Now, it’s time to talk ‘Cement’

Last December 2020, I bought a bag of cement for between N2,000 and N2,200 but in the first week of January 2021, the price of a bag of cement had jumped to between N4,000 and N4,300! Cement had become like the other essential commodities (essenco) such as rice, beans, garri, tatase, tomato, rodo, onions, soft drinks and beer (not to talk of chicken, fish, beef, ponmon and transportation costs) that hit the roof during the yuletide period! The amazing thing about the cement price hike is that those who claim to know say we can import cement at the current abhorrent Naira exchange rate to the US dollar, sell at less than N2,000 and still make a handsome profit. How come, then, that with local production, which was originally touted as the panacea to what was then seen as the prohibitive cost of cement, but which, with the benefit of hindsight, we can now look back upon with nostalgia as the golden age of cement – how come that the price of cement keeps rising, and at an alarming rate for that matter? The Nigerian cement is said to be the most outrageously expensive in the whole world. Cement produced in Nigeria and transported to other West African countries is said to sell cheaper there than here! How come?

Those who claim to know say that this is another example of an economic policy working beautifully well elsewhere but which, characteristically, has gone awry here. Like Fela crooned, everything upside down here. Corruption, impunity, nepotism, tribalism, greed, avarice, and selfishness have seen to it that a policy that was meant to alleviate the suffering of the people has instead accentuated it.  Those who claim to know say the Olusegun Obasanjo administration wanted to recreate the Asian Tigers formula of empowering a few Nigerian capitalists to help grow the Nigerian economy as was done by the governments of the Asian countries now known as the “Asian Tigers.” A select group of Nigerian traders was thus singled out as beneficiaries of favourable economic policies and largesse (such as concessionary foreign exchange rates, tax holidays, import duty waivers, monopoly, and favourable access to bank facilities), etc. For example, while the country’s borders were closed to others during lockdown, it was specially opened to one of such highly favoured traders! While other entrepreneurs suffered humongous losses as a result of the border closure, this favoured person capitalised on the advantage to further tighten his grip on the nation’s economy to the chagrin of other competitors and the detriment of the nation’s economy.

One player who should know had this to say: “I think everybody knows that the Nigerian cement industry is as close as you can get to a perfect monopoly. They can even double the price now and the government policy is that you must pay whatever price they ask you to pay.” That is not so with the Asian Tigers from whence we copied the policy of government-supported capitalism. Selfishness, self-centredness, vanity, vain-glorious and vile ambition – even in the midst of the grinding poverty, squalor, misery, and deepening penury of their own people – drive our own capitalists here, and NEVER the growth or development of the nation’s economy. This is made possible because government officials are easily bribed and compromised to look away rather than enforce extant rules and penalize infractions while the Government itself makes laws that kill rather than protect the economy. Rather than serve the common good, Government panders to the wiles and whims of a favoured few chosen in deference to primordial and sectional interests. Here, the Government and the favoured few pile the misery upon hapless citizens.

This post went viral a while ago: “Cement has nearly doubled in price in the last two months, rising from N2,500 to N4,500 for the standard 50kg bag. We knew it was coming the moment the Federal Government panicked and loosened the foreign exchange knot on which it was choking itself… Cement is a product of no particular significance in any other country in the world except Nigeria. Cement companies all over the world return profits of no more than five per cent annually. Not in Nigeria! Profits from cement production in Nigeria by the two oligarchs scale 40 per cent annually. Cement assumes an oversized importance in Nigeria because two Northern oligarchs have seized its production and distribution. The monopoly enjoyed by these two oligarchs mean that everyone is forced to pay outlandish prices not related to the true value of the product and not comparable to the lower prices paid for it in the rest of the world. …So while Governments all over the world enforce and litigate antitrust laws to break monopolies, the government of Nigeria is forcing a monopoly on the people…”

I was not surprised that the post in question ended on a defeatist note, the writer throwing his hands up in the air and believing nothing could be done to arrest the situation. The cement monopolist, the post concluded, could, “for now…sell his cement for any price he wants (but) someday, Nigeria will find new ways of building houses without cement”.

Yes, our fore-fathers built houses with mud and research supports that even this is better than cement; so we can return to it but must we all run away from cement – or suffer in silence – just because of a monopolist? Is it not better, then, to once and for all pick up the gauntlet and seize the bull by the horns?

 

Wike: Crying more than the bereaved

A market got burnt in Sokoto State; the Presidency offered platitudes, Kebbi State, which was created out of Sokoto, gave N30m towards the rebuilding of the market. But Governor Nyesom Wike from end-of-the-world Rivers state pledged a whopping and scandalous N500m. How much will the Sokoto State government itself commit to the project? Every reasonable fellow is aghast! This is a clear case of being more Catholic than the Pope. With Wike crying even more profusely than the bereaved, I smell a rat! What is the total cost of rebuilding the burnt market? How rich is Rivers State that its governor can afford to dash out half a billion naira without batting an eyelid – and in these austere times? Hasn’t Rivers State and its people needs of their own? Has this humongous sum been appropriated – or will it be appropriated – by the Rivers State House of Assembly or can Wike spend Rivers money anyhow he likes, even without appropriation? Is this generosity by Wike altruistic or is it Greek gift? Did Wike consult anyone in Rivers before making this donation – was his Cabinet, the House of Assembly, and other stakeholders consulted or did he not need such distractions before treating Rivers’ coffers as his personal bank account? The answer, as they say, is blowing in the wind!

Nevertheless, we can hazard a guess: 2023! We have seen this before. Wike may be embarking on the same wild goose chase that his friend and political ally, ex-Governor Ayo Fayose of Ekiti state, embarked upon in 2018 as he reportedly jostled to be presidential running mate to Gov. Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto state. To make that happen, Fayose worked to push the PDP chairmanship position away from the South-west but, then, Atiku Abubakar scattered their plan and the South-west PDP lost out completely in the power equation. History has an uncanny way of repeating itself. It could be the turn of Wike to play second fiddle to Tambuwal in 2023. Some Southern political leaders are so myopic and selfish they wouldn’t mind promoting another Muslim/Fulani/North presidency in 2023 once the crumbs from the master’s table fall on their laps. Pity!

 

E tu, Akeredolu?

That was what loud-mouth Garba Shehu stopped short of telling Gov. Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State. Julius Caesar never expected that Brutus, the friend he trusted, would be one of those who would plot against him. Yet, when the hour came, it dawned on Caesar that Brutus was one of the conspirators. Shocked, as Brutus stabbed him, Caesar blurted “E tu, Brutus?” meaning “And you, too, Brutus?” As Antonio would later reveal, Brutus’ was “the unkindest cut of all” Commentator after commentator are not correctly reading the lips of Garba Shehu and those the “short man devil” runs errands for in the unfolding tango between Akeredolu and the Fulani herdsmen backed resolutely – always – by the Presidency.

No, they understand the difference between town and forest, between forest and forest reserves; their grouse is that they never expected this effrontery from Akeredolu of all people. If anyone would lift a finger against Fulani interests, they did not expect that person to be Akeredolu. At least, not so soon! I am sure you know what I mean. The election they helped Akeredolu win was just a few months ago – October 20, 2020 to be precise. The man has not even been sworn in yet to start the second term. His nearest opponent in the election, Eyitayo Jegede of the PDP, is still in court and the tribunal is yet to make a pronouncement on the matter. I am sure you know they could have prevented Akeredolu from getting the APC ticket for the election and that could have thrown the election wide open.

While boasting of his “democratic” credentials sometime ago, the president, retired Major-General Muhammadu Buhari was reported as saying he could have used the armed forces to prevent the PDP from winning election all over the country. So, you know what that means. They could have made sure Akeredolu lost his second term bid. We had reports Akeredolu went crawling to Abuja and then to Bourdillon to appease the APC gods before they gave him the nod. And we all saw how the Gandujes, el-Rufais and Yahaya Bellos stormed Akure for Akeredolu during the Ondo governorship election. And you think all that is for nothing? When the Fulani give you a cap, they demand your head in return.

I cannot say what Akeredolu promised them but it is clear they are disappointed with him. And expect them to drive really hard to get their pound of flesh from the Ondo State governor. His case will still get to the Supreme Court and remember the Imo abracadabra. Akeredolu should quickly surrender to the Fulani and never be this insolent or audacious again or prepare for tough times ahead. He must mobilise his people behind and around him. Already, even his brother-governors, the ones closest to him, are ambivalent on this issue. They are speaking from both sides of the mouth – approbating and reprobating at same time. But how can Akeredolu enjoy his people’s full and unequivocal support when he is said not to have paid salaries since November last year? This, however, is not Akeredolu’s personal fight. It must be seen appropriately as the Yoruba or South-west fight for freedom, liberty, and equality. Otherwise, the Yoruba should get ready to be consigned to second class citizens in their own country and be treated as chattel on the land bequeathed to them by their forebears.

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