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Sanwo-Olu: Hero of the hour

Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State.

By EJERE EMEKA

For many political watchers out there, one factor (outside of the will of God) made it possible for incumbent Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu to get into office: the endorsement, help and support of the strongman of Lagos politics, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu.

Since coming into office, however, a combination of events, of which the COVID-19 pandemic is the latest and perhaps the most tangential, have since conspired to push out the salient strengths possessed by the incumbent Governor and also helped to further expose for all to see, the broader foundations and depths that undergird Nigeria’s flagship state.

And the verdict quite plainly is all too evident for all to see: The Lagos trajectory and the Sanwo-Olu phenomenon need to be even more carefully dissected to get a firmer handle on things.

Historical footnotes

While there are copious accounts as to the origins and chronology of the developments that have helped to shape the city-state of Lagos, our choice of take-off point for our purpose here would be limited to the negotiations and politics, around and leading to the British declaration of Lagos in 1861 as its West African colony. This is because it is just before and after that event that both the economic, political and social life of the city-state began to take the shape that it has now come to have and sustain.

Again, underscoring Lagos’ place as one of the foremost centres of social and political exploration in the evolving modern space that has now come to crystallize into the Federal Republic of Nigeria, it was at the turn of the century already becoming established as a veritable centre of commerce, trade, media, politics and elite activity. Making it the capital of the amalgamated component protectorates after 1914 was, therefore, the logical outgrowth of this positioning.

Also underscoring the fact that a leadership status of sorts had at this point comes almost natural to the Lagos city-state, even the relocation of the formal political capital of the federation to Abuja in 1991 has not completely dampened too much of Lagos’s shine: it still leads in many ways than one, including most notably in the areas of politics, culture and trends.

It is within this framework then that the contest for the governorship of Lagos after the demise of the dictator, General Sani Abacha was very severely fought in 1998. With Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s emergence as governor in 1999, conscious steps were subsequently to be taken to firmly re-establish Lagos as a major centre in Nigerian national life. Among others, the Tinubu administration focused on raising the Internally Generated Revenue bar and did quite well in that regard such that when he was embroiled in a bruising political tiff with the Obasanjo presidency, Lagos was able to continue picking its bills fairly conveniently.

Building on that and the political miscalculations and misfortunes of the political opposition in the state, the Tinubu camp has over the years been able to expand its ‘stranglehold’ over this proud and hitherto most independent city-state and even leveraging on this to make a broader pitch for relevance in the extended South-West geopolitical arena. It is also part of the background capital with which Tinubu led his Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN co-travellers into the alliance with the Muhammadu Buhari-led CPC, the ANPP and several other political interests that was to ultimately result in the emergence of the All Progressives Congress, APC and the easing of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP from its erstwhile dominant position on the Nigerian political arena.

Dominating Lagos

In Lagos itself, this has seen the Tinubu camp being associated with governance in the past 12 years and counting since he completed his two terms in office as elected governor. Succeeded by Babatunde Raji Fashola, SAN (who also served for two terms), and Akinwunmi Ambode (who was frontally denied a chance to get a second term) and now Babajide Sanwoolu, the Tinubu camp’s hold on the Lagos political firmament has since come to be established.

A culture of false starts

While Fashola did excellently well from the onset and soon established himself into the hearts of many a Lagosian from the get-go, Ambode and Sanwo-Olu have had a somewhat more bumpy beginning.

For Sanwo-Olu in particular, the fallouts of the bruising campaigns he had fought, disagreements over the environmental sanitation model he had inherited from his predecessor, a tardily executed attempt to probe his predecessor, defining how to play with his human benefactor, Tinubu and the handling of legacy state contracts that he was now inheriting were quite blinding in his early months of office.

This was then compounded by the spate of heavy rains in the city which further depressed the city’s road network and exponentially compounded its historically choking traffic challenges. The governor was panting for breath and as Lagosians soon began to remark quite caustically, he had ‘merely resigned himself to pointing at the problems!’

To his credit, however, the end of the rains and the turn into the year 2020 brought to the fore a more active Governor Sanwo-Olu, with several of his critics beginning to back off and take notice of the new burst of energy with which he was beginning to tackle most notably, the bad roads situation. And then he pushed the ante some more with the okada and Keke ban policy which by its abruptness and initially sloppy logistics, drew considerable ire from the urban poor who were seriously exposed to the vagaries of the consequent spike in public transport costs. This was, however, to be slightly mitigated by fresh facts that subsequently filtered into the public domain that enhanced city security was indeed the first factor in the enunciation of the policy.

Paradoxically, however, Sanwo-Olu’s finest hour may have come on account of his more-than-average handling of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. While there have once again been logistical implementation gaffes as the distribution of palliatives to the vulnerable through political structures and the untoward judicial bullying of actress Funke Akindele on account of her ill-advised birthday party event, the state’s ensuring that its legislature gave formal assent to its COVID-19 emergency intervention programme and the regular direct engagement of the governor with the people at this point of the crisis have helped to establish Sanwo-Olu as a quite enlightened modern leader equipped with the necessary accoutrements of sound emotional intelligence. Equally helpful is the political intelligence that culminated in the dropping of charges earlier proffered against the popular, though misdirected grassroots icon, Naira Marley, and one of his very possible contenders in the battle for Lagos House in the 2023 Governorship race, B.O.G Gbadamosi. Dif the Holy Bible did not say ‘Wisdom is profitable to direct all things?’

Asked to access the governor’s performance this far, and notably in the light of his management of the COVID-19 crisis, the analyst and commentator, Waheed Alade says:

‘Sanwo-Olu has performed quite well. It can be said that he has surpassed initial expectations. Lagos has become the model for other states and even the Federal Government. However, the problems with food palliatives distribution about the COVID 19 crisis are quite disconcerting.’

Another commentator, Kenneth Opara is equally upbeat about Sanwo-Olu’s performance in the COVID-19 theatre:

‘I will score him as much as 80 per cent in the COVID-19 fight. Given the circumstances, he has provided quite appreciable leadership. But I am yet to be fully impressed as to his handling of other areas of governance.’

In addition to whatever individual strengths, Sanwo Olu may possess, some commentators say that one of the most critical factors that every Lagos governor has to contend with ultimately is the fact that as Nigeria’s centre of elite activism, the city puts leaders on their toes. And there are copious instances in its history.

Frederick Lugard after being stridently harassed by the Lagos Press is on record as having written to the Colonial Office in London seeking leave to relocate the capital of Nigeria to Kaduna. Former military administrator, Raji Rasaki was put on the spot over the Maroko demolition. Lagos was the hotbed of the June 12 movement and NADECO. Tinubu as governor was heavily censured by the stormy petrel, Gani Fawehinmi over his ‘Chicago certificates.’ Fashola was called out over the Lekki Toll Gate. Former President Goodluck Jonathan was stridently censured in Lagos during the #OccupyNigeria protests. Former Governor Ambode was harassed on account of his demolition of Otodo Gbame. Indeed the critical temper of Lagos is so well defined that we can paraphrase that old saying in explaining it, somewhat: ‘Lagosians do not suffer fools gladly.’ Eko oni baje o.

FirstBank @125: Beyond the glitter,  a venerable lender’s search for greater glory

By JULIUS ALAGBE

This week, Nigeria’s premier banking group, FBHN rolls out the drums in celebration of success and remarkable longevity. At 125 years old, it logs an intimidating profile, merely on the basis of its staying power. Its older than the Nigerian nation, including every Nigerian, and arguably older than every other corporate organization trading on the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE).

In an ecosystem of high mortality rate and even higher corporate mortality rate, FBHN record is quite remarkable.

However, it is not merely survival that has made it a remarkable institution, rather its various continued successes across a broad spectrum of financial services, underpinned by cutting edge customer services and an activist corporate social responsibility have made FBNH the indisputable leader of the highly competitive Nigerian banking sector. In this special report, Business Hallmark reveals that despite the wear and tear, the venerable lender is strong, alluring and still packs a punch…!

Looking back in Nostalgia

 

Adesola Adeduntan MD/CEO First Bank of Nigeria

First Bank is currently 125 years old no doubt. But for perspective, we will begin with the more recent past. In the last 10 years, FBNH Plc has been able to grow gross earnings by 8.57% annually. Thus the holdings’ total assets grew at 9.52% on the average during the period under review. Within this period, customers’ deposits in its vaults ballooned at an average of 9.68% annually, while pretax profit grew at 15.64% on the average.

Unfortunately however, there are also other less exciting numbers for the same period, top of which would be the staggering weight of its non-performing loans. Indeed, this NPLs profile has been quite unflattering, and a situation that successive managers have been battling to bring down for years now but which is yet to abate. For example, the non-performing loans ratio was still locked at 19.8% as at the end of its 9-months result in 2018, which means that for every N100 in gross loans disbursed, about one-fifth stood a real risk of outright default.

Perhaps it is for this reason that the bank has become increasingly lukewarm about creating new credit risk. As a result, there has been a corresponding shift away from loan booking. This has correspondingly affected its interest earnings assets which went down as net loans declined by about 4% from the amount brought forward into 2018.

Meanwhile, and underscoring the point that a spirited fight is still on internally to tame the monster, FBNH’s NPL ratio as at financial year 2017 had berthed at 22.8%, which suggests that the current decline in net loans advances may be part of a deliberate effort to improve the bank’s asset quality. However, it is not winning on all fronts as the group’s cost to income ratio has clocked 59.5% presently, as against the 58% guidance for the year. It means that it will now cost the group about 60% on every N100 income to ‘make a buck.’ Invariably therefore, FBNH is yet operating at a cost disadvantage in comparison with its peers in the same class.

While men slept….

One area that further exposes the fact that the old behemoth may have lost some of its initial fighting edge to the factors of ageing and attrition can be seen from its assets growth position in more recent years. Here, a careful review of its performance records for the last 10 years reveals that it grew total assets by N3.236 trillion, from N2 trillion in 2009 to N5.236 trillion at the end of 9-months to year end 2018.

Conversely however, in less than five years, the Zenith Bank group added as much as N2.7 trillion to its asset portfolio. Further, when the ongoing M&A process involving Access Bank Plc and Diamond Bank Plc is concluded, FBNH will be equally forced to move down the pecking order, perhaps to third place. There are also strong indications that the ranking may shift again with the aggressive growth and profitability projections of its two principal rivals, UBA Plc and GTBank. In that event, it will really be galling for the behemoth as it confronts the very real prospect of being ranked behind these newer generation banks in the Tier 1 class.

As old as Nigeria

They say old wine tastes better with time. But FBNH’s seemingly not-too-salutary competitive stance and challenging performance scorecard in recent years, has proved otherwise. Though still liquid, stable and sturdy, it has continued to underperform stakeholders’ expectations as evidenced in factors such as: lower profits compared to its peers, reduced return on equity which is currently below the industry average and rising non-performing loans.

When it comes to being sturdy and reliable, give it to the group, longevity is the First Bank of Nigeria Holdings'(FBNH) first achievement. Like the marathon runner, having being around for 125 years, there are hurdles that the group has surmounted successfully simply because it made the distance. For example, coming into the same space almost at the same time that peers like John Holt, FBNH has thrived even when John Holt is rather a shadow of itself today. In fact, John Holt has become a caricature of its former old self and is today on life support. The once towering trading octopus has been reduced to a ‘has been.’

Of course, longevity does have its uses. And very clearly, it has helped FBNH in carving out for itself a significant share of the market in the retail end, serving more than 12.5 million accounts today, as the numbers shows. In its unaudited financial statement for the first 9-months in 2018, total customers deposits crossed N3.383 trillion. This compares favourably with its peers and is clearly above the industry average

With footprints across the globe, FBNH has become a definite household name, unarguably the most reliable in the banking sector. At the Nigerian bourse however, the picture is less flattering. After being formally listed on the stock market for about 48 years, FBNH’s share price today is far less exciting to investors. It closed the week at N7.75, and paid only 25 kobo as dividend in 2017.

An analyst who spoke to Business Hallmark on the stock’s outlook said; “FBNH’s shares have not significantly increased in terms of value. In the last 7 years, the bank has not paid more than N1.10 as dividend. Technically, except you are trading the stock, its age has not been advantageous to building an investing portfolio”.

Though the bank is still solid and reveling in the euphoria of its 125th anniversary, the management must begin to ponder over the future of the group if it is still intent on standing out as the undisputed leader of the banking sector. Until recently, its leadership was unequalled in terms of gross income, total assets and loans portfolio. But today, it is struggling to be anywhere near that picture.

However, such poor performance may not be a reflection of the group’s corporate performance, especially given the previous history of the stock. Rather, it may more accurately reflect the generally bearish trend which has been the lot of the market in recent years. However, some analysts believe that all things considered, the stock performance of the group is a tribute to the resilience of the brand in an operating environment that has been less than favourable.

Performance scorecard

The unpleasant prospects the top pecking order notwithstanding, FBNH Plc remains profitable, though it is clearly not as profitable today as its peers in the Tier 1 class. On an absolute basis for example, it is to its credit that the bank has never returned a negative posting.

On the other flank, the future looks bright as the management is continuing to work on shaking up and rejigging its old cultures. At least, there are notable changes in its banking halls and service delivery systems have improved significantly. Nevertheless, it is still not as comparable as it could be, given that its battles with rejuvenation even date as far back as its landmark ‘Century 2000 project.’ Ambition must really be made ‘of sterner stuff,’ Shakespeare admonished long ago.

Back to today, operating costs and overheads, including heavy impairment charges have continued to impact on its results. The amount the group is expending in managing and maintaining its operations remains very high. The structure is gulping cash, crowded with C-suites executives from its Commercial Banking, Merchant and Capital Banking groups as well as its Insurance group. Personnel costs continue to grow steadily year on year.

Some industry analysts observe that more has to be done as on current form, FBNH is seemingly having to grapple with what they contend is increased number of asset duplications, overlapping job descriptions and overloaded top management, all of which are pushing up operating expenses.

Being around for long is an asset but…

If age means or is considered as being equal to experience, FBHN has it. If experience is a key driver of performance, FBNH has it. But if performance is not comparable to peers results, there is an obvious problem and FBNH needs to put its legs down to run. In other words, if being sturdy and surefooted does not translate to being efficient, effective and very profitable, FBNH should sit down and review its processes holistically and confront the very tough decision of whether the time has not come for it to completely unbundle its Holdco arrangement.

After being around for 125years, FBNH’s total assets as at its first 9-months outlook in 2018 stood at N5.348 trillion, having expanded by 2.1% from the fair value of the Holdings’ total assets that had been locked at N5.236 trillion at the beginning of the year.  If an even growth is assumed, it means that at the end of the full year, FBNH is in all likelihood not in position to post more than a composite 2.8% growth in total assets.

Of the sum of its N1.924 trillion loans at the end of 9-month in 2018, 19.8% was seen as non-performing, as against 20.1% at the end of financial year 2017 when its assets in loans berthed at N2.001 trillion.

FBNH’s pretax profit was sliced by as much as 7.4% as it was unable to meaningfully grow its topline. Gross income closed the period at N441.5 billion as against N439.2 billion in the comparable period. It therefore recorded only a miniscule increase year on year.

Though the group increased its interest earning investment securities by more than 21%, it recorded a 12.9% decline in its net interest income position. Invariably, the holdings’ key interest earnings assets were reduced with reasonable expectation that non-interest income would support earnings.

Cost of funds moved up in the 9-month to 2018. It incurred N34.4 on every N100 generated from its portfolio of interest earnings assets. This was higher compared with the N28.57 paid to providers of funds in the corresponding period in 2017.

Thenon-interest income which closed the period at N93.2 billion as against N74 billion in the comparable period, having grown by 26%, was not enough to close the gap in earnings loss due to a reduction in the value of its interest earnings assets.

In the 9-month result, it incurred N59.50 on every N100 income generated. This was far higher than the amount incurred on operating income in similar period in 2017. The bank had incurred N53.4 on every N100 income made. It means that while the banking corporation is micro-managing its operations to reduce, possibly its heavy toxic assets, costs were pushing higher.

Customers deposit closed 9-months of financial year 2018 at N3.384 trillion, increasing by 7.6% from N3.143 trillion at the beginning of the year. The hefty size of its deposit funds, of which a sizeable amount attracted very low costs as a retail bank, made the cost of funds, 3.6%; lower albeit with 100 basis point higher than the score in the previous period which was 3.5%. This is a quite commendable development and signposts better days ahead. If the bank can continue to attract funds at low costs, it will enhance its overall ability to book credit and create bigger and hopefully more rewarding book assets.

How FBNH measures against its peers

FBNH’s gross earning is lesser compared with the amount Zenith Bank Plc made in the last few years. It looks like FBNH has seemingly conceded the industry leadership mantle to new generation banks like Zenith and GTB and perhaps a few more. In about all of the key indicators that seemingly excite investors, the reality is that FBNH today ranks lower.

In its 12-month performance coverage for example, the Zenith group closed the year with total assets valued at N5.955 trillion.  In 2016, Zenith Bank’s total assets was at par with the balance sheet value of FBNH total assets, N4.739 trillion and N4.736 trillion respectively. Before 2016, FBNH was the largest bank with total assets locked at N4.166 trillion in 2015.  FBNH is now trending behind Zenith and GTB in terms of profitability.

FBNH: A Rich history of survival

FBN Holdings Plc. is the non-operating financial holding company of one of the largest banking and financial services organisations in Africa. A truly diversified financial services Group that offers a broad range of products and services, including commercial banking, merchant banking and asset management and insurance to millions of customers. FBNH has in its hold 12.4 million active accounts, with total deposits from customers put at N3.168 trillion.

In 1894, FBN commenced business at a time when the territory of Nigeria was still under British colonial rule. FBN then primarily financed foreign trade, with little lending to Nigerians. It was after independence that FBN started lending to Nigerians in higher volumes.

In 1965, this first bank in Nigeria was acquired by Standard Bank – a British Overseas bank which resulted to a change of name to Standard Bank of West Africa. Four years later, Standard Bank of West Africa was incorporated in Nigeria as Standard Bank of Nigeria.

In 1971, Standard Bank of Nigeria listed 13% of its shares on the Nigerian Stock Exchange for local participation. Shortly after this, government sought local control of retail banking sector. This forced Standard Bank of Nigeria to reduce its stake to 38% while Nigerians became majority shareholders. Standard Bank’s loss of control triggered the need to change name to capture its local identity.

In 1979, First Bank of Nigeria Limited came alive with more Nigerians as its directors. In 1990, the name of the bank began to carry along with it the “Plc” moniker.

First Bank of Nigeria has survived all manners of wars in the last 125 years. These ranged from World Wars Iand II to the Civil War in Nigeria between 1967 and 1970. Significantly, the latter ended shortly before the bank extended its shareholding more broadly to locals. Beyond these, the First Bank brand has also outlived various incidences of corporate-driven crises that have been witnessed in the economy since the 1930s.

To its basic credit here, not many operators were able to weather the storm through the major financial crises that swept the global economy as well as the local market since 1930, the year which registered the first banking crisis, followed by another banking crisis in 1950.

In 1994, FBN survived another crisis season once again, when32 banks were liquidated by the Nigerian Deposits Insurance Corporation, following the banking crisis of 1993 which significantly affected the going concerns assumptions of some of its peers in the sector. The last of the crises the bank has witnessed so far was in 2009. Not many institutions which entered the market even in the past quarter century in the past have been able to live to tell the story. And for this, we say, kudos, First Bank!

However, mere survival is hardly what the public expect of its flagship banking institution. As the old saying goes, excellence is not an occasional thing; it is an always thing. Or to use a Nigerian lingo, Í get am before no bi property!

Dangote Cement  make shareholders millionaires 

Aliko Dangote
Aliko Dangote

Arguably, Africa’s largest cement producer, the Nigeria-originating Dangote Cement Company is almost cresting the trillion-naira revenue mark. Indeed, things went on so well for it in the outgoing year as it also got an unexpected positive tax boost to wit. And this good fortune is making more and more millionaires of investment-savvy Nigerians as JULIUS ALAGBE explains.

Dangote Cement was in the news last week with stunning news of not only completing the financial year 2018 in the green corner but also of having secured additional tax reliefs that ultimately translate into, more money for the company, and by extension, shareholders! And it did, with the company announcing a full dividend pay-out of N16.00 for every unit of the Dangote Cement stock held by shareholders. And so, for shareholders of the company, it is definitely a time to clink glasses.
Even for those who have only become recent holders of the Dangote Cement stock, they would also not be left out of the celebrations. And this is on account of the relatively encouraging good fortune that the stock has continued to attract. For example, as at the close of trading last Friday, Dangote Cement’s market value per share which averaged N186 in 2018 was now resting at N195.
What this means then is that for an investor who threw in some N10million naira into the stock just before the close of the trading year in December, he would be receiving about N25 on every stock held at this time!
If the recent entrants into the Dangote Cement honeypot are getting this much, it would indeed be particularly more awesome for shareholders who had been with the company since it was listed on the Nigerian Stock Exchange, NSE on March 8, 2007 and who had been serial recipients of annual dividend payments and capital appreciation perks that has been their lot over the years.
For example, in July 2012, the stock was trading at N111. Exactly one year later, it had soared to N141. And by March 2014, the stock had risen to N240.
In 2010, Dangote Cement declared and paid N4.25 per unit of share held by subscribers. This was split into N2.00 for the third quarter and N2.25 for the fourth quarter. A year after, DangCem paid N1.25 in addition to N1.10 bonus shares for every unit held by its subscribers. This string of consecutive payments continued with its paying N3 for every share held by its investors in 2013.
Raising the bar, the annual dividend sum was doubled in 2014 as DangCem declared and paid N6 per share. The company’s dividend payment surged further in 2015 with investors taking N8 on each share held.
Indeed, taking our baseline from say the 11th of March, 2010, when Dangote Cement opened for trading that day at N128.25, any investor that picked up the stock that day and had held on to it since then would have appreciated by 52%, 8 years after. In cash terms therefore, our illustrative N10million investor would now have gained some N5.2million on his holdings with the company.
Should he however have been a lot more investment-savvy and fully explored the pull and push tides that accompany regular trading on capital markets as the NSE, then he could equally have secured some even greater volume of gain on his primary investment sum.
This is because stock appreciation depends on when an investor enters and/or exits the market. Thus, another investor that had taken a position when the same Dangote Cement stock was trading at N96 would have ordinarily speaking, gained more than 103% by now.
Understanding the 2018 good fortune
It feels good to have more money in the kitty doesn’t it? Well, that is how it seemingly is at Dangote Cement Plc at the moment where real profits have spiked on account of among others, savings made from a greater focus on ensuring operational adjustments and what analysts would call unanticipated but stridently negotiated tax concessions.
Specifically, the firm was able to achieve critical energy cost savings even as it equally secured a Group tax credit from the authorization of the pioneer tax status on the Ibese Production lines 3&4 as well as Obajana line 4.
Given the macro-economic headwinds that firms operating in Nigeria have had to grapple with in the past few years, Dangote Cement has clearly been hard at work, chipping away at the blocks, to ensure that it does not really spend any kobo that it has to retain.
This tightening has now seemingly begun to pay off and what is important today is that the numbers are presently looking good. As outlined in its 2018 Full Year results, the firm posted a 91% year on year spike in its bottom line, soaring up from N204.25 billion to a new high of ₦390.33 billion which it derived from improved revenues that ran on to N901.21 billion in the year under review.
Of this, the Nigerian operations accounted for N618.30 billion, which in itself is an increase of 11.9 per cent above the N552.36 billion it had grossed in-country in the previous year. There was also a positive swing in its earnings per share, EPS ratio which moved from N11.65 in FY 2017 to N22.83 in FY 2018.
Beating his chest over this impressive outcome, an upbeat Group Chief Executive Officer, Dangote Cement, Joseph Makoju, enthused: “This is a record financial performance by Dangote Cement, driven by a strong increase in our home market, Nigeria, despite heavy rains and uncertainties about the election.’
The details of the outcome throw more light on the matter.
In terms of its specific offerings in the market relative to its peers, Dangote Cement now accounts for as much as 65 per cent of the total volume sold in the Nigerian domestic cement sector in 2018.
On the continental turf, the company exported 800,000 metric tonnes (MT) of cement to West African countries, strengthening the nation’s position as a growing cement exporting country, along with the corollary gains of creating some much-needed jobs in the economy, and earning valuable foreign exchange for the nation.
Dangote sold a total of 23.54 MT of cement across Africa indicating an increase of 7.4 per cent over 21.92 MT sold in 2017. In the view of Chairman, Aliko Dangote, the plan is to even do better on this score in 2019.
Speaking in Lagos during the 2018 Distributors Award Night, The President, Dangote Industries Limited, Alhaji Aliko Dangote, said Dangote Cement’s exports to other African countries was already targeted to rise to $600m annually.
 “By next year, we will be the largest exporter of cement in sub-Saharan Africa with about $600m worth of cement export to other African countries with limited access to limestone.
“In addition, we also have new terminals coming up at Onne and in Lagos. We are hopeful the congestion at Apapa will soon be behind us, helping us to meet our export targets.”
“Let me reiterate that our continuous efforts to innovate, create value and invest in Nigeria are borne out of our firm belief in the vast economic potential of Nigeria.
“Our target is to ensure that Nigeria becomes self-sufficient in all the sectors where we play; cement, agriculture, mining and petroleum.”
Still on the 2018 performance, Nigerian operations accounted for 14.18 MT representing an increase of 11.4 per cent over the volume of 12.72 metric tonnes sold during the preceding year.
And where would the revenue and profit ‘windfall’ be going? Of course, part of it would be going as already stated to its shareholders who will be getting a N16.00 dividend pay-out for every share of the company’s stocks that they hold while a chunk would, almost without thinking be going into that critical area that helped it get part of its current result, namely, continuing to boost group operational efficiency.
This is notwithstanding the evidence from the field, and particularly from the Lagos area, which points to a paradox of unoccupied houses and office buildings even when the housing deficit is still in the two-digit range.  This should ordinarily bother a construction materials producer like Dangote Cement but the worry seems to be for another day.
No doubt this is a fallout of the downturn and recession in the company’s main market, Nigeria, which would have undoubtedly had a dampener effect on its overall operations, giving the connection between economic growth and construction where its products come in handy. But with the recession now formally over and the faint outlines of renascent growth now in the air the hope is that things would begin to turn soon for the overall economy and also make it less difficult for even well-heeled business operations like Dangote Cement to achieve their business objectives and post profits.
Further, the surge also belies the evidence from the GDP charts of the National Bureau of Statistics which show that the past three years for example has continued to witness an uninterrupted string of negative contractions in the real estate sector where Dangote Cement’s products are primarily deployed. In the latest breakdown for Q4 2018, the sector’s real growth figures stood at -3.85%, which is yet negative just like the -2.68% that had been recorded in Q3 2018 before it.
Analysts’ hopes are that with the conclusion of the 2019 elections, the focus can now return more decisively to tackling the crisis of sluggish growth in the overall economy such that clearly hardworking players like Dangote Cement can find a better berth to grow on.
In a pre-election report, the markets analysts, Proshare had called attention to seven imperative change movements that require addressing. They are: Oil & Gas Sector Reform, Power Sector Reform, Boosting Competitiveness in Trade and Investment, Transportation & Infrastructure Development, Human Capital Development, Security and Boosting Agriculture Productivity.
‘Overall, considering an aging agriculture and mostly rural labour force, high rural to urban migration and the predisposition of youths to modern services, commercial agriculture offers the best chance at restoring food security. The cost of inaction cannot be overstated as we herald the start of new administration. The risk factors remain on the horizon and remain poised to break the bonds of this tenuous seal. The country remains vulnerable to oil price shocks as buffers remain weak. While crude oil production levels are expected to increase, latent security risks in the Niger-delta region, amid volatile oil prices could pressure government finances. Crude oil receipts pressure would most definitely filter into FX liquidity risk, which would exert immense pressure on the economy. The issues are rife and seemingly insurmountable, if political expediency remains the first criteria for decision making,’ the report argued.
‘In our view, President Buhari’s victory presents him a new opportunity to choose between setting the country on the path to prosperity or sustaining poor policy choices with economic consequences of a bleaker growth prospects. Nigeria’s fiscal vulnerabilities as well as her economic structural faults continue to worsen poverty levels (estimated at 91.3m people according to Brookings Institution), unemployment and economic growth, which require the government to take very decisively tough decisions. But, given the socialist leaning of the current government, would Nigerians have to wait till 2023?’
Beyond Nigeria also, Dangote Cement, which maintains a fairly impressive track record of venturing into the pan-African business arena is also having to juggle its issues in those expanded markets.
There were issues in Ghana, Tanzania and Ethiopia within the firm’s pan-African operations and analysts worry if some of these would not be attributed to inadequate due diligence and whether they would not affect continental expansion growth plans overall.
These challenges notwithstanding, the African operations recorded revenues of N263.26 billion, representing an increase of 9.6 per cent over the N258.44 billion posted in the corresponding period in 2017.
Makoju also responded on the continental picture:
‘Although Pan-African volumes were unchanged in 2018, I am confident that we will see an increase in 2019, driven by higher volumes in Tanzania, Ethiopia, Congo and Sierra Leone. Now that we have gas turbines operating in Tanzania, we will also see increased profitability in the Pan-Africa region and this will help to improve overall Group margins.”
With the current state of affairs concerning Dangote Cement, it is looking like for anyone ‘who wants to be a millionaire’ in this season, your decision may have been made for you: do not delay, join in the fun today and savour the ongoing Dangote Cement dividend and capital appreciation binge! More so because, in the ways of the market, these things do not last forever!

2019: Anxiety mounts over INEC’s readiness

Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, INEC Chairman
Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, INEC Chairman

By OBINNA EZUGWU

Few days to the 2019 general elections, confidence in the Independent National Electoral Commission’s (INEC) is at an all time low. A vast majority of Nigerians spoken to across the country say the Prof. Mahmoud Yakubu led electoral umpire has compromised, and that there are scarcely any grounds to expect free and fair election next month.

“Looking at previous elections since PMB came to power, especially the Osun and Ekiti elections, I have no confidence in INEC,” said Godwin Ekekhomen in Benin. “They will repeat the same.”

Pessimism about INEC is not a new phenomenon, however. The blatant manipulations of elections in 2003 and 2007 – easily the dark days of electioneering in the country under President Olusegun Obasanjo – had served to give the impression that as far as elections were concerned, it is about federal might, not people’s will.

However, that impression vastly changed after 2011 election – an election that saw Acting President Goodluck Jonathan win a four-year mandate. It was one election both local and international observers certified credible, although not without incidents. Supporters of President Muhammadu Buhari, then Congress of Progressive Change (CPC) candidate who was beaten to second place by Jonathan, unleashed mayhem on Nigerians of Southern origin, including NYSC members, in Yobe, Bauchi and elsewhere in the North, hundreds were murdered in its wake.

Buhari, had, contrary to popular belief, insisted that he did not lose the election. Indeed, he never accepted defeat in any election.

The success of 2011 was yet improved upon in 2015, with the introduction of card readers and other innovations by the Prof. Attahiru Jega led INEC. For the first time in the country’s history, a sitting President, Jonathan, was defeated by an opposition candidate, Buhari – an unprecedented electoral feat, not just in the country, but on the African continent.

However, with just days to the first general election under Buhari – another ex soldier like Obasanjo – many say everything points to a return to the dark old days. INEC, they say, has displayed unrestrained bias towards the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress (APC). And President Buhari has, by declining assent to the 2018 Electoral Amendment Bill, shown he is not prepared to ensure fair play.

“The election has already been rigged. They have already written the results, it’s just for them to announce it. That’s what we are waiting for in February,” said Akogun Tola Adeniyi, veteran columnist, author and administrator.

“From day one, Buhari left no one in doubt that he was going to spend eight years, and probably a lifetime there. He has captured all the apparatus of power; he has captured all and put in his pocket. While he was doing that, everyone was looking on and grumbling in their houses without raising any visible finger or doing anything tangible about the anomaly.”

In Nigeria, as in most of Africa where otherwise independent institutions, such as electoral bodies, are largely controlled by government, and the extent to which they credibly perform their duties depend on the person of the president, some argue that from Buhari’s body language, it’s unrealistic to expect the February election to be fair.

“I don’t expect the election to be free and fair, not with a relative of Buhari in their midst, said Lagos based journalist Chinwe Eze. “INEC is all APC and I have no doubt they are going to rig the election in favour of the ruling party. They cannot conduct free and fair election. They just can’t and it’s obvious to Nigerians.

“Nigerians must be ready to fight if power must change hands; fight to ensure that votes count. We must be ready to say enough is enough.”

Of all the President’s moves, none has been, perhaps, more profound as his refusal to assent to the Electoral Act Amendment Bill, a Bill which among other things, sought to give legal backing to the use of card readers, such that they become legal instruments in the conduct of election and can therefore, be tendered as evidence of rigging.

Beyond that, the Bill provides for the electronic transmission of counted votes from ward level to the state level, thus minimising the chances of manipulation. Buhari’s failure to sign it, some say, defies logic and can never be justified.

“I don’t understand why he (Buhari) did not sign it,” said veteran columnist, Ray Ekpu. “I am disappointed, every Nigerian should be disappointed. How do we move on from here? Does he want to create a crisis? I don’t know what the point of contention is, I think the issue of order of election has been resolved, so, I wouldn’t know why he did not sign it.”

A number of court judgments which emanated from the 2015 polls had made legalising card readers exigent. The most prominent of which, perhaps, is the 2015 Abia State governorship election adjudged to have been won by Dr. Alex Otti of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA). But Otti was ‘denied’ his ‘mandate’ by what many saw as manipulation of results by the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and it’s candidate, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu in two local governments, notably in Isialangwa where, it was alleged that the cheating was so blatant that the number of votes cast exceeded the number of verified voters.

Otti, supposedly armed with evidence, had gotten judgment in the Court of Appeal, but eventually lost out in the Supreme Court. The apex Court ruled that since card readers are not recognised by law, evidence emanating there-from could not be admissible in court.

Buhari’s refusal to assent to the Bill may invariably provide room for the use of incident forms, which largely defeats the essence of the huge investments in card readers. As seen in the evidence of Kano State where, despite having low illiteracy rate, delivered nearly 2 million votes for Buhari with no single voided vote, incident forms can perform some magic.

“There is no longer grounds to be hopeful of free and fair election,” said Afiz Wale,  Ogun resident. “Buhari and his people have shown that they cannot play fair.”

Anxiety has continued to mount. Although Buhari had, on a number of occasions, assured of his intention to let votes count, his assurances have thus far, gone in parallel with his actions; actions that easily give him away, some say, as a president desperate to retain power at all costs and to that extent, reverse the electoral gains of 2015 and invariably return the country to the dark days.

“INEC is biased in favour of the ruling party. The electoral body hasn’t done enough to display their independence,” said Nnaji Kenneth, Enugu resident. “The last elections conducted in Osun and Ekiti States were glaringly manipulated in favour of the ruling party.”

INEC under Prof. Mahmoud had acquired fame for inconclusive elections. There had been few elections under him that didn’t end up being inconclusive in the first ballot, starting from the Kogi governorship election in late 2015, to Bayelsa State governorship election in 2016, all of which were “inconclusive,” up to the more recent Osun State.

Save for the November 2017 Anambra State governorship election, adjudged to be relatively free and fair – and to extent, the 2016 Ondo governorship election in which there was no report of a major infraction – all other governorship elections conducted under the current INEC leadership in Edo, Ekiti and Osun has been blighted by allegations of vote manipulation, often done, as alleged in active connivance of personnel of the electoral umpire and law enforcement agencies.

But of all, Osun where the PDP candidate, Senator Ademola Adeleke’s maintained initial lead over his APC counterpart, Gboyega Oyetola, but the election was declared inconclusive by INEC, only for the ruling party to use thugs and security agencies to intimate the opposition party, with alleged connivance of INEC officials, during the rerun to pave way for Oyetola to emerge winner, for many, is easily the most blatant.

The above is a point well emphasised by President Obasanjo in his much publicised letter to Buhari few days ago. The former had maintained that given what happened in Osun, he had doubts about INEC’s ability to deliver credible polls next month.

“I personally have serious doubt about the present INEC’s integrity, impartiality and competence to conduct a fair, free and credible election. And if the INEC is willing, will the ruling party and government allow it?” he had queried. “From what we saw and knew about Osun State gubernatorial election, what was conclusive was declared inconclusive despite all advice to the contrary.

“The unnecessary rerun, if viewed as a test-run for a larger general election, would lead people to expect incidences of deliberately contrived, broken or non-working voting machines or card readers, confusion of voters as to their voting stations, inadequate supply of voting materials to designated places, long line to discourage voters and turning blind eyes to favour the blue-eye political party of INEC because the Commission’s hands will be tied to enable hatchet men and women to perform their unwholesome assignment.”

The controversial appointment of President Buhari’s niece, Mrs. Amina Zakari to take charge of collation of results in the presidential election has also helped to dampen optimism. Many argue that Zakari’s appointment is yet another indication of the INEC’s unwillingness to ensure level playing field.

“The appointment of Amina Zakari to take charge of collation is suspect and rightly, INEC has been under fire lately,” said Adeola Ogunrinde, in Lagos. “I don’t know what to expect.”

The Mrs. Zakari controversy is another issue played up by Obasanjo in his letter. The former president said she had become too controversial a figure to be able to give assurance of free and fair election and called on her to step aside.

“Amina Zakari has become too controversial a figure to be able to give assurance of free, fair and credible election for INEC. President Buhari and her family have declared that there is no blood relationship but there is relationship through marriage and that is more than enough for the good lady to step aside,” Obasanjo wrote.”

“A judge does not sit in judgment over a case once he or she becomes a cause for controversy or one side in the case has strongly objected to the judge. Madam Amina Zakari should, in honour, stay out and not be seen as a source of contamination of the election. Otherwise, it will be difficult to deny the rumour that she is being assigned to Collation Centre for one duty only – to write out figures that are not results of the voting in the field on fake results sheets without water mark or on genuine results sheets which she will have access to as a Commissioner.”

The ruling party has however, pushed back. National leader of the party and co-chairman of the party’s presidential campaigns, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, attacked the former president, noting that his allegation was satanic and only a reflection of what he would have done if he were in Buhari’s shoes.

“The ways of Obasanjo are not those of the APC. And this difference has meant the better for Nigeria,” Tinubu said. “There is no election which occurred under Obasanjo’s watch or in which he participated that did not involve cheating on his part. Even the late President Umaru Musa Yar ‘Adua admitted he was the beneficiary of a flawed election engineered by none other than today’s vociferous complainant.”

But more allegations of plots to rig the polls keep emerging. The Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP) last week, accused INEC of planning to recruit beneficiaries of FG’s social investment programme, N-power, as ad-hoc staff in the election. The electoral body, however, denied the allegation, explaining that the portal for recruitment had been opened for Nigerians to apply and that most importantly, it is recruiting NYSC members.

The umpire also denied similar allegation by PDP presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar that unclaimed voters’ cards were given to governors of the ruling party. But submissions from Nigerians suggest few take INEC’s words seriously.

“I think they are compromised by the Federal Government, said Ese Amadin, Lagos based banker. “I expect free and fair election.”

“No. I don’t trust INEC conducting a free and fair election judging by what  we have seen them do so far in States like Ekiti and Osun,” said another respondent, Vera Adeola. “INEC has compromised its integrity with the sitting government whom they are answerable to.”

Still, there is an allegation that prominent members of the APC have been given the responsibility of overseeing the recruitment of INEC ad-hoc staff in various geopolitical zones. It is being alleged, for instance, that Senator Adamu Abdullahi, representing Nasarawa West is overseeing that of the North Central zone.

“The APC has taken charge of everything (the ad-hoc staff recruitment). If you are not part of the system, just forget it,” a source from the North Central who did not want his name in print. “Here in the North Central, Adamu Abdullahi is in charge. It’s a waste of time going to apply,” he alleged.

Some other people spoken to in the zone say they heard same allegations. “I have heard the rumours too,” said Aje Oyiwodu, Abuja resident. “I know someone who is PA to an APC senator who said they were going to his constituency to do the needful.”

But the allegations have not been one sided in a political climate that is becoming increasingly charged. Last week, Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed accused the opposition of arming merchants of death to instigate crisis because they know they cannot beat Buhari in the polls.

“Having realised that their fortunes have dwindled badly ahead of the polls, the desperate opposition is orchestrating widespread violence with a view to truncating the elections, thus, triggering a constitutional crisis that could snowball into the establishment of an interim government,” Mohamed told journalists in Abuja.

The PDP however described the Minister’s claims as “irresponsible” and called on Nigerians to hold the government responsible if there is any escalation of conflict.

‘’We have noted the detailing of awareness of the said plots by Alhaji Lai Mohammed, which exposes manifest complicity at very high level. In the light of this and the already displayed desperation by the APC ahead of the general elections, the PDP calls on Nigerians to hold President Buhari directly responsible for any escalation of violence in our nation,” PDP National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Kola Ologbondoyan said.

“It is imperative to state that the PDP finds the claims of Mohammed, irresponsible and ludicrous. It is just a measure for building the ground to frame up and arrest leading members of the opposition as he has just confirmed our concerns.

Severally, we have alerted the nation that the APC and the Presidency, having come to the reality of their imminent and disgraceful loss at the polls, have embarked on a strategy to foment crisis in our dear nation and blame the opposition.”

 

 

 

Unemployment: Buhari’s re-election threatened

President Muhammadu Buhari
Millions of Nigerians graduate from university unable to get jobs

By UCHE CHRIS and AYOOLA OLAOLUWA

The much expected Gross Domestic Product, GDP, which had been delayed sparking concern over the motive, was last week released by the National Bureau of Statistics, NBS, confirming fears of many people that the economy is in deep trouble. In fact President Buhari gave indication of this tow week ago when he warned the governors at a meeting that the economy was in trouble.
But not many people expected the depth of economic crisis until the GDP figures were released last week which put growth rate at a misery 1.8 percent and unemployment at 20.9 percent. According to the NBS, unemployment rate increased from 18.8 per cent in the third quarter of 2017 to 23.1 per cent in the third quarter of 2018.
The statistics bureau in a report Wednesday said the economically active or working age population (15 – 64 years of age) increased from 111.1 million in Q3 2017 to 115.5million in Q3 2018.
“The number of persons in the labour force (i.e. people who are able and willing to work increased from 75.94 million in Q3 2015 to 80.66 million in Q3 2016 to 85.1 million in Q3,2017 to 90.5million in Q3, 2018,” the report said.
“The total number of people in employment (i.e with jobs) increased from 68.4 million in Q3 2015, to 68.72 million in Q3 2016, to 69.09 million in Q3 2017 and 69.54 million in Q3 2018. The total number of people in full-time employment (at least 40 hours a week) increased from 51.1 million in Q3 2017 to 51.3 million in Q3, 2018.
“The total number of people in part-time employment (or underemployment) decreased from 13.20 million in Q3 2015 to 11.19 million in Q3 2016 but increased to 18.02 million in Q3 2017 and to 18.21 million in Q3 2018.” The report said the total number of people classified as unemployed, which means they did nothing at all or worked too few hours (under 20 hours a week) to be classified as employed increased from 17.6 million in Q4 2017 to 20.9 million in Q3 2018.
Of the 20.9 million persons classified as unemployed as at Q3 2018 11.1 million did some form of work but for too few hours a week (under 20 hours) to be officially classified as employed while 9.7 million did absolutely nothing, the NBS said.
“Of the 9.7 million unemployed that did absolutely nothing as at Q3 2018, 90.1% of them or 8.77 million were reported to be unemployed and doing nothing because they were first time job seekers and have never worked before.
“On the other hand, 9.9 million 0r 0.9% of the 9.7 million that were unemployed and doing nothing at all reported they were unemployed and did nothing at all because they were previously employed but lost their jobs at some point in the past which is why they were unemployed.
“Of the 9.7 million that were unemployed and did nothing at all, 35.0% or 3.4 million have been unemployed and did nothing at all for less than a year, 17.2% or 1.6 million for a year, 15.7% or 1.5 million had been unemployed and did nothing for 2 years, and the remaining 32.1
Experts expressed deep worries over this development and believe that the end year figures may be worse given the lack of attention to the economy as election gathers momentum. They describe this challenge as a time bomb and should not be allowed to explode, insisting that ordinarily President Buhari does not deserve re-election as the rising unemployment rate is indication of his failed economic policies.
“Performance of the economy is the barometer to measure the overall performance and electability of and government. No government or leader gets reelected with an economy as hopeless and bad as ours; but you know what it may not really count in this election” said Dr. Bongo Adi, faculty member Lagos Business School.
Already the political parties and their candidates have being trading words over this situation.
Although the president and APC have claimed that the economy has improved under their watch the PDP and its candidate Atiku Abubakar, accuse the government of mismanaging the economy with its obsolete policies of state control and debt.
Matters came to a head last week’s Wednesday during the budget presentation by President Buhari when the two parties engaged in a shouting match which almost marred the presentation.
Nigeria’s youth unemployment rate has continued to rise unabated, with experts describing it as a ticking time bomb waiting to explode and ultimately shake the nation to its foundation.
Data obtained by Business Hallmark shows that Nigeria’s unemployment rate is at an all-time high. More than 60% of the Nigerian population is currently unemployed or under employed. More alarming is the fact that mostly youths and energetic adults share the huge burden,
According to the latest report by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) released in December 2016, 3.67 million Nigerians became unemployed within a one-year period, October 2015 to September 2016.
The report said the number of unemployed Nigerians rose from 7.51 million in the beginning of the October 2015 to 11.19 million at the end of September 2016, while the general unemployed population rose from 55.21 million in the beginning of the fourth quarter to 69.47 million as of the end of September.
The NBS report showed that unemployment rate was highest for persons in the labour force between the ages of 15-24 and 25-34; and unemployment and underemployment were higher for women in the third quarter of 2016.
Underemployment occurs when a person works less than full time hours, which is 40 hours, but work at least 20 hours on average a week. Underemployment could also happen if a person works full time but are engaged in an activity that underutilises his skills, time and educational qualifications.
Checks by BH revealed that the situation is getting grimmer by the day as more businesses are daily shedding jobs to cut costs and optimize profit because of the current economic state of the nation. Banks and telecommunications companies added the most to the unemployment rate in 2016.
FBN Holdings sacked 1000 workers in May, Diamond Bank fired 200 staff and Ecobank Nigeria retrenched 1040 people in June the same year, while Zenith Bank PLC sacked about 240 people, including eight General Managers and 40 Assistant General Managers. The bank recently reported sacked almost 1000 staff.
Also in July 2016, 3000 workers lost their jobs in the shipping industry. Many oil companies, including Chevron, ExxonMobil, Pan Ocean and Ground Petroleum, followed suit by sacking about 3,000 oil workers.
Desperate Nigerians now scramble for the few available jobs, particularly government jobs on offer. In March 2016, the police website crashed in less than 24 hours after it went online due to heavy traffic of applicants. Within three weeks, over 550,000 applicants had indicated interest in the 10,000 jobs in the Force, with several weeks still left for more applications. At the end of the exercise, over one million applicants applied for openings in the Force but only 10, 000 were recruited.
The same scenario played out in June 2016 when the Federal Government’s newly launched Jobs portal, N-Power. gov.ng, recorded over 500,000 successful registrations, less than two days after it was declared open. This underscores the huge number of unemployed Nigerians, despite government assurance that the situation is under control and efforts to curb joblessness will pay off in 2017, with almost half of the year gone.
Efforts by successive governments to contain the problem have recorded little success, as youths, especially university graduates have continued to stream out with decreasing opportunities of employment.
Based on the data released by the Joint Admission and Matriculation Examination Board (JAMB), 1.7 million candidates are currently sitting for the ongoing 2017 Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME), as against 1,561,443 candidates that sat for the same examination in 2016. The figure has continued to rise in the last ten years.
While only 100, 000 or more normally gain admission, the rest jostle for admission into colleges of education and polytechnics. Yet after graduating, the successful ones don’t have any guarantee of getting jobs.
According to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), at least, 1.8 million graduates in the country move into the labour market every year. The data was generated by NBS for the Federal Government in 2014 to ascertain the level of youth unemployment and to come up with policies to address it. However, a source at the bureau said that the figure should be hitting the 2 million mark by now.
Some analysts put part of the blame on the proliferation of universities from the 1980s at the detriment of professionally skill oriented institutions of the 1950s/60s. Millions of Nigerian youths graduate from the universities, polytechnics and other tertiary institutions every year, without any hope of finding job.
While painting a picture of the dire situation, a former Vice Chancellor of the Abia State University, Uturu, Prof. Agu Mkpa, said that youth unemployment is a time bomb that has the most broad-based devastating, most traumatic impact above all the societal ills facing the country.
“The danger of youth unemployment is that it is the harbinger of numerous other national ills. It is the root cause of many other social ills. If not quickly resolved, it could pose a threat to the nation’s development, security and peaceful co-existence”.
Also, a security expert who spoke with BH, Dr. Ona Ekhomu, said that Nigeria is experiencing insecurity largely due to joblessness. Ekhomu, who is the President, Association of Industrial Security and Safety Operators on Nigeria, added that unemployment rate which has been rising consistently since 2014 will increase existing risk of insecurity and militancy in major parts of the country and undermine government’s efforts at fighting insurgency in the Northeast, militancy in the Niger Delta, uprisings in the Southeast and other serious crimes in parts of the country.
A former President of the Nigeria Employers Consultative Association (NECA), Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa, while commenting on the high rate of unemployment and its implications for the country, called for urgent action by government. He attributed the high rate of unemployment to many factors such as high dependence on oil revenue and limited diversification of the economy.
“The impact of unemployment is already evident, as we look at general levels of militancy in the South South.

Nigerians face gloomy xmas as economy worsens

President Muhammadu Buhari
President Muhammadu Buhari

…Next year will be tougher — warns Buhari

By AYOOLA OLAOLUWA

The Christmas season used to be a time for festivities among Christian faithful with many people looking up to the celebration with great expectations and enthusiasm.

However, this year’s event is turning out to be an exception, with things looking gloomy for many Nigerians families.

Economic hardship coupled with several extraneous factors, have conspired to put them in terrible conditions, promising to make the season an agonising one.

Less than a week to this year’s celebration, Business Hallmark’s findings across the nation revealed that the usual expectations, preparations and frenzy that usually accompany the season are largely missing.

In its place, the atmosphere is that of frustration, apprehension, grumbles and hopelessness among Nigerians due largely to the gloomy and austere living conditions occasioned by the country’s stagnant economy.

And even the New Year may not promise better; just weekend President Buhari told state govern ors after a meeting that the economy is in bad shape and “all Nigerians should think together and work together to come out of it”.

The Christmas blues, according to findings, is not going to be limited to only Christians, but to Muslims and traditional worshippers who usually bask in the atmosphere of merriments with their fellow Christians.

Though, Nigeria came out of recession fifteen months ago, according to figures released by the Nigeria Bureau of Statistics (NBS) in September 2017, the recovery had been slow and largely ineffective.

Also, the recovery, which was driven by improved performance of the oil, agriculture, manufacturing and trade sectors of the economy, has been eroded by dwindling oil revenue, the recent flood disaster that destroyed millions of hectares of farmlands, high cost of production, namely energy and transportation, weakening naira, as well as weak government fiscal and monetary policies.

Checks revealed that several business concerns that couldn’t cope with the hostile operating environment had closed shops. The trend is not abating with many more firms daily quitting business. In the last one year, several companies, both local and international have closed shops, throwing millions of Nigerians into the unemployment market.

According to the last unemployment report released by the NBS, out of a total active labour force of 85.08 million people in Nigeria, about 16 million people were unemployed in the third quarter of 2017 and the figure is rising.

The report said the category of unemployed persons comprised 8.5 million people “who engaged in an economic activity for at least an hour” and 7.5 million people “who did absolutely nothing”.

Also, 18.02 million people were underemployed, as they worked for 20 to 39 hours a week, which is less than the 40 hours required to be classified among the workforce.

Fully employed persons, who worked for 40 hours and above in the third quarter of 2017 were 51.06 million people, resulting in a total of 77.6 million people engaged in an extent of economic activity.

The report said among the 77.6 million people who were engaged in some extent of economic activity, 29.66 million people were self-employed, engaged in agriculture and 21.66 million were self-employed in non-agricultural sectors.

About 19.72 million were working for pay or wage, which, is equivalent to 25.42 per cent of the total workers in the third quarter of 2017, while paid apprentices and unpaid house workers constituted 7.30 per cent and 1.11 per cent of the total working force engaged for at least one hour a week.

The report also revealed that more men worked full-time than women, while a higher percentage of female worked part-time between 20-39 hours and below 20 hours per week.

“A larger percentage of men to women were self-employed in the agricultural sector, while a larger percentage of women were self-employed in non-agricultural areas of work”, the report said.

Economic experts however argue that though the figures were for last year, current figures should be higher. Meanwhile, the NBS has not been able to undertake another unemployment census due to non-availability of funds from the Federal Government.

In October 2017, the World Bank painted a gloomy picture of what Nigerians were passing through when it announced her new poverty indices.

In the report, it defined extreme poverty as living on less than $1.90 a day and set the poverty benchmark for Nigeria at $3.2 per day, because it falls in the category of low middle-income countries. Nigeria, Egypt and India are grouped together.

For the upper middle-income countries like South Africa or Jamaica, poverty benchmark is $5.50 a day while for high income countries; it is now $21.70 per day.

Before the World Bank classification, the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics had said in 2016 that 72 million Nigerians were living below poverty level of $2 per day. With this new classification, however, Nigerians living in poverty might have ballooned to 87.2 million of the 196 million population, according to recent World Bank report, making Nigeria the poverty capital of the world..

Owing to the harrowing experiences they are facing in the country, many Nigerians have continued to flee the shores of the country. Unfortunately, most of them did not succeed in the quest of seeking greener pasture abroad.

The Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) said in a report obtained by BH that no fewer than 10,000 Nigerians died between January and May 2017 while trying to illegally migrate through the Mediterranean Sea and the deserts. These Nigerians were on their way to Europe to escape unemployment and poverty.

According to the NIS Assistant Comptroller, Training and Manpower, Mr. Maroof Giwa, 4,900 died in the Mediterranean Sea while the rest died while going through the desert in their bid to reach Europe.

In November 2017, a report by International Organisation for Migration (IOM) revealed how Nigerian migrants were sold for $400 in Libya. CNN also released a documentary detailing a well-organised syndicate where male immigrants were sold to work in farms and mines while ladies were sold as sex workers.

Despite the unfavourable conditions, however, many Nigerians still prefer to travel abroad, even to Libya, rather than staying home.

According to the General Medical Council (GMC) of United Kingdom, as of July 2017, over 4,765 Nigerian medical doctors were working in that country. This is in spite of the fact that Nigeria has a 1 to 3,500 doctor to patient ratio.

An official of the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA), OlayiwolaOdusote, recently said that at least 40,000 of the 75,000 registered Nigerian medical doctors are practising outside Nigeria. Many of those who qualified more than six years ago in Nigeria are still seeking employment, he said.

An economist, Dr. Hakeem Oyelaran, who lectures at the Osun State University (OSU),while speaking with our correspondent on phone from Osogbo, said that with 34 million out of total labour force population of 85.1 million not fully employed by September 2017, Nigerians should expect a more distressing unemployment figures by the NBS when it releases its latest figures in 2019.

While many Nigerians have lost and are daily losing their means of livelihood, the cost of living has continued to soar beyond their means.The National Bureau of statistics (NBS) last Friday released the latest Consumer Price Index (CPI), which measures inflation. The NBS report said inflation increased to 11.28 per cent (year-on-year) in November 2018 from 11.26 per cent recorded in October.

According to the bureau, the figure is 0.02 per cent points higher than the rate recorded in October. On a month-on-month basis, the NBS said the headline index increased by 0.80 per cent in the period under review by 0.06 per cent points from the rate recorded in October (0.74 per cent).

It said the percentage change in the average composite CPI for the 12 months period ended November over the average of CPI for the previous 12 months period. It, however, measured the CPI at 12.41 per cent in the period under review, showing a 0.37 per cent decline from 12.78 per cent recorded in October.

The bureau said that increases were recorded in all Classification of Individual Consumption by Purpose (COICOP) divisions that yielded the Headline index.

A market survey conducted by BH across the six zones of the country showed that prices of goods have soared and are rising every day. The average price of a 50kg bag of rice in Lagos and Ogun States is N17,000 for Aroso (Caprice) and N16,000 for Agric. Meanwhile, a Derica cup measurement sells for between N220 and N280, depending on the brand.

Our correspondent gathered that the high cost of rice in the country, particularly in Lagos and the South West, was due mainly to the unavailability of LAKE Rice, a Lagos-Kebbi States collaboration brand of local rice.

Visits to some of the major markets and distribution outlets within the state showed that there were no LAKE Rice on display or in stock for sale to consumers.

Some retail traders at major markets and distributors of the product said that they had yet to restock after exhausting the stocks they had since September and October. One of the distributors, Mrs. Augustina Nwanze, said she was still expecting new stocks which she had ordered for since October.

“I paid for new stocks of the product but unfortunately they had yet to be delivered. Once I receive a phone call from Alausa to come and pick the products, I will go and pick them.

The delivery is usually on first come first serve, so l am waiting for my turn,” Nwanze said. Another distributor, Mrs. Bimbo Ogun, said she ran out of stocks since early November.

“Since then, I have been waiting for new supplies from the state secretariat.The product is not readily available like the foreign rice. The state government is still fine-tuning ways to flood the market with the product.

“I have been telling my customers to be patience as the product will soon be available, especially since it is festive season, “she said.

Ogun explained that she sold the rice along with the other goods, saying that now that the product was not available, other goods had been sustaining her.

A senior member of staff in the state Ministry of Agriculture who pleaded anonymity, said that the product was not available now for sale to the public.

“There has been some logistics challenge which accounted for the delay and scarcity of the rice. “However, the ministry is working hard to make sure that the product is available especially during the festive season.

“For now, we are appealing to the distributors and customers to bear with us. A 50kg bag of LAKE Rice sells for N12, 000; 25 kg at N6,000; and 10kg goes for N3,000,” he said.

BH however gathered that the scarcity was due the destruction of rice paddies in Kebbi and other Northern states by flood that ravaged the nation recently. A source confided in our correspondent that Kebbi’s portion of the rice grains destroyed during the flooding was 75%.

“Kebbi alone accounts for 75% of the rice paddies destroyed in the entire country during the flood disaster”, the source disclosed.

Due to the scarcity of the local brand which resulted in under supply, marketers have increased the prices of other brands, making it unaffordable for poor Nigerians.

“Don’t be surprised if a bag of rice sells for as much as N20,000 by Christmas”, a trader at the popular Daleko Market in Lagos said.

The prices of other goods such as beans, groundnut oil, frozen foods, sugar, flour, beverages and drinks have gone up. For example, a crate of bottled Bigi carbonated drinks (Cola, Apple, Orange and others) which sold for between N850 and N900, now sells for between N950 and N1,050, depending on locations.

A Derica cup of beans is sold for between N300 and N370. A 5litre keg of vegetable oil sells for between N2,000 and N3,800 depending on the brand. While locally refined ones are lesser, popular brands such as Kings, Turkey and Power sell for over N3,500.

The prices of toothpastes, toilet soaps and detergents have also gone up, though slightly. A pack of Joy, Imperial Leather and Lux soap that used to sell for N500 now sell for between N550 and N600.Also, a tube of Close Up toothpaste by Unilever now sells for betweenN250 and N300 instead of its former price of N250.

Meanwhile, the situation is not all that gloomy. The price of LPG, popularly known as cooking gas, has crashed in the market. Instead of the former selling price of between N4,200 and N4,500 for a 12.5 kg cylinder in Lagos some months back, it now sells for between N3,150 and N3,800.

The cheapest cooking gas in Lagos goes for N3,150/12.5kg at NIPCO plants scattered across the state.

Many Nigerians who are fortunate to be employed, particularly public workers, are owed several months, if not years of wages, while many live on wages that cannot sustain them.

According to Trading Economics, an online platform that provides historical data, economic forecasts, news, and trading recommendations, an average Nigerian family needs a living wage of N131,700 while that of individual stands at N40,100. It also disclosed that an average highly skilled worker earns N57,200 per month while his low skilled counterpart is on N25,500 for the same period.

Like it happened during past festivities, cost of transport fares has also gone up, and is expected to soar by Christmas and New Year. The situation is particularly bad in Lagos. A trip from Ogba to CMS which used to cost N300 was N400 on Friday.

A civil servant with the Lagos State Universal Basic Education Commission (LSUBEB), Mr. Wale Olaniyan, lamented that things have been rough for him and his family in the last two months due to the ever-rising cost of living.

“My salary barely feeds my family now. I have to borrow to pay rents and school fees of my three children.

“To worsen the already bad situation, transportation cost has gone up. Many of my colleagues have parked their cars at home and are hopping on buses. You dare not go to Oshodi from Ijaiye with N1,000. You will surely be stranded. I’m on my way to Oshodi now and the trip that used to cost N200 is now N500. This is going to be a bleak Christmas,” he complained.

In Oyo, Rivers, Abuja, Kano, Abia and Anambra States, cost of transportation has gone up.

Owing to their poor economic state (low income and irregular wages), the future, not only the Christmas season is bleak for many Nigerians who live barely on minimum wage.

Nigerian equity market sheds 0.25% as investors lose N28bn

Stockbrokers at the floor of the Nigerian Stock Market

The Nigerian equity market could not sustain Tuesdays gains as it declined 0.25 per cent on the back of huge losses in the insurance sector, causing investors to lose 27.90 billion on Wednesday.

The All Share Index (ASI) was down by 76.37 absolute points, representing a 0.25 per cent drop, closing at 30,642.35 points, while Market Capitalization dipped by N27.90 billion representing a dip of 0.25 per cent, closing at N11.19 trillion.

The Insurance declined -2.04 per cent to lead other sectors in the southward movement, except the industrial sector, which rose 0.58 per cent.

CAP gained 10 per cent to emerge the top among 24 gainers, while Conoil topped the 20 losers chart, having dipped -10 per cent.

A total of 246,134,051 shares worth N3.69 billion were exchanged by investors in 3,141 deals, with Zenith Bank emerging most active in terms of value and volume, investors having traded 55,340,501 of its shares valued at N1.32 billion.

The race to 2023: How it will shape the 2019 election

…as Tinubu, Fashola, others plot for 2023

By OBINNA EZUGWU

For President Muhammadu Buhari and his party, the All Progressives Congress’ (APC) quest to retain power in 2019, little may have to do with his unimpressive first term as the quest for possible succession in 2023 gradually becomes a major deciding factor for the all important February polls.

The point that Buhari has performed far below expectations, and has lost vast amounts of goodwill across religious and ethnic divide cannot be overstated. Indeed, while conceding the fact that the President can beat his main challenger, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in the core Northern states where he had maintained political dominance since 2003, the truth for many, remains that should the 2019 polls reflect the general mood of the people, Buhari would catch the next flight to his home town of Daura on May 29, 2019.

However, the evidence of today’s reality is that it won’t. And for all his failures, Buhari is poised to escape the consequences as the question of who takes power in 2023 gradually becomes a major campaign topic in the South West, and to a lesser extent, the South East.

In 2015, one factor that was of critical importance for Buhari en route to victory over the incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan was his victory in the South West geopolitical zone. It was the president’s showing in the zone, and to a lesser degree, his surprising win in the traditional PDP states of the Middle Belt that handed him overall victory.

For the Middle Belt, it is a given that as far as states like Benue, Plateau and perhaps Kogi are concerned, Buhari will feel the impact of herdsmen carnage at the polls. However, the killing fields of these Middle Belt states remain, in some ways, foreign news in the streets of the South West and will have minimal impact in how people in the zone will vote.

Notwithstanding, disappointment with Buhari in the economy and other areas of national life, including security, is palpable in the zone. And it would be safe to say that should the election be issue based and reasonably free and fair, Buhari will receive a shocker there. But, increasingly, issues are being thrown overboard and the promoters of Buhari are making an aggressive case for power shift to the zone in 2023 as a basis for support.

“Vote for Buhari and get power in 2023,” has become the slogan of the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola; a sermon he is pushing in his South West constituency. And indeed, it is the same consideration that informs his predecessor, Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s continued support for the president.

Much of this was disclosed by Senate President, Abubakar Bukola Saraki who noted recently that Tinubu had vowed in a conversation with him, that he would support Buhari, even if in a wheelchair, because he was sure power will return to the South West in 2023. It is with the intention to take control of the APC structure that he had pushed for the emergence of now embattled Comrade Adams Oshiomhole as chairman of the party. It is this push to consolidate political control of the zone that is causing crisis in Ogun State.

Tinubu who had desperately wanted to run as vice presidential candidate in 2015, but was met with stiff resistance by Buhari who insisted he could only nominate anybody of his choice, has overtly been positioning for power. And feelers suggest a power bid with Kano governor, Abdullahi Ganduje or Kaduna governor, Nasir el-Rufai is in the offing.

On face value one could not fault such projections. Of truth, the whole logic of APC is underpinned by the resolve of the South West to go for power in 2023; it is the oxygen energizing the party in the zone – the unwritten logic of the APC. The party was born, essentially, out of an alliance between the North West through Buhari’s CPC and the South West via Tinubu led ACN. Therefore, it would be logical that after the North West, the South West will go for power. But it is potentially a complicated scenario, not least because even within the South West, polarisation is emerging.

Why South West bid may falter

Without a doubt, Buhari stands as the prime beneficiary of South West’s quest for power in 2023. It is the major reason he could very possibly return as president in 2019. As it stands, various political leaders of the zone, despite having their own individual ideas about who the South West president would be, there seems to be a consensus on having Buhari reelected first, which they would feel, is the first precondition for a South West presidency.

But beyond Buhari, there is the likelihood of an already simmering polarisation among the potential contenders culminating into a crisis that could prove the zone’s undoing.

Undoubtedly, Tinubu remains the prime political figure in the zone, and the most obvious potential presidential candidate. He has been working tirelessly to position himself for what is to come. The first task would be to consolidate on his stronghold, the South West, and it is a task he is undertaking with a measure of dexterity.

He had declined leading President Buhari’s campaign, to according to him, focus his attention in the South West. Part of that consolidation is the installation of his loyalists as candidates in various elective positions in the zone, notably Dapo Abiodun, the ruling party’s governorship candidate in Ogun, having secured Osun where his cousin, Gboyega Oyetola is already governor.

He had also ensured that loyalists took national assembly tickets in Ondo, much to the chagrin of the state’s chief executive, Rotimi Akeredolu.

But while he is doing so, Fashola who apparently sees himself as another potential president not beholden to him, is setting up his own political structure using Buhari’s campaign as a guise.

The minister had recently inaugurated five thousand foot soldiers in all 20 local governments and 37 local development centres in Lagos with a mandate to build support base in their various areas, ostensibly campaign for Buhari. But the idea that it is a possible attempt at building a political base of his own ahead of 2023, is not lost on the Tinubu camp who are said to be kicking against the move and insisting that the minister could not set up a campaign team outside that of the mainstream Lagos campaign structure.

Of interest too, is the fact that while Tinubu and his political godson, Osinbajo appear to be on the same page now, the vice president is known to be nursing presidential ambition of his own. And while the obvious contenders in Tinubu, Osinbajo and Fashola will be attempting to sort themselves out, the wide cards in Ekiti governor, Kayode Fayemi and Akinwumi Adesina, President of African Development Bank (ADB), could swing a surprise.

Ultimately, the zone’s bid is somewhat predicated on anticipated reciprocal support from Buhari’s North West, and indeed core Northern constituency, a prospect some say is unrealistic given the disposition of Buhari towards Tinubu in particular.

“I believe strongly that the calculation of Tinubu will fall like a pack of cards,” said Oladotun Hassan, President, Yoruba Council of Youths. “For the president to undermine him and tell him straight to his face that there was nothing like National Leader of APC should have been a lesson to him not to expect anything from Buhari in 2023, but rather expect to find himself in the belly of the tiger he is currently riding on its back.”

Hassan’s fears are not misplaced. In truth, it would seem highly improbable that Buhari who had shown nothing but disdain for Tinubu upon winning the presidential election in 2015, and his men had ensured that the former Lagos governor’s interests were curtailed in Kogi where James Faleke, his political son, was robbed of his governorship post, as well as the events in Ondo and Ekiti, only to return to him in the interest of their 2019 bid, will later decide to hand over power to him in 2023.

Instructively, too, while the South West is preparing for the 2023 bid, the Secretary to government, Boss Mustapha has been selling same to the South East as what the zone stands to gain by supporting Buhari’s 2019 bid.

An unrealistic proposal, it might seem, but it is emerging as the main plank of the president’s campaign in the zone, one that the original members of the ruling party such as Labour Minister, Chris Ngige and BON DG, Osita Okechukwu as well as new converts to the president’s second term projects in the PDP such as Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu and governors of the zone – all of who are apparently upset with the choice of Peter Obi as vice presidential candidate of their party, are latching on to. A recipe, some say, for a potential clash between the two southern zones.

“Buhari will likely give the APC ticket to a Northerner,” said Hassan “What they will end up doing is to set the South East and South West against each other which will cause a lot of damage between them. And while doing so, the North will say that since both cannot agree, power should remain in the North.”

“Muhammadu Buhari is a very clever man,” said Chief Goddy Uwazurike, president emeritus, Igbo think tank group, Aka Ikenga. “He has not even said anything. He is just allowing the East and the West to forget the main thing, which is the assessment of his government and focus on who succeeds him.”

PDP presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, in choosing Mr. Peter Obi, a South Easterner, may have ended up creating a scenario where the 2019 polls could come down to a contest between the South East and the South West where the current Vice President, Osinbajo’s constituency. But, more importantly, the prospect of Atiku’s presidency will effectively end the hopes of the South West, and precisely, Tinubu’s 2023 hopes. It’s a prospect he wouldn’t want to contemplate, hence his decision to stick with Buhari against all odds.

The choice of Obi has become an added impetus to South West’s support for Buhari. And with key PDP figures in the South East kicking against the ticket for same reason, the choice could prove Atiku’s greatest undoing, and Buhari’s master stroke.

The South East dilemma

Clamour for South East presidency has been on since the return of democracy in 1999. Former vice president, the late Dr. Alex Ekwueme had put up a spirited bid for power between 1999 and 2003, but was ultimately undone by President Olusegun Obasanjo.

Since the Ekwueme era, power shift has remained a reoccurring argument in the South East and as 2019 approaches, certain political leaders in the zone are once again making a case for it in 2023 when the North would have had eight years with Buhari. They argue therefore, that the zone should support the president to get power in 2023.

But despite being out of power since the civil war, the prospect of South East presidency in 2023 almost doesn’t exist, more so in APC. Not only because the zone cannot expect to secure the nod of the ruling party when it had not been part of it, but also due to the obvious fact that there is hardly anyone effectively positioning himself for the nation’s top job. The argument of succeeding Buhari, Uwazurike says, is only to bamboozle.

“They want to becloud our views, to bamboozle us. But as far as we are concerned, they will fail.”

Indeed, it could be said that Dr. Ekwueme remains the only true presidential material the South East has had since civilian rule returned in 1999.

For all his media appearances and beautiful ideas, Peter Obi remains a flyweight who is unable to consolidate his would be political base. He has proven to be a bad team player who is unable to rally the South East PDP behind him, even as the vice presidential candidate of the dominant party in the zone, the PDP.

Undoubtedly, Obi proved, with his performance as governor of Anambra, to be an administrator par excellence. But his failure to realise that in a clime where mass unemployment and poverty is prevalent, frugality is hardly a virtue as far as building following is concerned, has not helped his course.

Ebonyi State governor, Dave Umahi is another presidential hopeful – a 2023 wild card. He has been courting President Buhari’s friendship for a possible 2023 power bid. It probably this prospect that informs his opposition to the Atiku/Obi ticket, seeing the ticket as a possible threat to his own ambitions.

But it is a largely unrealistic power quest. Apart from him not having the necessary clout, it is improbable that Buhari back South East bid in view of the fact that the zone did not support him in 2015 and is unlikely to do so in 2019. Much as the political leaders are increasingly leaning towards him, the street remains staunchly opposed to him and this will translate to votes against him.

Rochas Okorocha, governor of Imo State has also been angling for power and would think that being the only governor of the APC in the South East, he stands a chance. But recent events in the party has betrayed such projections. Okorocha is a man now struggling for political survival, having lost his bid to install his son-in-law, Uche Nwosu as governor, and his senatorial ambition being under threat.

What the South East power bid may achieve in the end, is to set the zone up for collision with the South West and perhaps, set the stage for the North to retain power.

 

Why North could still retain power in 2023

Going by the unwritten logic of the APC, the South West is in pole position to take power after Buhari in 2023, should he win in 2019. But the reality, however, is that South West – which has had eight years of power in the current dispensation through Olusegun Obasanjo from 1999 to 2007 – is not the only zone that has cogent reasons to push for power in 2023. As much as the zone would hope it should get it after Buhari on account of the APC alliance, the South East which has not tasted same ever cannot easily buy into the bid.

Indeed, the South East could feel betrayed. On the other hand, the North East which has not had power since Tafawa Balewa will stage a rigorous bid of theirs. Yet the major challenge the South West could face may not come from either of the North East or South East, but from the very North West it has backed for power.

It is unrealistic to assume that, for whatever reason, Northerners will not bid for power in 2023, when even at the moment, several individuals from the South are candidates of various political parties. And indeed, Buhari had emerged on the political scene initially to stop Obasanjo, a Southern president at a time when it was believed to be the turn of the South.

Indeed, as much as individuals like Tinubu, Fashola, Osinbajo and others are positioning for 2023, it is obvious that the likes of former Kano governor, Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso; Sokoto governor, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, Bukola Saraki and a host of others, will stage rigorous bid of their own in the event that Buhari is able to return.

But it could be a North East show. And the current chief of army staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai is said to be interested in the job.

Boko Haram threatens Buhari’s 2019 project

President Muhammadu Buhari
President Muhammadu Buhari

…Nigerians demand probe of defence budget, accountability

By OBINNA EZUGWU

Tony, (not real identity), had spent nine years fighting Boko Haram in Nigeria’s North Eastern State of Borno before relief came his way few days ago. As his tour of duty came to an end, at least for now, he was back in Lagos and with only sad stories of what the battle against the terrorist group has become – effectively a field of deceit, death and destruction.

“It’s a tale of woes,” Tony told BusinessHallmark. “The soldiers are poorly paid, scarcely fed, and poorly equipped. Boko Haram is increasingly gaining the upper hand.”

The attack on military formations in Metele fortnight ago that led to the death of at least 118 soldiers and over 150 missing, according unofficial sources, has brought the terror group’s campaign of bloodshed back to mainstream discourse. It was a sad reminder that contrary to claims by the President Muhammadu Buhari led federal government of ‘technically’ defeating Boko Haram, the terror group is alive and well, and if anything is becoming more energised.

“It’s almost an unwinnable war,” Tony says. “Boko Haram is waxing strong and parades the kind of weapons the army doesn’t have. In this latest attack, the surviving soldiers confessed to me that they had never seen the type of guns the group used in all their lives in the military. The guns can shoot for 30 minutes non-stop.”

The audacity of the terror group is growing by the day. Soldiers who went to retrieve those killed in Metele faced another onslaught from the group, forcing them to beat a hasty retreat.

Reports say they had informed military officials prior to launching the Metele attack and were still able to carry it out successfully. And as if to further embarrass the military, it gave another warning on Monday that it would stage fresh attack on a military base at Jiddari-Polo, Maiduguri.

The group had given the warning after attacking farmers on Monday in the area, hacking four to death. One of the survivors of the attack, Mala Umara, told AFP that they came in large numbers.

“They came in large numbers and killed four and left the other man seriously injured,” the 75-year-old farmer said, adding that while sparing him, the insurgents instructed him to tell the Nigerian Army to prepare for another attack.

“They asked me to deliver a message to the soldiers that they should be prepared for an attack soon,” he told AFP.

 

Yet, on Tuesday, the jihadists killed three soldiers in an attack on a military base in Cross-Kauwa village in Borno, near Lake Chad, military sources told AFP on Wednesday.

“We lost three soldiers in the fight,” said a military officer who asked not to be named. “The soldiers fought the terrorists but were overpowered and had to withdraw from the base,” he added.

In a statement by its spokesperson, Brigadier General Sani Usman, last week, the army disclosed that terror group has started using drones and foreign fighters.

“We have noticed daring moves by the terrorists, increased use of drones against our defensive positions and infusion of foreign fighters in their ranks. These potent threats require us to continually review our operations,” he said, while assuring that the force is prepared to tackle the challenge. It has thus far failed to do so.

All this led to an emergency meeting conveyed by President Buhari with the Lake Chad Basin countries on Thursday to find lasting ways of dealing with this new upsurge. The development led to relocation of the Chief of Army Staff conference from Uyo in Akwa Ibom state to Maiduguri, Borno state which Buhari attended and delivered a marching order to the military.

The North East is gradually becoming uninhabitable. And the consequence, according to Hon. Sani Mohammed, member of Federal House of Reps whose team went on an oversight function in the zone early last month, will be long lasting and may spread to other parts.

“The northern part of the country has failed in so much part of it,” Sani told his colleagues on the floor of the House few weeks ago. “And my fear is that this grave situation will have contagious effect on other parts of the country. There is no doubt about it.

“On Thursday when we went to Maiduguri, Boko Haram insurgents launched an attack on an IDP camp called Dalori 2, which is just opposite the University of Maiduguri. They burnt down a substantial part of that camp, killed eight people and abducted women and ran into the bush unchallenged.

“We went to Bama, the second most important town in Borno State, which is also the exit point to three countries, Chad, Niger and neighbouring Cameroon. There are not 200 people in Bama today.

“The talk of safety being restored, the talk of stabilisation being restored in parts of the North East is a lie, it’s a ruse. Before you can be escorted to any part of the North East, you need almost a platoon of soldiers. And even the solders themselves in spite of all the encouragement we give them, the fact of the matter is that they no longer have confidence.”

“On Saturday, we travelled to Gashua in Yobe State, on our way back, we arrived Damaturu at exactly 7’O clock, but we could not move to Maiduguri which is just a distance of one hour.”

“Part of our assignment would have been to travel to Chibok; Chibok is a no go area. Three days earlier, they attacked a village next to where the Chief of Army staff comes from, killed people, raided the village and ran into the bush.

“The fact is that these insurgents are still in control of certain territories, like Abadam Local Government, Ngala Local Government, Kala/Balge Local Government – all these are being administered by the insurgents.”

Many Nigerians are perhaps yet to appreciate the enormity of the security threat Boko Haram poses, and what it possibly portend for the country’s future. In part because of the political undertone the conflict has continued to assume.

The terror group was one key factor in the defeat of former president Goodluck Jonathan. His inability to bring an end to the bloodshed portrayed him as weak and even clueless. It was a narrative that the then opposition party, the APC latched on, promising to do things differently when elected into office.

President Buhari, then candidate of the party had promised to lead the battle from the frontline and to bring an end to it in only a matter of months.

It’s been three and a half years since Buhari took power. Boko Haram is still wreaking havoc and somehow, there appears to be a deliberate attempt to give the impression that things are a lot better than it used to be under the Jonathan government, and that Buhari has delivered on his promise.

This need has become more expedient in view of the general election that comes up in three months. Boko Haram could yet be a factor. Indeed, some argue that the current government deserves to be shown the exit door, if only for not being able to bring an end to the situation.

“As a former military general and head of state, we expected Buhari to do better,” said Comrade Adeniyi Alimi Suleiman, Chairman, Centre for Human Rights and Social Justice. “But he has demonstrated total lack of capacity in handling Boko Haram, including the Chief of Army Staff, General Buratai, who is from there. I wonder why he has not been removed.”

Suleiman argued that Jonathan was voted out because he could not bring an end to Boko Haram, and since Buhari has not only failed to do so, but also overlooked herdsmen, he should be voted out, too.

“Jonathan was voted out because he couldn’t tackle Boko Haram. Buhari has also failed to do so; he deserves to be removed too. In fact, during Jonathan’s time it was only Boko Haram, but now herdsmen have joined. Buhari doesn’t deserve to be reelected.

“But the problem is that most Nigerians are not able to see things objectively. There is always the religious and ethnic lens through which people make assessments. Otherwise, Buhari won’t stand any chance.”

The Buhari government and the army have tried to downplay the group’s activities. When he visited the injured soldiers in Borno on Wednesday, the president – who has lately attracted criticisms for releasing those he tagged ‘rehabilitated’ Boko Haram members – drew comparisons between his administration and the one it replaced, and said he has done better.

“We have to remind ourselves where we were and where we are now and what happened in-between. People of Borno know what we did in the last three years. The situation would have been worse,” he said. Buratai made the same argument, noting that internal security had greatly improved from what it was in 2015 when Buhari assumed office.

On Thursday, the army refuted earlier reports of casualty figures in Metele incident, saying it lost 39 soldiers while 53 were injured. And that it “successfully” repelled the attacks with “several members of the terrorist group killed.”

But sources say the figure is higher. A soldier who survived the attack told Reuters that about 100 soldiers were killed. Indeed not many people were impressed with what they saw as a ‘face saving narrative.’ The army’s figures instructively came on the heels of a video released by soldiers on the front lines who lamented the poor state of their weapons which according to them, were procured during the Shehu Shagari era in the late 70s and early 80s.

“They are using us to make money,” the distraught soldiers lamented in the video while showing tanks and other military hardware destroyed by the terrorists. “They say we are zombies.”

The soldiers alleged that the military authorities are using them to make money, confirming earlier revelations that the war has become a racket for generals and community leaders.

“They gave us equipments bought during the Shagari government, that’s what we are using and it is outdated. The Nigerian Army is using us for business. We lost 200 soldiers. There are only 150 of us left, and they want to waste us.”

When the president visited the Shehu of Borno, Abubakar Elkanemi, on Thursday, he did not mince words.

“It is unfortunate that despite all efforts put in place to restore peace in our land and the north-east, we the people of Borno state are still under Boko Haram siege,” he told the president. “Nobody can dare move out of Maiduguri by 10 kilometres without being confronted, attacked by Boko Haram.

“Quite a number of farmers are being killed and kidnapped on a daily basis around Molai General Area, which is just 10 kilometres away from the metropolis, along Maiduguri -Damboa -Biu road. Most of the surrounding villages and communities in Konduga, Damboa, Mafa and other local government areas have been razed down in the last two weeks.

Many have continued to wonder how, despite humongous amounts of money being spent on military hardware, troops on ground are still complaining bitterly about lack of equipments and are being overrun by the terrorists. Demand for probe of military spendings is growing.

In a letter to the president in the aftermath of the Metele fortnight ago, anti corruption group, SERAP demanded probe of military spendings since 1999, noting that it believed the inability of the Nigerian troops to respond adequately to attacks by insurgents was tied to inadequate arms.

“SERAP is concerned that several billions of naira allocated to the military to defend the country have neither contributed to improving the ability of Nigerian soldiers to fight Boko Haram and other armed groups nor provided the much-needed security especially for Nigerians in the North-East of the country,” the letter signed by the group’s Senior Legal Adviser, Bamisope Adeyanju, read in part.

“The national assembly should have impeached Buhari. He deserves impeachment. They used $1billion Ecology Funds, which is equivalent to N350billion to buy weapons, but the same army says there is no weapon to fight Boko Haram,” Suleiman said. “There should be probe of these monies.”

Not less damning is the revelation by the founder of the Specialised Tasks, Training, Equipment and Protection (STTEP), Eeben Barlow, who were recruited by the past government but Buhari stopped from fighting Boko Haram.

STTEP, a South African private military contractor, was hired by President Jonathan at the peak of the insurgency in 2014 to assist the military in bringing an end to it. Barlow said in a post on Facebook last week that their proposal was antagonised and politicised by Buhari and his team even before they assumed office.

“The initial 3-phase campaign strategy (known as Operation Anvil) to degrade and destroy BH in Borno State was rejected by his advisors, ” Barlow wrote, noting that the company was willing to stay back in the North East, but Buhari made it known that their presence would not be tolerated under his watch.

He said prior to their withdrawal in March 2015, they issued “numerous intelligence warnings” to the president but all to no avail.

“They have wasted a lot of soldiers and these are people that have wives and children. And you have to wonder, if Boko Haram can easily launch attacks on the military, killing over 100 in one attack, what is the fate of the civilians?” Suleiman queried.

“This overnment has proven to be one of lies. The Minister of Information, Lai Muhammed, said that they have defeated Boko Haram technically, but if so, why are they now killing the military?”

“The country has degenerated to the lowest level,” regretted Mr. John-Bede Anthonio, former MD, Lagos Property and Development Company. “Boko Haram is a minor issue compared with what is to come. The entire fabric has been destroyed by quota system.”

“It’s a cause for worry,” said Dr. Greg Ezeah, former head, Department of Mass Communication, University of Nigeria. ‘Every Nigerian is worried about what is going on, especially the killing of the soldiers.

“They used say that they have defeated Boko Haram. But how can a defeated Boko Haram kill over 100 soldiers at a go. The security situation is worsening. And you wonder if APC goes back, what their next level will look like.”

Diamond Bank loses out of strategic rating: now a tier II bank

Uzoma Dozie, CEO, Diamond Bank
Uzoma Dozie, CEO, Diamond Bank

Diamond Bank Plc has given up its international banking license and chosen to remain a national bank in line with a strategic overhaul of its business processes and vision. The bank adopted a reversion to national licence to reduce the burden that regulatory requirements were placing on its bottom line and liquidity.

The change Diamond banks licence will entail the bank maintaining a lower minimum capital requirement of 10% as against 15% required for international banks.

Analysts suggest that this would create room for the bank to deploy more capital in achieving stronger business growth in quarters ahead, especially through additional investment in technology, customer acquisition and expansion of loans to critical segments of the economy.

According to a press-statement made available to Business Hallmark on Friday November 30, 2018, Diamond Bank Plc has received approval of the Central Bank of Nigeria (“CBN”) following its application to operate as a National Bank with immediate effect (subject to conclusion of the sale of Diamond Bank UK- DB UK Plc).

With this approval, the bank said it would cease to operate as an International Bank.

Investment analysts believe that the bank which has been struggling with high non-performing loans (NPLs) over recent years found itself incapable of competing at a level justifying an earlier classification of being one of eight, ‘systemically important banks’ (SIBs).

There is a consensus that Diamond Bank fell off the high ladder because of its inability to resolve toxic assets and grow its domestic deposit portfolio, a combination of factors that squeezed net interest income and deflated operating earnings.

Diamond Bank may have fallen short of regulatory prudential benchmarks. The bank’s non-performing loans stood at 12.3 per cent in the first half of 2018, compared to the 5 per cent threshold set by the CBN.

More worrisome is that its capital adequacy ratio (CaR) is also very weak at 16.6 per cent, representing only 1.6 per cent above CBN’s 15 per cent peg for tier 1 banks, which Diamond Bank belongs to. It had 40.2 per cent liquidity ratio against 30 per cent required by the regulator.

These have painted a picture of weakness in the banks abilities to compete favourably with its peers in the banking industry, drawing attention of the banking public to its wobbly disposition.

In fact, shareholders and other industry stakeholders are beginning to discuss the banks sagging position in whispers on Broad and Marina streets of Lagos.

“It appears a major investor has taken over the bank, though I don’t have the details yet. So, to enable it take over control of the bank, they have asked those Directors to resign,” David Adonri, Managing Director, Highcap Security told Business hallmark through the telephone on Saturday.

The bank’s board chairman, Oluseyi Bickerseth and three other directors of Diamond Bank resigned last week. “The directors are resigning for varied personal reasons, which will include focusing on their priorities. Diamond Bank will update the market with any further development in due course. Bickersteth was appointed as chairman of the bank in July,” explained Mr. Uzoma Uja, company secretary, Diamond Bank, in a statement sent to the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE).

The bank has a plan to bring in new investors, which would help address its liquidity and capital adequacy challenges. Even the MD would likely go in the months ahead, Moses Ojo, Head, Research and Business Development, PanAfrican Capital Holdings told Business in a phone.

Adonri believes the performance of the Diamond Bank under the leadership of Uzoma Dozie, its current Group Managing Director has not been very impressive in the last few years.

“If they don’t bring in a new investor, another option they may have is for the CBN to take over,” Ojo further stated. He claimed that the lender’s performance has been hobbled by its over aggressiveness in creating credit without commensurate risk management, which has created high non-performing loans challenge.

But Chioma Afe, Head, Corporate Communications, Diamond Bank told BH that the directors who resigned did so for personal reasons but refused to respond to the enquiry on a new investor taking over the bank.

Diamond Bank Q3 2018 results released on Friday showed that its post-tax profit dipped -38.89 per cent to N2.26 billion, underpinned on net interest income, which declined -13.64 per cent. It suffered N9 billion loss in 2017 and if the current trend does not reverse, the bank may post another loss at the end of this year, which would make two successive losses after its profit crashed -86.31 per cent in 2016 financial year.

The lender recorded -0.56 per cent decline in gross revenue to N142.1 billion in Q3 2018, slowed down by drop in interest income and weak growth in fee and commission earning, which only rose by 1.46 per cent to N28.45 billion during this period.

Impairment provision on loans and advances, which was cut by -24.21 per cent to N25.17 billion and 261.77 per cent rise in other income and 97.22 per cent in net trading earnings were not strong enough to buoy Diamond Bank performance in Q3 2018.

The bank is still grappling with high operating costs as its operating expenses was up 2.89% year-on-year to N66.20 billion in Q3 2018, and interest expense up 18.32 per cent to N41.26 billion. But the bank said cost containment measures are underway with the digitization process contributing to quarter-on-quarter gains with OPEX declining 0.36 per cent from N22.07 billion (Q2 2018) to N22.15 billion (Q3 2018).

Customer deposit dropped by -8 per cent year-on-year to N1,107 billion, due to re-pricing and non-rollover of high priced maturing deposits, and migration to government securities while Liquidity position remains strong as current and savings account balances increased from 77.4 per cent (FY2017) to 78.08 per cent of total deposits in September 2018.

However, Uzoma Dozie, CEO, said: “The move towards a national banking license marks a continuation of our strategy to focus on Nigeria’s significant fundamental trends, including a large underbanked population and Africa’s biggest economy. By focusing and optimizing our resources towards Nigeria and the priority area of retail banking, we will be better positioned for longer term growth and greater profitability.

“The reduction in minimum capital requirement also increases our capacity to expand the quantum of business and product services we can offer consumers, as well as representing a key step in strengthening our financial position.”

This development according to the bank, does not affect the bank’s ability to offer services to its clients in international locations; Rather, with focus on its domestic business being priority, the bank also intends to pay down in full, the Eurobond loan of $200m at maturity in May 2019. There will be no refinancing of the loan as the intent to pay down with foreign exchange generated from its internal operations, a reflection of the solidity of its operations and funds flow in the last few years.

 

Buhari: How will he be re-elected?

President Buhari
  • Growing public discontent may dim his re-election bid
President Buhari

With the launch of his ‘Next Level’ campaign document last week – a concept that has been marred by controversy over possible copyright breaches – President Muhammadu Buhari began his campaign for 2019 in earnest. He faces former vice president, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar who had also on Monday, unveiled a policy document of his own which he termed ‘My document to get Nigeria Working Again.’

Atiku said his document would steadily begin to restore a stronger, equitable, unprejudiced and more prosperous Nigeria, an apparent dig at the incumbent whose government has been characterised, many say, by unprecedented nepotism and crass clannishness; one that has seen nearly all security apparatus of the country concentrated in one section, the Hausa/Fulani, Muslim North.

Buhari who is seeking a mandate renewal outlined, in his Next Level document, areas his government will focus on if reelected next year. Among which include job creation, provision of infrastructure, promotion of business and entrepreneurship, boosting of healthcare and education and encouraging political inclusion.

But for a president who promised heaven in 2014 en route to power in 2015, but who has in many people’s reckoning, delivered the direct opposite in the nearly four years of his stewardship, the new set of promises is unlikely to resonate like his 2014 Change mantra did. And for the president, it could be a tough battle ahead, a seemingly unwinnable one. But there are reasons enough to expect Buhari back in Aso Rock in May 2019.

“My belief is that the change mantra that brought him to power in 2015 which have been substituted to the Next Level cannot save him in 2019,” said Abuja based legal practitioner and political analyst, Chidiebere Anthony.

“Most Nigerians are tired of this government, not because they are the root cause of the Nigeria problems but because the government flourished more on lies than truth. Nigerians have never had it so bad since independent like in this government.”

Without a doubt, many Nigerians are disappointed in Buhari and the reasons would seem quite obvious. Since his assumption of office, most development indices have headed south. Poverty is on the rise. A recent report by the Brookings Institution revealed 88 million Nigerians now live in extreme poverty, making Nigeria the world’s poverty capital.

Unemployment have continued to rise. Figures from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) show that in 2017 alone, at least four million people lost jobs. The Bureau has opted not to release any figures for 2018, citing lack of funds. But many argue it could only be that the administration doesn’t want it released because it knows that it would be damaging.

“We never had it as bad as we do under this government,” said Oladotun Hassan, lawyer and president, Yoruba Council of Youths. “The president has demonstrated total lack of capacity to govern.”

Perhaps, a clear evidence of this failure is the fact that the president’s campaign has tried as much as possible to shift focus away from what it he has done in the past three and half years, to what he will do if reelected.

But from the look of things, not many are impressed. The Next Level campaign mantra has been dismissed on social media variously as ‘next level of poverty’, ‘next level of incessant killings by both Boko Haram’ – which has found new vigour of late in its campaign of bloodshed – and Fulani herdsmen, and indeed next level of everything that has gone wrong under the president’s watch.

It would seem obvious, going by the general mood of the masses, that Buhari would have little or no chance of retaining power in 2019. However, while such conclusion would be easy to reach based on what’s on ground, it could prove erroneous because ultimately, Buhari’s fate may not be decided by his record in office.

In Nigeria, as in other developing climes, elections are hardly won and lost on record of performance. And in Nigeria particularly, factors of ethnicity, region and religion loom large in determining who becomes president. And as 2019 approaches, it is becoming certain that this will be the case.

“Nigeria politics is driven by ethnocentrism and nepotism which doesn’t really look at merit,” Hassan admitted. “And that has always been the bane of our development.”

Besides attempting to shift the focus away from Buhari’s record, those running the president’s campaign have continued to make his second term bid to be about who gets to succeed him in 2023. While the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola has relentlessly pushed the idea that South West stands to gain a lot by voting president next year, as according to him, the zone would succeed him in 2023.

However, another of the same narrative has been pushed by the Presidency through the Secretary to the Government Mr. Boss Mustapha, who has continued to sell the same story to the South East in what is a clear attempt at ethnic baiting. Speaking at a town hall meeting in Abuja weeks ago, Fashola asked: “Did you know that power is rotating to the South-West after the completion of Buhari’s tenure if you vote for him in 2019?

“Your child cannot surrender her waist for an edifying bead and you will use the bead to decorate another child’s waist. A vote for Buhari in 2019 means a return of power to the South West in 2023. I am sure you will vote wisely.”

The Minister repeated the same argument on Tuesday last week while inaugurating the president’s campaign team in Lagos.

“As a south-west indigene, I will vote for the Buhari/Osinbajo ticket, because my people stand to gain more from it,” he said. “The south-west is presently occupying the position of the vice president. We have three sitting ministers and many different federal appointments from the present administration which we cannot afford to lose.”

Meanwhile, on Wednesday, Mustapha repeated the well rehashed line that Ndigbo should back Buhari back Buhari in 2019 as doing so was their shortest route to power. But he did not explain what that means – 2023 or beyond. Again, Buhari has never said so himself.

“You remember there was a programme in the south-east where Mr. President asked me to represent him and I flew the kite by telling the South Eastern states that their quickest and easiest means to presidency is to support President Muhammadu Buhari’s second term,” he told journalists after some South East governors met with Buhari at the presidential villa.

“Meaning that they can short circuit the period in terms of only having him there for another four years and whatever they do in 2019 will determine what will happen thereafter because politics is a game of numbers and it is like a cooperative society.”

On the surface, Mustapha’s logic sounds most illogical. Despite being out of power since the civil war, the prospect of South East presidency in 2023 doesn’t exist, more so in APC. But it is sure to provide a basis for the president’s campaign in the zone, especially in view of the fact that an increasing number of political leaders in the zone are pitching tent with the president.

Mustapha’s statement had come after the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu – who continues to nurse bitterness over the decision of Atiku to pick Peter Obi instead of him as running mate – led governors of Ebonyi, Dave Umahi – another friend of the president who has also kicked against the choice of Peter Obi; Enugu governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi and Abia governor, Okezie Ikpeazu to meet the president. These individuals may indeed fall for the 2023 bait and possibly use their resources to mobilize support for the president.

For the South West, the zone justifiably feels it has a chance should Buhari complete eight years. It is the main factor driving the president’s support in the zone. It is easily the only reason, former Lagos governor, Bola Ahmed Tinubu is still pitching tent with him and he had revealed as much to Senate President, Bukola Saraki who disclosed that Tinubu told him he would support Buhari even if on wheelchair because he knew power will return to his zone after in 2013.

It is this prospect that will increasingly drive Buhari’s campaign in the zone, but the sad reality is the possibility of that happening is slim. The South West – which has had eight years of power in the current dispensation through Olusegun Obasanjo from 1999 to 2007 – is not the only zone that has cogent reasons to push for power in 2023.

As much as the zone would hope it should get it after Buhari on account of the APC alliance, the South East which has not tasted same ever cannot easily buy into South West’s bid. Indeed, the zone would feel betrayed. On the other hand, the North East which has not had power since Tafawa Balewa will stage a rigorous bid.

But the major challenge the South West could face may not come from either of the North East or South East, but from the very North West it has backed for power. Indeed, it is highly improbable that Buhari who had shown nothing but disdain for Tinubu upon winning the presidential election in 2015, and his men had ensured that the former Lagos governor’s interests were curtailed in Kogi, Ondo and even Ekiti, only to return to him in the interest of his 2019 bid, will later decide to hand over power to him in 2023.

“Mr. President will likely give the APC ticket to a Northerner. What they will end up doing is to set the South East and South West against each other which will cause a lot of damage between them. And while doing so, the North will say that since both cannot agree, power should remain in the North,” Hassan opined.

“I believe strongly that the calculation of Tinubu will fall like a pack of cards. For the president to undermine him and tell him straight to his face that there was nothing like National Leader of APC should have been a lesson to him not to expect anything from Buhari in 2023, but rather expect to find himself in the belly of the tiger he is currently riding on its back.”

Notwithstanding the effect of this increasing focus on 2023 is that the impact of Buhari failure on the outcome of 2019 polls will become increasingly minimized. And the more this is the case, the brighter his chances of winning.

Worse still, Atiku in choosing Mr. Peter Obi as running mate may have ended up creating a scenario where the 2019 polls could come down to a contest between the South East and the South West where the current Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo hails from.

Increasingly, the APC campaign on social media is becoming about how Atiku presidency is an Igbo agenda to replace Osinbajo with Peter Obi, and increasingly, the Yoruba are being encouraged not to trade their son for an Igbo son in Peter Obi. Buhari will be the ultimate beneficiary.

“Buhari is a very clever man,” said Chief Goddy Uwazurike, president emeritus, Igbo think tank group, Aka Ikenga. “He has not even said anything. He is just allowing the East and the West to forget the main thing, which is the assessment of his government and focus on who succeeds him.”

One could argue that these factors might not be enough to ensure that the president wins majority votes in the South. But for a president who has never conceded defeat since he started running for office in 2003, there is little to suggest he is ready to do so even if the popular vote doesn’t go in his favour in 2019.

What this growing support will guarantee, however, is that the ruling party will have enough foot soldiers to do possible dirty works for it and help it retain power.

The Buhari era:  How the president is reshaping Nigeria after his own image

President Muhammadu Buhari
President Muhammadu Buhari

 By AYOOLA OLAOLUWA

On May 29, 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari assumed office, and there were great expectations from Nigerians. While campaigning, the Daura-born president centred his campaign on five focal points: building the nation’s infrastructures, job creation, revamping the economy, providing security and fighting corruption.

After 16 years of dashed hopes under successive Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) administrations, Nigerians hinged their hopes on President Buhari, largely because of his much hyped pedigree of integrity, dedication and commitment to the Nigerian project.

However, barely three and half years into his administration, Nigerians have found it difficult to assess the legacies of the president who will be seeking reelection for another four years in office on February 16, 2019.

While his die-hard supporters see him as a miracle worker who has turned around the fortune of the country and directed it back on the path to prosperity, his opponents however depict him as  the worst thing that ever happened to Nigeria. Today, Nigerians are now divided into two groups: the so-called hailers and wailers.

While Business Hallmark can confirm that President Buhari’s administration has impacted on several sectors and on the lives of Nigerians, they are however, largely limited to the advancement of Northern interest.

Contrary to the expectations of Nigerians, President Buhari’s administration’s, with its policies and actions, is pushing for the redistribution of wealth from the South to the North and transforming the nation into an Islamic country. The move, political observers argued, is going to shape the future of Nigeria.

To achieve the goal of perpetuating Northern dominance in the nearest future, several policies are being blatantly implemented. They include lopsided appointments into federal positions, massive concentration of projects and infrastructure in the North, the push for cattle colonies, inequitable implementation of the CBN’s Anchors Borrowers Scheme, the controversial bill on water resources and many others.

The most worrisome facet of the Buhari legacy, according to BH findings, is Nigeria’s gradual decent into an Islamic state. Despite the fact that the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, upon which the Nigeria state is predicated and governed, proclaims unequivocally, the secular status of the Nigerian federation, the federal government has continued to tilt its policies towards Northernization and Islamisation of the country in a move at foisting a state religion on Nigerians.

 BH checks show that there have been brash efforts to position and posture Nigeria as an Islamic state. This is coming as no surprise to many as some top officials in the Buhari administration had severally professed a desire to ensure the application of Shari’a laws across a secular Nigeria.

One of such impetuous actions is the involvement of the Federal Government in promoting, championing and facilitating the SUKUK (Shari’a-compliant) Bonds, an unconstitutional move in itself since the Federal Government was deploying state resources in a discriminatory manner towards the promotion and elevation of a religious faith contrary to the provisions of Nigeria’s constitution.

Rattled by negative reactions that greeted the action, the Buhari government made unconvincing efforts to douse the implications of the Federal Government involvement in a strictly religious financial instrument. One of such is the positioning of the Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Godwin Emefiele (a Christian) as the Chairman of the International Islamic Liquidity Management Corporation (IILMC).

Not done with floating and dealing in the SUKUK Bonds, the president in October 2017 attended a meeting of the ‘D-8 Organization for Economic Cooperation’, a group comprised of the following Islamic countries: Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Turkey, Malaysia and Pakistan and, you guessed right, Nigeria.

The Convener, Colloquium against Genocides, War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity (CAGWCCAH), Eze Eluchie, said that it would take a blind mind not to discern a worrisome pattern of gradual Islamization of the country, which he warned portends dire outcomes if not stemmed early enough.

“There is nothing wrong with a people hobnobbing with whosoever they so desire to be with. When however an entire multi-ethnic and multi-religious contraption is by deceit, subterfuge, sleuth and all manners of vague posturing ensnared into being perceived, seen or become a religious state, a transgenerational catastrophe would have been ignited.

“How and when did Nigeria get into this D-8 group, which in its website affirms that the ‘idea of cooperation among major Muslim developing countries was mooted by Prof. Dr. Necmettin Erbakan, former Prime Minister of Turkey?

“From what sources does the membership fees for such religion-based organizations emanate in a secular Nigeria?

“When the above is juxtaposed alongside a very striking religion-based slant in leadership of state institutions and coming on the heels of Nigeria’s continuing membership of the Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC), it will take a spectacularly blind mind not to discern a worrisome pattern that if not stemmed early enough, portends dire ending.

The Buhari government is also pushing for northern dominance through the Anchor Borrowers Programme. It would be recalled that the Federal Government, through the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), launched the Anchor-Borrowers Scheme to finance large production of grains in an effort to boost local production of rice, maize, wheat and sorghum. The program was designed to assist small scale farmers to increase the production and supply of feedstock to agro-processors.

The programme was launched in November 2016 in 14 states of Kebbi, Sokoto, Niger, Kaduna, Katsina, Jigawa, Kano, Zamfara, Admawa, Plateau, Lagos, Ogun, Cross-Rivers and Ebonyi for rice and wheat farmers to advance their status from small holder farmers to commercial or large growers.

However, farmers from the southern part of the country have cried out that the scheme is skewed in favour of northern farmers.

“The scheme is a farce. We were happy when we learnt about it. But we now know better. It was primarily designed to help farmers in the North while their southern counterparts are abandoned. Most of us (southern farmers) have not been able to access funds and farm tools through the scheme. From Ogun to Cross River, to Ebonyi and Anambra, the story is the same. We are getting no support from the government.

“While they gave us stringent conditions to access funds and planting stocks from the CBN’s scheme, Northern farmers easily access their own funds without any difficulty and are always smiling to the bank at the end of every planting season.

“The Federal Government is also pushing billions to reactivate and construct dams and irrigation systems in the North to favour northern farmers. Most farmers in the north can now cultivate their farm throughout the year with the help of irrigation system from government-funded dams. The dams in the South, like the one in Sepeteri, in the Oke-Ogun area of Oyo State and Oyan in Ogun State are in deplorable states.

“Yes, the scheme has recorded some success, but only in the North”, fumed Dr. Moses Ogundimu, the South West Secretary of Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria (RIFAN).

Ogundimu argued that for Nigeria to be self-sustainable in food production, the ABP should be extended to the region as well as every state in the country.

Ogundimu’s expectations are farfetched as the anchor borrowers’ scheme is primarily tailored to benefit the North, it was gathered. Any eventual benefits to southern farmers will be inadvertent

In its quest to perpetuate northern dominance, the Buhari administration is also daily filling federal positions with people of Northern extractions. For example, 81 of Buhari’s 100 first set of appointments in July 2015 were Northerners. Many Nigerians saw the appointments as divisive and heavily tilted in favour of the North and against the South. They pointed out that the appointments violated the Federal Character Principle of the Nigerian Constitution.

The northerners in the first batch of appointments were the sacked Director-General of the Department of State Services, Lawal Daura; former Acting Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Mrs. Amina Zakari (who succeeded Prof. Attahiru Jega, a northerner, and had since been replaced by another northerner (Prof. Mahmood Yakubu); the Director, Department of Petroleum Resources, Mordecai Danteni Baba Ladan and the Accountant-General of the Federation, Ahmed Idris.

 

Also in the batch were the President’s Chief Security Officer, Abdulrahman Mani; State Chief of Protocol, Abdullahi Kazaure; Aide-De-Camp, Lt.-Col. Muhammed Abubakar; and the Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu. Only Adesina, who hails from Osun State in the South-West, came from the South.

 

The President would later on June 23, 2016, get another CSO, Abdulkarim Dauda (who replaced Mani), and Officer in Charge of Presidential Movement, Kayode Sikiru Akande, after their promotion from the rank of Assistant Commissioner of Police to Deputy Commissioner of Police.

 

Rather than abate, the situation has gone worse. Findings showed that 15 of the nation’s 17 security agencies are currently being headed by northerners; only two are from the South, while the majority of them were appointed by President Buhari.

 

For instance, the current Minister of Interior, Lt.-Gen. Abdulrahman Dambazau (retd), under whose purviews are the Nigeria Prisons Service, the Nigeria Immigration Service, the Federal Fire Service and the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, hails from Kaduna State.

The Chief of Army Staff, Lt.-Gen. Tukur Yusuf Buratai, is from Borno State. The National Security Adviser, Maj-Gen. Babagana Monguno (retd.), is also from Borno State. Also from Borno State is the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Mr. Ibrahim Magu.

The Minister of Defence, Brig.-Gen. Mansur Dan Ali (retd), hails from Zamfara State, while the Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar, is from Bauchi State. The Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, hails from Niger State.

Also from Niger State is the Commandant-General of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, Abdullahi Muhammadu. The Director-General of the Department of State Services, Lawal Musa Daura, is from Katsina State. All of them are from the North.

However, the Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Abayomi Gabriel Olonisakin, is from Ekiti State in the South-West. Also from the North are the Comptroller-General of the Nigeria Immigration Service, Muhammed Babandede, (Jigawa State); the Comptroller-General of the Nigeria Customs Service, Col. Hameed Ibrahim Ali (retd.) (Bauchi State); the Controller-General of the Nigeria Prison Service, Ja’afaru Ahmed (Kebbi State); and the Federal Road Safety Commission boss, Corps Marshal Boboye Oyeyemi, is from Kwara State. But the Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Ibok-Ete Ekwe Ibas (Cross River State) is from the South.

 

Like in the security sector, virtually all major government parastatals are headed by Northerners. They include the NNPC, Nigeria Customs Service, Immigration Service, Nigerian Ports Authority, NHIS, DSS, NDIC, among others. Findings also show that massive recruitments of candidates of northern extraction

2019 Battle Royale: Atiku dares Buhari

President Buhari and former Vice President Atiku
President Buhari and former Vice President Atiku

By OBINNA EZUGWU

Former vice president, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, on Sunday defeated other contestants in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) presidential primary held at the Adokiye Amasiemaka Stadium, Port Harcourt, Rivers State, thus setting up an epic battle with President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC) for the February 16, 2019 presidential election.

Atiku, 72, secured 1532 votes to beat his closest rivals, Sokoto State Governor, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, believed to be the favoured candidate of Nyesom Wike, his Rivers State counterpart who polled 693 votes to come second and Senate President, Abubakar Bukola Saraki who polled 317 votes to place 3rd.

With massive resources and with strong connections across the country, Atiku has set up what promises to be a nail-biting contest between him and President Buhari, who on Saturday, was affirmed as the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the February poll.

It is a contest that even chieftains of the ruling party agree will be tough. And their PDP counterparts are not under any illusions either.

“I think that we are challenged. We are seriously challenged”, says Chief Anselm Njoku, the Akeweje of Lagos and leader of South East APC forum in the state. “The problem we have is insecurity; the killings are monumental. It’s not allowed.”

It would be the first time the former Vice President will be flying the flag of a major political party in a presidential election since he ran alongside his former boss, Olusegun Obasanjo, as vice presidential candidate in 2003, and it would be, one could say, his clearest opportunity to clinch the job he has craved for since his Social Democratic Party (SDP) days in 1992.

It’s a political journey that had seen him move from the SDP to the PDP, to Action Congress (AC), back to PDP, then to the APC and again back to PDP.

At 72, his political career is in twilight. Indeed, as much as one can count the potentially explosive contest against President Buhari in 2019 as his best chance, it is most probably, his last.

The important question really is, ‘against Buhari, who has massive following in the core Northern states, what are his chances?’

“The election is going to be very tough, and too close to call,” says Chief Abia Onyike, a PDP Senatorial aspirant in Ebonyi State. “But I believe that Atiku will have an edge.”

In 2015, a contest between Atiku and the incumbent president could perhaps have been a no contest. Buhari had vast goodwill, promoted pervasively in the media as an anti-corruption czar, a man of untainted integrity and solution to all the country’s problems, Buhari could easily have swept a corruption tainted Atiku away.

But three years is a long time in politics, and in these three years of Buhari’s presidency, many have come to agree that the president was an over marketed poor product.

“The thing about Buhari is that he has no knowledge, whatsoever. He has no education, no capacity, no capability and no ability to run any country, observes Akogun (Chief) Tola Adeniyi, veteran columnist, author and administrator. “Buhari cannot even run a local government.”

In the lead up to the 2015 election, Chief Adeniyi formed the Global Intelligentsia for Buhari, an organisation he used to raise funds from Nigerians in the Diaspora for the president’s campaign. But it’s a move he says he regrets bitterly.

“It’s unfortunate and I admit that I’m guilty to be among those who canvassed for him (Buhari) in 2015. And we will regret to our graves that we ever had a hand in getting Buhari to be president of Nigeria, and in throwing away Jonathan.”

In 2015, corruption under Goodluck Jonathan was promoted to monstrous proportions, such that Nigerians wanted anybody but the Bayelsa born politician.

Ahead of the 2019 poll, the blatant failures of the Buhari government have given rise to a scenario like one that brought him to power in 2015. Many Nigerians who are tired of growing poverty, condoned mass murder in the country’s Middle Belt, and an economy in sixes and sevens, want perhaps, anybody but Buhari.

That anybody, as it currently stands, looks like Atiku with the PDP ticket. As it happened in the lead up to the 2015 elections, with several political heavyweights merging together to form APC to remove Jonathan, same is happening in the lead up to the 2019 poll with parties and top politicians fusing into a PDP alliance to remove Buhari for Atiku. For Chief Adeniyi, it is a doable job.

“I think Atiku is the only one of the contestants in PDP who can defeat Buhari in an election if it is fair, free and credible,” he said.

“It’s only Atiku who has the muscle, the experience and the wherewithal to defeat Buhari. He is acceptable, he is one president that Nigeria will enjoy because he listens and is very accessible, and he is very humble. People don’t know that about him.

“More than that, he has a greater spread than Buhari. He knows people. He can boast of knowing at least one person or some people in every local government in Nigeria.”

 

Adeniyi, who founded the G9, a group of Southern and Middle Belt intellectuals, expresses confidence that the former vice president can tackle insecurity, unlike Atiku.

“We believe he will be able to tackle the insecurity problem in Nigeria. If Nigerians allow him, he will be next to Gowon and Babangida in terms of assembling the brightest Nigerians to work with him. He will avail himself of the best advice possible to make sure Nigeria corrects all the errors that Buhari committed.”

But Buhari is no Jonathan who was, in every aspect, a political orphan from a minority ethnic group and a region weakened politically by war. With a large core Northern constituency whose support of the president has little to do with his performance in office, Buhari presents a tough package for any challenger.

Yet, for the PDP candidate, a lot will depend on how much other aspirants who lost out in the primary will support his candidacy and work for him.

On his way to victory in 2015, Buhari swept votes across the 19 states of the North, losing only Plateau and Taraba to the then incumbent Jonathan. But today, many, particularly in the Central say the president’s goodwill have eroded significantly mostly because of poor handling of herdsmen menace, and that he can lose to the former vice president, easily.

“From what I know, I can assure you that Atiku will defeat Buhari in the North Central if they allow people to vote,” said Sunday Egwuda, a Kogi State indigene.

“What really has Buhari done? And to add insult to injury, he is practically watching herdsmen killing people everywhere.”

How both candidates stand

Of the country’s six zones; three each in the North and South, Buhari won in four, comprising all three in the North and the South West. But the North Central is now uncertain, and the North East, Atiku’s constituency is no longer given, although one would still expect a Buhari win.

As it stands, the North East and the North West will likely be for Buhari’s taking. Atiku, on the other hand, will likely sweep votes across the South East, South and North Central.

“Atiku will beat Buhari clearly in the South East and the South South because he is seen as a liberal Muslim, while Buhari is a fundamentalist,” Chief Onyike said.

The deciding zone in 2019 could still be the South West, which at the moment, appears can go either way.

The recently concluded Osun governorship election which saw Mr. Gboyega Oyetola of the APC emerge governor-elect was a keen contest between him and the PDP candidate, Senator Ademola Adeleke. In fact, it’s an election many assert that the PDP candidate should won, having initially beaten Oyetola by 353 votes, prompting the rerun – alleged to have been characterised by intimidation – that eventually saw him win.

For many, the close fight in Osun is suggested to an extent, the rejection of APC. And especially given that when combined, the total votes of opposition candidates are two times more than that of the APC. And as the presidential election is essentially between Buhari and Atiku, the outcome may be a lot different.

For Chief Adeniyi, the governorship election in the South West cannot be used to measure Buhari’s popularity in the zone because the president will fare badly if the people are allowed to vote.

“Because we have APC governors in the South West, people think that Buhari will leverage on that. APC at governors’ level and at senatorial level may have a showing in the South West, but Buhari is an anathema to an average Yoruba person.

“The Yoruba don’t like anybody supporting those just killing people, who are just grabbing people’s lands; a person who is encouraging extreme nepotism and parochialism.

“The Yoruba, if you look at it, are the most accommodating people in this country. We have every ethnic group in every town in Yoruba land. And that is the way the Yoruba have always been.

“Buhari is extremely arrogant and condescending. These are things Yoruba don’t like. Because he has eroded our values and our virtues, he is going to have very terrible showing in Yoruba land. If they don’t rig, there is no way Buhari can have any showing in the South West.

Adeniyi further said: “The Yoruba have a saying that if someone is beating you and there is somebody standing by who can stop that person from beating you, but the person doesn’t ask the person to stop beating you, it means that person approves of the beating.

“To that extent therefore, the Yoruba believe that Buhari is very much involved in the killings in the Middle Belt. And the Yoruba believe that even if Buhari tags the whole of Nigeria with gold and makes the naira equal to the dollar, the question we ask is, is it dead people that will stay in the country?”

But as much as the Osun election revealed the waning popularity of the APC in a zone it once held sway, and as perhaps, as Chief Adeniyi insists, Buhari is unpopular, it also gave a hint to what the ruling party may be planning in 2019.

“The truth is that in Buhari’s Nigeria, the PVC is worthless, as we have seen in most elections conducted while Buhari is president, the latest being the Osun State governorship election,” said US based professor of Communications, Farooq Kperogi.

Indeed, for many, it would be unrealistic to expect that the Buhari government will allow credible election again, given the way it has been overly intolerant of opposition.

Peaceful protests have been met with police brutality and of course, opposition figures are being haunted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), which has become, many suggest, an arm of the ruling party.

But even at that, the president apparently still understands the critical role the South West will play in 2019 and has successfully wooed the zone’s political leader, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu to his side once again.

Easily the most influential politician in the South West – a status he recently demonstrated with the way he stopped Governor Akinwunmi Ambode in the state APC governorship primary – Tinubu’s support for Buhari would be key in determining his fate.

Indeed, if public opinion in the South West at the moment is anything to go by, one can conclude that Buhari would have a good showing in the zone, principally because of the Tinubu influence.

Yet, the idea that the PDP may cede Atiku’s running mate to the South East, would give further impetus to the support for Buhari in the zone, since he is running with a South West vice president in Prof. Yemi Osinbajo.

“Personally, I have made up my mind to vote Atiku,” says Ola Lateef, Lagos resident. “But I have spoken to a lot of opinions leaders who insist that they would rather vote Buhari and retain VP slot.”

Atiku’s pro-restructuring stance would however, endear him to a section of voters across the South and the Middle Belt where calls for it have gathered momentum. In fact, some argue that 2019 would be a referendum on restructuring, and Atiku has won praises for standing for it.

“I can at least point to his publicly touted progressive stance on the restructuring debate, even going as far as shaming his party, the North, and other political elites for either being hypocritical or cowardly in their approach to it,” said Alhaji Inaolaji Bakare, a PDP chieftain in Lagos State.

No doubt, Atiku’s pro restructuring stance will endear him to many across party lines. But the question remains with respect to whether he will walk the talk.

“I don’t totally subscribe to the idea of restructuring because I know it is impossibility,” Onyike asserts. “The caliphate will never accept the restructuring of the Nigerian federation because of the advantages they have.

 

“So, its mere semantics, it doesn’t mean anything. The only people who are mouthing restructuring are southern leaders, but they have not heard anything from the Hausa/Fulani oligarchy. They are not ready to let go the hold they have on the oil resources.”

Atiku’s spokesman, Paul Ibe, however, assured that his boss is serious about restructuring.

“Be rest assured that as far as restructuring is concerned, Atiku Abubakar will walk his talk,” Ibe said. “Worry not about the Waziri Adamawa, it is those who want to maintain the status quo that Nigerians should be wary of.”

One of the greatest obstacles to his previous quests have been the opposition he has faced from the influential military establishment in the country – the class of 1966 – as represented by Obasanjo, who has consistently opposed his presidential bid, as well as the likes of former heads of states: Ibrahim Babangida and Abdulsalami Abubakar, and former Army Chiefs, T. Y. Danjuma and Aliyu Gusau.

“Some people will argue about his (Atiku’s) sanctity; whether he is a saint or not a saint, but those are marginal issues. The truth is that they (the military establishment) know he is resourced enough, determined enough and brave enough to move the country on a different path. And in the interest of their capture, they will try to stop him,” said Prof. Pat Utomi.

However, there is the speculation that that the ex-generals have made a u-turn in this regard and have now decided to back the former vice president in the interest of removing Buhari to “save Nigeria”.

It was gathered that the generals, including Ibrahim Babangida, Abdulsalami Abubakar and TY Danjuma and Aliyu Gusau have gotten Obasanjo’s nod to support Atiku, and having done so, dispatched Gusau to go and persuade the leaders and delegates of the PDP to vote for Atiku Abubakar in Port Harcourt.

Nonetheless, Obasanjo has come out to insist he would not give support to Atiku, and has indeed, began to campaign against him.

Buhari is the incumbent. He has state apparatus at his disposal and still commands following in the North, especially in the North West and to a reasonable extent, the North East. But his greatest weapon appears to be the use of security apparatus to intimidate opponents.

“The sad impression that the APC as a ruling party and INEC as the electoral body have both created with the Osun re-run election is that we are back in the trenches of do or die electoral regime, of violence and of denial of the real will of the people,” said human rights lawyer, Ebun-olu Adegboruwa.

Indeed, for some pundits, 2019 is simply a question of whether votes will count.

But for Chief Njoku, there may be a remedy. “My recommendation now is that for Buhari to win the heart of the people, he has to change all the security chiefs and bring equity in his appointments, so that every zone is represented in his kitchen cabinet. That will somehow restore hope,” he says.

“We are very close to the grassroots. Some of us go to the beer parlour and drink, we go to markets to buy things and find out what the people feel. But I know that with hard work, we can still change the situation.”

Tension in APC over 2019

President Muhammadu Buhari
President Muhammadu Buhari

…Threat to the party is real – Taofik, APC chieftain

 By AYOOLA OLAOLUWA

The political climate in the All Progressives Congress (APC) is slowly heating up ahead of the 2019 general elections, with scheming and power play among powerful groups and individuals taking its toll on the unity of the party.

Already, several foreign and local agencies have hinted that the President Muhammadu Buhari-led APC may lose the presidential election.

Business Hallmark findings show that things are no longer at ease for the party that swept to power on May 29, 2015, through the defeat of an incumbent president, a very rare occurrence on the African continent.

Buoyed by the general malaise in the country as well as the international support it got from foreign governments, the PDP government was sacked and replaced by the APC government which had inspired great expectations from Nigerians.

But barely three and half years into the much heralded ‘change’ administration, there is disillusion in the land as Nigerians have lost hope in the government. Right from inception, it has been one trouble to the other for the government that came in with much promise.

Deep divisions along the broad lines of pro and anti-Buhari elements in and outside the party, owing largely to the president’s failings, as well as scheming ahead of the 2019 general elections, had to a very large extent weakened the support base of the government.

According to BH investigation, virtually all the power blocks that worked together for the emergence of the APC government have been alienated and pushed out of the party.

It would be recalled that political parties such as the New PDP, ACN, CPC, APGA, ANPP, as well as many others teamed up to defeat the PDP government.

Several civil society groups, Christian and Muslim bodies, business communities, as well as influential individuals made up of retired generals, scholars, clergies and opinion molders also supported the change mantra.

But today, apart from the defunct ACN block, led by its leader, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the CPC and ANPP blocks that are still behind the Buhari administration, all other groups have been pushed out or left angrily.

Worth mentioning is the powerful ex-service men group led by former President Olusegun Obasanjo. Others in the group include Generals Ibrahim Babangida, Theophilus Danjuma, Domkat Bali, Abdulsalam Abubakar, Zamani Lekwot and Joshua Dongoyaro, among others.

The insecurity challenge in the country, especially Fulani herdsmen attacks and upsurge in Boko Haram activities have angered the nation and also offered the coalition a massive opportunity to take on the Buhari administration.

Also, owing to their disagreements with some key policies of Buhari administration, the ex-generals, it was gathered, have formed a secret coalition to defeat President Buhari in the 2019 presidential election.

All the prominent ex-generals so far linked to the coalition reportedly have personal axes to grind with the current administration over several issues, it was learnt, leaving them no option than to unite against Buhari, who they now consider a common enemy.

The plot, according to sources, is spearheaded by Obasanjo, who on January 23, 2018, wrote Buhari to put his reelection bid on hold, accusing him of non-performance.

The letter, a source close to the military establishment disclosed, was timed to rally other ex-generals who were skeptical over the workability of the plans.

Apart from losing the support of the retired generals, Buhari has also lost the support of the international communities, the Church, as well as South West and North Central leaders who supported his emergence in 2015.

Some of his most ardent supporters in the South West, including Pastor Tunder Bakare, Prof. Wole Soyinka, Femi Falana, have so far dumped the president. Though they have not totally severed their link to the president and his government, they often attack some of the president’s actions.

North Central leaders on their own part are angry with the president’s handling of the Fulani herdsman attacks on their people in Taraba, Benue, Plateau and others. Rather than acting swiftly to protect the Middle Belt people who are killed daily by rampaging herdsmen, the president and some influential members of his cabinet had on many occasions advised them to be tolerant of their tormentors.

The government had also made a daring move to carve out lands in the Middle belt and the southern part of the country to serve as cattle colonies, while severe pressures have also been put on governors who had enacted anti-grazing bills to abrogate them.

While the Buhari government was busy grappling with the accusation of bias against the people of the Middle belt in favour of his Fulani brothers, his government has been accused of nepotism, owing to lopsided appointments he had made so far.

Several Nigerians, particularly from the southern part of the country have denounced the “clannishness” that has characterised Buharis’ administration.

BH recently published a report, ‘How Nigeria is shared’ where it reported that over 70 percent of all important positions are occupied by Presidents Buhari’s kinsmen from the North, particularly from his home state and town of Katsina and Daura.

Angered by this development, former president Olusegun Obasanjo recently castigated the president for his inability to bring discipline to bear on “errant members of his nepotic court”.

While noting that it appears “national interest was being sacrificed on the altar of nepotic interest,” the former president listed the case of Abdulrasheed Maina, former pension boss, as an example.

“What does one make of a case like that of Maina: collusion, condonation, ineptitude,   incompetence, dereliction of responsibility or kinship and friendship on the part of those who should have taken visible and deterrent disciplinary action?

“How many similar cases are buried, ignored or covered up and not yet in the glare of the media and the public?” Obasanjo had said.

The Buhari administration, which swept to power on a massive mandate from Nigerians to fight corruption due largely to his reputation as a morally upright individual, is also enmeshed in numerous corruptions cases.

The verdict of Nigerians on the president’s anti-corruption war is damning. The general consensus among Nigerians is that the present administration has failed to deliver on its promises to fight corruption to a standstill and is as corrupt as the government it succeeded.

Several reports from abroad have also dented Buhari’s reputation as an upright person, as well as casting doubts on his claims to be winning the fight against corruption, thus putting his government under scrutiny as the 2019 presidential poll approaches.

Recently, a report on corruption by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace slammed the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as being equally corrupt and inclined to using political power to steal public resources.

The report titled, “A New Taxonomy for Corruption in Nigeria”, said despite President Muhammadu Buhari’s anti-corruption posture, there was little difference between his party, APC, and PDP.

“Kleptocratic capture of political party structures is a sine qua non of gaining power and thereby unlocking corruption opportunities across a range of other sectors. Little distinguishes Nigeria’s two main political parties – the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) party and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) – in this regard. Both are constellations of fluid national, state, and local elite networks.

“Both are almost identically structured, non-ideological organisations. Both rely on misappropriated public funds to finance election campaigns. Neither values internal party democracy, allowing money and high-level interference to corrupt candidate selection processes,” the report said.

According to the report, top politicians in the two major political parties are always seeking, by hook or by crook, opportunities to secure lucrative public appointments or high-level backing for their ambitions.

It stated further that party officials always sought to monetise their influence over internal party processes by soliciting cash from aspiring politicians or seeking to be co-opted by them.

Giving an insight into the corrupt practices prevalent in APC and PDP, the report explained

what it called “the symbolic relationship between legislative and bureaucratic corruption”, which resulted in the country having three “expensive and unnecessary” space agencies. It said it had identified 500 kinds of corruption in Nigeria.

According to the author of the report, Matthew T. Page, corruption in Nigeria is complicated, far-reaching, and multifaceted. Page, a former American envoy to Nigeria, added that corruption could be seen in how the government tended to “waste” limited resources.

He took a swipe at Imo State Governor, Rochas Okorocha. “Among the forms of corrupt behaviour, the taxonomy includes ‘legalised corruption’ and ‘deliberate waste’. These categories are not generally recognised as forms of corruption, but they make sense to include in the Nigerian context.

These tactics include legislators’ exorbitant salaries – roughly $540,000 annually –, vanity projects such as one governor’s decision to erect multi-million-dollar bronze statues of South Africa and Liberia’s former presidents, and Nigeria’s three – yes, three! – expensive and unnecessary space agencies,” Page explained.

Another report which was released almost the same time by the United States government mocked President Buhari’s anti-corruption crusade. The 2017 Human Rights Report indicted the All Progressives Congress (APC) led administration of massive corruption and festering of human rights abuses.

The report slammed the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for flagrant disobedience to court orders and not following the due process of law in its operations.

The Department of State Services (DSS) was accused and blamed particularly for arbitrary abduction of persons opposed to the government of President Buhari.

The list also included “denial of fair public trial; executive influence on the judiciary; infringement on citizens’ privacy rights; restrictions on freedoms of speech, press, assembly, and movement; official corruption; lack of accountability in cases involving violence against women and children; trafficking in persons; and early and forced marriages.

Another major dilemma that is threatening the reelection hope of President Buhari is the intractable crisis rocking the party.

The ruling party is presently enmeshed in wars of attrition which is threatening to tear it apart. While there are crisis at the national level of the party, states and local government chapters are not left out.

According to findings, crisis first resurfaced in the party over the sidelining of several interest groups by a cabal loyal to the president. Owing to this development, several estranged party members, such as Senate President Bukola Saraki, Governor Aminu Tambuwa, Senator Kwankwaso, among others dumped the APC for the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

Several groups and individuals that lost out in the quest to impose their excos later abandoned the party for others.  BH reliably gathered that many will leave the party after its’ primaries in October.

Another trouble appears to be looming in the All Progressives Congress (APC) across the country over alleged imposition of the mode of primary to be adopted by states in picking its candidates for 2019 elections.

In many states where the state governors are in battle with rivals such as senators and other influential politicians, the ruling party appears to have favoured the stance of the governors which was glaring in states such as Adamawa, Kaduna, Kogi and Imo.

However, many states executives and elected officials have rejected the decision of the national leadership to foist direct and indirect primaries on them.

Direct primaries involve all card carrying members of the party electing its candidates while indirect primaries adopt the use of delegates to elect party candidates.

In Adamawa, top politicians like the former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal, and former anti-graft commission, EFCC chairman, Nuhu Ribadu, had requested direct primaries while the party leadership backed by incumbent governor Bindow Jibrilla called for indirect primaries. The APC national headquarters however approved indirect primaries.

For Kaduna State, aspirants like Sen. Shehu Sani though insisted on direct primaries while the party’s leadership in the state backed by the incumbent governor, Nasir El-Rufai, called for indirect primaries but the APC headquarters approved indirect primaries.

In Kwara, the National Working Committee (NWC) approved direct primary against the position of some top governorship aspirants and stakeholders in the state.

A chieftain of the party in Ogun State, Alhaji Inaolaji Taofik, warned of dire consequences for the party if the crises brought about by the controversial primaries are not amicably resolved.

“The National Chairman of APC, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole and the president would need more than a miracle from God if they hope to save the party from destabilization.

“Ogun people are kicking against Amosun’s plot to foist his candidate on us. Look at Lagos State, attempts are being made to stop Ambode from coming back. If Tinubu and his group succeed in stopping him and he decides to leave the party, APC will be in problem in Lagos. The same applies to several states.

“President Buhari has suddenly found himself in the middle of a potential career ruining crossfire of entrenched interests within the presidency on the one hand, and from powerful interest groups of the party, on the other. Only God will save the APC beyond 2019”, he said.

 

Ambode fights for his political life

Governor Lagos State, Akinwunmi Ambode
Akinwunmi Ambode, Lagos State Governor

By OBINNA EZUGWU

It is no longer news; the political love affair in Lagos state is in trouble. For the first time since 1999, a sitting governor is facing a real challenge from his own party for the ticket. The indignity can only be imagined and its implications continue to reverberate across the state and nation.

Initially many people thought it was just a Lagos affair; but the happening last week changed that. It has become an APC problem and its chances of winning the state. With resolution far from sight, the national party and even the president waded into the growing political conundrum. And the whole nation is waiting anxiously for the next move.

Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, since leaving office as governor had decided what happened in the state; now the equation seems to be changing. Those who had acted at his behest are now demanding to act themselves. The Mandate Group, the political platform behind his structure is asserting its influence. And Gov. Ambode has become a pawn in the chess game.

His potential opponent is the Managing Director of Lagos State Property Development Corporation (LSPDC), Mr. Babajide Sanwo-olu, who has already picked his nomination form to contest the primary, which incidentally has been shifted by one week, perhaps to allow for a settlement. The situation is such that the power mongers in the APC may win the battle but the war is a different ball game.

Tinubu and his cabal may control the party, but the party does not determine the election. Lagosians now insist that the power to determine the governor lies with them and the party can choose whoever they want; it is the outcome that makes the difference.

Most people believe that Tinubu had been able to control things in the state because his choices have delivered. Former governor Fashola was a runaway success. And after just three years, Ambode also seems to be delivering and changing him cannot be justified on the basis on performance. So they wonder what could be responsible for this apparent self induced crisis, if not selfish.

The APC is taking a gamble because of the weakened position of the main opposition, the PDP, which lost the 2015 election with just 120,000 votes. Even with the near absence of the opposition the APC and Tinubu would be making a political miscalculation to discount the consciousness of the voters. Lagos boasts of the most political conscious and enlightened people and any act of insensitivity to their interests could spell doom.

Political dynamics can change and last week seemed to prove this abundantly as an old political foe in the 2015 election, who apparently had never been in the picture for the 2019 poll, Mr. Jimi Agbaje, announced his participation in the primary of the PDP. Before then, the PDP had gleefully offered its ticket to Ambode if his party rejected him. And there is also the speculated interest of the oil billionaire, Mr. Femi Otedola.

With this fluidity of the situation, Ambode has become the beautiful bride and Lagosians may go with him to spite the domination of the Tinubu dynasty. He seems to know that and wants to fight to the very end. While the power brokers have insisted on indirect primary for the governorship selection, Ambode and other insist on direct, which will allow all the members of the party to participate.

Tinubu and his people would have preferred to used his political machinery to upstage the governor; throwing it open to all members will undermine and neutralize his power over the party.

BusinessHallmark went around to seek views of Lagosians on what they thought would be the governor’s fate should he not be allowed to fly the ruling party’s flag.

While some said they were indifferent as, according to them, what is happening is simply politics, a vast majority expressed shock that anyone would contemplate replacing the governor, who according to them, has done well, just as they vowed to vote for the governor even if he is eventually forced to run on another party’s platform.

“I am in shock, and I can tell you everyone I know is in shock,” said Mr. Idris Taiwo, a building engineer based in Berger area of the state. “I was discussing it (the plan to remove Ambode) with my friends yesterday and I can tell you, they are all very angry and insisted that they will vote for him even if he is no longer in APC.

“Ambode has done well. He should be allowed to complete his eight years. It is only fair. And there can’t be any other reason beyond selfish interest for anyone wanting him out. He should be allowed to continue,” he concluded.

Another resident, Mr. Lawal Sodeeq, a graphics designer suggested that the news might be just a ploy by Tinubu and the APC to gauge the opinions of Lagosians, but said if there was really any plan to stop the governor, he could count on his vote in whatever party he decides to run.

“It could be their style of politics,” Lawal said. “Remember the same thing happened during the (Babatunde) Fashola administration, so, this one may not be an exception.

“What triggered this in my opinion is that it is likely APC as a party wants to assess people’s opinions to weigh the chances they stand in the preparation of the forthcoming election. Strategically, it is a form of appraisal to assess Ambode’s popularity among the masses. Remember, Tinubu is a political mathematician.

He noted nonetheless that, “Even if Ambode contests on the platform of PDP, he already has my vote.”

Miss Ese Amadin is a banker who says she has little interest in politics, but insists regardless that Governor Ambode is doing well for the state and it will only be fair to reward him with a second term.

“He (Ambode) has tried. He is building roads, bridges and flyovers here and there,” she said. “I feel he should be allowed to go for another term and yes, he will have my vote.”

Mr. Yusuf Mohammed, a journalist asserts that the plot could be a ploy by Tinubu to negotiate a deal with Ambode, as he would not want to think that the former would be unreasonable enough to change Ambode at this stage.

“I think he is trying to renegotiate with Ambode,” he said. “I don’t think Tinubu would be that unreasonable enough to change Ambode at this point. “I remember he tried something similar with Fashola in 2011″

His view is also shared by Lagos Publicity secretary of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Mr. Taofic Gani who told BusinessHallmark that the development could very well be a political gimmick.

“The APC here is so organized politically that they have different political gimmick,” said Mr. Gani, whose party is reportedly trying to field billionaire business man, Femi Otedola as its candidate. “They can make you look the other way in so many ways. I’m not going to be distracted by any infighting amongst them. As far as we are concerned, we are going to roll out our campaign strategy in a different way when the campaign starts proper.

He admitted nonetheless that the ruling party is having intractable crisis. “However, it’s obvious that the acrimony in the APC has snowballed into a situation where they will not be able to get it right anymore. But as far as we are concerned, we are going to work with what we have, not relying on their mistakes.”

For IT expert, Mr. Richard Adeolu, it matters little which way it goes. But according to him, if Tinubu is actually planning to replace Ambode, he should be wary because it could backfire.

“I’m indifferent really. If Tinubu stops Ambode, he better have a ready plot to win Lagos, because the move may backfire,” he said. “This is politics. It doesn’t matter what you have done or you are doing. It’s about the party and power blocs.”

Mr. Omeje Adolph, a business man based in Oyingbo area of the state also concludes that it’s all about interests and power play. “Precisely, what is happening now is just power play. If you do me, I do you scenario. A conflict of interest,” Omeje said.

“Once news of this sort crop up, one can justifiably say, ‘there is a question of disloyalty to the dictate of the political godfather.’ Ambode  was next to none as of 2015 election, because he was a loyal servant,” he noted.

“But having got what he aspired for he may have felt a free being, and would like to take decisions that sometimes might to some extent be in conflict with the interest of the his boss.”

Last week, 57 council chairmen loyal to Tinubu reportedly met and pledged their support for Sanwo-olu who previously served as Commissioner for Establishments and Training and is said to be Tinubu’s preferred candidate.

This was even so as Cardinal James Odunmbaku, popularly called “Baba Eto,” a popular APC chieftain in the state and an ally of Tinubu had declared at a meeting with the party’s stakeholders last week that, “By the grace of God, “Hon. Babajide sanwo-olu is the incoming governor of Lagos.”

BusinessHallmark had previously reported that Ambode had incurred the anger of several political stakeholders in the state, including Odunmbaku, with his policies.

The governor had for instance, stripped Lagos State Waste Management Authority (LAWMA), run by Odunmbaku, the responsibility of waste disposal in the state and subsequently handed the responsibility to a Dubai based company, Visionscape.

The governor has also been accused of forming his own political structure to rival that of Tinubu in the state.

Although Ambode had, while addressing members of the ruling party in Epe, during the election of delegates for the presidential primary and national convention of the APC, on Wednesday, said there was “no fight” between him and Tinubu, as according to him, “The National Leader, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu and my good self are not in any fight, we are not in any controversy,” a member of the party and ally of Tinubu told our correspondent that there is indeed plot to stop the governor.

“My ears are on the ground,” the party source said. “The Maga (Ambode) has made too many enemies for himself. And also want to form his own caucus.”

The governor is also being threatened with impeachment by the state House of Assembly controlled largely by Tinubu following his decision to pick APC’s nomination form on Monday, sources said.

Ambode had, after picking the ruling party’s nomination form on Monday, told party faithful in Alausa to join him to build a prosperous state driven by a vibrant economy, equity and justice.

“In these three and a half years as your governor, I have seen visible proof that we can achieve unbelievable things when we all come together with no more than our belief in our dreams.

“But there is still a lot more to be done and I am not tired. I am sure you feel the same way because we all envision a better Lagos of our dreams.

“So, I humbly call you again to give me your support as I seek to continue with your mandate to steer the affairs of our state; let us achieve more,” Ambode said.

Meanwhile, Sanwo-olu had, while addressing journalists at the National Secretariat of the APC on Wednesday after submitting his nomination form, said his participation was about the Lagos of his dream and not due to the endorsement of party leader, Bola Tinubu.

“There is no doubt that things would be said here and there. A man that is standing in front of you – a fully grown man with several years of experience – cannot take this decision lightly. Like I said, it is about the Lagos of our dream, it is about the Lagos we want to take to the next level,” he said.

“I think it has nothing to do with our leader and there is no denial that he’s our national leader. And he takes back position not only in the state but in the national and you know he has interest in the well-being and improvement in Nigeria’s dream.”

Also in what is increasingly becoming a complicated governorship race Dr. Kadri Obafemi Hamzat, the erstwhile Commissioner for Works whom Tinubu had allegedly favoured to succeed Fashola in 2015, but was compelled to drop for Ambode following the insistence of Christian leaders in the state that one of them should emerge in 2015, has also joined the race making the situation more confusing.

Obafemi is the son of Alhaji Olatunji Hamzat who founded the Justice Forum, which provided the political structure for Tinubu’s emergence in the lead up to 1999 election that brought him to power, and as a reward, Tinubu allegedly wanted to make his son, Olatunji governor.

However, as Christian leaders kicked, Tinubu opted for Ambode who had, allegedly, as Accountant General of the State under Fashola, handed Tinubu cheques of local governments funds owed the state by the Olusegun Obasanjo administration, but released by Goodluck Jonathan, instead of Fashola who was governor.

The action was said to have triggered severe conflict between Fashola and Ambode, leading to the latter’s resignation. And Tinubu promised to reward him subsequently.

Ambode 2019: The godfather’s revolt

Governor Lagos State, Akinwunmi Ambode
Governor Lagos State, Akinwunmi Ambode

By OBINNA EZUGWU

As uncertainty continues to hover around the second term bid of Lagos State governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, following an alleged plot by the state’s political godfather, Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu to hand the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) ticket to the Managing Director of Lagos State Property Development Corporation (LSPDC), Mr. Babajide Sanwo-olu, Business Hallmark went around to seek views of Lagosians on what they thought would be the governor’s fate should he not be allowed to fly the ruling party’s flag.

While some said they were indifferent as, according to them, what is happening is simply politics, a vast majority expressed shock that anyone would contemplate replacing the governor, who according to them, has done well, just as they vowed to vote for the governor even if he is eventually forced to run on another party’s platform.

“I am in shock, and I can tell you everyone I know is in shock,” said Mr. Idris Taiwo, a building engineer based in Berger area of the state. “I was discussing it (the plan to remove Ambode) with my friends yesterday and I can tell you, they are all very angry and insisted that they will vote for him even if he is no longer in APC.

“Ambode has done well. He should be allowed to complete his eight years. It is only fair. And there can’t be any other reason beyond selfish interest for anyone wanting him out. He should be allowed to continue,” he concluded.

Another resident, Mr. Lawal Sodeeq, a graphics designer suggested that the news might be just a ploy by Tinubu and the APC to gauge the opinions of Lagosians, but said if there was really any plan to stop the governor, he could count on his vote in whatever party he decides to run.

“It could be their style of politics,” Lawal said. “Remember the same thing happened during the (Babatunde) Fashola administration, so, this one may not be an exception.

“What triggered this in my opinion is that it is likely APC as a party wants to assess people’s opinions to weigh the chances they stand in the preparation of the forthcoming election. Strategically, it is a form of appraisal to assess Ambode’s popularity among the masses. Remember, Tinubu is a political mathematician.

He noted nonetheless that, “Even if Ambode contests on the platform of PDP, he already has my vote.”

Miss Ese Amadin is a banker who says she has little interest in politics, but insists regardless that Governor Ambode is doing well for the state and it will only be fair to reward him with a second term.

“He (Ambode) has tried. He is building roads, bridges and flyovers here and there,” she said. “I feel he should be allowed to go for another term and yes, he will have my vote.”

Bola Tinubu, National Leader, APC

Mr. Yusuf Mohammed, a journalist asserts that the plot could be a ploy by Tinubu to negotiate a deal with Ambode, as he would not want to think that the former would be unreasonable enough to change Ambode at this stage.

“I think he is trying to renegotiate with Ambode,” he said. “I don’t think Tinubu would be that unreasonable enough to change Ambode at this point. “I remember he tried something similar with Fashola in 2011″

His view is also shared by Lagos Publicity secretary of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Mr. Taofic Gani who told Business Hallmark that the development could very well be a political gimmick.

“The APC here is so organized politically that they have different political gimmick,” said Mr. Gani, whose party is reportedly trying to field billionaire business man, Femi Otedola as its candidate. “They can make you look the other way in so many ways. I’m not going to be distracted by any infighting amongst them. As far as we are concerned, we are going to roll out our campaign strategy in a different way when the campaign starts proper.

He admitted nonetheless that the ruling party is having intractable crisis. “However, it’s obvious that the acrimony in the APC has snowballed into a situation where they will not be able to get it right anymore. But as far as we are concerned, we are going to work with what we have, not relying on their mistakes.”

For IT expert, Mr. Richard Adeolu, it matters little which way it goes. But according to him, if Tinubu is actually planning to replace Ambode, he should be wary because it could backfire.

“I’m indifferent really. If Tinubu stops Ambode, he better have a ready plot to win Lagos, because the move may backfire,” he said. “This is politics. It doesn’t matter what you have done or you are doing. It’s about the party and power blocs.”

Mr. Omeje Adolph, a business man based in Oyingbo area of the state also concludes that it’s all about interests and power play. “Precisely, what is happening now is just power play. If you do me, I do you scenario. A conflict of interest,” Omeje said.

“Once a news of this sort crop up, one can justifiably say, ‘there is a question of disloyalty to the dictate of the political godfather.’ Ambode  was next to none as of 2015 election, because he was a loyal servant,” he noted.

“But having got what he aspired for he may have felt a free being, and would like to take decisions that sometimes might to some extent be in conflict with the interest of the his boss.”

Last week, 57 council chairmen loyal to Tinubu reportedly met and pledged their support for Sanwo-olu who previously served as Commissioner for Establishments and Training and is said to be Tinubu’s preferred candidate.

This was even so as Cardinal James Odunmbaku, popularly called “Baba Eto,” a popular APC chieftain in the state and an ally of Tinubu had declared at a meeting with the party’s stakeholders last week that, “By the grace of God, “Hon. Babajide sanwo-olu is the incoming governor of Lagos.”

Business Hallmark had previously reported that Ambode had incurred the anger of several political stakeholders in the state, including Odunmbaku, with his policies.

The governor had for instance, stripped Lagos State Waste Management Authority (LAWMA), run by Odunmbaku, the responsibility of waste disposal in the state and subsequently handed the responsibility to a Dubai based company, Visionscape.

The governor has also been accused of forming his own political structure to rival that of Tinubu in the state.

Although Ambode had, while addressing members of the ruling party in Epe, during the election of delegates for the presidential primary and national convention of the APC, on Wednesday, said there was “no fight” between him and Tinubu, as according to him, “The National Leader, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu and my good self are not in any fight, we are not in any controversy,” a member of the party and ally of Tinubu told our correspondent that there is indeed plot to stop the governor.

“My ears are on the ground,” the party source said. “The Maga (Ambode) has made too many enemies for himself. And also want to form his own caucus.”

The governor is also being threatened with impeachment by the state House of Assembly controlled largely by Tinubu following his decision to pick APC’s nomination form on Monday, sources said.

Ambode had, after picking the ruling party’s nomination form on Monday, told party faithful in Alausa to join him to build a prosperous state driven by a vibrant economy, equity and justice.

“In these three and a half years as your governor, I have seen visible proof that we can achieve unbelievable things when we all come together with no more than our belief in our dreams.

“But there is still a lot more to be done and I am not tired. I am sure you feel the same way because we all envision a better Lagos of our dreams.

“So, I humbly call you again to give me your support as I seek to continue with your mandate to steer the affairs of our state; let us achieve more,” Ambode said.

Meanwhile, Sanwo-olu had, while addressing journalists at the National Secretariat of the APC on Wednesday after submitting his nomination form, said his participation was about the Lagos of his dream and not due to the endorsement of party leader, Bola Tinubu.

“There is no doubt that things would be said here and there. A man that is standing in front of you – a fully grown man with several years of experience – cannot take this decision lightly. Like I said, it is about the Lagos of our dream, it is about the Lagos we want to take to the next level,” he said.

“I think it has nothing to do with our leader and there is no denial that he’s our national leader. And he takes back position not only in the state but in the national and you know he has interest in the well-being and improvement in Nigeria’s dream.”

Also in what is increasingly becoming a complicated governorship race Dr. Kadri Obafemi Hamzat, the erstwhile Commissioner for Works whom Tinubu had allegedly favoured to succeed Fashola in 2015, but was compelled to drop for Ambode following the insistence of Christian leaders in the state that one of them should emerge in 2015, has also joined the race making the situation more confusing.

Obafemi is the son of Alhaji Olatunji Hamzat who founded the Justice Forum, which provided the political structure for Tinubu’s emergence in the lead up to 1999 election that brought him to power, and as a reward, Tinubu allegedly wanted to make his son, Olatunji governor.

However, as Christian leaders kicked, Tinubu opted for Ambode who had, allegedly, as Accountant General of the State under Fashola, handed Tinubu cheques of local governments funds owed the state by the Olusegun Obasanjo administration, but released by Goodluck Jonathan, instead of Fashola who was governor.

The action was said to have triggered severe conflict between Fashola and Ambode, leading to the latter’s resignation. And Tinubu promised to reward him subsequently.

Anxiety mounts over MTN’s Future

Ferdi Moolman, CEO, MTN Nigeria
Ferdi Moolman, CEO, MTN Nigeria

UCHE CHRIS

From every indication, this may be the last straw for the South African company, MTN. Informed sources believe that it was a strategic move by government to ensure that the company never recovers, thereby providing a convenient pretext to acquire it. As the biggest and arguably most profitable company in the country, government is somewhat jittery and troubled by its operations especially as a foreign owned firm.

Still reeling from the previous fine which was occasioned by its disregard to the regulation requiring all telcos to register their SIMs before issuance to subscribers, in a bid to track users especially those who perpetrate crimes, such as terrorism and kidnapping, MTN is at present pitched in the battle for its survival. MTN is expected to list on the Nigeria Stock Exchange, NSE, this year according to the schedule and terms of settlement for the SIM registration offence.

The Central Bank of Nigeria had a few weeks ago imposed an $8.134 billion profit refund penalty and another $2.3 billion tax liability for fraudulently repatriating its equity investment as loans without proper approval in breach of existing laws in the country. CBN also slammed four banks with a fine of N5.87 billion for their involvements in the transactions in violation of laws and regulations including the Foreign Exchange (Monitoring and Miscellaneous) Act 1995 and the Forex Manual 2006.

Standard Chartered Bank, a South African bank, like MTN, received the highest fine of N2.5 billion, followed by Stanbic IBTC, another South African bank, which received N1.9 billion, while Citibank, an American bank, got N1.3 billion. However, Diamond bank owned by Mr. Pascal Dozie, and chairman of MTN, received N250 million. An official source described the situation, “as a conspiracy by South Africans against Nigeria”.

MTN has denied the allegations insisting that it did no wrong as it did in the SIM case only to later accept under threat of license revocation. However, Stanbic IBTC , says “it was not aware at the relevant time the affected investors in the MTN Private Placement in 2008 had obtained forex loans from local banks for the purpose of their investment and it was not mandated under any law to investigate whether an invested fund is borrowed or not but rather to ascertain that an investor had transferred the necessary funds to the stipulated assets”.

But this seems contrary to all the existing regulations and laws, especially the Know Your Customer policy, which requires banks to ensure adherence to the purpose of transactions involving their customers. The $8.5 billion was the profit from the investment of $402 million which was transferred out of the country under the guise of equipment purchase finance.

Also, some of the transfers were made to tax havens (private accounts) instead of the head quarters in South Africa, making them proceeds of money laundering. MTN is also accused of false claims of capital inflow, which were actually proceeds from over-invoicing; that the forex sourced from local banks were subsequently repatriated as profit of investment thereby worsening the pressure on the naira.

In its reaction, MTN said that “The allegations are false and based on completely false information”.

But in 2007 when MTN published the its accounts it reclassified the investment as only $29 million as equity and $399 million loans contrary to the Certificate of Capital Importation, CCI, issued by Standard Chartered bank.

“That means that MTN provided false information and used banks to convert their equity to loans without approval from the CBN as required by law,” said a government source.

MTN invested $402 million from 2001 to 2006 and made a profit of $8.1 billion, about 20 times of the original investment.

Informed official sources hinted that the cup of MTN is full and there is urgent need to make an example of it citing the previous case where it was fined by the NCC.

“The war on corruption would not be successful if the business community is not brought in to the hilt. We cannot be humiliating politicians while business people are ripping off the country; they must pay like every other person in the country to ensure that the entire system is effectively sanitized”.

Another source also believes that the focus on MTN goes beyond the war on corruption. He said that this government has not been completely enamoured of the private sector and the attention on MTN is part of its anti business orientation and policy. It was learnt that the strategic position of the telco as the largest and most lucrative company fit government plan to flex its muscle against the private sector by taking up a role through the back door.

It would be recall that this government has not hidden its disdain and anger toward the privatization of some government establishments such as NITEL, PHCN, Nigeria Airways etc – firms that provided huge patronage for the northern leadership – by previous administrations, and has been seeking opportunities to redress it.  Last month, for instance, government through the minister of Aviation Hadi Seriki, announced the setting up of Air Nigeria as successor company to the defunct NAL.

Sources said government had deliberately imposed the issuance of Initial Public Offering on MTN as part of the settlement for the earlier infraction on the SIM registration regulation to avoid direct government involvement. However, MTN’s reluctance to follow through with the condition informed the current action against it to either stampede it into taking steps toward fulfilling the terms or provide the convenient pretext to nationalize it.

Already MTN is seen as a “rogue company” in the eye of the law and government will be justified to take any punitive action against it. Informed sources said that given the strategic importance of the network which controls about half of the subscriber base, government led by President Buhari is infinitely affronted that there is no significant northern representation in its ownership. There is also the security implication of its dominance.

The source defended such eventuality stressing that government is fully covered by extant laws to either revoke the licence of the network or take over its assets.

“The laws are there and very clear: Executive Order six, recently issued by the government and the money laundering Act empower government to confiscate assets from proceeds of crimes; while under the NCC Act the licence of any network involved in criminal activities can be revoked. MTN has got no legal defence,” the source asserted.

According to the source, it is either MTN sheds part of its ownership to allow Nigerians and particularly northern interest, share in it or loses everything because government is determined to enforce its laws and protect the economy. The source added that the network has abused its privilege and government goodwill, insisting that no person or company is above the law.

Already, there is palpable anxiety in the banking sector over the MTN crisis as several banks will be adversely affected in the event of failure or takeover. A meeting of the bankers Committee is being envisaged soon to review this issue and take a position to guard against any systemic run on the industry.

Mr. Funso Aina, head corporate communications, MTN, would not comment, insisting that their position has been stated in a previous statement.

In the statement, MTN said it “received a letter on August 29, 2018, from CBN alleging that Certificates of Capital Importation (CCIs) issued in respect of the conversion of shareholders loans in MTN Nigeria to preference shares in 2007 had been improperly issued. As a consequence, they claim that historic dividends repatriated by MTN Nigeria between 2007 and 2015 amounting to $8,1 billion need to be refunded to the CBN.

MTN Nigeria strongly refutes these allegations and claims. No dividends have been declared or paid by MTN Nigeria other than pursuant to CCIs issued by our bankers and with the approval of the CBN as required by law.

The issues surrounding the CCIs have already been the subject of a thorough enquiry by the Senate of Nigeria. In September 2016 the Senate mandated the Committee on Banking, Insurance and other Financial Institutions to carry out a holistic investigation on compliance with the Foreign exchange (monitoring and miscellaneous) Act by MTN Nigeria & Others.

In its report issued in November 2017, the findings evidenced that MTN Nigeria did not collude to contravene the foreign exchange laws and there were no negative recommendations made against MTN Nigeria.

MTN Nigeria, as a law-abiding citizen of Nigeria, is committed to good governance and to abiding by the extant laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The re-emergence of these issues is regrettable as it damages investor confidence and, by extension, inhibits the growth and development of the Nigerian economy.

We will engage with the relevant authorities and vigorously defend our position on this matter and provide further information when available.

However, Engr. Lanre Ajayi, former President of ATCON, told BusinessHallmark that there is more to the issues than meets the eyes, noting that why should government wait 10 years to review transactions alleged to be in violation of existing laws and regulations.

“We are not trying to defend or justify criminality; if anybody falls foul of the law, such a person or company should be dealt with. But it is not right and proper for the company to be singled out for punishment when there were government officials also involved; we have not heard anything said about such people who abetted such activities; such people were careless and negligent and should be sanctioned too.

“Even the issue of tax raises more questions than answer; why should the Attorney General be involved when it should be the responsibility of the FIRS. Nigeria should be careful because the world is watching and investors will respond appropriately to any action of government”, he said.

Mallam Abubakar Malami, AGF had last week given the four indicted banks in the allegations a two week ultimatum to pay the N5.8 billion. But the CBN did not wait that long as it debited the banks on Friday. All these suggest some political agenda and motive in the entire episode.

However, Mr. Deolu Ogunbanjo, National President, National Association of Telecoms Subscribers, NATCOMs, called for caution, stressing that the parties are still discussing and the final decision has not yet been reached; therefore until he details are available we should reserve some conclusions.

“I believe things will be worked out by the parties; the important thing is that they are still talking even though they still maintain their positions. By next week (this week) the picture will be clearer, then we will know the next step”, he said to Hallmark.

Last week Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, a former vice president who is running to be presidential candidate for the main opposition People’s Democratic Party criticized government on the move, saying the way the central bank has targeted MTN will only serve to discourage foreign investors, noting that it was a political move to appeal to President Buhari’s voting base.

“Even in a worst-case scenario where there were breaches of financial laws and regulations, there are much better ways to deal with it than by the public exposure that MTN has been subjected to,” Abubakar said in Lagos. “It is bound to send the wrong signal to foreign investors. We should resolve it in a business-like manner, not a punitive manner.”

Abubakar was deputy president when MTN began operating in Nigeria in 2001 and was part of the government’s drive to create a mobile phone network to help address woeful telecommunications in the country. The South African company was at the forefront of that initiative, and had about 66 million local customers at the end of June, according to the Nigerian Communications Commission.

“The Nigerian government and authorities are trying to get their house in order,” Dobek Pater, managing director of telecoms advisory firm Africa Analysis, said by phone from Rwanda. “From history MTN does not have a squeaky clean reputation, and there have been some transgressions in the past,” an online media reported Friday.

However, Vestact Chief Executive Officer Paul Theron said the move was “pathetic, nationalistic and immature” and will “severely weaken Nigeria’s economy in the years to come.”

The shares gained 1 percent to 77 rand by 4:31 p.m. in Johannesburg on Thursday. The stock is still down 45 percent this year. MTN has declined more than 60 percent since October 2015, when its troubles with Nigerian regulators over the disconnection of lines were first announced. The stock fell 18 percent on the first day of the announcement.

Moody’s Investors Service has placed the company’s rating of Ba1, four steps into junk territory, on review for downgrade by weekend, citing the “uncertainty around the potential implications” of the Nigerian penalties.

 

Cross Rivers State’s budget of smokes and mirrors

Gov. Ben Ayade of Cross River State

When a state’s budget rises from N301 billion in 2017 to N1.35 trillion in 2018, it is not just a sign of fanciful accounting but of fiscal delusion; it is a poor man’s dream masquerading as a rich man’s fantasy. An increasing number of analysts have noted that the Cross Rivers State government’s spanking new budget for the year 2018 is a dangerous bridge between wishful thinking and irrational expectations.

According to economist and entrepreneur, Surajudeen Akinyemi, chief executive officer of Surak 713, ‘budgets as plans must be seasoned with reason and tempered with foresight, as General Gordon Sullivan of the United States Army once said “hope is not a method”.

Cross Rivers State’s 2017 budget certainly had no illusions of its stature as it fell from a relatively modest N 303 billion in 2016 (revised downwards from the earlier N350 billion) to N301billion, representing a 0.7 per cent drop from the previous year, most of which was tilted in favour of capital expenditure which carved up N220 billion or 73 per cent of the budget while recurrent expenditure of N81 billion or 27 per cent, took up the rest. Huge capital expenditure outlays have been a consistently strong suit of the Cross River state government in the past two years but with its low industrial base, straggly commercial economy and its heavy public sector dependence, recurrent expenditure tends to exceed budget provisions. The new fiscal arithmetic has, therefore, shocked watchers of the state’s treasury finances. Dr Adi Bongo Faculty member of the Lagos Business School (LBS) notes that, ‘optimism is a good thing, but to fly a kite on a playground and to do so in public office are two separate issues; while on the playground it is fun, in public office it is irresponsible’, he says.

According to Bongo, ‘even a housewife knows that she should plan based on immediate past income trends and not on what is likely to come; nobody (or at least no sensible person) makes financial arrangements on the basis of a recently purchased lottery ticket. Ayade appears to be a great gambler and has decided to bet the house that Cross Rivers State will win the 2018 revenue lottery!’. But unfortunately, few people share Ayade’s optimism. On a compound average annual basis Cross River state has so far grown budget size by 23 per cent per annum over the last seven years. The new budget growth, therefore, represents 15 times the average annual growth rate of the state budget in a single fiscal year. Seun Alatise, an economist and head corporate finance at Century Finance and Securities notes that, indigenes of the state would soon be, ‘seeing pigs fly’. He says that the assumptions of the state’s 2018 budget are, ‘heady, unattainable and queer’.  Even a state like Lagos state that generates internal revenue of 70 per cent of its annual budget with a current IGR of about N40billion monthly or N480billion annually just recently extended its budget expectations to N1.046trillion for the year 2018. Therefore, for Ayade’s Cross River State to match Lagos State in budget size says a lot for guts, ‘but not much for fiscal prudence and conservatism’, observes Alatise.

Agriculture, a revolution yet to come

Cross River state’s bold fiscal adventure will be capped by a narrow economic base that has been unable to expand significantly in last few years and is unlikely to do so over the next twelve months as investors become knowingly wary of the states rising crime rate and lack of security. The state’s largest internal revenue sources come from agriculture and the public service sector. Although there has been some gradual progress in primary agricultural production, nevertheless the processing segment of the agricultural value chain that might raise revenue, grow employment and improve skills has not been managed in a manner would achieve significant results over the next twelve months. This is in contrast to developments in Akwa Ibom State that has already entered into a broad private sector partnership with a United Arab Emirate (UAE) consortium to develop an agricultural export-processing zone. The Akwa Ibom initiative would involve the development of a deep sea port, and could hurt the competitive capacity of Cross Rivers State in the area of agricultural processing unless both states enter into joint venture agreements.

According to a source close to the Akwa Ibom transaction that declined being mentioned in print, ‘we have already gone some distance in our own Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), as we review the government’s earlier data for levels of silting, geology and topography. We are getting some pretty decent results, but in 2018 we expect, everything being equal, to be able to move, men and material to the zone’. This is in stark contrast to the Calabar Export Processing Zone (CEPZ) which has remained a monument to Nigeria’s waste and plunder.

Cross River state’s once flourishing oil and gas business is in lockdown (after losing 76 oil wells to its neighboring, state Akwa Ibom , and the federal government). The once burgeoning sector has since taken a catwalk across state lines to the wealthier, Akwa Ibom, resulting in the money from the Federation Accounts derivation fund drying up. This has hurt the states monthly FAAC revenues and its ancillary internal revenues that come from oil and gas companies resident in the state. This is not necessarily bad but it does require creative thinking on how to diversify the economy and whip up alternative streams of incomes to replace the lost revenues from previous oil well assets. While Christian Nestell Bovee might have been right when he observed that, ‘No man is happy without a delusion of some kind. Delusions are as necessary to our happiness as realities.’, nevertheless in the serious business of state budgeting delusions are too dangerous to go unrestrained.

Debt, high and scary

With the fourth largest debt stock for any state in the country, Cross River states illusion of grandeur can come crashing down fairly quickly. Its proposed 275km superhighway project designed to run from the deep sea port of the state to Northern Nigeria and then on to Chad and Niger Republics is not just grandiloquent in its ambition it also lacks a sound financial blueprint to internalize and optimize economic benefits to the state. In all likelihood it will end up becoming another white obelisk similar to Tinapa, in Akpabuyo. The revision of the project’s cost from its initial N800 billion to N200 billion, notwithstanding, the immediate merit of the superhighway is difficult to see. The state needs to work on revving its agricultural sector by providing industrial estates that create infrastructure for sustained agricultural production. Revenues from taxing the profits of companies in these specialized agricultural zones would improve the state’s IGR, raise employment levels and reduce the youth crime rate. Jumping from a budget of N301billion in 2017 to N1.35 trillion in 2018 is an amazingly careless leap of confidence destined to crash in a heap. Christian Ita, the governor’s Chief Press Secretary, seems to have enjoyed some leisurely time in the sun and unfortunately suffered sunstroke, when he reportedly said that, ‘…those who are long native to envelope budgeting were quick to derisively dismiss it as unrealistic and unachievable, serious states like Lagos went back to the drawing board X-raying every detail of the proposed statement of income and expenditure of Cross River State’. Comparing Lagos State to Cross Rivers State is like comparing the states Drill Monkeys to Republic of Congo’s Grauer’s gorillas. Apart from the clear difference in the size and structure of the two state economies, the operating status of their treasuries are as dissimilar as Efikis to Yoruba.

To be sure, both states publicize high and rising debt profiles but to believe that this represents photo opportunities for fiscal chest thumping is, to put it mildly, queer. Lagos state plans to achieve a monthly IGR figure ofN60 billion in 2018 which comes to N720billion for the whole year and represents a traditional 70 per cent of the state’s normal annual revenue.  Given the fact that Lagos state now qualifies as an oil producing state and will begin to share in the nation’s oil derivation fund, the projected rise in its IGR by 50 per cent makes good fiscal sense. The same cannot be said of Cross Rivers state.

Ayade’s boldness is refreshing and his attempt at a new approach to public sector budgeting alluring but the quantum leap in the states projected revenue still gives analysts butterflies as it creates a feeling of acrophobia(fear of heights) not many care to stomach; falling from Olympian heights even in a dream is a nasty experience.

Cross River’s 2018 budget makes a play at Blore’s razor, which states that in a situation where one is faced with two competing theories, the smart move would be to pick the funnier. The problem here is that it is not certain that the beautiful maidens of Calabar will have much to smile about come December 2018 when the government’s budget falls flat on its nose but perhaps the electrifying dance steps they perform with their delightful waists at the colourful annual year-end Calabar carnival will make up for the disappointment?

E-BANKING: New Hi-Tech culture changes the rules

FELIX OLOYEDE  |

Nigerian banks have moved the theatre of competition from brick and mortar financial service vending to a new place. Here the codes are a series of zeroes and ones, the actors are not svelte ladies in high –heeled shoes and short skirts looking up rather than down or men with smooth cheeks, crew cut hair and body-molded suits who look like they have just stepped out of ‘Men’s Health’ Magazine, the new agents of mass service provision are shiny but unclothed, they are computers that do in a millisecond what humans do in minutes. Welcome to the banking sectors chief industry disruptor; welcome to the digital world. In the last two years Nigerian banks have gone for one another’s jugular like gothic warriors as they migrate thousands of their customers from real world banking halls to ubiquitous internet platforms, the outcome of this epic battle for new digital market share has been mixed as some banks have done better than others.    Nigeria has experienced a fair share of growth in the global move towards electronic payments and settlements. The rise in digital banking has ripped ahead at terabytes with analysts noting that global volumes have grown by 10.1 per cent globally to reach USD426.3 billion in 2015 with Africa and other emerging markets playing a crucial role in this rise, according to a 2016 World Payments Report.       

In Nigeria, an ever growing number of customers are whipping out sleek digital devices such as mobile phones and tablets to do their businesses rather than stroll grudgingly to banking halls. Data obtained from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) show that the volume of transactions carried out through devices such as Point of Sales (PoS) machines alone has grown 86.28 per cent from a modest 2.59 million in 2012 to a staggering 48.2 million (or twenty folds) in May 2017, internet banking and mobile payment volumes also rose by a whopping 325.96 per cent from 2.28 million in 2012 to 9.7 million in 2017 for internet banking and 778.44 per cent from 2.02 million to 20.18 million for mobile payment in the last five years.

True, Automated Teller Machine (ATM) transactions have declined by a wimpy -18.39 per cent over the last five years to 306,462 in May 2017, the value of these transactions went up by 27.78 per cent to NGN2.54 billion in May 2017 from NGN1.98 billion in 2012. This is while the total value of electronic payment transactions have soared 1,372.11 per cent in the last five years from N138.65 billion in 2012 to NGN2.04 trillion in May 2017.

Dr. Dipo Fatokun, Director, Banking and Payments System Department, Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) believes that several factors could be responsible for the outsized growth of global electronic payments; he believes that a complex combination of factors have given rise to growth in digital infrastructure, these include but are not limited to: stronger encryption measures such as EMV, OTP, Token, 2FA or biometrics, moves by governments to encourage digital payment solutions and banks search for business models that reduce operating costs while improving service delivery quality.

“Electronic payments solutions continue to be fascinating stories across the globe and Nigeria is no exception, but banks and other service providers face a number of challenges in ensuring that they make the most of this opportunity,” he noted while addressing pressmen at an e-payment conferences in Lagos recently.

Quite a number of banks have led the charge in Nigeria with Guaranty Trust Bank (GT Bank), Zenith Bank and Diamond Bank heading strongly through the technology gates as they set the pace in the industry with a variety of online and digital mobile banking solutions. Diamond bank in particular has leveraged the powerful growth in digital consumer banking activities to improve its once bed-ridden balance sheet; Diamond Bank under the leadership of Uzoma Dozie, scion of the founding Managing Director and Chairman of the bank, Pascal Dozie, has invested heavily in technology to improve customers’ service experience at a number of service touch points. Since becoming group managing director (GMD), Uzoma Dozie has shown resolve to setup a focused digital team that would spearhead technological innovation in the crowded industry.

This has led the bank to being the first commercial lender on the continent to introduce fingerprint recognition features on its Diamond Mobile App, a fingerprint reader that allows users of the App to easily and seamlessly login to their accounts by simply recognizing and identifying their individual fingerprints – a technology very few banks in the world have adopted and implemented.

Diamond Bank was also the first to launch Magic Cash in the country, an application or App that works with a mobile phone; it is a no-cheque, no-withdrawal slip and no-debit card financial transaction that gives customers easy access to draw cash from any of the bank’s ATMs at any specified or preferred time.

Therefore it did not come as a surprise when the bank emerged as the Best Bank in Mobile Banking in Nigeria in the 2016 Banking Awards organized by a local newspaper publication. It was also named the ‘Most Innovative Product of the Year’ as the bank’s Cool Teen financial product, designed for teenagers, beat four others to emerge best in class product brand.

Receiving the award then, the chief executive officer of Diamond Bank, who was represented at the event by its Deputy Managing Director, Caroline Anyanwu, said the award was evidence of the bank’s conviction that digital platforms were key to the future of banking. She further stated that Diamond bank’s leading role in providing efficient and cost effective services using mobile phones was strategic.

Confirming the bank’s superior digital service quality, a customer with the online name, Sholatech said, “Diamond Bank is ahead of digital contemporaries by a long pole. The ease of using it electronic services and the simple registration process is superb.’’ As the bank proclaims in its digital adverts, mobileapp is the sweetest way to bank or so it seems as a growing number of banks take to the digital circuit to provide their customers with services that meet the requirements of efficiency, speed and lower opportunity cost.

A customer who goes by the online name Tempest01, when asked about Diamond banks online digital presence noted that, “I am torn between zenith and diamond bank, both banks seem to offer very competitive on line experiences.”

Zenith Bank and GT Bank are the two other commercial lenders in that customers fancy as first rate on line banking service providers. Demilade Olayioye, a customer of Zenith Bank who spoke with Business hallmark noted that she prefered Zenith Bank to other banks she has tried because she hardly encounters any problems while carrying out transactions on the bank’s e-payment platforms.

GT Bank’s USSD *737# has gained strong acceptance among young Nigerians. The bank is said to have popularized the used of USSD codes in the country. A GT Bank customer with the online name, SleekReek declared: “GTB e-banking platform is very user friendly, excellent service. You can just register and start using it without any supervision. It has never failed me once. I use it for all my Forex transfers also without problems.”

The ancient Roman coliseum would have been proud of the emerging battles in the digital market space in Nigeria as several banks swing heavy electronic swords, hold up encryption shields and engage in digital shows of strength to the admiration of customers who are increasingly becoming the chief beneficiary of the new digital banking age. On the downside, the rise of electronics has seen the gradual erosion of certain categories of banking jobs such as tellering, bulk cash counting and to some extent marketing. Routine jobs are biting the dust in the competition arena while jobs that require critical thinking skills such as credit evaluation and administration still carry weight in banking rooms. Credit appraisal memorandums (CAM’s), Asset and Liability Management (ALM) and Credit Risk Management (CRM) remain a staple of the banking business that may not fizzle any time soon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Business Hallmark Public Policy Lecture Presents

Osun begins distribution of looted items to owners

Osun palliative

By Sunday Oguntuyi, Osogbo

Osun state government on Thursday commenced distribution of looted items in the state to their respective owners at the State Government House in Osogbo.

About 20 percent of the stolen items have been returned following the 72 hours amnesty given to the looters by Governor Gboyega Oyetola to voluntarily return the looted items in their custody or face a full wrath of the law.

The Governror who had earlier inspected some of the recovered loots warned looters still in possession of stolen items to return them before the commencement of the house-to-house search by security agents on Thursday.

The Secretary of the adhoc committee on recovery of stolen items, Mr Samson Owoyokun, who handed over the items to the owners, said the looting affected fourteen local governments. He said the recovered items were dropped by the looters and the committee have been going round to pick them.

Some of the owners according to Owoyokun have identified their properties at the government house, Osogbo, where the recovered loots were deposited. He explained that Governror Oyetola, being a peace lover, had given the looters opportunity to return their stolen items in their custody.

Owoyokun who commended the governor for his unique ingenuity towards ensuring that the looted items were returned voluntarily by the looters, expressed optimism that the remaining items would be recovered . Owoyokun who is the Special Adviser to the Governror on Special Duties re-echored the Governor’s position, saying those who refused to embrace the offer of the government would face the full wrath of the law.

“To the Governror, this voluntary return of the of loots is a welcome development. “The intention is to assist the various owners of these items to have the opportunity of getting their properties and belongings because we believe strongly that it is going to be a big setback for them to have all these properties lost.”

Warning the looters, Owoyokun added, “What they should realise is that, there are a lot of video clips and video coverage for all the looting that took place in the state. “The implication of this is that there is no hidden place for anybody that looted anything in Osun. We are going to embark on door-to-door search to recover the remaining stolen materials, Owoyokun said.

Speaking, the Executive Secretary of the Osun Health Insurance Agency, Dr Adeniyi Oginni, whose his agency was vandalised and looted completely by the hoodlums said they recovered just about 15 percent of the looted properties. He expressed sadness that many properties of the scheme were also vandalized during the attack on Saturday. Oginni described the 72-hour amnesty as a very critical factor in the recovery of the stolen items. It was like a malicious attack on the agency.

Apart from the things that were carted away, many things were vandalized. About fifteen percent have been recovered. Though, some of the electronics like flat TV have spoilt. There is a very critical aspect of our properties that have not been recovered. Our server, all our computers (both desktops and laptops). We have not seen any one of them.

He commended the Governror for the instructions he gave that those in procession of the stolen items should return it , saying some of the items that were carted away on Saturday, 24th of October, included electronics, ICT equipment, office furniture and medicines.

He appealed to citizens to cooperate with the Government of the State of Osun in providing quality healthcare system under the Osun Health Insurance Scheme, by notifying the law enforcement agencies promptly at the sight of electronic equipment, computers, printers, furniture, generators, refrigerators and drugs belonging to the State, adding that citizens have a role to play in putting a stop to the wanton destruction of the Commonwealth of the State.

Speaking on behalf of Senator representing Osun Central, Dr. Ajibola Bashiru, one of his aides, Mr Bisi Babalola, confirmed that some of the properties carted away in the Senator’s house have been identified. He said about forty five percent of the motorcycles, deep freezers and sewing machines have been identified among the returned loots.

Lagos International Trade Fair postponed to Dec 4

The Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) has postponed the 2020 edition of the Lagos International Trade Fair  from November 5-15, 2020 to December 4-13, 2020 at the Tafawa Balewa Square, Lagos; both physically and virtually simultaneously.
Dr Muda Yusuf, Director-General, LCCI, in a statement on Thursday, also said that the postponement was occasioned by the economic disruptions brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic and the recent #EndSARS protests across the nation.

“The resolve to hold the 2020 edition of the fair is in line with the need for quick restoration of normalcy to the economic and commercial activities in Lagos State and our support for the ongoing ‘Protect Lagos’ Campaign.
“In addition to the general interest fair, the annual international business expo will also feature special days for corporate organisations to showcase their inventions, innovations, and sustainability initiatives simultaneously during the fair.
“The focus, this year, is to facilitate trade and chart a way forward for the economy to exit the impending recession.
“The exhibition will also facilitate networking among exhibitors and between exhibitors and visitors.
“The fair is expected to attract a huge traffic of visitors seeking to take advantage of the networking opportunities and discounted prices.
“Corporate organisations including: multinational corporations, indigenous conglomerates and financial institutions as well as corporate organisations from the West African Sub-region had indicated their interests to participate at the exhibition,” he said.
Yusuf also stated that relevant agencies and departments of the government would be available to exhibit and attend to other exhibitors and visitors.
He added that agencies that had confirmed attendance to provide information and educate exhibitors and visitors are : the Bank of Industry (BOI), the Nigerian Export Promotion Council (NEPC), and the Corporate Affairs Commission( CAC).
“So far, so good, the excitement that the fair has generated has been phenomenal and we are, indeed, happy about our strategic partnership with our stakeholders,” he said.

Government warns Nigerians about on-going N3million COVID-19 grant scam

Minister of State, Federal Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Mr Clement Agba

The Federal Government has issued a warning to Nigerians about an ongoing N3million COVID-19 scam in circulation.

This was disclosed by the Federal Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning via its Twitter handle.

According to the government, the scam targets Nigerians looking to benefit from the Federal Government assistance to businesses affected by COVID-19.

In the tweet, it warned about some phishing links being shared on social media, requesting for applications for N3 Million FG Grants.

It tweeted, “The general public should note that these phishing links are generated by Scammers and intended to defraud unsuspecting Nigerians.

“Government requests for applications are only via official channels & websites.

“It has come to our attention that a link is being shared via social media requesting for applications for a FG N3 Million grant.

“The general public should note that this is a SCAM. Any requests for applications are only via official channels & websites. Pls beware! #FinMinNigeria.”

Okebunmi Omolaja, has tasked the Federal Government to take its warning further from the social media to other publicity tools in order to spread the information across Nigeria.

He said, “The Ministry can help by carrying the awareness campaigns to States radio stations or federal officers in each States to meet the CDA Leaders of their traditional rulers palaces/govt schools premises.”

Nigeria targets power for 5mn homes in 2021 with Mini-grid systems

Mr Saleh Mamman, Minister of Power

In a bid to provide remote communities with clean and affordable energy, the Minister of Power, Engineer Sale Mamman has disclosed that the Government is set to invest heavily in the deployment of Mini-grid systems that will provide power for 5 million homes in 2021.

This disclosure was made by Engr. Sale Mamman in a statement released into the mainstream media via his official Twitter handle.

The Minister explained that it is virtually impossible for the National grid to cover every geographical point within Nigeria. He emphasized that this reality prompted the present administration to sort out alternatives, and as a result, the Government is set to invest heavily in the deployment of Mini-grid systems, which can easily get to the most remote communities and provide clean, and affordable energy in 2021.

The Minister, in his statement, said, “It is virtually impossible to have the National grid covering every geographical point within Nigeria, that is why the Government is investing heavily in the deployment of Mini-grid systems, which can easily get to the most remote communities and provide clean, affordable energy.

“In 2021, part of our priorities at the Ministry and two of its implementing agencies will be on providing these Mini-grid systems for communities and stand-alone home solar systems. We have a target of 5 million homes. Clean, affordable, and accessible energy for all.”

The Minister of Power, Engineer Sale Mamman, at the 2021 budget defense before the House of Representatives Committee on Power in Abuja, yesterday disclosed that Nigeria’s installed grid power generation capacity has grown from 8,000MW to 13,000MW under the leadership of President Muhammadu Buhari.

The Minister also pointed out that the distribution system had the capacity to evacuate 5,500MW of power, which is a significant improvement from 4,500MW in 2015.

CAFEi Promotes Savings Culture, Celebrates World Savings Day

Consumer Awareness and Financial Enlightenment Initiative (CAFEi) has announced that it will be hosting a webinar as part of its activities designed to celebrate the World Savings Day.  The Zoom webinar which is scheduled to hold by 11am on Saturday, 31st October, 2020 is themed ‘Saving Culture: A Must for a Secured Future’. The event is aimed at increasing awareness amongst children on the importance of savings.

The World Savings Day, celebrated in more than 80 countries around the world on 31 October, is an event created to increase public awareness of the importance of savings for both modern economies and individuals alike. The main topics focus on the significance of savings in the global economy and how every depositor contributes to its development. It was established in October 31, 1924 during the 1sT International Savings Bank Congress (World Society of Savings Bank) in Milano, Italy.

The webinar would be featuring reputable educationists and financial experts including

Mrs. Folashade Adefisayo, Commissioner for Education Lagos State; Mrs.Tabitha Wilson, Director of Art at St. Francis College Letchworth, United Kingdom; Mr. Ikemefula Nwachukwu, Head, Personal Banking, FirstBank and Mrs. Bisi Adeyemi, Managing Director DCSL Corporate Services.

Speaking on the event, Otunba (Mrs) Debola Osibogun President, CAFEi said, ‘’ the importance of savings cannot be over –emphasized. It allows us to enjoy greater financial security and independence in life. This is especially true for children. Good savings habit combined with budgeting, allow children to develop financial discipline, a skill applicable to other areas of their life. Good savings culture early in life is a foundation for future financial security.  I encourage you to invite your children to join this webinar so they can participate and learn from the session’’ she concludes.

WTO: Okonjo-Iweala relishes success achieved so far, expresses confidence despite hiccups

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala
Dr. Okonjo-Iweala

OBINNA EZUGWU

Nigeria’s former finance minister and leading candidate for the Director general of World Trade Organization, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has said she is humbled to be declared the candidate with most broad-based support as the race for the job gets to a head.

The Nigerian developmental economist and former Managing Director at the World Bank was on Wednesday, nominated for the WTO top job having secured the support of 163 of the body’s 164 members.

But the United States opposed her nomination and expressed support for her challenger, South Korea’s Yoo Myung-hee, delaying her announcement as new DG.

The organization has called a meeting for November 9 to discuss to discuss the impasse.

Reacting to the development in a statement via twitter on Thursday, Okonjo-Iweala said she was happy with progress made so far, while expressing confidence that she would emerge in the end.

“Happy for the success & continued progress of our World Trade Organization DG bid,” she wrote.

“Very humbled to be declared the candidate with the largest, broadest support among members & most likely to attract consensus. We move on to the next step on Nov 9, despite hiccups. We’re keeping the positivity going!”

21, including school children perish in Enugu accident

Enugu Accident

Tragedy on Wednesday, struck in Enugu State as a truck rammed into a school bus conveying about 60 school children killing a number of them and other bystanders.

According to an eye witness, the truck suffered brake failure and rammed into the bus at Mgbowo in Awgu Local Government Area of Enugu State.

The pupils are of the Presentation Nursery and Primary School, Awgu owned by the Catholic Diocese of Awgu home

It was gathered that the accident happened when a Lowbed truck belonging to a construction firm working at Oji-River – Awgu Federal Road lost control and rammed into the school bus.

The Federal Road Safety Corps which confirmed the incident on Thursday, said 21 people, including school children, died.

The Enugu Sector Commander, Mr Ogbonna Kalu, who confirmed the incident to PUNCH said the accident occurred on Wednesday afternoon.

He, however, blamed the accident on speeding beyond the limit and dangerous driving.

Kalu said, “21 persons have been confirmed dead and more than 50 persons were in the school bus.

“Also of note is that not all the deaths were school children. Those working on the roadside were part of the casualties.

“From available information, the accident was caused by dangerous driving.”

Sanwo-olu unveils internship programme for 4,000 unemployed graduates

Lagos State Governor Sanwo-Olu

OBINNA EZUGWU

The Lagos State governor, Babajide Sanwo-olu has approved Internship Programme for 4,000 unemployed graduates in line with the T.H.E.M.E.S Agenda of the present administration and the Youth Development Programme of the State.

This, the governor said, is part of the government’s efforts to reduce youth unemployment in the state.

The state’s Commissioner for Wealth Creation and Employment, Mrs. Yetunde Arobieke who announced the programme, said it is designed to give candidates the opportunity to develop employability and work-ready skills that are needed in securing gainful employment.

She added that the Internship Programme will be addressing the third and fourth pillars of the present administration’s T.H.E.M.E.S agenda, while the beneficiaries will be paid a monthly stipend of N40,000 for the six months duration of the internship.

Arobieke informed that at the end of the internship period, interns would have gained valuable work experience, built up their professional skills and would have been exposed to entrepreneurial opportunities to strengthen their professional skills and interpersonal relationship.

The Commissioner, therefore, implored interested candidates to apply through the dedicated link for the programme: http://gipplasg.lagosstate.gov.ng.

She stressed that interested applicants must possess NYSC Certificates or letters of exemption, and must be registered residents of the State with Lagos State Residents Registration Agency, LASRRA.

She informed that over 50 off-takers have shown interest in having the Interns work in their organisations.

Arobieke maintained that the selection process will be transparent as successful candidates after taking an online test will be trained on employability skills for two weeks and evaluated.

They will, subsequently, be placed on six months paid Internship with Private organisations and selected Public Agencies in line with their qualifications.

 

Nestle posts N212.7bn revenue in Q3’20, proposes N25 interim dividend to shareholders

Adebayo Obajemu

The third quarter financial report of Nestle Nigeria Plc for the period ended September 30th, 2020 reveals that the company soared by 0.66% in Revenue closing the period at N212.733bn above the previous close of N211.347bn in 2019.

The Profit after Tax (PAT), was down by 13.31% to arrive at N31.938bn from N36.841bn recorded in Q3’19.

With about 800mn share outstanding, the Shareholders’ earnings per share declined by 32% from N46.48 in the corresponding period of 2019 to N40.29 in the period under review.

At a reference price of N1292.50, as the released date, the company’s PE Ratio stood at 32.08x with earnings yield of 3.12%.

Nestle proposed an interim dividend of N25 to its shareholders. The qualification date is November 20, 2020. Closure of Register is from November 23 to November 27, 2020. Payment date is December 7, 2020.

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