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NLC, TUC And Forex Market: Matters Arising

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In spite of Organised Labour’s recognition of the real advantages that a deregulated downstream oil sector would bring to the economy, there is yet no sign that Labour’s opposition to this policy has waned! Labour, of course, recognizes that NNPC (Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation), like all monopolies (especially state run monopolies) create price and market distortions which do not generally favour the masses. Thus, even when it is clear that deregulation will not only release at least N600bn revenue annually for critical infrastructural upliftment, but also reduce the space for corrupt enrichment within the petroleum sub-sector and induce keen competition with improved consumer services, Labour is not convinced that deregulation would translate into cheaper or stable petrol prices, especially when global crude oil prices follow an upward trajectory.

In truth, this column shares Labour’s apprehension and I will even make bold to say that any assurance from any quarter that deregulation as proposed in its present jaundiced form will bring down petrol prices from its current level even when crude oil prices continue to rise must be a calculated attempt to deceive Nigerians, before our income values are taken to the cleaners! Indeed, Deregulation within the context of our current monetary framework will be suicidal! In their eagerness to encourage Labour to embrace deregulation, government and its agents have been quick to point to the gains in the telecom sector with the advent of liberalisation. In truth, prices of mobile handsets and cell rates have tumbled endlessly over the past five years and Nigerians are urged to be patient so that the same favourable scenario would play out in the downstream oil sector; but, sincere and insightful analysts will be quick to caution against such expectation. In the first place, competition may indeed have impacted favourably on consumer prices, but the more important fact is that it is the increasing size of the market (the cost benefit of mass production/service) that has been the main driver of the favourable prices! Secondly, and certainly of equal significance, price reductions are made possible with an expanding market in the telecom sector by the nature of its revenue base; for example, telecom operators receive their incomes in local currency (i.e. naira) from Nigerian based customers, and furthermore, the telecom operators do not have any direct influence on the determination of the naira purchasing power!

Meanwhile, deregulation of the downstream sector may mean more suppliers, but the demand for petrol as in the case of telecom is unlikely to enjoy an astronomical increase, so the relatively static size of local demand for petrol will not increase and thereby instigate the cost savings that will ultimately reduce prices of petrol, especially when the crude oil market is buoyant! Thus, more refineries with increased capacities and an influx of importers will not necessarily increase demand such that prices will come down with the advantages of large scale production. Furthermore, it is clear that the universal driver of petrol prices is actually the international crude oil price movements. This is certainly the most significant factor in the pump price of fuel.

Yes, the distance between refineries and the market, and the index of efficiency in each refinery would also contribute to the price level, but in reality, these two factors may not account for more than 20% in the price structure of petrol; however, the most critical factor that could induce wild swings in petrol prices is certainly the market price of crude oil. The price of crude oil is, however, denominated in dollars and unlike telecom, our export revenue is consequently received in dollars and not in naira. Meanwhile, the naira value derivable from this dollar revenue is in turn determined in a market which is inexplicably dominated and controlled by the worst form of monopoly (i.e. government parastatals).

Thus, the foreign exchange market which determines how much our hard earned dollar income will command in the market, by its monopolistic nature, is plagued by price distortions, corruption, and market dislocations!! In spite of vastly increased export revenue, the monopolistic posturing of the Central Bank in the foreign exchange is in fact at the root of our underdevelopment! The CBN in its role position as the nation’s banker is the prime custodian of our currency; i.e. the naira, and it is appropriate that it controls all naira issues and it is, by its mandate expected to maintain price stability which also includes an appropriate monetary framework which ensures that the naira we all earn does not continue to buy less and less in the market! Thus, while a Central Bank’s monopoly of a nation’s currency issue and management is universally accepted as inevitable, the waters become seriously muddied when the same Central Bank becomes not only a major player but also a monopolist in the supply of foreign exchange to the domestic market; this would lead us into a very poisonous matrix that guarantees that our people become poorer with increasing dollar export revenue.

Currently, the CBN is annually responsible for about 70% of all dollar revenue that enters into the domestic forex market. The balance 30% or less is supplied by oil companies and a few exporters outside the oil sector! While these private dollar suppliers are legally permitted to approach the banks directly for the exchange of their dollars to naira, the owners of public sector dollar revenue in our reserves are not so lucky! Over the last three decades or so, the CBN has played the role of the all-knowing big brother with our dollar earnings. In the present framework, the CBN actually captures the monthly distributable dollar revenue, and proceeds, with no serious attempt at a market-determined naira/dollar rate, to print and supply loads of naira to the three tiers of government at its own unilaterally determined exchange rate! Consequently, with such framework, increasing dollar revenue will mean increasingly worthless naira value, as more and more naira will be pumped into the system with the attendant problems of excess liquidity, high interest rates, heavy government borrowing (not for infrastructural development but for reduction of excess cash in the system) increasing unemployment, lower demand and comatose industrial landscape as a result of CBN’s monopoly of the people’s dollar revenue!

As you may imagine, the above is a veritable paradox, as increasing dollar revenue (whether from crude price rises or additional export revenue) should realistically improve the value of the naira if the increased dollar revenue provides us with longer forex demand cover. For example, our $60bn or more reserves in 2008 gave us over 30 months demand cover according to CBN and our exchange rate hovered between N120 – N150=US$1, but compare this with our $4bn dollar reserves and four month’s demand cover in 1996 and yet our naira exchange in 1996 for just N80/$1.

Some Nigerians have argued that crude oil is our natural endowment and we should therefore enjoy a subsidy akin to agric product subsidies elsewhere in Europe and U.S.A. Thus, even if a subsidy regime cost us N1 OOObn a year (a third of federal budget) or indeed breeds corruption and dislocates the price structure, such Nigerians maintain that subsidy is our birthright! I do not have any quarrel with this argument, but the point is that the concept of incidence of subsidy is misplaced in this instance. It should be a realistic expectation that when crude oil prices increase, our nation’s treasury benefits with increasing dollar reserves, which would in turn improve our dollar demand cover; when dollar demand cover improves as per the above example, we should rationally expect our naira to be stronger against the dollar! A stronger naira, with rising crude oil prices should normally translate into reducing petrol prices locally!!

The cheaper petrol prices will, however, mean higher cost to all cross boarder smugglers of petrol who have contributed to push our daily consumption of petrol over to 30 million litres! What our economic experts do not tell you is that the resultant stronger naira, cheaper petrol prices, the damper on inflation, and a savings ofN600bn erstwhile subsidy are actually the real subsidies that ownership and export of crude oil provides!

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Nembe Oil Spill From Aiteo Facility Worst I’ve Seen – Diri

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The Bayelsa State Governor, Senator Douye Diri, on Wednesday returned from visiting the oil spill site in Nembe Local Government Area of the state, describing it as the worst he had seen in his lifetime.
The OML 29 Well 1 platform, which is operated by Nigeria’s largest indigenous oil firm, Aiteo Exploration and Production Company Limited, has been spilling crude unabated into the Santa Barbara River for about one month.
An estimated two million barrels of crude has reportedly been spilled into the river, polluting the flora and fauna of the area, the governor’s spokesperson Dan Alabrah, said.
The Minister of State of Environment, Sharon Ikeazor, had said the scene of the spill was like a war zone.
Overwhelmed by the spill, Aiteo hired Halliburton’s Boots and Coots to “kill the well” by injecting cement into it. It bought the well from the Royal Dutch Shell in 2015.
As at Wednesday, the Bayelsa government said the spill that began November 5 was still ongoing.
Governor Diri said the continuous spillage has further endangered the lives of people of Nembe, Bayelsa and indeed the Niger Delta.
In a statement issued by his Chief Press Secretary, Mr Alabrah, the governor, who expressed shock over the quantity of crude that has been spilled into the environment, called on the Federal Government and operators of the oil field to immediately take action to stop it.
According to him, the prolonged oil spill into the water and air had an immediate and long term effect on the health of the inhabitants.
While assuring the people that appropriate measures would be taken to seek redress, he noted that the quest by oil firms to make money would not be at the expense of the lives of the people.
Describing fishing as the source of livelihood of the people of the area, Mr Diri noted that just as there are grazing routes, Bayelsa State has fishing routes and must be protected.
His words: “Today happens to be a very dark day for me. What we have seen, I believe, is worse than what happened in the Gulf of Mexico. In all my life, I have not seen such magnitude of oil spillage.
“Our people are endangered. Our people’s source of livelihood is endangered. I empathise and sympathise with the people of Nembe on behalf of the government and people of Bayelsa State.
The Bayelsa governor also decried the exclusion of indigenes of host communities in the running of the oil industry, saying that if indigenes were part of the operations of the oil field, they would have looked for ways to address the problem.
To ameliorate the suffering of the people, the governor directed the State Emergency Management Agency and Ministry of Health to immediately provide relief materials and healthcare services to the people.
Earlier, the chairman of Nembe Local Government Area, Hon. West Alalibo, and member representing Nembe Constituency 2 in the State House of Assembly, Edward Brigidi, appreciated the governor for embarking on an on-the-spot assessment visit to the site.

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‘Emerging Challenges May Frustrate Dev Of Gas Resources’

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Although the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA) is expected to unlock gas potential in Nigeria, especially the current 206 trillion standard cubic feet proven reserves, stakeholders Wednesday said the goals might remain elusive.
Investment to unlock the series of the opportunities outlined by the country according to the stakeholders, may remain a daunting task amidst heavy levies on the sector, domestic gas pricing challenges as well as lack of necessary technology and skills set.
Coming as the price of natural gas Wednesday, tumbled further to $4.4 per MMBtu after rising close to $7, the stakeholders at the 10th Practical Nigerian Content Forum stated that without the right environment, Nigeria may miss out of the window of opportunities available through the energy transition phase.
The Senate Chairman, Local Content, Teslim Folarin at the event also insisted that the cross-sectorial local bill in the National Assembly would make existing executive orders on patronage of Nigeria goods and services a law across sectors of the economy, stressing that it won’t however scrap the NOGIC Act.
With the current high price of cooking gas, the inadequacies of gas to power plants, the experts noted that data challenges, legal framework, lack of collaboration, weak research and development, lack of technology, imposition of taxes on the gas value chain lay heavy siege to the country’s aspirations in the gas revolution.
Group Executive Director, Gas and Power at the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation Limited, Abdulkadir Ahmed, insisted that declining funding for fossil fuels would create challenges for existing gas resources in the country, stressing that the sector must devise a means to fund projects and also produce more with cost.
Ahmed was also concerned about the infrastructure that transports and ensures utilisation of gas, adding that a transparent and market-driven pricing remained sacrosanct.
“We can not make progress without a market-driven and transparent gas price. No one will put in money if they have no feasibility of how they will recover their cost. There won’t be any gas to process if we do not invest in upstream activities,” he said.
Managing Director, Shell Nigeria Gas, Ed Ubong stated that there was a need to build local capacity for gas and ensure that the resources are used to spur industrial development.
According to him, there was a need to support indigenous companies to thrive, adding that the gas space remained a key avenue to grow local content.
A Governing Council Member at Nigerian Content Development and Monitoring Board (NCDMB), Mina Oforiokuma said with progress being made by countries like Mozambique, Nigeria needs to learn and move fast to address bottlenecks.
Speaking on the expansion of local content across sectors, Executive Secretary of NCDMB, Simbi Wabote noted that the government may consider a local content department across ministries to develop.
Wabote said: “That’s the only way you can get benefit out of the implementation because what people forget is that NCDMB is like a department within the ministry of petroleum resources saddled with the responsibility of driving local content within the oil and gas industry and controlled by the Ministry in the same way.”
Senator Folarin noted that the government remained concerned about the development of indigenous companies, adding that the move would address inefficiencies, in the long run reduce cost of projects and build strong local companies that can compete globally.
He revealed that some of the key sectors that would be primarily targeted are power, ICT, manufacturing, agriculture and others.

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PHCCIMA Boss Lists Core Service Areas

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The 62nd President of the Port Harcourt Chamber of Commerce, Mines, Industries and Agriculture (PHCCIMA), Sir Mike Elechi said his administration shall have member oriented,  inclusive programmes and opportunities as its hallmark and guiding principles.
Elechi said this during his investiture as the PHCCIMA President in Port Harcourt during the week.
He also listed  consolidation of growth, peace, unity,  increased scope of programme dispensation and internally generated revenue as part of his core mandate to be delivered to the people.
He said that these would be achieved within the confines of PHCCIMA’s constitution and that of the Country.
The President who was  a  permanent secretary before his retirement,  pointed out that the choice of the key areas was as a result of deep reflection and wide consultation with relevant stakeholders in the society.
He said that his administration would reintroduce the monthly PHCCIMA meeting, develope a calendar of member oriented programmes and opportunities as well as trade mission travels and access for the benefit of its members.
On the issue of increased scope of programme dispensation and internally generated revenue, he said that  it would be realised by creating an atmosphere of welcome and corporate opportunity.
“Another way out among others, was engagement of various governments both state and local, with business strategies especially non oil businesses”, he said.
In his address, the Chairman of the occasion,  Chief Ferdinand Anabrabra, urged those that are yet to be registered with PHCCIMA to hurry and do so in order to meet up with the current speed of the organisation.
Anabrabra, anchored his point on the passion that the new President and his team have for the body, which will definitely pay off.
Also speaking, the former President of Nigerian Bar Association ( NBA), Hon Onueze C.J . Okocha,  said that Elechi’s whealt of experience would  enable him  do the expected.
”As a career Civil Servant and a successful businessman cum Manager and Chief Executive Officer of the Vintage Farm and Products in ElelIkwerre Local Government of the state, his administration would be successful.
The Tide gathered that the Elechi-led PHCCIMA executive would elapse in the next three years.

By: King Onunwor

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