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EDITORIAL

Sanusi or no Sanusi, Nigerian Banks Reform – A Necessity

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The suspension of Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi two weeks ago as the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) may have come as a welcome news to many, given his utterances and unguarded remarks.

For stakeholders and close watchers of the nation’s financial sector, his exit is a foretold development. The official reason given by the Presidency for his removal was “financial recklessness and misconduct” – which has now been reinforced by the findings of the Financial Reporting Council of Nigeria (FRCN) – a body charged with setting accounting standards in the country.  The FRCN found, among other things, a series of discrepancies in the accounting returns of the CBN under Sanusi and that would have been sufficient reason for President Jonathan to fire him.

However, the average Nigerian was sick and tired of Sanusi, long before the FRCN started digging into his affairs or their findings made public. Many of Sanusi’s utterances have been so insensitive and confusing that even his admirers would have felt that he needed to be called to order and reminded that he was the Central bank Governor and not the opposition leader or public commentator.

It was Sanusi who generated a public outcry and sent people scampering for safety, when he wanted to issue N5000 notes and convert five, ten and hundred naira into coins, despite the impact and implication to an already sick and stressed economy. The dust had hardly settled when the controversial Sanusi called for a trimming of the nation’s workforce. He wanted half the civil servants fired to cut cost and reduce recurrent expenditure.

These are only two of the lesser sins of Sanusi. We have not gone into the allegations of financial reckless and mindless donations he made. But there’s no denying that it was also the sinning Sanusi who salvaged the nation’s banking system, which was near-collapse prior to his advent in 2009. Sanusi was able to consolidate the gains made by his predecessor Professor Chukwuma Soludo who began the restoration process by recapitalizing the banks. Barely four months after Sanusi, a risk manager, took office, he spotted some blood suckers in the banking system and sent them packing. He took over nine banks, sacked the chief executives of eight of them, ordered a series of mergers and named their biggest debtors in an unprecedented and internationally hailed cleanup exercise.

There is no doubt that Sanusi’s banking reforms need to be continued until there is sanity and transparency in every bank, in a way that the average Nigerian doing business with them on a daily or weekly basis can see it. The country is not yet out of the woods economically, socially or politically, by any stretch of the imagination, neither is the banking and financial sector. The blood-sucking demons kicked out by Sanusi may well return and resume their sinister activities now that they have seen the back of him.

Although Minister of Finance, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has assured the international community that Sanusi’s gains and successes would be maintained, there is yet need to ensure that the reforms and clean up are extended so the average customer sees some evidence of it in the banking hall.

It is true that we can now boast of some sanity in the financial system, but there is no doubt that our banking system is still not customer-friendly.  People suffer divers and unnecessary inconveniences daily to access funds from the banks. The absence of robust technology in several banks and the regular break down of the Automatic Teller Machines, expose customers to serious frustration, long waits and additional stress. Often we hear that it is network issues that make the ATM  at our banks useless most of the time. One begins to wonder why the Central Bank can’t encourage the necessary investment required to sort out the ATM system back.

How else do you explain taking two or more hours to make a deposit or withdrawal at your bank? Some banking halls are so uncomfortable that people go there for lack of other alternatives.

Worse are the many charges that the customer has to pay for every transaction. There are counter withdrawal charges, several processing charges not even for salaries under N50,000, as well as unsolicited SMS charges. It is a most frustrating experience to operate a current account as a result of all the nebulous charges associated with it.  The killer ATM charges have just recently been abolished by the Central Bank but the ATMs are not working most of the time.

While we commend the Federal Government for proving with Sanui’s removal that there are no “untouchables” in the Jonathan’s administration, we are asking that the new Central Bank Governor Chief Godwin Emefiele must build on Sanusi’s strengths in continuing to reform and transform the banking sector. Obviously, you cannot throw away the baby with the bath water.

 

EDITORIAL

Increasing Fuel and Electricity Prices

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Increasing Fuel and Electricity Prices

Once again, Nigerians are digging deeper into their pockets to buy fuel. They are paying N162 per litre from N142 last month. While the five per cent or so Nigerians with deep pockets will not be bothered by the increase, the majority with shallow pockets will have to empty them to buy petrol to run their businesses or shut them down, fuel their vehicles, light their homes and pump water, among other things. Electricity bill has also gone up although the average Nigerian is still in darkness most of the time.

The Federal Government explained that the removal of fuel subsidy, froth with duplicity and corruption, was responsible for the increase. For electricity, it said only consumers who get 12 hours or more of electricity per day should pay the new rate. Electricity Distributing Companies (DISCOS) may not agree.

Vice President Osinbajo has advised Nigerians to bear the pain and not go back to the fuel subsidy regime. He said the Federal Government is aware of the suffering and working out ways to alleviate poverty. This sounds familiar. Poverty alleviation doesn’t mean much in Nigeria anymore.

Petrol is at the heart of Nigeria’s economy. It drives everything. Whenever there is an upward review, the cost of living skyrockets. For the poor masses, the present situation spells doom. Fuel subsidy was introduced to alleviate poverty but instead it became a curse, benefiting only a few.

The Buhari Government announced early in the year that it will stop the subsidy payment. It said the downstream sector of the oil industry will be fully deregulated so that prices of petroleum products will fully be determined by market forces.

We have nothing against deregulation or removal of the ‘dubious subsidy’. The question is why now? Another is, if not now when, as things seem to go from bad to worse?
By failing to flush out the criminals benefiting unduly from the fuel subsidy, the Federal Government has proven that some people are, indeed, untouchable.

What will the Federal Government do now to cushion the effect of the hike on the poor, that it has not done before and it didn’t work? Poverty alleviation without improvement in quality of life means nothing. If for example, a commercial vehicle driver buys fuel at N162 per litre but drives on good roads and has access to portable water, he would charge commuters less. It has a ripple effect and vice versa.

When the Federal Government compares the price of petrol in Nigeria with those in neighboring countries, one wonders what indices it uses? Does it consider the minimum wage and the fact that Nigeria is the seventh world oil producer?

Nigeria produces crude oil but imports petrol. If the refineries are broken down, why can’t they be repaired? It is unfortunate that from time to time billions of Naira is gulped by so-called Turn-Around Maintenance of our refineries without anything to show for it in the end.

President Buhari promised to support the creation of modular refineries. Yet those in the riverine areas are being shut down and labeled illegal. What a contradiction! Why can’t the technology used in those refineries be harnessed?

Nigeria prefers to import what it can produce locally. By that, what Government is telling people is endure poverty. Don’t try to get out of it.

Removing subsidy in the midst of poverty is bad. But policy inconsistency and double standards will do Nigeria no good.

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EDITORIAL

Security operatives, IPOB and Emene massacre

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Security operatives, IPOB and Emene massacre

The high-handedness of security operatives towards members of the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, is truly a concern. The ruthlessness with which they deal with the unarmed youths whenever there is a clash, is worrying and unacceptable.

What happened at Emene Enugu State, last Sunday, is not an isolated case. It stirs up memories of “Operation Python Dance” Egwu Eke, and others which saw the cold-blooded murder of many Igbo youths. When Ndigbo are trying to put one incident behind them, another occurs as a reminder, making it hard to forget.

Ironically, what police insensitivity, hatred, and the proscription of IPOB, have done is win sympathy for the unarmed youths, agitating for a cause. Police brutality on IPOB increases the nostalgia for Biafra, even among those who through fear or faith oppose it. It also gives credence to those comparing Nigeria with George Orwell’s “Animal Farm,” a euphemism for discrimination and corruption. This is glaring when one compares how police treat unarmed IPOB members, and the real terrorists such as armed Fulani herdsmen, the so-called bandits, Boko Haram and other hoodlums operating across the country.

Although there are conflicting reports about what took place at Emene. what is most regrettable is that lives were lost. It is also clear that the conflict started when security operatives stormed the venue of an IPOB meeting. There is no report that the youths were carrying weapons or marching somewhere to attack the police or anybody else. What happened to the tear-gas which police use to disperse unarmed group? Perhaps, life has become so cheap in Nigeria that police do not care who dies anymore.

But the killings have been widely condemned by Nigerians at home and abroad. Here in the South-East, Ohanaeze, MASSOB, Nzuko Umunna, town unions and others have called for a judicial inquiry into the incident.

The panel is expected to unravel the truth about what happened, as there are suspicions of a sinister motive. South-East governors should speak out also before things get out of hand.
Clearly, Nigeria is engulfed in countless security challenges. People are wondering why the same security agencies who have guts to murder unarmed Igbo youth have displayed helplessness in containing more vociferous security challenges, elsewhere?
Nigerians have enough experience to know that if one ethnic group keeps quiet while another unjustly suffers, soon the others will also be at the receiving end because, as they say, what goes round, comes around.

Furthermore, it beats one’s imagination that the IPOB should be labeled ‘terrorist’ while the real terrorists continue to massacre and kill and maim across the country.

We agree with many Nigerians that unarmed IPOB youths, who have not shown the cruelty and callousness of Boko Haram, Fulani herdsmen and even bandits in South Kaduna do not deserve, proscription, constant harassment and killings.

We condemn violent agitations in all forms. But when armed law enforcement agents descend on unarmed youths at their peaceful meeting, we wonder who sent them and what the motive is.

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ARTICLES

Imo as Unemployment Capital

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Imo as Unemployment Capital

Former Governor Rochas Okorocha understood clearly that Imo State needed jobs and factories. The question is what did he do about it?

Imolites are familiar with the mantra “Job, Job, Job, factory, factory, factory,” which he orchestrated in his second term. That was his way of telling Imolites what was lacking in the state. He gave the impression that his government was about to tackle unemployment, by rehabilitating moribund factories and, building new ones. Many people believed him.

Now, the National Bureau of Statistics NBS has come out with the figures stating that 23 million Nigerians are unemployed and that Imo has the lion’s share of 48.7 per cent. One wonders if the NBS report would have been released had Governor Okorocha still been in charge. The NBS report showing Imo State as Nigeria’s new unemployment capital can only be annoying to Imolites when viewed in the prism of Okorocha’s factory, factory factory, jobs, jobs, jobs.

Imolites cannot even point to one “hot” industry or employment generating project created during Okorocha’s eight years. But that is typical of our politicians. Yet, one can still ask where the factories and jobs promised by Okorocha are? Knowing Governor Okorocha, he would not deny that he promised “factories” but the problem will be telling people where they are located.

If Governor Okorocha was honest with his “factory, factory and job, job” utterance, he would have done something to stir up activities in the so-called Owerri Industrial Layout along Onitsha road Irete, which is almost a forgotten area. The industrial hub is now more of a hide out for miscreants, with all its roads in deplorable condition.

Several of the factories are overtaken by grass, as they have either been shut down in frustration or relocated. Individuals and private businesses use some of the large expanse of land to dump solid waste, including faeces.

We are not holding former Governor Rochas Okorocha solely responsible for this abysmal neglect of the Industrial Layout. Apart from the first civilian Governor of the state, Chief Sam Mbakwe, who saw wisdom in setting up several industries across the old Imo State, that extended to present day Abia and Ebonyi States, none of his successors either military or civilian did anything in that direction. The successive administrations paid mere lip service, to job creation.

It is also important to point out that previous governors remembered their promises to create jobs just when they were about to leave office.

It was only then that they created dubious and questionable jobs that run into thousands but which are practically impossible for their successors to fund.

Charity must begin at home. Any Government desiring to create jobs and kick-start manufacturing in Imo State must uplift the Industrial layout and not neglect it. No entrepreneur, investor, local or expatriates, would set up business in a place with virtually no roads, to begin with.

We only hope and pray that the present Government would be grieved by the unflattering NBS report, which ridicules Imo State and decide to take some positive steps towards developing the Industrial Layout.

We know Government cannot employ everyone. But we know also that it can create the enabling environment where virtually every eligible person can get employed.

If Governor Hope Uzodinma is touched by the ugly NBS report, he can do something about it. He can put politics and his personal interest aside and rehabilitate old factories as well as revive the Industrial Layout. Anything short of this will be another exercise in deception.

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