Commerce Takes the Central Helm
If you’re tuning into this, you’re likely aware of Yemi Cardoso becoming the new chief of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). His appointment, following Godwin Emefiele’s exit, is notable for another reason: both are commercial bankers, and their leadership comes at a pivotal moment for our economy.
For those who’ve journeyed with my earlier piece, ‘A Call To Action,’ I won’t delve into the detailed statistics again. However, to give you the big picture, our economy is on shaky ground. The naira’s value keeps dwindling, now taking over N1000 to match a single USD. The task of steadying this precarious situation leans heavily on the decisions and actions of the CBN and its helm.
While the trend of appointing commercial bankers to lead the CBN brings forth concerns, it’s not a question of their competency in the banking sector. They excel there. However, piloting the Central Bank has its own set of challenges distinct from commercial banking. The differences and intricacies of central banking are profound, and that’s where my reservations come into play.
At first glance, central banks and commercial banks might seem to operate within the same realm – the financial sector. However, their mandates, operational scopes, risk management practices, and utilised tools delineate two distinct worlds.
Central banks serve a broader public interest. Their primary objective is maintaining economic stability for the nation. This means they work to control inflation and ensure steady economic growth. On the other hand, commercial banks are primarily business entities. Their driving force? Profit. They focus on attracting customers, granting loans, and providing other financial services to ensure their bottom line grows.
Scope of Operation:
Central banks have a wide lens, monitoring the entire economy. They pay close attention to various economic indicators and global trends to make informed decisions that impact the nation. Commercial banks, however, operate on a more individualized scale. They cater directly to their customers, whether individuals or businesses, offering services that respond to specific financial needs.
When central banks think of risks, they’re looking at the bigger picture. They’re concerned about large-scale economic threats that can affect the whole country. Commercial banks, in contrast, handle risks that directly impact their day-to-day operations. This includes managing potential loan defaults or keeping up with shifts in the market.
Tools and Mechanisms:
Central banks use tools meant for guiding the entire economy. They employ methods like adjusting the amount of money in banks or setting key interest rates to influence economic conditions. Commercial banks, however, use their tools in a more direct manner. They decide on loan interest rates, offer deposit schemes, and introduce new financial products to attract and serve their customers better.
Navigating Two Worlds: Profit vs. Policy
Merging the distinct worlds of central and commercial banks requires careful consideration. While central banks are dedicated to ensuring national welfare and economic stability, commercial banks have profit as their primary goal. As commercial banking leaders transition into central banking roles, there’s a vital concern: could they inadvertently favour their previous domain?
This is more than just an economic dilemma—it directly influences the trust that the public places in these pillars of finance. Central banks are guardians of our financial health, setting rules to foster a robust economy. In contrast, the profit-driven nature of commercial banks often sees them navigating these rules inventively.
Furthermore, the importance of relationships in the commercial sector can’t be understated, yet central banking demands unwavering impartiality. Introducing a leader from the commercial world might blur the lines of decision-making, raising valid concerns about whether the broader economic interests remain the focal point.
In the intricate dance of global finance, the choreography of central banking leadership remains crucial. We’ve explored how central and commercial banks dance to different beats. Now, let’s shine a spotlight on Nigeria’s recent break from tradition.
Over the recent years, Nigeria has embarked on what can be termed a ‘recruitment experiment’. The rhythm shifted recently as the trend favoured promoting commercial bankers directly into the central bank’s top role, a distinct departure from traditional appointments. The result: Nigeria’s monetary choreography seems to have missed some crucial steps, leading to disruptions in our macroeconomic performance.
One can’t help but think this isn’t just a twist of fate. While the federal government’s fiscal choreography has certainly added complexity to the central bank’s performance, decisions like the FX Swaps, Naira Redesign Rollout, and Ways and Means Lending resonate as tunes unfamiliar to the seasoned central banking ear. It’s like a skilled ballerina suddenly trying to lead a breakdancing performance.
“Those that are doing it, do they have two heads?” as often quipped in Nigerian households. Globally, it’s a rarity to see a central bank led by someone without deep roots in central banking. While commercial bankers in other countries do occasionally don the central banker’s hat, they usually do so after an extensive apprenticeship in central bank policymaking.
Consider Jerome Powell of the US Fed: his journey from corporate banking and legal practice to the helm of the Fed spanned several years, allowing him to immerse in the central banking culture. Or Andrew Bailey of the Bank of England, whose decades-long waltz within the bank’s corridors prepared him for the top job. Even in emerging economies, leaders like Pan Gongsheng in China and Shakitanka Das in India have risen after extensive experience in their nation’s policy tapestries.
So, while commercial banking insights might offer some flair, nothing replaces the deep, nuanced expertise of a career spent in central banking. As the world’s financial ballet continues, it’s time Nigeria reconsiders its lead dancer.
The Pillars of Traditional Central Banking
Grounded Knowledge in Monetary Dynamics:
Central banking goes beyond mere figures. It’s a complex interplay of strategies, forecasts, and responses. Those who’ve spent their careers in central banking have a hands-on understanding of these complexities. They’ve been in the trenches, navigating global economic shifts, balancing inflation, and setting interest rates. This isn’t just textbook knowledge. They’ve witnessed how policy decisions play out in the real world, equipping them with insights that are tough to replicate.
Objectivity at the Helm:
In the vast world of finance, varying sectors sometimes have clashing goals. Career central bankers stand out with their honed objectivity. Their journey within the policy-centric environment of a central bank ensures they approach challenges without any tilt towards commercial banking influences. This unbiased stance guarantees decisions made prioritize the nation’s overall economic well-being.
Steady Policy Hand:
A stable economy thrives on clarity and predictability. Enterprises, investors, and the general public all benefit when there’s a consistent policy direction. Central bankers, with their repository of past experiences and policy impacts, offer this steady hand. Their decisions aren’t hasty but are rooted in long-term objectives, reducing abrupt policy changes that can disrupt markets.
Years in the central banking sphere mean they’ve forged essential ties. They’ve worked side-by-side with diverse teams, partnered with governmental bodies, and conversed with international peers. These connections are invaluable. When a new policy is on the horizon or when feedback is needed, they have a ready network to tap into, ensuring efficient and informed decision-making.
Charting the Right Course
As Nigeria stands at the precipice of an unparalleled macroeconomic tempest, the actions of the Central Bank in the coming months will either anchor us firmly or leave us adrift. While the allure of shortcuts in policymaking might seem tempting, it’s crucial to remember that the Central Bank isn’t just another institution; it’s our nation’s flagbearer in the global financial arena. It’s our voice, our representative, asserting our place on the world stage.
The Central Bank should be our sanctuary from the pitfalls that often plague Nigerian policymaking. It should be a beacon of steadiness amidst the chaos, guiding our economic ship through tumultuous waters with an experienced hand at the helm.
To mitigate the challenges ahead, it’s imperative we revert to the tried-and-true: placing the keys of the Central Bank in the hands of those who know its every corner, its every nuance. For the health of our nation, the vibrancy of our economy, and the future of our people, it’s high time we return the Central Bank to its rightful stewards: the career central bankers.
There is more worth in what is public than in what is private, By Jenerali Uliwengu
A conversation I have been having with my compatriots can suffer some escalation to the regional level, especially because our different countries have had largely similar experiences in many respects.
In the 1960s, Dar es Salaam had a more or less efficient bus transport service, run by the Dar es Salaam Motor Transport Company (DMT) organised along lines not dissimilar to the London metropolitan bus service. The city service once even boasted double-deck buses, immortalised in the Kilwa Jazz song, Kifo cha Penzi ni Kifo Kibaya.
The buses ran on strict timelines, and when a bus scheduled to pass by a stop at 7.15 came at 7.20 people waiting at the stop would be seen impatiently looking at their watches.
Some of us in the media would take the matter up as soon as we got to our newsrooms to ask of the transport company officials why our bus had delayed a full five minutes on a working day.
By 1983, the company had been nationalised and called Usafiri Dar es Salaam (UDA) and soon acquired the distinctive Ikarus articulated buses manufactured in Hungary, but soon even thy ran out of steam because of the usual, multifaceted problems attaching to public owned institutions.
Around that time, then prime minister Edward Moringe Sokoine decided to bring in minibuses operating in Arusha and Moshi to rescue Dar es Salaam “temporarily, while the government is making plans for a permanent solution” to the problem.
From that period, it is only now that Dar es Salaam is beginning to see what looks like that “permanent solution” with the introduction of the Dar es Salaam Rapid Transport (Dart), which was initiated by a former mayor, the late Kleist Sykes.
It was delayed for so many years due to political skulduggery and the inevitable corruption in all our public institutions.
In the meantime, a former transport minister, Harrison Mwakyembe, had the rare presence of mind to remember that the city had had, since colonial times, railway tracks linking different districts but which lay fallow; he took action, and this initiative — which created what has come to be dubbed as “Mwakyembe’s train” — has contributed to the easing of the transit system congestion, but only just, because of issues such as the infrequency of train rides and the lack of security lights, ventilation and so on.
As it is right now, the Dar Rapid Transit is hobbling along, packing the human press the way you would pack cattle if you are not a keen meat seller.
Surely, our people deserve better than that, and the so-called “Mwakyembe train” needs replication in other parts of the city, as I suspect, there are many other fallow railway tracks waiting for some smart alecks to collect them and sell them as scrap metal.
Amidst all this, we have young people with hardly an income to speak of dying to own and drive a personal car, not for anything else but that owning a personal car makes them “somebody.”
What I have been telling them is, you do not have to own a car to be somebody; you are somebody because you are a useful member of society, and, surely, if you are predicating your personality on ownership of material things, you’re not.
What our young people — including not-so-young people, like me — should be doing is to militate for public transport to be expanded, and for it to work well; that is what they do in Europe and the US. The collaborative cries should be for Dar rapid service to improve: This past week, I was in the Coast region and wanted to ride on the service, only to be told by the bored girl at the stop that they had no tickets. Shame!
I understand there is too much red-tape restrictions in the processes attaching to getting more buses run by private operators. If that is so, what are the myriad officials running around like headless chickens doing?
Why are they paid all the big salaries and allowed to drive such luxury cars if they cannot do a repeat “Mwakyembe train,” increase buses, and ensure tickets are available for rapid-transit bus rides?
These should be the issues our young people have to be fighting for not driving their cars, except if they belong to the Diamond Platmuz or Ali Kiba cohort.
With an efficient public transit system, we all become part-owners of our collective means of transport.
The opposite of that is when you forget what a car is for and you begin to think like the backward tribesman for whom the car is a mystical contraption which confers miraculous powers on the owner and driver, a far cry from the evolved, modern citizen.
Unfortunately, I know I am preaching to the unhearing, but this should not discourage anyone.
In the fullness of time, the message will sink home when the hordes of the lumpen motorcar realise they have more important things to seek for their lives to be better and more meaningful, instead of the trinkets that are being dangled before their noses.
I stand ready, as ever, to engage in a conversation.
Inside the special mission to save Nigerian music; and why the rest of Africa should care, By Chinedu Chidi
When famed German composer and pianist, Beethoven described music as a “higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy” and as “the electrical soil in which the spirit lives, thinks and invents”, he may well have laid out a profound exposition of the depth and reaches of the art, one that is unrestricted by time or distance, by creed or colour, by status or zone. He envisioned a limitless art form. Today, we speak not only of its internal freedoms, but of its transcendent liberating force coursing through entertainment, education, politics, the economy, technology, and social change. Music has become a life form meandering like the bellows of an accordion into the many circles that define life as we know it.
The conception of the MTN MUSON Music Scholars Program in 2006, a partnership between MTN Foundation and the Musical Society of Nigeria (MUSON) School of Music, was a clear reflection of a keen appreciation of this power of music. It was a visionary idea that laid a foundation that would redefine the story, not only of aspiring and practicing musicians, but of the music industry itself. Looking back, it appears a bold demonstration of faith in the promise of Nigerian music while still at comparatively modest levels, and a commensurate investment in the vehicle that would drive its actualization. Today, over 300 graduates later, the Nigerian music industry has grown in leaps and bounds. With over $2 billion in revenue annually, over 30 million monthly listeners worldwide, over 500 music producers, over 1000 record labels, over 50 radio stations amplifying its rhythms and sounds, and multiple digital music distribution platforms, Nigerian music has become the stuff of dreams, if only commercially.
The partnership involves a 2-year Diploma in Music at the MUSON Diploma School. All the students admitted to the Diploma course receive MTNF Scholarships comprising annual scholarships worth N250,000 to cover tuition, books and transportation over a 2-year period. The graduating students are awarded an internationally recognized Diploma in Music. The scholarship is an open opportunity one. It allows applications from all musically talented youth through an open and fair process.
MTN Foundation’s investment in this educational scholarship is not an isolated endeavour; it is an integral part of the foundation’s broad commitment to promoting youth development through empowering the nation’s young people with the “skills, tools, access, knowledge, and opportunities to become economically active citizens”. The foundation combines this intervention with its “National Priority” portfolio which “focuses on Initiatives that support community infrastructure development and health-related initiatives that support women and children”. Together, the initiatives align with the objectives of the Government’s National Development plan and te UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Since its founding in 2004, the MTN Foundation has invested over N23.7 Billion in the 36 states of the federation and FCT, has over 1,017 project sites across Nigeria, with 50 unique projects spanning 3,319 communities. Overall, it has reached over 31 million people.
All this has been made possible by MTN Nigeria Communication PLC, its parent body, which has committed up to 1% of its Profit after Tax (PAT) to the foundation. Far-reaching strategic partnerships with key stakeholders have also been a major driver of the social investments.
MTN Foundation’s choice of MUSON School of Music was thus no coincidence. MUSON has been at the heart of developing and preserving the purest form of music in Nigeria, and helping to export same to the rest of Africa and the world. Created in 1989 by a group of friends, namely Mr. Louis Mbanefo (SAN), Mr. Akintola Williams (late), Chief Ayo Rosiji (late), Mrs. Francesca Emanuel (late) and Chief Rasheed Gbadamosi (late), the school was designed to promote, as Mr. Mbanefo, who is Chairman of the school, aptly captures, “the performance, understanding and enjoyment of serious music”. The dream, he notes, has continued to be realized, producing internationally reputed graduates and changing the dynamics of music in Nigeria and Africa. “The school has produced over 400 Diploma graduates, many of whom have continued their musical education in Europe, South Africa and America and attained international recognition. Most of our alumni have made and are making very impressive contributions to the musical life in Nigeria and indeed, the world. They have raised considerably the standard of singing and musical performance in churches, in schools and at social events. Indeed, many churches and musical societies throughout Nigeria are borrowing from the templates established by MUSON”, he proudly reveals.
As the proud owner of Nigeria’s “only professional Symphony Orchestra” and a choir of international renown, the school boasts a rich platform for empowering young Nigerian artistes and instrumentalists, especially in the dying art of classical and orchestral music performance.
Accredited by the Federal Government to award Diplomas in Music since 2002, the MUSON Diploma School grants all MTNF MUSON graduates diplomas which are equal to those awarded by the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music in the United Kingdom.
Perhaps the most critical area of importance that MTN Foundation’s music intervention serves is the preservation of the fine arts of the classical, orchestral and live performance genres, with their accompanying socially valuable messaging. The rapid rise of studio-recorded music, with its massive commercial success, has sadly provided an alternative to total music, one that substantively accommodates a wide array of ‘real’ instruments, trained voice, and electrifying theatre. It is perhaps the appeal of total music that inspired Victor Hugo to bellow, “Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent”.
This challenge is one that is not only unique to Nigeria or Africa, but a universal one. In Sasha Frere-Jones’ piece, “Do Recordings Kill Music?”, she cited a profound quote from Richard Kostelanetz’s interview with John Cage, thus: “I’ve always said that a record is not faithful to the nature of music.” David Grubbs, a professor at the Conservatory of Music at Brooklyn College, she reports, “takes up a specific belief of Cage’s: that recordings can injure the ability of an audience member to experience a performance in real time. In theoretical terms, the recording reifies a specific moment, potentially interfering with a composition’s ability to live and change and breathe by fixing a single iteration as the ‘authoritative’ version”. Perhaps, nothing captures the triumphantly seductive and absorbing force of the authentic live performance than Robert Ashley’s description of Alvin Lucier’s 1969 piece, “Vespers” as referenced by Grubbs. Ashley wrote of “Vespers”: “No number of microphones and loudspeakers can reproduce the relationship between the sounds and the space in which the sounds create the musical experience.” This reminds one of Mozart’s delicate refrain that “The music is not in the notes, but in the silence between.”
This dying art form was once the force that rocked the bowels of mother Africa, from the Sahara to the Mediterranean. From Fela and Makeba to N’Dour, Salif Keita, Amr Diab, Sangare, Mapfumo, Kidjo, Mtukudzi and Ladysmith Black Mambazo, the glory days of message-laden total music may, but for the flickers embodied by the likes of the eternal Kidjo and the heirs to the Fela dynasty, be well and truly over.
But the rebirth glistening in the hallways of MUSON Diploma School offers hope. The school is home to the award-winning MUSON Diploma Choir directed by Sir Emeka Nwokedi, and the MUSON School Orchestra & Concert Bands. It has been able to produce outstanding Jazz ensembles such as the all-female GIRLZ RULE Band, the 5YZ MEN and The Theosolites.
At MUSON, MTN Scholars take advanced training in music with majors in voice or any of the instrument forms of: Piano, Organ, Violin, Viola, Cello, Double Bass, Flute, Clarinet, Saxophone, Trumpet, Trombone, Percussion, and Classical Guitar. “Students are also required to take 2 terms of an instrument minor other than their major instrumental family. All voice students must pass grade 2 piano, instrumentalists must pass vocal techniques and all students must belong to the choir. Orchestra is required for all string majors. All wind and percussion majors must belong to band. Others who may not be majors are welcome to audition for the orchestra band”, the school says. They also take part in high-level musical productions which provide the perfect opportunity to exhibit their talents and skills. At the end of their programme, the music scholars have the opportunity to showcase the result of their advanced training through performances at the annual Donors Appreciation Concert. This speaks to the neat integration of sound and rhythm, of theatre and messaging; the total music.
If the MUSON Diploma School is to continue to plot the course for Nigeria’s music salvation and become the sure hope of total music’s triumph for all of Africa, then it must display resilience, which its parent body— The Musical Society of Nigeria— chose as its Festival of Arts theme during the celebration of its 40th anniversary earlier this year. It must be resilient in the face of the onslaught of crass commercialism. It must be defiantly resilient if it must realize its goal of producing “well-rounded, thoroughly educated musicians…comparable to those found in a Conservatoire”.
And in its resilience, it must remember that lodged in the soul of this art, in its purest form, are the currents of humanity.
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