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The North needs Sanusi’s activism

By Rafiq Raji, PhD

In northern Nigeria, educating the girl-child beyond high school is frowned at. Even amongst the educated elite. Main reason? The more educated a girl-child is, the less likely she would find male suitors on time, goes the flawed conventional and chauvinistic wisdom. The oft-cited fear is that should a girl-child be allowed to become too highly educated and exposed, she is not likely to be submissive to her future husband. To this day, this view is pervasive. To cover their shame, some fathers deploy a trick if the daughter proves to be headstrong than usual: they convince her that once in her husband’s house, she can continue her education. Of course, once she gets there, the husband promptly puts her in the family way. Ironically, so-called pious northern Muslims who refuse to allow their female wards attain the heights of their dreams also bristle at the thought that male doctors might inevitably examine their wives and daughters when faced with one medical complication or the other. Well, if there are not enough female doctors, who else would do the job?

Hypocrisy runs deep
To be clear, the acquisition of knowledge is a fundamental requirement in Islam, irrespective of gender. So unlike the popular perception, the illiteracy and related poverty problems in northern Nigeria have nothing to do with Islam. They are cultural. That things have remained unchanged for so long is fundamentally due to patriarchy and resistance by the beneficiaries who despair at their potential enervation should females be empowered. Funnily enough, often is the case that northern males who are quick to show off in public how they exert control over their wives, are usually the ones most often under their thumbs; the so-called “mijin hajiyas”, a derisive term for husbands unduly influenced by their spouses. Incidentally, the mostly affluent northern elite who are quick to advertise their piety when their less endowed brethren are the subject matter, not only allow their wives many freedoms but also educate their daughters in the best schools. Curiously, they also do not hesitate to marry their daughters off to similarly rich males irrespective of their ethnicity insofar as they are Muslims. Their ethnic and religious bigotry is especially reserved for lesser beings it seems.

Thus, to have taken on so boldy the issue of female gender rights, Muhammad Sanusi II, Emir of Kano, is bound to offend many. Emir Sanusi, who by virtue of his position is the second highest Islamic authority in Nigeria, has always been a rebel of sorts. Former Nigerian president, Goodluck Jonathan, cannot soon forget the grief Mr Sanusi caused him when as governor of the central bank, he blew the whistle on huge sums of crude oil sale proceeds unaccounted for. Unsurprisingly, those opposed to his accession to the emirship some three years ago worried he would not be able to keep quiet for long: by tradition, a royal is supposed to say little, and even when he does, it is preferably that he does so in such low tones that someone is assigned to repeat his words loudly. To their chagrin and hopefully to the benefit of his people, they were right. Still, it is probably unwise of him to have shown his hands so publicly this early in his reign. His real and much harder task would be to win the hearts and minds of the exceptionally conservative northern Islamic establishment he is an essential part of and which incidentally, he also leads.

Gently does it
Mr Sanusi must now reflect and decide on a strategy. His increasingly loud activism suggests he is probably a little frustrated already: He has no formal authority. Those fiery speeches of his, with their biting statistics and all, can only do so much. Yes, they have begun to touch a few nerves here and there. And then what? Besides, even as Mr Sanusi tries to espouse a certain anti-elitist intellectualism, he is the quintessential epitome of privilege. To be fair, Mr Sanusi has never suggested that he is “of the people.” But if he hopes to succeed at “being for the people”, the northern politicians – who ordinarily defer to royalty and who it happens are also the ones with the power to transform his activism into concrete reforms – currently at the receiving end of his fervent rhetoric are also the ones he has to win over. Mr Sanusi’s predecessors were able to influence them by guarding their tongues so that when they spoke, they listened. Mr Sanusi must drink from their cup of wisdom.

Dr Rafiq Raji is a writer and researcher based in Lagos, Nigeria.

Published as “Is Emir Sanusi’s brand of activism the way to go?” by Premium Times Nigeria on 24 April 2017. See link viz.

Abuse of state power

By Rafiq Raji, PhD

If we are not a nation of laws, what are we? What is the point of legislation if ultimately it can only have teeth at the discretion of the executive? A presidential democracy would run amok all too easily if laws can be ignored with impunity, funds appropriated without legislation, and tenured officials fired on virtually a whim. Truth is, even as the legislature and judicature are separate arms of government, the extent to which they are powerful is effectively dependent on how much leeway the executive allows them. In the hands of a crafty politician or official, executive powers can thus be easily abused. When the legislature issues a warrant of arrest for an official who has ignored its summons, say, who carries out the warrant? And the judiciary? Without the police, prison service and other elements of the security establishment, how would it function? And since the president of the republic can only be one man, real power and influence essentially reside with his officials. In Nigeria, much of that power is vested in the secretary to the government. Fears that the government scribe was all too powerful informed earlier reforms to wrest control of the civil service from the scribe’s office, with the creation of a head of service portfolio for that function consequently. To ensure the state house would be able to exert more control over the apparatus of government similarly motivated former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, to appoint a chief of staff, a tradition that has endured. Despite these additional layers, the government scribe effectively ranks third in the executive branch, just after the vice-president. The president’s chief of staff ranks fourth, with the head of service just after. As all government decisions can only be gazetted by its scribe, all the safeguards to ensure the government cannot be held hostage by the occupant of the office are convolutions that after much ado must still find their way back to his desk. Needless to say, the secretary to the government must not only be sound, he must be scrupulous. So when the government is curiously slow-turning or error-prone, look no further than the office of its secretary. And even as government apparatchiks may be many things unbecoming, past government scribes have been just extraordinarily deft.

Reinstate Chinelo Anohu-Amazu
In the penultimate week of April, the Nigerian president, Muhammadu Buhari, finally opened his eyes to numerous allegations against Babachir Lawal, the government scribe. Now suspended, Mr Lawal is being investigated by a panel headed by Yemi Osinbajo, the vice-president. Primarily, Mr Lawal is accused of having profited from funds meant for humanitarian aid in northeastern Nigeria, where a famine is imminent and numerous are displaced due to an ongoing war against insurgents. Should Mr Lawal come out of the probe unscathed, it would be most unprecedented; even in “anything goes” Nigeria. Still, as important as humanitarian efforts in the northeast are, they pale in comparison to more recent acts by the scribe under the cloak of officialdom, and perhaps with the misguided blessings of Mr Buhari. They border on rule of law; its letter and spirit. One in particular. Chinelo Anohu-Amazu, erstwhile in charge of the country’s pensions regulatory body, was recently fired without due-process. The manner of her sack not only violates the pension law, but the appointment of her replacement. Firstly, Mrs Anohu-Amazu ought to have been informed in writing about her imminent sack. Secondly, as the pensions agency chief’s office is tenured, there are specific infractions that the incumbent must commit, as stated in the governing law, before a sack can be sufficiently motivated. Thirdly, if these thresholds are adequately exceeded, the replacement to complete the tenure of the departing official must hail from the same geopolitical zone. Fourthly, anyone who has an interest in a pension firm is not eligible for the position. There is no evidence in the public domain as yet to suggest that any of these procedures were followed. Besides, just a little more than two years into Mrs Anohu-Amazu’s tenure, pension assets have not only almost tripled with efforts afoot to bring the informal sector under the agency’s net imminent, staff welfare has never been so good, protesting staff assert. She was also hitherto one of the few women and southeasterners in the current administration. More painfully, Mr Buhari might be totally in the dark about this most unjust and unlawful act under his name. If Mrs Anohu-Amazu must be fired, due-process should be followed.

Overt spies
Also being probed is a cache of cash in hard currency found in an exclusive apartment block in a highbrow area of Lagos; which apparently houses some of Nigeria’s most influential politicians. It has since emerged that the National Intelligence Agency, statutorily in charge of espionage for the government abroad, may have been assigned the monies by the immediate past administration for a “covert” operation. There have been numerous allegations and rumours about who really had the cash hidden there. The version which seem plausible is that the central bank acted on instructions by the highest authority in the land at the time, to release certain sums for what should ordinarily be genuine government business. Some context is necessary at this point. Spies do require that cash be available for their work in a manner that ensures that their activities remain secret. And that is the thing: their activities must remain secret. So imagine the ridicule this latest episode has exposed the intelligence services to in the international espionage community. This is no trifling matter. All that James Bond stuff most of us think espionage entails is simply this: balderdash. In this day and age, a lot of their work relies on the most basic and essential characteristic of their profession: secrecy. When foreign agencies cannot be sure that even that basic competency is assured, then they are not likely to offer the type of international cooperation that every agency, particularly those of developing but troubled countries, require. It is also why Mr Buhari needs to get the security services in line. A situation where the anti-corruption czar and the chief domestic spy are so publicly at loggerheads, a state governor and speaker of the country’s lower house of parliament are daring each other over security budgets and necessarily secret government operations have become so overt – no matter how supposedly altruistic the motives may be – does not augur well for any country’s national security.

Also published in my BusinessDay Nigeria newspaper column (Tuesdays). See link viz.

Release Hichilema

By Rafiq Raji, PhD

In the week just past, Hakainde Hichilema – leader of Zambia’s main opposition party, the United Party for National Development (UPND), and presidential candidate in the August 2016 elections – was arrested and later charged with treason for “obstructing” the motorcade of Edgar Lungu, the Zambian president. Fondly called “HH” by his supporters, Mr Hichilema’s “crime” was being on the same road as President Lungu, who is also leader of the ruling Patriotic Front (PF) party. There has been no love lost between the two since Mr Hichilema was declared to have lost last year’s polls, results affirmed by the courts when he sought redress. Despite this, Mr Hichilema refused to recognise Mr Lungu’s victory. So it was only a matter of time before the two would find reason to cross swords again. Mr Lungu has decried suggestions that he might have a hand in Mr Hichilema’s travails or that he could stop his prosecution. Still, Mr Lungu must be just a little delighted at the irony of being able to use his rival’s troubles to demonstrate how law-abiding he is: “How many of my own cadres are before the courts of law today?” Mr Lungu asked rhetorically at a rally of his supporters last week. The ruse that the whole episode is would be comical if it were not so serious.

Blame security 
Judging from the video of the incident, Mr Hichilema would probably be freed by the courts. Firstly, Mr Hichilema’s convoy was already on the Mongu-Limulunga road long before Mr Lungu’s that fateful day. Secondly, Mr Hichilema was not driving. More fundamentally though, the whole incident could have been avoided if Mr Lungu’s security team did its job. Typically, before a presidential motorcade proceeds, an advance party would have gone ahead to clear the road. In most countries, the entire route (including the decoys) is closed to traffic. Because the road in question is a single carriageway, what the advance party was supposed to do was to get Mr Hichilema’s convoy to halt long before Mr Lungu’s convoy got to the scene. To have wanted that to happen virtually seconds upon accosting Mr Hichilema’s convoy was just impractical. More appropriately, Mr Hichilema should have been advised of the presidential movement. There is no evidence as yet that he was. Still, considering the bad blood between the two, Mr Hichilema’s ostensibly longer convoy, and the outsized egos of African big men, Mr Lungu probably felt insulted. It is also likely that Mr Hichilema was just a little glad to show Mr Lungu some palpable disdain. Even so, Mr Hichilema committed no crime. If the courts follow the letter and spirit of the law, he should be freed quite soon. But that would likely matter little to Mr Lungu: Mr Hichilema would have languished in jail for days at least.

Taking lessons from tyrants
This recent incident however highlights observations that Mr Lungu is increasingly becoming tyrannical. It has been suggested that he may be taking lessons from Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni, whose handling of rivals or those who slight him and his household follows a similar pattern: harassments, arrests, frivolous prosecutions and so on. Incidentally, Mr Lungu has never hidden his admiration for the veteran Ugandan leader, who often returns the compliment by honouring Mr Lungu’s invitations in person. Incidentally, Mr Hichilema’s travails and Mr Lungu’s irritation coincides with President Museveni’s similar hurt by insults against him and his wife by a feminist academic, Stella Nyanzi. One struck a nerve: she derisively referred to him on her Facebook page as a “pair of buttocks”. “Empty-brained” was how she described his wife Janet, who also doubles as education minister. She has similarly been charged to court. Ordinarily, veteran Ugandan opposition leader Kizza Besigye of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), who has challenged Mr Museveni for the presidency some four times already, is typically the object of Mr Museveni’s wrath. Once his personal physician, Mr Besigye has endured years of arrests and harassment by the Museveni government. In charging Mr Hichilema with treason, Mr Lungu was probably copying from the Museveni manual: Mr Besigye was accused of treason in May 2016 for swearing-in himself as president after the disputed and highly irregular February 2016 polls. Treason charges against Mr Besigye were eventually dropped, just like they were more than a decade earlier. It is not exactly certain how long a recent rapprochement between the two – they agreed to foreign-mediated talks in February – would last. But judging from how effective Mr Museveni’s tactics have been at keeping his rivals at bay hitherto, it is probably the case that Mr Lungu may have found in his method a viable model for his own rule. This is a sad turn of events.

Also published in my BusinessDay Nigeria newspaper newspaper column (Tuesdays). See link viz.

Who will save South Africa?

By Rafiq Raji, PhD

Angst against Jacob Zuma, the embattled South African president who faced perhaps the strongest show of displeasure from a cross-section of South Africans since the last local government elections this past week, potentially overshadows what should be the real object of ongoing agitations. President Zuma is able to entrench himself despite popular opposition because of the way the electoral process is structured in South Africa. What needs to change is the system that vests too much power in the ruling party. Since members of parliament (MPs) elect the president, who themselves owe their positions to the benevolence of those in control of their party structures, self-preservation takes greater precedence to such ‘isms’ as heroism and patriotism. And even as some senior African National Congress (ANC) cadres have found it convenient to be brave now, their silence under the cloak of party solidarity hitherto allowed Mr Zuma to permeate the key joints of the party to the point where now, only Mr Zuma can remove himself. Or time.

Besides, the few ANC grandees that did decide to be heroic lately, underwhelmed spectacularly shortly afterwards: In the aftermath of Mr Zuma’s recent and widely unpopular cabinet reshuffle that saw the back of respected and erstwhile finance minister Pravin Gordhan, three of the top six members of the the ANC criticized Mr Zuma publicly, raising hopes they might finally make concrete moves to rein him in. In a meeting afterwards, it is reported Mr Zuma won the day. It was particularly pitiable to see Gwede Mantashe, the party’s secretary-general with his tail between his legs after much remonstrations only shortly before. Mr Mantashe made some attempts at redeeming himself: that Brian Molefe (disgraced former chief executive of state power utility Eskom) was not made finance minister, Mr Zuma’s preferred choice for the post, is proof that some consultations did take place, he asserted. His gripe had been that Mr Zuma’s picks for his new cabinet did not emanate from the party’s due-process. If only Mr Zuma’s political genius could be put to a noble cause, you wonder. Imagine a man of Mr Zuma’s talents having Nelson Mandela’s heart and courage and Thabo Mbeki’s intellectualism. That would be something now, wouldn’t it?

That said, there are racist motivations behind some of the ongoing anti-Zuma sentiments. From Helen Zille’s (former chair of the white-dominated opposition Democratic Alliance party) views on the purported benefits of colonialism to black South Africans – which by the way is surreptitiously shared by some of her contemporaries – to the not so covert attribution of the deterioration of the country’s infrastructure to black leadership, racism remains rife in the so-called rainbow nation. A white South African judge, it was revealed recently, apparently believes black men are animals, who rape at will and procreate without any sense of responsibility: likely is the case she stretched the law to the extent that she could whenever a case involving a black man came before her. So ultra-leftist parties like Black First Land First (BLF) and Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) which argue, like Mr Zuma and his ANC party now conveniently do, about the need to right the wrongs of past injustices are not entirely on opportunistic grounds. Still, the newfound black economic radicalism is beginning to prove costly.

Leverage lost
Fearing further erosion of governance and likely fiscal deterioration after Mr Zuma’s latest actions, rating agencies S&P Global and Fitch last week downgraded South Africa’s credit rating to junk status. Middle-class South Africans with mortgages to pay and car payments to make know the implications of the downgrades on their wallets. Poor South Africans, however, could not care less. Explanations such as how higher debt costs constitute an opportunity cost to the funding of pro-poor programmes is hard to fathom by a section of society that mostly looks to monthly welfare payments from the government. Since that won’t stop, it is hard for them to understand what the hoopla is all about. The narrative from Mr Zuma’s camp, however, resonates more with them. Argument such as “white monopoly capital” trying to blackmail poor Mr Zuma is one they can easily identify with. Unsurprisingly, Mr Zuma’s inner circle feels quite relieved.

Also published in my BusinessDay Nigeria newspaper column (Tuesdays). See link viz.

Towards 2019: The Executive and Legislature Power Intrigues

By Rafiq Raji, PhD

Mohammed Ali Ndume, a senator from northeastern Nigeria, has had his faith tested lately. When he was removed as leader of the Nigerian Senate, the third highest ranking office in the upper legislative chamber, in favour of Ahmed Ibrahim Lawan, another senator from his part of the country, he was at the mosque for prayers. His subsequent suspension for raising a point of order – probably out of spite – over allegations of certificate forgery and importation of an expensive sports utility vehicle against Dino Melaye, a flashy and influential senator, and Bukola Saraki, president of the Senate, respectively, also happened when he went to perform his obligatory prayers. So as not to belabour the point unduly, let us say they were just a coincidence. For were he not so punctual with his spiritual exercises, his colleagues could likely have timed their actions for another reliable habit that would have necessitated his absence. True, he probably was a little hasty (irrational even) in latching on to the antics of the antagonists of his antagonists: the online publication that first raised the allegations was sufficiently motivated on the matter. Mr Ndume would have been better off just looking on. Still, the Senate may yet find suspending him to be unwise. With ample time now on his hands, he has an opportunity to reflect and perhaps scheme his revenge. Not that this is advised. But these are politicians. And he may yet be triumphant: his new enemies have troubles of their own.

Tread softly
Growing in visibility and influence, Mr Saraki – a potential presidential hopeful in the 2019 elections – has had to contend with one trouble after another. First, he was accused of false declaration of assets, a case which has evolved unusually with the political exigencies of the executive branch of government. At the beginning, you could almost sympathise with Mr Saraki for the supposed victimization of his person by an unforgiving ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) party leadership, still bristling from being made to look stupid when he got elected to the highest echelon of the Senate against its wishes – Mr Lawan was the party’s choice. Incidentally, Mr Ndume’s intransigence when asked to give way for Mr Lawan to be made majority leader as compensation for his loss of the senate presidency has partly been responsible for Mr Saraki’s troubles. As the stakes are much too high now, however, the belated reconciliatory move towards the party leadership by Mr Saraki may yet prove futile.

It is almost a certainty now that Muhammadu Buhari, the Nigerian president, would likely not re-contest the presidency in 2019. Potential candidates, two or more in the Senate, might become increasingly reluctant to allow Mr Saraki garner more influence and political success. More fundamentally, by exercising his powers against Mr Ndume, Mr Saraki has also exposed his attitude towards power. Inevitably, his opponents probably now feel vindicated for being in his way. And are now likely even more determined to remain there. Because even as Mr Saraki is from the “official north”, the accommodation afforded him by the elite of the region can only be sustained with delicate handling. His move against Mr Ndume could easily be overlooked. But when that extends to blocking President Buhari’s nominations and requests, even though these actions were taken as a collective, northern senators potentially face a backlash from the masses in their constituencies, where Mr Buhari is exceptionally popular. There is already evidence of this. Just this past weekend, a senator from those parts was stoned by his constituents for supposedly taking sides with Mr Saraki against Mr Buhari. Does Nigeria even need a Senate, some muse now.

Suffering ground
The anguish of the populace is understandable. The government’s budget would be passed late again for the second year running. With numerous important bills languishing at committees, not a few Nigerians find it a little disheartening that the Senate has chosen to priortize Ali Ndume, Mr Saraki’s purportedly extravagant bullet-proof jeep, and the authenticity or otherwise of Mr Melaye’s (an ally of Mr Saraki) certificate. Should Mr Buhari’s nominees for key institutitions be facing pushback at this time? Never mind that the appointments are arguably coming late from the executive, to the detriment of the institutions in question. The anti-corruption czar has been rejected for confirmation by the Senate for the second time. The long overdue confirmation of electoral commissioners has been deliberately delayed by the Senate simply to make a point to the executive about its powers. Mr Buhari may be a reformed democrat. But pushed beyond a point, he could choose to exercise his powers as well. Both sides would do well to carry their power ever so lightly.

Published in my Premium Times Nigeria column on 5 April 2017. See link viz.

Defiance and decline

By Rafiq Raji, PhD

For a country in search of new heroes, as the old ones bid farewell, erstwhile South African finance minister, Pravin Gordhan, is an unlikely candidate. But a hero he has become. In planned rallies this week and later on, birthed by the memorial turned rally in honour of recently demised anti-apartheid activist Ahmed Kathrada over the weekend, he would be a keynote speaker. Activism is in the air. The object? Jacob Zuma, the South African president. Mr Gordhan had long been a stone in President Zuma’s shoe. Mr Zuma finally got rid of him last week, despite intense pressure not to do so. The passing on of Mr Kathrada was certainly a complication that likely caused Mr Zuma some anguish. There could not have been a worse time to remove an African National Congress (ANC) stalwart of Indian descent. Needless to say, South Africans of that ilk feel a certain level of disgust about the Indian protagonists of “State Capture” – the use of the state for private interests – believed to be goading Mr Zuma on this perilous path. Infamously known as “The Guptas”, they have been a source of hurt to the pride of South Africans of Indian and Pakistani descent who glory in the heroism of the likes of Mr Kathrada. Mr Gordhan’s audacity is welcome relief.

But the masses are scandalously fickle. And politicians are a treacherous lot. So even as Mr Zuma’s recent actions have rallied his antagonists across party lines, from elements in the South African Communist Party (SACP) and Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) – the other two members of the Tripartite Alliance with the ANC – to the ultranationalist Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and still white-dominated Democratic Alliance (DA), he could still pull a rabbit out of the hat. Still, his decline has never been more palpable: disaffected members of the ANC have been denouncing Mr Zuma publicly. Would they hold the line though? Because even as they all worry that Mr Zuma and his acolytes may become financially reckless in the absence of a bulwark against profligacy like Mr Gordhan, most of them also identify with Mr Zuma’s belated economic radicalism. It is also why the wily politician should not be written off too quickly.

With the nation’s coffers now fully under his control – new finance minister Malusi Gigaba is one to obey orders, Mr Zuma has within his gift some quick populist wins. And truth be told, pot-bellied and comfortable ANC cadres in the cities may gripe to the high heavens about Mr Zuma all they want, he is still very popular in the hinterland. With the colour of his cabinet now almost totally changed – more than a dozen ministers and deputies were dismissed at the recent reshuffle – he now has at his disposal a sharp instrument to deploy to his means. It may not be long before counter-protests against bourgeois elements and so-called “white monopoly capital” become the narrative of Mr Zuma’s fightback.

Fists raised
Mr Zuma’s traducers have called for the umpteenth confidence vote in parliament. In furtherance of this, the DA and EFF have asked for a special sitting of parliament, which ordinarily should reconvene in early May. National Assembly Speaker, Baleka Mbete, who also doubles as the national chairperson of the ANC, promised during the weekend to give it her utmost consideration. Could this be the final whistle on Mr Zuma’s presidency? Time will tell. Still, noteworthy in the recent reshuffle was the absence of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s – erstwhile African Union Commission chairperson and Mr Zuma’s ex-wife and preferred choice to replace him – name. It would not be farfetched to think that perhaps it has been reasoned she’d be better placed in the deputy presidency. To do this, Cyril Ramaphosa, the incumbent and the other frontrunner to replace Mr Zuma, would need to resign. Mr Ramaphosa had to debunk rumours he had resigned over the weekend. This is not likely to be the end of the matter. Should a vote of no confidence proceed and Mr Zuma emerges victorious again, it is highly unlikely he would keep his ex-wife idle for too long thereafter. A public revolt by ANC cadres that now includes Mr Ramaphosa waters the ground for a potential counter-assault by Mr Zuma should he survive this most recent attempt to remove him. In fact, things could get so odious thereafter that Mr Ramaphosa might see resigning as the only way to ensure he remains an attractive candidate.

Collective punishment
Market participants have started punishing Mr Zuma and indeed all South Africans in earnest. The rand plummeted about 5 percent on the news of Mr Gordhan’s firing, but regained some ground thereafter. Bonds and bank stocks moved in tandem, with the latter index falling almost 6 percent. Rating agencies have already started hinting downgrades to junk status may be imminent. Unfortunately, these troubles likely suit Mr Zuma’s grand scheme quite well.

Also published in my BusinessDay Nigeria newspaper column (Tuesdays). See link viz.