Your correspondent is back in Blighty after a tour of Nigeria that took in Abuja, Kaduna and Lagos. Here be findings
1. I have good news to report! When I landed at Abuja Airport, it felt and looked incredibly normal. Dont take this for granted – In Nigerian airports, it is normal to see abnormal things. But this time, we moved from the plane to the immigration desk quietly and orderly (the trick appears to have been the new queue management systems that have been permanently nailed to the ground). The digital passport scanners have also been ditched for the manual process. Believe it or not, this system works far better than you might think.
Leaving from Lagos also felt very normal. They even have a new and well-lit duty-free shop there. The airport is still an eyesore but so is Miami airport in Florida where everything works. Pending the time when a new airport can be built, it’s not a bad idea to get things working.
2. The Law of IJGBs states that in any given Nigerian city, IJGBs will find themselves. I happened on a party in Abuja that was filled with IJGBs. Here’s how an IJGB friend explained it:
IJGBs tend to look for the same things when they go to a new city. Like I always look for the cafe when I go to a new town. That’s where I met most of these guys.
Note that IJGB status is calculated by a complicated formula that takes into account how long you were away for, how long you’ve been back for, the sustainability of your foreign accent and how far you’re willing to go to replicate the lifestyle you got used to abroad.
Almost all of the IJGBs at the party were working with the government in some capacity. I am still unsure how I felt about that.
3. The house that Ramalan Yero built cost N10bn or so he said. Driving into Kaduna for the first time in almost 25 years, I felt a little sad as to how the town was in such an obvious need of a facelift. To then get to the new Governor’s Office and see how the immediate past governor prioritised his spending was sickening.
The air-conditioning in much of the building did not work. Inside the governor’s office, I glanced up and saw several of the light fittings had had enough. A wall had cracked from top to bottom. Save for the well-appointed leather chairs in the governor’s office, it was hard to see where N10bn went.
4. There is an incredible amount of work to be done in Kaduna. Governor El-Rufai (Spoiler Alert: I’m a big fan of his, warts and all) was quite frank about this – ‘I barely get any sleep. Being a minister is a lot easier than this‘.
The Commissioner for Budget & Planning, Mohammed Sani Dattijo (as my man Triple A will say – he gets it, he’s one of us) said the same thing – ‘we are dealing with problems as basic as a single street having different names at different points’. There was no tea or coffee to offer me in his office though. Zero based budgeting means that spending has been cut by 60%.
The human capital of the state is lying prostrate on the floor – beaten down and run over. Kids hardly progress from primary to secondary school. A friend whose firm recently oversaw a recruitment exercise told me how people would bring their whole family to thank you simply for ‘giving them a job’. Yet, these people got the jobs after taking a test and passing an interview. But the idea that you can simply get a job on merit is almost unheard of that people are overcome with emotion.
But the Governor is a very serious person and has a decent team with him. There’s hope.
5. A couple of months ago, in one of my rants against Alhaji Putin, I wondered if a Nigerian cement manufacturer could move up the value chain and build 1,000 (affordable) houses for sale to the public.
I think I partly have the answer and it is the one I expected. I drove past the BUA Estate in Kado, Abuja and it looked to me like the whole estate of 208 duplexes was empty. First of all, no one is interested in building houses at the lower end of the scale. Driving round Ikoyi at night, the place is littered with empty ‘luxury flats’. And yet, there are many more being built. All over Abuja too, so many big houses sitting empty. The pricing is either ridiculous or there are not enough middle and upper class people to buy these homes.
It’s a sad situation because the need for low to medium cost housing is great. But when all the energy and resources are diverted to the high-end, it means that no one can be bothered to even start thinking about how to bring the cost of construction down – a critical part of the problem.
Someone took me to see a house in Abuja built by a guy who was apparently close to the last President. Very nicely done and in a nice mini estate too. Apparently, just before the elections, the guy was confident of selling each one for N250m (and he would likely have gotten away with it if the elections went differently).
Now he probably can’t find buyers for N50m.
6. Regarding the topic du jour, I overheard this
The British investigators have got her transaction history at Harrods and Hermes for the last 4 years. It comes to around $100m apparently. She is apparently one of the biggest collectors of Kelly bags in the world and there are some that were made exclusively for her.
‘What is a Kelly’ I hear you ask? Well, so did I and so I asked a friend who tends to know these things
Don’t say you don’t learn anything from Aguntasolo. Also this
When she wants to empower you, she had a way of doing it. She will just direct someone who has been disturbing her for something to go and see you and that whatever the two of you decide she will abide by it. It will now be left to you to use your church mind to determine how much to charge that person for the access to her.
7. Random conversation with a friend
Me: Are you ok to meet at Otres in Lekki for 6pm?
Him: Why do you want to give your money to Uduaghan?
Because food is political, we went to Freedom Park instead
8. There are several reasons why power supply had recently improved (before last week’s vandalisation over land issues at Egbin). Met up with one of my Ogas and he gave one explanation that made some sense to the amateur economist in me when I asked why pipeline vandalisation (one of the reasons for the power improvement) had reduced
The Atlantic has been full of VLCCs (oil tankers) full of Nigerian crude oil for several months now with no buyers since this whole oil price crash. That means that there is not much incentive to go and blow up a pipeline, put it in a small boat and then transfer it to a tanker. That outlet is no more there.
Makes sense to me. Vandalisation is market driven. Which means if oil prices start to go back up, the vandals will be back in business.
Much as power has recently improved, things are so bad that Nigeria has not even begun to think about expanding electricity supply beyond those who already have a connection. DISCos are bleeding and still havent figured out how to minimise the losses arising from collections. The tariffs don’t make much sense so you have some DISCOs rejecting power from the GENCOs – up to 900MW/day at some point.
A friend at Ikeja DISCo summed it up
You will go to a house where there is only one meter and when you reach the address you will find like 10 flats sharing that one meter. So what we are trying to do now is to meter the shege at every point from the transmission lines to the houses so we know where losses are occurring.
9. Hung out with a Nigerian bank executive
You guys on twitter don’t realise that the whole exchange rate stability we have now is a complete myth. Emefiele has achieved this stability by completely shutting down the interbank market. There is so much unmet demand for forex just waiting to be filled [Me: I think he said around $3bn]. In 20 years or so, we have never had the CBN this omnipresent in the forex markets. JP Morgan never even said anything about devaluation. Their only requirement was to have liquidity in the market and that liquidity is just no longer there. Once he settles Foreign Portfolio Investors and some local guys like Dangote, the rest of you can go and hang.
Funny thing is if you remember in 2008, the Nigeria gained around 20% and in those heady days, people were talking of the Naira going to N100 to $1. Nobody complained about the markets back then. Now that the market is saying something different, we don’t like it.
I’m paraphrasing but you get the gist.
10. Overheard some gist about a big Nigerian bank. Let’s call it Da Furst
They are already giving guidance that their loan write downs this year will be between N70bn and N80bn. And the majority of that was money they lent to Omokore and Atlantic. And they never learn. That’s how they lost a fortune lending to Seawulf too. Sebi that Oritsemeyin rig rotting away at Marina was part of that deal.
Conversation shifted to another oil and gas company. Let’s call it Oh Wan Dough
This is October and they still havent released their 2014 results. I am hearing the loss they made is around $500m. They have been going around calling analysts and reporters trying to soften them up for when the results come out so that they wont be too harsh on them.
A friend gave me a lift home one night and as we drove past a big building on the corner of Osborne and Alfred Rewane roads in Ikoyi that has been under construction for a while, he said
That building was one of the loans that sank First Inland Bank. The owner was a director there.
All of these seemingly unrelated things give an insight into how the Nigerian economy is run once the lights go out.
11. Back to the issue of the same road having different names at different points, I mentioned it to some friends in Lagos and their response was that I did not need to go Kaduna to see that. Here’s one of them
I remember last year Valentine’s day. I wanted to send flowers to my wife’s new office. I know number on that same road so I just told the driver to look for number 27 using the name of the road I know for number 13. That’s how the guy started going up and down and couldn’t find it. Apparently that same road has different names at different points. And this is in Ikoyi o.
Just being able to organise ourselves in Nigeria is proving a real challenge. This then feeds into making it really hard to transfer something that has worked elsewhere to Nigeria.
I used Uber to get around quite a bit in Lagos. The rating system has definitely made drivers very polite. All the guys I rode with were courteous and decent (they get a bonus if you give them a 5* rating). But the challenge is often getting them to come to you. You put in a street and the map sends them somewhere else. This happened a couple of times so I quickly learnt that immediately after booking, you call the driver and confirm that he knows where he’s going.
Some of the confusion is political of course. I was chatting with someone who was describing a house in Ikoyi on ‘Temple Road’. I happened to have been there a day before and it was described to me as ‘Olu Holloway’ (former Temple). So I mentioned to her ‘do you mean Olu Holloway? And she said ‘we never call it that. It will always be Temple to me. None of all that political nonsense’.
Organisation. Order. Sounds simple enough but not in Nigeria.
12. Never had such a nightmare using my UK cards in Nigeria before. Or maybe my memory is hazy. Turns out all my debit cards are Visa and Nigeria does not like Visa. Everywhere I tried to use them, they were declined – online or offline.
Went to eat at Tulip Bistro in Abuja and when it came time to pay, the card was declined. Had to then walk quite a distance to get cash from a machine. This was all the more annoying because the what I ordered was apparently raw hot pepper with a side of prawns and pasta. My mouth is still on fire as I type this.
But the most annoying card experience was when I was checking out of my hotel in Abuja. I have a random MasterCard that I got to use for whenever I travel. I handed it to the guy and he tried it a couple of times – both times it was declined. He then asked me if it was a foreign card and I said yes. So he went to bring another PoS machine. Without telling me, he proceeded to convert the amount from Naira to USD (using a rate in his head) and then entered the USD amount into the machine. I was distracted at the time and so just entered my PIN into the machine.
Anyway the machine wasnt sure if it was processing or declining. That card has an app on my phone so I thought to check and indeed the payment had gone through. I then asked him what he had done and he said he converted the bill from Naira to USD using a rate of N179 as he could only enter the amount into that particular PoS in USD. I was incensed. I kept asking me to show me where he got that rate from and all he could say was ‘that is the rate we are using‘. They will be hearing from me on TripAdvisor.
Really not sure what is going on but it worries me a lot when I see signs of economic isolation in Nigeria. Why on earth is it now impossible to use foreign Visa cards in Nigeria?
13. This point is dedicated to all the things I heard about the people behind Atlantic Energy but which I’m not at liberty to disclose.
I pray Nigeria does not see their kind again. But I am not too optimistic about my prayer being answered.
And Now A Word From Our Sponsors…
Social media has greatly enriched my life. It allows me read as much as possible on a daily basis and also helps me sharpen my points of view. But it is in the people it has allowed me meet that I take the most pleasure.
Someone I hadn’t previously met physically invited me into their home for lunch. Another friend helped me arrange a driver to Kaduna from Abuja. I asked the driver to turn up at my hotel at 7am and he called me at 6.59am to say he was outside. He was so courteous that I was minded to pay him more than he demanded as I suspect he didn’t want to charge me because of the person who sent him my way. People bought me food in Abuja, Kaduna and Lagos. One fine day in Central London in December 2013, I went out to get my lunch at a McDonalds. A guy came up to me and asked me if I was Aguntasolo and we both laughed over it. I now call him my friend and a big part of what I’m hoping to do in Kaduna is because of him.
Yes, yes… I know what you are going to say – ‘It’s because you don’t live in Nigeria and you were only around for a short period‘. But so what? All it means is that people have reserves of kindness but will only transact in it when it is safe to do so (See Prof Alvin Roth here. Point 2). I’m a free market capitalist – red in tooth and claw – but I’m also a sucker for kindness; the one that ordinary people transact in at the ground level on a daily basis, unforced by any authority. I do not love Nigeria as it is. I love what it can become and it is because of the endless supply of people I’ve come to meet who can make it happen.
The Word On The Streets is sponsored by Kind People.
It’s best to leave you with the words of one of the greatest moral philosophers the world has seen this side of Plato. Here