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Rotary (Rotation or the panic button?) (1)

Let me start by thanking Rotarian Dr. Samson Agbato and Rotarian Sola Akinsiku for inviting me to address such a distinguished audience over dinner at the swanky Radisson Blu Hotel, Ikeja GRA.

Undoubtedly, some of you would have been surprised to find my photogragh and posters all over the foyer and lobby of the hotel. Even the outer perimeter has been festooned with balloons asking you to vote for me!! Please accept my apologies. All that is for an entirely different event which is scheduled for tomorrow when I shall formally launch my campaign to become the next President of St. Gregory’s College Old Boys’ Association. It is my detractors who have chosen to make a mountain out of the minor inconvenience for them that I actually attended King’s College, Lagos – their lifelong rivals in everything – academic excellence, sports, civics and “other matters”. In the spirit of Rotary, I am willing to forgive them.

In 1955 eight ex students of King’s College, Lagos (KCOB ‘s): Philip C.Asiodu; Allison Akene Ayida; Emeka Ojukwu; Rex Akpofure; Alex Boyo; David Garrick; Ekpo Eyo, and Macaulay O.K. Jaja were at Oxford and Cambridge University. St.Gregory’s College, Lagos had only one —Theo Ogunbiyi who was admitted to St. Catherine’s College, Oxford University to study medicine. In the same year, St. Gregory’s College trounced King’s College at cricket, football, athletics and “blocking ” girls from Holy Child Girls College and Queen’s College!!!

I am not at liberty to disclose that among the closest advisers to President Muhammadu Buhari are two Old boys of King’s College, Lagos – Ambassador (Professor) Ibrahim Gambari the Chief of Staff and Major-General, Babagana Monguno rtd, the National Security Advisers. These are very closely guarded secrets. For the same reason, I am not at liberty to disclose that while Muhammadu Buhari was at Katsina Secondary School, he learnt to play chess. Indeed, between 1962 to 1963 when he underwent Officer Cadet Training at Mons Officer Cadet School in Aldershot in England, United Kingdom he became very proficient at chess. Afterwards, his chess partner and confidant was our mutual friend, late Mr. Bayo Belo.

As confirmation that King’s College is still well ahead of St. Gregory’s, here is the latest commendation from the Federal Ministry of Education (a first position certificate as overall best in 2021/22 NECO).

Rather than be distracted, let us focus on the topic of my address ROTARY and its iconic Four-Wheel-Test: Alongside (or as a subtext) we have to contend with the reality of our situation which is probably best illustrated as follows:

“The value of One Million Naira (N1,000,000.00)

Over 41-years period (1981 – 2022)

1981 : N1m = $1,570,105

1991 : N1m = $ 102,517

2001 : N1m = $ 8,814

2011 : N1m = $ 6,382

2021 : N1m = $ 2,421

As at October 17, 2022

That means N10 (ten naira) would buy what 1K (one kobo) bought forty years ago.

As we speak the exchange rate of the naira at the parallel market is hovering around N805 to $1.

Hence, the question and challenge with which we are confronted is whether we as Rotarians (or friends of the Rotary Club) should rely on the Four-Wheel-Test for salvation – or press the panic botton.

This is where Critical Thinking kicks in.

At the risk of telling you what you already know the profile of Rotarians and their wives (the Inner Wheel) is most intimidating – well educated and highly successful men and women with a conscience and an overarching desire to give back to society and thereby salvage humanity largely by providing succour (against pain and hunger) and amelioration of debilitating diseases such as blindness, polio, diabetes, arthritis etc. But then, how do the noble gestures and generosity of spirit which Rotarians have consistently demonstrated square or jive with our predicament and shambolic environment, financial recklessness, political gangsterism and a long list of horrendous vices – kidnapping, banditry, terrorism, money rituals, drug trafficking, “419” fraudsters etc?

Equally mind boggling are the direct and indirect cost of the forthcoming Presidential and Gubernatorial elections as regards which the starting point was the purchase of multi-dimensional N100,000,000 (one hundred million naira) nomination form to enter the fray as a Presidential candidate in a nation where millions are victims of starvation, hunger and multitude deprivation. By the look of things, what looms on the horizon are the most expensive elections in the history of mankind. To run as a serious Presidential candidate, you need a war chest of at least one trillion naira !! However, if you can only rustle one hundred billion naira along with donations from Rotarians you had better settle for governorship or the Senate/House of Representatives.

It is not my intention to ruin your appetite as we proceed with the sumptuous dinner which has been so exquisitely laid on but Rotarians cannot claim immunity from the shock and awe as well as collective shame following the revelation (by the Central Bank of Nigeria and Security agencies) of the staggering amounts of cash that have been stashed away by politicians, drug merchants and fraudsters.

Here is the catalogue of discoveries.

(i) “Daily Trust” newspaper November 2, 2022

Bank fraud: EFCC arrests Kogi Assembly candidate with N326m, $610,500.

The EFCC has arrested a Kogi State House of Assembly candidate of the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP), Ismaila Yusuf Atumeyi with N326million and $ 140,500 cash.

Atumeyi, who is seeking to represent Ankpa 11 Constituency in the State Assembly, was arrested on Sunday.

Spokesman of the anti-graft agency, Wilson Uwujaren, told Daily Trust that one Abdumalik Salau Femi, a former bank employee, was arrested in connection with the fraud alongside one Joshua Dominic, an alleged serial fraudster, in a sting operation at Macedonia Street, Queens Estate, Karsana, Gwarinpa, Abuja.

According to Uwujaren, Femi supplied the inside information that facilitated the attack on a bank by the syndicate.

“He (Femi) was picked up Tuesday, November 1, 2022, at Radisson Blu Hotel, in Lagos.

Alas, we are dining in the same Radisson Blu Hotel!!

Following his arrest, a search was conducted on his home in Morgan Estate, Ojodu where a total of $470,000 was recovered.

“The arrest of the suspects followed months of investigation into the hacking of one of the commercial banks by a syndicate of fraudsters who pulled off a heist of N1.4billion.

The syndicate allegedly moved N887 million into the account of Fav Oil and Gas limited, from where the monies were paid to several Bureau de Change operators and some auto dealers for exchange into United States Dollars and purchase of high-end cars,” he said.

The EFCC added that Dominic, who has severally been arrested for fraud, allegedly helped Atumeyi perfect the hacking plan through Abdumalik.

Uwujaren stated: “Dominic, a self-styled investment expert and managing director of Brisk Capital Limited was arrested in May 2021 by the Special Fraud Unit of the Nigeria Police for alleged N2billion investment scam. He allegedly defrauded over 500 persons in a phony investment scheme.

Two Range Rover Luxury SUVs were also recovered from the two suspects arrested in Abuja. They will be charged to court as soon as the investigation is concluded.

Meanwhile, the Commission expresses concern about the rising spate of cyber-attacks on banks and the reluctance of the institutions to report such breaches to law enforcement. While warning that such reticence would only embolden the criminals, the EFCC appeals to financial institutions to collaborate with it to secure the financial sector from threats of cyber-attacks.”

(ii) “ThisDay” newspaper November 2, 2022

Fashola: FG owes highway contractors N10.4trn

• Shortage of young engineers, technical officers hit works ministry

The Minister of Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola yesterday revealed that the federal government owes highway contractors the sum of N10.4 trillion.

Fashola, who made the revelation at a Budget Defence session with the House of Representatives Committee on Works in Abuja, also lamented that shortage of young engineers and technical officers due to the embargo placed on employment by the government was adversely affecting the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing.

He explained: “The shortage of younger engineers/technical officers in the ministry as a result of embargo on employment is affecting proficient project supervision at the sites. It is expected that more sources of funding of highway projects would be explored as well as lifting the embargo on employment of needed engineers/technical officers at middle level to enhance supervision of projects.”

Speaking further, he said “the main challenge to highways development in the country remains inadequate funding. As at date, the government is committed to highway contractors to the tune of about N10.4trillion while a total of about N765billion are unpaid certificates for executed works.”

He noted that, “As at October 2022, the Ministry had a cumulative unpaid certificates in the sum of N765,017,139,752.92 for ongoing highway and bridge projects. Apart from the pressure of resources to pay, there is the inadequacy of annual budget provisions where N100 million or N200 million was provided for roads costing N20 billion or more.

In spite of all odds, 20 major highways projects have so far been completed in 2022 and are ready for commissioning. The total cost of the completed projects is in the sum of N444,322,123,808.61 and they cover a total length of 379.677km. Additionally, there are 59 major highways/bridges priority projects that are at an advanced level, to be completed within 2022-2023 with a total contract sum of N60,961,187,130.71.”

According to the former Lagos state governor, “the ministry is currently undertaking a total of 1,642 highway contracts at a total contract sum of N10,395,294,937,624.20 spread over the six geo-political zones explaining that the 1,642 ongoing contracts are categorised according to special funding mechanisms.

A total of six selected critical projects are being funded under the 2022 PIDF Project, which is managed by the Nigerian Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA). As at date, the total sum of N754,790,502,612.80 has been certified out of the sum of N1,314,753,921,766.72. This translates to a performance of 57.41 per cent.

“A total of 71 selected critical projects are being funded under the 2021 Sovereign Sukuk Issuance, which is managed by the Debt Management Office (DMO). As at date, the total sum of N157,920,183,472.88 has been drawn out of the sum of N210,565,000,000.00. This translates to a performance of 75 per cent.”

Furthermore, he told the lawmakers that, “the NNPC joined the Road Infrastructure Development & Refurbishment Tax Credit Scheme programme by undertaking to finance 21 roads in the total sum of N621 billion with a total length of 1,804.6km. These roads were identified by key stakeholders such as the NNPC, Petroleum Tanker Drivers Association (PTDA) and the ministry, etc as being crucial for the efficient distribution of petroleum products across the nation.

That means N10 (ten naira) would buy what 1K (one kobo) bought forty years ago. As we speak the exchange rate of the naira at the parallel market is hovering around N805 to $1


As at date, the sum of N196,052,918,202.51 has been paid by the NNPC out of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) approved sum of N621,237,164,794.59 representing 31.56 per cent performance.”

Fashola, however added that for 2023, attention would be paid to ongoing road projects that are on the nation’s major arterials but not having any alternative source of funding apart from the budget. These he said included the llorin -Kabba -Obajana road, Okene -Itobe road and dualisation of Ibadan (May Fair Junction)-Lagere-Iremo-Erinwu-Ilesha road.

The completion of ongoing highway bridges has been prioritised in the 2023 budget, particularly the Murtala Mohammed Bridge, Nupeku Bridge, Marine Bridge and Eko Bridge.”

Furthermore, he broke down the figures, noting that, “Nigeria’s total debt level is N42.84 trillion or $103 billion. External debt levels stand at N16.61 trillion or $40 billion. International partnerships on debt are helping Africa, and Nigeria. The issuance of special drawing rights (SDR) by the International Monetary Fund of $650 billion helped provide liquidity support for countries. However, Africa only received $33 billion out of all of that. Pretty small !!”

Perhaps we should add to the list N17.4 billion which termites are alleged to have destroyed at NSITF (Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund).

Let us pause for a moment and subject the following report on the front page of “ThisDay” newspaper on November 3, 2022 to the “Four-Wheel Test” under the Rotarian microscope.

Headline: “OSHIOMOLE: FUEL SUBSIDY HAS BEEN HUGE SOURCE

OF FRAUD FOR LONG”

“A former National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Mr. Adams Oshiomhole, yesterday condemned the continuous payment of fuel subsidy by the federal government, insisting that the policy had been a huge source of fraud for a very long time

Oshiomhole who spoke yesterday on the ‘Morning Show’ of Arise News Channel, the broadcast arm of THISDAY Newspapers, said when he was President of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), he led a campaign that fought against the removal of fuel subsidy, saying that as at that time, the federal government, was subsidising petrol with between $20 billion and $30 billion per year. He however said as at today, fuel subsidy has risen to over $6 trillion per year.

He, therefore questioned how much of the fuel was being subsidised for small business owners, commercial drivers and the poor Nigerians, who buy fuel every day to run their small businesses.

Oshiomhole said: “As far as I am concerned, government is only dealing with fraud in the name of fuel subsidy. So government needs to eliminate fraud through the removal of fuel subsidy.

“There is the equalisation fund that ensures equal payment for fuel across different regions of the country, yet government could not control the prices of petrol in Lagos, Abuja, Kano, Maiduguri, Port Harcourt, Calabar and in other parts of the country, because marketers sell at different prices in different regions of the country.

One thing that people should learn about leadership, is that if the leader lacks the capacity to enforce the ideal objective of government, then such leader will fail in his or her leadership position. A leader must be able to, within his or her limitations, enforce the law in order to succeed.”

Read also: Fuel queues return in Lagos as scarcity bites

Asked if the current yearly $6 trillion fuel subsidy was not an indictment of the APC that had continued to pay for fuel subsidy, despite several oppositions, Oshiomhole said: “I am part of APC, I chaired the APC for two years and now I am the Deputy Director General of Tinubu’s Campaign Group, but I have my views about fuel subsidy in Nigeria.

No government, including the government of former President Goodluck Jonathan, has been able to give me satisfactory statistics that explain the continued subsidy on fuel, especially with the numbers that are coming out of NNPC (Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation). The challenge we have as a country is the abuse of public institutions. I am not indicting APC on fuel subsidy, because the APC government has tried all it could, but the gross abuse of public institutions, has remained one of our greatest challenges as a people.”

According to him, “some private fuel distributors get petroleum products from NNPC at reduced prices and in a clear breach of the understanding between them and the NNPC, they sell the petroleum products at higher prices in their regions and government does not have the executive capacity to monitor all the distributors.

The question now is why should government allow such process to continue to thrive in the system?

Government therefore needs to take action to implement some of its policies to the letter.

Again, the exchange rate poses a major challenge to the Nigerian economy, and not just the fuel subsidy. Former CBN Governor, Prof. Chukwuma Soludo, who is the current Governor of Anambra State, wanted to peg naira at N125 per dollar, when the exchange rate was between N116 and N120.

Today, naira has jumped to about N800 in the parallel market, and this has further weakened the naira,” Oshiomhole said.

In spite of the tough economic situation in the country, the APC Presidential flag bearer, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, during the official presentation of the APC manifesto on Tuesday, promised a double-digit growth for the economy. In responding to a question, Oshiomhole said Tinubu only promised to ensure that the country’s monetary and fiscal policies are in harmony, in order to grow the Nigerian economy to double digits.

He said Tinubu would be able to put an end to corruption, oil theft, block financial leakages and recover the $6 trillion paid on fuel subsidy annually by the current government, if voted into power in the 2023 election.

We are compelled to factor into the equation generated by Critical Thinking the not insignificant fact (and factor) – the donations of Rotarians to worthy causes are not from the proceeds of crime or looting of the treasury. Rather, they are from their sweat and toil. They have sacrificed more than a little to make up for the inadequacies of government. That is precisely where the problem is in a nation where virtually everything is upside down.

In one breath we are told that our debts are monumental – to the tune of N42.84 trillion and at the same time the Minister of Works says that we are owing contractors.

Clearly, there is a mismatch somewhere. It is a huge lacuna. Where has all the money gone ? The options available to make a monumental impact is for Rotarian to pay off either our foreign debts or settle the bills submitted by our local contractors !!

In exasperation and despair we are entitled to resort to metaphors. Granted our nation has become a jungle, could it be that our politicians and other powers-that-be have become pythons?

The front page of “The Daily Telegraph” of 26 October 2022 provides a powerful lesson.

Headline: “GRANDMOTHER EATEN ALIVE BY 22FT PYTHON IN SUMANTRAN

JUNGLE”

“Video footage shows locals recovering remains of the woman, 54, after cutting the massive snake open.” A grandmother has been eaten alive by a huge python after venturing into the Indonesian jungle to collect rubber. Residents who managed to catch the 22ft-long snake and cut it open, found the remains of the 54-year-old grandmother inside.

Jahrah, who like many Indonesians goes by just one name, walked into the jungle alone in Jambi province, on the island of Sumatra, but did not return home. Her family became worried and villagers sent search parties out into the forest. Two days after her disappearance, they came across the huge snake, with its enlarged stomach, resting in a jungle clearing.

Video footage showed local men spearing the giant snake with a long stick and bashing its head. They then cut open its stomach with knives and machetes, revealing the remains of the woman.

There is speculation that the clearing of forest for palm oil cultivation in countries such as Indonesia is leading to greater contact between pythons and humans. Anto, the chief of the local village, said the woman would have been snatched by the snake’s jaws and then slowly suffocated to death. He added: The victim did not come home after saying goodbye to her family to go to the garden to collect rubber from trees on Friday. Her family then reported her missing to the local authorities, and a search has been carried out since then.

The snake was killed by locals, who then dissected its stomach. Everybody was shocked. It turned out that the woman we were looking for was in the snake’s stomach.”

He said villagers are scared because they suspect that other snakes, which are equally large, are living in the surrounding forest. The woman’s body was largely intact when the snake was sliced open because it had not had long to start digesting its meal.

Reticulated pythons are the world’s longest snakes. Found across South and South-east Asia, they can grow up to 25ft in length. Once they reach maturity they prey on wild boar, deer, domestic dogs and monkeys. This ambush predator grabs hold of its prey with dozens of sharp curved teeth, then squeezes it to death before swallowing it whole. It is one of the few species of snake that occasionally preys on humans.

In 2018, a woman who went to check on her vegetable garden on the island of Sulawesi in central Indonesia was killed and swallowed by a 23ft-long python. As in the Sumatra case, local villagers caught the snake, cut it open and discovered her body inside. Her sandals, machete and torch were found nearby. The year before, a 25-year-old man was swallowed whole by a python, also on Sulawesi.”

Address delivered at the Rotary Foundation fundraising dinner on Monday, November 21, 2022, at Radisson Blu Hotel, Nnamdi Azikiwe Hall, Ikeja GRA