MR. President and the Forex concerns: An invitation to dare, by Nze Chidi Duru 

When His Excellency, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, GCFR, declared to the world on the United Nations General Assembly’s stage concerning his new vision of economic relationship with the global north, it was, indeed, an economic trend reversal that he sought when he announced that; “…the question is not whether Nigeria is open for business, but rather, that the question is how much of the world is truly open to doing business with Nigeria and Africa on an equal, mutually beneficial manner.”

 The profundity of that declaration was for me a confirmation of the substance of the character of the leadership attributes of the President that is worthy of mention. In more ways than one, the statement, among others, on that world stage, magnifies the courage of the man -Tinubu especially when viewed against the backdrop of the various challenges the Nigerian economic and those of other countries in the African continent have had to contend with over the last 10 years. And, perhaps, even more significantly, in the days immediately after the President’s swearing-in into office when he announced fundamental economic policies targeted at national economic reformation. 

At that moment, with Mr President still holding captive, the attention of the world, I recalled the inimitable description of courage in the words of the American author, Richelle Goodrich, in which she observed that: “Courage to me is doing something daring, no matter how afraid, insecure, intimidated, alone, unworthy, incapable, ridiculed or whatever other paralyzing emotion you might feel. Courage is taking action….no matter what.”

This description, to my mind encapsulates where President Tinubu stand in the present evolving trajectory of the Nigerian nation – will he pluck the courage to dare to act in the face of a behemoth of numerous challenges, as it were? 

Yet, more poignant for me, is that the President’s world stage performance confirms one of the reasons I decidedly took a stand on the side of history when the erstwhile National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress, Senator Abdullahi Adamu, made to involve members of the National Working Committee of the ruling party in the adoption of the candidacy of a so called Aso Villa sponsored candidate during a meeting of the NWC on 5 June, 2022. The words were not out of the mouth of the then Chairman when I felt aggravated and raised a literal storm over the apparent subterfuge the Chairman was intended upon. My declared insistence was that a level playing field should be availed all presidential contestants and, as such, no talks of an anointed candidate from anywhere will be tolerated or even discussed in the course of the meeting. 

In that instant, history was written, the larger numbers of the NWC members, not all members, immediately took side with history and left the Chairman to his own drift. Upset with the noxious maneuvres of the Chairman, we walked out of the NWC hall and, thereafter, moved to my office in the APC National Secretariat to structure our resistance plan. In the meeting, we appointed the National Organising Secretary, H. E. Muhammad Sulaiman Argungu, OFR, as the leader and face of the resistance who will also address the press conference to publicly discountenance the move to impose a choice of presidential candidate on the party by the then National Chairman.

The press conference was shortly addressed and two outstanding political milestones were implicated; a national party had publicly thwarted the machination of its higher echelon to hoodwink it into adopting a candidate undemocratically and, in the same breath, the resistance in the Party found congruence in the camp of the very influential Governors’ Forum of the Party with majority members who were also united behind the resistance against the Chairman. This principled position, more or less, availed a return to the path of democracy by the APC when all presidential aspirants found their ways to the Eagle’s Square venue of the presidential primary election three days after that high octane drama at the party’s national secretariat. The rest, as they say, is now history. 

It is gratifying that that resistance consequently produced Asiwaju Tinubu, arguably one of the most prepared, the most toughened and the most politically conditioned of the presidential aspirants on parade that day at the Eagle’s Square. After the conclusion of the event of the presidential primary election and the dramatic spectacle of eminent aspirants stepping down for him, without any sort of prompting, I was, candidly, inclined to think that, perhaps, he has the destiny of running Nigeria as president written into his stars.

In truth, I am persuaded that Mr President didn’t just happen on the national scene, rather, his emergence is the outcome of the confluence of his courage and a weather intervention requiring a Tinubu’s presidency at this critical time in the life of our dear country. It is, indeed, a time that beckons on our most courageous and thankfully, Mr President, without doubt, stands in the gap for our dear nation. Will he assume the courage required at this time? 

By insisting the Party’s national presidential primary held, we saved our party from a possible scenario of self immolation, while, at the same time, gifting the nation, the possibility of a President that can stand his own whatever the circumstance, whatever the situation, a President that, in the words of Goodrich, ‘can dare to act.’

It is on this count that I beseech the attention of President Tinubu to take that courageous stance that he has become renowned for in the face of the sweltering conditions our social and economic spaces have become. I do concede the onerous task Mr President have been engaged with in the pacification of the multiple trouble spots that pockmark our  national economic stratum especially the concern over our foreign exchange policy. In this regard, my observation is that if Nigerians don’t pay the right price for the right services our exposure in the foreign exchange dynamics will continue to bounce, albeit negatively.

It is, thus, with all sense of responsibility that I request Mr President, as a matter of urgency, to intervene in the oppressive and inequitable treatment of Nigerian international travellers. Nigerian travelers have become subjected to discriminatory ticket fares that had become not only unfair and socially suffocating but an assault on Nigeria’s economic standing. Most times, tickets to destinations in Europe and the United States of America by Nigerian travellers are more than two to three times the ticket fares from those destinations to Nigeria. Even more disheartening are the disgraceful services availed Nigerian travellers by these airlines despite the higher ticket fares paid by Nigerians.

Mr President should consider this discriminatory ticket fare as a global plot by international airline operators to purloin our foreign exchange reserves by official subtlety. It is, undoubtedly, one avenue that our foreign exchange reserve is being eroded. May I implore Mr President, working through the foreign affairs and aviation ministers, to immediately move to redress this brazen act of inequity being perpetrated by international airline operators. 

An extension of the worries over our foreign reserves is the value of our national currency, the Naira. While I acknowledge the feverish efforts being made by the administration to strengthen the Naira-Dolla exchange rate especially in the parallel market, and while hoping the outcomes of these efforts become manifest in the shortest possible time, the worry is that beyond the prices of goods and services as reflected in increasing inflation rates, our capital market, especially, the stock market has become susceptible to hostile takeovers by so called foreign investors.

The prices of our high valued stocks have become rock bottom prices otherwise known as penny stocks when valued in dollar terms. For instance, Seplat plc commands the highest possible price on the Nigerian stock market at N1, 980 per unit as of Tuesday, 7 November, 2023. When converted to the dollar, the price translates to a lowly $1.9 thereabouts. Meanwhile, the price of a unit of Zenith Bank, a value stock by all consideration, as at same Tuesday, 7 November, 2023 was traded at N33.80k when converted to dollar it would be traded at about 32 cents. These stock prices when reviewed on a dollar basis clearly show how undervalued the Nigerian stock market had become though we see exponential upward movements in the All Share Index and capitalisation of the market in recent times but these indicators are measured by domestic rates not the Dollar. 

The unabating fears for stock market  players like me is that foreign corporate raiders can turn our stock market to a killing field in a moment with a portfolio as little as $20million. This will be to the detriment of domestic shareholders who had held forth in the market and had sustained the market when foreign investors took flight out of the market at the first sign of trouble in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. As a corporate player, I am quite aware of the threat of corporate invaders coming into the country and leveraging a strong Dollar relative to the Naira to pick our value stocks at extremely cheap rates. 

The aggregation of these concerns is rooted in the limited access to foreign exchange, especially, the United States Dollar (USD) by those who want it for transactional purposes. A number of financial experts, and even some in the administration, had come forward to argue that the national economy is in this strait because of a shortage of Dollar supply into the economy. With due respect to those that hold this position, it is rather common place, lacking an indepth understanding of the use of the USD in the larger Nigerian economy. Yes, the quantum of the USD in circulation is low, yet, it should not be the reason for the near state of crisis that segment of our economy is growing into. USD scarcity does not explain the exponential increase in the  Naira – USD exchange rate in the parallel market within a very short time, rising from about N460 in June, 2023 to N1,300 in early November, 2023. This can’t be a about shortage in supply!

Truth be told, the larger percentage of the USD that had been taken out of our reserves are used for many purposes other than transactions. It is no secret that those that have access have turned the USD into a store of value. In this league are active importers that have also become economic saboteurs who inflate the value of their Letters of Credit (LC) and process the USD officially out of the Central Bank of Nigeria. After settling their trade obligations, they criminally convert the remaining value of the LC by a fraudulent discount arrangement from which they hold on to their share of the now cash backed LC, save it in an account abroad and, in classic unpatriotic display, they pray earnestly for the continued erosion of the value of the Naira so they can bring their criminally converted USD back into Nigeria for sale in the black market. This is classic Forex round tripping. 

This is a snapshot of just one of the many underhand deals by which some people assail the value of our national currency for their selfish commercial ends. My submission, in this regard, is that these fraudulent conduct of businesses should be declared crimes of national economic sabotage by Mr President. 

In all these prospective and actual sabotage of our economy, nonetheless, I find succour and confidence in the investment savviness of Mr President, I am thus assured that within the shortest possible time, Mr President will deploy all possible policies to address the concerns highlighted here. I am, indeed, persuaded in the power of courage, the courage to dare and act even when the odds are heavily against acting as appropriate. That’s the Tinubu’s courage.

* Nze Chidi Duru is an Entrepreneur, Thought Leader and the Deputy National Organising Secretary of the ruling All Progressives Congress