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Two million customers flee Nigerian banks

Posted MOHAMMED MOMOH in Abuja

on  Monday, March 19  2018 at  14:57

Nigerian banks lost more than 2 million customers between 2016 and 2017 in spite of the government's efforts to promote financial inclusion.

The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) report says the number of active accounts dropped from 65 million to 63.5 million, reflecting a 1.5 million reduction.

The Nigeria Inter-Bank Settlement System (NIBSS) report disclosed further that the total number of customers dropped from 61 million in 2016 to 59 million in 2017.

According to NIBSS, the financial sector, however, made great strides in linking customers’ account using the Bank Verification Number (BVN).

Many people

The NIBSS report, published on its website, showed that linked BVN accounts grew from 26 million in 2016, to 41.3 million in 2017.

According to a banking industry source, the reduction in customers could be due to the Federal Government’s declaration of war against corruption.

“When (President) Buhari assumed office, many people abandoned their accounts, especially civil servants because of fear of investigation.

“While some closed down their accounts, others opted for gradual withdrawal so as not to raise the alarm,’’ a source, who requested anonymity, said.

Illegal charges

The source, who works at one of the top five banks in the country, blamed BVN for the low patronage of products, especially in the rural areas, where awareness was low.

A bank customer, Mrs Olaitan Alagbe, said she closed some of her accounts due to unnecessary and illegal charges by banks.

“First of all, the interest rate is next to nothing, so there is little reason to keep your money at the bank when you can turn it over doing other businesses,” she said.

Another customer, Mr Tolulope Ajayi, said he opened several accounts during the Ponzi scheme boom in the country, but was forced to abandon them after the schemes crashed in late 2016 and early 2017.

However, a source at CBN said the reduction in the number of banking customers was caused mainly by the introduction of BVN.

The money

“The reduction may not necessarily be a bad thing. For example, many people opened accounts using different variations of their names.

“A person bearing Musa Salisu Mohammed, may have other accounts as Salisu Mohammed or Musa Salisu,’’ the source said.

The financial inclusion strategy aims to ensure that the bulk of the money in the economy remains within the banking sector.

A major challenge in the process is how to ensure that the poor rural dwellers were carried along, considering the lack of financial sophistication in the segment.

CBN, money deposit and micro-finance banks and other stakeholders were currently implementing different policies to enhance financial inclusion.

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Somali parliament votes against UAE port deal

Posted ABDULKADIR KHALIF in Mogadishu

on  Monday, March 12  2018 at  19:04

The Federal Parliament of Somalia Monday overwhelmingly voted against the Dubai Port Operator (DP World) of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) operating in the country.

The vote followed a controversial agreement signed between the breakaway Republic of Somaliland and DP World on March 1 in Dubai. The agreement involved the port of Berbera, whose operations are shared between DP World, 51 per cent, Somaliland, 30 per cent and Ethiopia, 19 per cent.

The majority

The third session of parliament was opened by President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo on Sunday. The assembly’s first meeting on Monday had the issue of DP World as one of its agendas.

After debate, the majority of the MPs voted to nullify the said tri-partite agreement.

Some 168 out of 171 MPs in the Peoples’ Hall voted in favour of the ban. However, the legislation will be enforceable only once it is approved by the Upper House of Parliament and eventually signed by President Farmajo into a law.

Somaliland, which unilaterally declared independence from the rest of Somalia in 1991, albeit unrecognised by the international community, insists that the Mogadishu- based government has nothing to do with its agreement with DP World.

The sovereignty

Berbera is Somaliland's main port and is located in the Gulf of Aden.

Somalia's Ports and Marine Transport ministry on March 2 issued a statement in Mogadishu against the tripartite agreement.

“The so-called agreement is both defective and detrimental to the sovereignty of the Federal Republic of Somalia. The ministry, therefore, considering the above, declares this deal as non-existent null and void,” the ministerial statement read.

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Sierra Leone launches $318m Chinese-funded airport

Posted KEMO CHAM in Freetown

on  Thursday, March 8  2018 at  15:47

Sierra Leone has started the construction of its $318 million Chinese-funded second airport.

The proposed Mamamah International Airport, named after its host community, will be constructed by the China Railway Seventh Group, with the work planned to last for four years.

Outgoing President Ernest Bai Koroma presided over the ground-breaking ceremony last week as the campaigns for the Wednesday General Election went on.

The project, which has drawn huge criticism from international lending institutions, also entails the construction of a new city in the vicinity and an exclusive economic zone.

President Koroma revealed plans to build a new State House, parliament and ministerial buildings to provide an alternative work environment in the new city, away from overcrowded Freetown.

The capital

He hailed his development achievements, noting that the airport was one of three major projects his government was implementing with the aim of transforming Sierra Leone to a Middle Income state by 2035.

The other two projects are the ongoing port expansion and the planned bridging of the river that separates the capital Freetown, from Lungi, home of the current airport.

Critics say the new airport was an unnecessary economic burden on the West African country struggling to recover from the effects of war, epidemic and a deadly mudslide last year.

The Chinese Exim Bank is providing the funds for the Mamamah International Airport, through a loan agreement the World Bank and IMF criticised.

The Sierra Leone government insists that Mamamah was needed to resolve transportation problems associated with Lungi Airport.

The Mamamah airport too will be located outside Freetown, but it is on mainland, unlike Lungi which involves a tedious journey, the government says hinders foreign direct investments.

“The overarching objective of this project is to improve on international connectivity and reduce the burden on travellers,” said Finance and Economic Development minister Momoh Vandi.

He added that the project would also enhance competitiveness and improve on investment climate of the country.

Interest rate

In the face of the Western opposition to the project, the Chinese government has always appeared determined to push on with it. China’s ambassador in Freetown Wu Peng said the project should not just be seen as a new airport, but that its overall effect on the economy should be considered.

He announced that the Chinese government had agreed on a favourable repayment plan to lessen the burden on Sierra Leone.

China will provide $30m grant to cushion the effect of the interest rate on the life of the project.

“This is not only just about commissioning an airport project, it is also about launching a transformative economic and social development, including investment, tourism as well as a new economic zoon and airport city,” Mr Wu said.

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Inflation hits Sudan hard

Posted MOHAMMED AMIN in Khartoum

on  Thursday, February 15  2018 at  12:31

The inflation rate in Sudan rose to 52.4 per cent in January, the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) disclosed.

CBS chairman Karam Allah Abdul Rahan told press conference in Khartoum on Wednesday that the figure was the highest in more than a decade.

Mr Raham said further that the January inflation was double the 25.2 registered in December 2017.

Austerity measures

“This increase is attributable to the austerity measures implemented by the government last month,'' he explained.

Inflation in Sudan has been on the rise since the country lost more than 70 per cent of its oil revenues due to the secession of South Sudan in 2011.

The country has witnessed sporadic demonstrations since January, against higher commodity prices occasioned by the government removing subsidies on wheat, electricity and medicines.

Sudan earlier this month devalued its currency to exchange at 30 pounds per $1. It was the second devaluation in the recent months.

The Sudanese opposition parties have continuously called for protests to overthrow President Omar al-Bashir, accusing him of poor governance and economic mismanagement.

In 2016, Sudan witnessed nationwide civil protests against the lifting of subsides on oil products and electricity.

Human rights organisations have recorded hundreds of people killed in the protests against the high cost of living.

The 74-year-old Bashir rose to power in a coup in 1989 and has ruled what was until 2011 Africa's largest country with an iron fist.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has issued a warrant of arrest against him for crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide in Darfur.

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Five injured as Delta Airline crash-lands in Lagos

Posted MOHAMMED MOMOH in Abuja

on  Thursday, February 15  2018 at  11:25

A US-bound Delta Airlines flight with 219 passengers made an emergency landing in Lagos following a fire that engulfed one of its engine.

Authorities said five passengers were injured in the Wednesday incident.

The Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) has classified the fire on the Atlanta-bound flight as “a very serious incident”.

The airline media consultant in Nigeria, Mr Tope Awe, confirmed that the A330-200 aircraft had a problem with one of its two engines.

The flight landed safely and customers exited the aircraft on the runway, via emergency slides.

The terminal

“Airport fire authorities met the aircraft upon arrival. Delta’s customers were bussed back to the terminal. Delta is aware of five customers reporting non-critical injuries as a result of the evacuation.

“Delta teams have provided overnight hotel accommodations to customers and will re-book customers on an alternate Delta aircraft,” Mr Awe said.

NCAA said the aircraft had taken off from the Murtala Muhammaed International Airport, Lagos at about 9.51pm. when the crew noticed abnormal engine conditions in one of the two engines.

The passengers

The pilot made a return after declaring an emergency.

Nigerian authorities said it had handed over its investigation to the Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB).

NCAA spokesman Sam Adurogboye explained that the classification was in line with the standards of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).

“Some of the passengers who sustained injuries, were rushed down to the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH), Ikeja for medical attention.

“In line with safety standards, the international Runway (18R) was promptly closed to traffic while the domestic Runway (18L/36R) was opened to other flights for emergency operations.

The runway

“However, at time 0020UTC (1:20am local time), the international Runway (18R) was reopened to traffic after the aircraft was evacuated from the runway and a runway sweeping and inspection conducted.”

He said the incident was classified as serious in line with the ICAO classification, and investigation was handed over to AIB.

Mr Adurogboye said the pilot acted in accordance with the Standard and Recommended Practices (SARPs) by making an air return.

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Sierra Leone pens China airport deal despite opposition

Posted KEMO CHAM in Freetown

on  Monday, February 12  2018 at  15:45

The Sierra Leone government has signed a controversial loan agreement with China for the construction of a new airport.

The $318 million contract and loan agreement involves the construction of an airport and a new city, the government said.

The government says the project is meant to be a “farewell development gift” of the vision of President Ernest Bai Koroma, who steps down next month after the General Election.

Chinese firms Henan Guoji Industries and China Railway International Group will implement the project, which will be funded by the China Exim Bank.

A delegation

Transport and Aviation minister Leonard Balogun Koroma signed the agreements with representatives of the Chinese parties in Beijing.

Mr Koroma had led a delegation that included officials from the Finance ministry and the Office of the President to the Chinese capital.

He was quoted saying after the signing that the project would resolve a major development hurdle the country was facing.

“The construction of the new airport will address the longstanding problem of the often cumbersome estuary crossing between Lungi and Freetown,” he said, adding: “it will give Sierra Leone a much needed alternative airport on mainland.”

Lungi Airport is located outside Freetown, separated from the capital by a river estuary that empties into the Atlantic Ocean. It is mostly accessible by ferry. An alternative route involves a long distance drive through the northern part.

The proposed Mamamah International Airport, which will be located on the mainland, is also a few kilometers outside the capital. But the government says it was necessary as the location of the current airport made traveling cumbersome and affected investment.

Second phase

The project brief says the construction will last for four years, with some 4,000 jobs created during the period.

The government said the first phase entails the construction of the airport itself, which is expected to become operational in 2022. The second phase will involve the construction of an airport city and an exclusive economic zone.

President Koroma is expected to commission the airport construction alongside a private sector study of the New Koya City on March 1, six days before Sierra Leone votes for a new president.

While the president’s supporters say the project is one of his most important legacies, after 10 years in office, his opponents question the economic benefit and motive, coming on the eve of an election that may see a change in government.

The agreement is also strongly opposed by the World Bank and IMF, which say the project was not viable and that the country had more pressing priorities.

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Call to Angolans to repatriate cash

Posted ARNALDO VIEIRA in Luanda

on  Thursday, February 8  2018 at  13:33

The Angolan government has given a 180 days ultimatum to all its nationals to repatriate their money from foreign accounts.

National Reserve Bank Governor José de Lima Massano said the ultimatum was already published in the official Gazette.

Mr Massano warned that the government would take unspecified actions against anyone defying the order.

He was addressing journalists on Wednesday after the Council of Ministers meeting in Luanda.

Commercial banks

Mr Massano last December confirmed that over $30 billion belonging to Angola was deposited abroad.

Half of the money, he explained, was deposited in commercial banks and financial institutions.

President João Lourenço last year advised Angolans with fortunes abroad to repatriate their money and invest at home.

He warned that he government would confiscate money from those defying the advice.

“Those who repatriate the money will not be interrogated on why they had it abroad,” President Lourenço said.

Sharp decline

“Let us not confuse the fight against corruption with persecution of rich people people in Angola,” he said.

Angola is sub-Saharan Africa's second leading oil producer with more than 1.6 million barrels per day, but majority of its citizens live in poverty.

The country’s economy has been severely affected by the sharp decline in oil prices and the government sees diversification as the way out.

Oil production continues to account for approximately 50 per cent of Angola’s GDP, 80 per cent of government revenue and 95 per cent of its exports.

Agriculture’s contribution to the GDP – including forestry and fisheries – stands at about 8 per cent in Angola.

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Slum dweller is Kenya's newest millionaire

Posted DAVID KWALIMWA in Nairobi

on  Wednesday, February 7  2018 at  16:18

Kenya's newest multi-millionaire was on Wednesday unveiled by SportPesa in Nairobi, a day after the giant gaming firm announced a winner of the mind-blowing $2.3 million (Sh230m) million Mega Jackpot prize had been found.

Gordon Ogada Paul's Sh230,742,881 prize eclipses the amount won by another Kenyan Samuel Abisai courtesy of SportPesa last November by $90,000 (Sh9m).

The Kibera slum resident landed this amount after correctly predicting the outcome of 17 football matches over the weekend.

The games included Sunday's thrilling two-all draw pitting Liverpool against Tottenham Hotspur at Anfield.

"Life has not been easy since my parents died 20 years ago. I'm very grateful to God for the win and coming through for me," the father of two, who is unemployed, explained.

And perhaps in a move to befit his newly found status, Mr Ogada was - alongside his better half and two kids - chauffeured from Kibera to Carnivore in a convoy of sleek vehicles led by a dozen motorcycles (fondly referred to as boda boda) as business at the usual busy Langata highway came to a standstill.

"God has answered our prayers. One of us is now very rich, I am sure he will help us to improve our lives," one of the motorbike riders, who identified himself as Oduori, explained.

"Our mega jackpot offering is about much more than playing and winning. It represents our will to change people's lives and shows commitment to our local customers who have been a pillar of support to our business," SportPesa CEO Ronald Karauri added.

Mr Ogada encouraged football lovers, and especially his peers, to try their luck in betting.

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Sierra Leone rejects IMF subsidy demands

Posted KEMO CHAM in Freetown

on  Wednesday, February 7  2018 at  10:53

The Sierra Leone government has ruled out removing subsidies on rice and fuel ahead of next month’s General Election as advised by the IMF.

A government statement said the decision was based on considerations for the welfare of Sierra Leoneans.

The removal of subsidies from imports of the two commodities is at the centre of a row between IMF and the West African state, which became public last week, despite efforts by both parties to play it down.

The debate was sparked by an international publication, the Africa Confidential, which cited a US diplomatic cable reporting that IMF officials were unhappy that Freetown was using its funds on activities that would help it retain power, instead of implementing the conditionalities that informed the latest Extended Credit Facility programme signed by the two last June.

According to the programme, the IMF was to provide $244 million aid to Sierra Leone for the next five years.

The government in turn was to implement key activities, including removal of subsidies on fuel and imported rice, and tightening implementation of duty waivers on imports.

According to the London-based publication, disbursement of the funds was suspended after the government received only about $50 million.

Amidst denial by the government of any problem, the IMF added fuel to the public confusion with a statement that neither confirmed nor denied whether it had suspended its support to the country.

IMF only said there was a “delay” in disbursement, which it blamed on “weak budgetary” targets and said it was working with the authorities to fix it.

Deputy Information minister Cornelius Deveaux on Monday admitted that there were indeed issues, but said they did not amount to bad relations with the IMF.

Mr Deveaux also said while they were committed to resolving the issues, it would not be to the detriment of the masses.

“For now, our position as a government is that we won’t remove subsidy because it borders on the welfare of the people,” he said, stressing that there would be no increase in prices of rice or fuel.

Analysts say the government feared a backlash from voters if the prices of the two commodities rose at a time when the country was already struggling with tough austerity measures introduced at the beginning of last year.

Sierra Leone goes to the polls on March 7 to vote for president, parliamentary and local council representatives.

A one month campaign declared by the National Electoral Commission (NEC) officially commenced on Sunday, as the 17 political parties began criss-crossing the country canvassing for votes.

President Ernest Bai Koroma is barred from contesting, after serving two terms. His All People’s Congress (APC) party is seeking to retain power after 10 years in office through President Koroma’s handpicked successor, former Foreign minister Samura Kamara

APC is being challenged by its major rival, the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP), which is represented by former junta leader, Brig (Rtd) Julius Maada Bio.

There has emerged a third force in the form of the National Grand Coalition (NGC), whose candidate is a former UN official, Mr Kandeh Yumkella.

The opposition has condemned the APC’s handling of the row with the IMF, accusing the government of reneging on an agreement it signed.

APC, on the other hand, accuses the opposition of politicising the relations with Sierra Leone’s donors.

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Africa launches single air transport market

Posted ANDUALEM SISAY in Addis Ababa

on  Monday, January 29  2018 at  19:08

The African Union on Monday launched the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

The launch took place on the sidelines of African Union's 30th summit.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame, who took over the AU chairmanship from President Alpha Condé of Guinea, announced the take-off of SAATM.

He noted that the implementation of SAATM and free movement of people and goods in Africa were his priorities for 2018. SAATM is the first AU Agenda 2063 flagship project, which aims to create a unified air transport market to liberalise civil aviation on the continent and to advance Africa’s economic integration agenda.

AU hopes that SAATM will benefit passengers, the airline industry and aircraft manufacturers, while contributing towards the attainment of Agenda 2063.

"Eligible airlines of the 23 countries are, effective this season, entitled to conduct their business into the markets and fully operate the traffic rights provided for in the Yamoussoukro Decision. It is a notable milestone since the adoption of the Yamoussoukro Decision in 1999," AU noted.

The establishment of SAATM as a flagship project of the Agenda 2063, was adopted by the AU Assembly in 2015.

Eleven AU member states have made a commitment to implement the Yamoussoukro Decision that provides for full liberalisation of market between African states, the free exercise of traffic rights, the elimination of restrictions on ownership and the full liberalisation of frequencies, fares and capacities.

To date, 23 AU member states have adhered to the Solemn Commitment. They include Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Cabo Verde, Congo and Cote d'Ivoire.

Other are Egypt, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Liberia, Mali, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Swaziland, Togo and Zimbabwe.