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A festival of oneness

The Odi Ogori Ba Uge Festival in southeast Nigeria is becoming a tourism pilgrimage for many, fimi Ovuru reports

The Odi Ogori Ba Uge Festival in southeast Nigeria is becoming a tourism pilgrimage for many, fimi Ovuru reports

ODI IS located in Bayelsa state in the Niger Delta region ofNigeria and is noted for its vibrant cultural ceremonies.

The week-long annual Odi Ogori Ba Uge festival in July regularly records more than 100,000 thousand visitors a year from across the state, the country and abroad.

It is by far the biggest festival celebrated by the Odi people of Kolokuma/Opokuma local government area of Bayelsa state. Every July 27, the community rolls out its drums for dancers; its boats for regattas; and its traditionally rich cuisines for an expe­rience your taste buds will savour for ever­more. Besides this, there are wrestling com­petitions and a number of pageants.

The festival dates from 1957 as a celebra­tion of the killing of a buffalo that had been terrorising the community for years. ‘Ogori Ba Uge’ means the Festival of the Killing of the Buffalo.

Sadly, in more recent years, the town has become infamous for a debacle of a differ­ent kind: In 1999, under the orders of President Olusegun Obasanjo, federal troops were deployed to Odi to hunt down an armed gang that had been responsible for the death of a number of policemen. In the process, troops demolished every single building, barring the bank, the Anglican church and the health centre, killing hun­dreds of unarmed civilians at the same time.

I happened to visit Odi for the first time after the invasion in 2002 and although the townspeople were attempting to gradually put the ugly incident behind them by resum­ing the festival, their lingering pain hung in the air.

Flowever, by the end of the week-long cel­ebration, a different mood was apparent as people from all walks of life, be they young and old, a tourist or an indigene, came together to enjoy African culture at its best.

The first thing that struck me when I arrived at the lakeside, were the myriad of wonderfully decorated boats bobbing on the surface of the water that had once been clogged up with the dreaded water hyacinth. They were moored in preparation for the boat regattas and water sports that the festival is so well known for.

In the days to come, the air would become charged with the sound of cannon fire and paddles hitting the waves in unison with the rhythm of the nearby drum and dance band.

Delving back into history again, the story goes that in 1953 a wild buffalo started entering Odi from a nearby forest. It would attack by destroying crops and charging at villagers. Several villagers were killed. People became so afraid that they could no longer carry out the fishing and farming that were their main source of livelihood .Woo, the road from Odi to the ferry point, became a potential death trap and it appeared the beast only attacked Odi indigenes.

Hunting expeditions were mounted by indigenous and foreign hunters, but without any luck. The search for help extended neighbouring countries and a mallam from Benin Republic, who was famed to be a powerful herbalist, was consulted in the belief that the buffalo was a human being that had transformed itself in order to cause havoc to the townsfolk.

On arrival, he buried charms at strategic locations within the town. Although the people of Odi were still sceptical, on July 27, 1957, the buffalo was sighted grazing at a church compound, where it was imme­diately apprehended and killed. Villagers insist that the channs had managed to hyp­notise the buffalo so that it behaved like a cow.

This conquest ushered a new era as the town returned to peace and tranquility. In celebration, July 27 was set aside every year to commemorate the victory over the blood thirsty animal.

Because the day falls around the season of fresh farm produce, the people of Odi also decided to use the period to celebrate the start of the harvesting season: holding fishing competitions, wrestling bouts and pageants, all wrapped round with music and dance ..

Today, the festival has gone up a gear in order to showcase the tourism opportunities on offer. It opens with a dramatisation of its history, including, of course, the parading of a well masqueraded buffalo.

Once declared open, exciting activities are rolled out one after another, as traditional and modern music compete for attention from all quarters. Food is also in abundance, with tasty native delicacies on offer like bushmeat and fresh fish peppersoup, bar­becued or fried oysters (popularly known as watersnails), peppered snails and edible worms (caterpillars from rotten palm trees). As darkness falls, DJs, singers and come­dians come into their own, getting everyone dancing and laughing the night away.

The wrestling competitions are another of the festival’s highlights as champion wrestlers from neighbouring communities come to compete with one another. The winners become the champions of the clan, and these champions, popularly called olotus, command huge respect among the Ijaw people, this being the ethnic group that Odi is part of.

Another highpoint is the boat regattas, which are noted for their colour and skilled manoeuvres. The boats are beautifully dec­orated and, amid music and dancing from members of the various groups, the paddlers compete to be crowned the fastest. Here you witness the living traditions of a community and how culture can strongly bond a people, together. Here you’re both entertained and at once captivated by a competition that keeps your adrenaline pumping till the winner reaches the end line.

The harvesting and eating of the newly harvested crops is another not to be easily forgotten attraction. Here you see villagers not only celebrating their bountiful harvest, but giving others the opportunity to experi­ence and savour their rich cultural delicacies, from their plantain pottage known as kekefia, nicknamed KKF, to their soups which are usually eaten with fufu (pounded cassava) or garri. Various forms of peppersoups are also available, from fish to various kinds of bushmeats, reflecting the fact that the main local occupations are fishing and fanning, with hunting thrown in as a supplement.

Odi’s harvest of yams is dominated by water yams. As is the case of most Ijaws, villagers have the habit of having a side dish of either boiled plantains or yams whenever their table is set for a meal. With seafood in abundance, no traditional soup is prepared without it, with periwinkles and lobsters pre­dominating. In terms of beverages, villagers enjoy a locally made gin popularly called kaikai, which of course is widely available at the festival.

The Odi beach carnival is one of the major events of week, bringing together youths not just from the Odi community but the state and the rest of the nation. Popular DJs and music stars are brought in to entertain whilst friends, families and lovers gather on the sandy fresh water beach to have fun and unwind.

The Odi Ogori Ba Uge festival also involves fashion pageantries, with both tra­ditional and western themes, and many other funfilled activities. Newcomers to the event will certainly get a taste of what Bayelsa state has to offer - its 180km uninterrupted coastline teeming with sandy untainted beaches, its historical sites, dense mangroves, incredible lakes, rich cuisine and ever enchanting flora and fauna. 

New dawn at FIFA

Emergence of a new leader at the summit of world football raises posers on Africa’s fortunes, reports Oladipo Okubanjo

TWO MONTHS after emerging as new president of FIFA, world football’s govern­ing body, Gianni Infantino is fast settling down to business. But, given the corruption crisis that engulfed the organisation last year, the Switzerland-born Italian certainly has his work cut out.

The 46-year-old former general secretary of UEFA, the union of European football associations now has the responsibility of repositioning the organisation so that it will once again command the respect of stake­holders.

Conscious of the fact that under the lead­ership of the now disgraced Sepp Blatter, FIFA was transformed from a near beggarly enterprise to a money-making behemoth that became synonymous with bribery and corruption, FIFPro, the International Federation of Professional Footballers, rep­resenting 65,000 players, has recently set out what they believe are vital steps if Infantino is to succeed as president.

Money matters

FIFPro says FIFA must prove it has the capacity to drive the reform of a democratic and politically complex global body, and treat the game above all as a sport.

According to article 69, paragraph 2 of the FIFA statutes, its revenue and expendi­ture “shall be managed so that they balance out over the financial period”.

Approximately 90 per cent of FIFA’s revenue is generated through the sale of tel­evision, marketing, hospitality and licensing rights for the FIFA World Cup. The revenue from the commercialisation of these rights and sufficient equity is of crucial importance to it because, in addition to funding its range of development pro­grammes and covering general running costs, it must also finance the organisation of various international tournaments, including, most notably, the fifa World Cup.

Almost 70 per cent of expenditure flows back into football development in the form of financial support, development pro­grammes and funding competitions.

And amid revelations in the corruption scandal, which suggest part of the profit made by FIFA might have been misappro­priated, FIFPro says: “A clean break from the past is essential for FIFAto climb out of the toxic pit, which continues to produce serious accusations of corrupt behaviour on almost a daily basis. At the same time, there is no doubt the present mayhem has left FIFA morally bankrupt.”

The politics

In the build-up to the February 26 FIFA presidential election in Zurich, Infantino was seen as the standard bearer for European interests following the withdrawal of Michel Platini, the UEFA president, who was slapped with a six-year ban from football for collecting CHF2m from Blatter and FIFA without a written contract.

But Infantino had a big hurdle to surmount in Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al-Khalifa, the Asian football confederation president tipped by pundits as the frontrun- ner, with the Confederation of African Football, CAF, and the Asian confederation - two of the largest confederations that make up fifa - pledging their votes for him.

Infantino, in a bid to break Sheikh Salman’s supposed stranglehold on CAF, reportedly embarked on a diplomatic shuttle to Africa, where he was said to have prom­ised $5m in development grants to each federation, including $lm as travel expens­es, “if required”, should they support him in his presidential bid.

Infantino also flew to South Africa for short-notice talks with Tokyo Sexwale, the only African among the five candidates con­testing the FIFA presidency. Though Infantino denied he was there for a deal, saying, “I have nothing to hide”, Sexwale told reporters: “I’m open to deals ... it’s a secretive process.”

He added: “It’s like the Vatican. You never know what will come out.”

This apparently accounted for why Sexwale dramatically withdrew his candi­dacy on the day of the election. The first balloting did not produce a clear winner, with Infantino finishing ahead of Sheikh Salman 115 to 88 in the second vote.

Future for Africa

However, despite the late backing that Africa gave to Infantino, there are reports that the victory of the trained lawyer sent many football chiefs on the continent into a panic mode. There remain palpable fears that Africa may cease to enjoy the kind of patronage it enjoyed from FIFA under Blatter’s leadership.

Blatter is credited with helping to reduce the ‘Eurocentric’ nature of FIFA. First of all, the number of African teams at the World Cup increased from two to five after his election as FIFA president in 1998. As a result of this, minnows like Senegal, Togo and Angola have been able to feature in the tournament over the years.

Another benefit the African continent and developing countries as a whole gained during Blatter’s time was the FIFA goal project, a programme aimed at supporting the growth of member associations by pro­viding them with the resources to jumpstart their development by implementing key football projects.

Since its inception, numerous football associations have been provided with state- of-the-art headquarters. There has also been development of artificial pitches, not for­getting the various seminars and football clinics which FIFA organised under Blatter to educate people about the game.

This has helped many countries with limited resources from their central govern­ment for football to, at least, catch up with the more developed countries.

In addition, since the inception of the FIFA World Cup, the hosting rights were seen as the exclusive preserve of Europe and the Americas, but Blatter helped to change all that and in 2010 Africa got to host its first FIFA World Cup, and the tournament took place very successfully in South Africa.

This essentially left the various football associations in Africa in Blatter’s debt, and they appeared to show some appreciation in 2002 when many of them gave their votes to him in that year’s FIFA elections, which was also contested by Issa Hayatou, the CAF president.

Speaking on the future of Africa under Infantino’s presidency, John Fashanu, a former England international who is now a football ambassador for Nigeria, said in an interview with NewsAfrica that although the continent enjoyed a great deal of patronage from FIFA under Blatter, there is no reason why this should change under Infantino.

“Africa had it so good obviously,” said Fashanu. ‘He [Blatter] was looking after Africa. But it’s a new dawn and we don’t know which way Infantino will go; though I know he’s not the type that gives out bribes, you’d have to earn it the right way.

“However, for the fact that Africa has been exposed as a powerful continent, nobody can decrease the level Africa has attained. He [Infantino] would have to continue with Blatter’s legacy and bring out many new initiatives.’

To Paul Bassey, a veteran Nigerian jour­nalist who serves on different committees of CAF and FIFA, “any FIFA president that does not favour Africa is digging his own grave”.

Infantino, he said, recognises the place of Africa as an emerging power in world foot­ball. “The patronage is likely to continue.

Infantino knows he can’t ignore Africa; he’s not a novice in world football, he knows the politics because he’s been around for quite some time up until he became the UEFA general secretary. ’

Simataa Simataa, a former Zambia FA chief, told the BBC, “A lot of things have been done using FIFA money and in Africa the perception is that it’s Sepp Blatter’s money. But this should be done anyway, whether Mr Blatter is there or not.” Infantino’s election, according to Danny Jordaan, head of the South Africa FA, has made FIFA a better organisation. “The reporting lines are clear, the governance of FIFA is strengthened, and transparency has been strengthened,” he said.

“So on the plus side, he comes into a new environment for organising, managing and controlling world football but he’s a person that has, I think, significant experience to steer FIFA into calmer waters.’

Infantino’s election followed the approval of a series of reforms aimed at improving FIFA’s governance and preventing another all-powerful ruler as president.

Unlike his long serving predecessor, Infantino will be limited to three, four-year terms and the office will be more ambassa­dorial.

In addition, a compliance officer will work closely with FIFA’s chief executive and each confederation will have a female represen­tative on FIFA’s ruling council.

Anger over ‘Gulliver’s travels’

President Buhari’s frequent globe-trotting has drawn ire from Nigerians, who say it is a waste of public money. By Sunny Idachaba

SINCE HIS inauguration on May 29, 2015, Nigeria’s Muhammadu Buhari, has made a number of official trips outside the country earning him the nickname of ‘President Gulliver’. Well intentioned as these trips might be, the president and his party, the All Progressives Congress, (APC), are being rou­tinely criticised for their globe-trotting, with the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) saying he should spend more time at home solving the country’s economic prob­lems.

The APC’s information minister, Lai Mohammed, stoutly defends the trips, saying they create a number of opportunities for the country, which may become only appar­ent in the long-term.

Femi Adesina and Garba Shehu, two of president’s media aides, have also gone to great lengths to explain the benefits of foreign visits, principally that they gave Nigeria proper representation.

Both attempted to put the issue in perspec­tive: When President Buhari arrived at Aso Rock, the seat of government, the country was ravaged by Boko Haram insurgents, who had killed more than 12,000 people in the northeast part of the country and left at least 10,000 Nigerians internally displaced. At the time, the terrorists held a number of local governments in their strongholds of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states, hoisting their flags there to declare the arrival of the Islamic State caliphate.

Military strategists warned that if the fight against the insurgents were to be won, Nigeria must consciously collaborate with its neighbours bordering the northeast of the country to rout them. It was in that spirit that President Buhari embarked on what his critics described as his foreign jamborees.

Aside from this, Nigeria’s reputation as a corrupt nation was reinforced by revelations that members of the previous government, led by Goodluck Jonathan, had had their hands in the till and made off with the money following their electoral defeat. This led to massive capital flight. 

Although much talk was made of President Buhari’s autocratic tendencies during his first tenure of government as a military leader during the early 1980s, people were also aware that throughout his long political career he had never been tainted by so much as a whiff of corruption. Even as president, he continued to present himself as a humble figure not interested in the usual ostentatious display of wealth and power that most Nigerian politicians indulge in. This reassured his fellow leaders, favourably disposing them to Nigeria at a time when it was most in need of firm alliances and, of course, foreign investment.

Just three days after his inauguration, President Buhari left Nigeria to meet with the leaders of three neighbouring countries which had also been affected by the Boko Haram insurgency. First, he travelled to Niger Republic to meet with President Mahamadou Issoufou and discuss the need to secure the Nigeria/Niger border, which had been used by the Islamists as an escape route. From there he travelled to Chad and Cameroon.

Next he embarked on a visit to South Africa to attend a meeting of the African Union, where Nigeria chairs the peace and security council committee.

Buhari entered the world stage, as it were, when he travelled to the US in July last year, meeting President Obama in the White House to discuss security, Nigeria’s economy and ways to tackle corruption in its govern­ment. He had already shook hands with Obama the previous month when he attend­ed the G-7 summit in Germany. Buhari dis­cussed threats posed by terror groups such as Boko Haram.

In September last year, the president embarked on a three-day visit to France at the invitation of his French counterpart Francois Hollande. The focus was on further strengthening bilateral cooperation between Nigeria and France in the areas of defence, security, trade and investment.

In the same month, Buhari made a one-day official visit to Ghana, ostensibly to secure the repatriation of Nigerian funds he alleged the previous administrations had stolen and stashed away there. Shortly afterwards he materialised in New Delhi to attend the third India-Africa Forum Summit, as well as to hold talks with Indian prime minister Narendra Modi about terrorism, climate change and poverty alleviation. Then it was on to Malta for the 2015 Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, from where he immediately left for Paris to present Nigeria’s statement at the UN Climate Change Conference that opened on, November 30.

Earlier this year, Buhari visit Saudi Arabia and Qatar for a week. Buhari was accompa­nied by his minister of finance, Kemi Adeosun, the minister of petroleum, Ibe Kachikwu, and the minister of aviation, Hadi Sirika. He was also accompanied by the state governors for Zamfara, Borno, Osun, Katsina and Ogun states. This drew the ire of Nigerians, with many claiming it was a waste of the country’s resources to travel with so many governors. However, in terms of investments and a stabilising of the global price of oil, which has hurt the Nigerian economy hard, the government insists that the visit was worth its weight in gold.

In March during a visit to Equatorial Guinea, Buhari was accompanied by his min­ister of defence, Mansur Dan-Ali, and the national security adviser, Babagana Monguno, for bilateral talks on regional security

Critics maintain that all these trips exceed those of his predecessors and are funded by the tax payer. The PDP spokesperson Olisa Metuh said, rather than embarking on foreign jamborees, the president should concentrate on fixing the economy., which has nose-dived since he took office.

Ayodele Fayose, the governor of Ekiti state in the country’s southwest, claimed that Buhari’s excursions had already cost the country millions: “Foreign trips won’t solve our problems for us and the president’s inces­sant travels are already bleeding the economy, with about Jim being spent per trip,” he fumed.

He added: “The way the president is going, foreign trips alone might gulp 20 per cent of the federal government budget and that would be disastrous for the dwindling economy of the country.”

Fayose suggests that most of the visits cold have been led by the vice-president or a min­ister, saving the country the huge amount spent in ‘estacode’, that is the so-called estab­lishment code that dictates the travel allowances given to government officials. A hangover from colonial days, these are usually very generous. .

Meanwhile, Emmanuel Onwubiko of the Human Rights Writers Association, said he needed concrete evidence of how ‘Gulliver’s travels’ benefit the country. “In as much as I am not against any trip, be it foreign or local, embarked upon by the president, I want to see the benefits of those trips on Nigeria so that we can give the president the thumbs up,” he said.

“But anything outside that is a serious drain on the lean resources of the country.”, Information minister Mohammed recently told journalists that foreign trips were critical to the implementation of the administration’s key policies of enhancing security, jump-start­ing the economy, creating jobs and fighting against corruption.

While Nigerians had the right to ask ques­tions about the trips of their president, they should ask them from an informed perspec­tive, he added.

“The president was in Germany shortly after his inauguration on the invitation of the G-7 to solicit support from the industrialised nations for the war against terrorism. No one who has witnessed the killings and maiming in the last seven years by Boko Haram will call such trips frivolous. After all, the security and welfare of the citizens are the reasons for the existence of any government,” the minister continued He went on to explain that most of the president’s trips to were devoted to rallying global and regional supports for the war against terrorism.

The president’s media aide Garba Shehu said, “While Nigerians are yearning for change you need someone who will set up the infrastructure both at home and abroad. President Buhari is busy doing that. The change is manifest in where he visits. In the delegations accompanying him abroad, President Buhari has slashed the numbers bringing them down to a bearable minimum. He went to the UN General Assembly in September 2015 with an unbelievable 32 offi­cials on his trip. His predecessor in office went with as much as 150 officials and family members the year before.”

Garba wondered why people did not see the international approval President Buhari's foreign trips had brought to bear on the country: “What would Nigerians say of their leader when they see the arrays of world leaders assemble and their own president is missing from the table? Those of us who were around during Abacha’s days remember all the taunts that labelled him a sit-at-home leader. Abacha was despised for not repre­senting his country abroad. The visit by any president to another country is the highest act in international relations”.

The president’s foreign trips were working to strengthen diplomatic relations, trade and security of the country. According to him, the president had presided over meetings aborad with entrepreneurs that brought country billions in investments.

Countries like France, UK and the US were supporting Nigeria with intelligence gathering and training of the military against Boko Haram and the economic saboteurs in the Niger Delta region.

“All heads of state around the world now take Nigeria seriously. His foreign trips are for business, security of the country and bilat­eral contacts that get actualised by follow- ups. Today, the world is in warm embrace of President Buhari. Nigerians should be proud of that attention, love and admiration,” he concluded.

President Buhari has pledged to address three priority areas, namely: corruption, economy and insecurity on the day of his inauguration. Many Nigerians feel is admin­istration has largely been able to address the problem of insecurity, which his supporters say is a direct result of his globe-trotting. “Today, Boko Haram is almost history as they can no longer hold on to territories like before even though there are pockets of soft target bombings here and there,” Mohammed declared. “Arrangements are now being made for the displaced persons to return to their homes as the military has restored order in those volatile areas.”

On corruption, he said a number of people have been arrested in connection with money laundering activities. This is as a result of eco­nomic intelligence reports the president received while abroad, especially in the US and the Mddle East.

Plans are underway to turn round the economy, which is largely hinged on the passage of the 2016 Appropriation Bill. 

 

Tough poll ahead for PF

An economic downturn has taken the shine off Lungu rule. By Benedict Tembo, Lusaka

WHATEVER HAPPENS at election time later this year, supporters of the ruling Patriotic Front (PF) point to what they call its infrastructural legacy. Come August 11, they hope that the PF’s massive development programme will help return Edgar Lungu to power despite the country’s current economic woes.

Since the PF swept to power in 2011, the country has spent billions of dollars devel­oping roads, consuming more than 10 per cent of the budgets for 2015 and 2016, as well as building more power plants, schools and hospitals. However, the economy has in the past year received a battering, due in part to an unfavourable global market, and Lungu faces a tough batde to stay on top.

He was sworn in as president in January last year by a narrow margin in an election called after the death in office of Michael Sata. Once again, he will have to see off the challenge of his main rival Hakainde Hichilema and his United Party for National Development (UPND), and also that of the Democratic Front, a new party which has split from the PF and is led by the Sata’s nephew, Miles Sampa. The Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD), which was once the dominant political force, is now a shadow of its former self following the deci­sion of its former leader, ex-president Rupiah Banda, to back Hichilema.

Over the last decade, Zambia experienced rapid economic growth as Africa’s second largest copper producer after the DR Congo. The mineral accounts for three-quarters of export earnings and a quarter of government revenues.

But the country has been hit by falling global commodity prices, a situation exacer­bated by the current economic slow down in China. It was Beijing’s thirst for minerals that helped fuel Zambia’s expansion, but now Chinese investment has slowed. The

London-based Fathom Consultancy ranked Zambia top of an index of African nations most exposed to China’s downturn. In 2012, Zambian exports to China amounted to about 4.3 per cent of GDP while Chinese foreign direct investment was 7.5 per cent of GDP. During the boom years, mining attracted billions of dollars of investment, malting the sector a key driver of the economy, with an average annual GDP growth of 6.4 per cent over the last decade, one of the world’s fastest growth rates.

China accounts for more than 40 per cent of the metal’s global consumption and the current scenario highlights the vulnerability of resource-dependent countries like Zambia. Following the Chinese slump, the local kwacha currency plummeted against the dollar and several mining companies had to either suspend operations or lay off thou­sands of workers. In the meantime, inflation soared. For ordinary Zambians, matters were exacerbated by severe energy crisis that led to daily power rationing.

“I meet Zambians from all walks of life who share their frustrations with me on the on-going load-shedding [power rationing], and how this is negatively affecting their lives and businesses, whether big or small,” com­miserated President Lungu when he opened Parliament last year. “No one is spared, not even myself — a few days ago I was in the Heroes Stadium when there was a power failure.”

He added: “I know how it feels to come back home and find that there is no electricity, or to see children who cannot do their homework because there is no electricity, or a mother who has no access to alternative sources of energy to prepare a meal for her family.

“I am also aware that the current power shortage has negatively affected those running small businesses like salons, barber shops, welding workshops and bakeries.”

He announced a series of “short term measures” to minimise the demand for elec­tricity. These included the use of energy saving bulbs and alternative sources of energy for cooking and heating.

Longer term solutions involve partnering with Zimbabwe for the possibility of devel­oping a 1,800 MW power station at Batoka Gorge by 2019, which will be an addition to the 750 MW Kafue Lower Hydropower Plant, which is set to be completed by 2018.

Other power projects include increasing the capacity of Chishimba Falls in Kasama in Northern Province and Musonda Falls, which is about 60km north of Mansa in Luapula Province, as well as the Lusiwasi hydropower project in Serenje in Central Province.

Lungu won last year’s election on a promise of wanting to continue with the infrastructure development agenda of his predecessor Sata. Few would have argued with that. “We think that the programme that President Sata started in infrastructure projects has begun to transform Zambia with respect to the transport sector,” said Engineering Institution of Zambia head Bernard Chiwala while laying a wreath at Sata’s burial site in Embassy Park, Lusaka, in December 2014.

“With all he did in roads, we were becoming a hub of development in the region. This vision has to continue with a new president.” He went on to point out how the country had now effectively been opened up to its eight neighbours, thereby facilitating cross border trade and commerce.

He added: “This is what investors are looking for; they need a strong infrastructure backbone before they can make a decision on investing, and Zambia.”

However, with two thirds of the population officially living below the poverty line, grand schemes like the Link Zambia 8000 and Pave Zambia 2000 may not be enough to see Lungu re-elected. Lungu beat the UNDP’s Hakainde Hichilema by just 27,000 votes last time round, leading Hichilema to denounce the election as “stolen”. Decrying the violence against UNDP supporters and party members during the campaign, as well as irregularities in the counting process, he accused the electoral commission of manip­ulating the results to favour Lungu.

Hichilema, or ‘HH’, as he is popularly known, is a self-made businessman, marked out by his energetic persona and youthful looks. Now looking at his fifth shot at the presidency, he is bound to mount a strong challenge against his opponent, making the most of Zambia’s gloomy economic picture under Lungu. While the PF argues that the country’s problems are a result of external factors beyond its control, the UNDP insists it is as a result of Lungu’s incompetence and the government’s lack of fiscal and monetary discipline and excessive waste. A severe drought and Lungu’s own physical frailty — he collapsed in public in March last year - do not help the president’s case.

In response, Lungu has turned to the con­stitution to help him out. The Constitution of Zambia Bill, which was passed into law earlier this year, requires that a winning pres­idential candidate should secure a minimum of “50 per cent + 1”. This could change the political landscape quite radically as it would require parties like the PF and UNDP, which do not enjoy outright national support, to enter into coalitions with other parties in the first or second round of an election. Although Hichilema benefitted from MMD support in the last election, this may well have been illusory. The MMD is riven by faction­alism and Lungu might well be the beneficiary if one of its leaders decides to throw his lot in with the PF to stoke his own political ambi­tions.

On the other hand, the PF also faces a bigger electorate following the Electoral Commission of Zambia’s announcement in December 2015 that it had added 1.4 million new voters, mosdy youngsters, to the national electoral roll. Since the voter registration exer­cise continued on from there, this number is likely to rise.

In view of the fact that young people are the hardest hit by unemployment and the economic downturn, the majority of them are likely to vote on economic concerns rather than ethnic or party considerations. Given Lungu’s poor record on the economy, such a scenario favours Hichilema.

In a recent online posting, Sishuwa Sishuwa writes: “One of the important features of the 2015 poll was that voter turnout, on average, was higher in UPND than PF strongholds. Another was that Hichilema, despite accusations of regional iclination, generally fared better in the PF constituencies than Lungu did in UPND bases.

“If both trends are repeated in 2016, Lungu, who will not have the benefit of a Sata sympathy vote at the next polls, may be in serious trouble.

In the new constitution, a member of par­liament who crosses the floor cannot re­contest that seat until that parliament is dis­solved. This aims to stop the trend of MPS ditching their parties without due regard to the electorate that voted him or her into office.

In the meantime, the new constitution also allows dual citizenship, a development that now allows Zambians in the diaspora as well as those at home to acquire citizenship in any country without losing the citizenship of Zambia.

The idea is to encourage that Zambians, especially those living in developed countries of the world such as US, Britain, France, and Germany, to begin investing in their country of origin because they will now enjoy the full citizenship rights of Zambia.

It is hoped that foreign investors will setde in Zambia and become citizens thereby keeping their money in the country.

However, holders of a dual citizenship cannot contest the republican presidency nor be elected as speaker of the national assem­bly.

 

Ex VP guilty of war crimes

Bemba faces long jail sentence following first ICC trial to focus on rape as a weapon of war. By Rita Hernandes

JEAN-PIERRE Bemba, The former DR Congo vice-president, has been found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Central African Republic (CAR) more than a decade ago.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) finally found the 53 year-old warlord guilty after a five-year trial that began in November 2010.

It is a significant verdict as it is the first time the ICC focused on the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war. The verdicts focused on his responsibility as a military commander for the actions of his troops. He commanded a private army of 1.500 men who went on a spree of murder, rape and pillage.

It is a legal principle established by other UN tribunals that makes a commander responsible for failing to take actions to stop crimes he knows are being committed by subordinates.

Prosecutors told the court that Bemba, who led the Congolese Liberation Movement (MLC), “knew that the troops were commit­ting crimes and did not take all necessary and reasonable measures within his power to prevent or repress their commission”.

More than 5,000 victims received the right to participate in the hearings, which is the highest number in any of the previous cases presented in the court.

Bemba was convicted of two counts of crimes against humanity, involving murder and rape, as well as three counts of war crimes — murder, rape and pillaging — all con­nected to attacks in CAR between 2002 and 2003.

His troops had entered the country as part of a military intervention on the side of then president, Ange-Felix Patasse, who was even­tually ousted.

During the trial, which ended last month, more than 40 witnesses testified. One described being raped by two MLC soldiers. She was later diagnosed with HIV/Aids.

Men, women and children were all raped - in one case three generations of the same family were gang-raped by MLC soldiers.

The presiding Brazilian judge, Sylvia Steiner, said MLC soldiers had opened fire on civilians without regard to age or gender. “The civilian population was the primary rather than the incidental target of the attack,” she said in her judgment.

In a graphic description of the attacks by Steiner, she said “MLC soldiers by force knowingly and intentionally invaded the bodies of the victims by penetrating the victims’ anuses, vaginas or other bodily open­ings with their penises.” On occasions family members were forced, at gunpoint, to watch.

His defence lawyers insisted he had no control over his 1,500 troops. “There is not a single documentary piece of evidence that shows any orders passing from Bemba and going to his troops in Central African Republic,” Kate Gibson, representing him, said in her closing argument.

The prosecution, however, argued that he was aware of the actions of his troops and should therefore be held accountable for not putting a stop to it.

Bemba, fled the Democratic Republic of the Congo after losing a presidential poll, he was later arrested in Belgium in 2008 and transferred to the ICC’s detention centre in The Hague. His arrest came as a surprise both to Bemba, his supporters and oppo­nents at home. He had been living in semi­exile in Europe for several years when pros­ecutors sprung a trap by issuing an arrest warrant during a visit to Belgium.

Amnesty International said the guilty verdict against Bemba was a “historic moment in the battle for justice” for victims of sexual violence in CAR and around the world.

Angelina Jolie Pitt, who has been lobbying for the abolishment of sexual violence as a weapon of war, said in a statement “My thoughts and my admiration go out to the survivors and witnesses who bravely testified in this case and contributed to this landmark conviction.

“It is shocking that this conviction is the first of its kind. It is a reminder of how long it has taken us to reach this point, and how many victims have never seen justice,” she added.

The verdict means more cases of the same kind will be brought to the ICC .

It also means soldiers can no longer get away with raping and pillaging civilians to incite fear and psychologically torment their victims.

Bemba will be sentenced at a later date and could face up to 30 years in jail or a life sen­tence, if the court considers that it is “justified by the extreme gravity of the crime”.

In Congo, despite the revelations of the ICC trial, Jean-Pierre Bemba still enjoys sig­nificant popularity.

Members of his opposition party had hoped he would be released in time to run in the next presidential election, which is scheduled for the end of this year.

Bemba helped to form the MLC rebel group in Uganda in 1998. In 2003, he became vice-president under a peace deal and looked towards become his country’s leader. However, in 2006, Joseph Kabila beat him a run-off election, despite strong support for him in western DR Congo including Kinshasha. A year later Bemba fled to Belgium where he was later arrested and handed over to the ICC.

 

Living up to his promise

Udom Emmanuel, governor of Nigeria’s Akwa Ibom State, won elections on the back of his promise to transform the state into an economic powerhouse. So far, he is on the right course.

In the run up to the last elections, Udom Emmanuel, the governor of Akwa Ibom State, was touted as the right candidate for the right job at the right time. An accom­plished technocrat, he was promoted as the man who could build on the legacy of his predecessor to take his people to the prom­ised land of economic prosperity. Nearly one year into the job, he has met the expec­tations of his people. He is developing a network of roads to connect the economic centres in the state into one hub; he is boost­ing the power generation capacity of the state to provide the energy to drive an indus­trial revolution, and he is deepening the state’s educational capacity to provide the skills base to drive the economy. On top of all this, he has launched a major re-orienta­tion campaign to change the mindset of the people from that of a dependent to one driven by the sheer drive to succeed. His Dakkada (‘Rise Up’) campaign is pushing the people to realise their potential for great­ness.

He has also aggressively pursued the development of infrastructure to underpin his industrialisation drive. A taxiway, which will also serve as an alternative runway, is under construction at Ibom Airport. Emmanuel has promised to commission the project by the end of July.

He has tackled headlong, the power deficit in the state. Electricity supply is up to 18 hours a day, the highest in the country. He has even secured a licence to generate an additional 685MW of electricity, through the expansion of the Ibom Power plant which currently generates 150 MW a day. 

The results of his hard work in the past months are becoming obvious. The Peacock Paints factory, moribund for more than 30 years, has been resuscitated. At the last count, more than 50 investors have lined up to take advantage of what is emerging as a new economic frontier in the Gulf of Guinea region. His government’s businesslike approach to industrialisation has shortened the turnaround time for the realisation of investment proposals. At the last count, at least 10 industrial projects are at various stages of completion.

Industrialisation

Akwa Ibom State had hitherto been described as a civil service state. At best, one can call it an agrarian state. Therefore, the term industrialisation has been alien to it, but Governor Udom Emmanuel has suc­ceeded in bringing that concept to bear in Akwa Ibom because of his administration’s industrial drive. This is a complete shift from the style of the previous administration. One of the Governor’s cardinal policies before coming to power was industrialisa­tion. This was well encapsulated in his inau­guration speech in May 2015. Since then, a lot has happened, such that even the blind can feel the wave of industrialisation blowing across the state.

In the inaugural address he told Akwa Ibomites: “You have kept your part of the covenant and I intend to keep mine by exe­cuting the programmes I enunciated to you during my official declaration to run for the office of Governor, which include to trans­form the economy of our state via industri­alisation and sustainable public-private sector initiative, thereby opening up oppor­tunities for growth and improved living stan­dards”. It was on this premise that his administration started the current industrial drive in earnest.

To match his words with action, shortly after resuming office, one of the first things Governor Udom did was a visit to the Peacock Paint factory that had been aban­doned for years at Ikot Ekan in Etinan local government area.

The state government subsequently released the sum of N 120m as buy-back to put the factory on track. Today, the factory which is scheduled to produce three million litres of paint a day, is back into productive activities and has engaged unemployed people.

In his commitment to industrialisation, Governor Udom performed the ground­breaking ceremony of an Automotive Assembling Plant in Itu local government area. The plant is in partnership with an Israeli company. When fully operational, it will assemble vehicles like buses, ambu­lances and security transport. It is estimated that at least 50,000 people will be engaged directly and indirectly.

Another landmark in the state govern­ment’s drive towards industrialisation is the plan to establish industrial parks in each of the senatorial zones of the state. As a first step, it is focusing on Ibom Industrial City because it is the international gateway into the state.

The Ibom Deep Sea Port, whose approval was given by the federal government towards the end of preceding administration, is another major step forward in revolutionising the industrial base of Akwa Ibom. On completion, it is expected to redefine maritime business in Nigeria, create employment for thousands and redirect economic activities in the state. Again, it is expected to overhaul the entire cargo handling capacity in the country. This will no doubt, drive youth empowerment, wealth creation and entrepreneurship. There is also the Itam Industrial park and the envisaged Ikot Ekpene Industrial Park, whose conception is in the pipeline.

The current capacity of Ibom International Airport, which at the moment directly and indirectly employs more than 1,000 indi­genes of the state, is also being expanded.. As a result of this, the state government has awarded a contract to increase the ter­minal building to match the industrial dream of the state. To this end, the anticipated structure is expected to be 400m long and incorporate a five star hotel. Also, the runway has been expanded from 3.6 km to 4.2 km, thus making it the longest in the country. According to the Commissioner for Special Duties, Etido Inyang, the whole idea is for these projects to match the new vision of the state government in the area of industrialisation.

Because of the abundance of coconut in almost every part of the state, the govern­ment has signed a memorandum of under­standing (MoU) with a South African firm on a consultancy basis to produce coconut oil and refined coconut produce. This will create an unprecedented number of jobs for the people. 

Besides this, the government is in collab­oration with LED for the manufacture of low energy saving bulbs and production of electricity meters. The moribund Mapo refinery, which has a chequered history in the state, is also being looked into so that it can come on stream in the months to come. With all of these initiatives focused on industrialisation, Akwa Ibom State is on the way to joining the league of states like Lagos, Rivers, Kano and Kaduna. To that extent, the toga of Akwa Ibom being a civil service state will very soon no longer hold sway.

Finance

If there is any state in Nigeria where the public purse is well managed in line with the realities on the ground today it is Akwa Ibom State. This is not only because Governor Udom Emmanuel is a banker by profession but because he brought with him into governance a crop of individuals who are passionate about the need for the lean resources of the state to be well managed in such a way that all Akwa Ibomites can heave a sigh of relief. The people share in his vision and are willing to fly with him. This is the story of the current administration of Akwa Ibom State Government in the area of prudent man­agement of resources.

For example, less than four months in the life of the present administration, the state government brought relief on the way of local government pensioners who were owed at least 10 years’ gratuities. The Executive Secretary of Local Government Pensions Board, Uduak Udoh, said that a total of 719 pensioners had been paid their dues under the first phase of the exercise. These were people who had retired between 2002 and 2011. The second phase of the exercise, he said, would commence as soon as funds were made available. Mary Bassey James, who retired as a Principal Adult Education Officer in Uyo local government in 2010, is one of the beneficiaries. She says that she was on the point of giving up all hope of receiving a pension until she discovered she was on the list of those to be paid. Now she has been able to set up a small business selling cloth.

Glory Stephen Bira from Itu Local Government, once worked as a Market Superintendent. Thanks to her gratuity, she runs a semi-supermarket in front of her house to augment whatever her husband supplies. Another beneficiary is Okon Ben Ekoh, a former Chief Rural Health Superintendent from Etinam local govern­ment. He has now been able to expand the building he acquired as a result of the money.

With the second phase soon to commence, Udoh warned that anyone who missed out on payments had probably not supplied right documents on time. According to him, a thorough verification exercise along with the biodata of each retiree would be carried out to ensure that only those entitled to gra­tuities would get them.

With the dwindling revenues as a result of the fall in oil prices, Akwa Ibom State Government is prepared to harness every­thing at its disposal towards ensuring that its resources are well managed to provide the needed democracy dividends for all.

The Commissioner for Finance, Akan Okon, said the state government should be grateful for having Udom Emmanuel in power at this time in the history of the state: “I'm glad to tell you that the state govern­ment is doing all those things necessary to sustain transparency in government. Even in the face of the dwindling resources coming to the state, the government is doing everything that needs to be done that can have immediate impact in the life of Akwa Ibom people.”

Unlike what used to occur in the past when state money seemed to go missing at the change of government, Governor Emmanuel ensured that all loopholes leading to such a state of affairs were blocked. Because of his experience in the banking sector, he also made sure that there should not be anything like a multiple revenue account so that it would be easy for auditors to access the accounts anytime the need arises. As a result of this, a lot of wastage were checkmated.

To ameliorate the sufferings many Nigerians are currently going through, the state government, less than 100 days in office, facilitated a micro finance loan from the Central bank of Nigeria, for the citizens of the state at nine per cent interest rate. However, the state government took over the payment of the interest to cushion the effects on the people. Depending on indi­vidual ability, beneficiaries borrowed N300, 000, and in some cases N500,000. A few of them even took on N1 m. All these took into consideration the fact that the state govern­ment was aware of what the people were going through. And to ensure self- sufficiency in many areas, local training schemes were also embarked upon for indi­genes of the state after which the government disbursed small allowances to enable trainees to begin a business of their choice.

Today, when some states in the country cannot pay salaries and the few who can pay are up to three months in arrears, Akwa Ibom State Government does not owe any. According to Okon, “The debt profile of Akwa Ibom State is one of the lowest com­pared to other states in the country. For example, so many states in Nigeria took what they call bail-out loan from the gov­ernment to pay salaries but we did not; yet we do not owe salaries. To that extent, you can testify that the extent of our debt profile is minimal compared to other state. Even pensioners in the state who had been owed for up to 10 years have been paid by this administration.”

Education

Education is not new in Akwa Ibom but what is new about the sector is the innovation which the Emmanuel Udom-led administration has brought to bear.

During its first 100 days in office, the state government conceptualised the educational dreams that the new administration intends to pursue for the overall interest of its people. The previous government of Chief Godswill Akpabio enunciated the popular ‘red roof’ project in all state schools, which is still cherished today, but Governor Udom took the initiative further by ensuring that modern innovations are introduced in all schools.

The free and compulsory education for all children in Akwa Ibom, introduced by the previous government, is something the present administration is not willing to com­promise on. The state Commissioner for Education, Aniekan Simon Akpan, says: “Governor Udom Emmanuel, without mincing words, is passionate about education and he is committed to the free and compulsory education, which is one of the cardinal programmes of this adminis­tration.

“Right from inception, he has shown a lot of commitment. This is because the gov­ernment knows that the drive towards indus­trialisation of the state is anchored on sound education. We can actually build the indus­tries in partnership with foreign partners but His Excellency believes that Akwa Ibomites should be the main drivers whenever they take off.

“To that extent, there must be solid foun­dation; that is why the Udom-led adminis­tration is providing the access through the free education campaign. This is why all the primaiy, secondaiy and technical schools are completely free.” That is why, within less than three months in office, the governor approved a N235 million grant to all heads of primary and secondary schools.

On October 1, 2015, the new educational blueprint was launched by Governor Udom. A major drive in the innovation was the introduction of ICT in all public and private schools in Akwa Ibom. As a first step, the sum of Nlm was released to all schools to begin the first phase of connecting all edu­cational institutions to the internet. This is to ensure that all schools in the state are ICT compliant. Towards achieving this, a MoU was signed between the state govern­ment and the Nigeria Communications Commission. So far about 43 primary and secondary schools have benefited from the scheme. Also, more than 100 computers were supplied to these schools in order to support their ICT needs.

To further complement ICT expansion, the 

Udom administration continued the spon­sorship of 30 indigenes of Akwa Ibom study­ing ICT-related courses in India. The stu­dents, who were being trained in Oracle, Information Technology and Cyber Management, all graduated with Masters Degree in IT with specialisation in different fields towards the end of 2015.

During their convocation in India, Education Commissioner Akpan, who was representing Governor Udom, remarked that the students were products of a deliberate effort to consolidate on ICT as laid down by the previous administration in the state. Today, all the graduates are back home in Akwa Ibom in both the public and private sector building up the next generation of ICT professionals. Michael Bassey; Aniefiok Stephen; Mkpongke Mfot; Emmanuel Ekerefe and Umoh Offiong, who were among the MSc graduates from India, said they were grateful to the state government for choosing them for the programme. Aniefiok, an engineering graduate from the University of Uyo, ran a lesson centre in Uyo while some of his colleagues were doing menial jobs. “The exposure this train­ing has given us can never leave all through our lives,” he said. “We are grateful to Governor Udom for not abandoning us after the end of the last administration. We are back and willing to share this knowledge with everyone. There is no aspect of ICT that we did not study in India. Remember that India is the centre of ICT in the whole world.”

The retirement age crisis that had almost crippled academic activities in the state was also resolved less than six months after Udom assumed office. For instance, the mandatory retirement age for all academic staff is now 65 years. That has put to rest the issue which had been lingering for years. Also, the monthly grant of N200m to each of the higher institutions in the state for capital projects was increased to N250m. With this, each of the institutions is now able to carry out capital projects in their respective campuses.

The welfare of teachers in Akwa Ibom has not been compromised by the present admin­istration, say its supporters. According to Akpan, “Training and retraining has been our watchword.” Many teachers have been trained in the last eight months either by the state govern­ment or through collaboration with other agencies. For example, 800 teachers were trained by Mobil last year, of which 400 were from public schools and the remaining 400 were from private schools.

As is the case with other sectors, education in Akwa Ibom has taken another leap forward. 

Emmanuel’s divine mandate

SPEND A FEW minutes with Udom Emmanuel, Governor of Akwa Ibom State, and you would think he has a direct line to God. The man who says he cannot separate God from governance believes he has a divine mandate to transform the lot of his people. In a way, you cannot fault his faith. He was carrying on with his career as a professional banker when his predecessor invited him to serve the state as secretary to the state government.

From that position, he contested and won election to the office of state governor. Despite a gruelling legal fight by his opponents, he kept his mandate. He sees God’s hand in all this and in his mission to use his experience in business to turn the state into an economic powerhouse.

Born July 11,1966, Udom Emmanuel, banker, accountant and politician, has enjoyed a meteoric rise in the ladder of leadership and service. He was sworn into office as governor of the Oil rich state in Nigeria's Delta region, Akwa Ibom State on May 29, 2015 after running successfully for the office of governor in the April elections on the platform of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP).

His speedy odyssey in the world of politics began in July 2013 when he was appointed Secretary to the State Government of Akwa Ibom State. In2014, he aspired for the governorship of Akwa Ibom State in a hotly contested primary election and defeated 22 other aspirants (christened G22) to emerge the PDP candidate.

He went on to win the contest with 999, 071 votes, defeating the All Progressive Congress'candidate, UmanaOkon Umana, who scored 89, 865 votes. 

A native of Awa Iman, in Onnal local government area, Udom Emmanuel attended Secondary Commercial School, Ikot Akpan Ishietin Onna LG A from

where he obtained his West African Examination Council’s Certificate (WAEC). From there, Udom Emmanuel went on to attend the School of Arts and Science, Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, where he received his Advanced Certificate of Basic Studies (CBS) and a Higher School Certificate (HSC). He enrolled at the University of Lagos, Nigeria, where he obtained his Bachelor’s degree in

Accounting in 1988. He has also attended the Advanced Management Program at INSEAD, France. He is a Chartered Accountant by profession and trained with Price Waterhouse Coopers and is a Fellow of the Nigerian Institute of Management.

Before his appointment in 2013 as Secretary to the State Government, Udom Emmanuel was Executive Director on the Board of Zenith Bank Pic since He joined Zenith Bank in 1996 from Diamond Bank Limited and was the pioneer Manager of its Lagos Central Branch.

He served as Chief Financial Officer of Zenith Bank Pic. He also served as Group Head of Income Optimisation, Financial Control and Strategic Planning Department at Zenith, was in charge of the Telecommunications Sector as well as serving as overall General Manager.

Udom Emmanuel also doubled as Non- Executive Director, Africa Finance Corporation (AFC) from 2008 to the time of his appointment, and Director, Nigerian Inter-bank Settlement Systems (NIBBS) from 2009; Non-Executive Director,

Zenith Bank, United Kingdom; Zenith Bank- Gambia; Zenith Bank-Sierra Leone; Zenith Insurance; Zenith Pensions and Custodian; Zenith Securities; Zenith Trustees and Zenith Registrars. 

Emmanuel and his family are devoted members of Qua Iboe Church, Nigeria where he serves as a deacon.

 

The problem of over-dependancy

FIVE AND A half decades since independence not much structural change in the Nigerian economy has taken place. Crop production still dominates economic activity, followed by trading and services. Oil, though, with a much bigger share of total output today than it had at independence in 1960, remains about the fourth largest sector. Meanwhile, manufacturing, construction and solid minerals contribute less to the economy today than before.

Crops, which dominated exports in the first decade after independence, have been replaced by oil as the dominant export earner in the past five decades. Yet crops supply the bulk of domestic production, employment, trading and and spending today, while oil continues to post weak links with domestic production and employment, but generates a huge chunk of government revenue and foreign exchange for financing imports.

In the absence of structural change, the country’s economic performance depends on the strength of the global economy, essentially transmitted through merchandise trade and commodity prices. In Nigeria’s case, it is principally through oil. 

Commodities, mainly crops, and, since the 1970s, mainly oil, accounted for more than 90 per cent of the nation’s productive activity since 1960.

With only commodities to export, it is not surprising that global economic shocks over the decaded have dovetailed into domestic stagnation and macroeconomic instability for the country. A weak global economy also means weak oil and non-oil commodity prices in Nigeria, inhibiting incentives for their production. Crop and oil production have constricted, government revenue and external reserves both dropped to insignificant levels, putting pressures on government debt, and on an unholy trinity comprising inflation, exchange rate, and interest rates.

Dunnlorenmerrifield (DLM) Research maintains in a recent Economic Update made available to NewsAfrica: “We note that the prospect of significantly increasing foreign exchange inflow

in the short term to restore market equilibrium is largely bleak as it is predicated on a major rebound in global oil prices, increased foreign direct investment and/or an increased export base particularly from non-oil items. The current structure of the nation’s export remains largely dominated by crude oil exports with a contribution of 69.1 per cent recorded in 3Q15 and we note that the ramping up of non-oil exports is a medium term objective. In addition, the uncertainty

surrounding the ‘future of the naira’ further dampens investor enthusiasm towards FDIs. Given the decline in global oil prices, we are not oblivious of the fact that accretion to reserves at this time will be a challenge in view of the country’s reliance on oil export for foreign exchange needs.” DLM continued: “While we note that growth in oil sector retreated further into the negative territory, we also observed the decline in contribution to the nation’s GDP. The contribution of the oil sector to GDP declined to 8.06 per cent in 4Q15 from 10.27 per cent in the preceding quarter, though slightly lower from 8.97 per cent in the corresponding period of 2014.

“In terms of real growth, the oil sector recorded a deceleration to -8.28 per cent during the quarter compared to 1.06 per cent in 3Q15. Overall, we observed that the sector growth and contribution recorded during the quarter is the lowest in eight quarters.

“The weak performance of the oil sector was driven by the decline in the nation’s oil production to an average of 2.16 million barrels per day (mbpd), down from 2.17mbpd and 2.18mbpd in 3Q15 and 4Q14 respectively.”

In 2016, the government intends to lay the foundation for sustainable growth. In his presentation of the budget, President Buhari said: “The 2016 budget is designed to ensure that we revive our economy, deliver inclusive growth to Nigerians and create a significant number of jobs. We aim to ensure macroeconomic stability by achieving a real GDP growth rate of 4.37 per cent and managing inflation. To achieve this, we will ensure the aligning of fiscal, monetary, trade and industrial policies.”

(NANTA), Segun Adewale, has called on the government to do all that is possible to address the economic hardships facing the country and review its forex policy, which is affecting the aviation industry.

Latest purchasing managers’ index (PMI) data compiled for Stanbic IBTC Bank by Markit Economics Limited shows that Nigeria’s private sector economy slipped into reverse gear during February. “After having pointed to a notable growth slow­down in January, the latest seasonally adjust­ed PMI signalled an outright deterioration in business conditions,” said Markit Group.

“This was a survey first, driven by unprecedented falls in output and new orders. Official figures updated to the fourth quarter of 2015 released last week were equally worrying. Annual growth of GDP at market prices in the fourth quarter eased to a new low of 1.8 per cent, a far cry from the marked expansion seen in the same period during 2014 (6.4 per cent).

“The recent downturn in the PMI and continually low oil prices suggests that growth could slow further or even turn negative in the first quarter of 2016. Delving deeper into the PMI dataset, multiple head­winds were flagged in February. Companies indicated that client demand was particularly subdued, leading to a solid reduction in new orders.

“Output dropped as a result for the first time since the series began at the start of 2014. Sharply rising input costs were a key obstacle facing companies in Nigeria. This reportedly stemmed from currency weak­ness relative to the US dollar, which was linked in turn to the ongoing oil price slump. With cost pressures picking up, charges rose at the fastest pace since data collection began. The weak oil price also appears to be hurting exports, which fell at a survey-record pace in February.

The scale of the challenges facing Nigeria was underlined by its status as Africa’s worst- performing major economy in February, according to PMI data. Kenya’s private sector has surged ahead in recent months, but the latest downturn in Nigeria was greater even than that seen in South Africa — a country which has been in contraction since last June.”

NewsAfrica gathered that the next release of Nigerian PMI data from Stanbic IBTC Bank, scheduled for April 5, would provide further clarity on the overall performance of the private sector economy in Q1 2016. It will be interesting to know how the country would fare by then.

While the president argues that the economy is growing, the IMF is unhappy that Nigeria’s external challenges are dete­riorating. The Fund is increasingly worried that Nigeria’s reliance on oil revenues doubled the general government deficit to 3.3  per cent of the GDP in 2015, with exports plunging 40 per cent, and the current account deficit climbing to 2.4 per cent of GDP. Worse still, foreign portfolio flows shrank and caused reserves to fall to $28bn at the end of the year.

With eyes focused on flexible exchange rate policy, the IMF managing director Christine Lagarde visited Nigeria in January to discuss the fall in oil prices, the need for fiscal discipline, and to offer advice on improving tax and debt management. Lagarde also recommended the broadening of the country’s revenue based by increasing VAT.

However, experts say raising VAT alone will not be sufficient to resolve the country’s challenges, with the argument that VAT is like a sales tax in that ultimately only the end-consumer is taxed. They are quick to highlight that it backfired in Japan, an advanced economy. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe hoped it would strengthen the economy while supporting the growth, but realised it weakened the debt-ridden country. They further argue that VAT is regressive that leaves the poor paying more than the wealthy as a percentage of their income.

Figures show that agriculture employs more than 70 per cent of the labour force in Nigeria. Officially, unemployment rate is 10 percent, but analysts believe that the underemployment rate exceeds 17 per cent. More than 60 per cent of Nigerians live below the poverty line of $2 per day. Given this scenario, VAT would only increase chal­lenges. Moreover, the tax is difficult and cosdy to administer, so revenues are often lower than expected.

It is not all doom and gloom, though. The good news is that sectors with limited foreign exchange availability, increased gov­ernment expenditure on infrastructure and capital expenditure, local content and labour intensive activities, less dependency on bank debt, are export competitive and reliant on large consumer base and urbanisation, are expected to drive growth in 2016. These include civil works, construction and real estate, pipeline and storage, domestic avia­tion, agriculture and power sectors, according to Bismarck Rewane, head of Financial Derivatives Limited.

From whichever perspective it is viewed, the importance of oil to Nigeria cannot be overemphasised. It is the country’s main source of foreign exchange earnings and government financing. It generates 94 per cent of Nigerian export revenues, 70 per cent of Nigeria’s government income and 11 per cent of its GDP. Prices recently tumbled to as low as $30 per barrel before rallying to $40.

It is not surprising, therefore, that growth expectations for the economy have deteri­orated as a result of the oil slump. For instance, the ministry of finance projected growth last year of 5.5 per cent, down from 6.4  per cent at the start of 2014. Sadly, the country’s GDP fell to a mere 2.5 per cent by year-end, a performance described by analysts as the lowest since 1999 when Nigeria made detour to democracy.

In its report on economic scenarios for 2015 and 2016 — ‘What next for Nigeria’s economy? Navigating the rocky road ahead,’ - accountants PWC stated: “We expect that even under a benign economic scenario, the Nigerian economy will struggle to realise growth much higher than 4.0 per cent. Nigeria’s economy has tended to suffer following an oil price crash, although its resilience has improved in more recent times.

 

Change that made no difference

Just a year after Buhari was elected into office on a mantra of ‘change’ it appears to be more of the same for Nigerians as the country is buffeted by ill winds from the global markets. Martins Azuwike reports on the shrinking of Africa’s biggest economy

A year into Muhammadu Buhari’s tenure as president and com- mander-in-chief, his approval rating has sagged remarkably. According to a monthly survey recently published by the Governance Advancement Initiative for Nigeria (Gain), which follows governments’ performance at various levels, the president’s rating dropped to 32.8 per cent in February. It was 63.4 per cent in January. No one is surprised; the economy has gone haywire. The poll, which was published at the end of February, showed for the first time since December 2015 that more Nigerians have become disenchanted with the “change” mantra on which Buhari rode to power last year, scoring President Buhari low on job creation, the economy and power supply. Bears still retain their hold on the Nigerian bourse. The equities market completed a hat-trick of negative closes on March 16 as the All Share Index shed 0.3 per cent to close at 25,657.48 points while market cap­italisation also dropped N30.1bn to settle at N8.8tn increasing YTD loss of the index to -10.4 per cent. Analysts maintain that the continuous retreat into the red zone is driven by the unremitting decline in key banking counters.

Market activity also waned as traded volume and value declined 31.9 per cent and 44.4 per cent to settle at 185.3m units and Nl.Sbn. That’s not all. Market sentiments also continued to be negative as the market breadth defined by the ratio of advancers over decliners (advancers’/decliners’ ratio) closed at 0.4x as a result of nine advancing stocks against 23 declining stocks. Afrinvest West Africa Limited, however, said: “The three-day losing streak in the benchmark index despite resilient FY:2015 results declared by some blue-chips is mainly due to profit-taking — as expectations have already been built into pricing - and investor scepticism following more profit-warnings from banks. We also note that investors may already be rolling valuation to price in expectation of weaker forward earnings (especially in the banking and consumer goods sectors) against the weak macroeconomic backdrop. Nevertheless, we continue to see value in the broader market for investors with a medium to long term horizon.”

The economic situation in the country has gone completely out of the control of government as a result of the global economy’s negative spiral effect on it, the minister of information and culture,

Lai Mohammed was quoted to have said recently during a radio broadcast in Abuja. The minister explained that this is because Nigeria cannot determine the price of crude or gas, maintaining that Buhari’s administration deserved credit from stakeholders for still managing to drive the economy amid the adversity. Mohammed has since repudiated a state­ment that has generated so much con­troversy among Nigerians, implying that his remarks had been taken out of context. “I don’t know the reason behind the gross distortion of my comments on the radio today, but, whatever the motive is,

Nigerians should disregard such distortion and continue to support our president and his administration to take the country out of the woods,” he said.

Things are so bad that some disgruntled Nigerians now refer to the “change” slogan as “chain”. Meanwhile, it has been reported that when Nigerian entrepreneurs visit global commercial hubs such as China and Dubai they find it difficult to buy the goods they want to import into the country. One of them, Deb Uchechukwu, told NewsAfrica after a trip to Dubai: “I could not buy any­thing out there. I took four Nigerian credit cards along with me but only one worked when I got there. When I made enquiries from the banks, their officials told me there was nothing they could do for me since the order to block such cards had come from the Central Bank.”

He added: “I hardly had money for my upkeep while I was there. If I had access to the money on those cards to buy goods, I would have sold them here to make some profit.”

Perhaps minister Mohammed’s mindset underscores the curious assertion by the president at a recent book presentation in Abuja that Nigeria “has the fastest growing economy in Africa and one of the fastest in the world. Our dominance is not so much because of our wealth, but because of the tremendous energy and resourcefulness of our people”. As far as most people are con­cerned, the president’s remarks are hardly in sync with the harsh realities on the ground — an interplay of oil price slump, surging inflationary pressures, fuzzy exchange rates, a lame-duck manufacturing sector, a weak agriculture sector, lingering power sector problems, and massive unemployment.

In an article entitled ‘Nigeria as the Fastest Growing Economy’, columnist Levi Obijiofor, asked, “Where are the facts?” Buhari’s assertion that Nigeria is the fastest growing economy could easily be challenged. If the Nigeria economy is as the president claims, why is it that some states have failed to perform their basic financial obligations? he continued. “Some states are unable to service their debts. And yet others are unable to provide funds to service state-owned institutions and departments. Many states are not in position to pay regular salaries and allowances to public servants. Teachers in many states are repeatedly owed monthly salaries or paid in arrears.”

He added: “If Buhari’s postulation were to be credible, we shouldn’t be caught in the currency quagmire. Sadly, our economy has gone into n inoperable phase. An economy in a terminal state cannot be described s being in a paramount position. Everyone is complaining about the high prices of foodstuff. Is that evidence of a nation whose economy is growing faster than the rest of the world?

“At a time of adverse performance by all sectors of the economy, the government should pay attention to how the economy should be stimulated, to assist in the revival of the local currency, and to promote national interest in agriculture and the solid minerals sector. Enhanced socioeconomic development is the key to every country’s advancement.

“An improvement in the economic con­ditions of the people will draw the benefits of democracy closer to the people. A democracy that deprives citizens of their basic needs, a democracy that makes people bankrupt, a democracy that contributes nothing to the welfare, wellbeing and secu­rity of the people is a poisoned prize. It is of no use to anyone. A democracy works best when it enhances the conditions of living of citizens and gives people hope for the future.”

The Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) said in a lengthy statement: “Today, the economy is confronted with persistent difficulties in the business envi­ronment especially in relation to insecurity in parts of the country, infrastructural con­ditions, foreign exchange crisis, funding issues, consistency of policy and the quality of institutions. Uncertainties and risks created by the political transition and the elections last year exacerbate the challenges.

“Data from the National Bureau of Statistics, suggest that the country’s real GDP dropped to 2.84 per cent in the third quarter of 2015, compared to 6.23 per cent in the same period in 2014. Sectors such as manufacturing and the services slid into recession after recording successive declines over the last three quarters in 2015.

“Even with the successful democratic transition that heralded a new political administration and presented a new wave of optimism on the back of the inherent goodwill of the administration at the federal level, business activities remind largely slug­gish for a better part of the year following uncertainties around the general economic policy direction of the present administra­tion. Nigeria currendy has a high depend­ence of imports supported by the huge amount of foreign currency needed to facil­itate these transactions.”

A former president of the National Association of Nigerian Travelling Agents

Irregular power supply continues to be a problem across the country

 

Change that made no difference

Just a year after Buhari was elected into office on a mantra of ‘change’ it appears to be more of the same for Nigerians as the country is buffeted by ill winds from the global markets. Martins Azuwike reports on the shrinking of Africa’s biggest economy.

A year into Muhammadu Buhati’s tenure as president and com- mander-in-chief, his approval rating has sagged remarkably. According to a monthly survey recently published by the Governance Advancement Initiative for Nigeria (Gain), which follows governments’ performance at various levels, the president’s rating dropped to 32.8 per cent in February. It was 63.4 per cent in January. No one is

surprised; the economy has gone haywire. The poll, which was published at the end of February, showed for the first time since December 2015 that more Nigerians have become disenchanted with the “change” mantra on which Buhari rode to power last year, scoring President Buhari low on job creation, the economy and power supply. Bears still retain their hold on the Nigerian bourse. The equities market completed a hat-trick of negative closes on March 16 as

the All Share Index shed 0.3 per cent to close at 25,657.48 points while market cap­italisation also dropped N30.1bn to settle at N8.8tn increasing YTD loss of the index to -10.4 per cent. Analysts maintain that the continuous retreat into the red zone is driven by the unremitting decline in key banking counters.

Market activity also waned as traded volume and value declined 31.9 per cent and 44.4 per cent to settle at 185.3m units and Nl.Sbn. That’s not all. Market sentiments also continued to be negative as the market breadth defined by the ratio of advancers over decliners (advancers’/decliners’ ratio) closed at 0.4x as a result of nine advancing stocks against 23 declining stocks. Afrinvest West Africa Limited, however, said: “The three-day losing streak in the benchmark index despite resilient FY:2015 results declared by some blue-chips is mainly due to profit-tation of weaker forward earnings (especially in the banking and consumer goods sectors) against the weak macroeconomic backdrop. Nevertheless, we continue to see value in the broader market for investors with a medium to long term horizon.”

The economic situation in the country has gone completely out of the control of government as a result of the global economy’s negative spiral effect on it, the minister of information and culture,

Lai Mohammed was quoted to have said recently during a radio broadcast in Abuja. The minister explained that this is because Nigeria cannot determine the price of crude or gas, maintaining that Buhari’s administration deserved credit from stakeholders for still managing to drive the economy amid the adversity. Mohammed has since repudiated a state­ment that has generated so much con­troversy among Nigerians, implying that his remarks had been taken out of context. “I don’t know the reason behind the gross distortion of my comments on

the radio today, but, whatever the motive is,

Snapshots

I GDP growth in Q4’15 down sharply to 2.11 per cent- a 17 year low

I FY’15 growth rate of 2.79 per cent compared to 5-year average o 6.24 per cent I Contraction in oil and gas sector

■ Contribution to GDP down to 8.06 per cent in Q4’15 from 10.27 per cent in Q3’15

■  Growth was negative at (-8.28 per cent)

■  Economic growth will pick up marginally from Q4'15

■  Ql: 16 growth projection of 2.4 per cent

■  Compared to five year average of 6.79 per cent

■  Factors that would constrain growth

■  Currency Exchange Pressures

■  Oil Price Slump

■  Inflationary pressure

■  Headline Inflation flat at 9.6 per cent in January

■  Estimated to spike to 12.3 per cent in February

■  Highest level since December 2012

■  Way above the CBN target of 6 - 9 per cent

I Nigeria is now among the 10 highest inflation countries in SSA Economic growth will pick up marginally from Q4’ 15 I Ql: 16 growth projection of 2.4 per cent

■   Compared to five year average of 6.79 per cent I Factors that would constrain growth

■  Currency Exchange Pressures

■  Oil Price Slump

Nigerians should disregard such distortion and continue to support our president and his administration to take the country out of the woods,” he said.

Things are so bad that some disgruntled Nigerians now refer to the “change” slogan as “chain”. Meanwhile, it has been reported that when Nigerian entrepreneurs visit global commercial hubs such as China and Dubai they find it difficult to buy the goods they want to import into the country. One of them, Deb Uchechukwu, told NewsAfrica after a trip to Dubai: “I could not buy any­thing out there. I took four Nigerian credit cards along with me but only one worked when I got there. When I made enquiries from the banks, their officials told me there was nothing they could do for me since the order to block such cards had come from the Central Bank.”

He added: “I hardly had money for my upkeep while I was there. If I had access to the money on those cards to buy goods, I would have sold them here to make some profit.”

Perhaps minister Mohammed’s mindset underscores the curious assertion by the president at a recent book presentation in Abuja that Nigeria “has the fastest growing economy in Africa and one of the fastest in the world. Our dominance is not so much because of our wealth, but because of the tremendous energy and resourcefulness of our people”. As far as most people are con­cerned, the president’s remarks are hardly in sync with the harsh realities on the ground — an interplay of oil price slump, surging inflationary pressures, fuzzy exchange rates, a lame-duck manufacturing sector, a weak agriculture sector, lingering power sector problems, and massive unemployment.

In an article entitled ‘Nigeria as the Fastest Growing Economy’, columnist Levi Obijiofor, asked, “Where are the facts?” Buhari’s assertion that Nigeria is the fastest growing economy could easily be challenged. If the Nigeria economy is as the president claims, why is it that some states have failed to perform their basic financial obligations? he continued. “Some states are unable to service their debts. And yet others are unable to provide funds to service state-owned institutions and departments. Many states are not in position to pay regular salaries and allowances to public servants. Teachers in many states are repeatedly owed monthly salaries or paid in arrears.”

He added: “If Buhari’s postulation were to be credible, we shouldn’t be caught in the currency quagmire. Sadly, our economy has gone into n inoperable phase. An economy in a terminal state cannot be described s being in a paramount position. Everyone is complaining about the high prices of foodstuff. Is that evidence of a nation whose economy is growing faster than the rest of the world?

“At a time of adverse performance by all sectors of the economy, the government should pay attention to how the economy should be stimulated, to assist in the revival of the local currency, and to promote national interest in agriculture and the solid minerals sector. Enhanced socioeconomic development is the key to every country’s advancement.

“An improvement in the economic con­ditions of the people will draw the benefits of democracy closer to the people. A democracy that deprives citizens of their basic needs, a democracy that makes people bankrupt, a democracy that contributes nothing to the welfare, wellbeing and secu­rity of the people is a poisoned prize. It is of no use to anyone. A democracy works best when it enhances the conditions of living of citizens and gives people hope for the future.”

The Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) said in a lengthy statement: “Today, the economy is confronted with persistent difficulties in the business envi­ronment especially in relation to insecurity in parts of the country, infrastructural con­ditions, foreign exchange crisis, funding issues, consistency of policy and the quality of institutions. Uncertainties and risks created by the political transition and the elections last year exacerbate the challenges.

“Data from the National Bureau of Statistics, suggest that the country’s real GDP dropped to 2.84 per cent in the third quarter of 2015, compared to 6.23 per cent in the same period in 2014. Sectors such as manufacturing and the services slid into recession after recording successive declines over the last three quarters in 2015.

“Even with the successful democratic transition that heralded a new political administration and presented a new wave of optimism on the back of the inherent goodwill of the administration at the federal level, business activities remind largely slug­gish for a better part of the year following uncertainties around the general economic policy direction of the present administra­tion. Nigeria currendy has a high depend­ence of imports supported by the huge amount of foreign currency needed to facil­itate these transactions.”

A former president of the National Association of Nigerian Travelling Agents

Irregular power supply continues to be a problem across the country

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