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Investment, Inflation and Economic Growth: The Relationship Amidst COVID-19 Pandemic

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Timi Olubiyi investing for inflation

By Timi Olubiyi, PhD

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic so far has negatively affected the global economy and more severely developing nations of Africa particularly Nigeria.

The COVID-19 has been devastating in terms of the impact on Nigeria’s economy, businesses, and households and still not looking abated.

We have seen a troubling trend in the country in recent times, with, businesses and activities today facing increasing levels of competitive pressure and difficulties, coupled with persistent insecurity, and inflationary pressure where high price increases have continued in transportation, food cost, household needs, raw materials, pharmaceutical products, motor cars, vehicle spare parts, equipment, and in prices of services amongst others. The cost and price of virtually everything are much higher today, and it is because of inflation.

Inflation is not only a serious problem but also it has a disturbing effect on the economic life, political system, and society as a whole, it has a corrosive impact on all savings and investments.

Significantly, every price rise is affecting the cost of living and many citizens are likely to be further pushed below the poverty line due to this price increase.

So far in the year 2021 in Nigeria, we have seen a situation where the value of money continues to depreciate in terms of value, and the general price level of goods and services continues to spike and skyrocket.

The uncertainty in the country is rather high and this has continued to discourage investments and impede projections and business plans because with persistent inflation, businesses and households perform poorly, and expectedly more money is paid for the same goods and services thereby eroding a large chunk of disposable income of the populace.

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In fact, one of the obvious issues facing the Nigerian economy today is inflation which is persistently a complex issue that government needs to tackle headlong.

It is important to note that one million naira (N1,000,000) today will not acquire the same value of investment, goods, and services in 10 years mainly due to this price increase. The fact is that it is bad for people to hold huge cash – or keep funds in current or savings accounts, which usually do not offer much of a return at this time.

Without a doubt, a continuous increase in the rate of inflation erodes the value of money, even slow down financial market development, infrastructure development and economic development in any clime. It also increases poverty, lowers purchasing power, increases unemployment surge, weakens currency, increases business risk and these are somewhat evident in the country already. It is well documented in the literature and practice that inflation if left unchecked or unattended can even lead to more inflation- hyperinflation.

However, investment is one of the important channels to curb the excessive impact of inflation in any economy therefore, regardless of current realities investment is key to hedge against the sharp inflation impact we are currently experiencing.

For individuals, investing for inflation means choosing assets that keep pace with rising prices. Therefore, it is imperative to consider investment at this time, it is more profitable to invest in other currencies, diversify investment portfolio internationally to include shares of big tech and companies with high dividend payments.

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More importantly, inflation-protected investments such as real estate (property and land) with potential for higher growth can be considered. This is not the time for substantial investments in domestic equities and/or money market instruments unless the anticipated return is higher than the inflation rate which is hovering around 18.17% as at March 2021 relying on data from Nigerian Bureau of Statistics (NBC).

In addition, gold investing or Gold Shares Exchange Traded Fund(ETF), or professionally managed mutual funds with returns above the prevailing inflation rate can also be considered, all to mitigate the impact of inflation at this time.

The government on the other hand needs to provide a low inflationary environment, this can be achieved by improving on the ease of doing business and handling of the perennial challenges from incessant insecurity, inadequate infrastructure, the severe and irregular regulatory requirements, to a high sense of entitlement, high cost of running business, corruption and the current macroeconomic uncertainty among others in the country.

Currently, as a nation, Nigeria is losing its natural advantages to neighbouring countries because of these challenges and this development is disturbing. Sending very little hope of economic development and growth of foreign private investment which is made up of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and Foreign Portfolio Investment (FPI), Foreign Direct Investment is often preferred as a means of boosting the economy and that it plays a positive role in the improvement of economic activities. Truthfully theirs an obvious linkage between FDI and economic growth, consequently the government of the day should make conscious efforts to provide a more enabling business environment and also issue incentives and policies to attract foreign private investment.

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There are benefits foreign private investment can offer Nigeria which includes the transfer of innovative technology, higher productivity, capital injection, more revenue for government through taxes, enhancement of balance of payments ability, employment generation, diversification of the industrial base and expansion, and even the modernization of some existing infrastructure.

There is also a compelling need to support, and further consider the Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) to improve manufacturing, production, and services to exportable level in the country.

By so doing, it will reduce the pressure on import-dependency and improve the country’s business climate and also play a significant role in export growth in the country.

Consequently, steps to attract more investments are key at this time and the Nigerian government can use this as one of the ways of boosting the economy and stem inflation. It is recommended that overreliance on imports should be reduced over the long term through aggressive export promotion and key SME development drives which when considered will improve the competitiveness of domestically produced goods. Good luck.

How may you obtain advice or further information on the article?

Dr Timi Olubiyi is an Entrepreneurship & Business Management expert with a PhD in Business Administration from Babcock University Nigeria. He is a prolific investment coach, seasoned scholar, Chartered Member of the Chartered Institute for Securities & Investment (CISI), and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) registered capital market operator. He can be reached on the Twitter handle @drtimiolubiyi and via email: drtimiolubiyi@gmail.com, for any questions, reactions, and comments.

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China, Western World and Human Rights Revolving Doors

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Western World

By Jerome-Mario Utomi

The reported remark by Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Wang Wenbin at the just concluded 47th session of the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council, calling on the Western world to reflect deeply on their own human rights abuse, has again brought to our consciousness the troubling reality that despite the widening strides by pro-democracy advocates to advertise the virtues and attributes of democracy over other forms of government, the balance of power within the last decades appears to be shifting.

The envoy said in part, “I want to stress that it is these Western countries that are using human rights as an excuse to exert pressure and interfere in other countries’ internal affairs based on political motivation, false information, lies and rumours.

“It is these Western countries that proclaim themselves to be ‘judges’, pointing fingers at and humiliating the human rights situation in developing countries, which violates the purposes and principles of the UN Charter.”

That was not the only discomforting word from Wang Wenbin as he further said, “They claimed welcoming criticism from outside. However, when China and other developing countries express reasonable concerns about their human rights problems, they appear to be extremely uncomfortable or even unacceptable, adding that their claim that China engaged in microphone diplomacy and interference in internal affairs were typical double standard behaviour and fully reflected their deep-rooted arrogance, prejudice and hypocrisy.”

He finally urged the West to take effective measures to solve their serious human rights problems at home.

Clear enough! The above position becomes easy to admit when one remembers that China was recently described by a report as a nation that just experienced a period of economic growth, the likes of which the world had never before seen.

There also exists growing insistence that China’s model of development is superior to that of the West. China’s model, the piece submitted, blazes a new trail for other developing countries to achieve modernization and offers a new option for other countries and nations who want to speed up their development while preserving their independence, as western talk about democracy, is simply a pretext for robbing poorer countries of their sovereignty and economic potentials.

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However, beyond this praise, there exist in the opinion of this piece, ingrained paradoxes that are not only newsy but characterized as a revolving door this latest outburst by China

Separate from the realism that China was in the past reputed for receiving such accusations of human rights abuses from the Western countries, many commentators/reports are uniformly laced with similar judgments.

One of such reports stated; China, ‘interestingly’, is ruled, increasingly dictatorially by an unelected communist party that puts people in prison for their convictions and limits all forms of free expressions and associations.

Apart from being ruled, ‘increasingly dictatorially, it essentially noted that Europe’s biggest powers- Germany, France and the United Kingdom-along with Poland, Spain and the Scandinavian countries, maintain/believe that China is undermining human rights, democratic ethos, rules and standards.

The country’s fundamental obstacles- are its government’s reluctance to appreciate development plans and reform programs from a rights-based perspective.

Directly and indirectly, it adversely affects the infusion of human rights principles of participation, accountability, transparency and non-discrimination towards the attainment of equity and justice in development initiatives.

As clarified by the United Nations Independent Expert on the Right to Development, for a programme to be tagged development, it must require a particular process that allows the realization of economic, social and cultural rights, as well as civil and political rights, and all fundamental freedoms, by expanding the capabilities and choices of the individual.

In the same style, while writing on the well-considered topic The Old World and The Middle Kingdom-Europe Wakes Up to China’s rise, Julianne Smith and Torrey Taussig noted that Chinese President Xi Jinping’s consolidation of power has shaken Germany’s confidence in China’s future political stability.

They explained that in the name of national security, the Chinese government detained over one million Muslim Uighurs in the western province of Xinjiang in a “reeducation camp.”

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To many in Germany and across Europe, these developments raise troubling questions over what a Chinese-led world would look like.

Just before you hastily conclude, wait till cast a glance at the next paragraph that says something new and different.

German industry, the report added, is growing concern about Chinese technological progress. German business leaders who have long supported deeper economic ties with China are now apprehensive about China’s state-led quest for technological supremacy at the expense of German companies. The Federation of German Industries released a widely cited report cautioning companies to reduce their dependence on the Chinese market. Then there is the long-standing issue of Chinese hackers stealing foreign industrial and technological secrets.

The heightened frequency of Chinese hacking led the German government’s cybersecurity agency to warn German companies about the growing risk of Chinese cyber-espionage. That came on top of a 2017 case in which German intelligence agencies accused China of creating fake LinkedIn accounts to connect with more than 10,000 German citizens, including lawmakers and government officials, in order to gain information, recruit sources, and infiltrate the Bundestag and government.

Germany, it says is not alone in its awakening.

French President Emmanuel Macron recently declared an end to European naivete on China. Macron also invited Merkel and Jean-Claude Junker, the president of the European Commission, to join his meetings with Xi in order to present a united front. The message was clear: Europe will resist China’s attempts to divide it.

Many European countries are experiencing what one senior EU official described as “China fatigue,” the report noted. These grievances are having a mounting effect on German policy toward China. Merkel now refers to China as a “systemic competitor.”

Similarly, several European countries have tightened up their screening of Chinese investments. In 2018, the German government, citing national security, blocked a Chinese investor from buying Leifeld Metal, a leading German producer of metals for the automobile, space, and nuclear industries. It was the first time that the German government had voted for a Chinese takeover.

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The move was followed by a new law giving the government power to block a non-European investor from buying a 10 per cent or higher stake (down from 25 per cent) in a German business. The law includes media companies, a sign that Germany is worried about Chinese information influence.

Some European countries have grown disenchanted with China’s behaviour; they have started to push for a more coherent EU wide strategy. A recent EU white paper on China labelled Beijing a “systemic rival promoting alternative models of governance” and called on the EU to pursue a more reciprocal relationship with China and to strengthen its own industrial base, it concluded.

As the debate rages, two things stand out.

Western countries must provide answers to questions raised by the Chinese government. They are in this order; “Why do they (Western countries) turn a blind eye to issues in Western countries such as the systematic discrimination against ethnic minorities including those from Asian and African descent, infringement on the rights of indigenous people, large-scale human rights violations in immigration detention centres, killing civilians in overseas military operations, military intervention resulting in a large number of civilian casualties and displacement and unilateral coercion measures that seriously damage human rights

Why do they never criticize their partners for this on the UN Human Rights Council? Why do they turn a deaf ear to the criticism of the international community?

For its part, China must recognize that ‘authoritarianism may do well in the short term, but the experience clearly shows that only democracy produces good government over a long haul’.

Jerome-Mario Utomi is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He could be reached via jeromeutomi@yahoo.com/08032725374

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Infrastructural Development and Rising Debt Profile

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Debts

By Jerome-Mario Utomi

It is not by any standard a palatable news report that the federal government made a total of N3.25 trillion in 2020 and out of which spent a total of N2.34 trillion on debt servicing within the year.

This means, the report underlined, 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 N3.86 trillion.

Within the year, debt servicing gulped N2.11 trillion. 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.

Without fail, going by information coming from government quarters, this piece must as a background acknowledge that the chunk of debt currently serviced, was used to finance infrastructural development such as roads, rail and electricity.

It is also aware that infrastructure enables development and also provides the services that underpin the ability of people to be economically productive, for example via transport. “The transport sector has a huge role in connecting populations to where the work is,” says Ms Marchal.

Infrastructure investments help stem economic losses arising from problems such as power outages or traffic congestion. The World Bank estimates that in Sub-Saharan Africa closing the infrastructure quantity and quality gap relative to the world’s best performers could raise GDP growth per head by 2.6 per cent annually.

With the above highlighted the questions that are important as this piece itself is; must the nation borrow in ways that mortgage the future of our nation? Have we as a nation forgotten that development is said to be sustainable ‘when it is achieved without excess socioeconomic environment degradation, but in a way that both protects the rights and opportunities of coming generations and contributes to compatible approaches?

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Like Apostle Paul queried in the Christian Holy Book-the Bible; so, shall we then continue in sin that grace may abound? Paul replies with a resounding “God forbid” (Romans 6:2) Likewise, this piece is asking our nation handlers; must we continue to borrow recklessly all in the nation of infrastructural development? Must we sacrifice our nation’s liberty and our children’s future on the altar of infrastructural development?

As the nation goes on a borrowing spree and speeds on ‘borrowing lane’ in the name of infrastructural development, one may be tempted to ask; if we have forgotten that already, going by World Bank’s revelation that “almost half of the poor people in Sub-Saharan Africa live in just five countries: and they are in this order, namely; Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo Tanzania, Ethiopia and Madagascar?

Can’t President Muhammadu Buhari-led federal government appreciate the time-honoured aphorism which says that; no nation becomes strong/great by living on borrowed funds?

At this point, let’s situate what qualifies the present concern as not just a challenge but a crisis that all must worry about.

Recently, it was in the news that PricewaterhouseCoopers, a multinational professional services network of firms, operating as partnerships under the PwC brand, in a report entitled Nigeria Economic Alert: Assessing the 2021 FGN Budget, warned that the increasing cost of servicing the debt will continue to weigh on the federal government’s revenue profile.

It said, “Actual debt servicing cost in 2020 stood at N3.27 trillion and represented about 10 per cent over the budgeted amount of N2.95tn. This puts the debt-to-revenue ratio at approximately 83 per cent, nearly double the 46 per cent that was budgeted.

“This implies that about N83 out of every N100 the federal government earned was used to settle interest payments for outstanding domestic and foreign debts within the reference period. In 2021, the FG plans to spend N3.32 trillion to service its outstanding debt. This is slightly higher than the N2.95tn budgeted in 2020.”

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That is not the only apprehension.

In 2020, one of the reputable national newspapers in Nigeria in its editorial comment among other observations noted that Nigeria would be facing another round of fiscal headwinds this year 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 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.

Today, such fears raised cannot be described as unfounded just as this author doesn’t need to be economists to know that as a nation, we have become a high-risk borrower.

Indeed, the question may be asked; why has 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 management system devoid of accountability, transparency and accuracy. And before a real solution can be proffered, we need as a nation to find and understand the sources of the national problems without losing sight of the real and lasting meaning.

As an illustration, in 2020, the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI), going by report state that the nation loses about $4.1 or N123 billion annually due to poor crude oil production metering, stating that unless the government takes appropriate measures, limitations in the metering of crude oil production will continue to pose a serious threat to the nation’s revenue target.

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Regrettably, Nigeria is the only oil-producing country without adequate metering to ascertain the accurate quantity of crude oil produced at any given time, the report concluded.

What the above tells us as a country is that more work needs to be done, more reforms to be made; that as a nation, we are poor not because of our geographical location or due to the absence of mineral/natural resources but because of our leaders fail to take decisions that engineer prosperity. And we cannot solve our socio-economic challenges with the same thinking we used when we created it.’

Definitely, this piece may not unfold completely the answers to these challenges, but there are a few sectors that a nation desirous of development can start from.

The first that comes to mind is the urgent need for diversification of the nation’s revenue sources. 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 a particular revenue source might be offset by an increase in other revenue sources.

Finally, within this period of economic vulnerability, a new awareness that must not be allowed to go with political winds is the expert warns that, “Accumulated debt can hinder a country’s development, especially when most of the revenue generated is used to service debt.

“When money that should be used to pay salary or cover the cost of capital infrastructure is used to pay a debt, people are affected as they don’t have enough money to spend.

“So, when a huge amount is used to service debt, there is no way capital development can happen, and this affects the people and the country generally.”

Jerome-Mario Utomi is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Public Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He could be reached via jeromeutomi@yahoo.com/08032725374.

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The Vital Role of Managed Services to Deliver Secure Networks

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Mohamed Elsokkary Secure Networks

By Mohamed Elsokkary

The exciting evolution of connectivity will undoubtedly touch every aspect of society and change it for the better.

With the deployment of 5G and the demand for reliable, secure, and robust connectivity, mobile network operators need to address the intensifying complexity of their networks that is driven by the increasing volume of devices, multiple new technologies, and more diverse service requirements.

From the nuisance of a funny clip on social media applications annoyingly freezing to critical communications where a glitch could be serious, if it affects remote surgery or an automated factory, secure user experience is now the main end-user expectation as 5G use cases become more demanding, critical and sophisticated.

After 5G networks are planned, designed, built, optimized and then transferred to operations, the focus shifts to supporting the overall quality and security experience of end-users which necessitates a fundamental shift from the way deployed networks are managed and optimized today.

This shift from the traditional network resource management model – where technology-related capacity, performance and availability are key – to successfully operating high-performance service-driven networks in a secure manner means that the operations and optimization of 5G networks must transform from being technology to end-user service-centric.

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There are critical measures that are adopted by Managed Services Providers (MSPs) to protect data and ensure the ongoing confidentiality, integrity, and availability of Services. These ‘Technical and Organizational Measures for Security’ include, but are not limited to the following:

    Business Continuity Management: MSPs should design and implement the process and tools with the right expertise to ensure the continuity of information security management in adverse situations, such as during a crisis or disaster.

    Information Protection & Information Assets Handling: MSPs should ensure the protection of Communication Service Providers (CSPs) data against unauthorized access, and maintain the policies on the use of cryptographic controls, and the protection and lifetime of cryptographic keys in accordance with industry best practice. In addition, Regular performance of security assessments on Information systems is advised to detect any vulnerabilities.

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    Identity & Access Management: MSPs are tasked to maintain controlled processes and systems covering the formal registration of users with a unique identity as a prerequisite for granting any access to the user.

    Software Development: One of the important tasks of MSPs is to ensure that the development, testing, and operational environments are separated to reduce the risks of unauthorized access or changes to the operational environment.

    Network Security: Operating procedures for the management of network security should be maintained by MSPs, including intrusion detection and prevention, firewall protection, denial of service attack and prevention, and web filtering. In addition, the protection of secure areas with appropriate entry controls designed to ensure that only authorized personnel are allowed access and physical access to areas where any data is stored is restricted to Authorized Users.

The trustworthiness not only originates from a set of security features, but also from system design principles and implementation considerations that have all been applied with a holistic and risk-based mindset.

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As such, Ericsson Managed Services has addressed such challenges and strengthened its security agenda to meet the industry-standard requirements using AI and ML algorithms. Ericsson Operations Engine utilizes AI and data-driven solutions to power intelligent, predictive mobile networks. This allows for detection, monitoring and managing threats using real-time risk visibility and automated resolutions – delivering robust security from device to cloud.

With such enhanced data-driven operation capabilities and end-to-end improvements based upon predictive forecasting of network performance, MSPs can bring economies, and deliver better operations thus giving CSPs the opportunity to deliver enhanced services to their customers and increasing business opportunities.

Getting the right Managed Services partner will fulfil any CSP’s high mandates on security, ensure confidentiality, integrity, and availability of assets, protecting the brand image, and minimizing any business disruption.

Mohamed Elsokkary is the Head of Managed Services for Gulf Countries at Ericsson

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