Enough of Rhetoric about Our Sliding Economy

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RingTrue with Yemi Adebowale; yemi.adebowale@thisdaylive.com; 07013940521 (Text only)

In practical terms, the Buhari administration is yet to start doing something pragmatic about reviving our comatose economy. It has been all talk with no action. The travails of indigenous tomato manufacturer, Erisco Foods Limited testify to this. The company has announced plans to shut down its manufacturing businesses in Nigeria owing to unfavourable operating climate. The truth is that the real sector has a big role to play if this country is to quickly exit recession and tackle unemployment. If this government wants to reduce hunger, disease and poverty ravaging this nation, manufacturers must be given special attention. Unfortunately, while pilgrims get easy access to forex, Nigerian manufacturers are struggling to get same. I don’t know how the Central Bank of Nigeria provides forex for all sorts of funny purposes with ease, while failing to meet the needs of manufacturers. Even at inter-bank spot market rate of about N308/$, our industries get an average of about 10% of their forex requirements. As a result, they resort to patronising the Bureau de Change.

In the case of Erisco Foods Limited, about 1,500 Nigerians will be thrown into the already saturated labour market by the time it shuts its operation. About 100,000 others indirectly employed by the company will also join the labour market. President of the company, Eric Umeofia said the cost of running its farms in Katsina and processing plant in Lagos had become so exorbitant given the high cost of sourcing for forex, as well as the inability of regulatory agencies to halt the high rate of importation and dumping of imported tomato paste into the country.

The federal government needs to guarantee access to forex for the likes of Erisco Foods if it is genuinely interested in rescuing this economy from recession. The Standard Organisation of Nigeria and NAFDAC must also move to end the importation and dumping of substandard manufactured goods in Nigeria, which is disrupting efforts to sell locally processed goods like Umeofia’s tomato paste.

Umeofia laments: “The CBN has refused to give us forex to import machinery, machine spare parts and our raw materials to be used for production of Nigerian fresh tomatoes/tomato paste. The CBN, like NAFDAC, is against my business because while it refuses me forex, it is approving intervention loan and forex to companies mostly owned by foreigners to import the same finished tomato paste and other items like frozen fish, fish heads and supermarket items that we don’t need at all or we can produce better in Nigeria.”

Managing Director, Vitafoam Nigeria, Taiwo Adeniyi adds: “We, the real manufacturers are calling on the CBN to create a special window to enable us get forex so as not to halt production. If we cannot access forex to get raw materials for production, how can we continue in business? If we cannot produce, then we would be compelled to sack staff. The government should react quickly if it really wants the economy to move forward. As it is now, nothing is moving in the sector.”

Clearly, investors are losing confidence in Nigeria. That was why, a few days ago, Diageo scrapped plans to lift its stake in Guinness Nigeria. It said it was due to “tough conditions” in Nigeria. The multinational company had last year announced plans to buy 15.7 per cent of Guinness Nigeria for up to N41.37 billion, which would have taken Diageo’s stake to 70 per cent. This would have been good inflow for our economy in dire need of forex. The decision by Diageo is another blow to Nigeria’s economy, headed for its first full-year recession in quarter of a century. Guinness, which is 54 per cent owned by Diageo, reported its first full-year loss in 30 years for its 2016 financial year, mainly due to the biting recession and forex crisis.

This forex crisis contributed to many businesses leaving Nigeria due to difficulties in repatriating their income. Global carriers such as United and Iberia have both stopped services to Nigeria. It is very sad to note that the key managers of Nigeria’s economy are not even inspiring confidence. The other day (at the Nigeria Economic Summit Forum), the Minister of Budget and Planning, Udoma Udoh Udoma was asked how much the country’s debt was at present and he could not provide an answer. The foreign journalist, CNN’s Zain Asher Ejiofor who asked the question was shocked. This very sound lawyer obviously has no business operating as our Budget and Planning Minister.

The Central Bank Governor, Godwin Emefiele and the Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun, have also not been inspiring. President Buhari is similarly a big problem to our depressed economy, by dictating economic policies and direction to the managers of this recessed economy. What this country needs urgently are economic managers with global clouts, capable of “challenging” Buhari. The likes of Adeosun, Emefiele and Udoma are incapable of doing this.

We have had enough of this unnecessary diversion called anti-corruption war. Buhari needs to focus on our comatose economy. Nigerians are daily regaled with stories of massive recoveries from so-called looters, yet, the economy continues to slide. Many are tired of recoveries that are not impacting on our lives and economy. We are tired of stories of recoveries that can’t be spent on decrepit public universities, polytechnics, hospitals, roads, airports and other infrastructure. We are tired of stories of recoveries that can’t be used to fight hunger, disease, malnutrition, unemployment and other problems ravaging our nation.

This morning, I urge Buhari to reflect on the statement of the former Secretary of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Dr. Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, who said: “We will not join those who say Buhari should stop reminding us of a past that is haunting us today. But we will join those who remind him daily that hunger is stalking millions of homes. Inflation is making life difficult by the day. People are losing their jobs. Businesses are closing down. Infrastructure is decaying. Young Nigerians are losing hope of being employed. Our hospitals are full of people who suffer mysterious illnesses, and they cannot afford the fees.”

Crackdown on Judiciary: My Takeaway
It is frightening to note that virtually all the judges being stung by the Department of State Security have at one time or the other given judgments or restraining orders or made remarks considered unfavourable to the interest of the Buhari administration. Let’s look at Justice Adeniyi Ademola of the Federal High Court, Abuja. I can still recall that he ordered that detained former National Security adviser, Sambo Dasuki be released on bail. He granted the ex-NSA bail on November 3, 2015, in the charge of unlawful possession of firearms, contrary to federal government’s opposition. The bail was scuttled by the DSS operatives, who laid siege to Dasuki’s Asokoro residence on the second day and placed him under house arrest. Justice Ademola severely tongue-lashed the DSS for disobeying court orders.

On May 26, 2016, Justice Ademola dismissed Buhari’s preliminary objection in a suit filed by a lawyer, Nnamdi Nwokocha-Ahaaiwe concerning Buhari’s certificate issue.
Justice Nnamdi Dimgba, of the Federal High Court, Abuja, whose house was invaded, had equally severely excoriated the DSS for disobeying court orders. He once told the DSS not to appear in his court again if the agency would not obey court orders.

Justice Mohammed Liman of the Federal High Court, Port Harcourt restrained the Independent National Electoral Commission from announcing “any results or figures howsoever generated or compiled purporting to be the result of the rerun election for any or all of Khana, Bonny, Gokana, Andoni, Eleme and Tai local government areas of Rivers State or any part of the rerun election conducted on March 19, 2016.”

A depressed Justice Liman remarked after $2 million was allegedly stashed in his house: “I believe most of the members heard or read about the reported raid in Port Harcourt and my name has been mentioned as the judge in whose house $2 million was stashed. The truth is that all that you’ve read is more of misinformation and disinformation; substantially untrue account. However, I feel distressed that the DSS indirectly claimed they have evidence I stashed $2m, and when contacted, I employed thugs and with Governor Wike to obstruct them from carrying out the search and that I later transferred the money to an unknown place.

“Unfortunately, I have found myself in the middle of a dirty politics between Wike and the Federal Government and perhaps my notoriety for delivering controversial judgments; because the cases are also controversial and the stakes probably very high. I’m not asking anybody to believe or disbelieve whether I stashed $2m, an amount that is equivalent to about N1billion.

Perhaps you might think the DSS probably exaggerated the amount, but all these would have been relevant considerations if they had actually searched my house. If I had $2m or even a quarter of it, I would have abandoned this horrible profession that has lost its dignity. In fact, I have already lost interest in it and have made up my mind to say bye-bye to it. I believe there is a life beyond every other thing.”

Another stung judge, Justice Muazu Pindiga of the Federal High Court, Gombe Division was the one that insisted on due process in the Rivers State Governorship Election Tribunal sittings. He was removed midway into the sitting of the tribunal.

Justice Sylvester Ngwuta and Inyang Okoro, both of the Supreme Court sat on some governorship election appeals that gave decisions against the ruling APC. Are all these co-incidents? This is food for thought for us this morning. Lovers of democracy and the rule of law must stand up for the independence of the Judiciary.

Let’s Rise Up and Rescue Little Habiba Isiyaku
For those who have not been following the story, little Habiba Isiyaku (just 14 years old) was allegedly abducted in Warkaza, Kudun Kankara Local Government Area of Katsina State and married out by the Emir of Katsina, Alhaji AbdulMumin Kabiru Usman. Little Habiba’s father, Tanko Isiyaku made the accusation on Wednesday in Abuja. According to Isiyaku, his little daughter was abducted on August 16, 2016 by a staff of the Palace of the Emir of Katsina called Jamilu Lawal. Isiyaku, who spoke through his lawyer, Yakubu Bawa, alleged that the Emir’s palace guards manhandled him while trying to rescue his daughter.

Bawa remarked: “Habiba is under the guardian and control of her parents now until she clocks 18. That’s the age of maturity and accountability. The second point is that Habiba cannot be forcefully converted to Islam by the Emir of Katsina. He has no right to do that.

“And when the CP summoned the parties concerned to his office, what baffled me, and my heart is still bleeding, is the fact that an ordinary security detail from the palace told the police that the Emir had instructed him to bring back the girl to the Palace. And yet, the CP that has the entire command under his control could not even take a position but unfortunately succumbed to the instruction of an ordinary detail and released the girl to the Palace.

“The CP instructed the man to go to the Palace the following day to retrieve his daughter. For me, with due respect, the CP has failed in his constitutional duties as enshrined in the Police Act. On reaching the Emir’s Palace, the Emir asked his aide, the Kilishin Katsina to tell him that his daughter had been converted and that there was now a big barrier between him and his daughter.”

Bawa alleged that the Emir then said that Isiyaku had committed a crime and that he was compelled to say that the complaint he made to the Police was not true. “Isiyaku left the palace shattered, broken, helpless and emotionally broken. Habiba is about clocking two months now in captivity,” Bawa said. The lawyer described the abduction of the minor as vicious, barbaric, and a callous act.

An official of Stefanos Foundation, a non-governmental organisation, Mark Lipdo, decried the pain the family had been going through since the forceful abduction of their daughter. Lipdo further stated that Habiba would clock 15 years today and would have resumed school in the new academic term. The Chief Executive Officer of Fantastic Mum Nigeria (FMN), Mrs. Joy Akanonu, pleaded with President Buhari and his wife, Aisha to intervene and secure Habiba.

These allegations are frightening. It is even nauseating that the Katsina Emirate Council held a press briefing on Thursday to say that little Habiba consented to the marriage and conversion to Islam. We can’t allow this horror to go unchallenged. I am pleading with our lawmakers and human rights activists to step in and rescue little Habiba. I am shocked that the Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris and the Katsina State Commissioner of Police, Usman Abdullahi have not responded appropriately to this abduction. Let us all rise up for little Habiba. She must be set free.