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OPINION

Sensational Social Media “Journalism” and its impact on legitimate business concerns: Recent travails of FCMB, GTBank and First Bank

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On June 25, 2018 I woke up to yet another social media trend – a news story with the bold and quite salacious headline “How Safe Are Customer Deposits At FCMB?” had taken over the digital airwaves. Between the shares and likes and comments, a storm in a cup had brewed to great proportions in a matter of hours. Yet again, a demonstration that the basic ethics of responsible journalism and ethical reporting have been thrown away in business and, indeed, everyday life.

In writing the article, the author had made detailed reference to alleged cases of fraud involving staff of FCMB and went ahead to imply that perhaps the bank’s depositors funds are unsafe.

It is quite of great concern to see so-called professionals go to town with such alarming headlines, with the full knowledge that most Nigerians will not bother to read the actual details. It is indeed of greater concern that this sort of material was released in the way it was, when by his own admission, the author had received specific information from the bank about its financial performance and ability to remain a growth driven and existentially sustainable institution.

I do not have an account with FCMB, neither am I in any way connected to the bank or its principals. I, however, do have the simple capacity to read between the lines and remove chaff from substance.

In the first place, for FCMB to have increased its shares in Legacy Pension to make it a full-fledged subsidiary as reported in this article, it means the bank is forward-thinking and focused on both diversifying and improving its service offerings and earnings. That’s a bold move, when you consider that the Pensions industry in Nigeria has the potential to be bigger than the banking industry in another decade or so.

But even more interesting is the fact that by his very own article, the author admitted that FCMB’s deposits grew to N689.9billion as at the end of December 2017, an increase of 5%, from N657.6billion in the corresponding year. Do customers increase their deposit in a bank they have fears over or which is on the brink? Is it not only logical that customers are only likely to increase deposits in a bank where they enjoy good service and feel at home? For a fact, I know that the KPMG Banking Industry Customer Satisfaction Survey 2017 placed FCMB in 5th position in the entire Nigerian banking industry in Retail Banking, SME Banking and Wholesale Banking. That’s no mean feat when you take into account the number of operators in the industry.

I think what stumped me the most is the fact that by his own article, the author let us in on key financial metrics of FCMB, including the fact that FCMB reported a gross revenue of N169.9 billion and a profit before tax (PBT) of N11.5billion, while profit after tax (PAT) was N9.4billion.

At face value, it seems to me that the author for reasons best known to him or her was determined to demarket FCMB and portray it in the most negative light possible. I do not dispute the possibility that there were some fraudulent activities – afterall, there is no smoke without fire and that tends to ring through more in Nigeria than elsewhere. However, this is an industry challenge – the Managing Director of the Nigerian Inter-Bank Settlement System (NIBSS) Adebisi Shonubi (who a few weeks ago was nominated a Deputy Governor of Nigeria’s Central Bank) recently shared some startling statistics on fraud in Nigeria’s banking industry, revealing the number of reported fraud cases in Nigerian Banks had steadily risen from 1,461 in 2014 to 10,743 in 2015, 19,531 in 2016 and 25,043 in 2017. It has been argued that frauds in the Banks are not alien. In the United States of America it has been said, with compromised credit cards and data breaches often in the news in the past couple of years, fraud is top of mind with many people.

This deliberate attempt to demarket FCMB for reasons best known to the author also brings to mind the most recent attack on GTBank over the Innoson case.

It is not to be forgotten how earlier this month, social media went agog with news that a court had directed GTBank to pay 12 billion naira to Innoson Group, one of its clients with whom it has had a long-standing court battle. The misleading reports on social media had extremely sensational headlines such as “Court Orders GTBank To Pay 14bn To Innoson”; “GTBank Must Pay Innoson 14Bn Within 14 Days”; “GTBank In Trouble As Court Orders Payment of 14bn to Innoson”.

It was such a terrible jamboree on social media that there were certain broadcasts sent across Whatsapp and other social media asking people to withdraw their funds from GTBank immediately, on the premise that the bank would go bankrupt after payment of N14bn to Innoson. Of course, Nigerians will not pause to ask whether paying N14bn in settlement can actually cripple a bank that is widely considered Nigeria’s biggest bank brand and clearly, one of the most solid financial behemoths within the African continent. Nobody stops to ponder. The fact that this latest melee was a result of seemingly deliberate attempts to smear the GTBank brand raises more suspicion about the recent publication on the same online platforms questioning the safety of depositors funds with FCMB.

The GTBank vs Innoson saga has so terribly deteriorated on the account of sensational journalism and reportage, that it has taken an ugly ethnic dimension amongst the unlearned. Thus, on various online communities and platforms in Nigeria, you see Nigerians taking sides on the basis of GTBank being a “Yoruba company” and Innoson being an “Igbo company”. What a sad reality for a nation!

First Bank of Nigeria also witnessed the harsh and merciless bite of sensational reporting when recently there was commotion over the contempt judgement against the Bank and some of its key officials in the case Chief Isaac Osaro Agbara & 9 Ors. v. Shell Petroleum Development Ltd, Shell International Petroleum Ltd and Shell International Exploration and Production BV. Before fact could be removed from fiction, so many broadcasts and “breaking news” articles had surfaced online, all leading with headlines that were designed to damage and not just state the facts.

To make progress as a country and support businesses to thrive, this approach must be arrested. Must we sensationalize everything just so we can earn readership and our 5 minutes of fame, to the detriment of businesses and companies that provide livelihood for thousands of families across Nigeria? I think not.

Even where we need to address real matters arising, surely, the reporting can be more facts-based and less about blackmail and demarketing. As my Yoruba friends have a saying in their language “Even if they sent you on the errand as a slave, deliver the message as a free born”. Crying wolf falsely too many times has serious downsides. Social media credibility is extremely important for the dissemination of relevant, topical, up to date and authentic information. Using it constantly as a vehicle to settle scores, blackmail and seek for attention will ultimately harm the reputation of not only the charlatans in that field but also the real professionals. The fake news toga will be cast on all. That will be a big shame. Freedom presupposes responsibility. Freedom devoid of responsibility is excessive liberty.

These institutions need protection and we really need to stop portraying ourselves to the rest of the world as people always thinking of fraud and sleight of hand strategies to make ill-gotten wealth. There are many honest and hardworking people all over Nigeria. We deserve better than these constant sensational but fake so called ‘investigative’ write ups.

*Emefulenwanne Ibeayoka is a public analyst writing from Abuja

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OPINION

DSO Nigeria: Beyond Devil’s Advocates​,​ by Hamid Hendrix

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Freedom without responsibility continues to pose a great challenge to the realization of the full potentials of our democratic dispensation and it is rather unfortunate that foremost beneficiaries of such liberty are too often also the major culprits. Though measures have been taken to curb the excesses of abusers of civil liberties it is obvious that the more needs to be done to safeguard public interest.

One area where this menace continues to rear its ugly head is in the rowdy ranks of human rights advocacy groups which were once credited with facilitating the successful liberation of several African nations from the scourge of oppressive military regimes but are now becoming misfits in democratic settings due to loss of focus and desperation to remain relevant.

Rather than shifting their attention from the initial agenda of campaigning for democracy to the equally relevant aspects of ensuring free and fair elections and dividends of democracy, several of the advocacy groups have been overtaken by pecuniary impulses that turned them into rentable rabble-rousers, willingly lending themselves to the begrudged and disgruntled elements. Such groups end up mired in miscellaneous advocacy of discordant diatribes as they drift into charlatanism under the counterfeit canopy of human rights advocacy.

A typical example of such mischievous misadventures masquerading as human rights advocates is the recent statement issued by Human Rights Writers Association (HURIWA) claiming that “under the President’s nose a minister allegedly mismanaged N2 billion from the National Broadcasting Commission for digitisation of broadcasting but till now both the minister of information and DG of NBC are walking the corridors of power free.”

This single sentence of spurious speculation casting unsubstantiated aspersions on the unblemished reputation of the Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed and the Director-General of the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission (NBC), Malam Ishaq Modibbo Kawu and attempting to discredit the highly–rated successful switch over to digital broadcasting (DS0) in Nigeria was purported to be an exercise in human rights advocacy ! Incredulously, this fabricated defamation was an isolated insertion lacking relevance or corroboration in a libellous list of politically-motivated wild allegations against the person and administration of President Muhammadu Buhari contrived by one Emmanuel Onwubiko, coordinator of the so-called human rights group.

It is manifestly outlandish to portray the deliberate misrepresentation of the nationally acclaimed resuscitation and diligent implementation of the previously paralysed DSO project and callous assassination of the character of the two government functionaries responsible for such an achievement as a human rights infringement, just as it is absurd to smear the hitch-free scheduled switch over to digital broadcasting across the country with the brush of “mismanagement” of a bogus two billion naira. These malicious distortions of verifiable facts amount to gross violations of the principle of public accountability, which is a fundamental right of citizens in a democracy.

To set the records straight, it is worth recalling that the DSO was formally launched in Jos, Plateau State, in April 2016, followed by the FCT, Ilorin, Kaduna, Enugu and Osogbo while the process of installation of equipment for the roll out in Gombe and Delta states have reached advanced stages. The NBC expects to achieve DSO roll out in 12 states soon. This impressive performance was the outcome of zealous commitment of Minister Lai Mohammed and NBC DG Modibbo Kawu to break the four-year jinx that stalled the project prior to the debut of the Buhari Administration’s change agenda.

For HURIWA to single out this glorious chapter in the remarkable record of progress in the nation’s broadcast industry for a vicious vendetta is a pathetic pointer to the ulterior motives that have hijacked the group and falsified its declared mission. In fact, a cursory review of its recent outings reveals a revolting surrender to the most ridiculous and irrational advocacies imaginable, such as campaigning against the ban on production of the much abused codeine cough syrups because it has “led to great financial misfortunes for over 30 legitimate pharmaceutical companies,” urging the Federal Government “not to stop expectant women and nursing mothers from participating in National Youth Service Corps (NYSC),” appealing to “ the government of the United States and the European Union to impose sanctions on Nigeria” and dismissing the terrorist classification of Nnamdi Kanu’s IPOB “ as a charade and a plot to initiate violent crackdown on the members of this substantially unarmed and peaceful group”.

Even the EFCC has dismissed the occasional anti-corruption posturing of HURIWA as “ethnic and political agenda by some mischief makers masquerading as human rights writers” in one of its rebuttals of the pseudo human rights advocacy group’s capricious campaigns. This was also endorsed by Emmanuel Otairu of the Centre for International and Strategy Studies, Abuja whose article titled “HURIWA As IPOB’s NGO Arm” in The Nation edition of September 18, 2017 concluded that it was “ a tool for extortion, paid activism, ethnic propaganda mouthpiece and most recently a terror organization’s NGO arm”. The steadily expanding coverage of the DSO in Nigeria under the diligent implementation of Information Minister Lai Mohammed and DG NBC Ishaq Modibbo Kawu has surely switched off anomalous advocacy groups like HURIWA along with analogue noise.

-​ HAMID HENDRIX is a communications writer in Abuja

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OPINION

Repositioning the NNPC and Baru’s knack for openness

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By Kingsley Ukah 
It will take a great deal of sustained and concerted reforms to ensure that the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) runs effectively and efficiently in line with global best practices; and for it to serve, without interruptions, the common good of Nigerians.

For decades, the oil corporation has consistently been in the bad books of Nigerians who see it as a behemoth that has been appropriated by successive administrations to service political interests and private ends.

However, the decision of the NNPC Group Managing Director (GMD), Dr. Mikanti Baru, to continually open up the corporation for public appraisal and promote transparent and accountable management is novel in the ecology of the Federal Government’s anti-corruption crusade. Baru is committed to seeking strategic partnership where necessary in a deliberate bid to erase the negative perception that the NNPC cannot achieve the desired results or apply standard best practices in operations.

There is no doubt that leadership is key to every organisation that seeks to succeed. Since coming on board, the GMD has committed himself to doing things that will give the corporation a positive outlook. But one must quickly admit that it is not always easy turning things around in a corporation where corruption has been entrenched and reforms frustrated for years. But what is going well for Baru is his willingness to take on challenges and search for solutions. Apparently, that is why he is succeeding.

That Baru has chosen not to grandstand over the recurring question on the actual volume of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS), popularly known as petrol, being consumed in the country, says much about his ability to be above the fray.

He has not been imprudent in his disposition. He has not created any ballyhoo over the matter that has been understandably politicized.  There is a sense in which the management of the nation’s oil sector has become a political decision under the watch of successive federal government.

But credit must be given to the exceptional leadership and sincerity of purpose that Baru has brought to bear in the management of the NNPC presently. For instance, as part of its expanding strategic partnership, it is a welcome development that corporation has agreed to work with the World Bank and the Federal Ministry of Finance to finally lay these decades of concern about the opacity in the public finance management of the subsector in which the corporation plays a very significant role to a rest.

It gladdened the heart when I heard the Chief Operating Officer (COO) Downstream, NNPC, Mr. Henry Obih, say that the decision of the corporation to abide by the directive of the National Executive Council (NEC) to work with the finance ministry and world bank to finally unravel this mystery.  That such efforts have been frustrated in the pas attests to the financial discipline that President Muhammadu Buhari has inculcated into governance. On this score, the leadership of Baru has demonstrated its support for the president’s philosophy of prudent financial management. He has shown by his disposition that he has nothing to hide.

In a widely reported Nigerian Oil and Gas Conference and Exhibition held recently in Abuja, the NNPC COO, said that: We (the NNPC) are presently in a joint project with the Federal Ministry of Finance. We are doing a study around consumption to determine the actual consumption by the people. He explained that “we have to put it on scale to see what we call the daily load or the evacuation, as against the actual consumption, that is, what people go to the pump every day to buy for their cars and generators at homes and for other uses.”

Obih said: “This is why the National Economic Council has mandated that we work with the Federal Ministry of Finance. We also had meetings with the World Bank about six weeks ago, and we are trying to progress in a global study that would help us get around the actual numbers of what we consume in Nigeria.”  This is forward-looking. While awaiting the outcome of the tripartite investigation, it is equally good that the NNPC has chosen to set some records straight against the backdrop of the ongoing campaign of calumny sponsored largely by the mafia in the sector.

Different consumption figures had been put out there in the social media to deceive the unsuspecting public. This tripartite intervention should, in the interim, put to rest the associated concerns while the investigation will, expectedly, assuage the frayed of Nigerians. Meantime, in terms of daily truck out from depots around the country and in terms of the records of the Petroleum Product Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA) and the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) the NNPC trucked out 48 million litres daily in 2016 and 50 million litres in 2017.

The problem of rising volume of fuel is compounded by cross-border smuggling, because Nigeria remains the cheapest source of PMS in the West African sub-region. Unfortunately, Nigeria has a network of oil mafia that cuts across the entire chains of oil businesses in the country.  The mafia group is very big and powerful and has been operating for decades. It is also feeding fat on segments of the country’s pipeline network. It will take consistent and persistent efforts to defeat the oil cartel. At every point, it is fighting back and this has made the work of the Baru-led NNPC a little bit more difficult.

Obih, confirmed the challenges facing the corporation. Read him: “But again, one significant challenge is the fact that we have cross-border smuggling. Nigeria remains the cheapest source of PMS in the West African sub-region. All our neighbouring countries are selling at over 200 per cent high of the price that we pay at the pump. We have challenges in the pipelines that run through land, specifically, the System 2B, for instance; the one that runs around Lagos. It remains a big challenge, because there is a mafia that lives and feeds on those pipelines.

But it is not entirely bad news about the NNPC. Good things are happening under Baru as revealed by the COO, especially in the area of Joint Venture cash call payments. According to him, “What is heartening this year is that we can, at least, say that in a couple of the areas, we can see attempt to address them. For as long as I have been in this industry, we have been discussing cash calls as a never-ending issue. I think we were able to sit down together as an industry and government to try and tackle that issue and we should not underrate the importance of that.

“What is of significant today is that argument is off the table. For the first time, we finished a year without NNPC owing cash calls. That just essentially opens up the appetite. What that has done is that it opens up the appetite to have a conversation about investment. Nigeria is competing for capital with every other country in the world and sometimes we forget that and think that we are world unto ourselves, but the reality is that each of these companies operates in 20, 30, 80 countries and people are competing for capital. The whole JV process, we all need to put our hands on the plough to ensure it does not derail. We cannot take it for granted that we have a funding structure that works and assume it will continue to work.”

It is incumbent on Nigerians, especially stakeholders who have been yearning, over the years, for the NNPC to truly deliver on its mandate, to support the ongoing process to reposition the corporation. Baru can deliver with the right support and climate. However, the NNPC must now ensure that a strong technology-driven mechanism is put in place to ensure the real-time monitoring of the pattern of consumption in the country. This is what should engage attention and not petty issues that distract.

Ukah wrote in from Lagos
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OPINION

Managing crises: The Lagos example, by David Adegoke

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An oil truck explosion of apocalyptic magnitude occurs in Lagos, fatally charring a frightening number of lives and maiming several others. Many more vehicles are burnt, some to ashes, with scores of stampeding citizens severely bruised in the process. Pronto, denizens of social media go into action, sending pictorial, video and textual coverage of the gory scenes into the virtual space.

Soon, the phones of Nigerians begin buzzing with calls and messages from anxious compatriots in the diaspora eager to know the whereabouts of their loved ones in the country. Are they caught in the blaze? Are they close to the area of the accident? Are they safe? Where no immediate response follows, there is an urgent request to send back a message to reassure the agitated inquirer.

But in the midst of this bedlam, something else causes a stir: the sudden appearance of the governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, within hours of the tragedy, attired in simple short sleeves and trousers looking like jeans. Those around are surprised. Why? There are two reasons: Nigerians are not used to seeing their leaders arrive at locations of disasters just moments after such mishaps break.

Secondly, because he isn’t dressed in suit or agbada which is the ‘uniform’ of their leaders, there is more curiosity surrounding the presence of the man. Word goes around that Ambode has got to the scene without notice, without fanfare. That swells the crowd of onlookers. The entire development deepens the bond between the led and the leader who would make a difference in governance by his acuity of empathy when the people are bereaved.

A governor may build great bridges and roads along with other physical infrastructure. That would put him at par with others who do so too. A leader may deliver moving speeches such as the Gettysburg Address by US Civil War President Abraham Lincoln. But he would only be in the circle of other orators like the ancient Roman senator and late President Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana. None of these distinguishes him from the pack. You don’t excel if you walk the beaten track; history would trap you among the ‘also-ran’ group. It’s a footnote category, hardly reckoned with on the pages of a country’s annals.

When he showed up at the scene of sorrow, blood and tears (to quote the lyrics of one of legendary Fela’s songs), Ambode brought both hope, comfort and lessons in empathetic leadership that is missing in our clime. Assessing the situation, the governor commiserated with the victims and took solace in ‘’the fact (his government’s prompt response) was able to save more lives’’. He added: ‘’We will continue to do our best and ensure that we mitigate things of this nature in future…Nobody knows when this kind of incident will happen next but the most important thing is that our response time should be up and running and able to save lives.’’

Observers have commended the Lagos administration for putting in place a disaster management infrastructure that made it possible for rescue trucks to get to the scene within 10 minutes. This was fast, according to experts, who argue that given our environment and the choked traffic of the hour the casualty statistics would have been astronomical, exceeding the nine lives lost and over 50 vehicles burnt.

Truly, it could have been worse with a fuel truck carrying 33000 litres of PMS on the loose that fateful evening. “’That was death on the prowl,’’ as a commentator Tope Ajayi put it, even while he advised Ambode to continue to invest more in the personnel and agencies saddled with accident response functions. And seeing how the Lagos model has worked quite efficaciously, the writer admonishes that ‘’other states should learn from Lagos.’’

But as we said at the beginning, if you had all these security and rescue paraphernalia in place without a human face, you’d end running a normal system, undistinguished by the exceptional touch that makes a difference. That evening the Lagos State governor provided the uniqueness we need in leadership and governance in Nigeria.

Ify Onyegbule, a well known radio presenter in Lagos, captured the superlative performance of Ambode in these hardly exaggerative terms on her Facebook timeline: ‘’ If you ask me, I think AkinwunmiAmbode would do well as Nigeria’s President! He didn’t wait till morning before going to the scene of the disaster. He never went to put on his danshiki and buba plus fila to go there just so he looks nice on camera. He never asked that a red carpet be spread so he can walk on it at the scene.

Ambode didn’t get there blaming the tanker parked or the danfo thatthe brakes failed! In fact the presidency needs to come and the Lagos model…quote me on this! Enough of all the rubbish going on in Nigeria!’’

Our leaders must not pride themselves in adulation when they provide us the dividends of democracy as we often term them. No doubt we shall always hail them when they do so. But there is more to administering human beings, just as there is more to being a father in the home than merely supplying money for the upkeep of the family. How about meeting the emotional demands of the wife and children, which represent the fiber holding the home? Nigerians, like the spouse and her children, only honour the male head of family they can identify with.

They don’t cherish a distant leader, as it were. Of course, they expect he must fend for them. But the point is that he must be there, or show up for them at a short notice, notably when they are grieving. At that stage, nothing else matters, not even the multi-billion naira state-of-the-art projects you may have given them!

Ambode’s succinct understanding of these dynamics of leadership is what is earning him accolades.
But we should realise that in the long run, greater applause is for the government of which Ambode is a member. For, he without an equally committed group of administrators would have earned little praise. He has an accompaniment of capable accident management and rescue agencies that performed a yeoman’s job last week on Otedola Bridge.

What is the lesson here? Government must build on that success by strengthening such institutions for the security and welfare of the people of the state as they are poised to stand the burgeoning status of Lagos as Africa’s foremost megacity of our era. In other words, it is durable institutions of state that accord honour to government. That was what enabled us all to salute the Lagos government last week.

*Adegoke, a journalist, wrote from Surulere.

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