Dear readers, I believe that now that I have been appointed into government I should drop the regular weekly pen. I understand that those who went before me did the same thing. I hope some of them came back after serving. Otherwise, dropping one’s column is almost akin to dying in part. I don’t intend to kill that part of me as I will explain shortly, even though I have to bid this column goodbye – at least for a while. I hope to send in syndicated articles on very important matters.
I must recall the journey as I have a couple of times before. I started writing for the Daily Trust group sometime in 2003. I was a banker then and had gone to “solicit” business from the general manager in charge of finance. That was Mallam Shehu. He is retired now – but not tired. Since I had been publishing occasional articles in Thisday through my friends and senior brothers – Eniola Bello and Olusegun Adeniyi (and occasionally Simon Kolawole) – on my way out of Mallam Shehu’s office it occurred to me to tell him I also write and will like to send in my articles. He welcomed the idea and asked me to always send them to him. So, in those days as a banker, sometimes I took the risk and wrote as Tope Fasua. Other times, I used a pen name. In 2005 I decided to quit banking and go for a master’s degree in London. Sometime in early 2006, I got an e-mail or a text from someone in the group that they were setting up Sunday Trust and whether I wanted to pick up a permanent column? I was glad, but afraid at the same time. Would I be able to write columns every week? But I said yes and got into it. And since 2006 till date, I’m not sure I have missed more than two columns – even when I was gravely ill in the year 2020. I am indeed grateful to Mallam Kabir Yusuf for the opportunity (and for considering me worthy of being part of the Board of Economists).
I have sung Media Trust Group’s praises to high heavens for the integrity it has shown over the years – especially that without asking, they started by paying me N16,000 monthly as a columnist in 2006, later increasing to N25,000, then N40,000, then N50,000 and so on, only reducing because of the COVID-19 crunch. And I have never had to call them for this money; which sometimes comes in handy. Integrity. And appreciation for people’s effort and work. Most other newspaper houses in Nigeria don’t care to appreciate your work as a columnist. Some of them make billions but make you feel they are constantly doing you a favour even when without content no one will subscribe to their newspaper/tv/radio. No wonder the Media Trust Group is raving but quiet success.
But that said, I think it is a grave error for any columnist to totally lose their voice because they get a government appointment. Ditto, media houses should not alienate their former contributors in any way. Why? The media is absolutely important to the success of any government and any operative within government. The media can make or mar you, rubbish or exact your best ideas, mitigate or amplify your goofs and gaffes. In this information age, the media is almost everything. Perception has not been closer to reality than today. Also, any former media person in government must understand that they need to continue gaining new perspectives and refining their ideas through the feedback that is only possible through continuous interaction with ideas – especially through their writings. What is more? Those in government must understand that they need to continue saturating the space with their own thoughts and ideas rather than accepting to be caged away in this “they versus us” dichotomy that is quite old school. Many in government have lost their ways in the past because of this “cut-off”. Also, in a society such as ours where young people have been conditioned to say and expect the worst about their nation, how will messages of encouragement permeate such a society? How will positivism displace negativism if those who should pass the messages stay mute or are somehow muted or even bullied into silence by the “system”? What do we do about the pervasive ignorance being pushed by “influencers” whose claim to fame may be one appearance in a Big Brother show but who have 30 million followers who believe any idea they push? Will we watch Nigeria go to the dogs while those who should speak remain muted of their own volition or by the “system?” What to do about mischief makers and those who want Nigeria destroyed? And how does the former columnist – that activist who wrote for the people week-in, week-out – stay in touch with his/her real self and not get lost in the allure of power and the paparazzi of fawning protocols? How do we not build our own ivory towers and sequester ourselves away from reality until people start to grumble, complain, and sometimes violently show us our lapses? Those are the questions begging for answers.
And because of that I hope to continue writing but not as a columnist. I hope my ideas – which shall always as usual be issue-based – will not get sanctioned by the media or anyone else. I do have cause to be worried. Nobody gets to a higher point without some degree of opposition. I read a column published by one Dr Nasir Aminu in Daily Trust of October 4, 2023, titled, “Another Misguided Policy Advice on BDCs”, wherein he laid into me from many angles over my comment at the Abuja Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) wherein I humbly advised that rather than fret for long about the naira’s weak position, a more comprehensive approach should be adopted to strengthen – yes indeed strengthen – the Bureau de Change (BDC) subsector by instilling corporate governance. I said this will entail reducing their numbers (there are 145 BDC brands in the UK and 130 in the UAE and these are heavy tourist centres, and BDCs are meant to serve tourists mainly). I criticised the fact that Nigeria has 5,691 (or is it 5,689) BDCs yet we have hardly any tourists coming this way. I didn’t have time to trace the fact that there were a mere 74 BDCs in Nigeria in 2005 (when Naira sold for N100=$1), but today, at 5,691, the naira trades close to N1,000 in the illegal/unofficial market (which needs to be totally outlawed and driven underground as it is done in every self-respecting country).
My hope is that we sanitize that sector and have much fewer players. That is my advice to my principal, but I spoke as a private citizen on that occasion and I disclosed as much. This was captured on video. Like in the UAE, our BDCs should be able to handle international money transfer business and even send money locally and internationally. A great change beckons to Nigeria. We cannot continue to do things as we did in the early 1900s. Dr Aminu cannot shut me down because I thrive on ideas. If we can put in enough corporate governance, then the CBN can clearly intervene through well-established BDCs that have good structures, directors, independent directors, etc. who understand the implications of any infraction. That is the way forward. Indeed, Dr Aminu Gwadabe, President of the BDC Owners’ Association, agrees with me totally. It is only logical. With logic and God’s help, Nigeria will progress. Ameen. See you dear readers in my occasional interventions.