We must thank God for the gift of life to see a new year. 2017 was quite a year, where the best never happened but also the worst never happened. To be fair 2017 was an improvement over 2016 in many respects, even if it is from a psychological point of view. It was a terrible thing to live through a recession,the first in 25 years, but from the 2nd quarter of 2017, Nigeria began the climb out of the black hole. Our exit from recession was propelled largely by the recovery of oil prices in the International market. While the price of crude came down as low as $28 per barrel in 2016, Nigeria's sweet crude was selling for about $60 dollars per barrel at the end of 2017. The second thing that helped our exit was the change of policy direction by the government. It stopped focusing on managing demand of the dollar to managing supply with the associated policy adjustments.

Many Nigerians ended 2017 in some avoidable agony. Those who owned cars slept in filling stations because of acute refined fuel scarcity or bought PMS at inflated prices reaching 250 Naira per litre in many places outside Lagos & Abuja. Those who did not own cars and needed to travel to enjoy the Festive season outside their bases, incurred unbudgeted transportation costs and even those who planned to travel by air faced so many challenges and these left bitter tastes in the mouths of many citizens. In fact , many people had to cancel their trips because of transportation difficulties.  Therefore as we start a new year, I wish to state a few of my wishes for Nigeria and Nigerians in 2018.

Nigeria got into recession because of two factors - significant drop in the price of crude petroleum and its impact on National income and foreign exchange earnings; and the wrong headed economic policies built on an economy left unattended for over six months. Nobody can perfectly predict the direction of oil prices in 2018. Though oil market watchers and analysts predict a stable and perhaps optimistic view of the oil market, suggesting that oil prices will remain above 50 dollars per barrel, nobody can swear on this. The global oil market remains a volatile one and with rising tensions in the Middle East following the USA's unilateral recognition of Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel, prices may move in  favour of Nigeria and the Countries that depend on oil income for economic health. But the reverse can easily happen with over-production from Russia and Iran who are often erratic with their responses. Already many in the developed world are strategically cutting back on the use of fossil fuels thereby forcing down demand, signaling long term price decline for crude oil.

Yes, Nigeria's economy has been diversified regarding sectoral contributions to GDP, but we still are fully dependent on only Crude Petroleum and Gas to provide up to 90% of foreign exchange. The pains of recession are still visible in Nigeria: unemployment plus underemployment is close to 40%, and misery index is close to 68%; that my wish is that nothing be allowed to take us back to recession. 
The Federal government must plan with a pessimistic view of the oil prices  and adopt policy measures that will allow capital importation into Nigeria that can offset any drop in forex earning from oil. 
In the medium to long term, the government must take more deliberate measures to make other sectors of the economy like Manufacturing, Agriculture, solid minerals, Tourism & hospitality yield foreign exchange. To continue to depend on earnings from crude Petroleum to fund our budget is becoming a very risky gamble.

I am often shocked that our leaders seem not to feel any shame, when terrible and despicable things continue to happen in Nigeria. For years now, Nigeria, the 6th largest OPEC oil producer, and the largest oil exporter in Africa, has failed to meet the domestic demand for refined products on a continuous  basis. Every once in a while Nigerian citizens are dehumanized and put through unnecessary sufferings and exploitation just because the "giant of Africa" can neither refine enough, nor import enough of refined petroleum products especially PMS to meet local demand. Every regime that comes to power insults the intelligence of Nigerians with cock'n'bull stories of Turn Around Maintenance (TAM) that only turns around the pockets of phantom contractors and the contractees.
We had asked the Government to fully deregulate the down stream oil sector and to privatize the epileptic national oil refineries in PH, Warri & Kaduna. President Obasanjo bit the nail and tried to privatize the dilapidated oil refineries. President Yar'adua acting on uninformed advice reversed the sales made and refunded money paid with interest!  Again, President Jonathan took the progressive step to deregulate the down stream in early 2012. A so called progressive party led a revolt to abort the progressive policy! Now this progressive party has been in power for nearly three years and they have shown a painful lack of proper economic focus that will relieve Nigerians from this perennial rites of hardship and exploitation. This government is taking credit for the ambitious Dangote refinery and pining  its hope on solving this disconcerting problem on this private initiative. The same Dangote they refused to sell the money-sucking refineries to,is the same one all top officials of government are visiting every day and holding prayer vigils that the refinery comes on stream in 2019 to solve a problem that can be solved this week, if only they can adopt the right policy. Last week the GMD of NNPC felt no shame in finally admitting that the government is now subsidizing the cost of PMS.I truly wish that Nigerians will never again go through the experience they went through in the last six weeks or so.
I believe that many Nigerians have lost faith in our national budget process. Many see it as a circus that yields little benefit to the citizens. Budget that is expected to run from January to December, never gets approved early because the draft is submitted late and when eventually approved perhaps at mid year is never funded in a timely manner. Year on year, capital budget performance remain below 50% and projects remain uncompleted as we stumble into other projects, wasting national resources in the most inefficient manner. I just wish this will change in 2018 and that we shall have a full year budget that will be fully funded as at when due with results to show - motor-able roads, improved electricity, skill-based education, effective health-care system and National security system that protects citizens lives and property, etc.

Nigeria has shed the blood of innocent Nigerians too much. From the days of military coups, the Pogrom that preceded the civil war and the 1967-1970 civil war and several religious and ethnic clashes and uprisings since them. Innocent Nigerians are daily killed by armed robbers, run-away drivers, kidnappers and cultists, often with ease. Boko Haram continues to kill the innocent almost daily in the North East. Let it be known that the shed blood of the innocent cry for Justice daily in this land!  What is worse is when the government which is set to protect, now partakes in unjustly killing its citizens just because they were exercising their fundamental human rights of peaceful protest. It got so bad that the Nigerian government had to unleash venomous pythons and carnivorous crocodiles on its innocent youth. May God forgive them. My wish is that this never happens again in 2018, nor ever!

It is a shame that a Nation with a predominantly youth population is ruled by geriatrics. Some of these geriatrics ruled Nigeria in their 30s and still want to remain in elected political offices in their 80s. That is not fair to the Nation. I strongly believe that when people reach the age of 75 years, they should retire from active political competition and leadership. They could play more advisory roles and allow the younger elements run the political parties and hold other elective offices. The advantages are too many for me to begin to mention here and this is the trend in the World except of course in Africa where 90 year old who wear pampers still want to remain in power. May God save Africa,starting with Nigeria! 
So my wish for Nigeria in 2018 as we get set for the General Elections is that the very aged should make way for the younger elements who are more enlightened and more vibrant.

Mazi Sam I. Ohuabunwa OFR



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RACISM, ETHNICITY AND TRIBALISM .... What's the difference?

THE GROWING MISERY INDEX OF NIGERIANS AND THE SEARCH FOR GOVERNMENT Nigerians readily point out what Governments ought to do which they are not doing. Indeed, virtually every problem in Nigeria is blamed on the government. And for many Nigerians, the government to be blamed often is the Federal government. Many are oblivious of the other tiers of government, especially the local governments. It is as if the local governments have no responsibilities or may be the people have come to expect little from them. The many years of over centralization fostered on the Nation by the military now makes most Nigerians think and act as if the Federal government is the only government in Nigeria. The 1999 Constitution sustains this misnomer by granting the Federal government a long exclusive list and the freedom to dabble into every other matter, some of which should better be left with the traditional councils in the states. This has led many Nigerians to allow the local and State governments get away with With 'blue murder' while holding only the federal government to account,even if feebly. While it is justifiable to blame government for poor infrastructure, poor education, poor healthcare, high unemployment, high insecurity, and even for hunger, corruption and traffic hold ups, it is beginning to look to me that this is an orchestrated ploy by some Nigerians to take a permanent flight from being held responsible for our individual and group conducts. In the first place, the governments we blame so frequently for failing us are run by Nigerians. Indeed the irony is that some of those who blame government for everything are in government themselves! Sometimes, it looks like that there is a mystery man called 'government'. But no, government is no mystery man, but a collection of persons who are first citizens and who run the government on behalf of and for the good of all the citizens. For convenience, they are grouped into the EXECUTIVE, LEGISLATURE AND JUDICIARY. And that includes politicians, civil servants, public servants, professionals and non professionals of all cadres and categories; from cleaners,security men and permanent secretaries to ministers; from legislative aids to the House Speaker and Senate President; from the court bailiff to the Policeman, to the Registrar and to the Supreme Court Judge; from the gatemen to the Director Generals of Parastatals and Agencies, they are all constituent parts of the government, agents of the State. And that's why they are paid from the tax payers money.Every action, each one of them takes or omits to take reflects on the effectiveness or in effectiveness of the government they are part of. But it looks to me that this realization does not exist sufficiently. Some how, you get the impression that the President or the State Governor alone is the government and everybody else is either the governed, observer, bystander, supporter,complainant or critic. Perhaps this may explain why there is a woeful failure of the"government " to satisfy the expectations of Nigerians. It is practically impossible for only the President to satisfy the 170 million Nigerians or the Governor to satisfy all the over 12 million people in Lagos for example. Everywhere you go,you meet people who work in the government institutions who act as if they care very little about the success or citizen perception of the government they serve in. When you complain about the poor service you are getting,the same people who are part or agents of the government turn around to blame the 'government', absolving themselves of any blame and often the complaining citizen seems to either agree or empathize with the government employee that the problem is with the mystery ' Mr Government ' Early this year, I wanted to make a trip to the United Kingdom and applied for the UK Visa. Few days after submitting my visa application, I received a call from the British Embassy that there was no space left in my passport to affix the visa. I quickly collected my passport and ran to the passport office in Ikoyi Lagos to get a new one. It took me six visits to the passport office over a period of six weeks to collect a new passport.Reasons ranged from missing file to long queues, mismatch of finger prints, the absence of the engineer and late approval from Abuja. It was an ordeal. Mean while I missed the trip to the Uk and was almost missing a trip to the USA because my subsisting US visa was in my old passport which had been 'quarantined' in the passport office. At the end of this rigmarole I was still expected to show 'gratitude' In August last year, I went to renew my driving license and I was told to fill out forms and make payments. Thereafter I was asked to come back one year after in July this year at the FRSC camp in Ojodu, Lagos for what they called 'capture'. I wondered why it would take a year to come for the 'capture'. I was told that many people were on the queue and their 'capture' equipments were few. I was told that a photocopy of my form on which the July date had been written would serve as my temporary driving license until that date. I shook my head and left. On the assigned date and at the stipulated time of 7am, I arrived. First, it took a lot of pleading to let me drive in through the gate. With one year scheduling, I had expected few people but was shocked by the large crowd milling around the place. I moved from place to place and after several hours when I arrived in front of the 'capture' machine, I was told that my name had not dropped. 'From where ?' I asked. I made three other visits over a period of five weeks, because either, my name was still traveling from wherever to the 'capture' machine, or because there was no 'network' to capture me. I finally got another temporary driving license. And so I will have to return to Ojodu in 60 days when it expires or wait to be called to come and collect the permanent driving license when it is ready and who knows how many more trips that will take, because I saw People who had been called to come and collect, and they came, only to be told that the license was not yet ready. I do not know of any other country in the World where citizens are subjected to this kind of torture just to obtain a driving license. When my son-in-law heard my story, he sympathized with me because he went through an 'agent' and got his with ease! I suffered the same fate in trying to renew my plate numbers as demanded by FRSC. I have completed my registration for the National Identity card at a special unit set up by the National Identity Commission at an interaction in Lagos. I was given a temporary National Identity card. I do not know when I will get the permanent one. Now I have been asked by the Central bank to go to my bank and obtain another Universal identity card. I do not know how many trips I will have to make to obtain a temporary card before I struggle to get the permanent one. I will still go for my voters card and do biometrics and for my Pension, another set of biometrics and identity card. How many Identity cards is a normal law-abiding Nigerian expected to carry?.Why the National identity card can not suffice for all these is what I am asking. I am searching for Mr Government to ask him, because that is what I am asked to do. Can't these government agencies and officers who are asking for these many identity cards share information ? Or is it the fault of Mr government ? Why do we relish in making life difficult for fellow Nigerian citizens and then blame government. Any where Nigerians are to receive service from a government agency, the story of misery and denigration of human dignity is repeated. Who is government? What can be the problem? Is it a matter of lack of a compelling vision, or lack of motivation, or lack of empowerment or plain lack of commitment. What ever it is, I believe that something must be done urgently and in a holistic manner to remedy this anomaly which is creating a lot of problem for the citizens in Nigeria. The unnecessary suffering to which Nigerians are subjected to at every point can not continue this way. What is worse is that the pains intensify when people are doing their best to obey the laws and be responsible citizens. This backlash may seem to promote deviant behavior or corner cutting. Some are 'compelled' to 'settle' police on the highway than go through the torture of trying to get a driving license. All those who are part of government at all levels will need to undergo a fresh orientation to make them understand that point, that a chain is as strong as its weakest link. That Government is not about a single person but a chain of persons who deliver service to the Citizens and that the best President or best Governor will achieve little if all other parties are not playing their roles with the same efficiency and consistency. The leaders of our Governments must therefore take appropriate initiatives on building this consciousness in all persons in government. For empowerment and motivation, the leaders must ensure proper skilling up and motivation of all those involved in the governance process. The right persons must be put in the right positions to ensure the integrity of the chain.For commitment,the leaders must demand evidence of performance down the line. This must be measured and rewarded so that the unskilled for the assignment, the unprepared and the indolent are weeded from the system, so that the impact of good governance can be felt by citizens leading to improved quality of life and the reduction of the misery index. It seems this is perhaps the most critical responsibility of the leaders of the different tiers and arms of government and may actually be the differentiating characteristic of the effective government leaders. Sitting at the capital and hoping that all the 'beautiful' policies, projects and programmes are yielding the desired result will not do. If those who are part of government are blaming the government,one can then understand why some other Nigerians make a past time of blaming government for every problem. If the gutter overflows, it is the government that must be blamed and nothing to do with the citizens who throw pure water satchets and sundry rubbish into the gutter. When the road is blocked, it is the government and nothing to do with the indiscipline of citizen drivers who refuse to give way to each other. In those Countries that we admire and aspire to be like, most Citizens regulate themselves and accept responsibilities for the good order of the society, thus allowing the regulatory enforcement agencies to effectively contain the few deviants. If everybody is a deviant, no government can effectively manage public order. That is my point and it does not in any way absolve the government in power from its statutory responsibilities. There is a role for the government and there is a role for the citizen. Any dereliction on either side will create problems for the society, just as we are having,Period. Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa OFR