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Thursday, 18 February 2016 15:23

Of course, we owe this success to the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government and the RecepTayyipErdoğan regime. They did this by whitewashing the junta structures within the army, whose coup attempts were proven with concrete evidence. They clenched their success by acquitting all members of the "Ergenekon terrorist organization" -- a clandestine organization nested within the state trying to overthrow or manipulate the democratically elected government -- which was responsible for numerous unresolved murders and violent chaotic events. Moreover, they further reinforced this acquittal when they paid an apology to every "deep state" member, coup perpetrator and junta members by saying, "There was a conspiracy against the army."

Of course, this wasn't enough. As a gift to those "coup perpetrators," they sacrificed innocent people. Without providing any evidence, they fabricated the nonsense called the "parallel state" and accused certain public officials of working for this "parallel state" and "conspiring" against the army and attempting to "overthrow" the government, and in this way, they excelled in unlawfulness and oppression. By doing so, they brought an end to the period of coups in Turkey.

As is known, in an effort to cover up the massive graft and bribery scandal that went public on Dec. 17, 2013, the AKP government and the Erdoğan regime opted for acquitting, and cooperating with, all coup perpetrators, junta members and deep state networks, although it had fought against them in the past. "How then did they finish off the coups d'état?" you may well ask. I will try to explain it below.

The AKP government and the Erdoğan regime not only rushed to whitewash the military coup attempts, subversive juntas and deep state networks that had been tried and sentenced based on concrete evidence to look for their cooperation in its efforts to stow away the graft scandal, but also modified the practical meaning and content of the coup of "coup d'état." With a desperate need for cooperation with the coup perpetrators, junta members and Ergenekon supporters in order to ward off pressures regarding the graft scandal, the AKP government hastily vindicated them and, at the same time, came up with numerous new forms of coups d'état.

For the graft-tainted AKP government and Erdoğan regime, the Balyoz (Sledgehammer) -- a suspected coup plot believed to have been devised in 2003 with the aim of unseating the AKP government through violent acts -- Sarıkız (Blond Girl), Eldiven (Gloves), Suga, etc. were no longer unlawful and antidemocratic junta activities, military action plans or coups d'état. "Coup d'état" came to be defined as the efforts to uncover corrupt practices of the government or Erdoğan's family. This modification was followed by others. In the light of the new "coup d'état" definition, the judicial investigation against a Iran-backed espionage network, the investigation into espionage activities within the army, the investigations and operations against radical Islamist terrorist organizations and the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) started to be treated as coups d'état against the AKP government. But this wasn't enough. For the AKP and Erdoğan regime, the coup perpetrators and coups of the past were replaced with business people who are close to the Hizmet, or Gülen, movement and the banks, companies, media outlets, schools, prep schools, humanitarian aid organization and hospitals run by these business people.

Thus, each day, we were fed a new "coup d'état" story. A novel coup d'état story was used to produce a lot of fuss and clamor. This new type of coup d'état didn't impart any soldiers, militants, weapons and efforts to amend the constitutional order or unlawfulness, but thanks to it, preposterous claims and utterly nonsensical accusations were hurled against innocent people and institutions that were not involved in any real offense. Mass detentions done in police raids conducted at midnight were followed by fictitious trials and arrests at "project" courts set up for this purpose. Coup perpetrators, junta members and deep state networks were acquired and given credit and prestige and numerous terrorist organizations, mainly including the PKK and al-Qaeda, were virtually afforded with immunity until very recently, while innocent teachers, businessmen, charitable people, journalists, police officers, prosecutors and judges were charged with attempting to overthrow the government.

Despite the fact that the investigation into the graft scandal of Dec. 17 and 25, 2013, had been conducted in full compliance with laws and regulations, revealing hundreds of pieces of evidence of crime by the AKP's ministers and Erdoğan's relatives, the prosecutors, judges and police chiefs who conducted the operation, as well as the journalists who reported the scandal, were accused of attempting to overthrow the government. Those who exposed the web of relations of controversial Iranian businessman Reza Zarrab, who breached the country national security by making top government and state officials get involved in a dirty bribery scheme, were declared as "coup perpetrators," while Zarrab, who was documented to have distributed millions of dollars of bribes to certain Cabinet members, was honored by Erdoğan as a "charitable businessman."

The ministers, sons of several ministers and Erdoğan's relatives, who were shown to have received huge bribes from Zarrab, were acquitted through sleight of hand. Of course, this acquittal wasn't free of charge. To do this, democracy and the rule of law had to be quickly abandoned. Thus, the independent and impartial judiciary was destroyed and the police department was reshuffled. In other words, those who exposed graft to daylight were accused of a "coup d'état," while the real coup was staged by the AKP and the Erdoğan regime against the rule of law, the judiciary and the state. Moreover, a new type of "coup d'état" -- in which prosecutors, judges and police chiefs attempt to overthrow the government by revealing massive graft -- entered into the literature on coups d'état. Please do not ask me the reasonable question, "How is a coup d'état staged by exposing to daylight graft, corruption, bribery and theft?" There is no reasonable answer to this question.

Moreover, this wasn't the worst. As the evidence about theft, corruption and bribery soared, the AKP government and Erdoğan regime came up with other types of "coups d'état" in their minds. For instance, the investigation against a terrorist and espionage organization that was working for Iran, with which the AKP government and Erdoğan regime had established non-transparent relations in the past, was labeled as a coup d'état against the government. The prosecutors, judges and police chiefs who took part in the investigation against the Tawhid-Salam terrorist organization, which apparently had gained access to the top positions of the AKP government and the state's sensitive units in the context of their espionage activities, were removed from office or arrested. The organization's Iranian members fled the country swiftly, while all public officials who were involved in the investigation were accused of a coup d'état despite the concrete evidence.

Wait, wait! Do not get excited now! You haven't read the worst of these "coup d'état" claims. You can hardly imagine all types of coups d'état in the vocabulary the Erdoğan regime created in its search for cooperation with real coup perpetrators and junta members to cover up its corrupt practices. There is the farcical scandal of genetically modified (GM) rice, which is forbidden to be imported and sold in Turkey. Mehmet Baransu, who had been treated as a hero of democracy by the AKP for his news reports about coups d'état but who was later accused of "conspiring against the army" as part of their cooperation with the subversive juntas, was a hero in this scandal as well.

Do not get me wrong: He wasn't the one who imported thousands of tons of GM rice. Baransu was accused of attempting to overthrow the government by exposing this scandal to daylight. Although the scandal about importing GM rice had previously been reported by other newspapers, Baransu delved deeper into the scandal and found links to the AKP government's and Erdoğan regime's influential members. A lawsuit was brought against Baransu along with some police officers and prosecutors, instead of the perpetrators of the GM rice scandal, including the sons of some ministers who are close to Erdoğan. Baransu was accused of "being a member of an armed terrorist organization and attempting to destroy or render dysfunctional the Turkish republic," i.e., of a coup d'état. Baransu was put on trial for a "GM coup d'état," although what he did was mere journalism.

I can tell you many other stories about these new generation "coups d'état." In an environment in which nursery students are perceived as threats, elderly charitable women and journalists who try to do their job properly are accused of coup d'état, the coup d'état claims will become meaningless. Even a true news report about the coup preparations of military juntas in Turkey, a country whose past is rife with true coups d'état, will not be taken seriously. What I am trying to get at is that the era of coups d'état has ended in Turkey, until a real, military coup d'état is staged. And this was achieved by the AKP government and Erdoğan regime that readily accuse any dissident figure of attempting to overthrow the government and launch lawsuits against innocent people with coup charges.

Culled from http://www.todayszaman.com/columnist/bulent-kenes/the-end-of-the-era-of-coups-in-turkey_412473.html 

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Monday, 15 February 2016 07:41

Last Monday, organised labour made good on the threat to ground the country in protests against the latest hike in electricity tariff. If anyone was in doubt about the capacity of the labour unions to pull out their members en mass, to make common cause with natural and unnatural allies, to appropriate the mandate to speak for the "masses" or the entire populace, and to fancy having a veto power of sorts, such a person should have a rethink by now. The country wasn't  exactly grounded by this first wave of protests. But judged by the sheer number of participants and their success in eliciting a pandering to the gallery from the Senate, it was a good outing for the unions and their civil society allies. But nothing could be more wrong-headed.

The unions and their supporters gave a number of reasons for their protests. One, the hike was done without proper consultation. Two, the hike will negatively impact individuals and businesses in the country.  Three, emphasis should be put on improving electricity supply first before any price hike. Four, electricity consumers should be billed for actual, not estimated, consumption. Five, the buyers of the electricity generation companies (GENCOs) and the distribution companies (DISCOs) are incompetent, exploitative and over-pampered by the sector regulator, the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC), and the government. And six, the privatisation of the electricity sector should be reversed.

While some of these claims might be valid and legitimate, the overall approach is neither. More importantly, the rhetoric of the unions is problematic and potentially counter-productive and dangerous. Two quotes from the protests will illustrate this possibility. Comrade Boboye Kaigama, President of the Trade Union Congress (TUC), said: "If NERC cannot do its work, organised labour will. It is our collective wealth. If they (NERC) are conniving with the DISCOs and the GENCOs to deprive Nigerians of electricity, it is a right not a privilege. If the tariff is not reversed, we are prepared to take over the DISCOs."

On his part, Dr. Dipo Fashina, a former President of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), was quoted as saying the 2013 privatisation of electricity companies was a violation of the Nigerian Constitution! "We want the Senate to reverse the tariff immediately," he said. But he wasn't done: "apart from that, the Senate must protect the poor. Majority of Nigerians cannot afford the evil that is going on. Stand out and reverse all the privatisation of all our roads, airlines, Ajaokuta Steel..."

In a short pace, protests about tariff hike have mutated into a platform for resolving all grouses, whether legitimate or not. There is a real and present danger that the unions and their present and future supporters might be emboldened to further force the issue beyond threatening to prevent others from undertaking their legitimate businesses, take over private entities, usurp the functions of a statutory agency, and advocate the reversal of all forms of privatisation in the country. Where will they stop? The unions are about railroading the country into slippery slope that can only lead to anarchy and retrogression. And this is why it is very important not only to interrogate the protests but also to checkmate this dangerous slide.

To start with, it must be clearly stated that the right to protest is a democratic right. But having that right does not necessarily make its exercise or the cause of protest right. Democracy, at its core, is about processes. There is an established process for making inputs into tariff-setting and seeking redress about tariff increase. According to the business rules of NERC, tariff-setting is done in consultation with the operators and the consumers. When the GENCOs and DISCOs submitted applications for tariff hike in June 2015, NERC asked them to engage with their consumers. NERC still went ahead to do its own consultations before approving the new tariff on 19 December 2015.


Those opposed to the tariff hike had the opportunity to engage with the process and contest the various components of the tariff and how they were calculated. They did not. It is possible that the consultations were not widely communicated or that they were held at a time not convenient for most. But it is more useful to insist on the right to be consulted while the process was on than to insist on holding everyone else to ransom after the fact. Also, NERC has a provision for those unhappy with change in tariff to seek redress within 60 days. The unions have not explored this provision to make a fact-based, rather than an emotional case for why they think the tariffs should be reduced or reversed. To be sure, protests could be a negotiating tool. But given how disruptive and costly protests can be, they should be used as a last resort, not as the first.

The second issue is the hypocrisy of the unions in calling for reversal of the privatisation of the GENCOs and the DISCOs on account of tariff hike or non-improvement in power supply. Privatisation of the electricity companies is actually one of the best things done by the last administration. This doesn't mean the exercise was perfect or that questions cannot be asked or that the privatisation has yielded outcomes comparable to the telecoms' privatisation. Far from it. But the thing to do is to seek ways for constant improvement rather than call for a return to government ownership. If government had been such an efficient provider of utilities and manager of businesses, there wouldn't have been the need for privatisation in the first place.

Equally important is the not-so-small fact that while the privatisation was going on, labour unions were more interested in getting hefty compensations for their members. It is said the bulk of the about $4 billion the government made from the sale of GENCOs and DISCOs went into compensating 47,000 electricity workers under the aegis of the National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE). You cannot support privatisation, cash out handsomely at our collective expense and then turn around one day to canvass that it should be upturned. Talk about the tyranny of a vocal minority and an abuse of veto power.

The third issue is the constant reference to our "collective wealth" and "rights" when talking about the electricity companies and the unfortunate resort to trade union tactics to prevent price change. It is true that the government still has some interests in those companies. But the majority stakes now belong to the private owners. So the argument about collective wealth is outdated by at least two years. I am yet to see where it is written that it the right of citizens to have electricity supplied to them at a particular price. Yes, electricity has serious implication for the welfare and productivity of the individual, the survival of businesses, and progress of our country as a whole. But electricity has always been a private good (even though it has strong externalities) and, with privatisation, it has been privately produced since November 2013.
Dissatisfaction over the price of a private good, no matter how strategic and important such a good is, does not by any stretch constitute a trade or industrial dispute. Food and raw materials are as important to individuals and businesses as electricity is, if not more important. When the prices of those go up, are the unions going to call for street protests too and who are they going to threaten this time? Clearly, the unions and their supporters need to cure themselves of both their unhelpful sense of entitlement and the hangover of a period when electricity was solely provided and subsidised by the government. 


The fourth issue is how the increase will negatively impact the masses and businesses. On the surface, this is a sound argument. Let's face it, an increase of between 45% to 65% in electricity charges will increase inflation, reduce the standards of living of those on fixed incomes, and increase the cost of doing business. But as sound as this argument is, it misses or understates certain points. The first is that electricity from the grid, even at the new tariff, is still about 50% cheaper than the self-generated one, which everyone (including the poor) has been forced to adopt due to the mutually reinforcing incidence of unsustainably low tariffs and low investments in the sector. Apart from the costs of hardware and maintenance and implication for health and safety, electricity generated from diesel costs N47.7/kwh and the one from petrol costs N46.3/kwh, according to a 2012 study by H.U. Ugwu et al., published in the Nigerian Journal of Technology (Vol. 31, No 2). More recent studies put the cost of self-generation much higher.


If asked to choose between electricity from the grid at the new rate and self-generated power, most Nigerians, including the poor on behalf of whom the unions claim to be protesting, will not hesitate to choose the convenience, the safety and the cheaper cost of the former. It is possible that the union has that contradicts this assertion but my sense is that their data is the assumed mandate to choose and speak for the rest of us. The freedom to protest and the freedom to choose are both rights, one is not higher than the other, and no one has the right to choose for others without their consent. Also, the camouflage of protesting because of the poor is punctured by the fact that there is lifeline tariff and it remains unchanged at N4/kwh across distribution areas for those classified as R1 customers.


It is also important to bear in mind that like other goods, electricity has a cost of production and according to the model used by NERC, the tariff is regulated because the sector is given to natural monopoly and the tariff is periodically adjusted to changes in exchange rate, inflation rate and cost of gas. If the cost of production changes, the price must change, except government is prepared to subsidise. It is possible to query the costs and the necessity of the expenses claimed by the companies. But that must be done on the basis of facts and knowledge, not just from a we-no-go-gree or aluta mindset.


The argument that tariff hike should be preceded by improved supply goes back to the chicken-and-egg issue. Yes, operators should have enough to invest for service improvement, but the fact is that electricity supply can only improve when there is more investment and investment (even from soft loan from the central bank) can only happen when there is a good chance of cost recovery. If electricity consumers want regular and ultimately cheaper supply from the grid, they must be ready to pay for it. The story of telecoms has shown us that overtime cost will come down and this is borne out by NERC's Multi-Year-Tariff-Order (MYTO 2), which indicates that tariff for R2 customers in the Abuja distribution area, for example, will decrease from N24.30/kwh in 2016 to N20.40 in 2019 and then to N19.25 by 2024.


I think the only solid argument made by the protesters is that consumers should pay only for what they consume, not what the DISCOs think they should get from them. The way out of this is to ensure that all electricity consumers are metered. And when consumers are metered, they can adjust to price hike by controlling their consumption and adopting energy-saving practices. But the DISCOs prefer estimated billing, which allows them to recover as much as possible of what they call Aggregate Technical, Commercial and Collection (ATC&C) losses. What this translates to is that consumers get fixed bills every month, irrespective of their consumption level and irrespective of whether they have electricity or not. That is grossly unfair.

As part of measures to correct this, NERC once came up with the Credited Advance Payment Metering Implementation (CAPMI), which allows customers who can afford it to give a loan to their DISCOs to provide meters to them within a timeframe and get reimbursed overtime and with interests. Despite that, many customers subscribed to this scheme, the DISCOs have not metered them. Instead of resisting a price that is still cheaper than its alternatives, it is more productive to fight institutionalised exploitation in the form of estimated billings and insist that NERC should enforce its own rules. And even those can be achieved only by going through the established process and working the system from a position of facts and knowledge, not through street protests or wrong-headed threats. 

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Monday, 01 February 2016 07:02

The debate about the appropriate value of the Naira featured prominently in the public domain last week. This prominence was driven by three developments: the refusal of the Monetary Policy Committee of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to further devalue the Naira, despite loud clamour and expectations from many financial analysts and business players; the statement made by President Muhammadu Buhari in Kenya that he remains unconvinced that devaluation will help Nigeria, his third public pronouncement on the issue within eight months of being in charge; and an editorial and a report in the Economist magazine urging Nigeria to devalue its currency, remove foreign exchange restrictions, and learn from (instead of repeating) the mistake the president reportedly made 30 years ago.

The devaluation debate, if can be called one, has calcified into two extremes: devaluation will kill the Naira, and by extension, the economy; not devaluing the Naira will kill the economy. Given that two extremes are now projected as capable of achieving the same result, it is clear that this debate needs some nuance. I think it is important to take the discussion on the Naira beyond this atomised version, for us to move beyond seeing devaluation as a cure-all or a kill-all, for the two sides and the rest of us to engage in a more deliberative way about the options available to us and the trade-offs necessary to survive the present slump, and for the government to not just encourage and harvest all of these but also to use the opportunity to fashion, implement and communicate a clear, holistic, and coordinated economic recovery agenda for the country.    

Before going into the competing positions, it is important to state a few things. One, our problem is not the value of the Naira. Our problem is the economy, which is in a bad place partly on account of the plunge in oil prices and mostly because of our bad decisions/behaviours in the remote and immediate past. These bad decisions/behaviours have left us badly exposed at a time we need serious cover. The exchange rate problem is thus only a symptom, not our underlining condition. Attending to the symptom appropriately will help, but it won't cure what ails us.

Two, the contending positions on devaluation have ideological/interest bases, which is not necessarily bad but the attendant fixations and distrusts could get in the way of reasoned deliberation. Three, while it is inconceivable that an elected president will be disinterested in the value of the national currency under his watch and while not making a fetish of the independence of the CBN, I think it is unhelpful for the president to continue to venture opinion publicly on monetary policy. And four, it is important to realise that there are no quick fixes, magic bullets or painless prescriptions: no matter what option we take, there will be real costs and important trade-offs; and the ride to recovery will be bumpy and long.

Now to the two positions. The pro-devaluation camp believes that the Naira is over-valued, that the value of the Naira should reflect the change in the purchasing power of the country and be determined by the forces of supply and demand, that the N100 or 50% difference between official exchange and black market rates has created opportunity for arbitrage and corruption, that the foreign exchange control is a barrier to trade and is hurting local production, leading to closures and job losses, that not devaluing amounts to robbing the three tiers of government of needed extra income while wastefully dashing away N100 subsidy on each dollar to those who can access Forex officially, that the wide disparity in the rates is further constraining supply of foreign exchange from other sources and putting more pressure on the Naira, and that the uncertainty created by the Forex regime is denying the country of much needed foreign investments, as current investors are pulling out and prospective ones are holding off, etc.

These are sound arguments and concerns. To be sure, the exchange rate, like the price of any other product, should be determined by the interaction of demand and supply. What has happened in Nigeria, due to the fall in oil prices and huge appetite for imports, is that the demand for dollar is significantly higher than its supply. With this, the dollar should cost more Naira than before, not same. Pegging the Naira at N199 to the dollar thus amounts to setting the exchange rate below the market price. And when the price of a product is fixed below the equilibrium price, what results is not just scarcity because demand will outstrip supply but inevitably a price higher than the actual market price, causing distortion and imposing a higher burden on the people and the economy.

Forex supply from autonomous sources will dry up as it will be plain stupidity for economic agents to sell dollars at 50% discount. And economic agents are not stupid. In addition, rationing Forex will create a perverse incentive for round-tripping (which is difficult to police) from those lucky to get it officially, will drive up demand both because dollar is sold cheaper than it should be and the natural inclination to game the system by inflating demand, and will not be a guarantee against the dreaded inflation as everyone, including those lucky to get Forex at official rate, is most likely to price their products at the black market rate, a tendency that is difficult to check except government wants to start fixing the prices of goods too, which in itself is a futile endeavour. Also, a combination of lower production (because companies cannot import intermediate goods), reduced investments, job losses, higher prices, reduced purchasing power etc., will slow down growth and put the economy at the risk of recession.

All these valid points notwithstanding, I see four problems with the pro-devaluation argument. One is that devaluation will impose a certain pain on the poor and the middle class because it will certainly lead to higher prices, reduction in the standard of living of those with fixed incomes, fall in purchasing power which combined with higher production costs could also lead to job losses. Two is that the arbitrage claim while real is overstated: if those getting dollars at official rates are diverting to black market in huge numbers that would have increased supply and lowered price in the black market. Three is the validity of the assumption that those pulling out or holding on to their investments will return or now invest because of devaluation. This is not necessarily so, as portfolio investors are very fickle and they and foreign direct investors are more motivated by the best returns they can get and not who has devalued. So why take a certain pain for an uncertain gain? And four is that while devaluation might increase Forex supply, it will not resolve what is essentially a major mismatch between Forex supply and demand because CBN is still responsible for the bulk of Forex in the country.

According to information from CBN, the fall in the price of oil has reduced monthly earnings of the Bank from $3.2 billion to about $1 billion. At the same time, request for Forex jumped from N148 billion in 2005 to N917 billion (or $4.6 billion monthly) in 2015, a whopping increase of 519%. A projection has it that our foreign reserves, which have plummeted by 25% in 18 months, will not only be wiped out in the next nine months but will also be in the negative if CBN decides to meet all requests for Forex. This is because the monthly possible rate of depletion ($4.6 billion) is higher than the actual rate of addition ($1billion) by almost a ratio of five to one. Given that most of our Forex is from oil and the outlook for oil price looks grim for the rest of the year, what is the guarantee that the black market rate will not adjust upward with official devaluation and how will devaluation of the Naira solve Forex inadequacy? The fact is that whether we devalue or not, we still have a supply and demand problem and some form of rationing might be unavoidable until oil price and our reserves go up.  

The anti-devaluation vanguard is led by the president himself. According to this camp, devaluation will hurt the poor, compound our economic woes, and it holds little value for us as an import-dependent country. As stated above, the pain of devaluation is real, a pain that will be compounded by increase in energy cost. If we devalue, the official price of petrol is likely to go up by 50% or so. The benefit that should accrue due to fall in price of crude oil will transform to higher prices for refined products because we import them and because of the fall in value of the Naira. And because we have not fully deregulated, government will either subsidise the increase or pass on the hike to consumers.

When the president says that devaluation only benefits countries that export goods and services, there is a tendency among some to sneer or to put it down to a suspected statist or dirigisme impulse. But there is an economic theory behind this position. It is called the Marshall-Lerner Condition. Named after two renowned economists, Sir Alfred Marshall and Abba  Lerner, this theory states that for currency devaluation to have positive impact on a country's balance of trade, the demand for import and export must be elastic, meaning a slight change in price will significantly affect demand, leading to significant fall in expenditure on imports and significant rise in income from exports. But Nigeria will not benefit from devaluation because the Marshall-Lerner Condition does not exist here: we are import-dependent (or our demand for import is inelastic and that won't change overnight) and because devaluation will not make our major export (oil), which is priced in dollar, cheaper or more competitive.

However, the anti-devaluation argument is also not faultless. There is a difference between devaluation as a deliberate policy for improving balance of trade terms and devaluation forced on you by a decline in your economic fortunes or the mismanagement of your fortunes. With changes in our oil-fuelled fortunes and resultant mismatch between supply and demand for dollar, the price of dollar against the Naira cannot remain unaffected. The only way we can successfully and sustainably keep the rate the same is if we had built up massive foreign reserves in the time of plenty. We did not. So something has to give. Though we don't have any excuse for not providing enough cover for the rainy day, it is important to also note that this is not  peculiar to us. Most of the so-called petrol-currencies have taken a hit: the Canadian dollar fell to an 11-year low last year; the Norwegian Krone has fallen by 26% since 2014; the Colombian Peso, by 38%; the Brazilian Real, by 42%; and the Russian Rouble, by 49%. Fall in the value of the Naira is almost inevitable. If it bothers us so much, we have the option of re-denomination.

Holding on to your Forex rate in the face of almost 80% fall in the price of 95% of your export is akin to insisting on protecting yourself from a massive rainstorm with a torn umbrella: it is a lost battle. While noting that the inflationary impact of devaluation is real, its real effect may be a bit exaggerated. In November 2014, CBN devalued the Naira from N155 to N168 to a dollar; then again to N199 to a dollar in February 2015. Combined, that's 28% devaluation. It impacted inflation but not in the same proportion. Inflation was 7.9% in November 2014 and is just 9.6% now. Besides, there will always be trade-offs. With such a plunge in revenue, it will be difficult to keep external reserves, exchange rate and inflation rate same. Something must give.   

In sum, the two sides have their points but they lack the religious certainty they are invested with. It is good for us to recast the debate from the narrow mould of one option is painful and the other is pain-free. Nothing can be farther from the truth. No matter what option we take, there will be serious costs. Rather than the ideological righteousness and haughtiness displayed by both sides, what we need is a very practical approach, one that acknowledges the costs, puts an empirical value on them, chooses the less costly option to our people and the economy, and acts before the costs are further compounded.

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Friday, 15 January 2016 14:06

January 15, 2015, My Command Event in Abuja

I am very cautious getting myself into any debate or conversation concerning The Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), its many hydra-formed iterations, and its resurgent Biafra agitation. I had taken this position because I suspected that the agitation was born in error and ignorance, and the personal frustration of many of the frontline demagogues of this new nightmare and their supporters and sympathisers. I also believed that at best, the agitation was at regional level and that no inadvertent helping hand should be lent to it to make it national.

I first spoke on this resurgence a few weeks ago at the funeral of a friend’s mother and even at the event I could only muster up a few vague words of warning. But today, at this platform afforded me by the Yar’dua Centre and Nextier’s Development Discourse, we will proceed to the task at hand, a conversation on this new resurgence. What are the errors, the ignorance and the frustration? And what should be done about them? Why have the agitations garnered such national attention in the last few months?

Let men deal with the not-so-distant past: the last presidential elections. There were errors of perception, understanding and knowledge. Muhammadu Buhari was presented by his political detractors - and perceived by many honest Nigerians fooled by this dangerous rhetoric-as a rabid Moslem fundamentalist, who was secretly behind Boko Haram and who, on coming to power, would islamise the whole of Nigeria. I call this the Buhari Bogey! The seemingly stem and starchy appearance of Buhari and his not being seen with any known close friend in the South-East outside his military colleagues aided the misperception. But as morning shows the day, what Nigerians and the world have seen of President Buhari in the first eight months of his presidency shows him far from being a jihadist. From my personal experience, no Nigerian leader can embark on a mission of proselytization and hope to succeed. The same goes for leaders with ethnic, tribal, sectional and/or regional agendas against the overall national interest.

On the other side, there was also the error of perception of President Goodluck Jonathan. I have, before now, said a few of what I know and what determined my position in the contest between Buhari and Jonathan. I do not intend to say anymore except that the findings and revelations that have come out thus far have not proved me wrong.

I would like to believe that these two mis-readings and misperceptions led substantially to the pattern of voting in the South-East in the last presidential election. Voting along regional lines, or voting en-bloc against or for a candidate can be regarded as normal and should not by itself be a problem. But we must hold with apprehension the fear that led to such voting and its subsequent contribution to this resurgence of protests. What happened in the South-East was not too different from what happened in the South-West in 1999. It was a similar experience in 1999 when the South-West did not vote for me because I did not emerge from the stump of ‘correct’ political stock in Yorubaland and I was perceived to be likely stooge of those who supported me from outside the South-West particularly from the North. They were proved wrong in the first few years of my presidency and, in the following election, I got as much support from South-West as I got from anywhere else.

The solution is first for leaders and elders in the South-East to caution realism and sanity among the youth and for the president to prove that Nigeria is his constituency he should act like God who gives rain to the good and bad, the just and the unjust, in the world equally as the world belongs to God in totality.

The agitators also suffer from the error of misreading the history of Nigeria or not reading it at all. There is no going back in our history. Going back from where we are will be at an unbearable cost. I come back to this issue momentarily.

This brings me to what I term as ignorance as part of the cause of the agitation. The Nigeria Civil War ended forty-six years ago. As a participant in the war and as one used by God to bring the war to a humane and brotherly end in the field, I have said on many occasions that I have fought one civil war too many in Nigeria. In the end, both sides were losers and if there was any winner, both sides were winners.

No right-thinking person who has experienced the horror of war will ever agitate for more war. Most wars stem from real and perceived injustices and dissatisfaction and invariably wars emanate from a desire to correct or redress such situations. Our civil war was not any different. But at the end of almost all wars, jaw-jaw takes over from the boom and devastation of the gun. That is the path of wisdom, prudence and political sagacity. If the elders abdicate their responsibility to the immaturity, inadequate experience, unrealistic idealism and the frustration of the young, it will no doubt lead to disaster. Let me quote from my introduction of the 2015 edition of my book on the Nigerian civil war, ‘My Command’:

“There is not much to say that has not already been said.  As this book is presented to a new generation of readers, I only as that they read it, compare with other stories that have been told whether in response to the first publication of this book, or not, and reach the conclusion about the war that all well-meaning Nigerians must reach: Never again!”

Errors, mixed with ignorance, will lead to wrong decisions and wrong actions which will exacerbate an already uncertain and unsteady situation. Great apprehension sets in to make the situation worse: this is particularly true for the youth, who, with or without education, have no employment and look on the future with despair and uncertainty. They become desperate, frustrated and they try to visit their frustration and anger on anything within their reach. That, to me, substantially explains the misfortune of most of the resurgent Biafra agitators. They need to be understood, because lack of understanding with its appropriate remedy will drive them further into the hands of demagogues and opportunists who will thrive on their desperation and frustration, turning it into criminality and extremism against their parents, community leaders and elders, regional leaders and elders and against national unity, ethos and values.

Without local and national solutions to their bruised sense in disappointment and anger, they will carry their menace beyond their homes, communities and region and will nationalize and even internationalise the crisis putting a different twist to it. There are always sympathetic do-gooders out there who will feed and fuel their agitation, baseless as it may be, our solution, which must be at the family, community, local, regional and national levels, must be embarked upon separately and collectively.

Biafra as a succession issue is dead and nobody should follow that way. It can again only lead to disaster. But I see this resurgent Biafra agitation not for secession or creation of an independent entity from Nigeria but as a cry for attention, amelioration and improvement of socio-economic conditions and situation especially of the youth in Nigeria in general. But in the South-East in particular – a call by the youth of that region for transformation. I see it as a platform rather than a cause.

The solutions lie in education, awareness-raising, youth acquisition of skill, youth empowerment and youth employment. By education, I imply more than basic education or literacy and academic attainment. Knowing enough about ourselves in this country, our different groups’ history, our nation history, culture, characteristics and what each group added to the whole and what each group can still contribute to the whole, Nigeria is what it is because each group is a vital and dynamic part of the whole, the indissoluble whole as prescribed by our Constitution. In my part of the world, when a young person behaves uncharacteristically, people ask, “Are there no elders in your family.” It means that he or she has not been given an education and an awareness that is more than school education. Let us speak well of ourselves collectively and cohesive among ourselves. It is also part of the way to national unity and future greatness of our country. This is essentially a family, community, state and national responsibility. At all levels, we must neither shirk nor abdicate our responsibilities in this regard. We must not succumb to fear, intimidation or threats and name calling.

Happily enough, judging by the information I received on the meeting of serious, authentic and responsible Ibo stakeholders, elders and leaders on December 17, 2015, it is gratifying and re-assuring that these leaders and others like them saw no sense nor future for the resuscitation of Biafra but expressed concern for socio-economic situation which has been progressively going down in the past five years in the country and particularly in the South-East culminating in observable grinding poverty and gross infrastructural decay and dereliction. The responsibility of correcting and updating the youth on the Nigerian political history should not be left in the hands of the elders and leaders of the South-East alone but there must be consultation, mutual support and solidarity among our leaders and elders nationwide to ensure integrity and to make our national unity inviolate.

The devil finds work for idle hands and fills empty minds. There is even some suspicion that the agitators embarked on the act in order to extort money from outsiders and to also extract financial support from the government. The commercialization and exploitation of Biafra agitation is obscene to the point of criminal fraudulence. Or, how do you explain the issuance of the so-called Biafran passport that takes anyone to nowhere and for which unwary people are being charged exorbitant prices. We must neither allow evil to find work for our youth nor to fill their unoccupied minds with satanic ideas, thoughts, decisions and actions. The way to achieve this is to encourage entrepreneurship and job creation. At the community, state and national levels, conducive environment and conditions must be created for promotion of private sector entrepreneurs and investors, both local and foreign, to make our different areas as irresistible for investment, job creation and wealth generation destinations as possible.

Again, innovation must come into our thinking and action in the areas of employment generation and wealth creation. In addition to the traditional ways of doing things, let us also think and act out of the box. Innovation is not hard to be brought about in this digital age and times.

Not too long ago, in the South-West, there was a problem of Odua People’s Congress (OPC) which was created to frustrate Abacha’s self-perpetuation ambition. So were the Egbesu and MASSOB initially. Later, Arewa People’s Congress (APC) joined them. Different approaches – political, economic and social – were devised to deal with their menace when OPC became a Frankenstein. One of such approaches that worked so well was to encourage them to for vigilantes, guards and protection groups formally and legally. There were hired and paid thereby leaving the menace perpetrated through informality to the good and gainful employment through the formal. The emerging economic situation at that time also helped. Biafra agitation has also been regarded as an industry for those who are looking for money by hook or crook, particularly from gullible sympathisers abroad. Some leaders are seen as likely standing behind the smokescreen as a means of extracting more from the government in the centre. That, by itself, may not be an unusual strategy but it must not be carried too far.

Above all things, good governance at all levels is the key solution. The welfare and well-being of the citizenry with equity, justice and fairness must be the main pre-occupation of government at all levels. It must also be the pre-occupation of the family and the community and all hands must be on deck. Measured toleration not inimical to security, unity and corporate existence of Nigeria is a mark of both leadership and good governance.

I cannot end without reiterating that Biafra agitation as a means of calling for secession or severance from Nigeria is a hopeless and futile exercise on which nobody in seriousness should embark, however, see it as a symbol of desperation, despair and frustration of the youth being expressed by them for all to hear and redress in the South-East and elsewhere in the country. But Biafra – never again! And we must avoid the coalition of “the unwilling but forced by circumstances”. Nigeria cannot afford to go from Boko Haram insurgency to any other insurgency under any name or guise. And on no account should we wittingly or unwittingly allow this to happen again. Youth education, welfare, well-being, empowerment and employment for ever must be our collective duty, obligation and responsibility. Youth have not right in their expression of desperation and frustration to embark on wanton and wicked acts of destruction of properties and wares of ordinary men and women in the markets to make the situation even worse for these poor and helpless citizens. Bitterness, anger, destruction and wickedness can only worsen an already bad social-economic situation. That will be unwise. Let us ventilate, learn and be informed without resort to violence, bitterness, animosity and destruction. Let us hold on together to our constitutionally undissolvable Nigeria. And, together, through dialogue, debate and discussion, we can correct what is wrong and make our country what God has created it to be: a land following with milk and honey, a leader among the black race and one of the leading nations of the world. Greatness is in us potentially; let us join hands to actualize it.

 

 

 

Thursday, 14 January 2016 08:17

The House of Representatives has urged the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) to provide
infrastructure in Mpape, Durumi, Lokogoma, Galadimawa and other districts being constructed by private developers.

This followed a motion moved by Rep. Lovette Idisi (Delta-PDP), which was unanimously adopted by members through a voice vote.

Moving the motion, Idisi explained that satellite districts located close to the city centre of the Federal Capital Territory being developed
lacked the requisite infrastructure.

He said that ``the rate of infrastructure development in some districts of the FCT has not been commensurate with the rapid growth being witnessed in Abuja.

``This is due to increased business activities and massive influx of people into the FCT.

``The greater number of residents of the FCT reside outside the city centre due to the high cost of rent in the developed districts of Asokoro, Maitama, Wuse,
Jabi, Utako, among others.’’

The lawmaker expressed concern that if the requisite infrastructure were not provided, residents would continue to suffer untold hardships.

(NAN)

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Monday, 14 December 2015 16:08

STATE HOUSE PRESS RELEASE...

President Muhammadu Buhari said Monday in Abuja that his administration will soon introduce more policies to further ease the process of doing business in Nigeria.

 

Speaking after a presentation at the Presidential Villa on enhancing Nigeria’s trade and economic competitiveness, the President said that the new policies will be focused on increasing efficiency and transparency in government operations, and the blocking of leakages from revenue generating agencies.

 

President Buhari said that his administration was fully committed to closing all the loopholes in the revenue generating agencies, increasing their efficiency in trade facilitation and ensuring transparency in all government businesses so as to attract greater foreign direct investments into the country.

 

The President added that the Nigeria Customs Service, Ministry of Trade and Investment, Ministry of Finance and other relevant agencies will be encouraged to adopt some of the positive ideas contained in the presentation for implementation next year.

 

A representative of the company that made the presentation, Mr. Lim Chee Boon, had told President Buhari that virtually all the countries that implemented its solutions have successfully reduced corruption in their import and export processes.

 

Garba Shehu
SSA to the President
(Media & Publicity)

December 14, 2015

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Tuesday, 08 December 2015 08:43

The Federal Government on Monday proposed a budget of N6 trillion for 2016 at an oil bench mark of 38 dollars per barrel.

The Minister of Budget and National Planning, Sen. Udoma Udo Udoma, gave the indication while addressing State House Press Corps after an emergency Federal Executive Council meeting presided over by President Muhammadu Buhari.

The minister said the proposal was contained in the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) approved by the council.

``At today’s council, council approved the Medium Term Expenditure Framework.

``This sets out the policies of government over the next three years. It sets out the fundamental economic underpinning of the budget.

``The highlights are as follows. We project and we are working with 38 dollars crude oil price.

``We consider that to be very conservative but because of the uncertainties we feel that we should start with a conservative crude oil price.

``We also are working with 2.2 million barrels per day production.

``We believe it is achievable, particularly because with the passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill which we are working to achieve, we believe that that is actually a modest figure; that we should be able to produce something higher than that.

`` And so, next year we are looking at an expansionist budget. We are looking at a budget that will be N1 trillion more than last year.

``So we are looking at a budget of about N6 trillion. Last year’s budget, including the supplementary, was about N5 trillion.

``Most of the increases, all the increases actually will be spent on capital because there is the need to increase the capital spend because of our infrastructure issues we have to address.’’

According to him, the plan will be submitted to the National Assembly and a feedback expected after which the budget will be finalised with all the details embedded.

The minister said that the funding for the budget would come from earnings from the non-oil sector.

``We are looking at trying to get more money from the various government agencies, policing their collection and trying to get more money from them.

``We will also look at keeping down our recurrent budget, that means we are looking at savings that we can make from overheads.

``We will also look at the defficiency from our revenue collecting agencies like the FIRS, in terms of companies income tax; in terms of VAT, and then the difference we will have to borrow.

``But the level of borrowing that we anticipate and we are projecting will be well within the maximum that we allow, which is three per cent of the GDP, because we want a prudent budget; we want a credible budget.’’

Udoma futher said that the council was working on the exchange rate that the Central Bank of Nigeria had given for the budget, adding that it was also looking into whether fuel subsidy would be retained in 2016.

According to him, government is projecting almost 30 per cent of the budget on capital projects, up from the 15 per cent or so that it is currently.

``We will try and reduce overheads, but keep personnel cost; we are not going to adjust it by much.

``But we at expecting some savings from the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS) which we are using; so we are not cutting anybody's salary; everybody will get their salaries.’’

The minister, however, declined to mention how much of the looted funds had been recovered by the government so far.

(NAN)

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Friday, 04 December 2015 08:05

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission yesterday December 3, 2015 arraigned a former Director General of Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency Patrick Ziadeke Akpobolokemi; and seven other staff of the agency including Captain Eziekiel Agaba, Executive Director, and their two companies before Justice Salihu Sa'idu of the Federal High Court Lagos on a 30- count charge bordering on conspiracy, fraudulent conversion of funds and Money Laundering. 

 

Details Later



 



 


 

 

 

 

Tuesday, 01 December 2015 09:48

A travel and tourism expert, Mr Ikechi Uko, has urged African countries to urgently implement the Yamoussoukro Decision toward ensuring greater air connectivity across the continent.

Uko, the promoter of the Akwaaba African Travel and Tour Market, made the call while speaking with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Lagos on Monday.

NAN reports that the Yamoussoukro Decision was formally adopted during the Assembly of Heads of State held in Lomé, Togo, in July 2000.

The objective of Yamoussoukro Decision is defined under Article 2, Scope of Application, as the gradual liberalisation of scheduled and non-scheduled intra-African air transport services

``Without the implementation of the Yamoussoukro Decision, it is difficult to have a profitable airline in Africa because the success of an airline depends on its connectivity,’’ he said.

According to him, lack of connectivity cost people more and reduce business transactions.

Uko said: ``The biggest investors in Nigeria since the past 10 years have been South Africans.

``So, if there was no connection between the countries, they would not have been able to run the businesses.

``We need to open up the borders for Africans to move easily within Africa. The more you inter-connect Africa, the better it is for the economy of these countries and their citizens’’.

He also advised stakeholders in Nigeria aviation and tourism sectors to collaborate on how to growth the industry in order to contribute to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

``Aviation and tourism depend on each other but in Nigeria they have not been depending on each other.

``The aviation people believe they don't need tourism and the tourism people don't want to work with aviation.

``So, none of them can grow. Each person is working against the other person's interest but in the countries that I know that thrive on tourism, one grew the other,’’ he said.

Uko said countries like United Arab Emirates, South Africa, Kenya and Ethiopia had successfully integrated aviation and tourism and was recording growth in both sectors.

(NAN)

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Tourism expert seeks urgent implementation of Yamoussoukro Decision

Friday, 27 November 2015 09:53

Mr Mike Omeri, Director-General of National Orientation Agency (NOA), on Thursday said it would create a Unit to translate English to local languages.

Omeri said this at its One Day Seminar on Do the Right Thing, Close the Security Gaps, Role of the Media in Security Reporting in Nigeria.

``We have 520 dialects in Nigeria and we pride ourselves as the agency that speaks all languages in the country.

``The only way to get people to key into what we are doing is for them to understand what the Queens English men and women are talking about.

``The only way to do that is to translate them into these local languages‘’, he said.

Omeri said the series of security awareness programmes carried out by NOA was aimed at significantly improving the immediate and long term security of the nation.

According to him, if the belief that security is strictly the business of government and security agencies is adopted, the soul of Nigeria will be endangered.

He explained that one key area requiring keen alertness on the part of all stakeholders was the prevailing need at this time to protect critical national information and common facilities.

The DG said all hands must be on deck to support and complement the heroic efforts of the nation’s military by remaining vigilant.

He urged all to availing security agencies of useful information about suspicious characters, items and movements.

``At NOA, we have forged a number of useful partnerships with some stakeholders from military, security experts, civil societies the media and other members of the public for effective sensitisation and education of Nigerians on security issues.’’

Mr Idris Ahmed, Accountant General of the Federation, said the role of the media in security reporting cannot be overemphasised.

Ahmed said the media, as the watchdog of the society, has a significant role to play in security reportage because it will determine the success or otherwise in the fight.

According to him, the media is also expected to be objective in reports of security challenge devoid of religious, tribal or political sentiments.

``The nation is still battling with insurgency in the North-East which has claimed thousands of lives and destroyed properties worth billions of naira.

``Every Nigerian has a role to play in being security conscious and helping win the battle. I, therefore, call on the media to take this awareness to every nook and cranny of the country.

(NAN)

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