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Editorial/Opinion

Where is $7bn CBN placed with 14 banks?

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The subject of the narrative, in this column, last week, was the $7bn which Festus Odoko, a former Central Bank of Nigeria Corporate Affairs Director, confirmed had been deposited with 14 Nigerian banks in October 2006. It is not clear how many banks, actually, succeeded in raising the mandatory capital base of N25bn, and the additional N35bn steep threshold, required to manage part of Nigeria’s foreign reserves. Nevertheless, on hindsight, the CBN might have quietly dropped this clearly ambitious requirement so as to pursue its declared agenda.

Regrettably, despite several promptings in repeat publications of the above title by this writer since 2006, the CBN management remained inexplicably, and taciturn to any request to confirm the status of the $7bn placed with Nigerian banks, without collateral, equity participation or profitable return after 13 years!

Lately, however, the Chairman of the Special Presidential Panel for Recovery of Public Property, Mr. Okoi Obono-Obla, noted in a NAN report, in Abuja, on September 7, 2018, that these banks have not repaid the $7bn to government’s treasury “after 13 years.” Curiously, according to him, “when we enquired from the CBN the state of that money, the banks told us that the money was ‘dashed’ to them.”

Consequently, upon the presidential panel’s request, the Economic Financial Crimes Commission ultimately invited Dr. Obadiah Mailafia, a former CBN Deputy Governor, to shed light on the controversial $7bn ‘gift’ to banks, when Chukwuma Soludo was the CBN Governor in 2006. It is a story of how hapless Nigerians may have been insensitively betrayed when the CBN dashed $7bn of scarce forex to 14 banks, even when the apex bank and the same government were already neck deep in debt to these bankers.”

Below is Mailafia’s testimony, which was published in BusinessDay edition of 24/1/2019. Please read on.

“On request from the Federal Government of Nigeria, I was seconded from the African Development Bank Group as Deputy Governor of the CBN in May 2005. I left a highly paid and pensionable post as Chief Economist, Planning and Budgeting, to serve at the CBN at a much lower salary. I have always believed that serving one’s country is one of the noblest tasks anyone could be called upon to do.

In early October of 2006, the then Governor of the CBN, Prof. Chukwuma Soludo, brought a proposal to the Board to the effect that he wanted 14 of our commercial banks to take part in the management of our external reserves in partnership with foreign banking associates. He explained that it was rather unfair that only external custodians such as J. P. Morgan, Goldman Sachs and others were having a piece of the action. At the time, we were feeling rather triumphal. The banking reforms had been a success. We had managed to reach a deal with the Paris Club of international creditors. The economy was booming. Our foreign reserves had grown from a lowly US$10bn in 2004 to an impressive US$38bn in 2006… We had just launched the FSS2020 project which aimed to position our country as the financial hub of the continent by 2020.

As I recall, there was a lively debate on the matter. On the face of it, it seemed a good idea to allow our banks to have experience of managing our external reserves as a means of socialisation into the complex world of financial engineering and global financial markets. I had a modicum of doubt, but, alas, could not voice it. The professor was a Mister Know-All with an ego of the Order of Lucifer. The Curse of Mephistopheles.

Moreover, he always brandished his closeness with Aso Villa to neutralise any dissent. There was a whispering campaign about me being ‘the black sheep’ that would not play ball…

At the end of the day, the majority carried the day with regard to local participation in foreign reserves management. I must emphasise, for the avoidance of doubt, that at no stage did anyone get even the remotest impression that it was meant to be a loan, bailout or forbearance.

Of course, it would be another matter entirely if the banks, as an afterthought, after more than a decade, would now prefer to give a different interpretation to that financial deal. This should be confirmed from the archival records of the CBN. The banks had a mandate as fund managers of the US$7bn that was distributed to them; of which principal and interest were to be returned within the agreed tenor. But I was not privy to those details.

On March 26, 2007, while busy at my desk in the early afternoon, news came on national radio that I had ceased to be the deputy governor and had been moved to the Presidency to a 419 position as Special Adviser to the President on Political Economy. I resigned myself to the will of God. I had worked alone in the office up to midnight of December 31, struggling to meet the IMF liquidity targets set for us under the Special Support Instrument. Unfortunately, my colleagues deliberately sabotaged me. That may have explained my unceremonious departure. I later got to know that the late President Umaru Yar’Adua, having studied my dossier, had instructed that I be reinstated immediately. Unfortunately, that same week, he went into coma, never to recover. His presidential directive was never obeyed.

I mention these events in order to explain that, from October 2006 when the reserves were allocated to 14 banks, up to the time I left in March 2007, was only slightly over five months. The Directorate for Economic Policy which I headed is the most important function of any central bank, but it is the one Directorate where we do not handle money. We work with computable models for monetary policy while undertaking research and statistical-analytical work to drive economic development.

I was therefore surprised when, two weeks ago, a friend in the security services sent me a circular emanating from the Villa in which my name had been included on a list of 30 people slammed with a travel ban under Executive Order No. 6. Dated 11, December 2018. I managed to trace their office to a sprawling nondescript building in the outskirts of Asokoro. There, I met a squadron of investigators who gleefully welcomed me as a new captive. I was detained for questioning for the whole day and had to fill wads upon wads of paper about a “missing US$7 billion dollars” during my time at the CBN…’

Without prejudice to the ongoing investigations, my position is that whatever monies that were given to banks to be managed on behalf of the CBN, must be returned with principal and interest. I feel duty (bound) to share with the panel all that I know about this case. But I will first affirm my legal rights to be treated above board as a witness rather than suspect.

The way I have been treated so far evokes bitter memories. My time at the CBN was one of the worst in my entire professional career. I was to discover only after I left that my coffee was doused with poison on at least three different occasions.

I have spent most of my professional life outside Nigeria. I have enjoyed honours and privileges. My most recent job was as Chief of Staff of the 79-member African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States in Brussels.

I coordinated more than Є50 billion of development and investment funds. Throughout my sojourn abroad, I had no police record for a traffic offence, let alone financial fraud. It is a shame that I can be treated with such humiliation in my own fatherland. My family has paid a heavy price.

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Editorial/Opinion

Unending nightmare of flooding in Anambra

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Flood menace has become a perennial occurrence in Anambra State and the battle seems endless.

Whenever the rainy season approaches, various communities, especially those around the lower River Niger, become apprehensive due to the havoc wrecked by ravaging flood.

They always battle with the high rising waters in their various communities whenever it rains.

A few days ago, heavy flooding submerged several communities in Ogbaru, Anyamelum, Anam and other areas of the lower Niger River, but luckily, there were no records of deaths.

The incessant flooding in these areas are often blamed on poor management of the environment, poor building structures and felling of trees on flood plains.

It was gathered that felling of trees on river plains, construction of structures on water ways are major impediments to the free flow of water, thereby causing siltation.

Last year, over 375, 142 people were affected by flood disaster across 10 local government areas of the state. Out of the numbers, about 18, 144 people were in the category of people in need, while 973 were either injured or sick as a result of the disaster.

Investigation further revealed that Ogbaru Council Area has the highest number of affected persons with 131, 175, followed by Anambra West with 100, 775 while Onitsha South has the least with 1, 005 people.

The secretary of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Idris Abubarkar, recently urged residents of the areas to stop construction of structures on flood plains.

He also advised those in flood prone areas to respect early warning signals by NEMA and move up to higher lands. “A major cause of flooding is the siltation resulting from a number of dams and cutting down of trees on flood paths, so we need dredging and de-siltation so that water can remain in its natural course,” he said.

The Executive Secretary Anambra State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA), Paul Odenigbo, said the state government has created 28 emergency shelter centres in flood prone areas in case of flooding anytime.

According to him, the 28 emergency shelter centres include six in Anambra West, six in Anambra East, four in Awka North, four in Ogbaru, three in Ihiala, three in Awka South and two in Ekwusigo.

He, however, urged residents to get prepared for emergency evacuation or relocation, in case of flood disaster. Former Chairman of Ogbaru Local Government Area, Arinze Awogu, said

“The flood situation in Ogbaru LGA has continued to take a turn for the worst and we’ve been losing people over the years due flooding.

He called on government to provide them with better equipped hospital to enable them manage the emergency. Worried by the level of flooding in Ogbaru 1 Constituency, Hon Chukwunonso Noble Igwe, who represents the constituency in the Anambra State House of Assembly, urged the state government to intervene quickly to save them from their sufferings.

Igwe said, “The only drainage system to check flood is the Sacamori drain in Okpoko and it is filled up with sand. That drainage is supposed to collect water from some parts of Awada, Fegge and the entire Okpoko down to Idemili River and finally to the River Niger, but for now, the Sacamori is filled up with sand, thereby enabling flood to ravage and destroy peoples’ property and lives.”

He described Ogbaru 1 Constituency as a no-go area because of the magnitude of flood during the rainy season, noting that most government schools in the area are completely non-functional due to flooding.

“Roads reading to Okpoko Boys Secondary School, Okpoko Girls Secondary School, and some other schools are in bad conditions, such that students struggle through rising waters to find their way home whenever it rains.”

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Editorial/Opinion

Ministerial appointment: The Aregbesola you don’t know – Farouk

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I wonder why the nomination of Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola for ministerial appointment has been generating, unabated ripples and concomitant reactions across the country.

Nonetheless, the immediate past Osun State governor who was recently screened and cleared by the Senate will, in no distant time, be assigned a befitting portfolio.

But the uncommon consensus amidst a few pockets of unfounded criticisms against him has remained that many stalwarts of his party (APC) and friends hold him in a high esteem, saying he is a versatile and talented go-getter who can do wonders in any ministry or department.

Among his teeming adherents is Comrade Umar Farouk, an APC stalwart and friend of the former governor.

Farouk had recalled that as former Commissioner for Works and Infrastructure in Lagos State, Aregbesola laid the foundation for the infrastructural transformation of Lagos, one of the world’s largest megacities.

Comrade Farouk further noted that Ogbeni Aregbesola is not only an outstanding administrator and leader, but also a consumate grassroots campaigner and mobilizer who would take the NextLevel policy thrust of President Muhammadu Buahri’s administration to all and sundry.

“From my interactions with Ogbeni Aregbesola, I see him as a catalyst that would make that much needed difference that Nigerians yearns for under the Buhari administration. He has the experience and capacity”, Farouk maintained.

Equally commenting on the nomination, Prince Newgent Ekamon, a civil rights activist, described Ogbeni Aregbesola as pro- democrat and fiscal federalism advocate whose impact in government would not ignored.

” I recall that as governor of Osun state, Ogbeni Aregbesola was able to create 20, 000 jobs in his first 100 days and went on to initiate other popular socio-economic and people friendly programmes. This tells us that Nigerians would be the better for it with the coming of Ogbeni Aregbesola as Minister. His vast experience in government and skill would see him hit the ground running. He is not just a technocrat, and astute manager of men and materials, he is also a pro-people politician “, Ekamon affirmed.

A Public Affairs Analyst, Abdulkarim Salihu noted that he sees Ogbeni Ategbesola as team player, tested, trust worthy and loyal whose interest in politics is anchored on delivering life more abundant” to the people. “With his versatility and capacity, he can fit into any ministry and perform creditably”, Salihu argued.

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Editorial/Opinion

Politics as banditry in Nigeria

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April 15th 2019 was exactly when I boarded a British Airways night flight back to Abuja after a loaded three weeks’ vacation in the United Kingdom.

As I made for the terminal 5, of one of the world’s most glamorous and one of the busiest airports called Heathrow, a striking news story that made the papers of that day was the planned protest by some people in central London who were billed to be convoked from all parts of Europe to stage series of demonstrations to demand actions by world leaders towards addressing the impact and severe consequences of global warming and climate change. Never mind that comically, President Donald Trump who seems to have educational challenge has disputed tge veracity of climate change and proceeded to pull the USA out of the global treaty on climate change signed in Paris France.

The news of these series of protests sent the shock waves across the political spectrum in London particularly bearing in mind that similar ongoing protests called Yellow vest demonstrations have had devastating impacts to the economic and commercial wellbeing of Paris, France.

Paris in France has a global reputation as the most beautiful city to visit by tourist. So tge political establishment in UK were rattled by the prospects of having similar mass action in Oxford circus which is the commercial nerve center of London.

We will soon revert to these two key European protests by the citizens of Europe.

But the necessity for making references to these two epochal events has occurred, when at the Nigerian National Assembly a very simple and peaceful move to call the attention of political leaders to the effects of environmental pollutants by way of making policy and legal frameworks to encourage the phasing out of petrol engine cars for electric cars was rebuffed by persons who otherwise ought to know better since most of them own hoysibg assets in Europe and America. But like the proverbial giraffe, Nigerian Senators buried their faces in the sand and refuse to be futuristic. Luckily, the fervour for mass protests in Nigeria has declined. But in other developed societies, citizens are demanding actions through series of mass movements similar to civilian led revolutions. So we asked, why are the yellow vests protesting in Paris France? Media reports states correctly that the wave of protests sweeping through France is not a rejection of green policies. It’s a revolt against the 1 percent.

For the past three weeks, France has been experiencing one of the most significant social mobilizations in its recent history, which laid bare the country’s social ills, anti-elite sentiment, growing inequalities and thirst for social justice. So says the news reports.

It all started on November 17 when tens of thousands of people took to the streets across the country to protest against rising fuel prices.

The protesters, dubbed “Les gilets jaunes” (the yellow vests) after the high-visibility jackets they adopted as a symbol of their complaint, blocked roundabouts, burned effigies and clashed with the police. They were angry about the almost 20 percent increase in the price of diesel since the start of the year, as well as the planned fuel tax hike President Emmanuel Macron had recently announced.

While Macron said the tax was necessary to “protect the environment” and “combat climate change”, protesters claimed the decision was yet another sign that the “arrogant” and “privileged” president is out of touch with regular folk struggling to make ends meet.

The intensity of the protests quickly forced the government to make a U-turn and first suspend and later permanently shelve its plans for fuel tax increases.

But not satisfied, media reports stated that, the protest movement was not only about fuel prices. It encompassed wider anger and frustration against the political establishment in general and President Macron in particular. As a result, the government’s decision to abandon fuel tax hikes failed to calm tensions.

The “yellow vests” want further concessions from the government. Their demands include a redistribution of wealth as well as the increase of salaries, pensions, social security payments and the minimum wage. Some say they will not settle for anything less than the president’s resignation.

So how did day-to-day frustrations about fuel prices and “green taxes” transform into a nation-wide protest movement attracting hundreds of thousands of people in a matter of weeks?

It all comes down to Macron’s apparent failure to connect with the people, understand their concerns and steer France away from destructive neoliberal policies. Now lets look at the London protests which yours faithfully missed by the whiskers because i had to return to Nigeria to resume my works. The protests in London is staged by those typically called ‘extinction rebellion Protests.’

The group describes itself as an “international movement” that uses “non-violent civil disobedience” to bring issues such as climate change to the fore.

Organizers say they want to see “radical change” to “minimize the risk of human extinction and ecological collapse”.

The movement started in the UK in 2018 after the release of a report on global warming by The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – part of the United Nations.

But What do they want?Extinction Rebellion claims the government is guilty of “criminal inactivity” in addressing the climate change “crisis” and has made three key demands:

§ The government must declare an “emergency” and work with “other institutions” to make changes

§ The UK must enact legally binding policies to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2025

§ A citizens’ assembly must be formed to “oversee the changes” needed to achieve this goal

The group says that under the current system the UK is “headed for disaster”, with climate change due to cause food shortages and “destroy communities”.

What did they do?

The demonstrations began at 18:00 BST on 15 April, with protesters blocking roads at Marble Arch, before moving on to Oxford Circus, Waterloo Bridge, Piccadilly Circus and Parliament Square.

Activists also caused more than £6,000 of damage at the Shell headquarters in Belvedere Road.

Organizers had urged members to block five “high-profile locations” by booking time off work or going on strike.

“Think festival, arrange to stay with friends or bring camping gear,” the group’s website said.

Over the next 10 days activists glued themselves to and sat on top of trains on London’s light railway, marched on Heathrow Airport, staged “die-ins”, glued themselves to the entrance of the London Stock Exchange and chained themselves to Jeremy Corbyn’s home. But How did the protests affect London?

The government said the protests disrupted the lives of “many hundreds of thousands of hard-working Londoners”.

Police rest days were cancelled over the Easter bank holiday, as more than 1,000 officers were deployed across the city.

As of Thursday afternoon, a total of 1,130 activists were arrested for a range of public order offences, according to police.

So far 69 people have been charged. Who got involved?

In amongst the group’s estimated tens of thousands of protesters, Hollywood stars, global climate change campaigners and Olympians appeared at the demonstrations.

Swedish teenage activist Greta Thunberg, who gained global attention after staging a climate change protest at her school, came to London to tell demonstrators: “Keep going. You are making a difference.”

She also addressed Parliament, reprimanding the UK for supporting shale gas fracking, greater exploitation of North Sea oil and gas fields, and expanding airports.

On Waterloo Bridge, Olympic gold medal-winning canoeist Etienne Stott was one of the activists who had to be carried off by police officers.

Actress Dame Emma Thompson also joined climate change protesters on board a pink boat parked up in the centre of Oxford Circus. However, Nigeria is on the opposite side of the revolutionary pole. Senator Ben Murray- Bruce who had educational stints in Europe proposed an electric car bill but it was shot down in a manner as if to say the politicians were mere anti- environmental bandits.

The Nigerian senator, Ben Murray-Bruce, who represents Bayelsa East Senatorial District, has taken to his Twitter page to share two of the bills he recently proposed before the Senate.

One of the bills he proposed is the Electric Car Bill, which is basically seeking that the National Assembly approves the use of electric cars in Nigeria.

The Objectives of this Act are to; (a) Comply with the clean energy policy. (b) Encourage the use of modern technology, (c) De-emphasize on oil consumption, (d) Reduce air pollution.

But true to the suspicions of most activists that these senators are a bunch of anti-green bandits, the Nigerian Senate rejected this forward looking bill that sought to phase out the use of petrol cars and introduce electric cars in Nigeria by the year 2035.

Also rejected was the bill that sought to open up the Nigerian citizenship to other Africans.

The two bills were sponsored separately by Ben Murray-Bruce, the lawmaker representing Bayelsa East senatorial district on the platform of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP).

According to Murray-Bruce, combustion cars were causing pollution and contributing to global warming and developed countries are gradually phasing them out. He said phasing out petrol cars would help fight the twin environmental menace of global warming and air pollution.

However, Senator Jibrin Barau said there was no need to make any law compelling Nigerians to use electric cars at a particular period.

He said in view of the economic strength of individual Nigerians, it would be unwise to come up with such legislation.

While kicking against the bill, Ike Ekweremadu, the Deputy Senate President, said it would affect Nigeria’s economy as an oil-producing country.

In the end, Murray-Bruce was advised to withdraw the bill, which he did.

On the bill to open up Nigerian citizenship to other Africans, Senator Bala Ibn Na’Allah said Sections 25, 26 and 27 of the constitution adequately took care of that. Consequently, Senate President Bukola Saraki put i t to a voice vote, and a majority of the senators voted against it.

As we await the coming of the next session of the National Assembly, Nigerians must wake up from slumber and be ready to make suggestions, stage mass movements and civil protests to ensure that all arms of government complies absolutely with best global practices in such a way that constitutional democracy would be better nurtured, promoted and protected. Making Nigerian environment cleaner and greener is a necessity that must be vigourously campaigned and actualised or we perished. We must day no to politics as banditry.

*Emmanuel Onwubiko is head of Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) and blogs @www.huriwa.blogspot.com, www.emmanuelonwibiko.com, www.thenigeriaminsidernews.com.

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