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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

The Scourge Of Rising Inflation

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By Dakuku Peterside*
An increasing number of Nigerians are being driven into poverty, not by choice, but by the current political and economic climate, shaped by stringent macroeconomic policies. These policies, such as subsidy removal, devaluation of Naira, and increase in electricity tariff, have had unintended consequences. For instance, removing subsidies has led to a significant increase in the cost of living, while the devaluation of Naira has made imported goods more expensive. These factors, combined with the high level of insecurity, have affected food security in Nigeria and created a perfect storm of economic hardship. The signs of this unavoidable reality are readily apparent. The interventions to prevent this descent into poverty are either ineffectual or remedy the condition too slowly.
An unprecedented rise in inflation has destroyed households’ disposable incomes and pushed many families into poverty. Spiralling inflation is having a devastating impact on all, but especially on households in the lower rungs of the working class, who in their millions are joining the already over 133 million multidimensionally poor Nigerians struggling to earn a living because high inflation has eroded the value of their income. As shown by the NBS Consumer Price Index of April 2024, published in May 2024, the headline inflation rate rose to 33.69% in April 2024 compared to March. The headline inflation rate was 11.47% higher in April 2024 compared to the previous year. During the same period, inflation in urban areas was higher than in rural areas. Even worse, the food inflation rate in April 2024 was 40.53%, increasing by 15.92% compared to April 2023. What does this mean for the ordinary citizen? More money can purchase fewer goods and services.
We cannot dismiss the direct correlation between rising inflation and rising poverty in Nigeria. A household with a monthly income of N300,000 in April 2023 would have lost 33.69% of its real purchasing power if it earned the same amount in April 2024. This means that the same amount of money can now buy significantly fewer goods and services, putting a strain on the household’s budget. Imagine this household struggled in 2023 to make ends meet; how will it cope with less than 33% of its value in goods and services this year? It is little wonder many Nigerians are in despair and are calling on the government to tweak its policies and salvage the situation before it is too late. Families in the earning bracket mentioned above are even better than many whose total income is less than N100,000 if both parents in the household earn minimum wages per month.
The government intervention so far, with the best of intentions, has yielded little result as inflation continues unabated. The monetary policies of increasing base interest rates to above 22%, improving the cash reserve ratio by banks to above 40%, and constantly engaging in the money market to mop up excess liquidity have yielded less than the expected result in curbing inflation. More is needed, and my little knowledge of street economics shows me that the Nigerian economy often defies some fundamental economic concepts that work in developed countries because of our economy’s informal and unregulated nature. The Nigerian government must creatively use other bespoke and practical fiscal and monetary measures to tame our raging inflation.
Paradoxically, there is compelling evidence that inflation continues to rise because of critical government policies. Instead of providing more concerted anti-inflationary measures, the government has added more inflationary steps to the economy. The government cannot confront inflation while imposing limitless taxes, tariffs, and charges on the things that people spend money on daily. The impact of excess tax is on everybody, but the burden is more on people experiencing poverty whose purchasing power has been eroded by inflation. The government cannot tax itself out of our economic predicament. Increasing personal income tax is one way the government reduces disposable income to curb demand-pull inflation, but the inflation in Nigeria is not because of an increase in household income, but caused by cost-induced factors. So tax on people whose income has not increased in the past year is a recipe for hardship.
Other factors also imperil government efforts to curb inflation. Imported inflation has been the bane of Nigeria, given the number of raw materials and goods imported into Nigeria from countries with high inflation rates. This is not helped by the new exchange rate regime that has seen the Naira fall to its lowest value in a generation. The government has been trying to control the erosion of the value of Naira to no avail. The increasing cost of energy has pushed some businesses to pack up. These factors have exacerbated the rise of inflation, and unless the government starts tackling them, it cannot effectively win its fight against runaway inflation.
The consequences of inaction are severe and far-reaching. The system requires a set of anti-inflationary measures to relieve the people and companies so that livelihoods can improve, and real incomes recover from shock to encourage people to live and save. Savings and prosperity will fire up investment, production, supply, and consequent demand. If inflation worsens, the economy will, at best, go into stasis, further regression, and possibly depression. More manufacturers will quit, and unemployment will worsen with even more crime and insecurity. The picture I painted above is not far from us.
Recent statistics about the hunger level in Nigeria occasioned by food inflation are alarming. There is a deteriorating food security and nutrition crisis in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe (BAY) states this lean season between May and September 2024. According to the Government-led Cadre Harmonise analysis released in March this year, in Borno, Adamawa, and Yobe states, some 4.8 million people are estimated to be facing severe food insecurity, the highest level in seven years. Children, pregnant and lactating women, older persons, and people living with disabilities are among those who are most vulnerable. About 2.8 million of these people need urgent interventions.
The prices of staple foods like beans and maize have increased by 300 to 400 per cent over the past year because of a cocktail of reasons. Inflation is outpacing the ability of families to cope, making essential food items unaffordable. Furthermore, the report stated that “malnutrition rates are of great concern. Approximately 700,000 children under five are projected to be acutely malnourished over the next six months, including 230,000 who are expected to be severely acutely malnourished and at risk of death if they do not receive timely treatment and nutrition support.”  The Acting Representative of UNICEF Nigeria argues that “this year alone, we have seen around 120,000 admissions for the treatment of severe acute malnutrition with complications, far exceeding our estimated target of 90,000”.  These statistics are for only 3 states in Northeast Nigeria. Imagine what it will be like for the whole 36 States in Nigeria. There is real fire on the mountain!
This rising hunger is not peculiar to the Northeast. From my knowledge of street economics, hunger and poverty is pervasive across all six geopolitics zones. Increasing poverty is directly linked with more severe economic outcomes. Increasing poverty can result in a more divided society, Issues with housing, homelessness, limited access to healthcare, nutrition poverty and poor living conditions that have a detrimental effect on one’s health. Children living in poverty have less access to education, which will reduce their chances in the future. More families facing poverty will experience conflicts, stress, and domestic violence. Poverty can set off a vicious cycle in which the effects of it act as catalysts for additional episodes of poverty. Increasing inflation and poverty are bad omens that blow us no good. They are bad for our economy. They are bad for our people. The government must pay attention to these factors and be more sensitive in our economic policy choices.
Only some anti-inflationary measures that comprehensively capture the macroeconomic dimensions and provide solutions may work. Poverty alleviation measures are barely temporary and, at best, work in the short run to cushion the effect of heightened inflation and food insecurity. The government should provide solid medium- to long-term solutions to tackle these problems. They should re-evaluate some of their policies to see whether they are inflationary and jettison them to allow good policies to thrive. We can only imagine the unintended consequences of allowing poverty and inflation to fester. The increasing inflation and poverty are creating desperation among a portion of society, which is increasingly becoming despondent and seeing itself at the fringes of society. The implications of this are plausible. Many ordinary citizens are burdened by poverty, hunger, and severe inflation, which have made their lives miserable. The government must take action to alleviate this scourge and help Nigerians lead meaningful lives.

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OPINION

New Approach To Combatting Terrorism In Nigeria: Truth Alliance And The Path Forward

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Terrorists

By Ahmed Mustapha*

Three weeks ago, a high-level UN counter-terrorism summit in Abuja concluded that a new approach to fighting terrorism was needed across Africa.

As the head of one of Nigeria’s largest NGOs dealing with this problem, I strongly agree and hope that the conclusions of this meeting will herald new and exciting approaches to reducing the risk of more violence and its terrifying consequences for the people of this country and the Continent of Africa.

The summit gathered one month after the brutal kidnapping of over 100 students from Kuriga, Kaduna State.  Even more recent kidnappings show how the terrifying reality of violent extremism remains in Nigeria. Both provide a stark reminder of the ruthless tactics of terrorist or violent extremist groups who target innocent civilians, using suicide bombers in markets, places of worship, and crowded venues, further exacerbating the region’s humanitarian crisis – all to further their cause.

As the summit discussed, the terror unleashed by Boko Haram, Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), and their likes has led to widespread displacement, with millions forced into refugee and internally displaced persons (IDP) camps under dire conditions. The social fabric of entire communities has been torn apart, with trust eroded and countless families mourning the loss of loved ones.

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But there is hope.  Our pioneering work to reduce the risk of violence and rehabilitate those who leave these groups and the tireless works of other groups like us give points to a new way forward.

Our work in affected communities is heralding great results and pointing to a new wave of defections and surrenders from Boko Haram for those fed up with the hypocrisy of its leadership, the brutality of its actions and the cruel manipulation of those whose job it is to recruit people into their ranks.

That is why a group of stakeholders, CSOs and concerned citizens formed the ‘The Truth Alliance’ – a network committed to unmasking the truth behind violent and extremist groups and empowering communities to resist tyranny and violence. Through education, outreach, and collaboration, the Truth Alliance strives to build a safer, more resilient society for all.

In a campaign tagged ‘Time to Tell the Truth’, the Truth Alliance has come together to expose the truth behind how violent extremist groups draw young people into their ranks. Their message is simple: these groups manipulate, they deceive, they control, they kill, and they destroy the hopes and dreams of people, their families and the communities in which they live.

In a new report, the Alliance has highlighted what we call “the significant revelations about the internal conflicts and growing disenchantment within Boko Haram.” We believe the group’s cohesion and operational effectiveness are weakening, illuminating the underlying vulnerabilities within its ranks.

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The personal testimonies from young insurgents who defected in April provide a disturbing glimpse into the group’s operations and the brutal reality that reveals the truth behind their recruitment practices, which contradict the group’s recruitment propaganda.  This manipulative recruitment strategy targets the most vulnerable, often deceiving them with twisted interpretations of religious texts.

The report also describes how Boko Haram, infamous for its brutal campaign of violence, has long engaged in atrocities, including mass kidnappings, indiscriminate killings, and the exploitation of children as soldiers. However, the growing number of surrenders and defections from Boko Haram indicates a loss of control and diminishing morale among its members.

If we act fast, these internal fractures are critical vulnerabilities that could provide opportunities for regional security forces to capitalise on. This could potentially accelerate the group’s decline and herald exactly what the summit asked for—a new scale of effort to tackle this enduring and terrifying problem facing the people of Nigeria.

*Mustapha is the spokesperson for The Truth Alliance and can be reached via info@truthalliance.org.ng

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OPINION

Manchester City Beat West Ham  To Become First Team To Win English League Title Four Seasons In A Row

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With Manchester City needing a win to be sure of holding off Arsenal, who started the final day two points behind but with a better goal difference, Phil Foden put Pep Guardiola’s side ahead after just two minutes.

The England star added another before the break and although Mohammed Kudus pulled one back, midfielder Rodri restored the home side’s two-goal cushion with a shot from the edge of the area after 59 minutes.

City survived a late scare when West Ham had a second goal ruled out by VAR for handball.

However, their victory was never seriously in doubt

The win completed a staggering run of 19 wins and four draws since their last defeat in the league, at Aston Villa on 6 December.

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City have now won six out of the past seven Premier League titles. Last term, they joined Huddersfield, Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United, twice, in winning the top flight three years in a row.

Now Guardiola’s team have achieved something no other side has managed since the English league was formed in 1888, 136 years ago.

On 25 May they will aim to become the first side to complete the domestic Double in successive seasons when they face Manchesterter United in the FA Cup final at Wembley.

Foden has already collected the Football Writers’ Association and Premier League Player of the Year awards. Few would argue against a clean sweep when the Professional Footballers’ Association eventually confirms theirs.

At 23, Foden now has six titles to his name. He is still a long way behind Ryan Giggs, who holds the record with 13.

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However, it is worth noting Giggs did not achieve his sixth until he was 26 and while the Welshman was 39 when he got his last, given City’s current dominance, Foden is likely to keep chipping away at that total in the short term.

Guardiola feels there is further improvement in the England international, but he has already developed his all-round game, makes better runs with and without the ball, and his close control is sublime.

James Ward-Prowse must have felt he was chasing shadows as he closed in to make a tackle when Bernardo Silva provided Foden with a square pass. But with one touch, Foden ghosted away from the West Ham man before delivering the perfect finish.

There was no real evidence of nerves in the crowd before kick-off. City had not lost at home all season and they had a 100% winning record against West Ham on home soil since Guardiola arrived in 2016 .

The visitors had nothing to play for, manager David Moyes is leaving and top-scorer Jarrod Bowen was ruled out with tonsillitis.

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But any home anxiety that did exist was rapidly swept away.

Foden’s second – his 26th goal of the season – wasn’t long in arriving as Jeremy Doku delivered a slide-rule, square pass through a crowd of bodies to the edge of the six-yard area. Foden was calmness personified in a frantic situation and found the net with a first-time finish.

Only a bit of bad luck and West Ham keeper Alphonse Areola prevented West Ham being completely swept away in the first half hour.

The France keeper turned away De Bruyne’s vicious free-kick, repelled Doku twice and also denied Manuel Akanji. Rodri, Erling Haaland, acrobatically, and Josko Gvardiol all missed the target from reasonably close range.

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