Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Hurricane Katrina: A Year Later

A submerged New Orleans, following Hurricane Katrina.

It was an emotional experience like no other, a year ago when the levees in New Orleans failed, and the United States gulf coast started getting submerged the moment Hurricane Katrina made landfall. Though I was far removed from the mystery, anguish and destruction, just like many others; I watched in awe as events unfolded.

Since August 29, 2005, it has been an emotional rollercoaster for many, especially those caught in the eye of the storm. The pain - though mitigated - still persist, somewhat till today, and will most likely remain unresolved.

I salute the people of the gulf coast and the kindred spirits that rose to offer gestures of kindness. It is well!


Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Nigeria: A Repressed Economy?

"Wealth comes from the actions of people, not the actions of government, and the freer people are to direct their efforts to where they are most productive, the greater the wealth created." - Heritage Foundation/Wall Street Journal.

I wonder what the Nigerian economic gurus and presidential economic advisors would say of the Nigeria's economic score card as stated in the 2006 Index of Economic Freedom - published by the Heritage Foundation and the Wall Street Journal.

The index is a "theoretical analysis of the factors that most influence the institutional setting of economic growth". The index suggests that the Nigerian economy is worse off than it was last year, and stamps it as "Repressed" despite all the reforms implemented by the current administration. Nigeria ranks 146 - a step ahead of Haiti - among the 161 countries assessed.

The index according to the publisher "is more than just a dataset based on empirical study", since "the countries with the most economic freedom also have higher rates of long-term economic growth and are more prosperous than are those with less economic freedom."

Economic theory is not a forte of mine, so I will not attempt to interpret the findings beyond what is obvious, and what many Nigerians already know: the various economic programs and policies of President Obasanjo's administration seem to have not made any meaningful impact, well, beyond being mere positive statistics on paper. This has been stated on this site in the past.

Well, we have been told by various state-employed economic experts, and repeatedly also, that reforms do take time before their impact on the general population becomes measurable. But the fact that the index do show that the economy performed woefully in areas that are more directly related to government economic policies and interventions makes this nothing but a convenient excuse.

On a scale of 1 to 5, five being the worst, the Nigerian economy scores 4 or higher on all variables measured - trade policy, fiscal burden, government ecconomic intervention and monetary policy, foreign investment, property rights, regulation, informal market activty, and even banking and finance. Only wages and prices, and fiscal burden - the other variables assessed in the Index - have scores of 3 each.

This is a pretty damning report...and surely the head-scratching will continue on my end as I eagerly wait to hear the spin from Abuja.

Related articles:
+Nigerian Banking Consolidation: Matters Arising
+2006 Index of Economy Freedom: Nigeria



Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The Need to Restore Nigeria

I had a call from a good friend of mine (Yele) a couple of days ago, disparaging me of my 'blind' support for Pat Utomi. This post is about that conversation.

Yele stated: "Utomi is a political neophyte with little understanding of the Nigerian political terrain. He mentioned that Utomi's ideas are nothing different from IMF prescriptions, alien in concept and incapable of addressing Nigerian socieconomic woes. He concluded that Pat should mind his calling - academics!"

I'm sure a good proportion of Nigerians share Yele's opinion. I also suspect a greater proportion of this group have yet to make the effort to research the man - Utomi, and his ideas.

My response to Yele's rant weren't any different from the opinions I have already shared on this site about Pat Utomi and the Nigerian political state, and I did refer him to read more about the man so he could be better informed.

One thing must be made clear, I haven't said that Utomi is the messiah to bail Nigeria out of its economic and social predicaments. Far from that! But there is something encouraging and uplifting in his message:
"...Unless the people get out of the cynicism mode and take hold of the idea of re-inventing Nigeria, our history may be a sad historical footnote. But we can reclaim this land, we can consign the big man syndrome to history's dustbin, have high ranking politicians walk around among the people."
This is the type of rant one hears from Pat Utomi. And he has made the transition from being a mere politico-economic pundit to a presidential contender with fresh and innovative socio-economic agenda! He continues:
"Given where we are, this desired outcome will not be delivered by transactional leadership modes of negotiating power shift. It will require transformational leaders, servant leaders with knowledge who are driven by a clear vision of a triumphant Nigeria, and are impassioned about the common good."
It is interesting that the Guardian article where I lifted these excerpts was forwarded to me by none other than Yele. It appears he's finally got the message. Have you?



Re: Mike Adenuga's Donation to Obasanjo's Presidential Library

Now that is somewhat confirmed that Mike Adenuga, the embattled Nigerian C.E.O of multibillion-dollar ventures (telecoms, banking and oil & gas) has left the country following investigation by the the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission - a move that strongly suggest Mr Adenuga may be culpable of some wrong doing.

The EFCC's investigation and the subsequent and hasty exitus of Mr Adenuga brings to fore an ethical issue concerning the Obasanjo's Presidential Library project:

Would the 250 million Naira (about $30 million) Mr Adenuga donated to the Presidential Library project be returned?

Even if Mr Adenuga is found not guilty at the end of the investigations, it is ethically appropriate that the library committee returns Mr Adenuga's gift.

Given the negative-press generated- and the ethical questions raised- by the library's fund raising in May 2005, it is my assumption that the president wouldn't want to be encumbered with a belated ethical and moral issues caused by an apparently 'clean' donation that later turned dirty. Right?

Related article: LEON SULLIVAN Principles and Opportunism



Friday, August 18, 2006

Who's Going to Get Nigeria Out of its Security Jam?

The greatest threat facing Nigeria today is the insecurity of life and property. Sometime in May 2005, the United States National Intelligence Council made a prediction - based on some assumptions, and anchored on past and current national events - the Nigerian state may fail within the next 15 years (around year 2025). My opinion about the report were well discussed on this blog then: I believe the prediction isn't out of place and makes a lot of sense then... and still does today!

It is on record that the presidency and national assembly, and many of the self-acclaimed opinion leaders in the nation, went to town - in blind rage of patriotism - disparaging the authors of the report.

Those who remember would know that the 'prophecy of doom', as it was tagged then, was made before the Niger-Delta became this chaotic - hostage taking, oil installation attacks, armed confrontation and killing of federal soldiers, bomb blasts, etc - are all new phenomena.

The report came before the failed third-term agenda that threatened the national integrity in no small ways- the aftermath of which the nation still grapples with, and certainly before political-motivated killings / attempted assassinations became the order of the day (take a look at this compilation of assassinations with political motives published by the Nigerian Guardian).

Likewise, the Movement For Actualization of Sovereign State of Biafra (MOSOB)- a socio-political organization with an armed paramilitary unit in the Eastern Nigeria- wasn't this vocal and daring prior to the report.

These are historical events that have consolidated the veracity of the prediction. It's obvious that the 'prophecy' is not the imagination of some sleep-deprived analysts locked-up in a Washington suburban basement and tasked to conjure some fairy-tale scenario. The present day events in Nigeria suggest that the prophecy is indeed more real than ever.

It certainly holds a lot of water, and here are additional and troubling instances to chew on if still in doubt:
Some oil-serving companies in the Niger-Delta are packing-up their gears and pulling out of the area because they have had enough of the violence - Julius Berger is the latest to pull the plug; electricity generation and supply is at an all time low in Nigeria because of the violence in the Niger-Delta; and the top cop in the nation - the Inspector General of the Nigerian Police Force (NPF) went on prime time TV saying all his interventions to revive the force have failed.
The disintegration of the national security is being fueled by a combination of factors that seem to feed off each other:

  • The Nigerian society is wasteful, poor, and lack any form of safety-net (health and general welfare programs) for its vulnerable population. From the multitude of area boys (street urchins), unemployed university graduates, retrenched civil servants, 'pensioners without pensions'; Nigeria has the perfect milieu to nurture criminals.

  • A greater proportion of its intellectual capital that could make positive and practical impact have relocated overseas, while the few affluent elements in residence are ostentatious and generally disconnected from society - Nigeria is unmistakably brain-drained!

  • An overwhelmed justice department that has become corrupted, out-of-date, and operates without authority and independence. A nation without an independent and vibrant judiciary is in trouble. The judiciary isn't called the third arm of government for nothing!

  • The nation operates under an archaic centralized law enforcement system that has grossly become redundant as it's disgraceful to its nationals.

  • An administration that lacks the will power and vision to implement drastic reforms that are required to empower the NPF to deal with newer challenges and execute its ever increasing and complex responsibilities. After a high-powered committee spent months examining the NPF and pondering on ways to turn it around, it's findings were recently approved by the Federal Executive Council: all roadblocks nationwide be dismantled and replaced with observation posts, and the current centralized system of the Police Force will be maintained! These are hardly innovative and drastic measures that the security situation in Nigeria demands.

  • It is certain that there are no silver bullets that could fix the security nightmare in Nigeria, just as it is clear that the current administration has run out of viable solutions. One can only hope the situation don't get worse before the 2007 elections because it is of high importance that the Obasanjo administration transits smoothly come 2007.

    Nigeria needs an infusion of renewed vigor and fresh ideas. The vision of a 70-year old man (President Obasanjo) will suffice for a while and can only carry Nigeria up to a certain point; this administration has simply run out of steam. Nigeria is at a point where it's not only necessary to continue, but translate the multitude of implemented economic reforms beyond mere statistics on paper to measurable actions that wil positively impact the people, with special attention to the marginalized and those who have fallen through the cracks in the system.



    Monday, August 14, 2006

    A Value Depleted Nigeria

    As Nigeria approaches the 2007 elections, it is worrisome that several of the presidential candidates are failing to address pertinent issues crucial to the integrity and progress of the nation.

    Trae Days has a post listing some of the presidential hopefuls. Several names on this list have questionable agenda, and many haven't even revealed anything beyond the usual blah-blah-blah I-want-to-be-president-talk that has become the characteristics of Nigerian politicians.

    The NaijaBlog raises an important issue about the Nigerian society- beyond the common who-stole-what and who-killed-who talk that has invaded the Nigerian consciousness, Jeremy muses about replication of values in the Nigerian society: "...The more difficult trick therefore is how to lure back Nigerians who actually might improve the society with a different set of values - interested in ideas, culture, research and challenging social norms with more contemporary attitudes..."

    Not that those in Nigeria are not to be reckoned with, the infusion of newer and fresher ideas from the outside- the Nigerian Diaspora- may just well be the very tonic the nation needs. While this realization is manifesting from many angles including the Presidency (President woos Nigerians in Diaspora) and especially during the Sullivan summit and Diaspora Day celebration in July, save for one or two aspirants, the pool of the presidential hopeful is usually silent and clueless on how to deal with huge resources locked up overseas.

    Of all the candidates, Dr Mohammed Buba Marwa, a former Military officer, former Defense Adviser to the Nigerian Permanent Mission to the United Nations, a two-time state governor and one of Late General Abacha's boy appears the most established on ground; yet his statements are seriously lacking in content and ideas. To promise free education in a 21st-century-Nigeria is a display of a serious lack of imagination and idea. Other statements on his website attest to this lack.

    It is interesting that Jeremy could see certain things some Nigerians are failing to see in the race to Aso Rock (Nigerian seat of power)- the ability to problem-solve and also bring about a paradigm shift in the sociopolitical consciousness of Nigerians.

    If the comments on the Pat Utomi post were used as an opinion sample, maybe just about ten percent sees him fit to win the next presidential election in Nigeria. This may be understandable since there are many 'unknowns' regarding his candidacy.

    Yet here's is a man - though not the most charismatic and eloquent person in the world - comes alive with passion about how Nigerian issues can be solved.

    Unlike many of his peers, Pat Utomi is in solutions-mood, filed with ideas and evidence-based solutions and proven interventions (in India and the south east Asian countries) that may address the problems in Nigeria. He comes across as a breeze to fresh air; a sharp contrast to the murky and humid staleness that plaques the Nigerian political terrain.

    I can not help but be excited about someone who seems to understand the Nigerian issue and willing to fing ways to fixing its anomaly. Call this an idealistic thinking or naivity if you may, the bottom-line is until Nigerians start paying closer attention to issues and the candidates - regardless of their ethnicity, or lack of political savviness, charisma or eloquence - our country will remain stuck in the quagmire of mediocrity for a long time.

    Related article:
    Why I am Concentrating on the Diaspora, by Utomi [Guardian August 7, 2006 Interview in pdf]

    Tags: Tags:


    Sunday, August 13, 2006

    Africa The Next Chapter- TEDGlobal

    "...Africans are starting to take matters into their own hands. Ingenious solutions are being applied to tackle some of the toughest health and infrastructure problems. Businesses are being launched that are capable of transforming the lives of millions. New communication technologies are allowing ideas and information to spread, enabling markets--and governments--to be more efficient..."-- TEDGlobal "Africa: The next chapter"

    Piggy-backing on the Ory's post on Kenyan Pundit about TEDGlobal, whose next conference is themed around Africa and scheduled to hold in Arusha, Tanzania, between June 4-7, 2007. One of the co-producers--Emeka Okafor--the blogger at Timbuktu Chronicles and Africa Unchain, reveals that "the focus will be on doers, practical thinkers and implementers, not your usual bureaucratic professional conference attendees."

    This is just one of what the Africa needs, and as the continent continues to evolve and strives to pull itself out of the quadmire--even though through unsteady baby-steps--it is interesting and encouraging that some attention is finally coming its way.

    As uplifting as the TED conference is, the fact remains that only a deeper understanding of the principles of democracy, and the strengthening of the various appendages of government by African leaders and heads of state will have the most significant impact on the African people. It is my hope that the TEDGlobal conference somehow serves as a catalyst in this regard.



    Friday, August 11, 2006

    Survey: Media Coverage of the African Diaspora (Immigrant Population)

    "The African Diaspora [African immigrant population] is a demographically distinct subgroup that is (erroneously) grouped under the "black / African American" group. This grouping may have some socioeconomic implications, particularly a less-than-adequate coverage/attention in magazines and other periodicals."

    There is a short survey at the EthnicLoft blog aiming to test this assumption and measure other associated factors. You may take the survey.



    Thursday, August 10, 2006

    Will the Train Run Again in Nigeria?

    Flushed with petrol dollars accrued from record-high crude oil price, the Nigerian government has finally deemed it fit to revamp its dinosauric railway system.

    The Nigerian railway network consists of a 3,505 km narrow gauge line. The first railroad was constructed in 1898 (Lagos- Abeokuta) in the southwestern corner of the country. Besides the rail lines built around the oil refining and underpowered steel-rolling facilities, the last time the national railway network enjoyed any significant upgrade was in 1964!

    It is not unexpectedly, therefore, that the Nigerian Railway corporation (NRC), the government agency that has exclusive rights to run the railway system, has been fumbling and under-performing as these figures suggest: freight is about 60,000 ton/year or less; traffic is less than 2 million passengers per year. This is a far cry from what a national railway system is supposed to be.

    Nigeria (government) is notorious for failing to deliver on its promises; the steel rolling mills and the dredging of the Niger River are some projects that never really took off ground. It's also a fact that this is not the first time the country has attempted to revamp its railway system.

    It is on record that the third National Development Plan (1975 to 1980) did project a standard gauge rail track "to enhance rail capacity and increase its reliability, safety and efficiency as well as reduce unit costs of railway operations"- it never happened. Other plans, according a retired personnel of the NRC involved India between 1971 and 1982 (Rail India Technical and Economic service Limited) and China in 1995 (China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation), none of these efforts brought significant improvement to the Nigerian railway system.

    President Obasanjo states "transportation offers tremendous potentials and opportunities for activating, stimulating and integrating national economies and ensuring national interaction and unity..."as he reveals the $8 billion-capital infusion (yes, China is footing a quarter of the bill) and a 25-year modernization plan for the railway system.

    While this does come across as one of the typical policy statements; it is the prayer and expectation of all Nigerians that this project will not go the way of its predecessors and become another worthy venture that got derailed by poor management and sleazy bureaucrats.

    Related articles:
    +President Obasanjo unfolds bold, new 25-year railway modernisation and expansion plan
    +Concessioning of the Nigerian Railways



    Friday, August 04, 2006

    Lebanon: In Need of a 'Sustainable' Cease-fire?

    I realized the United States of America is in trouble when the Condi Rice started using a phrase like: "sustainable cease-fire".

    The last time I checked, the definition of Cease-fire is, according to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, 'a suspension of active hostilities'. So to talk of 'sustainability' of a cease-fire- a temporary action- in the midst of the carnage in Lebanon is indicative of a bankrupt and directionless foreign policy. The events in Iraq is just one measure of how hopeless and redundant this policy has become of late.

    My shock at the use of the oxymonoric phrase isn't as much as my disappointment at the US's role- direct and indirect- in the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict. The fact the Iran and Syria are being given cold shoulders and not invited to the negotiating table is a display of an empty pride that reeks of gross naivety on the part of the American peace-broker!

    I'm yet to see how the continued exclusion Iran/Syria from the peace process is going to yield a plan that wouldn't always fall short of being 'sustainable'. Iran and Syria hold a significant portion of the political and diplomatic stakes in the Middle East as of today. That Iran could wield so much influence in the region may not be unrelated to the fact that its de-facto checkmate, Iraq, has been incapacitated by the powers in Washington and London.

    I refuse to get into who is wrong or right, besides that talk was relevant three weeks ago. Now the issue is stopping the macabre drama unfolding in the region where children on both sides of the conflict are constantly slaughtered in cold blood.

    In my opinion, if 'dealing' with rogue leaders of Iran and Syria would bring peace to the Middle East, then that is fair a price to pay.

    Related articles:
    + Beyond the Criticism and Ballyhoo: is there a Hidden Agenda in the Hezbollah-Israeli Conflict?
    + Israel's Bleak Future



    Thursday, August 03, 2006

    National Building Code for Nigeria

    National Building Code for Nigeria has been by approved by the Federal Executive Council. Nigerian Housing Minister, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko (pictured), saying the code would ensure the safety, efficiency and quality of buildings and structures in the country. In addition, the code sets out minimum standards to be met in pre-construction such as design; construction and post-construction stages of buildings, and would be revised periodically in line with developments in the sector.

    Next: An overhaul of the Nigeria's dinosauric land registration system?



    Bye Ngozi

    Even though I did not always agree with Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, her resignation as the Nigerian foreign affairs minister is long overdue, and I respect her for that.

    One would recall that Ngozi was redeployed from finance to the foreign affairs ministry, abruptly, about two months earlier. Just yesterday she was dropped as the head of the economic reform team, a unit she helped start and nurture during her three-year stint with Obasanjo.

    I'm sure that there is more to Ngozi's move that meets the eye; whatever they are it definitely does not portend a good omen for the nation.

    Related articles:
    Chippla's Weblog - Thoughts on Issues: From Finance To Foreign Affairs
    Exodus: Okonjo-Iweala: I did ask her to resign...



    Tuesday, August 01, 2006

    Nigeria to Go Nuclear: Talk is Cheap!

    Nigeria has been fantasizing about nuclear energy since 1976 when the Nigeria Atomic Energy Commission (NAEC) was first inaugurated. President Obasanjo's inauguration of the board of the commission brought it back to live from its three decade slumber.

    My usual inclination to proceed and continue my rant on the issue but I won't because there is every indication that Nigeria is full of hot air. And this nuclear energy talk is one instance.

    Of the issues needing attention, nuclear energy should be the last; given the unique nature of this business, I wonder, just as Nkem at African Shirts: if Nigeria can not get rid of its domestic waste, how will it manage nuclear?



    DISBAND and DECENTRALIZE the Nigerian Police Force

    "The fact that after four decades of independence a country would still need foreign intervention in solving a murder case stongly suggests there are some serious anomalies with that country..." goes my tirade to Jeremy's Naija Blog's post on the murder of Funsho William and the invitation of british detectives to help solve the case.

    The Nigerian authority's invitation of detectives an indication that it has learnt from experience- and that is quite an uncommon ocurrence. Given the staggering number of unsolved murder cases in the past- in which several of the victims were prominent nationals- perhaps one could argue that the invitation is appropriate and justifiable. Under normal circumstance this will be. However, there is nothing normal about the Nigerian situation, particularly the efficiency of the Nigerian Police Force (NPF). The invitation of the three british cops is an indictment of the NPF, and a not-so-clever admission of failure by the Nigerian government. It's now left to the next president to do what his predecessor didn't have the guts to do: DISBAND and DECENTRALIZE the Nigerian Police Force.

    Related article:Crime-shocked Nigerians