose members go sabi wetin hit dem. Na so dem go shout, shout, shout, small time di tin go die down when anoda bigger calamity happen. Dis country, calamity dey swallow calamity every day ni o. Blood dey drink blood. You build 21-storey building, di tin just collapse like say na sugarcane. Which government agency supervise di building? Some people come talk say na bomb dem bomb am, bomb ko, rocket ni. Dem give you approval to build 15 storey, you mount am go 21. Wetin government dey look when dem add six storeys join am? Anti-corruption government.
Fine Girl: Di angel wey create me for Nigeria no do well at all. Una say una dey run government, but una no fit send una pikin go di public school wey una dey run, una no fit attend Nigerian hospital wey una dey run, una no fit use Made-in-Nigeria things, dat means na wicked and fake government una dey run bi day nah. If you no fit chop wetin you dey sell, dat mean say na poison you dey sell bi dat nah.
Oga Lie: You think it’s easy to govern 200 million people?
Young Man: China’s population is 1.40bn while that of India is 1.38bn. All we need is honest and visionary leadership, not ethnic bigots and rogues parading as messiahs.
Driver: Where you go get honest leadership when all di people wey dem accuse of stealing for yesterday government don CHANGE to di ruling government, no bi for dia wey case close? And dem say dem dey fight corruption. Abeg, dis country never ready to develop. If I see visa now now, I go japa, I no go even pack any bag. Abeg make we hear news, jare.
In the ensuing silence, the voice of the radio host became audible again:
“The representative of Kogi-West senatorial district in the National Assembly, Senator Smart Adeyemi, has lamented the injudicious budgeting of the retired Major General Muhammadu Buhari-led Federal Government.
Speaking after Ministries Departments and Agencies defended their respective budgets before the Senate Committee on Solid Minerals, Mine, Steel Development and Metallurgy, Adeyemi questioned the competence and patriotism of Buhari’s economic team.
He said, “How on earth would a minister propose N82bn for procurement of mosquito nets and a sector as important as solid minerals gets N10bn? A good budget must not be just for expenditures, a good budget must be targeted towards wealth creation so that you can provide jobs for people.
“The Ajaokuta Steel Complex can provide about 60,000 jobs, about 20,000 engineers and technicians. You (need to) ask a question; the Economic Team of Mr President, are they Nigerians? If they’re Nigerians, it means they’re not in tune with the realities of today. Today, we have a large army of unemployed people, and you’re bringing a budgeting system that is so annoying, so questionable, so dubious…N82bn is more than enough to kick-start or, at least, give appreciable improvement to the Iron and Steel Complex.
“You’re not looking at how you’re going to improve your foreign exchange earnings, you’re asking us to come and approve N82bn, those ministers should be sent to jail…Let the mosquito kill us, if we’re going to put N82bn to stop mosquitos…Nigeria is capable of paying off and kick-starting the (Ajaokuta) Iron and Steel Complex.
“The problem of Nigeria is that you have some people who don’t want this country to move forward. And these are the elite. They’re people who are wicked capitalists, bourgeoisie who don’t want to move this country forward. We know those who want to tie this country down. Why would the country continue to import steel from India when you have your own steel company? Is that not wickedness…?”
Radio Host: We’ve come to the end of today’s news talk. I’m Babatunde Ayekooto. Thanks for listening.
Driver (Looking into his rearview mirror): Wey Oga Lie?
Conductor: E don jump down teh-teh!
Facebook: @tunde odesola
Opinion: How DNA testing may wrongly nail your wife, by Tunde Odesola
(First published in The PUNCH on October 25 and November 1, 2021)
For a breath of fresh air and to maintain my sanity, I’ll desist from talking about the retired General Muhammadu Buhari in this article. Also, I’ll resist talking about murderous Boko Haram, terrorist Fulani herdsmen, nationwide bandits, humongous corruption and bleeding nepotism which the Buhari regime will bequeath to the incoming Presidency in 2023, if Nigeria exists till then, luckily.
I understand why it’s not easy for Nobel laureate, Professor Oluwole Babatunde Soyinka, to give up hope on his 61-year-old country, Nigeria: no parent will nurture an Abiku from infancy through childhood to adolescence, and incautiously watch the heartless child climb a pawpaw tree with vegetable stalk – without shouting gbajare!
So, I understand the patriotic zeal which, for almost 70 unbroken years, has fired Soyinka up to engage in an eternal struggle for a better Nigeria.
At a point in 1965, Soyinka justifiably held, at gunpoint, the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation, Ibadan, despite security presence; landed in jail over a pro-Biafra article in 1967, at another point, and escaped into exile in 1994 when he was sentenced to death by the rogue General, Sani Abacha, who was dragging Nigeria to the point of no return. Doubtless, the sagacious Soyinka had a brush with the law one time too many over his conviction.
The last time the white-mane literary icon wrote a novel, Season of Anomy, was 1973. His new novel, Chronicles From the Land of the Happiest People on Earth, is his third, while The Interpreters written in 1965, was his debut.
It’s the mighty shame of a nation that the same themes of corruption, hypocrisy, nepotism, ignorance, blood-letting, poverty that are Soyinka’s preoccupations in his 1965 and 1973 novels, remain his motifs in his 2021 novel.
While some global issues which Soyinka spoke to in his works have changed for the better, it’s excruciatingly painful that his country, Nigeria, remains rooted to the bottomless pit of underdevelopment despite decades of his literary and social advocacy for change.
I wish I could measure the heaviness of the soul of Africa’s foremost literary figure, Soyinka, seeing his Nigeria, the Abiku, swimming in crocodile-infested pond while giant gators glide to gobble the Abiku, together with its defiance and charmed bangle-feet.
For Soyinka, appearance and reality in Nigeria are siamese even though he faults the depiction of Nigerians as ‘happiest people on earth’ in his latest work. Soyinka’s Chronicles From the Land of the Happiest People on Earth is a stinging irony of the sorrowful Nigerian populace described by total strangers as joyful.
However, Appearance and Reality weren’t the same for me some decades ago when I served in the National Youth Service Corps in Umuopu and Aji communities of Igbo-Eze North Local Government Council of Enugu State.
Then, I had a shapely girlfriend, whose name flirts on the periphery of memory now. I think she’s Eucharia. UK, for short. Then, I shared a top-floor two-bedroomed flat with a fellow corper, James Umor, now deceased, in a storey building owned by a traditional shrink called Enwe Nwanjo,who had a son, Emma, who had a beautiful wife, and a baby girl called Kasie. Emma and his family lived on the ground floor of the main building with us. Enwe Nwanjo had died a few years before my NYSC posting, but I still met his legend in Aji as a great healer of sick minds.
UK, an ebony beauty with a dimpled smile, lived in another apartment on the top floor with us. One night something happened.
I had just returned from a journey late in the night. And the whole compound had gone to sleep. I had come out on the verandah to have a drink and smoke a cigarette. Then I heard the bed creak in UK’s room. Sleep fled from my eyes and the hair on my head stood on end.
“But UK told me she was going to Nsukka to see her parents this weekend?” I recalled silently as I tip-toed towards her door in the dark hallway.
I peeped through the keyhole, darkness stared back at me. Then, slowly, very slowly, my mind dismantled the darkness. I saw two human forms, one lying behind the other, on the small metal bed by the curtained window…
I stayed all night on the verandah smoking and shacking whiskey as the harmattan wind froze my bones, but I kept my gaze on UK’s door while I intermittently patrolled the other louvered window to her apartment, which wasn’t in full gaze.
Then, another thing happened. Around 5:30am, or thereabouts, I heard a crowd of people chatting from a distance on the hazy road to our apartment. Then, some male and female students, who lived in the compound, together with a teacher, Florence Enwe, who’s the sister of Emma, and my smiling UK, burst into view. They were all coming back home from a vigil in their catholic church!
I quietly sneaked into my apartment, relieved but still curious. I heard UK’s footfalls as she climbed the stairs and I re-emerged from my apartment. She greeted me and asked smilingly, “You no dey sleep, Kopashon?” She knocked on her door. A preteen girl of about 10 years, whom she described as her sister from Nsukka, opened the door drowsily, stretching and yawning. “Tunde, see ya life,” I said to myself silently.
This is my own experience with Appearance and Reality. While Soyinka sees Nigeria for what it truly is, the Appearance I saw in Enugu Ezike was far from Reality.
What did the 178-year-old British newspaper, The Economist, see when it described the Buhari regime as incompetent, last week? Appearance or Reality? Or both? I’ve vowed not to talk about Buhari in this piece, and I wish to be faithful to my promise. I’ll leave Buhari for now and go ahead to explore DNA testing as a realm of science where results may not always be accurate.
Despite a woman’s fidelity to her man, a DNA testing could wrongly label the faithful woman a cheat if she gave birth to a chimera baby.
Unlike the generality of humanity possessing a single and distinct set of genes, chimera individuals have at least two sets of genes, which can result in a false negative result when the genetic composition of their tissue which was sampled for DNA testing is different from their reproductive tissue.
The case of American Taylor Muhl, a 37-year-old female singer, songwriter and dancer, brings into keener perspectives the issue of genetics and the probability that DNA testing could go wrong.
Though the multiple sets of genetic compositions in chimeras differ from one individual to another, in the case of Muhl, she was her own twin. This means that her embryo swallowed the twin embryo in her mother’s womb.
The fusion of the embryos could be in the gonads, testicles, abdomen, hand, transplanted parts of the body or any part of the body.
If it was in the testicles, for instance, the child fathered by the seminal fluid of the chimera individual would likely carry the gene of the other unborn, infused twin – such that DNA tests on the children produced by the chimera will prove negative.
There’s the case of another American woman, Karen Keegan, whose own children were disproved by DNA testing, until a US court ruled that the pregnancy she had at the time in question should be recorded.
Despite being video recorded at childbirth, DNA testing conducted on Keegan’s new baby also proved that she wasn’t the mother of the child.
When the blindfolded head drops on the hard floor, kpi!, like the back-kick of an angry horse, please, know that not all guillotined heads are guilty.
That is why the Yoruba say, “Ori yeye ni Imogun, t’aise lo po.” Imogun is the Yoruba Golgotha; the place of skulls, where many innocent heads have rolled down the pit of death, spurting hot blood.
If man didn’t reach for the sky at Babel, and all languages were one, I wouldn’t be saddled with the burden of translating this Yoruba proverb into English. But, it’s ok, I’ll try.
“Ori yeye ni Imogun, t’aise lo po” alerts the heedful to the limitations of human judgment and the evil that lurks in man’s heart.
I felt like going beyond the translation of the proverb into English. So, I went in search of the Araba of Osogbo, Chief Ifeyemi Elebuibon, to unravel for me the story behind the proverb.
“Once upon a time,” Elebuibon began, “Ogunda and his friend, Irosun, had an argument. Ogunda contended that many of those beheaded at Imogun are guiltless, but Irosun disagreed, saying, “Ika to ba se, l’Oba nge,” meaning: “It’s only the offending finger that the king cuts.
“So, one night, Ogunda killed an antelope in the forest. He sneaked into Irosun’s house and smeared his sleeping friend’s hands with the blood of the kill even as he sprinkled the blood on the ground, all the way to the king’s pen.
“Very early the following morning, Irosun was still sleeping when the king’s guards broke down his door and arrested him for killing the king’s antelope. Irosun pleaded his innocence, but he was dragged away, all the same, his toes barely touching the ground.
“The guillotine was the final journey for anyone that stole from the royal farm. Irosun’s fate was sealed. He must honour a date with death.
“On the Day of Death, many people trooped out to Imogun, to watch how the thief’s head would tumble down the headful dumpsite, squirting blood.
“The masked hangman with bulging biceps and a razor-sharp sword curved at the tip like Go-to-hell advanced slowly towards the shackled Irosun. He stood at arm’s length and raised up his shiny sword to heaven for the swift strike that would cut off the neck bone, separating the head from the body.
“He brought down his sword impatiently as Ogunda stepped out, and told the truth. Irosun was shaken back to life, sweat and urine had soaked his clothes. Ogunda asked his friend if it was only the guilty that got punished. A shivering Irosun answered, ‘Ori yeye ni Imogun, t’aise lo po’.”
Globally, many women and men have been wrongly accused of not being the mothers and fathers to their biological children because they are chimeras.
Who should she forgive – DNA testing machine or her unbelieving husband – the woman wrongly accused of infidelity because the genotype of her child doesn’t match that of the biological father? Can she even ever forgive?
Who should he blame, DNA testing machine or his fate, the man wrongly denied the joy of fatherhood because he is a chimera?
What is chimerism?
According to the European Journal of Medical Genetics, scientificamerican.com, and healthline.com, a chimera is generally an animal or human that contains the cells of two or more individuals – that is, their bodies contain two different sets of DNA, with the code to make two separate organisms.
Scientificamerican.com says, “One way that chimeras can happen naturally in humans is that a foetus can absorb its twin. This can occur with fraternal twins, if one embryo dies very early in pregnancy, and some of its cells are “absorbed” by the other twin. The remaining foetus will have two sets of cells, its own original set, plus the one from its twin.”
Healthline.com says microchimerism, which is another form of natural chimerism, most commonly occurs in humans when a pregnant woman absorbs a few cells from her foetus, adding that the opposite may also happen, where a foetus absorbs a few cells from its mother. “These cells may travel into the mother’s or foetus’s bloodstream and migrate to different organs,” it says.
This is also a form of natural chimerism. It happens when two different sperm cells fertilise two different egg cells. Then, these cells all fuse together into one human embryo with crossed cell lines.
“Artificial chimerism,” according to healthline.com, “occurs when a person receives a blood transfusion, stem cell transplant, or bone marrow transplant from another person and absorbs some of that person’s cells. This is called artificial chimerism.
“Artificial chimerism was more common in the past. Today, transfused blood is usually treated with radiation. This helps the transfusion or transplant recipient to better absorb the new cells without permanently incorporating them into their body.”
Cases of chimerism
In its September 2020 publication, the European Journal of Medical Genetics says human chimeras have been described for nearly 70 years by experts but the phenomenon gained public attention in the last 20 years with three high-profile media reports of coincidental findings during parentage testing.
The issue of the American woman, Karen Keegan, mentioned in the first part of this article, was a high-profile case of chimerism reported in 2002, in Boston, when genetic tests were conducted on her as she prepared to receive a kidney from any of her family members. After the tests, it was ‘discovered’ that two of Keegan’s three sons were not hers.
Another high-profile case of chimerism was that of another American, Lydia Fairchild, who had to be videoed at childbirth when genetic tests showed that she wasn’t the mother of her two sons when she applied for assistance for them from the State of Washington. She was subsequently charged with fraud. Even her third childbirth showed she wasn’t the mother of the child. After an extensive medical investigation, however, the genetic composition of her children matched a second DNA lineage found in the narrow tube that connects her vagina to her uterus.
The third reported case of chimerism was that of an unnamed 34-year-old man in California who, in 2015, failed a paternity test after the child was found to have AB blood group while both parents were A. According to an article, How a Man’s Unborn Twin Fathered His Child, published in Times magazine, the sperm that fertilised the wife’s egg belonged to the man’s unborn twin.
A June 2021 article published by The Embryo Project Encyclopedia paraphrased Policy Professor at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts, Sheldon Krimsky, and genetics expert, Tania Simoncelli, warning in their 2012 book, Genetic Justice: DNA Databanks, Criminal Investigations, and Civil Liberties, that human chimerism could potentially upend the US court system’s reliance on DNA evidence, citing Fairchild and Keegan as case studies.
But, in a response, legal professor David H. Kaye, in an article, Chimeric Criminals, published in the Minnesota Journal of Law, Science and Technology in 2013, debunks the assertion by Krimsky and Simoncelli.
Kaye, however, ‘acknowledges human chimerism should be a consideration in DNA testing, given its unknown frequency, but rejects the statement that it is a significant obstacle to its use in forensic investigation’.
Kaye also agrees that any human could display some traits of chimerism because there are numerous ways one could be considered a chimera.
Appearance and Reality are, oftentimes, at variance. When serious nations of the world are honestly fighting corruption, the Nigerian government has done everything to shield its son, DCP Abba Kyari, from facing criminal prosecution in the US for fraud.
I watched the video of Kano Governor, Abdullahi Ganduje, dancing with a spurting hose as he washed a vehicle at a car wash inauguration. I think Nigerians shall soon see the launching of the babaringa with the biggest pocket in Kano.
NB: I thank Kemi Samuel, secondary schoolmate and London-based registered nurse, for sharing her knowledge on chimerism with me. God bless Kemo!
Facebook: @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.
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