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NGX in the throes of booby trap

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It used to be a great privilege and status symbol to work at The Nigerian Stock Exchange up till 2010, before the palace coup at the board sent virtually all of us in the management packing. The rest they say is history, but our sympathy for the system remains absolute.

During our days, staff attrition was almost nil, except internal restructuring that occasionally affects a couple of staff but not to the level of ‘earthquake.’ The Exchange that time, a not-for-profit organisation, operated Departments and later upscaled to Directorates, but the heads report to the incumbent Director General.

It is heartwarming and commendable that the demutualisation of The Exchange, which was initiated during our administration, became operational in March 2021, under the new Management.

The new structure of NGX, led by the Group Chief Executive Officer, Prince Oscar Onyema, comprises three wholly-owned subsidiaries: Nigerian Exchange Limited (NGX), the operating exchange; NGX Regulation Limited (REGCO) and NGX Real Estate Limited (RELCO). Given the Exchange’s mode of operation, the organisation is supposed to be attractive to the future drivers of the economy- Millennials, Gen Z and Gen Alfa, to build a career. But the spate of staff attrition in the last two years suggests that all is not well in the market.

Since demutualisation is just two years old, one can argue that it is too early to assess the relevance or otherwise of the new group structure of the Exchange. However, if morning shows the day, there is a need to examine what is fast becoming an underbelly of the group structure, the implications on the Exchange that promises to be the Nigerian investment gateway and the way forward

The CEOs of the three subsidiaries do not report to the Group CEO. The companies operate in silos with individual Board and Management. Since 2010, CEOs of NGX at different levels have been coming from outside. Given the current structure, if Onyema retires, I do not think his successor will automatically come from within as the job will likely be advertised. This implies that internal staff shall have to compete with the external applicants, an indication of lack of succession plan in an organisation whose business is highly technical.

The seemingly unattractive work environment that is unfolding at NGX has raised a red flag to suitability and sustainability of the group structure. The Nigeria Exchange Limited may be making money through listing and trading charges but are the other subsidiaries financially viable? Do they have enough staff to generate income?

At the pace that NGX is going, staff morale is dwindling by the day. The glamour of working at the Exchange is diminishing. There is nothing wrong with a group structure if it is properly managed. Singapore Exchange Limited (SGX Group) operates a conglomerate of nine divisions. Each division handles specific businesses. The market trades in equity, fixed income, currency and Commodity. But the divisions do not operate in silos. Brazilian Stock Exchange demutualised in 2007 and operates a comfortable group structure.

In a group structure which is practised by some leading companies in Nigeria, every staff member belongs to the group. They are technically on secondment to the subsidiary and the group Chief Executive Officer is the most senior CEO. The Group CEO can emerge from the CEO of any subsidiary as leading a subsidiary is a tutelage to lead the entire group.

The group structure model of NGX appears strange and therefore esoteric. It is at variance with all-known models in this era of dynamic and flexible management systems. There is a compelling need by the various Boards and Management of each entity to address the ugly situation. It’s either the NGX model is badly implemented or deliberately created to weaken the system and make it attractive to corporate raiders.

Corporate raiders are always on the prowl. They simply need to pick up the holdings of many shareholders, especially institutional ones at premium through a crossed- deal without infringing on the easy-to- breach Rule 17 of NGX which deals with issuers’ information disclosure. FMDQ is already poised to execute the hatchet job.

For a valid peer review, FMDQ’s silver spoon background should be discounted from its financial muscle. Its heavy weights are some of the key drivers of Nigerian fiscal and monetary policy. It is only in Nigeria where one can be a judge in his own court.

After some initial resistance from the shareholders, FMDQ had in June this year snapped up 16.61 percent holdings of Artemis Limited and 5% stake of Leadway Insurance, totaling 21.61 percent in CSCS through NASD PLC. FMDQ shot into fame with trading in debt instruments when it came on board.

Those who understand the market history will agree that trading in debt instruments was the strength of The Nigerian Stock Exchange during its formative years. It was more popular than equity when Uncle Olutola Mobolurin and his peers were actively engaged in manual trading.

But at a point, the infectious share purchase through Initial Public Offerings (IPOs) and rise in the activities of shareholders’ associations overshadowed trading in debt instruments and the market became top-heavy in equity trading. FMDQ took advantage of the niche market. Currently, the bankers are the ones mainly reaping the dividends of the debt and currency market to the exclusion of the stockbrokers. It is not too late for NGX to reverse the trend.

The acquisition of CSCS shares would have been achieved about two years ago but for the Otunba Abimbola Ogunbanjo- led Board that strenuously resisted all the moves by FMDQ during his tenure as the President of the mutual NSE . As a seasoned corporate lawyer, he knew the implications on the future existence of the Exchange.

His voluntary resignation as the Chairman of NGX PLC last year was a great sacrifice to douse the raging tension ahead of the Annual General Meeting. He shall go into the Exchange’s history as the last President of the mutual Exchange and the first Chairman of Nigerian Exchange Group PLC under demutualisation. By virtue of the monopoly it enjoys in the debt and currency markets, FMDQ has acquired sufficient financial muscle to launch a hostile takeover of NGX and turn it into its subsidiary.

It must be noted that the current management of NGX is doing a lot to further globalise the operation, increase market capitalization, boost capacity and democratise investments across financial assets. But NGX is a global brand and should not make itself a target for acquisition.

The current structure is a booby trap. As a low-hanging fruit, it does not diminish the Exchange’s stature if the subsidiaries are turned into departments while the organisation operates a single but professional Board with eyes on corporate governance. This will enhance efficiency, save cost, create a level playing field for all staff and strengthen the substance and essence of the position of the Group Chief Executive. This is a tough option that may likely hurt certain oppositions and affect some staff. But it is the reality.

Today, NGX is no longer a monopoly exchange and stockbrokers are multi-dimensional professionals. They can trade on FMDQ, NASD PLC, Lagos Commodities and Futures Exchange (LCFE) Afex and other platforms, including offshore. But NGX is a legacy that should not be allowed to lose its original identity. It is the face of stockbrokers. Its existence is a product of the sweat of different generations.

If the current situation is not addressed, Stockbrokers may wake up one black day to discover that NGX is no more. At 62, it will be an irony of history if the premier Exchange in Nigeria surrenders to corporate raiders and loses its global identity, which has been rising for over three decades. The forefathers of this citadel of capitalism shall weep in their graves.

Oni is an Integrated Communications Strategist, Chartered Stockbroker and Commodity Broker, and is the Chief Executive Officer, Sofunix Investment and Communications.

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Opinion

Yahaya Bello: Time to review the impunity of immunity

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By Bolanle Bolawole

To begin with, let me ask whether you knew that abusing the Naira is a worse offence than stealing or embezzling the Naira? You can steal billions of Naira and walk away free. But abuse the Naira and end up in jail with automatic alacrity! Worse still, you can leverage the riches so suddenly acquired to contest election into high office and become anything – president, vice president, governor, senator, honourable – just anything!

Only a few persons in high office in this country today do not fall into this category. When you steal so much, you intimidate the authorities; the anti-corruption agencies negotiate with you; the courts respect you and the populace worship you. Spiritual leaders grovel for a piece of the cake. Crumbs from your table ensure that the masses flock to you and do your bidding.

An uncountable number of our leaders have corruption allegations and cases running for years hanging around their neck. In the interim, they walk the street; stand for election, win and are, today, “their excellencies” “distinguished” and “honourables” This is very much unlike the automatic alacrity with which Bobrisky was sent to jail and the Cubana Chief Priest was hauled before the court on charges of abusing the Naira.

The seriousness with which the authorities now pursue selective cases of abuse of the Naira suggests that this offence destroys the economy and impacts Nigerians more negatively than the stealing of humongous sums from the country’s coffers. This is quite unfortunate as it smacks of a deliberate diversionary tactic to shift the people’s attention from more serious matters.

Someone said Bobrisky quickly went to jail maybe because his lawyers were B.Sc. in Law lawyers! Were they the ones who advised him to plead guilty, thinking that would earn him pity and soft-landing? He was like a person that enemies wanted to roast alive who now doused himself with petrol and stood before the fireplace. The Cubana Chief Priest must have learned lessons from Bobrisky’s error. Maybe his lawyers had authentic LLB. Law! If you know, kindly tell me why the Dunamis pastor apologised to the lady who bagged B.Sc. Law degree from NOUN!

While Bobrisky cools his feet in jail, the Cubana Chief Priest roams freely, having been admitted to bail, which was denied to Bobrisky. Because he pleaded not guilty, the Cubana Chief Priest is considered innocent until the contrary is proven; unlike Bobrisky who pleaded guilty from Day One and the judge only had to fix a date to sentence him – and the sentence pronounced was harsh, in my view.

Bobrisky’s lawyers appeared lazy. I will love to see how the Cubana Chief Priest and his lawyers tackle the prosecution. What is the evidence that the person caught on video abusing the Naira was the accused and not a look-alike? Remember the drug-related charges that dogged the steps of Kashamu Buruji until his death. How are they sure that what was abused was real Naira and not fake, look-alike Naira? Will exhibits be presented in court, with serial numbers to boot? What if rats or snakes – or even monkeys! – are later announced to have devoured the exhibits? Will electronic evidence (a relatively new source of evidence) suffice in this case? In a democracy, there is the need to stretch the law to its elasticity level and not take anything for granted.

 I love the song “apostle must to hear this” by portable but warn him not to fall into the same pit as Bobrisky. I will loan him the wisdom of the elders as Grandma told me. There was a wicked king in one town and people only murmured behind his back as none could summon the courage to confront him. One day two friends bared their minds about this wicked king in a gathering of friends. Unknown to them, one “amebo” carried the tale to the Kabiyesi. Pronto, he sent messengers to bring the twosome to his palace. Everyone knew what the outcome would be.

So, one of the friends went into his inner chambers and behaved like a man, as they say. He committed suicide rather than stand the indignity he would be subjected to before being beheaded at the palace. So, only one offender was hauled before the king, who was surprised to see that he did not committed suicide like his friend. “Coward,” the king yelled at him. “Why did you not summon the same courage as your friend?” The king was surprised at the response he got: “Only cowards die before they see the death that would kill them!” But I digress!

One day late into the night some years back, we were unwinding in the Dining Room of a governor, as was our practice, when his phone rang and the person on the other end was frantic. It was an SOS to His Excellency by the apostle, who was in the state for a three-day crusade, to come to the rescue. It was a “Come to Macedonia and help us” kind of shrill cry. The Man of God said his hotel had been surrounded by security operatives from Abuja and were banging on his door, threatening to pull it down if he failed to open it.

His Excellency, an action governor, immediately sprang to action; mobilised his security aides and all of us headed for the hotel. His Excellency, commando-style, stormed the hotel, yelling and stomping: How dare you! You want to create a crisis in my state? How dare you invade my state without my knowledge? Not even the courtesy to put me in the know? I am the chief security officer of this state! Ad infinitum!

As His Excellency was raking, he was pushing his way towards the apostle’s room. The security operatives from Abuja were taken aback. They were armed to the teeth. The governor’s security aides were also armed. Thank God there was no shoot-out between the two opposing groups. What would have become of “bloody civilians” like me? The governor got to the apostle’s room, wrapped his arm around him, led him down the stairs, and hauled him into his official car and we drove away, straight to the Government House.

That was my first time seeing the Apostle Suleman. Was the governor’s action right? Yes, I think it was, but was it dangerous? Yes, it was! What if a shoot-out had occurred? But why should security agents storm a state without the knowledge of the governor who is touted by the country’s Constitution as the chief security officer of the state? This is one area of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) that needs further amendment.

If we can excuse what the governor in question here did to rescue Apostle Suleman, can we in like manner justify what the Governor of Kogi state did to smuggle his erstwhile boss, Yahaya Bello, from EFCC’s net as is being alleged? I do not think the Kogi governor did the right thing. So also do I not think Yahaya Bello himself did the right thing trying to run away from the law. How far can he run? And for how long will he hide? Has he not made his case worse now that he has been declared wanted by the EFCC?

For how long can the incumbent Kogi governor provide his political godfather a safe haven? If Yahaya Bello is innocent, why is he running? Has it not been said that a clear conscience fears no foe? After all his grandstanding, why is Yahaya Bello now developing cold feet? Why is he now hiding under the cover-cloth of his successor? Again, for how long will he do this?

 In 2018, the then Ekiti state governor, Ayo Fayose, was taunted by the EFCC: that his immunity would soon expire as his tenure expires; that he would be hauled before the court; and that he would rot in jail! Fayose told them he was not on the run but would turn himself over to the EFCC – all by himself. Fayose was man enough to honour his words. He went to the EFCC office in Abuja by himself. I was one of those who followed him there. He was detained by them. He was charged to court and was remanded  at the Ikoyi prison for a while. I visited him there. When the case began, I followed him to court on a countless number of occasions. Fayose defended himself. The case is still on but Fayose is not in hiding like Yahaya Bello has now done. He did not run from the law. Fayose was outspoken but not lousy like Yahaya Bello.

Yahaya Bello has been declared wanted. That is the right thing to do but that is not all. If it is true that the Kogi state governor was the one who, hiding under the cloak of immunity, shielded him from arrest by the EFCC, then, that is a serious matter. The Kogi state governor, in so doing, has shown that he is not fit for the high office he occupies. He has to be removed by all means possible.  Was that not the same man who prostrated before Yahaya Bello after the Kogi governorship election? What, then, should we expect? What a shame! If removing the Kogi state governor is what must be done to gain access to Yahaya Bello, so be it! This is one of those rare occasions that you regret that Olusegun Obasanjo is not the president!

Then, the security aides that the Kogi State governor used to frustrate the EFCC must be sanctioned. We have had too many cases of security officials acting unprofessionally and at cross-purposes in a way that does them little or no credit. An end must be put to this. There is also the embarrassment of judges giving conflicting orders that make a mockery of the judiciary. What is the function of the NJC in this regard?

Importantly, the time is now to review the immunity clause in the Constitution; either we totally remove it or we strip it of its omnibus status. The spirit and letters of the immunity law aim at allowing those enjoying it the opportunity to focus on the task of governance without distraction but now that it has become an instrument for criminality, something must be done about it.

We used to give ourselves the consolation that presidents and governors, the clan that enjoys immunity, have expiry date, after which they can then be called to account, but with the Yahaya Bello incidence where spirited efforts are being made to still cover the former governor with the borrowed cloak of immunity belonging to his successor, then, this has become a serious matter that we can no longer gloss over.

Do not think sitting and former governors are not watching. If Yahaya Bello gets away with this, then, it will very soon become the order of the day all over the country.

Bolawole is a former Editor of PUNCH newspapers and also a public affairs analyst on radio and television.

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Nigeria: The changing governance story

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By Temitope Ajayi

Tracking many stories of remarkable progress currently taking place in Nigeria can be a very difficult task. This is so because these important stories are lost to some who daily indulge in the cacophony of negative reports. Negative news often dominates the headlines.

With a 24-hour news cycle that tends to focus only on the distasteful narratives, several Nigerians have been made to accept the view that nothing good is happening in their country.

Those who rely on the mainstream media and social media as the only sources of news and information they consume are the worst hit by the cycle of misinformation that portrays our country as descending rapidly to the edge of the precipice.

However, the reality is different: the country is making progress in leaps and bounds.

Late Swedish physician and Professor of International Health at Karolinska Institute, Hans Rosling, his son, Ola Rosling, and daughter-in-law, Anna Rosling, extensively dwell on this subject in, “Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You Think,” a book published in 2018.  In the book, the authors demonstrate that the majority of the people are made to hold the wrong notion about the state of the world because the media project data, analyse trends and select stories to make people assume that things are getting worse around them.

The authors assert that a majority of the people view the world as poorer, less healthy, and a more dangerous place to live in than it actually is. In other words, many people believe they are living in a worse period in the history of mankind because of misinformation.

The same situation the Roslings describe in their book is at play in Nigeria, where individuals, interest groups, activists, analysts, self-serving politicians, and opposition elements constantly project and amplify negative stories.

It is as if we are in a race with those who can say the most horrible things about our country.  Yet, we have an abundance of good stories to tell the world. We seem so numb to the good news that we are dismissive of breakthroughs and innovative trends.

For instance, we downplay the significance of Dangote Petroleum Refinery and its possibilities to reflate the economy.

Many people forget so soon that we had been importing petroleum products for over three decades because the state-owned refineries are moribund. Our national economy bled, and the country was in a fiscal cul-de-sac for those years as a result of subsidy payments on petroleum products.

Today, however, Nigeria is home to the largest single train refinery in the world with the capacity to process 650,000 barrels of crude per day.  Cynics do not see this as a breakthrough.

Nigerians who are 60 years old and below started seeing modern rail infrastructure from 2016 when the All Progressives Congress-led administration of former President Muhammadu Buhari  commissioned the standard gauge rail system, beginning with Abuja-Kaduna route, later Lagos-Ibadan and then, the Warri-Itakpe.

The national rail modernisation project is progressing with Kano-Katsina-Maradi and Kano-Kaduna standard gauge rail projects at different stages of completion. The contractor working on rehabilitation of the Port Harcourt-Maiduguri narrow gauge recently announced the completion of the Port Harcourt-Aba section. While the Federal Government is rallying stakeholders to promote economic integration across the country, the Lagos State Government recently launched two metro rail lines -Blue and Red Rail lines – as part of the state’s elaborate masterplan to build a modern and efficient megacity. Like Lagos State, there are visible signs of remarkable, quantifiable progress in several other states, including Kaduna, Kano, Akwa-Ibom, Rivers, Kebbi, Borno, Gombe, Oyo, Ekiti and Ogun, among others.

A few weeks ago, the President Bola Tinubu-led administration embarked on the construction of the 700 kilometres Lagos-Calabar Coastal Highway that will connect nine coastal states in another bold move to further bolster economic growth and open up the country to productive economic activities.

While it may be very easy for critics and other armchair analysts to ignore these developments and their significance to remaking Nigeria, there is no gainsaying that these projects and many more that are ongoing or about to be instituted across critical sectors are the core of President Tinubu’s Renewed Hope Agenda. Indeed, it is hard to process why the so-called critics and cynics can not see the Lagos-Calabar Highway project as a clear demonstration of the President’s commitment to harnessing the potential of our renascent Blue Economy.Despite what is bandied by the most vociferous critics, a recent policy intervention on the state of the economy by the Independent Media and Policy Initiative (IMPI), a think-tank group, refuted the apocalyptic prognosis of the economic situation of the country by opposition figures, led by former Vice President Atiku Abubakar.

The experts at IMPI made brilliant and well-thought-out submissions that repudiated the doomsday prophecy of critics.

Acting true to type, the Peoples Democratic Party Presidential candidate in the last election, and a few others, including business advocacy groups, derisively heightened tension with their pronouncements on the state of the economy. They framed the country under the leadership of President Tinubu as a hostile business environment, scoring the administration low on business enablement. While politicians, such as Atiku Abubakar, will naturally play politics with everything to score cheap points, some corporate advocacy groups often raise needless alarms, ostensibly, to compel the government to do their bidding and usually in manners inimical to the interests of the people.

For example, while private sector advocacy groups, such as the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) and Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA), regularly issue press statements on many businesses shutting their operations in Nigeria, such statements always fail to disclose that new businesses are also springing up in the country.

It is not only in Nigeria that businesses shut down operations. And in any case, businesses wind up operations for many reasons that may have nothing to do with the operating environment.

It is a worldwide phenomenon shaped by a variety of factors. For instance, when the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria announced that 767 companies shut down in 2023, the Small Business advocacy group in the United Kingdom announced that 345,000 businesses closed shop in the UK.

The UK Group said: “More businesses closing down than starting up for the first time in 12 years.”

While it is not good for any business to shut down operations, irrespective of the number of employees, those who project the negative narrative should be nuanced and more balanced in their analyses.

In its submission titled, “In Defence of the Nigerian Economy,” the Independent Media and Policy Initiative declared: “767 companies that closed down in Nigeria do not in any way come close to the 345,000 closures recorded in the United Kingdom in that same period. Neither can the number be compared to the 460,000 companies that shut down every quarter, that is every three months, in China, or the 10,655 Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) shut down in 2022-2023 in India.

“As routinely rendered, we are further informed by the Indian data that there were over 11,000 new firms that started business afresh for every one of the 175 shutdowns in 2022.”

Interestingly, while the announced exit from Nigeria by GSK and Sanofi generated much furore on the social media and mainstream media last year, about the same period the two companies were planning their exit, indigenous pharmaceutical companies, such as  Emzor were making new multi-million Dollar investments to expand their production lines in Nigeria.

More balanced news reports on Nigeria in that respect should have also included statistics circulated by the National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC), which indicated that 105 applications for the construction of drug manufacturing facilities across the country were approved, and 35 percent of the promoters of the approved applications actually completed construction of their factories. Within this period, Emzor Pharmaceuticals Company owned by Mrs. Stella Okoli, Japanese Multinational Pharma, Otsuka, and over 20 newly registered local drug manufacturers cumulatively, invested over $2 billion to complete their World Health Organisation (WHO)-compliant facilities to produce quality pharmaceuticals and essential drugs for Nigerians.

In its ranking of Africa’s 100 fastest growing companies in 2023, Financial Times (FT) ranked 27 Nigerian businesses on the list.

The FT list, again, validated the strength of the Nigerian economy and its viability as a business destination for investors seeking to make good returns on their investments.

Since his assumption of office less than a year ago, President Tinubu has been bullish in addressing the identified problems besetting the investment climate in Nigeria.

The administration has restored global confidence in the monetary policy reforms of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) that have seen the Naira rebound strongly against the Dollar, and other convertible currencies, making the Naira the best performing currency in the world.

On the back of the reforms embarked upon by the fiscal and monetary authorities, the country’s currency gained N900 against the US Dollar within a span of two months. This is spectacular, but to subjective critics, they are unimportant.On security, the progress being made is noticeable and can be felt in the calmness that has returned to the South-East geopolitical zone.

This is where the criminal activities of outlawed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) group and its Eastern Security Network (ESN) have been brought under control. In the North-West zone, and parts of North-Central, most especially, Abuja, where there was a surge in banditry and kidnapping, the Nigerian Military and Police have successfully gained control and counterbalanced major threats to security of lives and property. The National Security Adviser, Malam Nuhu Ribadu, announced on Monday, April 15, 2024, that the security forces had rescued 1,000 Nigerians from their abductors without payment of ransom.

This is the evidence of successful security operations across the country. Again, the cynics and inveterate critics will not find such feats interesting to amplify.

In the technology ecosystem, Nigerian startup companies have continued to record big strides. At least 10 Nigerian startups were selected among 40 technology firms listed for the $4 million Black Founders Fund.

The Black Founders Fund is sponsored by Google for Startups (GfS). Nigeria continues to lead the pack in tech startups and capital raising in Africa. In the First Quarter (Q1) of 2024, 121 African tech startups, led by Nigeria’s Moove, raised $466 million.  Of the total amount raised in Q1 2024 by tech startups on the African continent, Nigerian startups got the lion’s share of $160 million. Nigeria’s startup ecosystem has remained vibrant and a huge centre of innovation and driver of economic growth. A 2022 report on African Tech Startups Funding by Disrupt Africa also showed that startups from Nigeria accounted for 28.4 percent of the total funded ventures and received 29.3 percent of total investments in Africa.

The report indicated that 180 startups from Nigeria collectively raised $976 million out of the $3.3 billion that flowed into the continent. From the Nigerian tech ecosystem, Andela, Flutterwave, Opay, Jumia, and Interswitch emerged unicorns out of a total of 7 unicorns in Africa.

That each one of these five companies with over $1 billion in valuation came out of Nigeria is an affirmation of the progress Nigeria is making in human capital development.

Another interesting twist to this enchanting story is that the majority of the founders of the leading startups came out of the Nigerian school system. They had their education from primary school up to the university level in Nigeria.

The story of Kiakia Bits Limited and Sycamore, two companies managed by innovative and enterprising young Nigerians, illustrates the impact Financial Technology (FinTech) companies are making on the economy as enablers of growth for small businesses. Established in 2016 by Olajide Abiola and his partner, Chiemeziem Anyadike, Kiakia has over 200,000 customers and has advanced credit worth over N20 billion to more than 12,000 small and medium scale enterprises within eight years. Babatunde Akin-Moses and two of his partners started Sycamore in 2019 after they met during their MBA programme at Pan-Atlantic University (PAU), in Lagos.

Within five years, the company has gained recognition and reputation as one of the most visible and viable brands in the FinTech space. Sycamore has 140,000 registered customers, out of which over 10 percent are active.

The value of transactions on Sycamore’s platform in dollar terms is in excess of $30 million. The company has disbursed over N25 billion in credit to various small and medium enterprises. A major revelation from both Kiakia and Sycamore is the report that 99 percent of their credit to small and medium scale enterprises are performing, an indication that the businesses they support are doing well.

Overall, the groundbreaking performance of the Nigerian Exchange (NGX) as, possibly, Africa’s best stock exchange in terms of capital appreciation, the footprints of BUA Group in manufacturing and other consumer goods, the solidity of IHS Towers and MainOne as Africa’s telecoms infrastructure backbones, the disruption caused by Air Peace on the lucrative Lagos-London route, the grandeur of the sprawling Lekki-Deep Sea Port rank highly among countless high-impact business endeavours. And finally, the indomitable spirit of Nigerians epitomises the narrative of progress that should be regularly amplified by all patriotic Nigerians.

Ajayi is Senior Special Assistant to President Tinubu on media and publicity.

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Opinion

In the interest of justice

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By Bola Bolawole

One question which has always agitated my mind was answered last Monday, 15th April, 2024  by retired Justice Andrew Alaba Omolaye-Ajileye in a keynote address he delivered at the 2024 Law Week of the Nigerian Bar Association, Warri Branch, whose theme was “Emerging trends in legal practice and administration of justice: Challenges and prospects.” Justice Omolaye-Ajileye’s paper was titled “Tomorrow’s legal profession today: Today’s legal profession tomorrow”

I have always wondered if two sets of referees pursuing the same goal(s) can act in the same manner and still achieve the same result. The first is an official refereeing a football match and the second is a judge adjudicating in a matter between litigants. What is expected of both is impartiality, fairness, thoroughness, and even-handedness so that one side is not given undue advantage and unmerited edge over the other. So that, in the course of maintaining an even keel, the cause of justice can be served.

Now, a football referee that (repeatedly or in strategic moments) makes decisions that favour one team against another is said to have stepped into the field or ring. He is deemed to be biased and the cause of justice cannot in that way be served. But can a judge afford to maintain similar aloofness and neutrality in all instances and still serve the cause of justice?

In my 39 years in the journalism profession, I have seen cases lost not because the litigant did not have a good case but because of poor handling by counsel; sometimes deliberately so contrived for varying reasons. Uncountable number of cases get dismissed or get lost (and won) for lack of diligent prosecution; again, sometimes deliberately and in some others because of incompetence or carelessness of the prosecution or counsel.

In that instance, the innocent may suffer and the cause of justice may not have been served. Should a judge step into the ring in certain situations to avert the miscarriage of justice?  Oftentimes, we hear judges lambast counsel and bemoan the miscarriage of justice for lack of brilliance or diligent prosecution of cases. In that situation, can a judge step into the ring?

There was a time in this country when some of its brightest judges like Kayode Esho, Akinola Aguda, and Chukwudifu Oputa were not only described as philosopher-judges but also were well respected for what some have called their judicial activism. Yes, judges interpret the law but in interpreting laws, cerebral and conscious judges also make laws! Some even make statements.

Judges, when they are in their court, especially when reading their judgments, enjoy immunity, like the members of the Legislature when those ones, too, are in their hallowed chamber. Judges and the lawyers appearing before them are referred to as officers in the temple of justice, meaning that their primary obligation, even when lawyers represent opposing sides or views, is that justice is served, and not miscarried.

As such, even counsel not directly involved in a matter can chip in something as “amicus curiae,” that is, an impartial adviser to a court of law in a particular case or matter. This being so, are there instances that allow or, better still, is it incumbent on the judicial umpire to step into the ring to ensure that justice is not miscarried? Or should he or she simply maintain aloofness and rely only on the evidence brought before him or her to make a ruling?

Nowhere does this intrigue me more than in election matters and other cases that are as controversial or that have attracted a lot of public discourse and controversy. Judges, too, are members of the society. They read newspapers. They listen to the radio. They watch television. They may also be active on social media. They may or may not visit pubs and listen to gossip but they have friends and family members. Therefore, they must be aware, if I may so put it, of the merits and demerits of some of the cases coming before them before the arrival of such cases. Should they discountenance such information and only limit themselves to the evidence presented before them?

Omolaye-Ajileye provided what I consider to be an answer when he said, “I want to comment on a change of culture we can bring about in the way justice is administered. Administration of justice must shift from the orthodox adversarial approach to more collaboration between lawyers, parties and the court with the focus being an earnest effort to isolate the real issues in a dispute from a maze of ill-digested causes of action and defences.

“The judge’s role must be transformed from the traditional umpire role to that of active case manager. By this, I mean we must introduce in our Rule of Court situations where judges must take an active part – together with learned counsel – in identifying at an early stage of the proceedings what is the real dispute between the parties and, working together with the parties, charting a course that will result in the adjudication of the dispute as speedily as possible and at minimum costs. That is now the system of judicial case management that is taking hold in many jurisdictions across the world. We must move with the world in this regard.

“The days of over-pleading, raising as many issues that you can muster in the hope that one might just stick, should be something of the past. Courts should decide only the real disputes between the parties. In that way, the court’s time is saved and judges can dispose of more cases. Litigation should be limited to what is truly in dispute between the parties and not to obfuscate and terrorize the other side”

That is the answer I have been searching for! If the main objective is to serve the cause of justice at minimal costs and in record time, this is the way to go. I have watched such a system in operation in other climes and it is fun to watch, is not elaborate, is not long-drawn, adversarial and costly as the system we operate here.

Besides, the new system advocated by Omolaye-Ajileye will remove tension, enmity and bitterness amongst litigants. Our people have a saying, based on the adversarial system of administration of justice that we operate at the moment, that people who drag each other to court do not return from there to still be friends. We must change that narrative because it poisons the good health of our society.

Justice Omolaye-Ajileye may not have known or meant it; but he, like the Kayode Eshos, Akinola Agudas and Chukwudifu Oputas before him, is also seen by many as a fearless but even-handed judicial activist and icon. The judgments he delivered while on the Bench of the Kogi State judiciary testify to that. When he was retiring on 15 February, 2023, the outcry was much, as leading members of the Bar and others made a case that he be promoted to the higher Bench, which he eminently deserved, so that the Judiciary might still retain his services for an additional five years at the least. His pioneering work on the emerging field of electronic evidence stands him out as a leading authority in that field.

In the paper he delivered at Warri, the retired judge advocated what he described as “paradigm shift” in the practice of law and the administration of justice in the country “in order to secure tomorrow’s legal profession today”. He said: “The advocacy here is that our conservatism should not make us resist change. We live in a changing world. It is a great momentous and exciting time. Change is happening around us in ways that we had not imagined just a few years ago. All aspects of human endeavour are changing. The legal sector – to be precise, the practice of law and the administration of justice – is not spared. We must be amenable to change. As lawyers and judges, we must constantly adapt and innovate or be prepared to be pushed aside and become irrelevant.”

He advocated that lawyers and judges must imbibe technology because “we are in the middle of a technological revolution of a great magnitude, scale, scope, and complexity…To maintain relevance and remain competitive in any industry, profession or endeavour, one needs to understand the impact of emerging technologies on the future. Indeed, we need to go beyond the acquisition of knowledge. We must be prepared to integrate modern innovations strategically in our work to increase efficiency and productivity and improve our paradigms.”

Chief Consultant, Forensic Electronic and Digital Law Consultancy, Omolaye-Ajileye is also a visiting professor at the National Open University of Nigeria. To corroborate what he said, I recall here a personal experience of how technology can make hitherto indispensable hands redundant and surplus to requirement: When I was editor of PUNCH newspapers, the advent of computers displaced compugraphic machines and cut-and-paste artists had to be sent for training to plan pages on computer. Ironically, one of our best cut-and-past artists, much sought-after by everyone, could not cope with the new technology and had to be sent away!

Those who have ears, let them hear what Omolaye-Ajileye is saying to the Bar and Bench!

Bolawole is a former Editor of PUNCH newspapers and public affairs analyst on radio and television.

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