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OPINION

The good news from Sovereign Wealth Fund, by James Ume

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Less than seven months after Audu Ogbeh, Minister of Agriculture promised the nation that the government was poised to crash fertilizer price down to N6,000 or below, tangible evidence has emerged that this is a promise kept.

Last Monday. Uche Orji, the ebullient Managing Director of the Nigerian Sovereign Investment Authority, NSIA, revealed that the Authority had put back to work 11 fertilizer blending plants across the country, adding over 6 million bags of NPK 20:10:10 to the current fertilizer production in the country.

This is cheering news for at least three reasons. The NSIA action has substantially crashed the price of fertilizer to below N6,000, something that was thought impossible earlier in the year. Second, it has also put an immediate end to the scandal-prone fertilizer subsidy and the non-accessibility of the product to farmers. Nigeria pays billions of Naira in fertilizer subsidy, yet farmers are either unable to access the product or buy far beyond the subsidized price.

Agro-dealers, in collusion with government officials have profited from a thriving fertilizer scam over the years that all efforts to reform fertilizer distribution in the country had been frustrated. Farmers, who are the end users of the product have groaned endlessly without any solution in sight. The results have been low yields and skyrocketing food prices.

Not only has middlemen been eliminated from the distribution chain, NSIA is delivering fertilizer at 30 percent below the market price without the government subsidising production. As fallout of this development, not less than 50,000 jobs had been created thereby reducing unemployment in the country.

The rehabilitation of six other moribund fertilizer blending plants across the country are at various stages of completion and are expected to become fully operational before the end of the year. By year end, this would add not less than 3 million additional bags of fertilizer to the current production level with the possibility of a further crash in the price of the product.

Directly resulting from this development is the saving of over N50 billion that would have gone into subsidy by this time of the year. The fertilizer initiative of the Authority has also assisted the government to conserve foreign exchange through the substitution of 65% components of the fertilizer with local content. This is remarkable, especially in view of the dwindling foreign reserve of the country.

The NSIA was set up to receive, manage and invest in a diversified portfolio of medium and long term, revenue of the Federal government, State government, Federal Capital Territory, Local government and Area Councils to prepare for the eventual depletion of Nigeria’s hydrocarbon resources for the development of critical infrastructure in Nigeria that will attract and support foreign investment, economic diversification, growth and job creation.

The government recently committed additional $500 million to the Sovereign Wealth Fund. This was announced by Acting President Yemi Osinbajo when he inaugurated the board of the Authority recently. Osinbajo charged the board to deploy the capital into projects that are in line with the administration’s key priority areas, namely: infrastructure and agriculture in order to improve the economy.

NSIA was established in 2011 with a start-up capital of $250 million sourced from the Excess Crude Account (ECA). The mandate of the Authority’s board is essentially to increase investment in local infrastructure, touching on agriculture infrastructure, power, toll roads, second Niger bridge as well as health care. The board reports to the National Economic Council, which is the governing council of the NSIA.

Perhaps much more than many government independent government agencies, the management of NSIA has demonstrated integrity, commitment and a unique sense of duty in delivering on its mandate. It is quietly but steadily making indelible impact in key sectors of the economy. Apart from the strides in fertilizer production, it is committing action on commodities exchange-a vital component of the government’s agricultural reform.

It is also stepping into the oil and gas, and is partnering with Delta and Akwa Ibom State governments on modular refineries in the Niger Delta to solve the problem of unemployment and youth restiveness. By the time the projects are completed, it has the potential to end agitations in the region. These and many others are key projects that would unlock the economic potential of the country and get it faster out of economic recession.

But inspite of all these sterling achievements, it is almost incredulous that NSIA has failed to blow its trumpet. But this may be a function of the leadership style of Uche Orji, NSIA’s Managing Director who is said to believe more in action than words, and who is of the strong view that good work speaks for itself.

But Lai Muhammed, Minister of Information, understandably and rightly disagrees with Orji. When he visited NSIA last Monday and learnt of the things the authority had done with the sovereign wealth fund, he was pleasantly shocked, and wondered why the management kept all that to itself. While commending the Fund for its intervention in the critical sectors of the economy, the Minister said the present administration has succeeded in breaking the jinx in fertilizer supply to farmers.

“You have done three major things here. One is that you have crashed the price of fertilizer and this in itself is very significant because what we have today is that for the cost of one bag of fertilizer, you can get two bags of fertilizer.

“When you now look at the improvement in the type of fertiliser that you are now making available, it has helped us to increase yield from about 2 metric tonnes per hectare to 7 metric tonnes and I think in some areas up to 11. More remarkable to me is that we have been able to demystify the fertilizer conundrum,” he said.

Alhaji Mohammed said the intervention by the Fund has also eliminated corruption and scandals in the procurement of fertilizer, and observed that the laudable efforts of the Fund in the area of Agriculture, infrastructure and health, are ground-breaking and pledged to partner with the Fund in order to publicize its activities.

But it is not just the minister of information that recognises the achievements of NSIA, it has also received regional and global recognition as an astute sovereign wealth fund manager. It received global recognition through its admission into the International Working Group of Sovereign Wealth Funds and was awarded the “African Sovereign Wealth Fund of the Year” by the Africa Investor magazine in 2013; and only recently it was awarded the “Most Innovative Sovereign Wealth Fund’ in the world by the internationally influential European CEO magazine.

Ume wrote in through james@channelkoos.com
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OPINION

Before you crucify Primate Ayodele, By Lukmon Akintola

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Those who know Primate Babatunde Elijah Ayodele would acknowledge that he is one of the finest prophets of God.

As far as prophesy is concerned, Ayodele, has been the most consistent, prophesying on both local and international fronts.

His prophesies that have come to pass are countless and as such it would be a waste of time reeling them out. However, for the sake of those just familiarizing themselves with the servant of God who leads the flocks of Inri Evangelical Spiritual Church both home and abroad, his prophesies includes demise of Oba Adeyinka Oyekan, death of General Sanni Abacha and the return of Olusegun Obasanjo as President.

Others are the reorganisation of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), the travails of the Lagos state governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, a loss in profit by social media platform Facebook, and attacks on camps of Internally Displaced People (IDP). Also, he did prophesied about about the sack of erstwhile Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun, and the death of Punch Newspapers Chairman, Gbadebowale Adeborin

His annually released collection of divine signals titled ‘Warnings To The Nations’ is verbosed on his prophesies, and till date remains one of the best collector’s item and reference point of call any day or time.

However, in recent times a misconception about a certain prophesy by the man of God involving the Senate President, Senator Bukola Saraki, has necessitated clarifications.

The spirit of God is necessary for the understanding of prophesies in some cases, while at other times common sense would suffice. One prophesy which has been consistently heard from Primate Ayodele remains his prophesy that “Only Saraki can up seat President Muhammadu Buhari if given the right support by Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)“. While there is no denying that the man of God had said this, there is the need to understand the meat of the prophesy. Primate Ayodele severally said “Only Saraki can up seat President Buhari if given the right support by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). He however didn’t make mention of the fact that he (Saraki) would win the PDP primaries, something which is currently being confused by a lot of people who have been trying to misconstrue the prophesy. Indeed, you have to win the primary election to be able to contest for the President.

While it might be easy to confuse both positions, they are indeed very clear cut and separate issues. There is a clear difference in the statement that “Only Saraki can up seat President Buhari if given the right support by PDP” and his winning the primaries. While the confusion has been ragging on for a while, it would make more sense if in February when the Presidential election hold Atiku Abubakar, the PDP candidate defeats President Buhari in the polls. Then, the talking point would be that the man of God was wrong in his prophesy and that someone other than Saraki had up seated President Buhari.

However, claims that because Saraki lost the primaries to Abukbakar, thus Primate Ayodele’s prophesy is wrong is like trying to tag the north and south pole as the same.

The need to be precise and on point when when analyzing cant be overemphasized, but at this point, it is very important to clarify that the the chance to crucify Primate Ayodele would only come after the general election. For now, please let Primate Ayodele be.

 

* Akintola wrote from Lagos? Nigeria.

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OPINION

A.B.C Orjiako, Shebah Petroleum and creditor banks: Getting the facts right

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Facts emerging in the on-going case between Shebah Exploration and its creditor banks which has been reported by few media channels since a Thisday newspaper publication of Sunday October 14, 2018 have provided actual  insights.

Further investigations into recent reports reveal that actual facts are at variance with contents of the publication.

In the said publication, the writer made references to an ongoing legal matter involving Shebah Petroleum, its owner Orjiako and some of their creditor banks.

Sources knowledgeable about the matter indicate that the story contained some misrepresentations leaving the facts of the matter at variance with the contents of the publication.

Contrary to the publication, it was the banks: Afrexim bank, Skye bank (now Polaris)  and Diamond bank who filed the action at the Lagos high court, where they registered the judgement of the English Court. So, any suggestion that the judgement was registered in Nigeria with the knowledge of the defendants is false.

The fact of the matter is that Shebah Exploration, Allenne Ltd and Dr Orjiako merely filed defensive action against the registration of the summary of the English court’s judgement.

Now to the issue of payment; contrary to the insinuation that Shebah had only paid back about $6.1million, the fact is that Shebah has been working to negotiate and settle with the creditor banks and meet its obligations in respect of the facility. Going by evidence filed at the Federal High Court Lagos, Shebah has paid back over $68 million in principal and interest to the creditor banks and is committed to full resolution of the issues of the loan.

Another fact that was glossed over in the report is that creditor banks suffered a huge setback when they made an attempt to obtain a Mareva injunction (freezing order) and failed as the presiding judge ruled against the creditor’s application on 25th September, 2018 according to the records of the court.

SEPCOL is a foremost indigenous player in the oil and gas industry in Nigeria, which became the first indigenous company to operate an offshore shallow water block with an FPSO, following the acquisition of 40% working interest in OML 108 from ConocoPhillips in 2004. SEPCOL was producing and meeting its obligations until 2014 when it suffered inconclusive workover program due to inadequate funding and collapse of oil prices. Consequently, the creditor banks called the facility on the company after two and half years tenure. The default in the facility was further triggered when the lenders declined a $50m repayment offer from a reputable Nigerian bank that offered to join the syndication with an additional facility in the sum of $200m

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OPINION

In NHIS, corruption fights back even harder, By Suleiman Abdulaziz

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The Executive Secretary (ES) of the NHIS Professor Usman Yusuf’s effort to sanitise and rid the NHIS is being sabotaged and resisted every step of the way by Agents of the corrupt both within and outside the Scheme. When the scheme was created about 13 years ago, it was expected to provide affordable healthcare to all 180 million Nigerians and give them the comfort of reducing their out of pocket spending and a net of protection from huge bills associated with serious illnesses.

But several years after, the Scheme’s coverage is an embarrassing number of little above 3 million in-spite of the massive Federal Government’s contributions on behalf of its employees.

Billions of Naira have gone down the drain without any obvious benefit to majority of Nigerians who still have to pay for critical services from their pockets and are not treated well in hospitals.

This was the national embarrassment and injustice that no one had the courage to challenge until Prof. Usman Yusuf, a Bone Marrow Transplant Physician based in the United States of America was appointed the Executive Secretary in 2016. Prior to his appointments, no one was talking about the massive corruption perpetrated by Health Management Organizations (HMOs), the middle men paid by the NHIS to pay hospitals on behalf of contributors.

These HMOs were considered as untouchable sacred Cows because they are owned by strong and powerful politicians that are well connected to the corridors of power.

He was advised to tread carefully and not to “rock the boat” if he wanted to finish his tenure in peace. Little did they know the measure and resolve of this unassuming Patriot. He took time to do a thorough analysis of the situation. What he found shook him to the core and he vowed that he was not appointed to “rock the boat” but to “sink this boat of corruption “.

Prof. Yusuf started the cleansing process by reaching out to all stakeholders including Anticorruption and Security Agencies for help. He started cleaning the procurement, finance and ICT departments. He created a Department of Enforcement to go after defaulting HMOs. He started recovering NHIS funds from HMOs, Banks and Contractors.

At the time he came in, the State Security Services (SSS) was in the middle of an investigation of the Scheme’s corrupt practices. This investigation was completed and the report submitted to Prof. Yusuf in April 2017.

The report, which this writer was privileged to have seen at the time, indicted some top members of Management of the Scheme who colluded in compromising the database of NHIS by padding the number of enrollees to favour some HMOs.

The Management also paid over N1.5 billion to these HMOs in fraudulent financial transactions within a year. The scam is perpetrated by the insertion of non-existent hospitals and ghost beneficiaries in the database and using the corrupted data to release funds to HMOs who smile to their banks monthly. Of course, their accomplices at NHIS are carried along and adequately compensated.

This was the kind of work environment Prof Yusuf walked into and had to choose either to rock the boat or join the gang that had turned the NHIS into an automatic teller machine. Predictably, he chose to be a change agent and decided he was going to stop the rot, especially knowing very well the stand of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration on corruption.

Out of the six recommendations for executive action, two turn out to be the reasons Prof Yusuf incurred the wrath of some powerful interest groups.

The first is the recommendation that the ES should place all staff of the ICT Department on suspension to allow for a thorough screening of the NHIS database and find out those culpable in the scam.

The second is that all payments to HMOs must be put on hold until all irregularities in the NHIS database were rectified.

While he did not suspend all the ICT staff as recommended, Prof Yusuf simply redeployed these staff and seconded new people from other Federal Government Agencies including the EFCC to clean the organization’s database. The new staff in the ICT department discovered thousands of ghost beneficiaries of the scheme. More than 23,000 names of ghost enrollees were flushed from the database in a moth by these seconded staff resulting in savings of N23m fraudulently paid to to HMOs monthly. Not only that, dozens of hospitals were also fraudulently listed among those offering services to enrollees of the scheme.

The discovery led to sanction of some top guns at the NHIS and further re-gig of the administrative organogram. The status quo was torpedoed to pave way for a sanitization of the scheme.

But entrenched interests were determined to fight back, and they have been fighting back throwing spurious allegations at the NHIS boss and mobilizing workers to protest in their interest. Redeployment of new staff to hitherto ‘lucrative’ departments, especially ICT led to allegations of nepotism against Prof Yusuf. In the minds of his adversaries, he must have brought his own men to continue the milking of NHIS funds.

This explains all the recent unsubstantiated allegations by Unions who are merely foot soldiers of the corrupt. They accused him of seconding his ‘brother’ to the procurement department “so that he can prepare the ground for him to award contracts” to his brother’s company. How can you read only such a sinister meaning into a redeployment made to correct long-standing irregularities in the operations of NHIS? In any case, how can someone be found guilty of an offence he has not yet committed?

It is sad that labour unionism is today is bereft of all vestiges of patriotism and people-interest. Whether at the levels of national, state or organizations, labour activism has been reduced to promoting narrow interests of leaders and paymasters, and not the interest of the majority of workers. The welfare of workers and their families is no longer the motivation for protests, but the threat to the interests of a few.

Why has the labour union of NHIS not hold any demonstrations calling for the delisting and prosecution of HMOs that have fed fat on people’s Contributions?Why would a patriotic and worker-centered Union not call for the sack of any staff implicated in the corruption of NHIS database?

Why is the focus of the Union on the Executive Secretary who has come to clean the system?

Who are the people that have turned the NHIS into automatic teller machines? Workers must start asking the leaders of their Unions questions and demanding answers.

I call on all well meaning Nigerian to speak up and support Prof. Yusuf in his quest to rid the NHIS of corruption.

Nigeria needs more of this fearless patriot.

LONG LIVE THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA.

Abdulaziz wrote in from Abuja

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