When Tony Elumelu, chairman of UBA, Africa’s global bank, twitted recently on theft in the oil sector, social services that are falling apart and the challenges of daily survival, he was speaking the mind of millions of frustrated Nigerians and other citizens who live and work in Nigeria. “We must hold our leaders accountable,” Elumelu tweeted last week.
Elumelu’s message was not lost on our leaders in the corridors of power and politicians who are warming up for party primaries. The tone of Elumelu’s message should be understood in the context of today’s hardship. “How can a country so rich in natural resource have 90% of its citizens living in hardship and poverty?” Elumelu queried.
Even President Muhammadu Buhari acknowledged that the times are hard and he knows we have our backs against the wall. He apologised to Nigerians recently over the crippling petrol scarcity and the collapse of the national grid. He also invited the minister in charge of power to update him on the key issues in the power sector which include transmission bottlenecks and gas shortage.
Nigerians have been experiencing road blocks when they try to access basic social services such as light, water, healthcare, education, safety of lives and property and so on. With diesel at over N650/litre, how are businesses going survive?
Members of the Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria (BON) have said that they can no longer cope with the escalating cost of diesel to power their generators. If the trend continued, they announced, members of BON will be forced to shut down their radio and television stations. How bad can it get?
It was the same story of lamentation the other day by the airline operators. During a hearing at the House of Representatives, Allen Onyema, chairman of Air Peace and spokesperson of airline operators, expressed their frustration with the rising cost of aviation fuel.
The body went as far as asking for license to import fuel for their planes. The cost of tickets for local travel has nearly doubled and there is the possibility of shutting down the air space – a situation whereby flight services would be massively disrupted or there would be no flights at all.
The Manufacturers’ Association of Nigeria (MAN) also complained bitterly over the erratic power supply nationwide and the exorbitant cost of diesel. The obvious implication is that there would be job losses which will hurt the economy which is already in bad shape.
Why are we forced to live in a dysfunctional society and yet pretend as if everything is okay? This is not about de-marketing Nigeria but we have reached the point where we have to speak up and re-assure Nigerians that all would be well. This was exactly what Elumelu did and it does not make him any less patriotic.
His Twitter comment was a wake-up call for us to worry about how to build a better Nigeria, and restore the moral fibre of society. Re-building Nigeria is a task for everyone and it requires commitment to a new charter of development that must be championed by those who seek to lead us from 2023. “We need to be vocal about 2023,” Elumelu reminded us in his tweet.
The politics of 2023 is trending and gaining momentum but the activities of the political elite does not inspire any confidence and hope. By being “vocal” about 2023, Elumelu wants us to “shine our eyes” very well about the choices we make at next year’s general election. We must be vigilant at all times and ensure that our votes count in every election cycle. In addition, we must defend the integrity of our ballot.
Charles Soludo, the governor of Anambra state who took his oath of last week, once said “Nigerians should stop complaining and do something.” Instead of remaining as bystanders, Soludo advocates that more Nigerians who are purpose-driven should join politics and make a difference in leadership positions that they find themselves. Religious leaders should also venture into politics and practice what they preach.
“Evil prevails when people are silent,” Elumelu also noted in his message. To paraphrase Elumelu’s pitch-line in his TV commercial to budding African entrepreneurs, “our destiny lies in our own hands.” He also complained about access to electricity that is critical for our development, alleviation of poverty and hardship. Instead of keeping quiet, we should be vocal about our problems and do something about them. You can see that Soludo and Elumelu are both on the same page, delivering the same message.
All the other billionaires and oligarchs should also speak up and become a “force for good”. They include Aliko Dangote, Jim Ovia, Abdulsamad Rabiu, Mike Adenuga, Femi Otedola, Folorunsho Alakija, Theophilus Danjuma, Bola Shagaya Orji Uzor Kalu, Mohammed Indimi and Paschal Dozie.
I’m aware most of our billionaires have their respective not-for-profit organisations which they use to improve the lives of Nigerians but they can come together as a group and focus on the task of nation building.
Our current predicament affects everyone – big or small, rich or poor. What Elumelu said is not new; these problems have been with us for as long as anyone can remember; it is just that they have refused to go away. When our billionaires and oligarchs come together as a force, the idea is not to “attack” the government but to ensure that everyone becomes more aware that a “collective action” is required to tackle our problems.
When families are heavily dispossessed under unbearable economic burden, it calls for concern and action. We do not have to wait until there is a complete breakdown of law and order before action is taken. For me, that was the context of Elumelu’s message.
Billionaires, according to a popular fallacy, are not supposed to call out the government of the day; it is like daring a lion in its own den because their comments could be mistaken as an “attack” on the government. Expectedly, there were whispers in government circles over Elumelu’s comments but it does not change the fact that people are hungry and that their survival is threatened.
Billionaires and oligarchs know how to take care of themselves and cultivate cordial relations with government henchmen in order not to hurt their business interests. They complain in private when government policies are superfluous and use back channels to engage top government officials whom they have access to anyway.
They hardly complain openly or criticise the government in public. So the substance of Elumelu’s tweet is still being decoded by the power brokers in Abuja. “It was a great act of indiscretion by Elumelu,” complained a source familiar with the dynamics of power play in Abuja. “He has access to government, so he should have been more circumspect with his comment which is like rebuking the government,” continued my source.
There is an unconfirmed report alleging that Elumelu is angry with the government because his $1.1 billion investment in an oil block, OML 17, with a production capacity of 27,000 barrels per day is threatened. The oil well, it was alleged, cannot deliver more than 5,000 barrels per day due to the handiwork of oil thieves in the Niger Delta. It simply means Elumelu is losing loads of money and his investment is bleeding.
If indeed Elumelu is losing money on his oil investment, it is because the government has been unable to rein in oil thieves who are sabotaging the economy. Speaking at the end of the 284th monetary policy committee (MPC) meeting in Abuja last Monday, Godwin Emefiele, governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), said Nigeria is unable to meet its production quota due to unwarranted oil theft.
Are we just going to fold our hands and surrender to oil thieves? What is the government doing about it? Oil bunkering which is the diversion and smuggling of oil is a thriving illegal industry. It is an organised crime by powerful individuals and a syndicate of fraudsters. They take oil from pipelines or flow stations and load vessels on the high seas for export. Sometimes, extra crude oil that is unaccounted for can be added to a legitimate cargo. Can it be that government is unable to finger these saboteurs and bring them to justice?
Austin Avuru, a former chief executive of Seplat Energy Plc, announced recently that 80% of Nigeria’s oil production is lost to oil theft. If indeed Elumelu is losing money on his oil investment, why shouldn’t he complain? Elumelu, in his tweet, said Nigeria was actually losing up to 95% of its oil production, a very dire situation.
Is this not the reason why international oil organisations (IOCs), also known as “Major Companies” or simply “Majors”, are leaving Nigeria? Avuru said the collapse of the oil and gas sector, according to a story in TheCable, requires an emergency intervention because the entire export pipeline has been surrendered to vandals and illegal bunkerers.
In the last 15 years, there has been no meaningful investment in the oil and gas sector because the IOCs are quitting. “In the last 12 years,” reported TheCable, “Shell and Chevron have divested from 21 oil blocks in Nigeria.”
Shell used to own OML 17 which Elumelu bought but some analysts in the industry argue that it is curious Elumelu made the huge investment when oil majors are divesting from Nigeria. In their view, enough due diligence was not carried out. These analysts believe that Elumelu, a famous economist and philanthropist, was fully aware that large-scale oil theft had been with us even before he made his investment.
The “Majors” are the biggest petroleum companies in the world. They include ExxonMobil, ChevronTexaco, BP, Shell, TotalEnergies and ConocoPhillips. They play across the entire petroleum value chain from oil exploration and production (upstream) to transport refining and marketing (downstream).
We cannot pretend that the scars of the #EndSARS protests are completely healed; no, that would be incorrect. Some of the scars are still fresh. The key social issues that triggered the protests are still with us. What has changed between then and now? The security agencies announced recently that there are plans by some groups to instigate a crisis and destabilise the country. It would appear the country is now on high security alert.
By the way, it looks like all our problems have been smoked out of their hiding places at the same time. A friend told me it smells of sabotage but where’s the proof? As the politics of 2023 becomes the major talking point in our national discourse, you really cannot rule out anything.
Two years ago when I launched my book, “My Lockdown Diary: Reflections on Nigeria and Covid-19 Pandemic,” I wrote the following about Elumelu in Chapter 28: “Elumelu is God’s gift to Nigeria and Africa. His larger-than-life image obviously transcends the boundaries of Africa, making him a global citizen.
“Elumelu is well known for his amazing philanthropy and burning desire to create enduring prosperity and social wealth in Africa by empowering entrepreneurs and enhancing competiveness in the private sector.
“The Tony Elumelu Foundation Entrepreneurship Programme which was launched on January 1, 2015 represents the vision of Elumelu to empower a new generation of African entrepreneurs by supporting the business goals of at least 10,000 entrepreneurs across Africa over a 10-year period. With $100 million fund in place provided by the Foundation to support entrepreneurs, the aim is that over one million jobs would be created with $10 billion in additional revenue for the continent during the period.
“When the Tony Elumelu Foundation (TEF) was launched 12 years ago, this was what President Muhammadu Buhari said: ‘I’m pleased to see efforts like this aimed at promoting self-help and creating jobs and opportunities for Africa’s youths are gaining ground.
‘This demonstrates that the work of re-building our country – as well as the wider continent – is one all patriots and stakeholders must actively engage in. I’m proud that Nigeria (and a Nigerian) is taking the lead in the effort to promote self-worth, encourage entrepreneurship, create jobs, build and promote networks for intra-African trade, business collaboration and investment.’”
–Braimah is a public relations strategist and publisher/editor-in-chief of Naija Times (https://naijatimes.ng)