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OPINION

Again, Where are the Naira Notes?

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……Where are the Naira Notes

At the height of the Naira Redesign policy of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) which eventually unravelled as a ‘Naira Confiscation’ exercise in April this year, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) released a ‘Trade and Development Report’ on the situation across Africa, with special reference to Nigeria.

“A shortage of cash, triggered by the replacement of the highest denominations of the country’s currency, hobbled the economy, especially the informal sector,” the report stated, warning of the implications for food security in the country.
We are already there. No fewer than 26.5 million Nigerians are projected to grapple with high level of food insecurity in 2024, according to a joint statement last week by the World Food Programme (FAO), UNICEF, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security.

Several factors, including removal of fuel subsidy and the exchange rate Yo-yo, may account for this challenge. But, as we experienced, the negative impact of the shortage of Naira notes is also huge, particularly on rural dwellers who produce most of the food we eat. That lesson should not be lost on Abuja authoriities. While perhaps not yet a big issue, those who deal in cash transactions are aware that accessing Naira notes is becoming very difficult across the country. And when you do manage to obtain them, they are likely to be dirty and stinking, expired or/and mutilated notes, even from the banks and Automated Teller Machines (ATM) machines. Meanwhile, I fail to understand the meaning of the explanation provided Daily Trust by the CBN Director, Corporate Communications, Isa Abdulmumin that “The seeming cash scarcity in some locations is due largely to high volume withdrawals from the CBN branches by Deposit Money Banks (DMBs) and panic withdrawals by customers from the ATMs.”

In Nigeria, as I wrote in my column in March this year, “when you create incentives for bad behaviour in the public arena, the problem hardly goes away.” I added: “I hope the CBN has not created a new industry for Naira cash sellers within the banking industry and their collaborators who could still make life difficult for the ordinary people in pursuit of illicit gains.” Sadly, that ‘prophesy’ is now being fulfilled. Although we have since had a change at both the presidency and the apex bank, it is now a fact that a ‘Naira market’ has been created for unscrupulous Nigerians, to the detriment of the people. Unless President Bola Tinubu and his CBN Governor, Olayemi Cardoso, put on their thinking caps, many Nigerians may experience another bleak Christmas as Naira notes increasingly vanish from circulation.

Let me state upfront that I endorse the encouragement of more electronic-based transactions in the system, essentially because it may help to instil transparency in financial dealings. But because we have a way of compromising every process in Nigeria, it is also no surprise that kidnappers, armed robbers and other criminal cartels now operate with Point of Sale (PoS) machines. Two weeks ago, in the highbrow Guzape district of Abuja, a church member lost all his savings to these night marauders who came with PoS machines and demanded the ATM cards of their victims. Each person was then ordered at gunpoint to insert their PIN numbers for the electronic transfers. I am naïve enough to believe such criminals would be easy to trace but instead of any genuine efforts in that direction, the robbery victims are now being extorted at the police station to which they reported the case.

Introduced in 2012 by then CBN Governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi who later became the 14th Emir of Kano, the cashless policy commenced in 2014, and was supposed to be implemented in phases. Nigerians gradually bought in to it until last year when former Governor, Godwin Emefiele, decreed what turned out to be a fiasco—ostensibly in a bid to reduce ‘excess liquidity’ in the system and move towards a cashless economy. What some fail to understand is that the idea that any country could do completely away with cash is an illusion. Even in the developed world. The point here is that nobody should criminalise cash transactions, especially for legitimate businesses. And it is within the rights of depositors to demand their money in cash within the legal limits, as happens in most countries.

A publication by ‘Cash Matters’, funded by the International Currency Association (ICA) recently disaggregated the 2022 Global Payments Report and I found it interesting that in majority of the countries we are trying to ape, the volume of cash transactions within their economies is huge. Even in the United States, according to the report, “Cash continues to be a vital part of the PoS mix, accounting for 17.9% of transaction value (over US$8.3 trillion) in 2021.” In March this year, a Bloomberg report led with this headline: ‘More US Homebuyers are paying in cash, sweeping a majority of sales in some markets…All-cash deals share above 50% in 13 cities, including Atlanta’.

The import of the foregoing is that cash is critical in every economy and even more so in ours that is driven mostly by the informal sector. The CBN can therefore not be cavalier about the problem that is now spreading across the country. Cardoso and his team must come clean with the real volume of currency in circulation and what exactly is going on to cause the current scarcity of Naira notes. It is curious that the cashless policy, in place for so long, has resulted in such a high demand as to make the national currency a commodity in and of itself. The ‘cash rationing’ that banks now use as an excuse to deny customers their money seems rather odd. The only plausible explanation is that some people are playing games with our national currency, as they did earlier in the year.

Since collective amnesia is a rampant disease in our country, I will not be surprised if many have forgotten what Nigerians went through from last December to March this year before the Supreme Court intervention. From schools to offices and hospitals, there was no sector that did not feel the negative impact of the ill-digested CBN policy. The weakest and most vulnerable of our society were the worst hit. Despite concerns by economists, the policy, of course, had the endorsement of President Muhammadu Buhari who claimed that “People with illicit money buried under the soil will have a challenge with this but workers, businesses with legitimate incomes will face no difficulties at all.”

If President Buhari believed that fantasy, to borrow from a James Hardley Chase novel title, then he will believe anything. Tales abound of fatalities in hospitals and health facilities across the country because people could not access their money in cash. The situation was worse in rural communities where few have access to bank accounts or the required mobile phones and internet for such transactions. The loss to the economy was enormous. Many could not make sales because their customers didn’t have cash to pay. Market people selling perishable food items like tomatoes, pepper, fruits etc. had distressing tales to share of how those products ended up in refuse bins. Newspaper vendors, roadside sellers of maize, plantain and yam who barely eke out a living were sent out of business. Mechanics, vulcanizers and other artisans became destitute as PoS operators made a killing from the misery of others since bank transfers were erratic at the time.

PoS merchants are now everywhere because we have opened a new business line for them. May be that is not bad, except that the people we see in street corners are just mere retailers and small players. The high rollers are at the CBN, the banking halls and the National Security Printing and Minting Company (NSPMC). Today, while the few available Naira notes in circulation we scramble to get have outlived their usefulness, middlemen and commission agents are in custody of the new notes which they then sell at premium. So, having created merchandise of Naira Notes, we may have unwittingly added the scarcity of national currency to our legions of problems.

As an aside, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) revealed yesterday that headline inflation rate in the country increased to 27.33 per cent in October (last month). According to the NBS Consumer Price Index (CPI) and Inflation Report for October, the figure is 0.61 per cent points higher compared to 26.72 per cent recorded in September. More significantly, on a year-on-year basis, the headline inflation rate in October was 6.24 per cent higher than the rate recorded in October 2022 at 21.09 per cent. But perhaps more concerning is that food inflation rate in October increased to 31.52 per cent. On a year-on-year basis, that is 7.80 per cent higher than the rate recorded in October 2022 at 23.72 per cent. These are enormous economic challenges already. We cannot afford to compound them with a shortage of Naira notes.

In the absence of an explicit CBN policy, I am willing to concede that the scarcity may be a reflection on operational inefficiency in cash management and distribution rather than a deliberate action. But even that could only have happened because someone did take eyes off the ball. Whatever the reasons, Cardoso and his team must find a solution. Especially as we inch towards the Christmas and new year holiday when people, quite naturally, need Naira notes. Yes, the CBN has extended the validity of the old N1000, N500 and N200 notes indefinitely. But beyond availability of the currency, I do not know for how long the apex bank will keep the current stinking Naira notes in circulation that are no longer fit for purpose. It says so much about our country that we cannot even produce decent currency notes for citizens, residents, and visitors.

You can follow me on my Twitter handle, @Olusegunverdict and on www.olusegunadeniyi.com

By Olusegun Adeniyi

OPINION

Why Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger Exit from ECOWAS is no BREXIT

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By Olu Jacobs

Comparisons are being made between the sudden exit of the military juntas of
Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger from the Economic Community of West African
States, ECOWAS, and Britain’s 31 st January 2020 official exit of Britain from the
European Union.
On the surface, similarities can be found with Brexit, to wit: some small nation
with a fraction of the GDP of the entire group leaves a Community of equals and
forfeits all the advantages of the economies of scale inherent in a single market
where there is unhindered intra-Community movement of goods and services,
unencumbered by law or tariffs.


As the pretext for leaving, the errant countries accused the Union of promoting
unpleasant polices, policies which were in fact part of the fundamentally practices
of the body and core mandate of the group, and entrenched in its rules of
procedure and which has sustained the Union throughout the 40 or so odd years
of its existence
As a consequence of leaving a group which exerts stronger bargaining power as a
block, the decampees runs the risk of losing out on the group’s negotiating
power and may no longer enjoy free trade with the rest Member
States
But here the comparison ends.
The UK at least held a
referendum where its people voted to leave the EU. The trio of
Capt. Ibrahim Traoré, Col. Assimi Goita, and Brig. Gen. Abdourahamane Tiani,
did not bother with such niceties. Having come to power through the force of
arms, they were under no obligation to inform their people, much less seek their
views, before the pompous announcement penultimate weekend that, “taking all
their responsibilities in the face of history and responding to the expectations,
concerns, and aspirations of their populations, decide in complete sovereignty on

the immediate withdrawal of Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger from the Economic
Community of West African States.”
Moreover, Britain was not buffeted by terrorists on the verge of overrunning the
country when it left the EU, nor did it need any help with its security
architecture. On the contrary, it was the most powerful military force in the
union at the time with a strong economy. Still, leaving the EU against popular
expectations shook the global markets and caused the British pound to fall to
its lowest level against the dollar in 30 years. The following day, Prime
Minister David Cameron resigned, and economists suggest that Brexit may
have irreversibly harmed the British economy despite its development level
and reduced its real per capita income, in the long term.
One can therefore imagine the implication for Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger
which together belonged to the ten poorest countries in the world, abandoning
the $702bn economy that ECOWAS represents. These three are not only
landlocked nations bedeviled by the twin plagues of recurring drought and
terrorism, they are moreover hounded by sanctions, substantial populations of
internally displaced persons who are near famine and a losing battle with ISIS-
Sahel and other violent groups.
Burkina Faso for instance is ranked the fourth worst terrorist plagued nation in the
world after Afghanistan, Iraq, and Somalia. It had 597 violent attacks across 10 of its
13 regions in 2022 leading to thousands of deaths and an estimated 1.6 million of its
population internally displaced. Mali‘s 4500 miles of porous borders with seven
neighboring countries has seen similar armed attacks, abductions, car jackings, IEDs,
vehicle-borne IEDs, rocket attacks, targeted assassinations, and armed imposed
blockades and ambushes. With their security services overwhelmed, they can hardly
cope as ISIS-Sahel, formerly known as ISIS-GS, and the al-Qa’ida-affiliated JNIM
operate indiscriminately.
A recent report ( Pls attribute) described this part of the Sahel as “the epicenter of
terrorism globally accounting for 43 percent of terrorism deaths in 2022, more than
South Asia, the Middle East and North Africa combined.”
These are compounded by pervasive poverty, battles over decreasing resources,
mass displacement of people as a result of climate change and refugee problems
caused by ubiquitous violence which have collectively transformed the area into the
epicentre of terrorism . Yet although General Tiani said the reason for his coup was
to check the scourge of terror, the truth was that by 2022, his Niger, which the year

before had the largest increase in terrorism deaths had already turned a corner.
President Bazoum was winning the war on terror so much so that 90 percent of
deaths from extremist groups in the Sahel in 2022 occurred in Burkina Faso and Mali
which were, ironically led by military juntas.
The Niger coup therefore was more likely to worsen rather than reduce the scourge
of terrorism, as history has shown, which was one reason ECOWAS was set against
it and took the drastic measures to impose sanctions and invoke the protocol that
allows it to use force if necessary to dislodge an un democratic government. Another
reason, apart from the need to halt the domino effect of this putsch on neighboring
countries, was because Niger had turned into a bastion of democracy in the Sahel, a
bulwark against Russian and jihadist movement and proof of the success of western
alliance. With the coup the nation lost all aids and military assistance. The EU
foreign policy chief Josep Borrell promptly announced the “immediate
cessation of budget support” and suspension of “all cooperation actions in
the domain of security,” which translated means its allocation of EUR 500
million for improving governance, education, and sustainable growth in the
country, it’s 27 million-euro military training mission (EUMPM) in Niger in
addition to around 1,500 Barkhane troops stationed in the country, has
come to an end with “immediate cessation of budget support” and
suspension of “all cooperation actions in the domain of security.”
France which has provided the country with around EUR 120 million
in development aid in 2022 also suspended all development and budget
support, and the US which had two military drone bases and over 1,000
troops deployed in Niger, and had just announced $150 million in direct
assistance also suspended its security cooperation with Nigerien forces.  
For a nation which the World Bank estimates has about 10 million of its
people, or around 40 percent of the population, emershed in extreme
poverty, the lowest Human Development Index (HDI) worldwide and
battling acute water scarcity and food insecurity and high population
growth, there is little doubt that Niger needs all the help it can get from
ECOWAS. In total, the country, like the rest two, relies on close to USD 2
billion a year in official development assistance of which ECOWAS provides
a sizable part and more importantly access to the huge regional market.
Economic sanctions led to the closure of the bustling border between Niger and
Nigeria, halting roughly $1.3 billion worth of annual trade. The United States goods

exports alone to ECOWAS in 2022 were $6.7 billion, and its imports from
ECOWAS totaled $9.4 billion in 2022, up 38.8 percent ($2.6 billion) from 2021.
This is the market that the three nations will forfeit. According to a report, Guinea’s
2008 coup and Mali’s coup had erased a combined $12 billion to $13.5 billion from
their economies over five years, which represented 76% of Guinea’s 2008 gross
domestic product and almost half of Mali’s 2012 GDP.
The real goal of ECOWAS is to promote economic cooperation among member
states in order to raise living standards and promote economic development. The
regional group has also worked hard to address security issues by developing a
peacekeeping force for conflicts in the region. The three juntas claimed they were
taking their 75m people out of the bloc because it has not helped them fight
terrorism. That is clearly not true. For instance, ECOWAS sent thousands of
soldiers to help Mali in 2013 when a jihadist onslaught almost overran it. ECOWAS
members were in fact the leading troop contributors to a UN peacekeeping mission
there until the junta sacked it last year.
Now we come to the real real reason why the three coupists announced on Sunday 28th January
that they were taking their countries out of the regional body. Clearly it is to escape the pressure
been mounted by ECOWAS to return their nations to democracy. Mali and Burkina Faso were
already set to hold elections this year as promised ECOWAS, and Niger is under pressure to
produce a short transition timeline for civil rule.
Lashed by hunger, terror and civil strife the economies of Mali, Niger and Burkina
Faso are stunted by what has been called a “multi-dimensional crisis where insecurity,
humanitarian need, rapid urbanization of the country and the drastic effects of
climate change—impacting access to food and water, which fuel intercommunal
conflict, all converge.”
The earlier they return to the embrace of ECOWAS, the better. As a matter of fact,
the West African regional body remains Africa’s most successful example of
integration and economic, political and security cooperation. People’s free movement
throughout the region, underpinned by the visa-free system and a common passport,
is one of ECOWAS’ key achievements benefitting the region’s citizens. For landlocked
countries such as Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger especially, the Customs Union
facilitates imports through the application of a single common external tariff.
For almost 50 years, ECOWAS’ rules and operating methods have shaped
governance in its Member States.
In effect, the withdrawal of these countries which together account for 15% of
ECOWAS’ population, but nearly half its surface area is some blow to the regional

body and potentially a disaster for the three landlocked countries. However, it is
important for the reputation and the overall well-being of ECOWAS that the
countries return to the fold.
At the extraordinary Session of Ministerial Mediation and Security Council meeting,
which held Thursday to discuss this and the situation in Senegal where the president
had suddenly postponed elections, ECOWAS Commission President, Alieu Touray
said, “If there is a time for ECOWAS to stay together, this is the time … There is no
challenge that ECOWAS cannot overcome.”
ECOWAS has always insisted that the modalities of their withdrawal are
irregular, that such sudden departures are impossible to implement, and do not
comply with ECOWAS’ governing treaty which stipulates one year formal notification
during which states asking to leave must respect their commitments to the bloc. 
Critics say the current situation presents an opportunity for ECOWAS to review its
frameworks, policies and practices to make the organisation more consistent and
effective and responsive to the development needs of the constituent States.
While doing that, it might not be a bad idea to create conditions for the return of
the three countries to the regional bloc either.

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OPINION

Herbert Wigwe: The Things Yet Unsaid

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By Dakuku Peterside

Clean-shaven, suave, upwardly mobile, and incurably optimistic, Herbert Onyewumbu Wigwe (HOW) was one of the most recognisable figures in the banking space and corporate Nigeria. His official biography could only be written by him. But I hope his example can inspire and influence us.

Accurately describing Herbert in one word can be compared to explaining the mystery of centuries in a few words or a wild goose chase.
It is a nuanced and complex process.

He was an extraordinary businessman who died alongside his wife and son in the United States of America under exceptional circumstances.

His tragic and sudden departure reverberated beyond our shores.
But who was Herbert Wigwe? I can only answer this question from the narrow prism of my friendship and many encounters with him.

Herbert and I were members of the same local church assembly, and I witnessed his dedication to spirituality, good works, and commitment to church growth. It is easy to explain this because of his solid Christian foundation. Herbert’s father, Elder Shyngle Wigwe, is a pastor in the Redeemed Christian Church of God. Herbert was a man of prayers, which he complemented with a ruthless work ethic. He attributed all his successes to God’s blessings.

Both of us are from Rivers State, and we had many sessions on how best to fix the politics of Rivers and, by extension, improve the State’s development trajectory. Herbert was utterly detached from politics but had deep insight into political manoeuvrings. We debated the affairs of Rivers State and the country, and he baffled me with the precision with which he predicted the outcome of political contests. He would quickly tell you that his political party is Nigeria and no other.

His passion for Nigeria was simply unwavering. Only a few persons can match his faith in Nigeria. He firmly believed that he would impact society by using businesses to provide solutions to society’s needs and create wealth that would touch the lives of many. He was unapologetically capitalist, in the proper sense of it, and he lived his life using capital to solve many of societies’ needs, such as creating employment, paying taxes, providing lots of charity, and investing heavily in world-class university education. He used capital as an instrument for socio-cultural upliftment across Africa.

Herbert was a man of bold dreams and obsessed with excellence, while making room for unavoidable mistakes. Herbert never gave up on any bold dream, no matter the odds. He rode the waves of challenges and was filled with the spirit of hard work, dedication, and strokes of ingenuity. He had bold dreams in all ramifications, and this was self-evident.

First, as a young banker, he teamed up with his friend and partner to acquire “a distressed bank”, rated number 89 then, and turn it around in two decades to become one of the top five banks, with an assets base of over N20.9 trillion. This is phenomenal. Herbert, as CEO, set out to build an Access Bank with the vision of becoming the gateway to Africa, and the world’s most respected African bank. With presence in more than 13 African countries, plus footprints in other continents, Access Bank was working towards realising this vision. Second, Wigwe University, which Herbert personally referred to as the “Future Harvard University of Africa,” was another extraordinary, bold dream. He set out to build the best University in Africa, investing $500 million in the initial set-up. You do not need further testament that he was a man of bold dreams.

An entrepreneur extraordinaire, his mystique was his ability to sniff out opportunities where others saw none, multiplied by the fact that he was one of the most persistent persons I know when going after opportunities. He mentored many budding entrepreneurs, top managers, and top academics in entrepreneurship. Apart from his well-known flagship institution, Access Bank, he was active in other financial services concerns, construction, oil and gas, aviation, film, and music, and, most recently, the education sector. He made a star success of all his multiple business pursuits.

Herbert’s hidden strength was his ability to connect with people of all classes and cadres, accompanied by a related instinct to simplify complex things in the most basic way. His mastery of Rivers’ version of Pidgin English could only equal his fluency in Queens’ English. He was among the few successful people referred to as the “original old Port Harcourt boy.” Another strength of his was his courageous, daring, patient, and persistent nature, which added to his relentless ambition to accomplish exceptional things. This attracted to him friends and foes in equal measure.

His philanthropic work in the Herbert Wigwe Foundation, which he founded in 2016, focused on youth empowerment, health, arts, and education. This focus on youth development was central to his mentoring, given his strong belief in the importance of the youth in the development of Nigeria and Africa. He was an art enthusiast and contributed to the development of art in the country. As the art connoisseur he was, his collection reflected his passion for excellence, diversity, and social purpose. The HOW foundation extensively supported many healthcare projects for the downtrodden among us. His charity works were unique because he loathed publicity about it.

Herbert’s enduring legacy is the power of vision, bold dreams, courage, and determination to pursue it and rally people to accomplish the objective. This is what we need to improve in our public space. History has shown that bold dreams have the power to transform societies. He was exceptionally enterprising and entrepreneurial.

Listening to Herbert talk about his vision was to find yourself in the oasis of inspiration. He genuinely believed that there was nothing you fixed your mind on that you could not accomplish. He had bold dreams for the banking sector, tertiary education, the oil and gas industry and most importantly, society.

What lessons can we learn from him? Herbert epitomised a life of passion, dedication, resilience, and boldness in achieving grand personal and societal visions. He was bold in setting out great goals and pursuing them relentlessly until he reached them. He proves that an unexamined life is not worth living. To achieve greatness and impact on society maximally, one must be purposeful, bold, and patient. Herbert’s hidden strengths prepared him for an eventful life – one he lived on his terms. His ability to connect with people, courage, daring attitude, ambition, and excellent work ethic were the ingredients of his success and they must be emulated. Peter Drucker posits, “The best way to predict the future is to create it.” Herbert created his future and lived it to the full of those he loved.

For our budding entrepreneurs, Herbert left a legacy. He proved the axiomatic expression true: “Entrepreneurship is living a few years of your life like most people won’t, so that you can spend the rest of your life like most people can’t.” He made the needed sacrifices at the start of his entrepreneurship and built capital enough to be reckoned among his contemporaries. Steve Jobs posits that “your work will fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work.”

Herbert did outstanding work; the only way to do great work is to love what you do. Success is not just a product of luck. Hard work, knowledge, skills, and integrity underpin it. Thomas Jefferson argued, “The harder I work, the more luck I seem to have.” Herbert worked hard enough to be lucky. He had an eye for greatness. It is little wonder he set great goals for himself.

John Rockefeller advised that one should not be “afraid to give up the good to go for the great.” Both in banking and establishing a University, Herbert went for greatness and achieved it. We should do the same. As a business and community leader, Herbert understood that the function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers. He created leaders of industries and global advocates of responsible capitalism in the 21st century.

My friend and brother Herbert lived like a candle in the wind. His star burned so brightly but ended so shortly. Greatness in life is not measured in how long one lives but in the impact of one’s life on society. Herbert lived, and he conquered. Adieu, my great visioner!Peterside is a policy and leadership expert.

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OPINION

Tinubu should Come Clean

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By Nick Dazang

Unless drastic, coherent and proactive measures are taken, the chickens may soon be coming home to roost for the fledgling Bola Ahmed Tinubu administration. I state this with the highest sense of responsibility and advised by recent tragic events and ominous auguries.

For the first time, and on his watch, we have thus far had a rash of peaceful demonstrations against hardship.

Nigerians, in their numbers, protested in Kano, Minna, Suleija, Osogbo and Lagos.
It is noteworthy that even before he departed Lagos for Abuja, after the Christmas and New Year breaks, Lagosians shouted at his convoy that Nigerians were having a hard time.

The Naira plunged to its lowest point some two weeks ago, exchanging at not less than N1,500 to an American dollar.

This precipitous nose dive further increased the prices of products – from foodstuffs to building materials. Little wonder, the protests we saw in Minna and Suleija came hot on the heels of the further collapse of the Naira, which resulted in spiralling inflation and worsening living conditions.

On the security front, we witnessed an uptick. Insecurity not only heightened, it escalated to an all-time high. It was hallmarked by the killing of three monarchs in Ekiti and Kwara states, many acts of terror, kidnappings and criminality.

Even as the country was literally on fire, the President jetted out of the country, claiming he was paying a private visit to France. The visit which lasted thirteen days, and which is alien to our laws, smacked of insensitivity and abdication of responsibility. It is tantamount to a head of family who deserts his home as it is ablaze and relocates to the coziness of a placid abode in another district, leaving his family to its devices. Worse, and grating to the sensibility of Nigerians, was that political jobbers visited the President in France and had photo opportunities with him. As if that were not enough, they proceeded to regale us with how our president cared for us.

It is horrendous that in the midst of these incidents and in spite of the cacophony of laments recently issued by bigwigs of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and their sympathizers, the economy was in a terrible place, the government did not deem it wise to come clean and tell Nigerians, in crystal clear terms, how bad it was.

This writer had argued that such an accounting was in consonance with democratic ethos which put premium on transparency. He also argued that such openness would elicit the support and understanding of Nigerians who are being daily exhorted to make sacrifices.

It is heartwarming that one’s clarion cry is not a lone one in the wilderness. Acclaimed economic pundits, such as Bismarck Rewane, have joined the bandwagon of the clamour for full disclosure regarding the parlous state of the economy. Mr Rewane has also underscored what all right-thinking Nigerians had previously observed: that President Tinubu’s economic team is not stellar enough and that his Central Bank Governor may not be well credentialed and savvy for the task at hand.

This assessment may appear unflattering and disapproving. But it is adjudged by the reflexiveness of government policies, the government’s lack of coherence and constancy, the continued exodus of multinational corporations and the government’s frequent resort to summoning the fire brigade to put out fires. Given the headwinds which confront us on the economic front, what we require is a solid economic team at par with, if not surpassing, the one which former President Olusegun Obasanjo constituted during his civilian tenure.

Apart from coming clean on the economy, President Tinubu must be forthcoming on his frequent visits to France. It appears quixotic that a man whose ambition is to transform our economy into a trillion-dollar one can leave the country and his exalted office to pay a private visit to another country. This writer is yet to hear or learn, in the modern age or era, of a President of the type of country Tinubu aspires Nigeria to attend, who has paid a private visit to some other country and for 13 days without just cause or compelling reason(s).

American Presidents and British Prime Ministers travel abroad. But they do so either in the line of duty or official vacation. An extreme case was Bill Clinton who travelled to far-flung Australia and Africa to play golf and to go on a safari. But he did those when he was on official vacation and America was at peace. And to say that President Tinubu’s visit to France came shortly after a vacation in Lagos, and at a time of heightened insecurity, smacks of insensitivity of the highest order.

It is true that during the campaigns, the media were awash with lurid speculations about the President’s health. But these speculations, which animated the media space, were thought merely to be the handiwork of his political opponents.

Assuming that these speculations were valid after all. And assuming that the President were suffering from one ailment or the other,  and he needs medical treatment abroad, what stops him from opening up and telling Nigerians rather than using private visits as veneers or covers? The President, after all, is human. And as humans, we have frailties and we can fall ill. In fact, few persons, who are above sixty years, can be said to be free or immune from one health challenge or the other. It will, therefore, not be surprising, if at his age, the President is suffering from an ailment. If that is the case, what is wrong in leveling with Nigerians?

Besides, democracy as we have often stated, thrives on transparency. The more leaders are open, especially about their health, the more they get the respect and empathy of their citizens. Openness also demystifies these ailments and encourages fellow sufferers or those with similar health challenges to come forward and obtain help. Their first thoughts will be: if the President is getting help, why not us, ordinary citizens?

It is ennobling that even monarchs, who ordinarily have no obligation to disclose their health statuses, because they are not elected, are coming clean with their subjects. A notable and most recent one is King Charles III. In respect of coming clean on his health, King Charles has carried himself splendidly and to the admiration of the world. He first announced he was going to the clinic to treat a benign prostrate. When, however, his diagnosis revealed cancer, he, rather than allow some nosey reporter to out him, was forthcoming. He announced to the world, via an official statement issued by Buckingham Palace, that he had cancer and that he was proceeding, with alacrity, to treat it. His prompt announcement accomplished three salient things: it endeared him to Britons, it earned him the empathy of leaders and ordinary folks around the world and it strengthened and comforted more than three million Britons who live with cancer. They now know they are not alone in their travails.

President Tinubu must be forthcoming, both with the economy and his visits to France. It is by so doing that he will show respect for Nigerians, put our democracy on a transparent pedestal, invest the presidency with dignity and get the sympathy of Nigerians.

Dazang is a former Director at the Independent National Electoral Commission.

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