By Jerome-Mario Utomi
It is no longer news that across the globe, there exists persistent call on nations, regions and continents to shift toward a more varied structure of domestic production and trade as it is not only a strategy to encourage positive economic growth and development but with a view to increasing productivity, creating jobs and providing the base for sustained poverty-reducing growth.
What has however caused concern is the paltry number of nations and leaders particularly in Africa as a continent that has keyed into such relentless calls.
Adding fillip to the above worry/claim is the well quoted World Bank Group report which among other observations noted that economic diversification remains a challenge for most developing countries and is arguably greatest for countries with the lowest incomes as well as for those whose economies are small, landlocked and/or dominated by primary commodity dependence.
It submitted that for such countries, economic diversification is inextricably linked with the structural transformation of their economies and the achievement of higher levels of productivity resulting from the movement of economic resources within and between economic sectors.
Take Africa as an example, aside its inability to diversify which has made it aid receiving continent, continually look up to continents such as; Asia, Europe and America for aid after almost 60 years of independence, the failure, in my view, explains why Africa as a continent despite being the second most-populated continent in the world (1.2 billion people), represents only 1.4% of the world Manufacturing Value added in the first quarter of 2020.
Also, the effect of the continent failure to diversify is signposted in the painful reality that out of about 54 countries that made up the continent, only South Africa qualified as a member of BRICS, an acronym coined for an association of five major emerging national economies: Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.
While the piece laments this challenge, it is relevant to the present discourse to underline that this tragedy is well-rooted in, and has spread its wings in Nigeria as a country.
To illustrate this claim, as part of the transformation agenda, reports have it that former President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan through his Coordinating Minister, Dr Ngozi Okonjo Iwuala, now Director-General, World Trade Organization (WTO) emphasized the need for the diversification of the economy to promote inclusive growth and job creation.
The administration aimed at achieving the objective through investment in agriculture, housing and construction, manufacturing, aviation, power, roads, rail solid minerals and the information and communication technology (ICT) sectors by both government and the private sector. These sectors the report added would gradually transform the economy and create jobs in the process as well as move the economy in the right direction.
Sadly but expected, the ideas and pontifications, like those of his predecessors, ended not just in the frames but as a mere declaration of intent.
Nevertheless, before getting into the nitty-gritty of economic decays in the present government particularly its long history of inabilities to come up with, and implement a well-foresighted plan or execute a shift toward a more varied structure of domestic production and trade, let’s cast a glance at January 2020 policy comment by one of the well-respected newspaper in Nigeria.
Specifically, while lamenting (then) that Nigeria is a country that services its debt with 50% of its annual revenue, the report noted that the country would be facing another round of fiscal headwinds this year (2920) with the mix of $83 billion debt; rising recurrent expenditure; increased cost of debt servicing; sustained fall in revenue; and about $22 billion debt plan waiting for legislative approval.
It added that it may be worse if the anticipated shocks from the global economy, like Brexit, the United States-China trade war and the interest rate policy of the Federal Reserve Bank go awry. The nation’s debt stock, currently at $83billion, comes with a huge debt service provision in excess of N2.1 trillion in 2019 but is set to rise in 2020.
This challenge stems from the country’s revenue crisis, which has remained unabating in the last five years, while the borrowings have persisted, an indication that the economy has been primed for recurring tough outcomes, the report concluded.
Unfortunately, because no one acted on those warnings, the next paragraph lays bare the consequence of such failure and failure by the Federal Government.
Recently, a report noted that the Federal Government made a total of N3.25tn in 2020, and out of which spent a total of N2.34tn on debt servicing within the year. This means that 72 per cent of the government’s revenue was spent on debt servicing.
It also puts the government’s debt servicing to revenue ratio at 72 per cent. According to the report, a review of the budget performance of the 2020 Appropriation Act In 2019 shows that the Federal Government made total revenue of N3.86tn. Within the year, debt servicing gulped N2.11tn.
This puts the Federal Government’s debt servicing to revenue ratio in 2019 at 54.66 per cent. This means that between 2019 and 2020, the Federal Government’s debt servicing to revenue ratio jumped from 54.66 per cent to 72 per cent. The report concluded
Indeed, the question may be asked why the country’s revenue crisis remained unabated in the last six years.
Within the context, the answer lies in the fundamental recognition that there is a country reputed for crude oil dependence and laced with a leadership system devoid of accountability, transparency and accuracy.
The truth is that considering the slow-growing economy but scary unemployment levels in the country, the current administration in my opinion will continue to find itself faced with difficulty accelerating the economic life cycle of the nation until they contemplate industrialization, or productive collaboration with private organizations that have surplus capital to create employment.
Another alternative recourse will probably be to move part of the job creation functions and infrastructural provision/development to the state and local government authorities via restructuring/structural interventions. While the first option (industrialization) may offer a considerable solution, the second and third options (restructuring/productive collaboration with private organizations) have more potential reward in political and socio-economic terms as well as come with reduced risk.
To achieve such a feat, power (electricity) and other infrastructure roads need to be addressed. Notably, not doing any of this, or continuing on the low growth of the economy will amplify the painful consequence of strategic mistakes made by previous administrations that failed to invest during the period of rapid economic growth.
The very key, both the state and Federal must invest in agriculture and increase its capacity in ways that will bring about an essential element of productivity policy and require a double focus on improving the quality of governance, strengthening government capacity to resolve coordination failures and facilitate information collection, as well as improving the design of interventions along the line of robustness to weak information, implementation capacity, and political-economic issues.
We must not fail to remember that ‘in the 1960s and immediately before the oil boom of the 1970s, agriculture contributed 60% to Nigeria‘s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), 70% to export, and 95% to food needs’.
Above all, our leaders must internalize the fact that revenue diversification from what development experts are saying will provide options for the nation to reduce financial risks and increase national economic stability: As a decline in particular revenue source might be offset by an increase in other revenue sources.
Jerome-Mario Utomi is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Public Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He could be reached via email@example.com/08032725374.
Nigeria at 62: A Critical Analysis
By Jerome-Mario Chijioke Utomi
Going by historical events and developments starting from 1914, it is evident that Nigeria is not a natural country, state or nation but an artificial creation via a marriage of two unwilling brides who had no say in their forced and ill-fated union- an amalgamation of the northern and the southern protectorates on the 14th February 1914, a day set aside to celebrate love all over the world, by Sir Lord Lugard.
The British colonial overlords probably intended the protectorates to operate symmetrically with no part of the amalgam claiming superiority over the other. This arrangement conferred on the fledgling country the form of the Biblical trinity.
At independence in 1960, Nigeria became a federation, resting firmly on a tripod of three federating regions-Northern, Eastern and Western Regions. Each region was economically and politically viable to steer its ship.
Shortly after the independence, but before the country became a republic, precisely in 1961, something that qualifies as a setback happened.
According to a report, Southern Cameroun, which was then part of Eastern Nigeria, agitated that it wanted to leave Nigeria to rejoin their French Cameroun brothers. The United Nations resolved the matter by conducting a plebiscite to determine whether it was the wish of the majority of the Southern Cameroon people, then part of the British Colony, to leave the independent nation of Nigeria.
An overwhelming majority, said to be around 90% of the people, agreed to leave Nigeria, and they did in 1961, thereby reducing the geographical size and population of the Eastern Region of Nigeria, a clear warning of a possible separation of Nigeria’s constituent ethnic nationalities from the Nigerian Federation.
That was not the only early warning signal that something was fundamentally wrong with the federation.
Take, as an illustration, the federating units were meant to enjoy some level of independence, yet mutual suspicion among them was rife as regional loyalty surpassed nationalistic fervour, with each of the three regions at a juncture threatening secession.
The late Premier of the Western Region once described Nigeria as a “mere geographical expression” and later threatened “we (Western Region) shall proclaim self-government and proceed to assert it”, a euphemism for secession.
In the same vein, the Northern Region under the Premiership of the late Ahmadu Bello never hid its desire for a separate identity. Just before independence, the region threatened to pull out of Nigeria if it was not allocated more parliamentary seats than the south. The departing British colonial masters, desirous of one big entity, quickly succumbed to the threat.
In fact, the north at that time pretended it never wanted anything to do with Nigeria. For example, the motto of the ruling party in that region at that time was “One North, One People, One Destiny.” And the name of the party itself, “Northern People’s Congress (NPC),” was suggestive of separatist fervour and distinct identity.
It has also been said in several publications, which no one from the north has refuted till today, that the primary reason for July 29, 1966, bloody revenge coup carried out by young soldiers of Northern Nigerian extraction which led to the massacre of thousands of Igbo soldiers and civilians, including Nigeria’s first Military Head of State, General Thomas Johnson Umunakwe Aguiyi-Ironsi, was primarily to pull that region out of Nigeria.
But of all the secession threats since independence, it was the one issued by the Eastern Region in 1966-67 following the bloody counter-coup of July 1966 and subsequent genocide by northern soldiers and civilians in which thousands of easterners living in the north lost their lives or were maimed, and the failure of Gowon to implement the Aburi Accord which was aimed at settling the crisis, that was much more potent.
This also explained the massive ARABA (secession) protests that rocked the region shortly after the coup. The result was the declaration of the Eastern Region independent country with the name “Biafra” on May 30, 1967, by the then Military Governor of the Region, the late General Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, in compliance with the Eastern Nigeria Consultative Assembly resolution and mandate of May 26, 1967.
The proclamation ended with the emotional ‘Biafra Anthem,” The Land of the Rising Sun rendered in the beautiful tune of ‘Finlanda” by Sibelius, symbolising the end of the struggle to assert the self-determination of a new nation.
The scene was set for a confrontation between the new state of Biafra and the balance of the ethnic nationalities that made up the Federal Republic of Nigeria and to resolve the question of the unity of the Nigerian states by use of force (see the report titled Scientific and Technological Innovations in Biafra).
Without a doubt, today, the war ended over 50 years ago, but its effects and fears remain and stare on our faces.
More dangerously, after 62 years of independence, a wave of secessionist sentiments is still sweeping across the country, with restive youths in the north and southeast as the main gladiators. Some groups in the southwest and south-south have also joined the fray to demand the marriage of 1914 be ended as the basis for its continued existence has severely been weakened.
For example, at the return of democracy in 1999, Ralph Uwazurike, an Indian-trained lawyer from Imo State, ignited a passion for Biafra among southeast youths via his separatist platform Movement for the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB).
MASSOB and its founder enjoyed tremendous following and respect among mostly youths of the region and it almost became an alternative government in the southeast. The group’s sit-at-home orders were religiously obeyed, just as the one declared by IPOB on May 30th was a monster success.
Uwazuruike’s support base has since drastically waned following dissent in MASSOB. But from the ashes of MASSOB’s bye-gone years of strident pro-Biafra agitation came Kanu and IPOB, a much more vitriolic but charming personality and organisation.
Kanu happened in the national and international limelight through a pirate radio called Biafra, which he used as a vehicle to promote the agitation to actualise the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) quest for independence. Two factors have so far worked for Kanu in his separatist agenda: his long incarceration by the Buhari government over Biafra and the recent quit notice given to the Igbo residing in the north by Arewa youths. Both factors, apparently unknown to President Buhari’s handlers, have helped and still helping IPOB and Kanu’s cause. One, his incarceration for almost two years helped to project him to his supporters, a mass of Igbo youths, and the international community as a prisoner of conscience and freedom fighter.
Secondly, the thoughtless quit notice by northern youths to the Igbo resident in the north has not only made Biafra more attractive to most south easterners and portrayed Kanu as a messiah of the Igbo but has triggered off a chain of secessionist sentiments in the southwest and south-south.
While those of us who believe in the unity of Nigeria may not agree with the campaign by any group or ethnic nationality to dismember Nigeria, the truth must be told to the effect that the whole gamut of restiveness of youths, whether in the south-east, south-south, north or south-west, and resurgent demand for the dissolution of Nigeria stems from mindless exclusion, injustice and economic deprivation.
Evidently, Nigeria has not fared well as a nation in all sectors of national endeavours. Let’s look at the particulars of this claim.
Fundamentally, there is no denying anymore that presently, life in today’s Nigeria, quoting Thomas Hobbs, has become nasty, brutish, and short as Nigerians diminish socially and economically, and the privileged political class on their part continues to flourish in obscene splendour as they pillage and ravage the resources of our country at will.
Again, even as we celebrate, it remains a painful commentary that presently, no nation on the surface of the earth best typifies a country in dire need of peace and social cohesion among her various sociopolitical groups than Nigeria as myriads of sociopolitical contradictions have conspired directly and indirectly to give the unenviable tag of a country in constant search of social harmony, justice, equity, equality, and peace. As a nation, Nigerians have never had it so bad.
Nigeria is a nation soaked with captivating development visions, policies and plans, but impoverished leadership and corruption-induced failure of implementation of development projects on the part of the political leaders is responsible for the under-development in the country. Today, mountains of evidence support how seriously off track the present administration in the country was taking the nation with their deformed policies, ill-conceived reforms and strategies,
Lately, the greatest and immediate danger to the survival of the Nigerian state today is the unwarranted, senseless, premeditated, well-organized and orchestrated killings across the country.
The country’s economy, on its part, has shown its inability to sustain any kind of meaningful growth that promotes the social welfare of the people. The result can be seen in the grinding poverty in the land (eighty per cent of Nigerians are living on less than two dollars per day – according) to the African Development Bank (AFDB) 2018 Nigeria Economic Outlook. Nigeria is ranked among the poorest countries in the world.
Sadly, according to a report from Brookings Institute, Nigeria has already overtaken India as the country with the world’s largest number of extremely poor in early 2018. At the end of May 2018, Brookings institute’s trajectories suggest that Nigeria had about 87 million people in extreme poverty, compared with India’s 73 million. What is more, extreme poverty in Nigeria is growing by six people every minute.
In Education, 10.5 million children are out of school in Nigeria, the highest in the world. Our industries continue to bear the brunt of a negative economic environment. As a result, job losses and unemployment continue to skyrocket, creating a serious case of social dislocation for most of our people. The University students have been at home for nearly seven months or more. No thanks to the incessant industrial action which currently characterizes the nation’s university system.
The running of our country’s economy continues to go against the provisions of our constitution, which stipulates forcefully that the economy’s commanding heights must not be concentrated in the hands of a few people.
The continuous takeover of national assets through dubious (privatization) programs by politicians and their collaborators are deplorable and clearly against the people of Nigeria. The attempt to disengage governance from public sector control of the economy has only played into the hands of private profiteers of goods and services to the detriment of the Nigerian people.
This malfeasance at all levels of governance has led to the destruction of social infrastructure relevant to a meaningful and acceptable level of social existence for our people. It has been shown that adequate investment in this area is clearly not the priority of those in power.
As a result, our hospitals, whether state-owned or federal-owned, have become veritable death centres where people go to die rather than to be healed. The absence of basic items such as hand gloves and masks indicates decadence and rot in the country’s health National Budget recommended by the United Nations.
With regard to the criminal justice system, our people, especially the poor and vulnerable, continue to suffer unprecedented acts of intimidation and violation of rights at the hands of security agencies across the country. Extra judicial killings, lack of scientific-based investigation of crimes and corruption in the judiciary contribute to acts of injustice against the innocent. Our prisons have become places where prisoners are hardened rather than places of reformation of prisoners for reintegration back into society.
As to the solution to these challenges, this piece and, of course, Nigerians with critical minds believe that leadership not only holds the key to unlocking the transformation question in Nigeria but to sustain this drive, leaders must carry certain genes and attributes that are representative of this order.
Thus, as the nation celebrates, one point Nigerians must not fail to remember is that only a sincere and selfless leader and a politically and economically restructured polity brought about by national consensus can unleash the social and economic forces that can ensure the total transformation of the country and propel her to true greatness.
This, as argued elsewhere, will help ensure adequate social infrastructures such as genuine poverty alleviation programmes and policies, healthcare, education, job provision, massive industrialization, and electricity provision, to mention a few. It is critical to jettison this present socio-economic system that has bred corruption, inefficiency, primitive capital accumulation and socially excluded the vast majority of our people.
The only way this can be done is to work to build a new social and political order that can mobilize the people around common interests, with visionary leadership to drive this venture. Only then can we truly resolve some of the socio-economic contradictions afflicting the nation.
Utomi is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Public Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org/08032725374
How Standard of Living in Africa is Making Start-Ups Innovate Around Disposable Income
By Otori Emmanuel
An organisation in its early phase of existence is referred to as a start-up. Entrepreneurs that desire to create a product or service think there is a market for launching start-ups. Because start-ups often have high startup costs and low revenue, founders frequently look for money from a variety of internal and external sources, including personal savings, loans from family and friends, business venture capitalists, and crowdsourcing. There are start-ups in different industries like Information Technology, agriculture, communication, health and other sectors.
Start-ups and Innovation
Establishing a start-up takes careful planning, including consideration of factors like business location, cost of goods or services, product packaging, and supply efficiency. Start-ups frequently run the risk of failing because of unfavourable environmental and industry conditions. Embracing new opportunities and focusing on innovation, among other methods, are accelerators for a business’ survival and growth.
Although, it is true that established businesses also frequently collapse. Technology has advanced throughout time, and many start-ups are combining the cutting-edge idea of tech into their respective fields.
For example, tech is now being used to improve education as in edtech, finance as in fintech, and more use cases are being introduced to daily activities. Statistics show that start-ups are expanding most quickly globally in the technology sector. Over the past few decades, Africa has seen an exceptional number of start-up generations.
The State of Start-ups in Africa
The phrase “start-up” became more common in the 1990s as the number of enterprises centred on technology and the internet rapidly increased.
According to an analysis, African start-up marketplaces hit historic heights in 2021 at over $4 billion, representing a nearly 20x rise since 2015. Start-ups have been increasingly popular in Africa due to various factors, including drawing on previous success stories from the west, attempting to address grassroots challenges, adapting global content to local quirks, and adhering to supportive policies. In terms of current economic events and cultural developments, numerous different facts are at play here.
In terms of living standards, the rate of extreme poverty in rural areas in Africa was close to 50%, which was far higher than the rate in urban areas, which was about 11%. According to the conference board’s Global Economic Outlook, the pace of global GDP growth will reach a recessionary level in 2023 after starting to decline from 3.1% in 2018 to 2.7% in 2022.
Africa has clearly also been impacted by the global economic downturn, which has resulted in a sharp decline in living standards, lower-quality goods, higher costs, and inflation. When prices increase generally, yet fewer goods are available for the same amount of money in an economy, this is called inflation.
When there is inflation, sources and forms of income are affected, from passive income to investment income to disposable income. Our focus here is the disposable income which is the money left to take home after tax and other deductions. Most households depend on disposable income for survival, and the trending inflation gradually steals from this income of an individual in the form of increased grocery prices and the cost of feeding. This has led to the term “sachetization”.
Startup business owners use this approach to satisfy declining demand and maintain operations. Sachetization is the idea of distributing products, which are typically sold in greater amounts, in smaller quantities using sachets in an effort to increase sales. Sachetization helps consumers purchase what they can afford. When only a small amount is required, consumers do not need to buy big quantities of the commodity. So far, this has appeared to be sustainable, with the exception of its drawbacks, where it has been observed that sachet items are of low quality, contain fewer items than is indicated, and even defraud the consumer into purchasing smaller packages when, in reality, a larger package would have been more appropriate.
Reduced disposable income has also affected start-ups in maintaining production costs, purchasing raw materials, increased interest rates on loans, market instability and declined demand.
Therefore, to get through the process of inflation, individuals, households, and businesses seek sustainable measures to meet their needs. A few include:
- Cost efficient purchases
- Opportunity cost methods
- Valuable investments etc.
Upskilling Young People to be Entrepreneurial in Digital Age is Critical
Africa’s young people are undoubtedly one of the continent’s greatest resources. As other regions battle with ageing populations and declining birth rates, Sub-Saharan Africa can lay claim to a median age of 19.7 with around 70% of the population under the age of 30. Those young people are increasingly well-educated and connected.
But all that potential means nothing if they aren’t getting the opportunities needed to fulfil it. And in many countries, it’s clear that they aren’t. In South Africa, the continent’s most advanced economy, the unemployment rate sits at 63.9% for those aged 15-24 and 42.1% for those aged 25-34 years. In Nigeria, meanwhile, the rate among people aged 15-34 is around 42.5%. And in Kenya, the lobby group, The Youth Congress, claims that seven out of every 10 unemployed people are aged 35 and under.
While there are a number of interventions that could, and should, be made to help reverse those figures, perhaps the most important is to ensure that young people have the skills they need to be entrepreneurial. Indeed, research has shown that innovators can create significant wealth and have considerable developmental influences on society.
It’s even more critical at a time when technology is accelerating so fast that jobs can quickly become redundant.
“Fostering entrepreneurship among young people not only enables them to create their own opportunities and employment for other young people,” says Didi Onwu, Managing Editor at The Anzisha Prize, an organisation born out of a partnership between African Leadership Academy and Mastercard Foundation that seeks to increase the number of job generative entrepreneurs fundamentally and significantly in Africa. “It can also help them recognise and pursue employment opportunities that they might not have been able to otherwise.”
Yes, entrepreneurship really is a skill
Before digging into exactly what kind of skills can help foster entrepreneurship among a whole continent’s worth of young people, it’s worth pointing out that there’s a pervasive myth that needs to be busted. Over the years, glowing profiles of entrepreneurs (particularly in the tech space) have convinced many that entrepreneurs are born rather than made.
But, as Onwu points out, that’s simply not true.
“The idea of the brilliant innovator turned billionaire makes for a good story,” she says. “But dig a bit further and you’ll see that most successful entrepreneurs were given the tools they needed to succeed from a very young age.”
Microsoft founder Bill Gates, for example, was given extensive time with his high school’s computer at a time when having one was still a rarity. His mother also sat on the board of a non-profit with then IBM chairman John Opel, and helped the then fledgling company score a contract with the computing giant which ultimately proved crucial to its future success.
“While we can’t give every prospective young African entrepreneur a family connection, we can help them develop critical entrepreneurial skills that will serve them well in the future,” says Onwu.
The right skills matter most
While there are obviously a number of hard skills, such as those that concern technological proficiency, which are important to being an entrepreneur, the really valuable ones are a little more intangible. And equipping young people with those skills requires more than a straightforward curriculum.
Take network building, for example. While you could teach the basics in a course, establishing real networks takes time and consistent effort. The same is true for pitching to investors for funding. Other skills, such as mastering the fear of failure, can only be learned through practice.
“It’s something that we thought hard about when we redesigned the fellowship programme from the ground up a few years ago,” says Onwu. “We wanted to ensure that our fellows were holistically building a broad range of entrepreneurial skills throughout their fellowships and beyond.”
Fellows are, for example, given access to communities of fellow entrepreneurs, introduced to a wide network of stakeholders and business experts, and provided with the opportunity to shadow successful entrepreneurs in their sector. It’s an approach which makes a great deal of sense when you consider that research has shown that exposure to innovation has a significant positive impact not just on the kind of innovation that young people produce, but also on their overall ability to be innovators.
Upskilling, now and forever
It should be absolutely clear that Africa needs its young people to be equipped with entrepreneurial skills if they are to meet their full potential in an age of accelerated technology. And, as Onwu points out, efforts to ensure that this is the case need to be made at every level of society.
“While we’re incredibly proud of the work we do at the Anzisha Prize, along with our partners, no single organisation can provide all of Africa’s young people with the skills they need to thrive as entrepreneurs,” she says. “It needs buy-in from governments, NGOs, the private sector, and a variety of other stakeholders.”
Moreover, these efforts cannot simply be short-term and instead need to be sustained over a prolonged period.
“The factors that make upskilling Africa’s young people to be entrepreneurial so important now aren’t going away anytime soon,” she concludes. “It’s therefore critical that all efforts are made to ensure that any initiatives aimed at building entrepreneurship are sustainable and capable of adapting to a constantly shifting business and technology environment.”
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