Warri & Lagos — 2016
I visited Nigeria last week and thought I should report on the political & business conversations I had. All my sources are protected and i apologise for any typos!
In Warri, I spent time with troops involved in the operations to defeat the Niger Delta Avengers. One of the officers told me that he and his men were worried. He pointed to groups of young men on the streets and said these men look harmless but each time they conduct nightly raids on their homes, sophisticated weapons are recovered. He and his men feared that they were surrounded. In the event of a gunfight, the troops would be defeated. A bit like the US experience in Iraq or Somalia. They felt like sitting ducks.
With regards to training, he told me that Buhari’s govt had continued the progress of GEJ’s reforms. Officers and troops continued to hold regular exercises and fitness levels were improving. I was privileged to watch one of their exercises and was impressed with what I saw.
I found the political dynamics interesting. I spoke to several prominent political figures who said they were going to decamp to the APC. They all said they supported GEJ in 2015 and still did. They also said they did not like Buhari and felt he was a religious and ethnic bigot. I then asked why they would be joining APC. They explained that the PDP at State level had been hijacked by greedy & corrupt politicians. They felt that the APC offered a strong platform to challenge the PDP. They wanted better governance at the State level.
I met with a key player in the oil servicing and logistics industry. As we were meeting, the person was on the phone to a militant trying to negotiate the release of one of their boats & some staff.
I was amazed that they had each other’s phone numbers and seemed to be negotiating in a casual manner as if it was rice or chicken they were trying to buy.
This person explained that Tompolo was not in hiding but Tomopolo is so popular in the region that any attempt to arrest him would lead to a full scale war on the streets of the Niger Delta.
The person said ‘ look Gege, you have been to Houston. You have seen Lagos & Abuja. You can see how oil wealth creates prosperity. Now compare those cities with Warri’.
The person explained that Buhari cancelled all contracts benefitting Tompolo and other militants whom he suspected were sympathetic to Jonathan. The person also explained that these boys are not stupid. They know that oil is being siphoned from their state to benefit other regions. So if you don’t settle them, they will resist.
But most disturbingly, the person told me that on a monthly basis, they have had to bribe key govt officials before they are allowed to do their work. But despite the bribes, business has ground to a halt. Troops who should be guarding vessels are refusing to go to the waters for fear of ambush. The person explained that numerous soldiers have been killed in water ambushes but the military is under-reporting casualties.
Business & Politics
I met with a Northern Prince who is also a big corporate player. I asked him about his views on Buhari’s government. He said “Gege, the propaganda is too much. In governance, you take responsibility. There attempt to shield Buhari from responsibility is wrong. For example, they increased fuel prices but said Buhari opposes it. What is the meaning of that?”
He also explained that Buhari’s Government was dominated by a Fulani and Kanuri clique and that at present, the Fulani’s are unhappy with the level of influence held by the Kanuris.
He said it was Jonathan’s fault that this had happened. Jonathan was so poor that Buhari suddenly became a viable alternative.
I then asked why Smart Ministers like Okey Enelamah couldn’t advise Buhari properly. He said ‘Okey is Igbo. He will not be able enter Buhari’s inner-circle’.
I also met with the Chairman one of Nigeria’s biggest manufacturers. He is very pro-Buhari and spent a significant proportion of our dinner, listing the alleged corrupt activities of the previous government. I even joked that perhaps he should be appointed EFCC Chairman.
He however explained that since Buhari came to power, he has had to close down a number of his factories outside Lagos but was also struggling to meet demand for his products. He said, his company’s difficulties were due to the scarcity of FX. They were unable to get FX to buy raw materials and machinery from their foreign suppliers.
I asked why FX was scarce, he said it was due to the corruption under Jonathan.
I met with the Director of an Insurance Company who was excited about the implementation of the TSA. He said Nigerian banks were feeling the heat because holding government deposits had made them lazy. They were not doing the hard work required to increase their profits. He said that one area where the banks could work harder was mortgages. They should be prepared to offer more longer term mortgages to prospective home owners. He explained that such products would benefit the Insurance industry as they would be able to sell more insurance products e.g mortgage life insurance (an insurance policy that pays-off your mortgage if you die). He thought that Insurance companies and banks could do more business together but easy government money was making the banks lazy.
In summary, his view is, Nigerian banks are lazy. They must work harder if they intend to survive.