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The Niger Delta, Changing Narratives

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Niger Delta

By Jerome-Mario Utomi

Aside from being perceived as backward and degraded, occasioned by crude oil exploration, exploitation and production, the Niger Delta region means different things to different people.

To some, it is a region where the communal right to a clean environment and access to clean water supplies is being violated in the Niger Delta. By its admission, the oil industry has abandoned thousands of polluted sites in the region which need to be identified and studied in detail. Aquifers and other water supply sources which are being adversely affected by industrial or other activities need to be recovered while communities are adequately compensated for their losses.

To others, it symbolizes a location where the government, employs a non-participatory approach to development/broad-based consultative approach that strips the people of the Niger Delta their sense of ownership over their own issues, where the government and other Nigerians failed to see the problem of the Niger Delta as a national one and not restricted to the region.

To the rest, it is a zone where fierce war has been raging between ethnic and social forces in Nigeria over the ownership and control of oil resources in the Niger Delta. And as a direct result, a long dark shadow has been cast on efforts to improve the wellbeing and economic development of the region’s individuals, peoples, and communities.

However, looking at recent developments particularly as it affects the region; it will not be described as hasty to say that the narrative is changing.

Out of many, this piece will concentrate on two.

First is the passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) by both Houses after seventeen years of back-and-forth movement on the Bill. And recently, precisely on Monday, August 16, 2021, signed into law by President Muhammadu Buhari.

A Bill, now an Act that provides legal, governance, a regulatory and fiscal framework for the Nigerian Petroleum Industry and development of host communities. It contains 5 Chapters, 319 Sections and 8 Schedules.

The second development has to do with the recent declaration/revelation by Nigeria’s Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, in Lagos at the GbaramatuVoice Newspaper’s 6th Anniversary Lecture/Niger Delta Awards.

Beginning with the last, the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, among others, told the gathering that this administration was determined to see through to completion of all the critical projects embarked upon in the region.

In his words, “we have invested significantly in the Niger Delta as the region that holds the energy resources that have powered our progress for six decades as well as the keys to an emergent gas economy.

“In 2017, following my tour of the Niger Delta, which involved extensive consultations with key stakeholders in the region, the New Vision for the Niger Delta was birthed in response to the various challenges which had been plaguing our people.

“The objective of this New Vision is to ensure that the people of the region benefit maximally from their wealth, through promoting infrastructural developments, environmental remediation and local content development.

“We also have the Solar Power Naija Programme under the Administration’s Economic Sustainability Plan (ESP) which will complement the federal government’s effort towards providing affordable electricity access to 5 million households, serving about 25 million Nigerians in rural areas and under-served urban communities nationwide.”

At this point, the Vice President, who was represented by Senior Special Assistant to the President on Niger Delta Affairs, Office of the Vice President, Mr Edobor Iyamu, said something that looks more like a presentation of a scorecard.

He captured it this way; “Today, I am pleased to announce that the New Vision for the Niger Delta has begun to yield some tangible achievements. As part of the quest to expand economic opportunities in the region, this administration has promoted investments in modular refineries.

“The objective of this initiative is to address our present energy demands and empower the Niger Delta people through promoting local content. So far, 3 Modular Refineries have now been completed, these are the Niger Delta Petroleum Resources (NDPR) Modular Refinery in Rivers State; OPAC Modular Refinery in Delta State and Walter Smith Modular Refinery in Imo State, whilst there are several others at different stages of completion across the region.

“The remediation exercise happening in Ogoni land, under the recommendations of UNEP is another milestone we are proud to announce as an administration. The clean-up commenced in January 2019, with the handover of the first batch of sites to the selected remediation firms.

“A total of about 57 sites have so far been handed over to contractors by the Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP) under the Federal Ministry of Environment.

“It is important to note that the Ogoni clean-up is the first of its kind in the history of the Niger Delta. Indeed, this is the first time the federal government is directly involved in remediation activities within the region.

“We are equally committed to expanding infrastructure in the region. This includes the ongoing construction work on the 34-kilometres Bonny-Bodo Road/Bridge. This project, which was abandoned for decades, is a tripartite agreement between the federal government, Nigeria LNG Limited (NLNG) and Julius Berger Nigeria.

“When completed, the Bonny-Bodo Road/bridge, which was flagged off in October 2017, would connect several major communities and boost socio-economic development in the region.”

The Itakpe-Ajaokuta-Warri Rail Line project, which was commissioned by Mr President in September 2020, and has the capacity to handle both passengers and freight services, is connecting several communities and promoting commerce within the region.

The federal government is also developing a number of deep seaports across the region, including the Bonny, Warri and Ibom Deep Sea Ports, among other development projects such as the establishment of Export Processing Zones to boost economic activities.

In 2018, the National Universities Commission (NUC) approved the commencement of undergraduate degree programmes at the Nigerian Maritime University in Okerenkoko, Delta State.

President Buhari approved a N5 billion take-off grant to support this university, which happens to be situated in the great Gbaramatu Kingdom. The University currently has students spread across 13 undergraduate programmes in three Faculties, namely: Transport, Engineering and Environmental Management.

In terms of addressing concerns around public safety and social security in the region, while ensuring peace and stability in the region, the administration has, among other things, sustained its commitment to the Presidential Amnesty Programme under which youths and ex-agitators are engaged in formal education, vocational skills acquisition and empowerment programmes that offer a pathway towards productive and dignified livelihoods.

The cumulative effect of all these measures is certain to have a positive transformational impact on the Niger Delta and on the future of our nation as a whole. This path of progress and prosperity is one that we will pave by maintaining the partnerships between the administration, the leaders of the region and the communities. He concluded.

Away from Vice President’s comments to the recently passed/signed Petroleum Industry Act.  Among its content, Chapter 3 made far-reaching provisions for the Host community’s development.

The chapter, going by commentaries, demands that any oil prospecting licence or mining lease or an operating company on behalf of joint venture partners (settlor) is required to contribute 3% – 5% (upstream Companies) and 2% (other companies) of its actual operating expenditure in the immediately preceding calendar year to the host communities development trust fund. This is in addition to the existing contribution of 3% to the NDDC.

The board of trustees and executive members of the management committee may include persons of high integrity and professional standing who may not necessarily come from any of the host communities. Available funds it added are to be allocated 75% for capital projects, 20% as a reserve and 5% for administrative expenses.

Finally in my view, even as these developments appear alluring/ welcoming, the truth must be told to the effect that the people of the region are particularly not happy with the paltry 3/5% allocation to host communities by the new ACT.

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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Feature/OPED

How Retirement Can be Enjoyed, Not Endured: The Imperatives!

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Timi Olubiyi retirement

By Timi Olubiyi, PhD

The current landscape of retirement in Nigeria will change in the next couple of years as the ageing workforce is becoming increasingly visible in businesses, government, politics and in sports. Besides, with or without employment retirement phase will surely come for every individual.

However, persistent high rates of unemployment have been a serious concern in the country over the years, without any visible unemployment benefit, insurance or social policy. The reality is that many in this unemployment category will equally be reaching retirement age and will be transiting in a few years.

So, the impact of unemployment should be seen as long term and life-long, because it affects living standards even in retirement when active age and work-life has been passed with no palliatives or supports.

It is not uncommon for employees, politicians, entrepreneurs and the unemployed to live more than 20 years after the retirement age of 60years but the issue is usually the sustainability of wellbeing, livelihood, lifestyle, status, and social demands. The longer the time spent in retirement, the harder it becomes to be certain about the adequacy of resources to keep the livelihood and lifestyle going.

For those that care to know, individuals will need to have enough funds, assets that generate steady income, family support or investments saved to last even beyond 20 years.

Unfortunately, with a recent survey in Lagos State amongst the cluster of entrepreneurs and older adults majority may not have enough to meet and maintain their standard of living particularly livelihood, in an era of uncertainty, increasing inflation and harsh economic environments and much more at retirement.

This piece presents insights from business owners and businesses around Lagos State the economic capital of the country on retirement planning.

A follow-up survey in the Computer Village Ikeja area of the state was carried out, where respondents (entrepreneurs) indicated that they will only be willing to grow and expand their businesses at the expense of retirement planning, how ironic? Few mentioned that the only motivating factor that can increase their confidence in retirement is if their businesses succeed.

One of the key findings in the survey was that only a fraction of businesses are aware of the importance of pension and retirement plans. It was a stiff struggle identifying businesses with adequate arrangements of pension for staff, owner-manager or the business operator.

Even though a retirement plan through pension arrangements can help ensure that business owners and their staff have enough funds to live on in their later years, this all-important scheme is found missing in the majority of small businesses in Lagos State.

Recall small businesses are over 90% of existing businesses in the country and provide significantly for the majority of homes and families in terms of employment, sustainability and livelihood. Many entrepreneurs are so busy growing their businesses that they put off planning for retirement, this growing trend is not only worrisome but disturbing. Surprisingly as important as a retirement plan is, ageing business owners and operators rarely consider it imperative.

The survey further indicated that the majority of the businesses especially the self-employed do not have retirement savings plans, and 40% of business owners in the survey are not confident that they will be able to retire before the age of 65.

Nevertheless, the good news is that those small business owners have more options available to them than traditional 9 am to 5 pm office employees, yet this advantage is not explored. Because it presents an option of flexibility in the date of retirement.

Retirement can either be considered early or later, in some cases business owners might choose not to fully retire. The flexibility gives entrepreneurs the option to determine exactly when to stop working, yet the majority continue to operate without ceasing.

Indeed, according to the survey, 70% of the self-employed and entrepreneurs in computer village do not save regularly for retirement. The reason adjudge to this phenomenon is that they do not receive a steady salary pack, so many of these hardworking individuals forgo retirement plans. The survey further highlights that some of the small business owners have the mind of selling their businesses to fund their retirement and relocate to the village when the time arises.

However, the risk of this option is that entrepreneurs and small business owners can overestimate the value of their businesses and eventually run at a loss. Counting entirely on the sale of the business to fully fund a long retirement is highly risky due to unforeseen circumstances.

The survey also found that many business owners would appreciate guidance when it comes to retirement because they lack knowledge of it. It is important to note that before death, especially under normal conditions in life, there is a phase called old age; a period where entrepreneurs have almost exhausted intellectual values and strength. Consequently, there is a need to prepare for such a phase of life with adequate retirement planning and possibly business succession.

Retiring is a real-life changing phase with far-reaching implications, dreadful stories most entrepreneurs would not want to hear or discuss this reality but unfortunately, there is nothing one can do about it; it is bound to come one day. Business owners cited cost and lack of resources to administer the plan as the leading reasons why they do not have a retirement plan in place.

Please note if you are a small business owner reading this, you are likely busy running your business and have not had the time to research the best retirement option. While retirement may not be on your mind currently as an entrepreneur, the sooner you start planning for this all-important aspect of your business the better. Here are simple steps entrepreneurs and small business owners can take right now to prepare for retirement in my opinion.

A good start is by implementing the 10% rule which is a lot easier than you can comprehend. Achievable by simply setting up an auto-transfer system with your bank, that is automatically transferring 10% of all your earnings out of your business account into your savings account every month. Then you can place the accumulated fund into a low-risk investment at intervals and allow compounding interest to grow your fund.

This applies whether you are an entrepreneur or not. It is a simple trick to grow your wealth and support a retirement plan. Real estate investments can also help give succour in retirement, but professional guidance needs to be sought.

Another approach is to develop an exit strategy in your business, that is, have in mind right now what will happen to it when you retire, when you intend to eventually quit and set up strategies to guarantee retirement income. One other important factor to consider is what will happen to your business when you retire. Will you pass it on to family or sell the company to another business or owner? Will you have someone currently working for you take over?

A simple retirement model can give you a simple leeway, but you have to plan for it and stick to it. Because retirement age varies so drastically, small business owners need to evaluate their lifestyle, savings, and the company’s overall performance to determine an ideal retirement option.

In conclusion, a bit of research, adequate planning, and seeking advice can help with achievable retirement goals. A professional can also help streamline your business and help with the necessary details required to have a comfortable retirement. Good luck!

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

Dr Timi Olubiyi, an Entrepreneurship & Business Management expert with a PhD in Business Administration from Babcock University Nigeria. A prolific investment coach, seasoned scholar, Chartered Member of the Chartered Institute for Securities & Investment (CISI), and Securities & 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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Feature/OPED

5 Ways to Get Your House Dinner Party Ready

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Dinner Party

If you’re having friends over for drinks or a dinner party, try some of these tips to get your home ready before guests arrive.

Tidy up fast

If guests are simply popping in for drinks or having a quick meal, don’t worry about tidying up every nook and cranny. Just make sure the main areas that they’ll see and be moving around in, like the sitting room, kitchen and bathrooms, for example, are clean and neat. Declutter living spaces like the sitting room. Bookshelves are often the messy-looking clutter culprits, housing all kinds of knick-knacks and photos which somehow found their way to be among the books. Next, turn your attention to any other shelves, windowsills or table tops that need a quick clear out, so that the room feels clean and comfortable.

A time hack if you’ve had little, to no advance notice that guests are unexpectedly about to arrive, is to do a quick whip-around and tidy up by popping anything you don’t want on show into a laundry basket that you can hide in the cupboard. It may not be the most elegant solution, but it’s a fast one!

Sparkly clean 

You may not have noticed the accumulation of kids’ fingerprints on the walls, pet stains on the carpet and stubborn grimy marks in the oven. Now that you’re looking at your house through a guest’s eyes, the need to freshen things up suddenly takes top priority. Start off by making sure the area outside your front door is tidy and clean. Next, dust off all hanging lights, like pendants and chandeliers, and wipe light switches clean. In the kitchen, stack groceries neatly inside cupboards and wipe your oven interior down, just in case guests decide to come through to the kitchen to offer a helping hand.

If you really can’t afford any time to do these chores, be thankful that you live in the digital age. Save yourself major stress by hiring an efficient, trustworthy cleaner from SweepSouth Connect to get the house sparkly clean, or help with time-intensive things like windows, cabinets, the fridge and oven.

Decor hacks 

Try these quick decorating tips to create a dinner-party feel fast:

Your entrance area: Set the mood for guests as they walk in by placing a scented candle close to your front door. If you have a console table, turn it into the star of the show with a quick, but stunning display of different sized glass vases filled with flowers. For a party feel, lay a row of sparkly fairy lights on top for instant night-time glitz. 

Sitting room: Dress up your home with faux fur cushions and sumptuous fabric throws over the backs of couches. Next, find a corner where you can create a statement, and put a cake stand on top of a small table, adorned with tea-light candles and dainty flowers. 

Gorgeous little touches

Try these style ideas for instant effect:

  • Style your table in a flash. Raid your garden for some green foliage, slip it into napkin rings with crisp white serviettes, and put a name place card on top – easy!

  • Crafty? Place flowers on your table that you’ve given a light spray of craft glue to, then dip these into glitter.

  • Tie sprigs of greenery to the backs of chairs with a pretty ribbon. 

Time for treats

Easy entertaining tips for added glamour: 

  • Welcome hungry guests by readying a plate of little snacks on a console table as they arrive.

  • Serve your drinks from a silver or golden tray for a smart, glamorous touch. Tie coloured ribbons to the bottom of Champagne flutes – it will help guests keep track of their glasses.

  • Who doesn’t love an easy-to-create cheeseboard? Laying out the ingredients is simple and you can buy them ahead to store in the fridge for days. Wow guests with a variety of at least three different cheeses. A safe choice would be a rich blue cheese, a hard cheese (like an aged Gouda) and a creamy Brie or Camembert. Where there’s space on the board, pop in crackers, grapes, and nuts, and you have a cheese board that’s all-out fantastic.

Remember that a warm welcome and loving atmosphere will trump all else. Regardless of how prepared you are, or how much you have to offer guests, just put on a great playlist to set the mood, then relax and relish the evening.

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Diversifying into Foreign Assets – All You Need to Know

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Diversifying into Foreign Assets

By FBNQuest

Many Nigerian investors may think that investing in a foreign currency asset is an exotic venture for ultra-high-net-worth investors. On the contrary, diversifying into foreign currency assets may be easier than you think and offers both short-term and long-term benefits.

Over the past few years, a growing number of savvy investors are putting their money into vehicles that offer exposure to low-risk dollar assets. This allows them to better manage the currency risk associated with a volatile exchange rate. They are doing this by investing in instruments like Eurobonds.

Eurobonds are debt instruments that are denominated in a currency, such as the US dollar, other than the home currency of the country or market in which it is issued. Nigeria’s federal government and several companies have issued Eurobonds that are currently traded on international financial markets.

Though the Eurobond market was previously dominated by investors from large banks and financial institutions, it has now become more accessible to everyone. Individuals are able to invest in Eurobonds directly or indirectly by investing in mutual funds created for this purpose.

Among the main benefits of investing in Eurobonds is the diversification of your investment portfolio. It is never a good idea to put all your eggs in one basket, it is better to spread your investments across several asset classes or issuers.

In addition to the returns that you could potentially make from the investment, you also benefit from the protection against a possible depreciation of the naira relative to the US dollar. If the naira depreciates against the dollar, then the return that you make on your investment in a Eurobond actually increases in naira terms.

Investing in a Eurobond is a relatively medium-risk investment option for those seeking exposure to assets denominated in foreign currency. Eurobonds offer fixed coupons or interest payments. The return on the investment is, therefore, more predictable. What you can make from a Eurobond also beats the interest that you will earn in most dollar domiciliary accounts in Nigeria.

Consider the FBN Dollar Fund offered by FBNQuest. It is a medium to a long-term investment fund that provides income and capital appreciation by investing in US dollar-denominated instruments issued by the Nigerian government and reputable corporate institutions. It is well suited for and adaptable to any investor type. The Fund offers attractive returns, safety, and liquidity to investors.

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