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Nigeria Must Continue to Borrow, Unless…..

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Mon-Charles Egbo

By Mon-Charles Egbo

Every economic index is a pointer that Nigeria is on the brink, ignobly sliding into the class of nations where self-sufficiency has become a mirage. Yet and despite the hues and cries over the steady rise in her public debt profile, there is no sign that the borrowing tendencies of the federal government will abate anytime soon.

Even the grim prospects of this gloomy future already lurking on the horizon sequel to the humongous debt so far accumulated or the prevailing debt-revenue ratio cannot make the ultimate difference in attitude.

Yes, the borrowing frequency cannot be wished away because there is a missing link implying that Nigeria will continue to witness motion without movement.

Granted, borrowing is a normal practice especially in a developing economy, but it becomes the worst of strategies when borrowing for consumption rather than production. It is even more devastating when the borrowings are principally for servicing of the existing debts coupled with the sheer absence of pragmatic measures or capacities for sustainability, not to talk of a possible halt to future borrowing.

Sadly, this is the pathetic lot of Nigeria where the emerging challenges far outweigh the possibilities for socio-economic revitalization let alone expansion, thus making a worsened economic crisis inevitable.

And ironically, popular opinions place blames for this rapidly unfolding precarious situation on the legislature. To them, the national assembly has since abdicated its responsibilities of checks and balances for which the executive always has its ways when it comes to borrowing requests because the necessary questions are not being asked.

Prominently, this is the parameter for the comparison between the present and immediate past parliaments. And of course, it is catching fire among the populace largely due to the orchestrated elitist manipulation of the vulnerable as also being facilitated by the fallouts of the economic hardship in the land.

But quite objectively and given Nigeria’s peculiarities, past leadership failures indeed created the opportunities for the socio-economic woes which incidentally the present leadership inherited, while the masses, with the elites accounting for the larger chunk, are culpable in the propagation.

Ignorantly or deliberately, the predominant assumption is that citizens’ civic responsibilities begin and end with the leadership recruitment processes or that it is just about the casting of votes, forgetting that elections as well bring in both good and bad governance.

Most Nigerians seem not to know that the people’s obligations entail actively-but-objectively engaging the leadership, cooperating with the government, saying and doing the right thing all the time as well as speaking truth to power, timely and appropriately. No leadership ever succeeds without the support of the followers.

And then for both the government and the citizens, it calls for diligent commitment to an exemplary sense of accountability on both ends. Other statutory demands include willingness to collaborate and make necessary sacrifices, demonstration of strategic thinking and proactive dispositions including a commitment to asking the right questions and offering the right answers, all timely.

Standing to be counted is certainly not just about partisanship, regionalism and religion. Genuine quest for national development is more about imbibing the Kennedyian principle of seeking what to do for one’s country and not just what the country does for them. Succinctly, nation-building is about patriotism and nationalism.

For instance and retrospectively, Ibrahim Babangida’s regime in a rare democratic norm in a dictatorship threw open the debate on the desirability or otherwise of taking an International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan of $2.5 billion to rejig the economy.

According to Senator Orji Uzor Kalu, who verifiably was not in government then, “opinion was sharply divided between those who felt we should take the loan and those who thought otherwise.

For me, there was a middle course I felt we should thread. I believed that Nigeria required the equivalent of the kind of which the IMF bailout package promised to shore up the sliding economy. At the same time, I thought that the conditions attached would, at least in the short term, make life terrible for Nigerians. These conditions included the devaluation of and floating of the naira, privatisation of social services, and rationalisation of the civil service, among others.

So, my attitude was one of a complete rejection of the IMF loan. I felt since we needed the money, we must find out how we could get it without being subjected to the harrowing terms proposed by the IMF. We should source it internally.

Satisfied with this logic, I decided to add my voice to the cacophony of voices that were already choking the public space. I suggested that instead of accepting the IMF loan and suffer the consequences of its onerous terms and conditions, wealthy Nigerians should lend the money to the government, and we had a lot of them in the country, with unimaginable but idle funds stashed up in foreign bank accounts.

Being one of the wealthy Nigerians myself, I decided to walk the talk by offering to give the country an $800,000 loan. And I challenged other wealthy Nigerians to follow suit so that together we could rescue the country from the economic crisis and save future Nigerians from economic slavery”.

What else could better describe love for the country? That Kalu then was not in government underscores that patriotism and nationalism do not come with government positions and equally are not limited to giving, but involve seeking ways to make government deliver for the benefit of the society. And again, this is the missing link in today’s Nigeria.

Moving forward, records show that the government of the day is doing a lot in combating the pitiable infrastructure deficit bedevilling the country. But the reality is that these investments are not yet translating to improved quality of life for the citizenry. Hence, the sustained outcry against the government’s proposal to borrow is unquestionably justified, though being improperly channelled.

Understandably also, it is this urgent need to make life meaningful for the masses that shapes the overall actions of the 9th national assembly, particularly the senate.

Christened the Senate That Works For The People, it is favourably disposed to things that add value to the people. It consciously does its job without unnecessarily hurting the people by grounding the economy all in a bid to be seen as being ‘truly independent’.

However, it has severally demonstrated that this overriding necessity for collaboration with the other arms of government in serving the people should not breed compromise. Diligent research offers sufficient proof in this regard.

And as for the president of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, every arm must be seen to be delivering in their mandates provided that they are being guided by the national interest and welfare of the citizenry.

According to him on why he did not toe the path of his predecessor in declining approvals to executive’s loan requests, “the situations are not the same. In 2016 there were no details. I think the president has learnt his lesson. This time, the presidency brought the requests with every possible detail. If we don’t have money and you have projects to build, how will you provide the infrastructure that you need?

“But one thing is that we are going to be critical that every cent that is borrowed is tied to a project. These are projects that will have spill-over effects on the economy and we will undertake our oversight so well to ensure that such funds are properly, prudently, economically and transparently applied on those projects.

“I want to inform this gathering and, indeed, Nigerians that the letter conveying the loan request of the executive came with every possible detail and, in fact, we will ensure that we are getting the right information from the executive arm of government…. you will agree with me that some projects are time-bound, so such projects suffer. Where revenues could not be enough, definitely not every aspect of the budget will be implemented. But it is our desire that every aspect of the budget will be implemented”.

Except for other reasons beyond good governance, this position is explicit. President Muhammadu Buhari won his elections based on what he promised to do and what he was doing. So, all he needs are complementary and collaborative efforts within the ambits of the laws.

So, instead of unfairly portraying the legislature in a bad light relative to our economic challenges, we should seek to always argue from the position of adequate and balanced information. We should acknowledge that world over, responsible and responsive parliaments are those that enjoy the people’s support and cooperation through sustainable exchange of information and ideas.

In other words, performing legislatures have a functional mechanism for robust citizens’ engagement and participation in legislative processes and governance generally; wherein the people actively monitor parliamentary activities, share information by asking the right questions and demanding the right answers as well as speaking up, timely and appropriately. For the umpteenth time, no government ever succeeds without the people.

As such, it is expected that each time any loan proposal is made public, the masses should cordially rally around their representatives, through the appropriate channels to express their opinions to effectively shape legislative outputs. Particularly, in this case, such interfaces provide veritable platforms for interrogation of the appropriateness or otherwise of the objectives for which the loans are being taken, including the terms and possible alternatives.

Among others, the people being the target-beneficiary see where the infrastructural developments occur and equally acknowledge the necessities of such relative to the economy as well as the scope, quality and cost of the projects. Hence, they are well-placed to expose corruption, plug revenue leakages and provide their representatives with relevant details that lead to robust debates at the plenary.

Above all, it is only in deliberate citizens’ participation that we can fairly assess and evaluate the legislature, aware that unapologetically, any representative that does not embody the ideals and aspirations of their people is adjudged a failure.

Therefore, rather than unwittingly harming our national image and reputation, especially based on partisan and self-serving considerations, may we show sufficient understanding that constructive criticisms capable of facilitating good governance go way beyond obsessions with talking about individuals, political parties and government institutions.

We must admit that unless the public functionaries, both elected and appointed, begin to uphold and promote the culture of excellence, while the elites revive and sustain the culture of giving back to the society, and then the people become self-motivated to close ranks with the government towards entrenching transparency at all levels of governance, the probity and accountability that drive good governance would remain elusive and borrowing must continue. We should appreciate where we are coming from and then concede that open hostilities do not in any way advance the social contract between the people and the government.

And finally, are there no more Nigerians in the mould of Senator Orji Uzor Kalu who are persuaded out of patriotism and nationalism “to follow suit so that together we could rescue the country from the economic crisis and save future Nigerians from economic slavery”?

Mon-Charles Egbo is the print media aide to the president of the senate.

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B2B e-Commerce: Fostering Sales, Distribution with Data Analytics

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Data Analytics

The informal sector is a major source of economic growth and productivity globally. According to both the World Bank and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) statistics, more than 2 billion people representing 61% of the world’s employed population work in the informal sector.

Of the number, 93% are reportedly in emerging and developing countries. Around 86% of employment in Sub-Saharan Africa is in the informal sector, while 80% of household retail distribution is said to be delivered via informal retailers.

Nigeria is reputed to have a huge informal sector that makes up 50% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and accounts for over 90% of employment. The informal retail market value is estimated at US$100bn out of which the food and consumer goods retail segment is worth over $40bn.

B2B e-commerce firm Alerzo’s CEO, Adewale Opaleye, described the informal sector as a major source of economic growth, productivity and competitiveness.

Despite the importance of the sector, informal retailers face complex challenges that impede their business growth, financial and income stability and service quality. The challenges include limited inventory due to high demands, meaning the market is underserved; and limited access to funding which sometimes leads them to stock low-quality products.

The retail market is also clustered; products are often overpriced because prices are largely unregulated. Distance to market especially those in hard-to-reach locations; opportunity costs; dangers of travel; inadequate logistics such as transport to move purchased goods also impact informal retailers adversely. The unstructured nature of most retail businesses is another setback.

The challenges faced by consumers at the base of the pyramid also represent another key issue in the retail market. Often, lack of access to reliable product information, quality products and services, and low purchasing power deny consumers access to everyday essentials such as food, medicine, hygiene and household products.

The fallout of the challenges in the retail market segment is that manufacturers and distributors are often unable to track data on informal retail sales, regulate quality or access BoP customers for research, marketing or the delivery of social mission goals.

As a strategic pivot for national GDP growth, reforming Nigeria’s informal trade is a key to unlocking socio-economic prosperity for the citizens, and improving the lives of the retailers themselves including their families, and the communities in which they operate.

Hence, initiatives that remove barriers in the Factory-to-Retail distribution chain for consumer goods companies are most welcome. The role of e-Commerce, in particular tech-driven B2B e-Commerce platforms, is pivotal in this regard.

“Our mission is to empower these informal retailers through our ecosystem of digital products, so they are equipped to run profitable and sustainable businesses. We strongly believe that technology has the potential to transform the way informal retailers conduct their businesses, by using it to facilitate – with just a click of a button – fast and easy access to a wide assortment of consumer products at zero delivery cost to the retailers,” Alerzo CEO, Opaleye said.

B2B e-Commerce platforms are beneficial to manufacturers and tier one distributors as enablers of data gathering and market intelligence. By utilising an array of digital technologies to gather market intelligence and analyse data, they arm goods producers with vital information on consumer behaviour to further help them in research and product development. Distributors also use such information to scale up operational efficiency.

The use of customer data significantly fosters sales growth and enhances customer relationships. According to Statista, a 2018 survey in the United States showed that 84% of industry-wide leading firms revealed that data analytics helped to bring greater accuracy to their decision-making. That is, data utilisation and related analytics methods were reported to deliver the most value to firms by reducing expenses and creating new avenues for innovation and disruption.

Data analytics enable manufacturers and distributors to strengthen their business operations. For example, in supply chain management and customer relationship, data analytics can support the personalisation and customisation of sales and customer services to build stronger and more personal relationships with customers.

By deploying data technologies and tools, B2B e-Commerce platforms like Alerzo collect data and market intelligence to identify what customers actually expect from companies and to predict their future demands. In other words, data analytics help to create business knowledge, that is, information and understanding related to business processes and the business environment. It can additionally reveal hidden behavioural patterns.

Furthermore, B2B e-Commerce can provide manufacturers access to real-time data and instant information, creating real-time knowledge of markets, and when properly implemented, can increase sales. McKinsey’s research suggests that a healthy data culture, that is, an organisational culture that accelerates the application of data analytics, is becoming increasingly important for leading and lagging companies. Also, the deployment of data helps to provide accurate and timely information within an organisation.

B2B e-Commerce platforms by utilising their digital solutions can make the collection of data more feasible and cost-effective for manufacturers and distributors. Data analytics as one of the emerging areas in the domain of B2B marketing can even support businesses with access to big data thereby increasing access to quantitative and qualitative information beyond just transaction data such as purchase quantities.

In a nutshell, B2B e-Commerce in so many ways offers solutions that are helping to address the needs in the Factory-to-Retail distribution value chain holistically – at the supply side (manufacturers, top-tier distributors and last-mile retailers), and the consumers (demand) side.

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Rising Cost of Living and Boosting Living Standards

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Timi Olubiyi Businesses in Lagos

By Timi Olubiyi, PhD

The rising cost of living is impacting globally but differently and it is clearly evident that expenses and bills continue to rise steeply. The cost of food, household consumables and other essentials has skyrocketed in recent times from Cairo to Botswana, Delhi, Shanghai, London, Houston, Mexico City, Johannesburg, Mumbai, Dublin and Manila, name it. This price hike has been on the increase as part of the consequences of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), and this continues to shrink the available disposable income of the majority altogether.

In the Nigerian context, a loaf of bread that was N350 in 2020 is now about N700, a 100% increase in two years. Similar percentage increases are in the cost of flight tickets, health care, rents, diesel, cooking gas, a bag of rice, a crate of eggs, a kilo of chicken or turkey and many other essentials due to inflation, yet income has remained the same or even less. Nothing is easily affordable, and everything is out of reach of the masses.

Given the country’s current situation and that many people have not seen a growth in their income, this has resulted in reduced or no savings, increased frustration and dissatisfaction in fulfilling basic demands amongst many. There is always the possibility and anxiety of losing jobs or businesses folding up regardless of the length of service put up, experience acquired, or available connection, and these consequences may even be more severe.

Employers, in fact, are hesitant to implement any wage increases for economic reasons. Inflation continues to have a severe negative impact on man’s mental, emotional, and physical well-being, as well as on marriages and livelihoods.

Currently, even with a steady, regular salary, living has become costlier with heightened uncertainty, high inflation, and weak purchasing power, especially for the masses including civil servants, entrepreneurs, and small business owners.

As a result, one of the ways to have protection is by diversifying sources of income and having multiple streams at this time. You have multiple bills; why not have multiple streams of income to support the inadequacy.

Therefore, in addition to salary or business income, it is important to source other income avenues to satisfy the rising needs, poor business performance and inflation. Because if financial capacity is weak and daily expenses continue to rise, individuals, businesses, and even households will be threatened with sustainability. Therefore, there is a need to take action because having multiple streams of income has proven to be priceless.

According to my observations, the majority of people and homes in the country rely solely on earned income, be it salary or daily income from a business, and they are always hoping that nothing bad happens. It is critical to understand that if the salary is the sole source of income, you are on the verge of financial pressure.

With the high inflation, unemployment crisis, and unstable economy, having many sources of income may help spread the risk and guarantee that homes and businesses are stable and financially protected. We live in a world where one source of income is insufficient and becoming increasingly unsustainable. If you ask me, having multiple sources of income is no longer a luxury; it is a necessity.

To be safe, it is never rational to depend on a single income source, full-time job, or a single market. Remember, change is the only constant thing in life, and this change happens rapidly in this period and is always unpredictable. Living on paycheck-to-paycheck, can severely affect mental health, increase anxiety, depression, stress and many are unaware of the implication on their health.

Consequently, having multiple sources of income is the best way to protect yourself, your company, and your family against drastic financial change. The tools for generating these multiple streams of income are readily accessible on the internet or by engaging a professional. We have greater access than ever before to information, people, ideas, and opportunities with social media, so tap into this. If the average billionaire or millionaire has more than one way to make money, it is important for professionals and business owners to think the same way and have stable passive income streams in order to stay on top of financial and economic woes.

While active income will require your full attention and effort, like being available from 8 am to 5 pm daily, passive income is generated with no or insignificant effort and attention; it can work while you sleep. So, to complement active income, passive income such as investing can generate income through dividends, interest, and return on capital.

Depending on the market and your financial circumstances, investing in real estate might provide you with high returns and rental income. But if you cannot construct to generate rent, acquire a piece of land and protect it; no matter how far away it is, it will rise in value. If you have years of experience in your field, you can start giving consultations or guest lectures as a means to earn another stream of income from your regular job or business.

Another reliable way is by acquiring assets that can generate consistent and steady cash flow. Looking inward might just help as well, talents, abilities, and passion can be used to create potentials that can give income streams.

Clearly, research has shown that having multiple streams of income as a plan aids retirement and provides the necessary comfort in old age. Hear this: if a solid retirement plan is your goal, savings alone will be insufficient; instead, the objective should include developing numerous streams of income sufficient to replace your principal active income (salary). The main benefit or advantage of having multiple streams of income is that when one stream is challenged or things are very volatile, there is a backup for extra income to attain financial stability. That can give the necessary hedge against uncertainties in a business as well as during illness, and disability of the entrepreneur.

In conclusion, it is reasonable to live below your means to make room for savings and then investment, no matter how little it helps along with a side hustle. Relying on a salary or daily business income alone is a danger at this time. In an environment where job loss and unemployment are chronic, the decision to create multiple streams of income and secure financial stability is expedient. However, do not let your side-income streams put the primary and full-time job or business at risk unless you can survive without it. 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 also a prolific investment coach, seasoned scholar, Chartered Member of the Chartered Institute for Securities and Investment (CISI), and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) registered capital market operator. He can be reached on the Twitter handle @drtimiolubiyi and via email at drtimiolubiyi@gmail.com for any questions, reactions, and comments

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Imperatives of Adopting Extra-Curricular Nation Building Approach

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Extra-Curricular

By Jerome-Mario Chijioke Utomi

A path-breaking study has shown that globally, governments are resource and bandwidth-constrained and hence, need to prioritize productivity-enhancing policies.

To do so requires information on the nature and magnitude of market failures on the one hand, and government capacity to redress them successfully on the other hand.

This piece, however, believes that the second responsibility (capacity to redress market failures) remains the greatest challenge in the country’s leadership discourse as it abbreviates development and breeds policy decisions that perpetuate poverty and consolidate powerlessness.

Despite these observed leadership shortfalls, which daily distort social justice and economic empowerment, my recent conversation with one well foresighted and quietly influential Nigerian based in the United States of America (USA), however, reveals that all hope for building a Nigeria of our dreams is not lost.

He argued that the holistic and sustainable solution to Nigeria’s problem is for the leaders to stop copying the people who handed over the country to us.

“We should stop copying London to have a better society,” he stated, submitting that Nigeria and Nigerians should look for practical solutions rather than reading books and following curriculum. We should be extra-curricular in our approach.

On the nation’s education sector, he stressed that the educational system is faulty just like every educational system is faulty. The United States’ educational system is faulty, but if there is no fault in any system, then, there is no improvement. What we call fault is a challenge and that is the basics of development. Now, our educational system is not faulty. Our educational system is still very sound. It is still the most applauded and encouraged all over the world because parents in Nigeria still train their children up to educational level. America doesn’t do that. Germans don’t do that. Nigeria is one of the countries where people still train their children up to the university level. So, we still have one of the best educational systems in the world.

Regardless of what the outcome is, we are being judged by the outcome, we are being judged by how many people get employment. Having worked with the medium industries in the United States, I keep employing people who have a bachelor’s degree in Chemistry as people who end up as cashiers.

I have employed many people who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in medicine or doctorate degree in Law and they were employed. So, Americans have got used to it, that is why they are pursuing their education, they can just get a job that Nigerians have not gotten because everyone that graduates in Nigeria with a bachelor’s degree in engineering wants to work in an oil company. And anyone who graduates with a bachelor’s degree in education or biology wants to teach.

That is not what they are supposed to do. Bachelor’s degree in education is just training to have the ability to listen to research. You just need your education to know where they are selling high and buying low. The truth of the matter is that our children have to know that working for multinational oil companies is not the best result for studying engineering. And they have to know that teaching is not the best result for studying education or biology. You will just have a bachelor’s degree because you will have the ability to research and your research could be knowing where palm kernel can be sold for N4,000 and knowing another place it can be sold for N10,000.

To Nigerian youths, he captures it this way; “this is what I tell the youth because I am very happy that I started as a youth. Anywhere you are in Nigeria, you can be successful. You don’t have to come to America; you don’t have to get to Lagos Agbor or Asaba. At the age of 17, I was taken to Abuja and I remember I was living in the village of Kubwa. I remember that at 17, when my brother went to work, I usually as a young boy come to the Abuja/Kaduna expressway to watch.

“And it was then I discovered that even tankers carrying petrol carried baskets of tomato as well. That is when I discovered that the South consumes so many tomatoes. And the only thing I did was to go to the Zuba market and meet with people selling tomatoes and start collecting rotten tomatoes. At 19, I told my brother I was leaving Abuja and I went back to Delta State and started farming tomatoes. And at the age of 20, 1990, I made my first million from selling tomatoes. Then that was when I decided that I wasn’t going back to Abuja. By 1992, I had made over N5 million farming/selling tomatoes.

“Then I was about 22 years old. So, if I go back to Nigeria today, I would be in my village and I would be making on average about N50 million a year.”

Away from the youth unemployment challenge to the nation’s health sector, he again queried; “do you know that to have improved healthcare in Nigeria, we don’t need doctors?”

More people, he observed, collapse when they are at a burial ceremony or at the church than when they are in the hospital. People don’t collapse in the hospital. So, why do we have to keep training doctors on cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)? We should gather some personnel and train them to revive people anytime somebody collapses, it might be in a compound and the man is the only one available. They should train every pastor, or better still, make it part of the qualification for ordaining pastors, to know how to do the cardiopulmonary resuscitation. So, if someone fails in the church, they (Pastor) will know what to do.

There are in fact, more people who have the telephone numbers of their pastors than the phone numbers of their doctors. In a similar style, he said, the government should train pastors and our local religious leaders on economic development strategies/policies. Rather than waiting for professors of economics particularly as evidence has shown that People respect their religious leaders more than professionals.

So, religious leaders have become our primary healthcare system, they have become our primary stand, our primary economy, and even our leaders.

Take, as an illustration, if some pastors tell their members to close their eyes while walking on the road, they will do so. That is the difference between America and Nigeria. The American government will call all the pastors and train them and now tell them to develop the nation. That is why you see churches in America preaching the same thing because they realized that people believe more in their pastors than in their leaders. So, you have to give the pastors more incentive to make the country develop.

Thus, what I tell the federal government as a holistic solution is that they have to understand the people who are ruling the people. Not to just understand that the law is what is guiding the people. You have to know the people in the motor park. You have to understand the pastor is running their lives and you have to train the pastors so that they can inculcate the development of the nation into the people. So, the federal government has to figure out who is ruling the people. Is it the pastors, Nollywood/movie industry or the music artists?

On the prevailing spate of ritual killing in the country, he has this to say; the truth of the matter is that our youths who are listening to prescriptions are not educated. Most of these ritual killings are prescriptions from uninformed people. And, once we increase our level of education and they understand how useful they (youths) are, they won’t be involved in ritual killings.

What the youths need to recognize is the fact that if you don’t have a job in Nigeria does not mean that nobody is looking for you in Spain. Somebody may be looking for you in Spain, Poland, or France and somebody who needs you more may be looking for you in Canada. They have not been able to exploit all the available resources. That is why they give in to the local prescription of ritual killings. That is just it. Ritual killings are a desperate attempt to gain power and success, he concluded.

I think there exist some ingrained lessons that both states and the federal government must draw and domesticate from the above admonition.

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

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