Letter to Chimamanda

Letter to Chimamanda

Dear Chimamanda,

RE: WE SHOULD ALL BE FEMINISTS

I love your first name. It is very beautiful and unique and I think you are very beautiful too. Maybe I will name my daughter after you someday, if I have a daughter or any child for that matter. Why ‘if’? Well because the world is bad and full of surprises; it is not the same world I was raised in so I am scared of bringing an innocent child into this world. But worse, I am scared I will never get married (please don’t tell my mother), not because I am ugly or un-homely or un-womanly; I guess it is just because I am me.

See, I am a feminist. Probably not as hot-blooded as you are but one nonetheless. I am that person who believes in smoothing out the odds between the so-called genders. In this case, not by fighting for equal rights with placards – I am not so politically inclined, but by acknowledging that something is just not right somewhere and deciding to fix it starting with myself and my relationships.

As a child, I unconsciously imbibed feminist traits from God-knows-where. I found myself saying things like “I don’t want a man to control me” and I fought boys a lot, not physically most times because I am quite a girl, but I never let a boy walk all over me for no reason. My best cartoon TV program was and still is Mulan. I attended a ‘Girls only’ secondary school and that must have just fuelled my passion more.

Presently as a student in the university, I still do not like guys disrespecting me or disregarding my opinion simply because I’m a female. But because guys are ‘chyking’ me now, I am supposed to reflect the image of girlfriend or ‘wife material’ they expect me to be. So I have to cook every day and feed some guys too so that the testimony of my culinary artistry is spread abroad. The penalty for defaulting is an alarming reduction in my yards of wife material. Also I must stop paying a part of the bill when I go on dates, because it emasculates the guys. If I persisted, I have been warned, it will only make them less gentlemanly towards me. Lastly, I must put a stop to both loving and declaring my love for you, Chimamanda. Because if I continue to be so daring, I will never get married.

Chii’m (biko allow me to Igbolize your name), does it matter that I spend my meagre student allowance buying megabytes to download your YouTube videos? Or is it wrong that I have re-read all your books but one more than five times? How does appreciating a married woman make me less of a woman? I think what hurts most is that my friends do not understand. They tell me that women have a ‘cooking gene’ simply because we are nurturers (a fact implied from the fact that we breastfeed). Well, I don’t know how true that is but I doubt I have it – the gene – because cooking is not my hobby.

Letter to Chimamanda 2

Please before all my prospective suitors run away, let me be clearer: I can cook, I can even enjoy doing it in comfortable environments, but cooking is NOT my hobby and I definitely do NOT have a cooking gene.

Even though many people disagree and say that your idealisms of feminism are unrealistic in Nigeria, and that you’re alienated from African culture because you live abroad, I disagree. I believe you are smart and always make a lot of sense. So Nne biko answer, is it true all those things they say about me? On a serious note, Amanda, I relate with your talks especially, your TedX talk, We should all be feminists, and I wish more people, male and female alike will watch, hear or in the very least, read it. It pricked my heart to realize how much we have accepted and unconsciously imbibed certain traits and are teaching it to the next generation.

As an aside, thank God for the invention of mirrors and front camera phones; if I need validation, I simply take a selfie to remind myself of how beautiful I am or better still, I read Songs of Solomon in the Bible and pray. Simply put, I do not understand why I need a man in my life to validate my living or my existence. It hurts me to see many women seeking validation from men or rotating their lives around a man, sometimes a hopeless one. The stereotype that a woman must always be under a man is another amazing one; as an undergraduate hustling for a better future, I often meet the occasional human being with Grade Point Average multiplied by two equalling one or zero, that calls himself a man, telling me that “after all it’s a man’s world, you will still end up in a man’s house and along with all your struggle, certificates and titles, you will belong to him” or “whether or not you are a Barrister or Doctor, as far as your husband is only Mr, all you’ll ever be is a Mrs”. And this height of stupidity in a university community!

I once told a male friend my life plans, they looked something like graduate, law school, youth service, masters, travel, work, PhD etc. and after I chirpily listed all I was excited to stay alive for, all he asked was, “what about marriage, where does it come in?” to which I replied, “well, anywhere. It’s really not a prerequisite to my fulfilment in life.”

Now Amanda, this does not mean that I do not want to get married. It simply means that I do not want to live my life ‘waiting for the right man to find me’. I plan to build myself into the right woman for any man willing and daring enough to support me and my feminine ideals and well, if this does not work out then so be it; I will die knowing I lived a life fulfilling to myself and God.

Finally on the marriage issue, people tell me “keep doing Chimamanda, she’s married and abroad making her money while you are here, unmarried”. Chii’m please should I stop ‘doing’ you just so I can get married? I don’t want to spend the rest of my teenage life and early twenties aspiring for marriage by practicing compromise in relationships where I will be treated as a lesser mortal; by having “ambition but not too much” so that I do not intimidate the man who will be gracious enough to marry a lawyer like me. All of this is just very confusing to me, and bothersome. I need a reply from you ASAP so that I do not become totally unmarriable, especially before I start pursuing my Masters and PhD. I still have a million questions to ask but I will wait till I meet you in person. Please greet Uncle Ivara for me and take care of yourself.

Yours sincerely,

Ada bekee

P.S: I agree with your definition of feminist: “A man or woman who says, Yes, there’s a problem with gender as it is today, and we must fix it, we must do better”.

P.S: Please don’t tell my mum. P.S: I also love make up and girly dresses and African culture, does this make me less eligible in the race for feminism? Will I be respected in all my femininity and lipstick or do I have to wear ugly pant suits without bras? Just joking, I know your reply here.

P.S: Really, don’t tell my mum.

Cynthia Adaugo Mbajunwa is a Christian Igbo Nigerian African female. She loves, as wholly as possible, and looks to make a difference no matter how little. She is sarcastic and shy, a bold feminist currently studying to become a lawyer

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Deliverance

deliverance

Bro Hygi dipped his thumb in the bowl of olive oil and leant over her supine body. He traced small crosses on her forehead, lips, and cleavage; he got to her palms but they were tightly shut. He tried to pry them open but the girl clenched them even tighter.

“Aha!” Bro Hygi yelled, “See her hand. See it!” The entire prayer team paused to stare down at Emem. Somebody moved the rechargeable lantern closer and as the full glare hit her hands, the group broke into excited chatter. Both palms were clenched into ferociously tight balls and the veins stood out defiantly, intertwined around them.

The prayer warriors scattered all over the room that was deliverance arena for the night – they had found the abode of the demon. Some of them knelt in supplication, in preparation for the coming battle, the younger ones did little dances and high-fived each other with their bibles. Through the frenzy, Bro Hygi stood calmly in the centre of the circle. His large head was bent low over his chest and his legs stood slightly apart, as leader he had to stay calm. Soon he signaled and the rest of them quieted down.

Suddenly a willowy stem of a lady jumped into the centre of the circle and began swaying violently in all directions. Sister Miracle had sweated through the sheer material of the cream work shirt she had on, her tiny bra and their surprisingly generous twin occupants visibly jumped with every move. Nobody ever interrupted Bro Hygi but this one had to be an exception because he only smiled and waved her on. The spirit was moving.

“Prai-prai-prai-prrrrraaaaaaiiiiiiiiizzzzz jiiiiiizes!” Sister Miracle sang.

“Alaluyah!” they responded.

“Praaaaaaiiiiiiiiiizzzzzz da lawwdu!”

“Alaluyah”

“Alaluya?”

“Amen”

“Oya clap ya hans, ya hans!” And so began the next hour of songs and dance.

***

Emem was bored stiff. Literally.

Her back and buttocks felt dead against the floor, her entire arm weighed tons from the strain of clutching her palms so ferociously. That Sister Miracle had really taken her sweet time with the praise session, starting one song, working herself – and apparently every other male in the group – into a frenzy, before switching abruptly into another song. They were done with that, Bro Hygi now led the prayer session. Each time Emem sneaked a peak beneath her eyelids, she was impressed anew by their energy. They pranced, danced, flung their arms as energetically as the words left their mouths; it seemed each prayer warrior tried to outdo the next.

It was this over-zealous energy, and its stark contrast with their hypocrisy that had forced Emem into pretending to ‘fall by anointing’. Since Aunty Nkpa joined the prayer unit of the new church, her home had become a point of weekly rendezvous for the group. During each visit, Aunty Nkpa always had the prayer warriors well fed, and entertained, sometimes until the next morning. In return, they occasionally held impromptu deliverance sessions for the family. Emem and her older cousins played the roles of attendants during these visits. But as the prayer warriors left in the early hours of the morning, it was Emem alone who woke to open the front door for them and hand them packs of food and canned drinks as they each went through it. It was also Emem alone who noticed the pencil-thin Bro Justin exiting the visitors bathroom just seconds after a dishevelled Sister Maggy waddled out; it was Emem alone who constantly fought off the groping hands of Bro Jero, Bro Faith and Sister Chika with the dreadlocks and happy eyes; it was Emem alone who saw the tiny cigarette butt floating in the toilet bowl after Bro Tom-tom left; and it was Emem alone whose acute nostrils picked up the scent of alcohol on Bro Hygi’s breath as he wished peace on her one last time before leaving.

She never cared for any of it; in fact, Emem was usually in high spirits enough to at the antics of the prayer warriors. But she was not in the best of the moods tonight. It had been a very tiring day, and worse, Bro Faith was on demon-casting duty for the night. He held her still with one firm hand at the back of her neck while almost boring a hole in her forehead with a finger on the other. The whole time he was yelling into her face: Out! … Out in da name of jiiizes … Evil principalities and powers, possessing spirit, gerrout of her! … holy ghost fayaaaa … Emem did not budge.

When he grabbed her at the shoulder and roughly ran his hand down her arm in a brush-off motion making sure to brush her breasts, Emem was shocked. She knew Bro Faith’s inclinations but that he was brazen enough to grope her in the middle of a prayer session? She was repulsed. He brushed her other arm down too, then he knelt, apparently to repeat the action on her legs. She could not take anymore, so she did the next thing that came naturally to her.

She shut her eyes, screamed and fell on her back, making sure to knee Bro Faith in the mouth on her way down. She trashed around a little, drooled some saliva, and then lay still as the entire army rallied around to her.

That had been over three hours ago; now Emem was bored stiff. She was quickly tiring of the pretense, plus she really felt sorry for her family in the room. Poor Aunty Nkpa, how frightened she must be.

Emem knew that after the round of prayers, someone would bring in the holy water; that was when she planned to let herself be ‘delivered’ of the possessing demon. When the first blast of water hit her, she would scream, roll around on the floor, maybe speak some gibberish and abruptly lay still; then she would allow herself to be slowly revived. And when she would eventually open her eyes and sit up, her poor Aunt would be brought to hold her and walk her through the redemption prayer – her oath as an ex-possessee to never again allow a demon possess her body.

She was tired, but she had to finish what she started. So she waited.

…this is the first part. A final sequel is coming soon. Watch out!

Chisom

The Lectern: Africa is a continent, not a country

For us in Nigeria, this past month of May was very eventful – mosquitoes; fuel scarcity of such potency that saw prices triple, shops and services shut down; scant electricity; then NO electricity for days on end; more mosquitoes; and but all turned over by the inauguration of President Muhammadu Buhari. 

Riding with the optimism that we cannot help but feel in this new dispensation, Thia takes to ‘The Lectern’ with a message of identity, of pride and ultimately, of hope. She admits that this is no new subject for discourse, but she also insists that we must not tire of preaching it until we first, then the entire world, learns it.

And so, we welcome the month of June.

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…that we might be read


AFRICA IS A CONTINENT, NOT A COUNTRY

Africa is a continent

This topic is not a peculiar one.

The first time I heard of it was on a TEDTalks video of the Nigerian author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie titled “The Danger of a Single Story” where she jokingly recounted how a Virgin flight she was on mentioned their charity works “in India, Africa and other countries.”

The second time I heard of it was also on a TEDTalks video of another Nigerian, Cobhams Asuquo titled “The Gift of Blindness.”  He also mentioned again rather jokingly that an announcement on a flight he was on mentioned the charitable works the British airways was doing in the UK, Africa and other countries.

Until recently I saw this as inconsequential or rather just unnecessary. I am a fan of great music and one of the songs that I doubt will ever leave my playlist is “We are the World”, both the original and the remix for Haiti. I am sure I have listened to both of them over a hundred times.  Weirdly until recently I never really listened to the lyrics; I merely enjoyed the melody and the rare freshness of many celebrities coming together in one song.

So today I listened. Towards the end of this very awesome song I discovered something I am sure I will never forget:

“…remember Katrina, Africa, Indonesia

and now Haiti needs us…”

It shocked me. Hurricane Katrina was one of the worst natural disasters in the history of the United States of America. The earthquake in Haiti was another really horrible natural disaster. And at about that time in Indonesia, multiple earthquakes and a tsunami at the Mentawai Islands including volcanic eruptions at Mount MerapiI had shaken the Asian country. Seeing as it was a string of natural disasters that hit the above mentioned countries, I began to wonder what natural disaster has hit the whole of Africa.

In all my instances above, Africa was put on a list of countries. In the last one in particular, it was put on a list of geographical areas smaller than many countries. The whole of Africa is not sick. Africa is a continent not a country thus it deserves recognition as such. People make it seem like Africa is a country with South Africa as its capital because in pictures of Africa in most books and magazines, the Safari of South Africa is what is captured as Africa.

Komla Dumor in another TEDx talk stated rather brilliantly that we tell both sides of the story. Yes! Africa is rich naturally. Yes! Africa is still developing. No! We are a continent, a conglomeration of various countries spread across a wide geographical location with various value systems, cultures and languages interwoven rather very beautifully. The moment we start to appreciate this I think it will put things in greater perspective for those doing “charitable works in India, Africa and other countries.” Maybe then Nigeria as a country will become a beneficiary of their benevolence as well as Ghana, Mali, Kenya, Somalia and other AFRICAN COUNTRIES.

This seems confusing at this point and I am asking myself what the whole point of writing this is. Maybe my point is just that this message be passed along so that it is not said anywhere that xenophobia occurs in Africa. Nigeria is not xenophobic and I am sure Benin republic isn’t also, neither are many other African countries.

Africa is way too big to be disrespected so often. Even smaller continents get more respect.

Africa is a continent not a country

Proudly African! Proudly Nigerian! Proudly Igbo!

P.S: This is my identity not just a chant. I should be identifiable by my specific origin not just a random over-generalization. I feel we all should.

by Thia Mbajunwa

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Cynthia Adaugo Mbajunwa is a Christian Igbo Nigerian African female. She loves, as wholly as possible, and looks to make a difference no matter how little. She is sarcastic and shy, a bold feminist currently studying to become a lawyer.

Don’t forget to share with your friends and enemies; also take a minute to tell us in the Comments what you’re thinking about this one. If you have written something which you would like our readers to enjoy from ‘The Lectern’, attach and send it in a mail titled ‘The Lectern’ to ojukwumartin@gmail.com. If you are unsure about a subject matter, still reach out and we can work up something appropriate for you. It does not have to be right or left, right or wrong…only your opinion.

Chisom

FOR THE LOVE OF ‘BLACK’

A friend of mine was once asked, “If you had to add one more face to Mount Rushmore, whose would it be?”

For those of us still struggling to catch up, you might have seen the 2003 comedy, ‘Head of State’ starring Chris Rock. Nearing the end of the movie after Mays (Chris) had won the presidency, there was a shot of his face hewn into a massive stone structure beside the equally sculpted faces of four former American presidents. That is Mount Rushmore (picture below) – without Chris Rock of course. It is a historic structure in America forever remembering the feats of four great past American leaders – George Washington (1732–1799), Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826), Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919) and Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865).

Mount Richmore

So my friend thought for only a second before saying that the one face he would have added to Mount Rushmore is that of Nelson Mandela.

I completely agree with him. Nelson Mandela preached forgiveness, resilience and freedom to South Africans at a time when the ideals sounded hollow to them. And with love, determination and immense sacrifice, he showed his people how. As I read Timi‘s piece below, I wondered what emotions would be going through Mandela’s mind if he were alive now to witness the waves of xenophobic hostilities sweeping across his beloved South Africa.

I wondered and I came to a conclusion – shame.

FOR THE LOVE OF ‘BLACK’ – by Timilehin Osunde

Xenophobia

Okay, this is coming some days behind. But it has got me thinking for days on end, this South African issue of hostility and violence towards black foreigners – XENOPHOBIA, they call it.

This one video just leaves my stomach unsettled. You are walking home after a hard day’s work in a foreign country; someone walks up to you and hits you in the face without any prior altercation or exchange of words. That leaves you dazed for some minutes sitting on the hot tarred road with vehicles whizzing past. You’re still in confusion when another brings a building block meant for construction and hurls it at you and you hit the ground in shock, in pain. Then a young man still wearing his school uniform decides that your lying on the ground looks good for a trampoline practice and chooses to use you for his sport.

A man, a human being suffered this fate. One can only imagine what would have been racing through the mind of such a poor soul. He probably just ended a call to his wife back home in his country or even a sick parent back in his village. He probably just promised to send them a little out of what he struggles to earn in harsh, uncertain conditions.

I didn’t want to join the list of people who have had to remind South Africa of their dark times and how other African nations lent a helping hand. While these sibling African nations could have looked the other way, they did not because they identified with the South Africans on many levels of value. The first of these levels is the colour of the skin which I right now so want to believe goes beyond the surface covering.

There are a whole lot of others on this values’ list which we cherish as a people, a continent, and a ‘race’. Yet, for whatever reason, South Africa has subtly over time chosen to act the odd one out (personal observation) since the apartheid era ended. This nation has in so many tiny but significant ways sent subtle signals that they do NOT want other Africans. They could have voiced this stance a long time ago, and it would have made life easier for the many ‘foreign’ Africans who have continued pushing across their borders.

I know some Nigerians who have had the ‘poor luck’ of visiting South Africa and have not had anything good to say about the reception they get. Maybe this goes for some other African countries as well save a few but again, maybe this issue reaches far deeper than what is happening right now; maybe it is more of an African disease than a South African flaw. Maybe our leaders need to start working on the value system of each nation on this beautiful continent, maybe our ideologies are flawed in Africa, maybe that student in the school uniform on his way home needs to understand the value of life, be it that of an insect or a human.

Maybe the so many unions across the continent with the apex African Union need to re-strategize on workable, possible ways to avert future occurrences of such hostility in the many states that make up Africa. Some of the objectives of these unions have been written to include; achieving greater unity and solidarity between the member countries and its citizens, defending the sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence of member states, to accelerate the political and social-economic integration of the members amongst a whole lot of others. Maybe these objectives need to be effected before the whole issue spirals down the drain into a messy mass.

So many maybes…

Now it’s the turn of Nigerians to hold a rally on this xenophobia matter somewhere on the Island in Lagos soon and that leaves one with the question what next after that.

I would like to put a hold on my thoughts at this point to avoid going round in an unending cycle of heartbreak. As humans living in Africa, when we choose to leave our home country to either visit or do business in another African country, all we ask for is security and a sense of belonging. It really is as simple as that.

God bless Africa!

Timilehin is a journalist, a communications and social media expert with the Weed Science Centre at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA).

Roses and Angels IV

…continued from last week

roses and angels

…it pulled over, a small golf with tinted glasses.

Its earring and sun glass – wearing driver with dyed hair wound down the glass, and flashed you a boyish smile which even then, you knew did not go past his brownish set of teeth. At other times you would have immediately grabbed the cloak of caution, and walked away, but not that day; you had lost all the will-power that once streamed in your veins. He persuaded you to get in, and tears in your eyes you let yourself be cajoled.

He embraced you in the car, gave you his grey leather jacket and let you cry on his shoulders. Then, you told him your story, amid sobs that seemed to endure forever.

‘Life’s a bitch’, he told you when you were done, ‘if you wanna beat her game, you gotta fuck her real hard!’

He had started the engine when you ask him his name, so perchance he killed you that night, you would at least have known the name of your killer.

‘I’m a young dude trying to work my name to the national dailies’, he answered in a prophetic tone. ‘I’m gonna hit big someday. I can smell it in my fucking breath. And when that time comes, we gonna hit big together’.

He took your small face, planted a kiss on your forehead, and drove you to a place you will later call home.

***

Eighteen months have passed since you left Johnny. You have had six menial jobs with paltry salaries, and you have moved four times. You have settled on the last job you got in a middle class restaurant where you work on shifts. In your quiet moments, when you lay on the sofa of your poorly furnished room, the past always replays, the tears always come, and a surge of energy always overcomes you. You feel this emotional outburst you cannot overcome. You try to suppress the thoughts rimming your mind, but you find yourself failing. Your nights are filled with dreams, those dreams whose plot you forget as soon as you open our eye lids to reality. Yet, the wetness on your eyes always evidence that it must have been a sad dream.

These continue night after night, until that eventful night. You woke up in the wee hours of night, after restless shuffles on your thin bed. An idea came to you, you picked up an idle pen and a brown paper and apprehensive though you were, you began to write. The night disappeared with the outburst of poetic emotions. You were deaf to the sound of your clock and the distant croaks of frogs. The muse was your new companion; he captured your heart, alerted your thoughts, and wired them through your hands to your pen which spat out endless words with unrestrained fury.

You are more aware of the ever presence of your muse. You have resumed writing poetry and music is always on your lips at your quiet times. Your thoughts flow like a spring, and in your writing, you find escape. You write about love and hate, resolution and hope, culture and religion. You write about your parents, especially Mama. You write about the night of your first sexual intercourse with Johnny.

It happened that night when he first embraced you and told you to fuck life. Uncle Ofodili opened your gateway, but Johnny on that night, ensured that it stayed open to hundreds of others on the path he carved for you. At first, you did not understand why anyone should keep more than one lover, or even offer sex for money. But Johnny had spoken persistently to you, and when you would not budge, he struck you, and ravished you repeatedly.

You were not so bothered of the force of his violent plunging into you, or his breath that reeked of alcohol and narcotics, or the ripples of pain you felt days afterwards. What bothered you more was the rape of your spirit, your will, your dignity, reducing you, that girl who once thought herself an angel, to a tiny filthy tool. This continued until after a month. You had given in to that new reality. Johnny was, you thought, and would always be your supreme benefactor and if you wanted a life, you had to please him. To please him, you embraced your new career and damned your broken conscience.

But all of that was months ago, a lifetime ago. Because you have left your past in the past, along with Johnny and all he brought. No longer are you Pearl or Tracy or Suzy, the whore, now you are that ‘yellow sisi’ who works the tables at Sunrise restaurant, and attends Sunday masses at the cathedral.

The homilies on Sundays are always taken by that Bishop with narrow eyes and a solemn demeanor. You enjoy its underlying philosophy and the pleasant simplicity of his language. It is not only the homily that uplifts your spirit. The hymns captivate your mind. It has been over four months since you started attending the cathedral, and since then, you have desired inwardly to join the choir whose members are always clad in blue and red coloured outfits that are reminiscent of your primary school graduation attire. So from your pew, you always sing along, hoping that one day, you will get a divine push that will inspire you to register with them.    

Last Sunday, you sat in the front row of the section just behind the choir, as usual. After the Holy Communion session, an elderly woman who had been seated quietly beside you nudged you gently and asked, ‘How can you sit here so comfortably?’

‘Pardon me?’

‘I have been watching you and I know what you are,’ she turned to face you. ‘Do you not know that you shouldn’t be here? That this is no place for you?’

You are stunned, confused. It cannot be…

to be continued next week…

By

Uche Anichebe

The Lectern: Oil price fall, Naira devaluation and everything else

Very recently, there has been a lot of ginger around crude oil, naira, dollars, devaluation and how they together will be the death of us. While we have all appreciated the seriousness of the situation, a great majority of us have done so without any inkling of what all the gragra is about. What is this devaluation sef? Wetin concern me, concern central bank and external resaf? Shebi the oil don finish ni?

Chuba Ezekwesili in this month’s edition of The Lectern answers these and many more. That’s the small news. The big news is that he does it in as lay a combo of terms and illustrations as you will ever find in the econosphere. He titles it The Bricklayer’s Explanation…and indeed it is. Per chance you find yourself still confused after reading this, don’t lose heart. Just keep telling yourself that all is well; after all, it is not only the beautiful ones that are not yet born…Enjoy!

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That we might be read…

THE BRICKLAYER’S EXPLANATION TO OIL PRICE FALL, NAIRA DEVALUATION & EVERYTHING ELSE

So I logged onto Nigerian Twitter yesterday afternoon and found people abusing economists and financial analysts for speaking in jargons about the CBN’s actions. So for those who’re still confused about what’s going on with Nigeria’s economy and are trying to understand the implications, here’s a simplified version. No bricklayers were insulted in the writing of this post…at least, not explicitly.

So How Did This All Start?

First thing first, oil price fell. Why? Everyone’s increased their production of oil and no one plans on cutting back. In the US, shale oil’s getting cheaper, so there’s more oil out there…and we all know what happens when you have a lot more of a product — price falls. When price falls, consumers are happy and producers are unhappy. Consequently, nations that are consumers of oil have a lovely time, and oil producer countries …a not so lovely time.

So? What Does This Have to Do With the Naira?

Before we go on, a little info on currency and exchange markets. It’s important to note that our currency doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Essentially, a unit of our currency is exchanged for a unit of another currency. Hence the term, Foreign Exchange or Forex or FX, for short. When we buy products from outside Nigeria, we have to exchange our Naira for Dollars. Your Naira is useless outside of Nigeria. It’s why you convert your Naira to Dollars before you travel. You want to test it? Travel to Dubai with only Naira.

Back to the question you raised. Nigeria is fortunate(?) to be an oil producing nation…when oil prices are high. Presently, oil prices are not high and that’s bad for us. Nigeria’s economy is dependent on oil revenue: about 75% of Government revenue comes from our crude oil sales. So when oil prices fall, oil revenue falls too, and that’s bad for the economy.

In the currency market, exchange rates are often centered on the health of a country’s economy. When the economy of a country is strong, its currency is also strong in the foreign exchange market. When the economy appears to be weak, its currency loses value in the currency exchange rate. Nigeria’s dependent on oil, so when oil prices are weak, so our currency loses value in the foreign exchange market. This loss of value of Naira is called a ‘depreciation’ in currency value.

Here’s a simple example. If we began with a dollar exchange for a Naira, both are in a sense equal. However, once I have to give out 2 of my Naira for just 1 of your dollar then the value of Naira has fallen. In the past months, the exchange rate was $1 dollar to roughly N150. Thanks to depreciation and eventually devaluation (we’ll get to that later), it’s now $1 to N168.

Alright. I Get the Currency Part, But What Does Our External Reserves Have to Do with our Naira Value?

To explain this, we’ll have to look into what the External Reserves is and why it exists. Think of your External Reserves as a Savings account where you put some portion of your salary every month. That money gets saved for something later: paying your children’s university fees, buying a house, or importantly, in case things get bad in the future (perhaps you lose your job).

Likewise, countries keep these reserves, but mainly to safeguard the value of their domestic currency, boost their credit worthiness, protect against external shocks and provide a cushion for a rainy day when national revenue plummets. When Nigeria earns revenue from oil, it gets paid in dollars, so we simply stash a portion of the money in our reserves.

Moreover, the reserves of oil producing countries like Nigeria tend to benefit economically from higher oil prices. The higher the price of oil, the more money oil producing countries like Nigeria get to earn and save.

So if We Have an External Reserve, Why’re We Worried?

Well, having a bank account doesn’t mean you have money. We have a reserve, but our money no plenty. Nigeria has been dancing shoki with its reserves. When oil price was high, we apparently weren’t saving that much into our reserves. In fact, our reserves have been on a downward trend for years. We’ve been using our External Reserves to keep the value of Naira stable for months. When our currency appears to be falling, we take out some dollars from our external reserves and purchase Naira. Increased demand for Naira leads to increased value of Naira, and that’s how we stabilize our currency.

However, we sacrifice a portion of our External Reserves to pull this off. For instance, “while the central bank stepped in Nov. 7 to send the Naira to its biggest one-day gain in three years, intervening in the market has reduced foreign reserves to a four-month low of $37.8 billion.” In the last few months, even Russia with their large reserves had to devalue their currency by 23%.

So is This why Everyone Was Making Noise About CBN Devaluing the Naira?

Yes. Now there’s only so much spending from the reserves that the CBN can do, especially given that we’ve really sucked at growing our reserves when oil price was in the $100 range. It’s like when your office was paying you N100k, you were clubbing every weekend rather than saving some money. Then the minute your office decided to increase your income tax, that’s when your jobless relative comes to live with you too. So now, your salary is not only less, it’s burning faster cause there’s an extra mouth to feed.

The drop in oil price does not only send our currency downwards, it also makes it difficult for the CBN to defend our currency. It’s a double whammy. Essentially, if the CBN keeps trying to defend the rate at N150, it’ll burn through the reserves pretty fast and then we’ll be screwed. So relaxing this currency threshold to N168 means they can relax a bit. They don’t have to keep using as much of the reserves to prop up the Naira. If you’re still curious on how it all works, Feyi goes into the intricacies of devaluation in his fantastic post here.

Okayyy! I Think I Understand Now, But How Does This Affect Me?

Like many other economic events, devalution creates winners and losers. Let’s start with the losers. If you generate revenue in Naira and incur costs in dollars, this is a bad time for you. Any activity that has you converting Naira for Dollars will hurt you way more than a few months ago.

Let’s have a moment of silence for our Igbo brother who will be ‘importing containers’ this christmas. Life just got harder for them. Given that importers have to pay for their imported goods in dollars…and dollars just got more expensive, the cost of their goods have increased overnight.

Same thing happens to those tush parents who’ve got their kids in Nigerian schools that only accept their fees in dollars or Nigerians that have children schooling abroad. If you like flying, shopping or doing anything abroad, your cost of doing so has risen. On the contrary, if you earn in dollars and pay in Naira, life is looking pretty good at the moment.

Exporters also benefit. The fall in value of Naira means more exports because our exports have gotten cheaper. But ermm…what exactly are we exporting?

Phew. So It Doesn’t Affect Me Like That

Don’t be so sure. Nigeria’s an import-dependent nation, which means that most of what you purchase is produced abroad. I heard we import our toothpick too. If the prices of imports have risen, trust your Nigerian brothers and sisters to increase their prices too…leading to what’s popularly known as inflation.

I Was Hearing All These Oversabies Saying CRR, MPR. What Does This Mean?

CRR stands for Cash Reserve Ratio. It’s the proportion of what a bank can lend, to what it has in its coffers. So if the bank has N1000 and its ratio is 50%, can only use 50% of that money (N500) for business. Given that awon banks do not mess around with profit making, they will make sure that N500 brings back maximum profit. Banks are like the servant in Jesus’ parable that got 10 talents from his master, not the lazy one that got 1 talent. So to make max profit off the N500, they will raise interest rate if you want to borrow their money.

MPR stands for Monetary Policy Rate. The Central Bank uses the MPR to control base interest rate. The higher the rate, the less money in circulation. How? If interest rate is higher, will you borrow money from the bank knowing that you’ll pay much more later on? Nope. Instead, you’ll take your money from your pocket and give it to the bank, so they’ll make you more money.

Remember that thanks to devaluation, awon boys will be increasing prices left and right. General price increase in a given period leads to inflation. To tackle this, CBN increases CRR and MPR to reduce demand for money. This way, they prevent inflationary rise.

Okayy. I think I Understand That Part, So What’s This Austerity Thing Aunt Ngozi was Talking About?

That one is another long story. So, we’ve all been in situations when we’re broke. Ok, maybe just some of us. We adjust our lifestyle around the middle of the month when our salary hasn’t been paid. You go from eating jollof rice to drinking garri. When friends tell you to come out and party, you form ‘I’m very busy’.

Nigeria’s proposed austerity measures are similar…except on a grander scale. To cushion the effect of the falling crude oil prices, we have to cut back on spending and quite literally tighten our belts. The Government is cutting back on wastage (less government traveling and all that sort). The Government’s also raising taxes on luxury goods such as private jets, yachts and champagne. Somewhere in this luxury tax is the amusing observation that the revenue from taxes on the rich will still go back to the rich.

For the proletariat, the sweet subsidy you enjoy when you fuel your car will also get cut. Prepare to pay more for fuel. This is a good thing. Subsidy has to go anyways.

Wow. That was Long. So, Any Lesson to Learn from All This?

Yes. First lesson: Nigeria is the most reactive and least proactive nation you could’ve been born into. This isn’t the first time oil prices have fallen. Government should’ve gotten used to fluctuating oil price and prepared accordingly. And, since oil is the figurative oil in Nigeria’s economic engine, judicious and prudent management of oil revenue should’ve been practiced. However, we largely mismanaged our wealth during the time of booms and we’re now trying to behave ourselves in the time of slump. Let’s see how that goes.

The second lesson to be learnt is that we should’ve diversified our economic sources of revenue a long time ago to prevent price shock of primary products from affecting us drastically. Also, State Governments should’ve been pressured to increase their internally generated revenue much sooner. We can’t keep reacting to every economic shock that hits us.

Anyways, this is getting too long and no one probably got to the end, so no need for a witty or wise ending. But, if you reached this point, congrats! After spending all that time reading this, make sure you show off your new macroeconomic knowledge to your friends. And please, stop abusing econ-nerds. We have feelings too. Selah.

By

Chuba Ezekwesili

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Chuba Ezekwesili currently works for the Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG) as a Research Aanalyst. He enjoys reading up on matters pertaining to Economics and is an avid technology geek with a belief that the intersection of both can create immense economic development. You can find him at @chubaezeks on Twitter.

If you have a piece you would like to people to read from ‘The Lectern’, send it in a mail titled ‘The Lectern’ to ojukwumartin@gmail.com. If you just know that you want to ‘be read’ but can’t figure out what subject matter to write about, no wahala. Send me an email too and we can work up something for you. We must write…that we might be read.

I am @ojukwu_martin on twitter

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The Mind Factor: ‘Nigeria-Ebola’ play in perspective

The proprietress of the secondary school I attended in Aba had this saying she was very fond of and made sure we never stopped hearing. On many occasions while we were in class, or standing on the hard-clay assembly grounds behind the main school building, or seated in the large auditorium, she would face us in one of her uniform loose, short-sleeved blouses, knee-length cotton skirts and black flats. Her slouched shoulders would straighten a fraction of an inch, her amply dimpled chin would incline at a determined angle and set in her dark brown face, her black eyes would burn strength and hope into ours, while she said, “I can do it! You can do it! If I set my mind to it!”

Often she would ask us to repeat after her and most of us would attempt humorous mimicries of her American accent – I cain duweht…you cain duweht…if I set my mind tuweht! We would covertly snicker among ourselves and exchange low high-fives; and a number of our teachers would even crack tiny smiles at our juvenile mischief, but not Mrs Zoe. She would stand stern while we repeated those words and like her, gesticulated accordingly with our index fingers. And it worked because they stuck. The words didn’t just stick in our hearts and minds, they have rung true for me in all the years since then.

I CAN DO IT! YOU CAN DO IT! IF I SET MY MIND TO IT!

The best example that comes to mind is with respect to the emergence of the Ebola virus in Nigeria few months ago. The manner in which EVD was battled into containment in Nigeria reeks of ardent resolve, especially on the part of the health officials and government. The facts that follow establish this as concisely as possible:

Nigeria’s first reported case of Ebola was an imported one, borne by the 40-year old Patrick Sawyer into Lagos via a flight from Monrovia, Liberia. Fortunately, he was suspected of having the virus and was hospitalized on arrival in Nigeria at the First Consultant Hospital, Obalende. Mr. Sawyer died 25 July having infected healthcare staff that had had close, unprotected contact with him prior to realizing he was infected. It was imperative then to initiate containment action against the virus and Nigerian health officials promptly swung into action.

By the 17th of September, records showed the total number of confirmed cases to be 19 with 7 deaths. There were 4 contacts still under surveillance in Lagos and 344 in Rivers State. Over 520 contacts had been discharged from surveillance following a symptom-free 21-day observation window. And by the 1st of October, these numbers remained except for additional two cases – one infection and one death, both marked as ‘probable’.

As impressive as they are, these numbers barely scratch the top of how much work went into the fight to contain Ebola. A doctor’s strike that had been underway for more than a month was temporarily suspended in early August to enable medical personnel help with the outbreak. A State of Emergency was declared, discouraging large gatherings and asking schools to extend summer holidays. As the outbreak continued, the doctor’s strike was cancelled (instead of suspended) and school closures were extended through mid-October. Isolation facilities and centers were established in different parts of the country – one 40-bed facility in Lagos, one 26-bed centre in Rivers state, seven hospitals in Delta state, a quarantine centre in Niger state – along with elaborate plans ongoing to expand on the infrastructure. Volunteers were raised and trained to become primary screeners while physicians underwent training to become secondary screeners, and to distinguish suspected cases of Ebola from other diseases. Thousands of people were screened per day per point of entry – land, sea and air.

The result? There have been no new cases of Ebola in Nigeria since August 31, a strong indication that the virus has been contained.

While the aid of foreign institutions like the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) cannot be discounted, most of the praise has reserved for Nigerian physicians like the late Dr. Stella Adadevoh and the Nigerian Ministry of Health headed by Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu. In the words of a doctor with the Atlanta-based CDC, Dr Aileen Marty, “”The Nigerian government was wholeheartedly into the process of trying to solve the problem”

Dr AdadevohProf Onyebuchi Chukwu

While the encomiums on the ebullient Dr. Adadevoh, who paid the ultimate price in the fight, and her colleagues are without suspect, much of those heaped on the Nigerian government are perhaps more in shock than anything else. Many have wondered at the energy that was mustered by the government in procuring and unleashing resources to fight Ebola; ‘the Nigerian government is incapable of such efficiency’, the disbelieving public has declared.

But is it really?

Dr. Marty of the CDC identified reasons which she thought aided the Nigerian battle against Ebola, and one such reason was that the disease was mostly limited to the wealthier population of Nigeria. “The person who brought the infection was a diplomat,” Marty said. “He was brought to one of the best hospitals in Nigeria, and the people who were infected were individuals who quickly comprehended the importance of following our recommendations.”

This train of thought was shared by a Nigerian who for the purposes of this piece, chose to remain anonymous. In his opinion, Ebola was battled so methodically and decisively because it struck at the heart of the upper social class of the society. “Otherwise why are lower class members of the society still dying daily from malaria and child labor?” he finished emphatically. Some other schools of thought would rather remain grateful – for the containment of Ebola – and hopeful – for the rest.

Whichever school of thought you choose to align with, one truth we can all agree on is that the Nigerian government has shown itself capable of excellence. Whether it was due process or a case of necessity mothering invention matters not at the moment; the country’s leaders have shown that if they put their mind to a task, they can achieve it. Much like the tortoise who claimed he couldn’t dance but was caught gyrating in the inner chambers of his hut to the beats of the moonlight drum, the Nigerian leaders must now dance the music of the gods in the market place. They must now answer a burdened people’s call to accountability par excellence.

But will they? Can they?

“I can do it! You can do it! If we put our minds to it!”

 

 

Extracts from:

How Nigeria contained its Ebola outbreak by Mark Gollom, MSN news.

International SOS report, October 2014.

I am @ojukwu_martin on twitter