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Writing, while riding, on the BRT

May 6, 2009

It’s 9.15am on the BRT. Rain showers patter on the asphalt. The blue bus blends with Julius Berger’s colour. Sweltering weather enfolds the bus. Pilot, not driver, is what BRT chauffeurs are called. Lagosians raring to go are already frenetic, raising a chorus of complaints. The conductor, nonplussed, looks on. One passenger voted with his feet. Others echo the displeasure of an outspoken madam. Comfy & peppy are BRT buses; at least I can qwerty away on my E61i. The bedevilling fuel crunch has me scuttling from Lagos – those four digit taxi fares have gored a hole in my pocket.

Then there’s the news that PDP won in Ekiti; they’ve never lost a re-run election. Though this was a re-run of a re-run. Chuck in Arsenal’s dreary performance at the Emirates against Man Utd; life is so transient. Holding on to things beyond you isn’t worth the blood pressure. What does? What goes? To think I’d find brief solace in Rome, with the Gunners gunning for their first silver in years.

No doubt fans in London, not to mention die-hard Gunners all over Naija, share my disgust. On Guardian.co.uk, a cheeky commentator said: half-time, you can hear the grass crunch as players leave the pitch. Man Utd players hardly had to lift a finger, that’s how awful the Gunners have been. For some delusionary reason, I thought last weeks’ scores at Old Trafford were nil all. Bah, what tosh. Three more pumped in and we were doomed. Seemed we were dead or dud on arrival.

Back on the BRT, except for two chaps chatting in Igbo and a few whispers in Yoruba, people are either plugged into a phone or holed in their muses. Up above us is clock or timer? Whatever it is I wonder. It reads: 13:13 – hardly a clock, because that’s not the time. What then is it?

A smooth trip so far, the third stop is made. More hop on than step down. We’re approaching Maryland; Ikorodu road looks deserted. No, it’s just our lane. To right & left traffic crawls on. I see St Agnes and offer a brief prayer. My stop is next. Jack be nimble, Jack be quick, Jack can’t afford to jump over the next bus stop.

Havens no!
At Ojota a taxi to Ibadan shaved off 1200 naira from my pocket. Yet two dailies are bought – news analyst analyse news don’t they? One passenger is seated in front, I plop my backpack in the trunk. Bury my eyes into BusinessDay & The Punch. An article on corporate governance & Barclay bank’s plan for a tax haven in Ghana catch my attention. Funny how what you seek is what you see. Professional bias or blinkered thinking? There’s so much out there, you’ll loth to chase after a false scent.

An onshore tax haven one hour away from Naija? Good news for dodgy politicians & oilmen. By Virgin airline or ABC Transport, no visa is required. Bye-bye Swiss banks, hello Ghana! Thing is, the oil industry is just as opaque as the viscous crude it pumps and trades. Loads of payments: a.k.a bribes slip the radars – especially if it isn’t suspected of funding terrorism.

Halliburton’s 10-year settlement scam confirms how offshore tax havens eg, in the Cayman Islands (some are onshore eg, in Ireland & now Ghana), aid, abet & arm corruption. To think that before 1999 French companies could deduct from their payable tax bribes paid abroad. No coincidence then: one of the companies in the Halliburton scandal is French. And oh, the investigation was started by a fraud-buster in France. Takes a thief to catch a thief?

But the piper’s tune has changed. A value based not laisser-faire finance; transparency not opacity is the day’s new order. The recession has walloped public finance in the UK & US. Thus they’re slamming new taxes on the well-to-do: clawing back monies stashed in offshore tax havens. Some cry blue murder: it’s a wrong idea, at the wrong time & for the wrong reasons. Ok, these havens may serve some genuine purpose, but trust man to find a loophole in law to suit his plans.

On corporate governance: disclosure, by Nigerian banks, is the buzz. The break neck ride on the stockmarkets’ tide has ebbed and as Warren Buffet said when the tide recedes then you’ll know who’s been swimming naked. A few banks have bucked the trend & reaping the benefit. GT Bank just declared pretty decent financial year. Publishing what you earn & spend does have its merit, and rewards. Income & cash flow statements & balance sheets on fancy glossed paper isn’t it all. The board: its composition, distribution of power etc, matters. So much for finance & economics.

Mission impossible?
How’s every Tomi, Dike & Jenifa coping with cash crunching fuel meltdown? Well, I asked the taxi driver that zipped me home from Iwo road. He’s peeved. Someone bilked him earlier today, by slipping him a fake 500 naira note. To boot, he hands the scammer 300 naira change. Then there’s the fuel palaver.

Most fuel stations charge 100 naira per litre. But NNPC, responsible for 60% of imported fuel and importer of only resort in the past five weeks, charges 65 naira per litre. But there’s a twist. Anything above 20 litres comes with a 200 naira ‘surcharge’. Poor drivers, after slaving for hours in snarling traffic can’t complain; they comply. (Please don’t tell Dr Livi Ajuonuma, NNPC’s public affairs boss). He’s been screaming himself sore all week – in full denial of a palpable crisis. I wonder who to pity more: him or Prof Dora Akunyili?

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