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OPINION

The Political Economy Of Cement

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Cement

By Dakuku Peterside*

Cement and concrete are synonymous with strength; the strength of the economy and infrastructural development. Cement is specifically an indicator of how we prioritise housing, roads, and other infrastructure projects that rely on it. When cement prices go up consistently, it reverberates across the country, sending cold chills down the spines of many. It means fewer people can afford homes, a fundamental human right. Although cement is just one ingredient in the construction industry, it has come to represent the industry itself, so the affordability of cement represents the affordability of houses and other concrete-based constructions. To millions of Nigerians who are nursing the hope of owning their own homes, an increase in the price of cement threatens that hope, and in a country where hope is the only viable anchor against many debilitating odds, there is outrage and panic among many. Besides the link of cement to our collective psyche of home ownership, cement is also about the construction industry, public works, local manufacturing industry, and the employment it generates.

 

The current cement price hike is indicative of the economic degradation of Nigeria and the complexity therein. It showcases the interconnectivity of a nexus of factors that come together to have a stranglehold on our economy and how the government tackles the problem of excessive hikes in cement prices often is a case study of the government’s dominant reactionary approach to solving sensitive social issues and a metaphor for wrong application of policy in our society. It also indicates how the government misdiagnoses problems and applies inappropriate treatment at the policy level.

 

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In a mixed economy like ours, the government plays a crucial role in shaping the economy, and in some cases, it is the highest single stakeholder in some sectors of the economy. The government is a primary consumer in the construction industry because of the many infrastructural projects it builds. Therefore, the government is a significant stakeholder in cement. Nevertheless, its primary role is to create an enabling environment for the market forces to play their role in determining the cement price while ensuring that the regulatory framework constrains the market arbitrariness. This is more preventive than reactionary. However, when the systems and structures put in place to guide the market fail, the government is expected to intervene in the interest of society. This intervention must aim to produce public value by diagnosing and solving problems appropriately. Appropriate diagnoses are pivotal to applying the correct measures that bring sustainable solutions. We miss the point when government officials act like elected kings, using maximum coercive powers to solve a problem that requires thinking and collaboration. Cement is a case in point.

 

The price of cement, using a 50kg bag as an indicator, between May 2023 and January 2024, a period of about six months, has increased from N4,250-N4,500 to N12,000-N13,000. This is an increase of between 100% to 200%. Almost all construction industry segments reacted to this astronomical rise in price. There was a public uproar, and the government applied three knee-jerk reactions: the first was to threaten the cement producers to bring down prices or face dire consequences; the second was a threat to open the borders and allow massive importation of cement to flood the market and force the price down; and the third is another threat by the legislature to probe the reasons for the escalating cost of cement. This is indicative of the mindset of our government officials. But realistically, we cannot solve problems by threatening everybody.

The most critical underlying factor in the cement price hike albatross is that the government is caught between protectionism (protecting the local cement industry) and trade liberalisation to curtail prices. The politics of the recent cement price hike goes beyond the fractures in the Nigerian economy. There is a perception of the politics of cement monopoly. The Obasanjo presidency initiated a policy of selective protectionism on certain items to protect local industries. Things like cement, fruit juice drinks, pasta and sugar benefited. This enabled significant industrialists to set up enormous plants for these items. There was an unwritten understanding behind these concessions about these local investors reciprocating by keeping prices in check. The belief is that allowing international competition would have modulated the local costs of these items, but the quasi-monopoly policies protected them. This is another dimension of the challenge that the government needs to untangle.

 

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On the other hand, cement manufacturers have raised fundamental issues that need appropriate diagnosis and solutions proffered. Issues raised by cement manufacturers are grouped into 5: first, with the general paucity of power in Nigeria, almost all manufacturers generate their energy, and many rely on gas. Despite being a gas-endowed nation, it is simply unavailable – a paradox of plenty. The available gas is denominated in USD and the price has increased by over 300% in the past 6 months. Second, Cement production relies on many imported inputs such as gypsum, machinery, excavators, explosives to blast the mines, spare parts, and propylene to produce bags, all of which are imported using USD. The foreign exchange is just not available, and the USD volatility against the Naira has not helped matters. Third, customs duties are indexed in USD, and lately, it has moved from 450/USD to 1700/USD in just a few months, a more than 300% increase. Fourth, the cost of diesel, which is critical in the transportation of cement and for excavators to mine limestone, has tripled over three months. Fifth, the unfriendly operating environment characterised by corruption, strangulating bureaucracy and multiple taxation is devastatingly affecting the industry.

 

Addressing this issue requires a comprehensive approach involving various stakeholders. A starting point for diagnosis of the challenge is to find out why gas is not available, why we cannot transport cement by rail, what can be done on the matter of foreign exchange components in the cement production sector, tax harmonization, General insecurity, and undue bureaucratic interference to complex issues of market forces. Any solution that does not address these is, at best, jaundiced and unsustainable. It is myopic to think that the government will ignore the significant external and internal intervening variables underpinning the excessive hike in the price of cement, whip the industry to an agreeable price, and assume the problem has been solved.

 

All factors considered, because of the socio-economic impact of cement, the government needed to diagnose the challenge correctly, consult widely, and develop a sustainable policy solution. The impression I get is that this is not the case. The way we are going, many manufacturing concerns in the country will go down unless something is done about FX, operating environment, import duty, power and, most importantly, corruption. If cement prices continue to skyrocket, the cost of public infrastructure will escalate, many will lose their jobs, and the nation will be thrown into further economic depression. There may not be a straight answer to resolving the paradox of cement price hikes, but it is urgent and imperative that a holistic approach to tackling the problem is followed.

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It’s important to note that addressing the high cost of cement requires collaboration between the government, industry players, and other stakeholders to implement sustainable and practical solutions. The government must work with the cement industry to develop policies that stabilise prices and prevent unnecessary fluctuations. It must enforce policies that ensure fair competition and avoid price gouging. It should encourage healthy competition in the cement industry by promoting new entrants with requisite capacity, preventing monopolies, and streamlining the regulatory processes to make it easier for new players to enter the market. It should invest in infrastructure development to improve transportation networks and reduce the cost of transporting raw materials and finished products. Put mildly, the government must create an external environment that is business-friendly.

The cement industry on the other hand must implement energy-efficient technologies to reduce operational costs and explore alternative and renewable energy sources to power manufacturing plants. They should invest in research and development to find innovative and cost-effective methods for cement production and explore new materials or processes that could be used as alternatives to traditional cement. They should encourage using local materials and resources to reduce dependence on imported inputs and support the development of a robust local supply chain for raw materials. They should desist from arbitrary increases in price just for the sake of maximising profit, especially given the concessions the government has given by protecting the industry from foreign competition.

Our housing and infrastructural needs are enormous. A country of over 200 million people needs cement to build houses for people and construct basic infrastructure. The high cost of cement can only exacerbate the paucity of delivering on these essentials. Therefore, all stakeholders must work collaboratively to ensure the availability of cement at affordable prices.

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OPINION

Wanted By EFCC: Yahaya Bello Or White Lion?

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By Ikeddy Isiguzo*

A white lion is a rare appearance. Only a few claim to have seen one. A white lion is sighted following the rare appearances.
The earliest recorded sighting of a white lion was in 1938, according to a 2018 online post. Only about 200 white lions remain globally, and only about 12 of these are to be found in their habitat of South Africa’s Timvabati region. There are no records of white lions in Nigeria.
Yahaya Adoza Bello, former Governor of Kogi State, whom the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, has declared wanted with a frenzy, calls himself White Lion. It could be important to know if EFCC is after Yahaya Bello or White Lion.
The clarification is important to cleanse parts of the disgraceful conduct of EFCC. Bello’s residences are well-known to EFCC. It would be a shame if EFCC did not know where to find Bello or arrest him.
Declaring him wanted is a waste of public attention and resources. Many people woke up on Thursday to see media platforms flooded with messages that there were obstructions to the arrest of Bello. EFCC officials know what they did or refused to do. They can keep the excuses to themselves.
A day earlier, EFCC laid a siege to Bello’s house in Wuse Zone 4, Abuja. It inconvenienced many residents of Benghazi and surrounding streets. What were EFCC doing there? Was it safe-guarding the house for Bello’s convenience?
Bello has a house in Benghazi. If EFCC did not have credible information on its target’s location, what were its operatives doing in Benghazi?
EFCC did nothing because it wanted to do nothing. What is special about Bello and his offence that he cannot be arrested and charged in court?
Was EFCC acting out a script? When a different EFCC was in charge it invaded Rochas Okorocha’s residence and pulled him out. Rocha’s prayer session was reportedly disrupted. What has EFCC done with Rochas since then?
EFCC’s mission to Bello’s house was simple. Get to the house, and make your presence known until Governor Usman Ododo’s convoy arrives to re-confer immunity on Bello with which to ferry him back to Lokoja where Bello has been reportedly holed up in Government House since he ceded office to Ododo last May.
Benghazi Street on Wednesday was designated a “crime scene”. Suspicious vehicles and any possible mobilisation that could aid Bello’s escape should have been shut down. Nothing of that nature happened.
A recreation of Wednesday’s scenario seems to establish that EFCC was waiting for Bello to work out his escape which should not be blamed on Governor Ododo. Before his arrival what had EFCC done?
If agents at the scene required re-enforcement did they ask? What stopped them? Who stopped them? The performance was beyond disgraceful.
We have witnessed EFCC officials smash doors, break windows, and take out roofs in a hot chase for students accused of cybercrimes. Sometimes they arrive at night, hit the wrong addresses, damage buildings, invade people’s privacy, behaving worse than armed robbers. There are no apologies or compensations for the people some of whose health conditions these attacks worsened.
So, when Bello is declared wanted we should applaud EFCC for acting in line with its mandate? If some small-time suspects were involved, EFCC would arrest and hurl them to court by the time you are halfway through this piece. EFFC knows when to be efficient. Its high level of efficiency was on exhibition on Wednesday.
Then, the Inspector-General of Police Dr Kayode Egbetokun weighs in with the more serious joke – policemen attached to Bello had been withdrawn. He may have forgotten that Ododo has enough policemen to spare. Those would be farmed out to the White Lion.
It is also possible that Dr Egbetokun missed the part where Bello had enough louts with him. They dared anyone to come near their hero. EFCC alluded to that in the reasons for Bello’s escape.
Amid the brouhaha, does anyone still remember Honourable James Abiodun Faleke, a ranked Member of the Representatives, Ikeja Federal Constituency, Lagos, but from Ijumu Local Government Area of Kogi State?
He was running mate to Prince Abubakar Audu in the 2015 governorship election which Audu won. Audu died while the results were being announced.
The forces that were, considered Faleke unworthy of being Governor. Old Kabba Division, Faleke’s origin, was the wrong side of the Kogi political map. It was also argued that a Faleke governorship would give Bola Ahmed Tinubu, a toe hold in Kogi State.
In a most bizarre decision, APC counted Audu’s votes for Bello who was second in the party’s primary. The Supreme Court ruled in Bello’s favour.
“I will not disappoint Prince Abubakar Audu. I, James Abiodun Faleke, will not be there for the swearing-in. Nobody consulted me before making me a deputy to Bello. Bello too did not consult me. I have made my position known to the party leadership on this,” said Faleke who kept his word.
The theory is that Faleke’s godfather is making Bello pay for displacing Faleke.
Is this why Bello is running from the law? How long will he run? How far can he run?
People should leave Faleke out of Bello’s troubles. Soon, they would say Faleke made Bello conduct himself in a manner that resulted in the N80 billion alleged fraud.
Those who know him should whisper to Bello that no lion of any hue is afraid, cowed, frightened, and avoids roaring.
Bello should be able to roar his innocence. He cannot do that in hiding. He cannot continue admitting guilt by running from the law that is meant to protect him to the refuge of the Governor.
As it is too difficult to see the White Lion, can we see Bello, the owner of Kogi who ruled that there was no COVID-19 in Kogi State? One of the allegations against him is that he mismanaged the COVID-19 allocations to Kogi State.

Finally…
DR. Ogbonnaya Onu, former Minister of Science & Technology, a gentleman to the core is gone. Some still cannot understand why they trusted Muhammadu Buhari to the point of contemplating that Buhari would have helped him to be President of Nigeria. May the Almighty rest him.
A FEDERAL Government agency officials are raiding markets and shops in Abuja, Lagos, Port Harcourt, Ibadan, and Kaduna to crash prices of goods. These raids cannot crash prices. The government knows but must be seen as doing something. Why did this federal project exclude the South East and North Central?
ELEMENTARY economics would explain that “Naira gaining value”, a supposed win over the Dollar cannot result in a reduction in the cost of manufacturing where other areas are whipping out the gains. Assuming a company had money to buy cheap Dollars, its Band A electricity supply has worsened. It has to buy more diesel to generate power, pay more for the security of its products, and pay for the high cost of transportation. Consumers gain nothing from “Naira gain”. They have no money to buy the goods.
Did you read this? “Once you join the rising spending power of Africa’s largest population with the historic availability of trillions of Naira for consumer credit that will bolster the real sector, you will see why Nigerians will be most pleased that they elected a financial engineer and businessman as president by the end of his first term in office, even as the signs are increasingly more evident today,” Ajuri Ngelale, Special Adviser to the President on Media & Publicity. Ngelale is undergoing financial engineering. Congratulations to him.
Correction: I wrote last week that the boat accident which claimed Nollywood actor Junior Pope and others was on Anam River. My apologies. It was on River Niger.

*Isiguzo is a major commentator on minor issues

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OPINION

EFCC, Naira Abuse And The Real Anti-Corruption War

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EFCC Operatives

By Emeka Alex Duru*

It is becoming clear that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), is not looking back in its battle against abuse of the national currency, the Naira. Or so it seems! Two quick moves by the commission within the month, indicate that it perhaps, means business in this regard.

On Wednesday, two days ago, EFCC arraigned a businessman and socialite, Pascal Okechukwu, popularly known as Cubana Chief Priest, before a Lagos court on three counts bordering on abuse of naira, by allegedly spraying and tampering with the nation’s currency at a social event.

According to EFCC, Okechukwu had on February 13, 2024, at Eko Hotel, within the jurisdiction of the court, while dancing during a social event, tampered with funds in the denomination of N500 notes, by spraying the same for two hours, and thereby committed an offence contrary to and punishable under Section 21(1) of the Central Bank Act 2007.

The commission also alleged that sometime in 2020, during a social event in Lagos, Cubana Chief Priest tampered with funds in the denomination of N500, by spraying the same for two hours.

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In Count 3, EFCC alleged: “That you, Okechukwu Pascal, sometime in January 2024, in Lagos during a social event, tampered with funds in the denomination of N500 (Five Hundred Naira) issued by the Central Bank of Nigeria by spraying the same and you thereby committed an offence, contrary to and punishable under Section 21(1) of the Central Bank Act 2007.”

The EFCC had on April 5, 2024, secured the conviction of controversial cross-dresser, Idris Okuneye, also known as Bobrisky, on similar charges for which he was sentenced to six-month imprisonment on Friday, April 12, 2024. The judge, Abimbola Awogboro, imposed the sentence after the 31-year-old socialite pleaded guilty to the alleged offences.

Earlier in February, a Federal High Court in Lagos had convicted an actress, Oluwadarasimi Omoseyin, of spraying and stepping on new naira notes at a wedding in Lagos.

Ms Omoseyin was apprehended on February 1, following the viral circulation of a video clip showing her spraying new Naira notes at a wedding in Lekki, Lagos State, on January 28. On February 2, the trial judge, Chukwujekwu Aneke, sentenced Ms. Omoseyin to six months imprisonment, but with the option of a N300,000 fine.

Many celebrities, according to the EFCC, are facing investigations and will soon be prosecuted for Naira abuse. We must commend the commission for waging the battle against abuse of the Naira.

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A country’s currency is its legal tender; its store of value, unit of account, and medium of exchange. It is a major tool in transactions by its nationals and residents. In the absence of money, the transactions would become inefficient, and the economy would not be able to produce. By extension, the currency counts among the indexes of national security of a country. How a country treats its currency goes a long way in determining how others see it and its citizens.

Over time, the Naira has been an object of abuse by Nigerians, especially of low value and fleeting identities. Careless spraying of the Naira or even trampling on it, has become an easy path for upstarts to announce their arrival in social circles. If proper analysis is done on the rising incidences of kidnapping, cyber fraud and the get-quick tendencies among the youths, flaunting of the Naira at public functions, will have some blame for the odious acts.

The desire to be celebrated has led many into crimes. It is nearly impossible for anyone who has struggled and toyed to make his or her money to flaunt or spray it in a meaningless fashion. Every effort at safeguarding the value and essence of the Naira should therefore be lauded.

But then, there is the greater task ahead for the EFCC. That is the real war against graft and other acts of corruption. Incidentally, that was even why the commission was established.  Established under the Economic And Financial Crimes Commission (Establishment) Act, 2004, EFCC has among other functions to investigate all financial crimes including advance fee fraud, money laundering, counterfeiting, illegal charge transfers, futures market fraud, fraudulent encashment of negotiable instruments, computer credit fraud and contract scam.

It is also empowered to examine and investigate all reported cases of economic and financial crimes to identify individuals, corporate bodies or groups involved. It can also identify, trace, freeze, confiscate or seize proceeds derived from terrorist activities, economic and financial crime-related offences or the properties the value of which corresponds to such proceeds.

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Given the initial success of the Commission in reining in advance fee criminals and scammers, it was generally seen as a bold move in tackling crime and other misdemeanours that had dented the nation’s image locally and abroad.

With time however, especially, due to the closeness of the leadership of the organisation to successive administrations and the willingness to be used in executing vindictive wars of any seating president, EFCC gradually began to be seen as an instrument of blackmail and intimidation by the government. The agency began to lose steam.

The result is that Nigeria is still rated among the countries with high levels of corruption. By the 2023 Corruption Perception Index (CPI) released by Transparency International (TI) in January this year, Nigeria ranked 145 among 180 countries surveyed. The EFCC had on its own, in 2015, admitted that about $20 trillion had been stolen from the national treasury by leaders who had access to the nation’s money between 1960 and 2005. That figure must have been exceeded over time.

Some of the perpetrators of the heinous acts against the country and their cronies are still in the government houses at the state or federal level or other agencies. The opacity and dirty deals in the oils sector, also portray Nigeria as a country that is neck-deep in corruption.

It is therefore not enough for the EFCC to go about raking in petty thieves, internet fraudsters or those abusing the Naira at social functions while leaving out the brains behind huge crimes. For the anti-corruption war to have meaning and be convincing, it must be comprehensive and encompassing.

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The EFCC may have done well in securing a conviction for those trifling with the Naira. But leaving the real thieves roam freely, casts doubt on the genuineness of its anti-corruption war.

  • Duru is the Editor, TheNiche Newspapers, Lagos (08054103327, nwaukpala@yahoo.com)            
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OPINION

Yahaya Bello, EFCC And Rule Of Law

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Bello

By Pelumi  Olajengbesi

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) stands as a cornerstone in upholding the rule of law and combating economic and financial crimes in Nigeria. Its unwavering commitment to investigating and prosecuting offenders has earned it commendation, fostering transparency and accountability in governance, even though there cannot be an institution without a challenge.

Despite facing institutional challenges, the EFCC’s track record of success has solidified its reputation as a formidable government agency, instilling a sense of propriety and caution among those in positions of political and economic influence.

However, recent events have generated concerns about the agency’s capability to function above interference, particularly in light of perceived political interference in its operations. A notable example is the recent stand-off between EFCC personnel and the immediate former Governor of Kogi State, Yahaya Bello, highlighting the roles played by the Nigeria Police, the Court, and his successor, which underscores this concern.

The recent decision of the Kogi State High Court, purportedly restraining the EFCC from taking action against the former governor came as a rude shock, sparking widespread debate and scrutiny of the Nigerian legal system. Many citizens perceive this as an instance where certain individuals are seemingly placed above the rule of law, fueling media arguments and public discourse.

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While awaiting access to the Certified True Copy of the judgment for clarity, it’s crucial to affirm the EFCC’s statutory authority, akin to other law enforcement agencies, to investigate and prosecute individuals suspected of committing offences. Sections 6 and 7 of the EFCC Establishment Act unequivocally empower the Commission, with constitutional backing that cannot be overridden by the courts.

The Supreme Court in the case of Dr Joseph Nwobike SAN v. The Federal Republic of Nigeria held thus: “Having regard to sections 6, 7, 14-18 of the EFCC Establishment Act, particularly 6(b), 7(1)(a), 2(f), 13(2), the EFCC has powers to investigate, enforce, and prosecute offenders for any offence, whether under the Act or any statute, insofar as the offence relates to the Commission of economic and financial crimes.”

Similarly, in the case of Ewulo v. EFCC & ors., the Court of Appeals held as follows: “It is no longer in doubt that agencies vested with statutory powers to investigate crimes cannot be restrained or arm-twisted by litigation to prevent them from exercising their statutory powers. Once there is semblance of legal justification in the exercise of statutory powers, the courts must refrain from making orders that have the consequence of stupifying the proper exercise of statutory powers.”

From the above, it is clear beyond a doubt that the Commission cannot be restrained from carrying out its constitutional responsibilities. Any attempts by an individual or group to use the instrumentality of the law to obstruct, delay, and/or circumvent the Commission’s constitutional responsibilities are therefore unlawful.

While respecting citizens’ constitutional rights is crucial, courts lack the authority to impede law enforcement agencies from executing their duties, regardless of the individual’s status. Upholding the rule of law necessitates ensuring equal accountability and justice for all, without exceptions or undue influence.

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  • Olajengbesi Esq, Legal is Managing Partner at Law Corridor, Abuja
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