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His journey started in Nigeria, a taunted teenager with large tumors on his face, driven into deep despair.
Eleven years later, Victor Chukwueke has undergone numerous surgeries, and is a step closer to achieving his dream of becoming a doctor.
In a rare act, the United States Congress passed a private bill last week granting Chukwueke permanent residency after years of him living in Michigan on an expired visa. The bill is awaiting President Barack Obama's signature.
"The day Congress passed the bill was one of the happiest days of my life," said Chukwueke, who left Nigeria as a teen in 2001 to get treatment for the tumors.
Private bills -- which only apply to one person and mostly focus on immigration -- seldom pass.
His is the only private bill to pass in Congress in two years.
"I was overwhelmed with joy; it was nothing less than a miracle," the 26-year-old said. "Only in this country can so many miraculous and wonderful things happen to someone like me."
Read more: http://edition.cnn.com/2012/12/23/us/michigan-nigerian-student/index.html?eref=edition
People are buzzing about a mysterious $500 million left at a holy site in Jerusalem. Dec. 19 Fox News reported about the 507 checks found in an envelope at the Western Wall. Each was made out for $1 million, but it seems unlikely they can be cashed.
Fox News shares that a worshipper at the Western Wall found the $500 million left at the holy site in an envelope. The checks were not addressed to anyone, and many were Nigerian. An Israeli police spokesperson said that there were other checks from Asia, Europe and the U.S. Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch, who oversees the holy site, said that checks like this have been found before. They are usually written from Africa, and always bounced.
Ultra-Orthodox Jews hold the "four species" during special prayers at the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest site, as they recite the Birkat Cohanim or Priestly Blessing in Jerusalem's Old City, October 3, 2012. The Cohanim are believed to be direct descendants of the priests at Jerusalem's ancient Temples. Tens of thousands flooded the Western Wall for the Succot special prayers. UPI/Debbie Hill License photo
Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch has been the overseer of the Western Wall since his appointment in 1995. Typically his duties consist of ensuring the notes left at the wall are handled appropriately, and he ensures that the standards of modesty are kept around the holy site. He also accompanies media and heads of state or other high-profile people in their visits to the site. Clearly he also occasionally gets to handle mysterious checks that may seem exciting, but always turn out to be fraudulent.
UPI notes that the $500 million left at the holy site has been turned over to the police, who will investigate and see if any of the checks are real. While this one could have initially been seen as a big coup for the holy site, the murky details leave most believing these indeed will hold no value.
Just as the economy of Northern Nigeria is in tatters because of the activities of the terror group, Boko Haram, the economy of much of South-Eastern Nigeria and South-Southern Nigeria is threatened by the continuous onslaught of kidnappers. In the South-West, kidnappers are also getting bolder. The fear of kidnappers has become the beginning of wisdom.
Many people have placed themselves on self-exile for fear of being kidnapped and an outrageous ransom demanded. My friend who spent some years in the United States came back last Christmas, but his family advised him not to visit his hometown Benin, Edo State for fear of kidnappers. He remained in Lagos until his departure.
It used to be abominable for an Anambra man to conduct the customary marriage rites of his daughter in Lagos, but today such happens regularly for fear of kidnappers. Anyone who starts the erection of a house in these kidnapper-infested areas is simply announcing to kidnappers that he is a potential “client” with an impressive ransom to pay. So, such property is better erected in the South-West (or outside Nigeria), where the menace of kidnappers is still low and Boko Haram has not infiltrated. Alternatively, such investment is postponed ad infinitum. Business owners are fleeing Igboland and the neighbouring South-South states. Ironically, Lagos and the South-West, which were seen as safe havens before, are now recording incidents of kidnapping. So if nothing serious is done, the kidnap cancer will spread to all parts of Nigeria.
Kidnapping is worse than armed robbery, because armed robbers look for money or items that can easily be converted to money. When robbers operate, whatever they get at the point of robbery is what they take away as booty. But kidnappers never leave a scene without a victim. If their target is not available (which is not usually the case, because they operate with insider information), they leave with another victim, whose ransom may be lower. Armed robbers toy with possessions; kidnappers toy with human beings – and paying a ransom is no guarantee that the victim will return alive. The anxiety of armed robbery lasts the number of minutes or hours the robbers operate, but the anxiety of kidnapping lasts from the moment they attack till the day they release their victim, which may be weeks or months. Both the kidnapped and his or her relatives know no peace all through the ordeal.
Except in few instances when a victim of an armed robbery attack loses something that belongs to another person, the victim does not run into indebtedness over a robbery attack. But kidnapping could make one run into debt in search of money for ransom which usually runs into millions of naira.
There have been arguments on whether the Federal Government should negotiate with Boko Haram. Some have argued – with good intentions – that such a negotiation will put an end to the terrorist activities of the terrorist sect as was achieved during the Niger Delta insurgency some years ago. After several years of blowing up oil pipelines, killing of security operatives, kidnapping more especially expatriate workers and sabotaging oil production, which adversely affected Nigeria’s production capacity, the late President Umaru Yar’Adua had instituted the amnesty programme, which was a bargain for the militants to renounce violence and receive special government attention in return. It worked marvellously.
But the grouse of the Niger Delta militants was clear and reasonable. It was like the grouse of the African National Congress during the apartheid era in South Africa: Stop the inhuman treatment of Black South Africans, embrace democracy, and peace will reign in South Africa. For the Niger Delta militants, the message was clear: since peaceful protest by people like Ken Saro-Wiwa had not resulted in the cessation of the exploitation of the people of the Niger Delta and the degradation of their environment, then let us try violence. But the moment it was obvious that there was a sincere effort to pay attention to the plight of that oil-producing region of the nation, the violence petered out in a matter of months. It was unarguably the high point of Yar’Adua’s two-year reign. And that he was from the Northern part of the country while the militants were from the South-South part of the country made the achievement remarkable.
But what does Boko Haram want? Unreasonable and impossible demands: conversion of President Goodluck Jonathan to Islam or his resignation; institution of Sharia law in Northern Nigeria; institution of Sharia law in Nigeria; payment of compensation to Boko Haram for the destruction of their property; and release of all members of Boko Haram detained, etc. If the sect had asked for the construction of certain roads in the North, establishment of certain federal projects in Northern Nigeria and the likes, it would be easy to negotiate with them. So it still beats one how a negotiation with Boko Haram is possible and reasonable, given the nature of their demands and the fact that they continue to kill ordinary Nigerians. When President Olusegun Obasanjo tried to mediate between them and the government, Boko Haram promptly killed the man who had hosted Obasanjo, thereby giving a signal that it did not want any negotiation.
Negotiating with Boko Haram is akin to negotiating with kidnappers. Just like Boko Haram, kidnappers do not represent any ideology, ideal or group. They only represent themselves. They pursue their narrow objectives. They inflict pain and deaths on the common people. They instil fear into the people. They are fast grounding the economy of the areas of their operations.
The reason kidnapping seems not to be at the top of Federal Government’s priority list is because it does not directly affect the revenue from oil. Kidnapping has spread from the South-South to the South-East and now to the South-West. (Just two days ago, the 82-year-old mother of the Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Prof. Kanene Okonjo, was kidnapped in her home in Ogwashi-Uku, Delta State). Those involved have seen that kidnapping pays better than armed robbery, internet fraud, and drug trafficking all put together. If it is not tackled frontally, it will increase and spread to the North-Central and upwards. It is unacceptable for Nigerians to be made afraid to travel to their hometowns. It is unacceptable for Nigerians to be made afraid of moving around the nation because of kidnappers.
Since the Nigerian government is against state police, it must take full responsibility for the protection of the citizens. The fight against kidnapping must be stepped up with a special force to tackle it – a combination of the police and the military. There should also be more investment in technology to track kidnappers. The police also need more training.
Government should reduce the amount of corruption and ostentation among political office holders. The masses find this repulsive. These are austere times, and austere times demand a drastic cut-down in lifestyle. The taste and lifestyle of political office holders – from the President to the councillors – at the expense of citizenry are distasteful. There is no sign yet from our leaders that they have any plans to tighten their belts as they admonish the masses. Some unscrupulous Nigerians believe that engaging in criminality is their only way of getting their share of the “national cake.” That is dangerous.
The importance of provision of jobs has been over-flogged, but it is still imperative. It is unacceptable for 70 per cent of Nigerians to live below the poverty line. A time will never come when a hungry man will stop being an angry man. The gap between the superb rich and the poor has widened to a monstrous level.
The Federal Government must also find effective ways of stopping the payment of ransoms by individuals or governments when someone is kidnapped. It should be a crime to pay a ransom to kidnappers on whatever circumstances. It may not sound pragmatic to tell the relatives of a kidnap victim not to pay a ransom, but when the Federal Government shows some seriousness in that regard, payment of ransoms will stop. When kidnapping started in the Niger Delta, the various tiers of governments made kidnappers rich through the payment of ransom. That made many to see the crime as lucrative. Government has to enforce a policy of non-negotiation with kidnappers as well as punishment for anyone who pays a ransom to kidnappers.
The Federal Government must intervene and stop this menace. But if it believes that negotiation will solve the problem of Boko Haram, let it also include negotiation and amnesty for kidnappers, while keeping another negotiating team ready to discuss with the next set of criminals that will emerge once Boko Haram and kidnappers have been negotiated out of existence. Who knows if the next set to be granted such amnesty will be armed robbers, rapists or treasury looters?
THE society is a reflection of the aggregate of values and priorities of its members. There are few things around us, both good and bad, that did not originate as a ‘thought’ in the mind of an individual or group of individuals. Consequently, if some societies are ordered and relatively more qualitative while others are in disarray, this is a direct result of the (in)actions of the inhabitants of these societies.
If you are an African, ask yourself these simple questions, and the reason for the dire circumstance of the mother continent will come home to you. Have you ever,
1. Entered a packed banking hall and instead of joining the queue, sought out the ‘sister of your friend’s cousin’ who happens to work somewhere in the building, in order to circumvent the queue and in the process increase the misery of those doing it the right way by prolonging their waiting times
2. Driven against the flow of traffic simply because it looks expedient at the time
3. Given money to the ubiquitous civil servant to ensure that your document gets signed on the same day, when the standard procedure is to wait for two weeks
4. Induced a police officer to look the other way because your car papers are not in order and you are too sloppy to attend to it
5. Manipulated the system to obtain admission for your ward, knowing full well that s/he did not merit such consideration, and in so doing deprive a better qualified candidate the opportunity
6. Known a friend/family member living ostensibly above their means and legitimate income and rather than question the anomaly, asked for your share of the unexplained windfall
7. Voted for someone simply because s/he is from your geographical region, religion, speaks the same language and other such spurious reasons, rather than the merit and fitness of the person
8. Heaped curses and abuses on your Local Government Chairperson, governor and president, and on that single occasion you had audience with the idiot, became a wimp and instead spewed false adulations on him, calling him ‘the best thing since sliced bread....’
9. Evaded tax and duties, and then went ahead to bribe the Revenue Officer to issue you a fraudulent Tax Clearance Certificate
10. Obtained a drivers licence without actually being to a testing ground and passing the prescribed practice test
11. Paid less to clear your goods at the port
12. When caught-out one way or the other, is your disposition to take full responsibility for your actions or to immediately start thinking/looking for who can/will bail you out/shield you from the natural consequence of your actions
13. Turned-up late for work and blamed a non-existent traffic congestion
14. Are you the ultimate custodian of the ‘African Time’, always late for appointments
15. Do you live only to enjoy the titillations of your five senses, no matter the negative effect of your ‘enjoyment’ on others and society
16. Are you an academic but have not contributed anything to the body-stock of knowledge; your specialization is indolence and college politics
17. Taken money to vote in a particular way instead of voting your conscience
18. Covered the truth, thwarted the truth or hinder the arbiter of the truth for your own selfish/sinister motives
19. Held others to a higher ‘code of conduct’ than you demand of yourself
20. Taken money or other valuables under false pretences and justified it on the grounds of ‘this is the way it is done here...’
21. Having done the above, did you then enter the church/mosque or other religious congregation and gave testimonies of ‘God’s (or Allah’s) goodness’
22. Are you an integral part of your society’s problem and you do not even realise it
If ever, you answered ‘yes’ to many of the preceding posers, you have no ground to stand on and criticize your representatives; they after all represent what you stand for, your modus operandi, your values and your reward systems. The (wo)man to criticize and change is the one looking back at you in the mirror.
We didn't think it was possible, but Oprah Winfrey has been dethroned as the richest black woman in the world. The new leading lady is oil baroness Folorunsho Alakija from Nigeria.
While drilling oil has reportedly made the 61-year-old owner of FAMFA Oil Limited a very rich woman -- she is estimated to be worth at least $3.2 billion -- Alakija started her ascent to financial supremacy in fashion.
Born into a wealthy family, Alakija studied fashion design in England back in the '80s and soon after founded the Nigerian clothing label Supreme Stitches. Her one-of-a-kind creations were worn by the who's who of African society, quickly making her the premier fashion designer in the West African country. In fact, she has been called one of the "pioneers of Nigerian fashion" and stays connected to the industry through the Fashion Designers Association of Nigeria (FDAN).
The well-heeled businesswoman and philanthropist made the switch to oil in 1993 and the rest is history. From the images we were able to dig up of Alakija, she is quite the fashion plate (read: eccentric dresser). But when you've out-earned the Queen of All Media by approximately $500 million, you're allowed to wear whatever you want.
Ventures Africa reports that Alakija owns at least $100 million in real estate and a $46 million private jet. And can you imagine what her closets look like? Move over, Imelda Marcos!
Check out Alakija looking very lovely (and rich) on the November 2012 cover of Geneieve magazine in a dress by Iconic Invanity. (see above)
FROM a disturbing position of 16, four years ago, Nigeria has sank deeper into the abyss of terrorism and is now the 7th most-terrorised country in the world, according to the latest ranking of the Global Terrorism Index (GTI).
From the 16th slot in 2008, Nigeria went down to 11 in 2009; 12 in 2010; and now seven with a GTI of 7.24. According to the report, Nigeria recorded 168 incidents of terrorism in 2011 from which 437 persons died, 614 persons sustained injuries and 33 properties were destroyed.
Nigeria is worse than Sudan, which is ranked 11th and Mali (34th).
Ahead of Nigeria on the index are Iraq (9.56), Pakistan (9.05), Afghanistan (8.67), India (8.15), Yemen (7.30) and Somali (7.24)
Of the 158 countries, 43 are free of terrorism. They include Burkina Faso, Brazil, Congo Republic, Gabon, Ghana, Jamaica, Gambia, Liberia, North Korea, South Korea, Poland, Uruguay, Singapore and Zambia.
Produced by the Institute for Economics and Peace, the GTI maps and analyzes trends in terrorism over the last 10 years and systematically ranks and compares 158 countries according to the impact of terrorism. The index is based on data from the Global Terrorism Database (GTD) from the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, START at the University of Maryland.
The GTI uses four indicators to measure the impact of terrorism: the number of terrorist incidents, the number of deaths, the number of casualties and the level of property damage. These indicators are used to create a weighted five year average for each country, which takes into account the lasting effects of terrorism. The score given to each country therefore indicates the impact of a terrorist attack on a society in terms of the fear and subsequent security response.
According to the report, from 2002 to 2011, North America was the region least likely to suffer from terrorism. Other findings include: While more terrorist attacks are being recorded, the number of fatalities has declined by 25 per cent since 2007.
Only 31 out of 158 countries ranked have not experienced a terrorist attack since 2002.
Most terrorist attacks occur in the context of a wider conflict situation.
Since the start of the Iraq invasion the number of terrorist incidents occurring each year has increased fourfold, globally
In 2011 Iraq was the country that was most impacted by terrorism, followed by Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Not too long ago, I watched a documentary on Al Jazeera showing young men from Portugal escaping the harsh economic realities in Europe and migrating to Angola and Brazil to work. Portugal colonised Angola and Brazil. Portuguese is spoken in Angola and Brazil, so the Portuguese migrants do not have to battle with a different language. But the real attraction was not language. Angola and Brazil are experiencing an economic boom.
Angola’s case is truly interesting: More of a fairytale than a true story. Angola fought a 27-year war that erupted right from its independence in 1975 and ended in 2002, with some interludes in-between. I remember that listening to the news in the 1980s and early 1990s, no news bulletin in Nigeria was complete without a reference to the Jonas Savimbi-led National Union for the Total Independence of Angola in the Southern African country, or the John Garang-led Sudan People’s Liberation Army, or the Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka, or a clash between the Mangosuthu Buthelezi-led Inkatha Freedom Party of South Africa with the African National Congress or between the ANC and the brutal apartheid regime. I used to see our “peaceful” country as lucky, and asked myself repeatedly if these mentioned countries were meant to fight wars ad infinitum.
Wikipedia says of Angola: “Angola’s economy has undergone a period of transformation in recent years, moving from the disarray caused by a quarter century of civil war to being the fastest growing economy in Africa and one of the fastest in the world, with an average GDP growth of 20 per cent between 2005 and 2007. In the period 2001–2010, Angola had the world’s highest annual average GDP growth, at 11.1 per cent. In 2004, China’s Eximbank approved a $2bn line of credit to Angola. The loan is being used to rebuild Angola’s infrastructure, and has also limited the influence of the International Monetary Fund in the country.”
That Angola could emerge from such a long-drawn war and become a booming economy in less than 10 years to the extent that it would not just attract other Africans but also citizens of their colonial masters is not just surprising but exciting. But to me as a Nigerian, it is depressing and somewhat embarrassing.
Last week, the name of a book came to my mind: The Anatomy of Female Power, and I remembered the author and one of Nigeria’s most celebrated critics of the 1980s and early 1990s, a man who had no surname: Prof Chinweizu. I sought to know his whereabouts. The responses I got were that he seemed to be residing in Ghana. My response was: “Ghana? Why Ghana for such a brain like Chinweizu and not Nigeria?” I got no answers.
Then I asked myself: Where is Africa’s highest-selling author, Prof Chinua Achebe? The United States of America. If at 82 a home-grown African icon like Achebe still resides in the US, when he should be in his home town Ogidi receiving visitors like an oracle, when will he return to Nigeria? Prof. Wole Soyinka, Africa’s first Nobel Laureate, is home-based but he seems to be more outside Nigeria than within. What about award-winning authors such as Ben Okri, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Helon Habila and others? They are either in the UK or the US.
This brain drain is not just prevalent in the literary sector; in different sectors of the economy, our best brains – young and old – are fleeing the country, while those who left long ago have refused to return, even in their old age. Spirits don’t build nations: human beings do. With the drain of intellectuals and youths from Nigeria, the resultant effect is better imagined. Those who should be using their talents and energy to develop the nation are using such to the benefit of other nations. And while those nations grow, Nigeria suffers. In most other countries, their youths who travel to Europe or the US merely go to acquire education and skills. After a couple of years, they return home to use such to better their nations. But in the case of Nigerians, even when attempts are made to deport them, they resist deportation. And when successfully deported, they start making plans to emigrate to another nation.
My discussions with so many people who live outside Nigeria show that if not for the state of things in Nigeria, they would have no business living outside the country. They usually agree that they could go on holidays abroad but would have preferred to be resident in the country. No matter the amount of freedom and development overseas, Nigerians abroad who were born in Nigeria usually feel incomplete in their countries of residence. They usually miss the communal and family life that is available in Nigeria, the wonderful weather, the delicious cuisines and the feeling of home. When the citizens of many nations display unfriendliness and hatred to Nigerians in their country, such Nigerians usually curse those who have made Nigeria hard to live in.
For other Africans and Blacks from other parts of the world, Nigeria’s situation leaves them with a feeling of disappointment. The thinking is that if Nigeria had taken its rightful place in the comity of nations, it would have been a country other Africans and the Black race would be using to boast about the power of the Black man to build a great country. Nigeria’s success would have spurred other African and Black countries to be successful too. It would have been the type of country the United States is to the American sub-continent: a country of refuge for all manner of people.
For the rest of the world, they just can’t understand how a wealthy nation like Nigeria can be among the poorest, with her nationals swarming all over the earth like refugees from a country at war or in a terrible famine.
There is no denying the fact that if Nigeria had an enviable economy as well as administration, Europeans and Americans would be coming into Nigeria on their own accord to look for jobs. Currently, the foreigners who work in Nigeria are treated as extraordinary staff, because they are lured in with mind-boggling salaries and conditions of service, which are different from those given to their Nigerian counterparts, and they live in choice locations such that which will not be available to them in their home countries.
The return of democracy in 1999 had given high hopes to many that in a couple of years, there would be a tremendous turn-around in infrastructure, quality of leadership and administration as well as the economy such that the best and brightest of Nigerians would be in charge of affairs in all sectors and millions of Nigerians living legally or illegally in other countries would flock back home to be part of this rebuilding process. Unfortunately, those who came back in 1999 and 2000 had to go back sadly, while those who adopted the let’s-wait-and-see attitude were happy that they did not rush back home.
Die-hard bashers of President Goodluck Jonathan would readily put the whole blame on him. But it goes beyond him. He has his portion of the blame, because of his casual pace in governance. But former President Olusegun Obasanjo has a huge chunk of the blame. Here was a man who had the chance to be another Mandela. Despite his seemingly honest efforts to turn things around, he ended up personalising governance by having those he tagged “friends” (who called him Baba and kowtowed to him and therefore must never be touched), and those he tagged “enemies,” who must be dealt with brutally. The late President Umaru Yar’Adua initially sounded as if he would be different but also ended up protecting his “friends” vigorously from prosecution in the short period he was in office. Jonathan seems to have everybody as “friends” that must be protected, except one or two isolated cases. He seems to be the perfect Mr. Conviviality, more eager not to create enemies than fix the nation.
The result is that corruption soars, the economy gasps for air, frustration and despair mount in the citizens, acts of terrorism and violent crimes sky-rocket, and those who should be the engine room of the economy flee to other countries where they hope to get a better life. And our fatherland continues to lose.
I am certain Chief Gani Fawehinmi did not die a happy man because of the status of Nigeria. I am sure Mallam Aminu Kano, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, Mrs Margaret Ekpo, Chief Anthony Enahoro and many others, who had lofty dreams about Nigeria, were not happy that they died without realising the Nigeria of their dream. I pray that in my lifetime I will see the Nigeria of my dream.
The Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG) says Nigeria cannot realise its goal of becoming one of the largest 20 economies in the world by the year 2020
Frank Nweke Jnr, the Director General of NESG, said on Monday in Abuja that that achievement would go to Saudi Arabia.
Nweke made the observation while presenting the 2012 Nigerian Economic Scorecard at the three-day 18th NES, with the theme, ``Deregulation, Cost of Governance and Nigeria’s Economic Prospects.’’
The Vision 20:2020 is aimed at making Nigeria one of the top 20 economies by year 2020.
``Based on our projections using the IMF World Economic Outlook database, our findings are that:
``Saudi Arabia will be the 20th largest economy in the world by 2020, with a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of 1.2 trillion dollars in Purchasing Power Parity (PPP),’’ he said.
``Nigeria on the other hand would be the 27th largest economy in the world by 2020, with a GDP of US$864 billion in PPP; falling short of being the 20th largest economy by a GDP of US$316 billion,’’ the NESG boss said.
He said that Nigeria needed 730 billion dollars to close the gap in order to become the 20th largest economy by 2020.
According to him, this is calculated as the difference between the GDP of the 20th largest economy in 2020 – which is Saudi Arabia and Nigeria’s current GDP in 2012 estimated by the IMF as 450 billion dollars in PPP.
Afripol's Emeka Chiakwelu, Frank Nweke (R) Photo: from file
``Otherwise, Nigeria could become the 20th largest economy by 2035, cetetris paribus,’’ Nweke added.
He said that only an accelerated pace of economic growth and reforms could shorten the time frame for the country.
``For instance, there is a need for substantive reforms to ensure local oil refining capacity within the economy.
``Beyond the need to ensure oil refining capacity in Nigeria, we find a compelling need to diversify away from the mono-productive oil base,’’ Nweke said.
In his comments, Shamsuddeen Usman, the Minister of National Planning Commission, said the vision was not a prediction but an inspirational road map through which Nigeria could become one of the 20 top economies by year 2020.
Usman said that Nigeria was the 37th economy in the world when the Federal Government initiated the vision document in 1999 but ``Nigeria is now ranked 31st economy in the world.’’
He said the country’s present rank was based on the concerted efforts made by the Federal Government to provide good governance, improve Infrastructure and human capital development.
Foluso Phillips, the chairman of NESG, urged the Federal Government to come up with national projects that would engage large number of the population.
Phillips said that projects such as the integrated rail system and infrastructure would provide massive employment to the people. (NAN)
Less than a week after Forbes Magazine chronicled the list of 40 richest Africans in which 11 of them were Nigerians; another different list emerged that was unfavorable to Nigeria.
The quantification and tabulation by Forbes, maintained that Aliko Dangote was still the richest person in Africa for two consecutive years, 2011 and 2012 respectively. Many Nigerians were probably proud to have one of their own at the top of the list. Of course, Dangote works for his money and has been providing jobs to Nigerians. He is part of the solution by heavily investing in Nigeria and Africa, unlike those that siphoned their wealth abroad.
And here comes the bombshell, The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), a sister company of The Economist magazine, complied a list of its 2013 Where-to-be-born Index and of the 80 countries evaluated, quantified and covered, Nigeria comes last in the ranking at 80 out of 80: "it is the worst place for a baby to enter the world in 2013." This is beyond just a bad news, it is depressing, no matter how you look at it.
Nigeria is among the worst and miserable places for wealth redistribution and income inequality in the world. An oil and mineral resources rich nation, where less than 1% of the population controls about 99.5% of the country's wealth. This implies that Nigeria wealth distribution is more like a pyramid with tiny wealthy class at the top and large base of poor and destitutes at the bottom. No country can progress without a thriving middle class. Nigeria does not have a middle class, but few very rich and the large very poor. This is a pathway to gloom and doom, not a recipe for winning a future.
Nigeria a nation of private jet owners, tantalizing cars and expensive wine drinkers, is also a nation of massive homelessness, joblessness, disease infected water and starvation. Many women and children go to bed at nights on empty stomach with malaria infected bodies. Nigeria is the only oil exporting nation without reasonable electricity, drinking water and health care facilities.
Wole Shadare and Faith Oparugo, writing in Guardian News on Nigeria's growing ownership of private jets wrote:
"WITH Nigeria holding the record of a country with the highest private jet ownership in Africa, the aviation sector has brought into sharp relief the paradox of a nation that is endowed with huge oil resources but where only a few are wealthy.
In a country where the average Nigerian lives on less than $1 a day, there is a super rich class of business moguls, bankers, preachers, politicians and oil magnates whose private ownership of jets is more than that of any other country. While the rich can afford such luxuries, the economic crisis in the nation is seen in a situation where the aviation sector needs financial succour from the Federal Government.
According to an official of Bombardier, the Canadian aircraft manufacturer, Nigeria ranks behind the United States, United Kingdom, and China among countries that top their orders for the supply of the aircraft type; just as there are indications that N1.30 trillion may have been expended in the last seven years. Nigeria is said to top the market for private jet ownership."
Well this time around, the country of jet owners has been classified as the worst place to be born in the world.
What does this really mean? Well, it is loaded and this is not good for Nigeria and Nigerians. Without being defensive as usual, the world is actually losing the hope they bestowed on Nigeria.
Nigeria is not a confidence nation and Nigeria without doubt, rely on how the rest of the world sees her. This is important because the world is telling Nigeria that her so-called image re-branding and public relation are not working. The most important image re-branding is doing the right thing, not tricking people to think otherwise.
The Economist Intelligence Unit assessment actually means that among the poorest countries in Africa, Latin America and Asia, Nigeria is the worst place to be born in 2013. Cynics and realistic Nigeria may refute such an assumption and conclusion, but that may not be necessary because they do not have the bigger microphone to dispute EIU assertion and convince the rest of the world that Nigeria is the 'best' country to be born.
Nigerians do not have access to media industry as big as CNN, BBC or EIU that can easily dispense and dissipate information to all the four corners of the world. Therefore Nigeria has to lick her wound and move on as usual. Nigeria is now becoming like a football to be kick around without any consequences because our leaders and policy makers are so inconsequential in global affairs and do not command any respect.
Is Nigeria really the worst place to be born? The answer depends on who is answering the question. Of course the fat cats and politicians will resoundingly say NO, but the average Nigerian without food, electricity and drinking water will say YES.
But it is also easy to pick on Nigeria, because of its management failure. Nigeria's natural and human resources have not been properly managed, due to weaken internal mechanism of operandi . This is the principal factor that deterred her from greatness and parked her where she found herself today.
Nigeria can be a miserable place for our youths whose unemployment rate is at a disastrous and alarming level. Our youths are poorly educated, and less than 5% of them are gainfully employed. This means that 95% of Nigerian youths are roaming the streets without purpose and employments. The implication of this scenario is crime, restlessness and vandalism that are running rampant among energetic youths and elusive minds.
The rate of joblessness for the entire country is alarming, Nigerians without full employment should be approaching 75-80%. The operating word is 'full employment' and when an individual is fully employed, it means that he is not underemployed and he can survive comfortably from the gainful employment.
Nigerian wealthy class are known for spending their fortunes in foreign lands. Big shops in places like Dubai, London and many others cannot be satiated until wealthy Nigerians step into their expensive stores and impressed them with hard currencies. At same time it must be clearly clarified that spending one's earned income is his right. But when the rich could not utilize their disposal income to help boast the well-being of their country, then there is a problem.
Nigeria must be serious about improving the quality of life and well-being of her people. The brain drain occurring in Nigeria is not healthy for the most populous country in Africa. Nigeria needs all the brain power it can muster and as much as it can gather to improve her economy for her poor citizens. There are emerging leaders and active Nigerians that are rising to the challenge of making their nation better but the critical mass has not been approached.
As The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) narrated: the "quality-of-life index links the results of subjective life-satisfaction surveys—how happy people say they are—to objective determinants of the quality of life across countries. Being rich helps more than anything else, but it is not all that counts; things like crime, trust in public institutions and the health of family life matter too. In all, the index takes 11 statistically significant indicators into account. They are a mixed bunch: some are fixed factors, such as geography; others change only very slowly over time (demography, many social and cultural characteristics); and some factors depend on policies and the state of the world economy."
Corruption has arrested affirmative development in Nigeria. The country must slow down corruption to be able to win the future for posterity. Corruption has become so bad in Nigeria, that even sports, the only institution that Nigerians collectively adored has been touched by corruption. The Nigerian Green Eagles coach recently narrated how bribery and corruption played a role in selection of the players.
Nigerians are becoming sick and tired of hearing Nigeria called, " the most corrupt, the worst country, the bad and the ugly". For once Nigerians desire to be proud to announce to all and sundry - We are Nigerians without anybody reminding them how backward, corrupt or bad Nigeria is. When is that going to happen? Or Nigerians asking too much?
My introduction to economic reform in my country really began in 2000 when, at the invitation of President Obasanjo, I took a leave of absence from my job at the World Bank to return to Nigeria for six months to serve as his Economic Adviser. My remit was very specific: advise the president on how to manage Nigeria’s debt so that the country could begin the process of seeking and obtaining debt relief from its largely Western group of official creditors, all members of the Paris Club.
I first met President Obasanjo in 1999, shortly after he won the elections but before he was sworn in as president. He had decided to visit important Western capitals to engage in discussions about Nigeria’s problems and to share his vision and his agenda for the country’s economic and social recovery from the “dead” years of General Abacha’s dictatorship.
His public relations adviser, Onyema Ugochukwu, a relative and a close friend of my husband, thought that he needed additional briefing on topical international economic issues of the time, as well as specific advice on how to approach Western leaders on issues of concern to Nigeria, such as lifting the country’s debt burden and improving its image.
Onyema Ugochukwu phoned me one Saturday morning in March 1999 and asked me to put together a brief that would help President Obasanjo prepare for his proposed world tour. The brief I put together focused on Nigeria’s most pressing economic problems, especially its debt, and on how the international community could contribute to solutions.
In particular, I suggested to the president that he might make the case to the international community that their support to solve pressing economic problems in Nigeria would yield the country a much needed “democracy dividend” after decades of military rule. The president liked the brief and the notion of a “democracy dividend.” He used the expression extensively throughout his term in office.
I met President Obasanjo in person when he came to the United States a few weeks later. In January of 2000, he requested that I return to Nigeria as his Economic Adviser for six months. My work in those six months focused on sorting out the extent of the country’s most important financial liabilities (including its US$30 billion in external debt), on getting the seven different offices managing different parts of the debt to cooperate with one another so we could begin to reconcile figures, and ultimately on creating a national Debt Management office (DMO) to bring some clarity and rationality to debt management. This work laid the foundation for my return as Minister of Finance three years later.
Building an Economic Team
In 2003, President Obasanjo won a second term in office and decided to focus much harder on reforming Nigeria’s faltering economy. He needed a modern and technocratic finance minister who was familiar with the fierce politics of the time. My name was suggested to him by Lady Lynda Chalker, a former International Development Secretary of the United Kingdom based on recommendations from two other reformers-Nasir EI Rufai and Oby Ezekwesili-with whom I had struck a friendship during my short stint at home.
Since President Obasanjo was already familiar with my work, I seemed a logical choice, so he rang up my boss-James Wolfensohn, president of the World Bank-to ask him to persuade me to resign my job as vice president and corporate secretary of the World Bank to become Nigeria’s Minister of Finance.
When Jim Wolfensohn approached me, I was torn and conflicted on both a personal and a professional level. On the personal level, my financial situation was different than it had been in 2000 during my advisory stint at home. Then, I had been able to forgo some of my earnings and benefits to serve because we had only one child attending a university.
By 2003, we had two, and a third getting ready to go, and the main question that my husband and I had to confront was how to manage all the financial obligations without going into debt if I went home to serve President Obasanjo. On a professional level, setting up the Debt Management Office had been an eye-opening experience and at the same time a fulfilling one.
I thought this would be an unprecedented opportunity to serve my country again, with a new democracy in place and a president who seemed open to change. But I had also experienced firsthand some of the complicated politics of implementing reform.
Even with an issue as technical as debt management, there were people who were vested in the status quo and did not want change. It seemed to me that reforming the management of the country’s debt would be a picnic in comparison with the challenges I would face as a Minister of Finance.
This time, virtually every aspect of the economy would have to be reformed. A comprehensive strategy would be needed to stabilise Nigeria’s volatile macroeconomic environment, tackle endemic corruption, and redress various structural features of the economy hindering private enterprise. The country’s woeful social indicators and abysmal delivery of basic services such as power, water, and transportation would have to be addressed. The prospects were daunting.
Surely designing and implementing such wide-ranging reforms could not be done by one person alone. Were I to accept, I would need advice on how to approach that enormous task. And accept I did, after two weeks of reflection and consultation with family members and friends, many of whom were opposed to the idea because they felt it was too great a risk to my professional reputation. Many felt that somehow, to quote one of my friends, “my reputation would be rubbished” – either by those who would be against me in government or others outside.
Jim Wolfensohn proffered a great deal of wise advice that tended to confirm my own feelings that this could be a unique opportunity to give back to my country. Because the World Bank had a rule mandating resignation for those accepting policy-making positions, I resigned from my position there once I had decided to accept the offer from Nigeria.
The financial problems were sorted out by President Obasanjo’s approach to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to open a Diaspora Fund similar to the arrangement they had worked out for Afghanistan and other countries.
Returning members of the Nigerian Diaspora would be paid their previous salaries for a year or two until they could make adequate financial arrangements to take care of their existing obligations abroad. Several of us returning to Nigeria benefited from this fund, and it made a clear difference in our ability to return at short notice. The arrangement later became controversial.
Referred to in the news media as the” dollar salary” saga, it was seized on and played up over and over again by anti-reform elements to imply that I was somehow less than committed to Nigeria because I was being paid more than the other ministers, and in foreign currency.
Neither the circumstances in which I took the job, nor the fact that I was not the only official being thus paid, nor even the fact that it was a transitional arrangement and that I gave it up during my last 15 months of work got much play in the media.
As I contemplated the tasks before me, there were no manuals to tell me what to do, so I turned to someone who had just had some success in managing economic reforms. Amaury Bier, Brazil’s former deputy finance minister had just joined the Board of the World Bank as Alternate Executive Director after four years of implementing successful economic reforms under the Cardoso administration. Jim Wolfensohn suggested I talk to him. How did they do it? What practical day to day steps did they take?
The first piece of advice Amaury Bier gave me was critical. “You will need to form an Economic Team of like-minded people who can stick together to fight the tough battles,” he emphasized. In Brazil, he had learned the hard way, a team was essential to bring different perspectives and expertise to the design of the reform program, but, more important, to help push through the cabinet the approval of proposed reforms.
Without team members supporting one another in cabinet, important reforms displacing vested interests could easily be blocked, he emphasized. He also counseled that building team spirit and keeping the team working together would be important as the reforms began to bite, since some people would be interested in dividing the team and fomenting dissension. To avoid this, Bier urged, the team should meet frequently-at least once a week-to discuss progress and problems.
A second piece of advice Bier gave was equally important: there was need for a comprehensive strategy that would set out major challenges and the reforms needed to turn these around. In particular, it would be important to build in the sustainability of such reforms right from the start to avoid later reversals. One good tool was the enactment of legislation to underpin reforms.
Armed with this advice, I flew to Nigeria in May 2003 to discuss the scope of my job and to get President Obasanjo’s agreement on the formation of a Presidential Economic Team. The president readily agreed to the team, noting that I would lead it and he would preside over it as chair.
Working with him, colleagues and I came up with a list of twelve members representing the areas of expertise that various reforms would require. These twelve people – with expertise in macroeconomics, microeconomics, debt management, privatisation, private-sector development, governance, anti-corruption measures, civil-service reform, and budget management – became the core of the team.
One appointment of particular importance (because he or she would have the ear of the president every day) was that of Economic Adviser to the president. We needed a sound macroeconomist-something Nigeria had not had in many years – who would reinforce the importance of the reforms. I nominated Charles Chukwuma Soludo, who later became a Central Bank Governor.
The team faced many challenges and tensions in keeping together, some of these stoked from outside. One early challenge occurred in July 2003 right after cabinet members had been sworn in. The president invited all the new members and other top officials and presidential advisers to a one-day retreat to explain his priorities and objectives for the administration and also to familiarise most of us who had never been in government with the main public service rules and imperatives.
Most of the new members of the Economic Team were there. We sat close to one another in some kind of solidarity. The retreat was well under way when the president announced (completely out of the blue, to me) that he would be moving the Budget Office of the Federation, normally part of the Ministry of Finance, to the Office of the President, along with the new budget director, who was also a member of the Economic Team.
I could hardly believe what I had heard, and turned to a team member to double check if I had heard correctly. It
was already evident that drastic reform of the budget process and of budget priorities would be central to the reforms. It would be important to link such reforms to changes in the financial management system in the finance ministry. Removing the Budget Office was akin to ripping the heart from the chest.
I felt that this would make major changes impossible to achieve and would furthermore deprive the Ministry of Finance of a central economic and political function. I was also in shock because the president had not discussed this with me. I thought, as the Minister of Finance, that he would at least mention such a major change to me, and maybe even ask my opinion of it. The fact that he had not done this was a major eye opener.
I felt two things. First, I could not be Minister of Finance with a major function removed. It would be a hollow job. I would be unable to complete the reforms I had come to Nigeria to complete, and therefore there would be no need for my services. Second, the president evidently did not trust me.
Otherwise, why would he not even have mentioned such a momentous change? I was angry and confused. To shield my feelings from public view, I got up and left the meeting hall. Other members of the Economic Team followed me out of the hall in concern and solidarity. By the time I walked out, I had resolved to leave.
I went ahead and wrote my letter of resignation. I then called the president’s office and asked if I could see him after the retreat. I as granted an evening appointment. I took my resignation letter with me and handed it to the president in an audience filled with tension.
He flung the letter at me and said I was free to resign and leave. I took that at face value, thanked him, and left. I later found out that the flinging of the letter was a sign for me to apologise and withdraw my resignation, but I was as yet untutored in presidential mannerisms and probably still would have resigned had I known what the gesture meant.
That evening, several people came to see me and to put pressure on me to withdraw my resignation. I refused. At the same time, two important members of the president’s inner circle – Principal Secretary Steve Oronsaye and Vice President Alhaji Atiku Abubakar – put pressure on him to reconsider and find a way out.
The president asked me to come back to see him the following morning. I attended the meeting with my father for support. At that meeting, the president told me that he had decided that the Budget Office could stay in the Ministry of Finance but the budget director would be reporting to him.
Mapping out the reform strategy
Even before the reform team had coalesced, some of us who formed the core of the reformers had begun to brainstorm on a strategy that would encapsulate the reforms. Nigeria was really not short on strategies, plans, or visions. We had Vision 2010, which attempted to articulate a way forward for the country’s development.
But this vision was actually not successfully translated into a medium-term program that could be implemented and monitored. We knew that we had to produce a medium-term plan that would pass three tests. It needed a sound diagnosis of the country’s socioeconomic problems; it needed to propose solutions; and it needed to translate the solutions into specific actions that would produce results and could be monitored.
We also knew that, in view of skepticism in the country about reforms and change, we would have to achieve some early victories that would signal change. My training at the World Bank, where I had worked on many reform matrices for a variety of low-income and middle-income countries, would come in handy.
The impetus for quick work on the strategy came from a meeting scheduled for September 2003 between President Obasanjo and British Prime Minister Tony Blair to discuss Obasanjo’s quest for debt relief and for a return of public assets that had been stolen from Nigeria and lodged in the UK.
The president had proposed that the Economic Team accompany him to this meeting to explain Nigeria’s proposed new economic reforms. I solicited written inputs from members of the Economic Team already working on important areas of reform – privatisation, budget monitoring, and price intelligence linked to public procurement reform.
For example, over a weekend, using their inputs, I produced a 17-page paper outlining the major economic and social problems and especially highlighting the problem of Nigeria’s huge external debt overhang, which was a drag on investment and economic growth.
I proposed a set of macroeconomic and structural reforms focusing on budget management and priority setting; fiscal reforms; liberalisation and deregulation of important economic sectors; privatisation of important public enterprises; governance and institutional reforms, including public service reform; and anti-corruption actions, especially concerning public procurement.
After completing the first draft, I invited comments and inputs from team members, then translated the paper into a PowerPoint presentation for the president’s review and comment, including a set of matrices of specific reform actions with a timeline.
I presented the plan first to a joint UK technical team from the Department of International Development and the Treasury, which wanted to make sure we had something serious to share with the prime minister, and then to the prime minister himself.
Prime Minister Blair also invited World Bank president, Jim Wolfensohn to the meeting to get his views on Nigeria’s reforms. With a successful presentation, we knew we had the basis to deepen the analysis into a full-fledged program of change for the economy, incorporating action in essential sectors, including agriculture, education, and health.
During that visit to the UK, the Economic Team stayed late into the night further debating the content and even the name for the strategy. We bandied various names around. It was Nasir EI Rufai who came up with the name that we would eventually use for the strategy: the National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy (NEEDS).