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Raising Capital: Why the Stock Exchange May be Good Choice for SMEs

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By Timi Olubiyi, PhD

According to the World Bank, formal Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) contribute up to 60 per cent of total employment, and up to 40 per cent of national income (GDP) in emerging economies.

A common outcome of research and discussions on SMEs is that this form of business plays a crucial role in promoting economic development, especially on the African continent where SMEs have remained critical contributors to employment and economic activities.

However, these SMEs face a financing gap and the challenge of access to capital, which restricts their economic prosperity.

From context observation, these SMEs largely ponder with questions such as “should we take a bank loan, or should we consider other alternatives for funding and credits?”

If this sort of thought applies to you, then this piece is for you, take out time to read through.

Furthermore, for those that are not aware of the benefits listing on the stock exchange portends, this piece will be of use as well.

World over, SME operators primarily depend on bank loans or government schemes for financing. More so, SMEs have a heavy dependence on debt rather than equity in their business operations. Therefore, the need to bring awareness to the diversification of funding sources is necessary.

The capital market is critical to a country’s economic development and a distinct alternative to traditional bank lending and financing. If accessed, it can provide a cost-effective medium- to long-term finance for SMEs including large corporations and multinationals.

Though many non-bank financing alternatives such as financial leasing, private equity (including angel investing and venture capital), and crowd-funding are all other forms of financing which businesses may use at various stages of their life cycle, however they are not as easily accessible as the stock market.

Importantly, SME listing on stock exchanges will add significantly to the creation and distribution of wealth in any economy. However, firms may list on a stock exchange for a variety of financial and non-financial reasons.

Evidently, the recent crisis with the novel coronavirus pandemic and the looming recession has revealed that bank financing is not a reliable source of long-term financing.

Agreeably, long-term financing is an essential element for supporting investment and growth at this time, for any business. Hence, the stock market is the best way to have access to a meaningful impact.

Bank loans might either be too expensive or not even an option for most SMEs at this time because of bank stringent measures which often require assets to back the loans.

Access to long-term financing enables SMEs to solve their financing needs over the long term and this has a positive effect on economic growth and employment generation.

The stock market can provide this and have always played a role in bringing together those with savings to invest and those who need capital, thereby supporting economic growth.

The stock exchange can be the most appropriate form of acquiring long-term financing for structured SMEs and the cost of equity capital can be lower than other forms of finance particularly bank loans.

The stock market’s capital allocation role, which means that the exchange provides channels for financial intermediation between investors and issuer (listed companies), which creates an opportunity for SMEs.

Businesses do not need to be a conglomerate or multinational to be listed on the stock exchange. In fact, there are trading platforms tailored to the needs and capabilities of SMEs.

Many countries in the world allow SMEs to raise funds from the capital market and have SME platforms such as the Alternative Investment Market in the UK for instance.

In Africa, SME board also exist on some exchanges on the continent; namely Botswana (BSE); Casablanca, Morocco (CSE); Douala, Cameroon (DSX); Egypt (ESX); Johannesburg, South Africa (JSE); Nairobi, Kenya (NSE); Lusaka, Zambia (LuSE); Mauritius (SEM); Mozambique (BVM); Alternative Securities Market (ASeM) (recently remodelled to become Growth Board) in Nigeria (NSE); Seychelles (Trop-X) and Swaziland (SSX) amongst others.

One key difference on these platforms is the requirements for listing which vary across the exchanges.  Significantly, listing requirements for SME boards are usually more relaxed compared to the main trading boards, this is done with the aim of cutting barriers and encouraging SMEs to list.

The SME board is a segment of the stock exchange, dedicated to trading the shares/securities of SMEs, who otherwise find it difficult to get listed on the main board of the exchange due to stringent listing requirements.

In Nigeria, the Alternative Securities Market (ASeM) trading platform helps small and growing companies to raise funds and it is different from the premium and main platform of the stock exchange. The platform is strictly for SMEs and the platform is characterized by lower attractive listing requirements and reduced listing costs than the mainboard. Simply put, it can be adjudged a second-tier listing alternative which provides the opportunity for SMEs to raise long-term capital at relatively low cost from the capital market.

Businesses can raise funds directly on the stock market when they list. In Nigeria, for instance, there are no limits to the amount of capital companies can raise on ASeM trading platform of the Nigerian Stock Exchange, as long as it is in line with other regulatory requirements, such as those of the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

Whether or not they raise funds upon listing, listed firms may also be able to tap other sources of finance more easily than similar, unlisted firms.

This is because the process of listing requires firms to meet strict financial reporting and corporate governance requirements. Therefore, meeting these standards improve accounting practices and financial management, thereby increasing firms’ transparency and potentially improving their creditworthiness out there.

It is important to state that a Stock Exchange listing offers the following benefits to SMEs: firstly, it will provide a clear price for the shares and a valuation of the business once listed, it gives businesses access to a wider potential investor base and access to long term capital for growth and expansion. Recall, one of the most important reasons firms list is to increase their access to finance.

Moreover, listing does encourage good corporate governance culture from the listed companies. It can also raise the company’s public profile with customers, suppliers, investors, financial institutions and it can majorly help SMEs with international business conducts, particularly with the company perception and prestige. Like all businesses, SMEs need capital to start up and keep going until they become profitable, once listed SMEs can have access to fundraising as required.

In order to make listings more attractive, however, government, regulators, and policymakers should consider policy responses to encourage more listing, further lowering listing requirements to encourage more participation in the capital market.

Furthermore, regulators can reduce transaction and listing costs so that more SMEs will be attracted to the market and make the space wider.

Also, to deepen market participation, it is recommended that government agencies, which regulate the market, should organize promotional campaigns, public seminars, and conferences to increasing public awareness and to address potential drawbacks of SMEs from listing.

The point of note is that to improve the responsiveness of SMEs to listing and its ample benefits, government intervention is necessary. Therefore, the post-COVID-19 regulatory regime should involve consistent and coordinated policy responses and pronouncement to assist and encourage SMEs to list on the stock exchange, this will, in turn, improve foreign market participation, boost the economy, and also advance market confidence.

SMEs can only grow and contribute positively to economic growth and development if they are well supported by Government and regulatory institutions.

Therefore, attention should be given to this significant sector of the economy that is increasingly faced with the problem of high cost of production, lack of access to funding and threat to business survival. More businesses will strive and more jobs will be created with policies and regulations that can drive and aid access to capital and SME growth in the country.

Globally, SME’s are substantially the major employer of labour, an avenue for wealth creation, and sustainable economic development. Therefore, for many businesses seeking funding to remain viable is crucial, consequently, an alternative source of funding can be accessed through listing on the Stock Exchange, even though is likely to be a long-term objective.

It should be seriously considered as part of the company’s strategy post-COVID-19, particularly as it relates to business funding and credits. More so the survival of small and medium-scale enterprises with access to capital is key at this time.

It is very convenient to list on the stock exchange but many SMEs have difficulty in arranging the listing requirements, meet legal and regulatory frameworks, and so on.

Getting or finding advisors to prepare these requirements for listing on an exchange might just be reasonable. If you are concerned or interested in benefits listing on the stock exchange can provide, you may need to urgently reach out to a professional for essential advice. Good luck!

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

Dr Timi Olubiyi is an Entrepreneurship and 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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Why Development in Sub-Saharan Africa is Lagging

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By Tolu Oyekan

I was born in Nigeria in the early 1980s. Based on forecasts at the time, I should be starting the final decade of my life now.

But my odds have improved quite a bit. Indeed, it is a testament to the advances over these past 40 years in healthcare and standards of living – in the overall quality of life for at least some people – that the average life expectancy for a person born today in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) has increased by 10 years.

In some countries, like Rwanda, which was beset by a devastating civil war in the 1990s, the life expectancy gains are even more dramatic.

Part of the reasons for the rise in average life expectancy is the fall in early childhood mortality. Death rates among SSA children under five have declined to fewer than 80 per 1000 live births in 2018 from more than double that figure in 1990. This progress is laudable.

But despite these gains, there is much further to go. Even with the advances in life expectancy, sub-Saharan Africa lags behind most of the rest of the world in this regard.

In fact, the life expectancy in Africa’s most populous country, Nigeria, is only 55 years. And perhaps more disconcerting is the region’s alarming poverty rate.

About 40% of sub-Saharan Africa, or over 400 million people, live on less than $1.90 a day, defined as the extreme poverty line. That is more than double the poverty rate in South Asia, another region struggling with widespread destitution.

Moreover, the COVID-19 disease may set the region back even more. Recent separate reports from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the World Bank estimate that globally, the number of preventable child deaths and poverty rates will regress to previous high levels before the pandemic is over, particularly in countries already struggling the most. We already had a long journey ahead of us and now the distance has been stretched.

Clearly, the emergence of sub-Saharan Africa as an economic success offering a decent quality of life and a better future for its population is at best in its very infantile stages.

In virtually every category of the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – covering healthcare, hunger, education, jobs, fair wages, economic growth and the environment, among other critical dimensions – sub-Saharan Africa trails well behind the rest of the world.

Perhaps the most problematic issue is that while we have a long distance to travel, we have to get there at a record pace. The UN has set a target of 2030 to reach the SDG’s goals and in effect, eliminate the developmental obstacles to growth and minimum livelihoods that hold back SSA and other countries around the world. For SSA, that is an ambitious deadline.

To just take one example, the ratio of people living in extreme poverty in sub-Saharan Africa dropped from around 50% a decade ago to today’s 40%.

Going from 40 per cent to zero in the next nine years would require a development campaign far exceeding anything tried before in these countries.

Yet, as difficult as that sounds, we can at least make significant progress if we avoid wasted efforts and inefficiencies. We must optimize our development efforts for faster impact. We must optimize for speed.

Over a series of articles, I will explore the critical facets of development activities in the region that must be emphasized and improved upon to achieve quicker and more permanent progress.

Initially, I will focus on three areas that can be addressed immediately and produce results in a relatively short time: We must gather more and better data and utilize it more effectively; we must increasingly adjust the developmental techniques we employ to ensure they sufficiently address local concerns and issues while taking advantage of existing best practices, even from other disciplines; and we must enlarge the tent to bring a wider and more diverse group of people into the design and implementation process.

Looking at these three areas more closely, there are significant gaps between how we view them today and how we should both enhance our understanding of them and improve how we use them to make real developmental gains:

    Data: Good data about the SSA region is essential. It would allow us to fully understand current conditions and livelihood challenges, compare ourselves against other regions that are attempting to be innovative in solving the same problems, and measure our progress in granular intervals against goals – including the UN SDGs – so that we can take corrective action quickly was needed to keep ourselves on track. Unfortunately, sub-Saharan Africa is data challenged and has been so for a while. But if we try to build our data aggregation capabilities slowly, following the path that regions with inherently more data have taken, we will not be able to move as fast as we must. Therefore, we must identify and implement pragmatic approaches to dramatically improve our data gathering procedures and methods.

    Techniques: In attempting to solve specific development challenges, we often make the mistake of adopting tried and tested technical approaches that perhaps have worked in other places but are insufficiently tailored to the specific needs of the sub-Saharan region. As a result, we forfeit the opportunity to consider methods and strategies that are aligned with unique regional needs. For instance, behavioural techniques can encourage desirable actions by sub-Saharan individuals and groups, which in turn can help in local development. Or digital solutions can leverage software to make a development programme more cost-effective. For instance, advancing the use of telemedicine so physicians from outside SSA can efficiently and inexpensively supplement local medical services. These are just two possibilities and the more we think about innovative techniques well suited to the region, the better we will get at designing and implementing them.

    People: Although there appears to be a push to increasingly widen the participation of African people in the campaigns to solve Africa’s problems, I believe that we are still ignoring many potential beneficiaries. In other words, even in our attempts to enlarge the tent, we still fail to address the needs of key stakeholders that are pivotal for the success of SSA development efforts; among them, women, young people, the bottom of the economic pyramid, the private sector and small businesses.  Perhaps a more provocative perspective on this is that we must expand the tent of people taking part in designing developmental solutions and overcome our challenges with the help of beneficiaries – rather than trying to provide answers to or for the beneficiaries.

So, how should we approach development in sub-Saharan Africa during this decade? Africans favour the expression, ‘If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.’ I would add that we must actually go further than we had thought pre-COVID, and we must also go fast.

Over the coming weeks, I will share my thoughts about some of the things we can do to address the three areas I mentioned that must be immediately analysed, improved upon and tailored for a sub-Saharan solution. I hope we can debate these issues and that collectively, we can produce an exhaustive and workable series of steps to begin a viable developmental journey for SSA.

So, what do you think? Do you agree that we have a long way to go despite the progress? Is there a case for maintaining the status quo and continuing to attempt development across the region as we have before? In addition to Data, Techniques, and People, are there other aspects of development designs that we should be considering and fixing?

In my view, the gap between where we are today and where we must get to by 2030 is far. I look forward to exploring together how we achieve these bold goals quickly.

Tolu Oyekan is a Partner at Boston Consulting Group (BCG)

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COVID-19, Technology and the New Face of Small Businesses

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By Akeem Lawal

The outbreak of coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) has had a devastating impact that the world is still dealing with.

Apart from the negative health implications, the COVID-19 pandemic has also crippled economies and businesses across the globe.

Suffice to say that, the resultant effect of the pandemic has led to job losses, pay cuts, travel restrictions and consequently fall in foreign trade and general business activities. The businesses most hit are the Micro Small, and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs).

A recent survey by the International Trade Centre (ITC) revealed that the pandemic has strongly affected nearly two-thirds of micro and small businesses – compared to about 40% of large companies – with 20% of MSMEs feared to shut down permanently at some points soon.

Interestingly, the survey revealed that 40% of the companies that came out strong from the pandemic were mainly technology-driven businesses. In the financial services industry, fintech companies including Interswitch, Flutterwave, Paystack have fared very well.

For instance, the National Bureau of Statistics report shows that digital payment transaction grew from N10.3 trillion in January 2020 to N20 trillion in December 2020.

The SME sector remains a potential game-changer for economic growth globally, including Nigeria. This is why it is important for stakeholders in the economy to provide simple solutions that will enhance their ability to generate economic activities that will boost the community and national economy.

Knowing the importance of small businesses to national economies, many governments implemented support programmes to assist MSMEs following the pandemic. In Nigeria, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) earmarked $136.6 million as credit relief for MSMEs businesses affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic revealed the frailties of many SMEs in terms of little or no digital infusion. However, the pandemic has not been all gloom as it has opened up vistas of opportunities inherent in technology and its application.

Today, we have seen an upsurge in the adoption of technology across several sectors. Businesses have digitized their operations, adopted remote work models and moved their services online as physical interactions have reduced.

The adoption of technology is not only sustaining businesses; it is opening up new opportunities and even markets. Basically, what technology has done is to throw up insight into possible solutions as well as provide the roadmap to navigate these possibilities.

For businesses to bounce back from the pandemic, it is important that they define their community (market) as it relates to the business – and how and where to meet them. This is where technology comes to play as many of its solutions will help boost lead generation, seamless payment, effective management, visibility and increased revenue. So, a business must transit onto the digital divide.

In order to assist more businesses, especially the MSMEs achieve this transition seamlessly, Interswitch has reformed its Webpay platform to Quickteller Business. The new platform enables businesses of all sizes; small, medium, large to take their businesses online without owning a website or having prior technology.

The Quickteller Business platform is intuitive and robust. It provides seamless payment solutions for businesses and their customers. Business owners are able to manage their processes more efficiently like generating invoices to track sales and payments, customized storefront to display products and brand image, backend access to manage inventory, dispute management options to settle chargebacks and refunds.

Beyond the obvious solution, the Quickteller Business portends, the platform also exposes the users to a ready market of over five million potential customers. The Quickteller platform boast over 5 million subscribers from Nigeria and East Africa and all Quickteller Business users are automatically exposed to this community.

With all of these issues taken care of by a single platform, business owners on the platform can focus on other aspects of their businesses such as production, capacity building etc. Surviving the challenging business environment is enough task for business owners these days. Providing simple solutions that make their processes more effective, allow them time to increase productivity and provide the possibility to scale are the objectives of the Quickteller Business.

In summary, business owners can take full control of their businesses by digitizing their operations now. With the pandemic changing the dynamics of business operations, it is imperative for SMEs to embrace technology in every form – and the Quickteller Business platform is a good place to start!

Akeem Lawal is the deputy CEO of Payment Processing at Interswitch

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What is Good for the Goose May Not be Good for the Gander

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Christie Obiaruko Ndukwe

By Christie Obiaruko Ndukwe

Governor Nyesom Wike sacked his Commissioner for Environment, Mr Tamuno Igbiks, in the middle of a summit on the hazardous soot in Rivers State.

It’s not a problem since he has the power to hire and fire. But the reason he gave for the sack is what I find amusing.

Dr Tamuno Igbiks had allegedly written a letter asking Julius Berger to stop work all over their construction sites in the state.

According to Governor Wike, the young man exhibited undue power not available to him as a Commissioner, and worse still, he failed to inform his Works counterpart.

That to me is a raw exhibition of executive recklessness, arrogance and an inordinate quest for power to subdue, without considerations that Julius Berger had already been paid ahead of the completion of the said contracts.

On the surface, the Governor was right to punish the erring aide in order to serve as a deterrent to others who may also be ignorant of the limits of the power and privileges they enjoy while serving as aides to a Governor.

But a little peep into Mr Wike’s six years of governance would reveal that he has also severally halted work by Federal Government through its agencies, in the state and sometimes, threatened lawsuits or outright blockage of access to buildings occupied by some of these agencies.

The Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, NPA and others are not left out.

Just recently, the Governor threatened to shut down access roads leading to the newly commissioned headquarters of the NDDC on the pretence that the state government was about to commenced earthworks for the road. This is without recourse to the fate of those who live within the said axis and would be blocked from having vehicular access to their homes.

Need I bore readers with more examples of this same act of executive misapplication of power which the Commissioner in question may have unconsciously imbibed from the Governor.

It is pertinent to ask who then can punish Governor Wike for similar acts of gross misconduct and acts of the bully pulpit? Does a Governor’s immunity confer on him an unlimited display of impunity, simply because we are under a faulty democracy with a chequered and controversial Constitution?

If the Commissioner erred this once, is it enough to sack him without a query on why he embarked on such a rudderless voyage of power?

Let me stop with this popular Eastern Nigerian proverb, which says when the mother goat is chewing its cud, the baby goat is closely watching and learning the ropes.

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Nigeria and the Burden of Deformed Politics and Power

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Deformed Politics

By Jerome-Mario Utomi

At independence in October 1960, through the mid-60s, Nigeria and Nigerians witnessed an amazing period of wealth creation.

But the sudden decision by the then military administration/government to shift focus from regional to unitary system slowed down the pace of economic development in the country.

The situation has since been exacerbated in the past two decades of democratic experience and governmental-type described by analysts as a pseudo or quasi-federal system which further shifted the distribution of income/resources strongly in favour of the government at the centre and against the real owners of wealth-states and local governments

Aside from the understanding by many that such a state of affairs is attributable to the wrong application of power by politicians (the real enemies of the open society), for a better understanding of this piece, there is a greater need to take a cursory look at power from two standpoints.

First, from the Marxists perspectives; that is, those that understand politics as grasping the moment and revolves it ‘solely and squarely’ around personal interest-the ebb and flow of influence among adversaries.

The second perspective focuses on development professionals’ understanding of power.

To add context to the discourse, Grant Cardone, a human development professional, while commenting on deformed politics asserts that politicians and the media perpetuate the shortage concept by suggesting that there is not enough of certain things to go around-that if you have something, I cannot.

Many politicians believe that they need to spread these needs in order to energize their followers to take a stand for or against another or party. They make statements like; ‘I will take better care of you than the other guy’ ‘ I will make life easier for you ‘ ‘I will reduce taxes for you’ I promise better education for your kids’ or ‘I will make it more possible for you to be successful.

The underlined implication of these claims, he added, is that only I can do this-not the other guy. These politicians first emphasize the topics and initiatives that they know what followers consider important-then they create the sense that citizens are not capable of doing things for themselves. They highlight’ scarcity that exists and do their best to make people feel that their only chance of getting what they want and need is to support them. Otherwise, they imply, your chances of getting your share become even more remote.

On the other hand, power properly understood in the words of Martin Luther King Jar, is nothing but the ability to achieve a purpose. It is the strength required to bring about social, economic, political, cultural and religious changes. What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anaemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demand of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.

From these words, it may not be a wrong assertion to conclude that; there is nothing wrong with power; that power could be used both constructively and destructively; that for man to function well in any given position of authority, he/she must identify that power is not a complete end but looks up to something further; it cannot itself be the ultimate goal; that power is valuable according to the use to which it may be put.

With this fact highlighted, let’s move from meaning to examples of wrong use of power.

Chief among such examples of the destructive exercise of power include Pol Pot of Cambodia. It was in the news that while in power in Cambodia between 1975 and 1978, he used his position to cause the death of more than two million people in Cambodia – a small country in Southeast Asia bordered by Vietnam and Thailand. This is a verifiable fact.

The story is not different here in Africa as it is factually backed that late Robert Mugabe in his quest to hold on to power, massacred over 20,000 of his people and not animals, destroyed the nation’s economy and watched with disinterest while his wife looted millions of dollars. Fresh in our memories are the Liberia episode in the early 1990s, Gnassingbe Eyadema of Togo and Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire. Specifically in Africa, there are even more accounts of gradual and silent encroachment/abuse of power by those in positions of authority, than by violent and sudden usurpations.

Conversely, talking about constructive use of power back in Nigeria, the thought of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, then Premier of the Western region, comes to mind. He constructively used his position to better the lives of his people. Through quality and affordable education, he set the region on a hyper-modern pathway.

This feat or a combination of other people-purposed achievements, without doubt, explains why  about four decades after his reign, he is daily remembered and used in virtually all the primary schools (both public and private), as an example of a great leader

Indeed, he defined power in the image of his actions.

But today, that narrative has changed. National development is not only in trouble; rather education, power, health and infrastructure are the worst victims of present leadership ineptitudes.

And when one looks precisely at what went wrong, one thing seems to stand out. It is the shocking reality that the same qualities that created success in the past are the same qualities that undermine success today.

In many ways, the present administration may have a sincere desire to move the nation forward, but there are three major militating factors.

First, there is no clear definition of our problem as a nation, the goals to be achieved or the means chosen to address the problems and to achieve the goals.

Secondly, the system has virtually no consideration for connecting the poor with good means of livelihood-food, job and security.

Thirdly, though they constitutionally possess the political powers to improve the life chances of the governed, government at all levels daily manifest non-possession of political will to perform their constitutional responsibilities.

This is the only possible explanation.

Out of many other areas of concern, take the education sector as an example. Globally; it is a well-considered belief that; education is an extremely valuable strategy for solving many of society’s ills. In an age where information has more economic value than ever before, it’s obvious that education should have a higher national priority. It is also clear that democracies are more likely to succeed when there is widespread access to high-quality education.

But despite these virtues, attributes about education, here in Nigeria, the sector remains in the ‘valleys of the shadow of death’ occasioned by perennial underfunding and neglect. This failure points at FG’s unwillingness to engineer national development and signposts an administration that is not interested in using its power properly.

Among other demands, reversing this trend calls for leaders’ development of political will for using power both creatively and profitably.

The nation must come up with programmes to sustain the youths, as the future strength of the nation depends on its young people as their generation will provide the next set of leaders.

Taking this step is most important as they (youths) have recently lost all fears of punishment and yielded obedience to the power of violence. The Alamajiris in the north must be reintegrated back to school, so should the challenges of the youths in the south-south whose farmlands and other means of livelihood have been destroyed through oil prospecting and explorations.

Nigerians and of course the world is in agreement that we can achieve this goal. The nation is not as poor as politicians trumpet it.

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 or 08032725374.

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A Very Different COVID-19 Story in South Africa

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Brics Covid-19

By Gregory Kronsten

After an interval of more than six months, we are looking again in our column at the prevalence and impact of COVID-19 in South Africa.

It has been by far the worst affected country on the continent, with 52,660 deaths to date according to the latest data from Johns Hopkins University in the United States (and 2,080 in Nigeria).

The comparable figures in mid-August were 10,600 and 950 respectively. It does not require a statistician to notice that the rate of acceleration between the two data points differs greatly but it does require one to scrutinize the methodology in both cases.

On the surface, there are a few reasons to look at the two countries together. The unemployment rates in Q4 2020 were comparable: 32.5 per cent in South Africa and 33.3 per cent in Nigeria.

Organized labour is looking to block government efforts to lessen the fiscal costs of COVID-19: in South Africa, this has been with several measures in 2021/22 (April-March) national budget such as sub-inflation increases in social grants, and in Nigeria, it has been evident in the debate around fuel subsidies.

Labour is particularly powerful in South Africa because the trades union umbrella group is in informal alliance with the ruling African National Congress.

The damage to the economy has been far greater in South Africa because of its openness, which is evident in its large tourism sector and related international transport connections. It contracted by -7.0 per cent in 2020, compared with -1.9 per cent in Nigeria. At the same time, the recovery is stronger.

In Q4 the economy grew by 1.5 per cent year-on-year and Nigeria’s by just 0.1 per cent.

Budget assumptions for growth for the current year would indicate a similar recovery (3.3 per cent for South Africa for 2021/22 and 3.0 per cent for Nigeria). However, we feel that the numbers are overly optimistic.

The monetary response in South Africa has been textbook, with rate cuts of 300bps since early 2020. Inflation has remained within its formal target range. The Reserve Bank opted for a ‘hold’ last week when some analysts called for tightening (like Turkey and Brazil) in the face of pressure on the exchange rate and rising yields on US Treasuries.

The monetary policy committee in Nigeria cut (by 100bps last year) but faced a different policy dilemma. It was also responding to the brutal impact of the virus and lockdowns on growth but against a backdrop of inflation rising far above its informal reference range.

The Central Bank of Nigeria has its own ‘heterodox’ exchange-rate arrangements and the economy is less integrated in terms of international financial flows. The direction of Nigerian monetary policy is more difficult to call.

In one respect, Nigeria will not envy its South African counterpart, which fell into the trap (popular with European governments) of setting targets for its vaccination programme. The government pledged to achieve COVID-19 immunity, which it judges to be a 67 per cent vaccination rate in the full population, by end-2021.

A new deadline of February 2022 is currently being questioned, and the media are pursuing other leads that are critical of the South African government (the pace of the rollout for the country’s health workers and delivery on a vaccine supply agreement with a United States’ manufacturer).

Gregory Kronsten is the Head of Macroeconomic and Fixed Income Research at FBNQuest

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Niger Delta, NHRC and PIB

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Niger Delta

By Jerome-Mario Utomi

I never had expected that opinion articles about the Niger Delta, a region bedevilled by tremendous odds with an improbable chance of survival, will precisely in a space of four days come from me in this quick succession as I have other pressing concerns to comment on.

But this particular one stems from a reaction by a reader to the earlier one entitled Why Niger Delta is troubled. The piece, which had the resonated chant of a crude oil spill in Polobubo/Opuama Communities, Warri North Local Government Area of Delta as its central plot, among other things, classified the critical issues confronting the region as follows.

First, the existence of multiple but an absolute regulatory framework that characterises the oil and gas exploration and production in Nigeria and fuels International Oil Companies (IOCs’) reluctance to adhere strictly to the international best practices as it relates to their operational environment.

Secondly, the unwillingness of successive administrations to identify the Niger Delta as a troubled spot that must be regarded as a special area for purposes of development-as recommended by the colonial government long before independence.

While commending efforts made by the people of Polobubo/Opuama community, particularly lawyers under the umbrella of the Gbaramatu Lawyers Association (Gbaramatu Oloutomo-Abu Gbolei), who in an open letter dated March 8, 2021, issued a 14-day ultimatum to the owners of the facility to address the present challenge, the said reader (mentioned above) lamented that such efforts will continue to be frustrated by both national and foreign media as they will not accord it the needed attention/prominence.

He, therefore, advised that to make such an effort most rewarding, the community should approach/ petitions National Human Right Commission (NHRC).

NHRC, he explained, was established by the National Human Right Act 1995, to; create an enabling environment for extra-judicial recognition, promotion, protection and enforcement of human rights, in addition to providing a forum for public enlightenment and dialogue on human rights while facilitating the implementation of Nigeria’s various international and regional treaty obligations on human rights issues.

Though I was totally disoriented by his position on the National Human Rights Commission, I tried not to betray my disagreement with such position. Alas! I could not pretend for too long that I was flowing for he soon observed the utter confusion and frustration raging in my mind.

To douse the nagging helplessness enveloping me as regards his suggestion about going to NHRC, I explained to him that the reservation in my view does not reflect a lack of respect for the Commission. Rather, it is predicated on the memories of their not too deeds towards the region which about a year ago formed a similar intervention, entitled; Re-thinking the National Human Rights Commissions (NHRC) roles in the Niger Delta.

As a background, the plight of the people of the Niger Delta region explains a painful consequence of prostrated neglect and low investments in the region by our leaders and in order words, act as an essential step towards understanding action-decision, or error of judgment that currently perpetuates poverty, consolidates powerlessness and promotes restiveness in the region.

In the same vein, there are many institutional failures that have kept the region on its knees.

But among these failures, the inability of the National Human Rights Commission to rise onto its constitutional responsibility to the people of the region. A failure that has resulted in the generation of misinformation, disinformation, innuendos, falsehood and outright assault on reason(s) fuelling the backward nature of the Niger-Delta regions.

Notably, so many families in the region have witnessed so many disappointing moments as a result of the government’s insensitivity. The government on its part has made so many speeches and excuses without adopting or abiding by the basic principles that helped other nations grow in social cohesion or through equitable sharing of benefits from the mineral deposits from the region.

And in the face of these verifiable violations and deprivations, the National Human Rights Commission failed to inform the government that it is only through equity, justice, and restructuring of the nation that the country would enjoy economic and social progress that flows from stability.

The stunning thing about the commission’s inaction is that it is happening when the global community is aware that communal rights to a clean environment and access to clean water supplies are being violated in the region, with aquifers and other water supply sources being adversely affected by industrial or other activities without the communities being adequately compensated for their losses. And the oil industry by its admission has abandoned thousands of polluted sites in the region which need to be identified and studied in details.

Shockingly ‘interesting’ is that despite the not too impressive performance of NHRC, The commission is not without supporters.

While many argue that the commission cannot be blamed for environmental woes resulting from oil exploration and production in the Niger Delta region as the agency cannot investigate without complaint or petition from either group or individual- as wading in without invitation amounts to descending into the arena.

Some expressed the views that the plight of the Niger Deltans resulting from faulty/weak legal framework should be directed to the National Assembly as the commission is not the legislative arm of the government.

To others, expecting the commission to enforce compliance will translate to waiting till eternity as they are neither staffed with security operatives like the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) nor equipped with technical knowledge like the Federal Ministry of environment, to detect when organisations are not applying international best practices in their operations.

Though clear enough, this point cannot hold water when faced with a number of embarrassing facts.

Fundamentally, separate from the belief that ‘the environment is as important to the nation’s well-being as the economy and should deserve similar attention, their arguments remain sophistry looking at the functions and powers of the commission as provided in Section 5 of its enabling Act.

It provides that the commission shall deal with all matters relating to the promotion and protection of human rights as guaranteed by the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and other human rights instruments to which Nigeria is a party; Monitor and investigate all alleged cases of human rights violations in Nigeria and make appropriate recommendation to the federal government for the prosecution and such other actions as it may deem expedient in each circumstance. And assist victims of human rights violation to seek appropriate redress and remedies on their behalf.

Admittedly, NHRC may not have the power to make laws as argued by some commentator, but it can engineer people-purposed oil exploration and production regime by collaborating with the National Assembly through sponsorship of Bills and Memoranda; NHRC may be technically disempowered to investigate or detect operators non-adherence to the international best practice, but have the power to productively partner with other government Ministries and agencies that perform this task both effectively and efficiently; the Commission may not be capped with the task force to enforce standards, but can assist communities where such violation has taken place with legal actions against such violator. The vitality of such support will enrich litigation in favour of the communities; deepen the respect for the Commission among the operators while lifting litigation cost from communities.

There are other similar but separate examples.

Without going into specifics, concepts, provisions and definitions, it’s been identified that oil exploration and production in Nigeria are guided by so many laws. Yet, available data and our mind’s eye testify that these laws/Acts in question are no longer achieving their purpose.

Against this backdrop, Nigerians would have expected NHRC as a responsive and responsible organization to ask; if truly these laws are fundamentally effective and efficient, why are they not providing a strong source of remedy for individuals and communities negatively affected by oil exploration and production in the coastal communities as the lives of the people in that region currently portrays? If these frameworks exist and have been comprehensive as a legal solution to the issues of oil-related violations, why are they not enforceable?

While the watching world expects answers to these questions, this piece, believes that signing the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) and not NHRC will save the region.

To explain this fact, going by what industry watchers are saying, the Bill, if passed to law, will engineer the development of host communities in ways that entail all-encompassing improvement, brings a process that builds on itself and involves both individuals and social change. Attracts growth and structural change, with some measures of distributive equity, modernization in social and cultural attitudes, foster a degree of transformation and stability, bring an improvement in health and education and an increase in the quality of lives and employment of the people.

This claim is ‘more pronounced in sections on community relations provisions such as Section 241 which among other provisions mandates that Settlors (a holder of an interest in a petroleum prospecting licence or petroleum mining lease or a holder of an interest in a licence for midstream petroleum operations, whose area of operations is located in or appurtenant to any community or communities) shall incorporate a trust for the benefit of the host communities.

The constitution of each host community development trust, the bill added, shall provide that the applicable host community development trust fund be used exclusively for the implementation of the applicable host community development plan.

There is also another ingrained way of how the Bill will assist in clearing the Augean Stable in the Niger Delta. This has to do with the Prohibition of Gas Flaring in section 104. Going by its provisions, the Bill in a bid to fulfil its obligations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and similar conventions, demands strict adherence to a gas flaring plan.

A licensee or lessee, it explained, producing natural gas is expected to, within 12 months of the effective date; submit a natural gas flare elimination and monetization plan to the commission, which shall be prepared in accordance with regulations made by the commission under this Act. A Licensee or Lessee who fails to adhere to the provision shall pay a penalty prescribed pursuant to the Flare Gas (Prevention of Waste and Pollution) Regulations.

With these and other provisions, there is no doubt that if the Federal Government is interested in serving and saving the people of the Niger Delta region, they are left with no other option than to pass and sign the PIB to law.

Since its objectives will foster sustainable prosperity within host communities and provide direct social and economic benefits from petroleum operations to host communities while enhancing peaceful and harmonious co-existence among licensees or lessees and host communities.

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 or 08032725374.

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