The real price of “Changing the Change”

By Garba Shehu, 

Top opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) members have been granting press interviews and addressing zonal political rallies talking about “CHANGING THE CHANGE” in next year’s general elections, without defining what exactly that means.

As the governing All Progressives Congress (APC) gears up to celebrate the completion of three years of the Buhari government in the centre on May 29th, Nigerians need to be reminded of what the reversal of the achievements of this administration will amount to.

The real meaning and cost of the “Changing the Change,” is that if they win the next election, they will not take us back to where we were in 2015, they will mostly reverse the progress the APC has brought to the nation. The main reason for the defeat of the PDP in 2015 was corruption. The present administration at the centre led by President Muhammadu Buhari has so far presented a corrupt-free image of itself. It has also succeeded in abolishing grand corruption at the top and as attested to by the American President, Donald Trump. The government has significantly brought down the level of corruption in the whole country. It has, however, warned over and again that corruption was fighting back.

Many who are discerning would have read this from President Buhari’s speech when he inaugurated the impressive new headquarters building of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) a week ago. He narrated how and why he was overthrown as a military Head of State in the 80s.

In that speech, he said not only was he kicked out because he fought corruption, the ones who took power freed all those that he had jailed, and whatever they stole was returned to them. He took their place in prison and stayed there without trial for 36 months, until that day when a journalist in Benin, now in Edo, broke the story that he had lost his mother. That was when he was allowed to go home.

The real difference between the PDP and the current APC administration is that although they mouthed a flood of rhetoric against corruption, in fact rightfully lay the claim of founding the institutions now in the forefront of fighting corruption as a government, the EFCC and the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission, ICPC, they had intended to keep them as toys, or bulldogs which teeth had been removed. No, they never intended that the war against corruption would be taken this far.

To change the change would mean that the teeth of the bulldog will be removed. It would then only bark but not bite.

In this country, politics is often considered as synonym of corruption. The previous government came under huge criticism for scandals like that discovered in arms procurements in the office of the National Security Adviser, NSA which transformed itself into a major source of funding of the PDP; NNPC crude oil thefts, broadband spectrum licensing scandal, oil subsidy scam and so many others but the present government has not faced any such corruption allegations.

Although he said he was unafraid and would not bend, the President’s concern, and fear on the part of many is that if a corrupt leader takes over, it will be happy days all over again for former Oil Minister Diezani Allison-Maduekwe who has so far forfeited USD 153 million, N23.4 billion, and USD 4m and USD 5m in separate accounts. “Change the Change” would mean she will get the money back. So would the former Managing Director of the maritime agency, NIMASA get back GBP 578,080 seized from him and the Ikoyi apartment owners have back their USD43.4m; N23m and GBP 27,800.

The hidden owner of the Lagos cash shop may then step forward to reclaim their N449.6 million; the ex-Naval Chiefs will have returned to them the already forfeited N1.8 billion; the Governors Forum paid back their N1.4 billion and the major oil marketers, from whom the EFCC has so far seized N328.9 billion will smile their ways to the bank.

The banks themselves will equally join the party, happily getting back N27.7 billion they “ate” from taxes they failed to remit; the scion of the Akinjides, Jumoke will have N650 million awarded to her while those scammers in INEC who coughed out N1 billion will equally get money back and charges standing against them in court may be dropped.

But the happiest of them all will be Mrs. Jonathan, who will get the first priority when the refunds start coming for obvious reasons. The former First Lady would not anymore need lawyers to keep her mountain of gifts, counted in huge millions of dollars, billions of Naira, hotels and buildings.

The list of people who oppose the Buhari government and yearning to ‘‘change the change’’ include a number of parliamentarians, policemen, customs officials, immigration officials, civil servants now rooting for other political parties, not leaving out those various businesses and platforms owned by these political parties directly or indirectly.

The Buhari win in 2015, and the possibility of four more years have crumbled their dreams of endlessly looting the state and the growing list of achievements of the administration is not doing any good for them.

“Change the change” means also that the biggest tax revolution since independence, the Voluntary Assets and Income Declaration Scheme (VAIDS) now being implemented, and about which many of our rich citizens are unhappy may be scrapped. A recent report shows that there are four million new taxpayers, including companies and individuals, resulting in N700 billion increase in tax revenue in 2017.

The early casualties of ‘‘changing the change’’ may include initiatives like the Whistle Blower policy by which the government is able to recover stolen or concealed assets through information provided by citizens. This has changed the ethical and moral tone of the business transaction space in the country. The whistle blower is entitled to between 2.5%-5.0% of amount recovered.

Sometime last year, the Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun, told the world, “we are going after those who have stolen our money. We have put in place a very successful whistle-blower programme that is delivering results and allows those who report illicit activity to receive up to five per cent of any funds that we recover.” The response has been so fabulous that in just four months, it yielded N17bn, as revealed by the Acting Chairman of EFCC, Ibrahim Magu.

Another formidable group unhappy with the change and wish it reversed are the importers of diesel and generators. Nigeria ranks as the second biggest importer of generators all over the world.

Buhari is bad business for them because he has raised electric power availability from 2,600 MW in 2015 to 7,000 MW and is targeting 10,000 megawatts by the year’s end. Increased power availability means less purchase of generators and less consumption of diesel. Noticeably, they are rooting for parties that are bent on changing the change. Rooters of ‘‘Changing the Change’’ campaign also include the beneficiaries of the malaria economy which costs Nigeria N132 billion and 300,000 lives annually, an economy now threatened by the administration’s National Malaria Elimination Programme, NMEP, by which tens of millions of long-lasting insecticide-treated nets (ITN) are being freely distributed. A part of this order is now made in Aba, Nigeria.

The government’s moves on ease of doing business which has attracted international attention and investment and significantly improved the ranking of Nigeria as a place of doing business, in fact achieving a place in the World Bank’s top 10 reforming economies would suffer a hit from those bent on proving that on-going change is not working. But this is how the World Bank saw Nigeria: “Overall, the 10 top improvers implemented the most regulatory reforms in the area of getting credit, starting a business, dealing with construction permits and paying taxes,” the report said.

It’s really hard for the beneficiaries of the old order to see and appreciate what the Buhari government is doing considering that they ran an economy based purely on oil, the price of which was as high as US$140 per barrel. They reticulated oil revenue through personal spending and corruption, wasteful expenses and salaries. Nigeria did not record a single major infrastructural project in the 10 years before the Buhari administration. The money was mismanaged. No savings were made. To compound the problem, they borrowed heavily and owed contractors, and international oil companies.

The Emir of Kano, Muhammadu Sanusi II and Professor Chukwuma Soludo, both eminent former Central Bank Governors had had occasion to warn the government of the day about the wrongful way of doing things and the accompanying wastage but they were clobbered. The dire warnings of the dangers to economic health and the wellbeing of the people were both ignored.

Increase in government spending in infrastructure which is beginning to show results with sectors like employment, and returning growth to the recessed economy may equally suffer. Under the 2017 appropriation budget which is about to lapse, government’s capital spending is expected to hit N1.5 trillion. In the PDP years, the highest this got to was N450 billion or 21 per cent of the capital allocation in 2014. Doing more with less.

The Railways, on which the common man travels, is being changed for the better. The 3,500 monorail that had existed has been leased to the American company, General Electric. They are to refurbish it and are bringing new locomotives and hundreds of coaches. All trains and coaches are being modernized. New standard railway tracks are being laid linking Ibadan and Lagos. Kaduna-Abuja, partly completed when President Buhari took over is now in use and contracts for the entire stretch, Lagos to Kano have been awarded. Lagos-Port Harcourt will follow and by the Presidential directive, all state capitals are to be linked by the new, standard gauge railway.

“Changing the Change” means that we will go back to the old ways of doing things. A strong and diversified economy has been on top of President Buhari’s achievements. Key drivers of the economy such as agriculture and solid minerals have been progressing with over 7% growth rate, an indication of positive signs for the future. Is everyone happy with this? No. We cannot say this of the importers of rice who have seen their import business go down following the tremendous success of the home-grown rice schemes. Over two billion USD have been saved as a consequence.

Then, you must also count those who got USD 200 million every year from the Central Bank and ended up bringing in low standard fertilizers. They lapped a government subsidy of N60,000 annually and sold a bag each for between N10,000-N13,000. Now, a government-approved price, by the common consent of local producers is N5,500 per bag. Those who fed fat on the perennial shortages and the subsidy regime would desire nothing but “Changing the Change.”

There are many today who take for granted the declared victory over the Boko Haram terrorists, forgetting the reign of the bomber who made it almost impossible for regular attendance in markets, Churches and Mosques in many of our cities, including the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.

But again, as we have seen from the heist in the national security establishment, even Boko Haram was an industry from which money was scooped. Boko Haram was the hallmark of a flourishing business of corruption. The beneficiaries won’t like that the security threat is eliminated. Yes, for them, “Changing the Change” is an opportunity for a resumption of business as usual.

Dear I Go Dye, you are right, but we can fix Nigeria together

By Atiku Abubakar 
Dear I Go Dye,

I read your post on Instagram. It was hard to miss it because it was on every major news website. I would like to say that you were mostly right. The questions you raised in your post are similar to the ones I have been asked by other young people on social media, so I am replying this not just to you as a person, but to all young Nigerians who have asked similar questions.

Firstly, you are right. The Nigerian youth have often been taken for granted, and almost every leader in our history has taken young people for granted. But it’s important to point how this started – for people like me who saw Independence; our leadership was mostly driven by young people. Then came the coups, and the civil war, and then more coups. Nigeria ended up with a long period of military dictatorship for many decades, in which time; those young leaders aged, but still remained leaders. Fela, Gani, Enahoro, and Beko were young leaders, yet remained leaders until their demise. That was because of the stagnation brought on by decades of political instability.

By the time we got to 1999, the young people of the day had not been prepared for leadership, because there was no leadership or apprenticeship process under dictatorships. This is one of the reasons the age of leaders has continued to rise. That was because of the leadership stagnation brought on by decades of political instability. Imagine a school that did not graduate any students for 5 years, by the time the top class finally graduates, you will have a backlog of undergraduates.

Our young people are not to blame; we need to remedy this national failure. Last week, there were local government elections in Akwa Ibom State, with over 60% of the seats won by young people, less than 35 years old. That’s how progress can be made. Young people need to participate from the grassroots, all the way across board. Appointments are good, but getting elected is even better. I also understand the issues around funding elections which keep women and young people out, and I will address this in an article I am publishing soon.

I do understand your frustration on the issue, however. I tell people my age that to understand young Nigerians, we need to understand the difference between Nigerian and Naija. Naija embodies the hopes and dreams of young Nigerians, the country they love and long to go home to when they are abroad. Naija is the country that brings them pride in music, film, comedy, fashion, and technology. It is the country of Wiz Kid, Asa, David O, Tuface, the Olympic bobsled team, Iwobi and Don Jazzy Again.

Nigeria on the other hand, is the country of their parents, the country where leaders are constantly failing them, of Boko Haram, of herdsmen violence, of recessions and joblessness. Our young people need us to make our country live up to the aspirations of Naija by fixing the problems associated with Nigeria.

I think it’s important to address the accusation about my tenure as Vice President, that I did nothing for young people. Firstly, as VP, I can only be judged on the responsibilities I was given. A VP obviously is not the driver of government. For example, you can’t blame Prof Osinbajo for all that is going on with the current government. He can only do what he’s allowed to do.

But let me speak about what you can judge me by, my assigned responsibilities. As VP, I assembled what is arguably the best Economic Team ever in Nigeria. It was made up of young, world class professionals, who came home to work. Some of those professionals are now political leaders, governors and world leaders in their own right.

 If you ask what our first task was, coming into government in 1999, it was to bring stability to the economy after decades of military rule. For example, between 1999 and 2003, oil prices then were hovering between $16 and $28 yet we managed to pay up salary arrears from decades back, clear up our national debts and built up foreign reserves. Our GDP grew at the fastest rate we’ve seen since the return to democracy.
You mentioned that I never brought young people into leadership, but my record speaks differently. I have a proven record of bringing young, unknown professionals into service. Many of the professionals and ministers I brought in were in their 30s and early 40s. Some of those young leaders have become governors in their states. I went to the World Bank and met a bright lady, convinced her to come back home, and she became a star in our government. To show you we had effective leadership, the same lady could not replicate her exploits under a different government.

I was also in charge of privatization and I have witnesses that I never interfered with the process. I never bought anything belonging to the government. I was quite wealthy before coming into government, with declared assets worth millions of dollars in 1999 (which was put in a trust when I became VP); so it was understandable that many of the wealthy Nigerian business people who participated in the privatization programme were my friends. Did I use my influence to get them better deals? No. As the then DG of BPE testified under oath, I never used my position to interfere with his work.

My legacy as Vice President, I would say is the banking consolidation process, for which I gave political backing for. Many big people were putting a lot of political pressure to not change the status quo, but we knew that if that consolidation was not done, Nigeria could not grow. Because of that banking consolidation, Nigerian banks don’t fail anymore the way they used to.

I oversaw the telecoms revolution, which is why young people like you, I Go Dye, now have a flourishing career. Under our tenure, we witnessed a large repatriation of Nigerians back to Nigeria, driven by the hope of the recovering economy. It is sad that many of those young people are heading back abroad now – this is to show you that leadership matters.

I know many of these have been forgotten because it was a long time ago, and successive administrations did not follow up on the progress we made. But that is also not to say we were blameless. I was largely frozen out in the second term of our tenure, and I regret that we had that disagreement with my boss. Some say I was disloyal, but I looked at the events in Zimbabwe recently, and it gives me confidence that I did the right thing fighting the attempts to elongate the presidential tenure beyond eight years. If I did not win that fight, do you think we would be having a discussion on young people getting into leadership today?

Intels. I want to address this because you mentioned it. It was the Shagari government that started the Onne Port and later abandoned it. In summary, my business partner and I saw an opportunity to build Nigeria’s oil industry using world class infrastructure, but driven by Nigerians. The company went out and took loans to build the facilities, but as we went on, more opportunities opened up, which allowed us access to even more capital. The ended up borrowing hundreds of millions of dollars, mostly from Europe, to build the port, singlehandedly charting the course of Nigeria’s oil industry.

 Honestly, I did not ever think we would be that successful, which was why I kept my day job, when we started it. It was just what you would call a side hustle, I held shares but was not actively involved in running it, but it grew so big, and I had to quit my government job to focus on the business. Today, every oil major uses the facilities we built. The government only became clients after the oil companies. Our company has expanded to several countries in Africa. Even the FG has seen that that company is the most competent logistics company in Africa, which is why it gives Intels the most complex operations to manage.

But Intels as a corporate citizen is loved in the locations it operates. That’s because we invest in scholarships, hire young people from the community and train them to become world class technicians. As CSR, we have gone into partnership with the NFF to train young Nigerian footballers, and provide support for the local league. We are loved by the youth in our local communities.

 In my home state of Adamawa for example, I’ve created over 50,000 direct jobs and 250,000 indirect ones. We are the largest private employers of labour in the state only second to the state government. It’s not a lot, but it does help reduce unemployment. Who do you think are holding those jobs? Yes, young people.
 I Go Dye, I’m not a messiah. I do not promise Eldorado or $1 = N1. But I always ask to look at the economic progress we made under my leadership and what I am doing in private business and judge me by those. People say I became rich in government. It’s a lie. I had millions of dollars in assets declared in 1999. My businesses (my shares of which were held in a Blind Trust while I was in government) continued to grow since then. I was able to personally bankroll the PDP back then, so surely I was not poor. But I understand it is politics. So it’s normal to be called names. But how come in all these years, none of my opponents has found any evidence to indict me?

The people who are afraid of me changing the status quo they enjoy will always try to frighten young people about me.

Some people believe youth empowerment is giving handouts to young people instead of building a strong economy. They are wrong. They want to give handouts so they can control young people. But how long can we continue like that? Our country is borrowing to pay salaries, yet we are still holding on to outdated models just so we can control young people for elections.

The success of young Nigerian entrepreneurs in IT & technology, retail, music, and arts shows that given the chance, they can run anything. My job is to be a bridge, which supports our young people achieve these ideals. I will never say only I can do this. I can’t do it alone. I need your support, I Go Dye, so help our economy grow, to ensure that within 10 years, our young people can take over completely.

In summary, I Go Dye, I am not a person who says what he cannot do or show proof. I am giving you an invitation to sit down and ask me any questions you may have. I would also like to take you around, show you some of the businesses I have built, and let you speak to the young people who run those places. It is good to try to convince you that I can do better by our young people, but it is even better to show you. Send me a direct message on Twitter, and we will take it from there

Attending religious services boosts health, prolongs life-Study

By Newdesk with agency report

A new study has revealed that attending religious services like those at mosques, churches or synagogues may help people live longer in life.

The study showed reduced mortality risk by 55 per cent for those middle-aged adults who go to churches, synagogues, mosques or other houses of worship.

The study on “Church Attendance, Allostatic Load and Mortality in Middle Aged Adults” was published in the Plos One journal in May.

“We found in our study that actually attending church is actually good for your health, particularly for those who are between the ages of 40 and 65,” said Associate Director of Vanderbilt’s Center for Research on Men’s Health,Marino Bruce, in a video posted on Vanderbilt University’s website on Friday.

“For those who did not attend church at all, they were twice as likely to die prematurely as those who did who attended church at some point over the last year,” Bruce said.

For the study a total of 5,449 participants of both sexes and races were recorded. The researchers used publicly available data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which is collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics.

“I’m ordained clergy so I’m always about what do we mean by our spiritual health. Does spiritual health matter with respect to biological outcomes?” Bruce added.

The study focused on the participants’ survey results, analyzing their worship attendance, mortality and allostatic load, which is a physiological measurement, and social support.

“While churches are places where people can get social support, we actually found that and began to think about whether compassion is particularly important — feeling that you’re doing good or having empathy for others,” Bruce further emphasized.

Kano inaugurates N1.8bn pension housing units

By Emeka Ibemere

In its resolve to enhance investment portfolio of the state fund and to contribute to real estate sector in the country as well as provide habitable home for the indigenous people of Kano, the State government has taken-over 21 housing units build in the State.

The 21 housing units were constructed at the cost of over N1.8billion under a Public Private Partnership arrangement by the Kano State Pension Fund Trustees in partnership with Urban Shelter Limited, at Evergreen Residences, Durumi District, Abuja.

Speaking during the occasion, the Governor Umar Abdullahi Ganduje said the houses were built by the management of the Kano State Pension Fund Trustees.

“In its determination to boost the investment portfolio of the fund and to contribute to the real estate sector in the country”, the Governor said.

Governor Ganduje commended the Kano State Pension Fund Trustees for supporting the government’s initiative in the area of provision of shelter with a view to reducing the housing deficit in the state and the country at large.

According to him, the State government was aware of the pension fund’s assets worth over N4.1 billion at Sheikh Muhammad Nasiru Kabara and Sheikh Jafar Mahmood Adam cities and would soon work with the state Pension Fund Trustees on how best to make full utilization of the houses or sell them at reasonable prices.

Ganduje, however, acknowledged that his administration inherited huge pensioners’ liabilities but assured that a monthly sum of N300 million has been earmarked to ensure that the debt is being reduced.

“As part of part of effort to ensure that pensioners’ claims are paid duly, about 1, 270 names of non-existent pensioners were deleted from our payroll after a thorough verification exercise by a team of professionals”, he explained, adding that his government would continue to pay attention to improving the lot of the Senior citizens.

In his remarks, the National President of the Nigeria Union of Pensioners (NUP), Dr. Abel Afolayan, represented by the union’s Vice President, North-West, Sani Muhammad Sokoto, said the construction of the housing units showed that in Kano State, pensioners’ funds are judiciously utilized in line with the Pension Reform Act.

The Executive Secretary, Pension Transition Arrangement Directorate (PTAD), Lady Sharon Ikeazor praised Kano state government over its commitment to improve the wellbeing of its retirees’ she assured the state that her directorate would continue to identify with the efforts of the Ganduje administration in that direction.

On his part, the Executive Chairman, Kano State Pension Fund Trustees, Alhaji Sani Dawaki Gabasawa disclosed that the present administration inherited pension arrears in the sum of N33 billion while it was able to settle only N5.1 billion in two years.

He stated that his organization presently has property worth N8.5billion, including houses and commercial buildings, explaining that out of the 21 housing units at Evergreen Residences, 11 would be sold to settle some pension arrears.