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Forex: Need for caution in EFCC’s probe of Dangote, others

I write to express concern over the recent invasion of the premises of the Dangote Industries Limited in Ikoyi, Lagos, by operatives of the anti…

I write to express concern over the recent invasion of the premises of the Dangote Industries Limited in Ikoyi, Lagos, by operatives of the anti graft agency, ostensibly to collect documents relating to alleged abuse of foreign exchange allocations during the nine year tenure of the immediate past governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Godwin Emefiele.

There is the added concern that some fifty other companies, some of them the biggest private businesses in the country, including BUA Group and Flour Mills, TGI and Wale Tinubu’s Oando PLC, among sundry others, all of whom have denied wrongdoing, are being probed for details of the forex allocations to them between 2014 and June 2023 following the report of the Special Investigator on the CBN and Related Entities, Jim Obazee.

While there is no denying the fact that the anti-graft agency is within its rights to undertake such a probe, or that it has done a very good job of ridding the nation of economic saboteurs in the past; it is nonetheless necessary to point out that the way the agency had gone about this probe, by storming offices and making a spectacle of itself in the public space, is both counterproductive and capable of sending the wrong signals. It must resist the temptation of acting on the impulse of some influential people in government with dubious agenda.

It is certainly not the proper way to handle matters at a time when Nigeria is going through one of its worst economic crisis in history with inflation going through the roof, rising foreign investment outflows from Nigerian stocks, and the lowest foreign direct investment in our economy since the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) started collating the data in 2013.

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As the government anxiously recalibrating the fiscal and monetary policies of the nation in order to attract investors and stave off recession, the harassment of the key contributors to the GDP and biggest taxpayers whose businesses help deepen the growth of our economy, promote self-reliance in the production of local products and provide employment and income for millions of Nigerians, is worrisome.

It is especially sad that this is happening shortly after the new head of the financial crime commission promised to deviate from the previous show of force and trial by media that had hampered the agency’s efforts in successfully prosecuting many of its high profile cases.

It should be clear by now that it is better to conduct forensic investigations through careful, rigorous effort and diligent prosecution by accomplished professionals than employ this gung-ho show of shame that only exposes the agency’s disrespect for etiquette and rule of law.

When the nation’s foremost anti corruption agency goes about storming some the nation’s biggest and most respected businesses as if it is attacking a drug cartel, the impression is given that these internationally respected companies, listed on the stock exchange of several countries, are involved in shady business and unworthy of being taken seriously.

I have known President Bola Tinubu since 1993 when he was a senator and I was a young legislative officer in the National Assembly and he remains someone who is very passionate about protecting the business environment and the investment climate in Lagos and Nigeria.

Such brazen attack on big business is certainly against the pedigree of the man whose election was greeted by a bullish spike in the nation’s stock market, heralding a new era for  commerce as befitting a leader whose genius for converting potential into reality helped turn Lagos into a global financial centre contributing 30 percent of the nation’s GDP.

In his 2024 New Year message, President Bola Tinubu reiterated that “Nigeria is ready and open for business,” further underlining his determination to revive an economy in dire straights with big businesses leaving in droves.

In the last one year alone, some of the most iconic multinational companies, including Unilever, GSK, Sanofi-Aventi Nigeria, Bolt Food,  Jumia Food, Equinor Nigeria Energy Company, ENEC, and Procter and Gamble among others, have left the country and created more jobless Nigerians thus worsening our economic index.

This is therefore not the time to discourage the investment drive of the Wale Tinubus, BUA Group, Dangote and the rest whose companies are the largest employers of labour outside the Nigerian government. Many of their subsidiaries enjoy pioneer or trailblazer statuses and they are strategically embedded in the Nigerian economy like an octopus and any attempt to strip them will have a debilitating effect on our economy and our quest to lure in foreign investors.

It does not mean that companies should not be made to obey the laws, but we cannot afford to antagonise unnecessarily, companies which have invested tens of billions of dollars into the economy and remain our best hope in turning the economy around.

 Our anti- graft agencies would do better to employ the best practices for handling infractions and not use such potentially calamitous methods which are capable of further creating a hostile environment for business.

For instance, Dangote Petroleum Refinery, the largest single-train refinery in the world, has just received its fifth installment of crude oil shipment of Bonny Light from the NNPC, bringing it closer to its plan to begin operation of its 650,000 barrels per day behemoth which will no doubt save Nigeria enormous foreign exchange. It is the pride of Africa and with NNPCL having a 20 percent stake in the refinery, it is important to ensure that everything is done to help the company become viable.

Already, there are rumours that some hawks within the corridors of power are using the excuse of a forex probe as a shakedown in order to get a toehold into Dangote Refinery, to reap where they had not sown.

While there is yet no conclusive proof of this, the fact is that perception can sometimes triumph over reality and the impression should not be given that the government is trying to attack northern interests by subjecting the richest northerner, Nigerian and African, with the largest conglomerate in the region, to unnecessary harassment.

Nigeria needs more innovative, fearless men and women with the right business acumen, not less, at this struggling phase of our development.

I therefore call on our very capable President, the indomitable Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, The Jagaban, and indeed all well meaning Nigerians, to intervene in this matter of preferential foreign exchange allocations and ensure that decorum is employed to avoid any implosion.

As a concerned citizen and a member of parliament, my foremost concern is that this country remains stable, progressive and united and when actions which are capable of causing disharmony are taken, I have a sworn duty to speak out and express an opinion.

God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Hon. Sada Soli, Member, House of Representatives and Leader, North West Caucus of the House of Representatives, wrote from Abuja

 

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