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The Nigeria Inter-Bank Settlement System (NIBSS) is experiencing a downtime, leading to delays in completing electronic transactions.

Financial technology firms (fintechs) notified customers of the disruption in transactions in separate notices seen by TheCable on Wednesday.

The NIBSS instant payment platform is an account-based, real-time electronic funds transfer (EFT) system.

It enables financial institutions to provide online real-time funds transfer services to their customers through all available electronic channels.

TheCable understands that customers are having a hard time making simple transactions like the payment of electricity bills.

A message sent to customers by Eversend, a financial technology firm, said delays in naira transactions will last for a while.

“NIBSS is experiencing some delays in processing Naira transactions, this may affect your NGN top-ups and payouts in the app,” Eversend said.

Also, Kuda Bank told customers that “NIBSS, the settlement partner for all banks, is having intermittent issues completing transfers at the moment so money sent to your Kuda account might be delayed and transfers to other banks may not be possible”.

“As the issues are being fixed by NIBBS, we’ll keep you updated on our status page – status.kuda.com,” Kuda said.

“Please, note that transfers between Kuda accounts and transfers between Kuda and PalmPay accounts are working fine.”

Other financial institutions are also being affected by the downtime.

A customer of the Guaranteed Trust Bank (GTB) said a transfer made at 2 pm is yet to be received by the recipient.

“I made a transfer and I was debited but the person was not credited till now,” he said.

Another customer of the United Bank for Africa (UBA) said transfers have also been difficult.

 

The Cable

Afreximbank has disbursed $925 million to Nigeria's state-owned NNPC, part of a syndicated $3.3 billion crude oil-backed prepayment facility, the African trade bank said on Thursday.

This brings the total disbursement to Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC) to $3.175 billion, African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank) said.

Afreximbank said the deal was the largest crude-backed facility in Nigeria and one of the largest syndicated debts raised in Africa.

The pan-African lender had been tapping oil traders to finance a $3 billion loan to Nigeria's state oil company after the energy firm approached it for the facility last August, to help the government's efforts in stabilising its naira currency.

The naira had hit 1,000 to the dollar on the black market at the time the NNPC approached Afreximbank for the loan. On Thursday the naira was quoted as low as 1,498 per dollar.

Afreximbank said the funds was raised from a consortium of crude oil off-taker lenders including Oando Group and Sahara Energy Resource Limited.

The trade bank had sought oil traders to fund the crude-backed loan to NNPC, with aim to support Nigeria's macroeconomic stability and growth.

In December, Afreximbank received funding commitments totaling $2.25 million for the NNPC loan request.

Nigeria's president Bola Tinubu launched reforms last year May including devaluing the naira twice in less than six months in January to attract dollars after ending a multiple exchange rate system that keep the currency artificially strong.

The country has since been courting foreign investors for inflows with high yield offer by its central bank at its open market Treasury bill auctions.

 

Reuters

The news that the federal government will spend N5.4 trillion on petrol subsidies in 2024, despite previous denials, underscores the complexities and contradictions in the country’s fiscal policies. The government's acknowledgement, made during a presentation by the Minister of Finance Wale Edun, contradicts earlier statements by key officials, including President Bola Tinubu, who had declared an end to the subsidy regime during his inauguration in May 2023.

This revelation marks a significant shift from the government’s previous stance on fuel subsidies. The administration had asserted that subsidies were removed to promote a deregulated market. The declarations by officials like Heineken Lokpobiri, Minister of State for Petroleum Resources (Oil), and Mele Kyari, Group Chief Executive Officer of NNPCL, bolstered this stance, insisting that no subsidies were being paid and that the government was recovering full costs from imported products.

In response to the news, the Presidency issued a press release denying the official status of the leaked documents that projected the subsidy expenditure. The presidency emphasised that these documents were merely drafts and not approved policies. They reiterated that the government’s position on ending fuel subsidies had not changed and stressed that the documents were part of an iterative policymaking process still under review.

The conflicting narratives between the government's admission in the draft document and its subsequent denial reflect the challenges in managing public perception and policy communication. This situation highlights the tension between the government's intent to reform and stabilise the economy and the practical realities of managing fuel prices in a country heavily reliant on petrol. It also raises questions about transparency and consistency in policy announcements, as the public grapples with mixed messages from different government officials.

The presidency's attempt to clarify and downplay the significance of the leaked documents aims to control the narrative and assure the public that no official decision has been made regarding the reinstatement of fuel subsidies. However, this episode may further erode public trust and complicate the government’s efforts to implement economic reforms, especially in a context where fuel prices significantly impact the cost of living and economic stability.

This development raises questions about the government's commitment to transparency and its handling of economic reforms. The repeated denials and subsequent admission of the subsidy expenditure have eroded trust in the government's ability to manage the economy effectively.

In conclusion, the discrepancy between the reported subsidy figures and the government's official stance underscores the sensitive nature of fuel subsidy politics in Nigeria. It illustrates the need for clear, consistent communication from the government to avoid confusion and ensure public confidence in its policy direction.

Diminished Hamas switches to full insurgent mode in Gaza

Hamas has seen about half its forces wiped out in eight months of war and is relying on hit-and-run insurgent tactics to frustrate Israel's attempts to take control of Gaza, U.S. and Israeli officials told Reuters.

The enclave's ruling group has been reduced to between 9,000 and 12,000 fighters, according to three senior U.S. officials familiar with battlefield developments, down from American estimates of 20,000-25,000 before the conflict. By contrast, Israel says it has lost almost 300 troops in the Gaza campaign.

Hamas fighters are now largely avoiding sustained skirmishes with Israeli forces closing in on the southernmost city of Rafah, instead relying on ambushes and improvised bombs to hit targets often behind enemy lines, one of the officials said.

Several Gaza residents, including Wissam Ibrahim, said they too had observed a shift in tactics.

"In earlier months, Hamas fighters would intercept, engage and fire at Israeli troops as soon as they pushed into their territory," Ibrahim told Reuters by phone. "But now, there is a notable shift in their mode of operations, they wait for them to deploy and then they start their ambushes and attacks."

The U.S. officials, who requested anonymity to discuss sensitive matters, said such tactics could sustain a Hamas insurgency for months to come, aided by weapons smuggled into Gaza via tunnels and others repurposed from unexploded ordnance or captured from Israeli forces.

This kind of protracted timeframe is echoed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's national security adviser who said last week the war could last until the end of 2024 at least.

A Hamas spokesperson didn't respond to requests for comment on its battlefield strategy.

In a parallel propaganda drive, some of the group's fighters are videotaping their ambushes of Israeli troops, before editing and posting them on Telegram and other social media apps.

Peter Lerner, a spokesperson for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), told Reuters they were still some way from destroying Hamas, which he also said had lost roughly half of its fighting force.

Lerner said the military was adapting to the group's shift in tactics and acknowledged Israel couldn't eliminate every Hamas fighter or destroy every Hamas tunnel.

"There is never a goal to kill each and every last terrorist on the ground. That's not a realistic goal," he added. "Destroying Hamas as a governing authority is an achievable and attainable military objective," he added.

HAMAS LEADERS SINWAR AND DEIF

Netanyahu and his government are under pressure from Washington to agree to a ceasefire plan to end the war, which began on Oct. 7 when Hamas fighters stormed into southern Israel, killing more than 1,200 people and seizing over 250 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.

Israel's subsequent ground-and-air campaign in Gaza has left the territory in ruins and killed more than 36,000 people, according to Palestinian health authorities. The United Nations says over a million people face "catastrophic" levels of hunger.

There are about between 7,000-8,000 Hamas fighters reportedly entrenched in Rafah, the last significant bastion of the group's resistance, according to Israeli and U.S. officials. Top leaders Yahya Sinwar, his brother Mohammed, and Sinwar's second-in-command Mohammed Deif are still alive and believed to be hiding in tunnels with Israeli hostages, they said.

The Palestinian group has shown the ability to withdraw rapidly after attacks, take cover, regroup, and pop up again in areas that Israel had believed to be cleared of militants, a U.S. administration official said.

Lerner, the IDF spokesperson, agreed Israel faced a protracted battle to overcome Hamas, which has ruled the Gaza Strip since 2006.

"There is no quick fix after 17 years of them building their capabilities," he added.

Hamas has constructed a 500 km (310 miles) subterranean city of tunnels over the years. The labyrinth, dubbed the Gaza metro by the Israeli military, is roughly half the length of the New York subway system. Equipped with water, power and ventilation, it shelters Hamas leaders, command and control centers, and weapons and ammunition stores.

The Israeli military said last week that it had taken control of the entire Gaza-Egypt land border to prevent weapons smuggling. About 20 tunnels used by Hamas to carry arms into Gaza were found within the zone, it added.

Egypt's State Information Service didn't immediately respond to a request for comment on Israel's claims of arms-smuggling from the country. Egyptian officials have previously denied any such clandestine trade is taking place, saying they destroyed the tunnel networks leading to Gaza years ago.

ECHOES OF FALLUJA INSURGENCY?

The Gaza incursion is Israel's longest and fiercest conflict since it invaded Lebanon to oust the Palestinian Liberation Organization in 1982.

Netanyahu has defied domestic and international calls to outline a post-war plan for the territory. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has warned that the absence of such a roadmap could trigger lawlessness in the enclave.

One Arab official told Reuters that criminal gangs had already emerged in Gaza amid the power vacuum, seizing food deliveries and conducting armed robberies.

The official and two other Arab government sources, who all requested anonymity to speak freely, said the IDF could face similar threats to those encountered by America in the city of Falluja in 2004-2006 following the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

A broad insurgency in Falluja swelled the ranks first of al Qaeda and then Islamic State, miring Iraq in conflict and chaos from which it has yet to fully emerge two decades later.

Washington and its Arab allies have said they are working on a post-conflict plan for Gaza which involves a time-bound, irreversible path to Palestinian statehood.

When the plan, part of a "grand bargain" envisioned by the United States that aims to secure a normalizing of relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel, is complete, Washington aims to put it to Israel, the U.S. officials said.

A United Arab Emirates official with direct knowledge of the discussions said a Palestinian invitation was needed for countries to assist Gaza in an emergency operation, as well as an end to hostilities, full Israeli disengagement, and clarity on Gaza's legal status, including control of borders.

The emergency process could last a year and be potentially renewable for another year, according to the UAE official who said the aim to be to stabilize the enclave rather than rebuild it.

For reconstruction to begin, a more detailed roadmap towards a two-state solution was needed, he added, as well as serious and credible reform of the Palestinian Authority.

How the United States aims to overcome Netanyahu's repeated rejection of a two-state solution, which Riyadh says is a condition to normalizing ties, is unclear.

David Schenker, a former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, dismissed any suggestion of a clean IDF pullout from the Palestinian territory.

"Israel says it's going to maintain security control which means that it's going to constantly fly drones over Gaza and they're not going to be limited if they see Hamas re-emerging, they're going to go back," said Schenker, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute U.S.-based think-tank.

Gadi Eisenkot, a former Israeli military chief serving in Netanyahu's war cabinet, has proposed an Egyptian-led international coalition as an alternative to Hamas rule in Gaza.

In a closed-door briefing last week to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, he emphasized the complex nature of anti-militancy warfare.

"This is a religious, nationalistic, social, and military struggle with no knock-out blow but rather protracted warfare that will last many years," he said.

 

Reuters

WESTERN PERSPECTIVE

Kremlin warns West over providing long-range weapons to Ukraine

The Kremlin said on Thursday that Western nations supplying Ukraine with weapons to strike Russian territory will have to reckon with Russia, after President Vladimir Putin said he was considering arming the West's enemies in retaliation.

Speaking with senior editors of international news agencies in St Petersburg on Wednesday, the Russian leader said Moscow was thinking about providing advanced long-range weapons - of a similar nature to those the West is giving Ukraine - to the West's adversaries around the world.

Putin in his comments mentioned long-range missiles being supplied to Ukraine by the U.S. and Britain.

"We are thinking that if someone thinks it is possible to supply such weapons to a war zone in order to strike at our territory and create problems for us, then why do we not have the right to supply our weapons of the same class to those regions of the world where there will be strikes on sensitive facilities of those countries that are doing this to Russia?" said Putin.

"So the response could be symmetrical. We will think about this."

Putin's comments suggested that he could supply weapons to U.S. antagonists such as Iran-backed militias in Iraq and Syria that have periodically launched rockets and drones at U.S. troops. It was not clear, however, to whom Putin would provide weapons in Britain's case.

Asked about Putin's comments, U.S. President Joe Biden told ABC News on Thursday during D-Day commemorations in France that Ukraine was limited in firing U.S.-supplied weapons at targets inside Russia near the countries' border.

"We're not talking about giving them weapons to strike Moscow, to strike the Kremlin," he said. "Just across the border where they're receiving significant fire from conventional weapons used by the Russians to go into Ukraine to kill Ukrainians."

Biden was referring to Russian troops and artillery deployed just inside Russia supporting a Russian offensive against the northeastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, which also has been hit with glide bombs launched by Russian jets from its airspace.

Dmitry Peskov, Putin's spokesman, told state TV he believed Putin's warning had been heard in the West where he said he believed it was already being studied.

"They need to reckon with us and our position. We won't compromise out interests," said Peskov.

When asked earlier on Thursday by reporters if the Kremlin would name countries or regions to which Russia might supply arms in this way, he said no.

"...It's a very important statement that is very transparent that the supply of weapons that will be fired at us cannot go without consequences, and those consequences are certain to come."

Washington prohibits Kyiv from striking inside Russia with ATACMS, which have a range of up to 186 miles (300 km), and other long-range U.S.-supplied weapons.

British Foreign Secretary David Cameron, during a visit to Kyiv on May 3, told Reuters Ukraine had a right to use the weapons provided by Britain to strike targets inside Russia, and it was up to Kyiv whether to do so.

Dmitry Medvedev, deputy chairman of Russia's Security Council and a former president who has emerged as one of the Kremlin's most outspoken hawks, on Thursday elaborated on what Moscow was considering, saying that Putin's words represented "a very significant change" in Russian foreign policy.

"Let the U.S. and its allies now feel the direct use of Russian weapons by third parties. These persons or regions are intentionally not named, but they could be anyone who considers Pindostan and its comrades to be their enemies," Medvedev wrote on his official Telegram channel, using a derogatory Russian slang word for the United States.

"Regardless of their political beliefs and international recognition. Their enemy is the U.S., so they are our friends."

He spoke of what he called "sensitive facilities" belonging to the US and it allies burning after being struck with Russian missiles fired by "third parties".

"And we will rejoice at their successful strikes with our weapons against our common enemies!" said Medvedev.

 

RUSSIAN PERSPECTIVE

France to give fighter jets to Ukraine – Macron

French President Emmanuel Macron has announced that France will supply Kiev with Mirage 2000 fighter jets and train Ukrainian pilots on the jets. However, Macron did not specify how many planes would be provided, or when they would arrive.

“Tomorrow we will launch a new cooperation and announce the transfer of Mirage 2000-5 fighter jets to Ukraine, made by French manufacturer Dassault, and train their Ukrainian pilots in France,”Macron told France’s TF1 broadcaster on Thursday.

Alongside US-made F-16 fighters, Kiev has long requested Mirage 2000 warplanes. In a post on social media in January, the commander of the Ukrainian Air Force said that these jets – roughly comparable to the F-16 but considered more maneuverable – could “increase the combat potential” of Ukraine’s Soviet-era fleet.

France has around 26 Mirage 2000-5 and 65 older Mirage 2000-D aircraft in active service, according to Flight International’s World Air Forces rankings. It is unclear whether Macron intends to spare any of the French Air Force’s active duty fleet, or whether out-of-service jets will be recommissioned for Kiev.

Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Norway have all pledged to supply Ukraine with F-16 fighters, although none have actually been delivered. Last month, Ukrainian leader Vladimir Zelensky announced that Belgium would supply 30 1980s-built F-16s, bringing to 85 the number pledged in total.

At the outset of the Ukraine conflict, Macron positioned himself as a voice of caution, warning other NATO member states that sending heavy weapons to Kiev could be too escalatory a move. However, he has since emerged as one of the most pro-interventionist NATO leaders, declaring earlier this year that the idea of sending Western ground troops into combat against Russia “could not be ruled out.” 

Ukrainian army chief Aleksandr Syrsky said last week that French military instructors would soon be deployed in Ukraine. While the Ukrainian defense ministry quickly walked back these claims, French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal said that the question of sending French instructors to the country was “not taboo.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has said that there are “numerous facts” indicating that French instructors are already working in Ukraine and warned that these operatives represent an “absolutely legitimate target” for Russia’s armed forces.

Macron told TF1 that he is not worried about escalating the conflict. The French president then announced that he would back the formation of a 4,500-strong “French brigade”of French-trained and equipped Ukrainian soldiers, and repeated his announcement last week that Ukraine can use French missiles for long-range strikes on Russian soil.

“We stand with the Ukrainians. Ukraine is allowed to strike targets where missiles have been fired [from],” he told the network, adding that “we forbid hitting civilians with our weapons.”

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Russian President Vladimr Putin said that Moscow would consider arming the enemies of Western nations who give Ukraine the means to carry out these strikes. “This is a recipe for very serious problems,” he warned. 

 

Reuters/RT

I’m opposed to minimum wage. And I know I’m saying this at the risk of losing readers. The minimum wage hurts the poor and vulnerable in whose name and interest Labour claims to strike.

Sounds foolish, right? How can more naira in the pocket of the Nigerian worker currently on a minimum wage of N30,000 be bad?

In a country where each of 469 lawmakers earns N13.5 million monthly, minus allowances, and office holders in the executive branch use large convoys and maintain large personal staff at the public expense, why should there be any fuss about the government paying N494,000 monthly as minimum wage to workers?

Bad example

The obscenity of public sector waste has been one of the strongest arguments for a new minimum wage. On top of that, there has been the inflationary impact of the adjustments announced last year by President Bola Tinubu, especially after the removal of the petrol subsidy and efforts to close the arbitrage in the foreign exchange market.

The argument for minimum wage is that if some folks, especially politicians, have assumed the prerogative of helping themselves to the treasury by ingenious means, what is sauce for the goose must also be sauce for the miserably impoverished gander.

Yet, a minimum wage is one slippery slope guaranteed to take the gander from economic misery to wretchedness. Basic Economics by Thomas Sowell makes the point very clear, and the lives of those who might disagree will bear out the evidence.

Wage law trap

One, minimum wage laws set artificially high wages that can lead to lower employment opportunities, particularly among low-skilled workers. Take Nigeria, for example. Of the estimated 80 million labour force, skills among the largest demographic of this population (those between 25 and 34 years of age) are inferior.

A 2022-23 study showed that only one in 10 workers are managers, professionals, technicians, clerical support workers or occupations that require high skill levels. Most need to be better skilled and would be seriously disadvantaged in competing for any opportunity that may attract relatively high wages.

Remember that the essentially overpaid, underworked, and yet restive public service – whether at the federal, state or local government levels – comprises only a tiny fraction of the workforce. Nearly 90 per cent of Nigeria’s workforce, which may be affected by any artificial wage adjustment, are in the informal sector, that is, outside white-collar jobs.

Cutting your nose

If employers are forced to make hard economic choices about hiring or firing due to artificially fixed wages, the low-skilled and vulnerable ones whose battle Labour claims to be fighting would be the first to go. Minimum wage laws do not necessarily guarantee jobs, yet they make it more expensive to hire or retain low-skilled workers that such laws are supposed to protect.

Two, minimum wage may lead to further increases in prices. In 1974, when the government of General Yakubu Gowon accepted the Udoji commission report and nearly doubled salaries across the board, taking primary school teachers from N540 to N1,080, for example, price levels skyrocketed, even before the government implemented the new wages in the public sector! It’s convenient to say it won’t get worse until your maize seller or maiguard hears you’re now on a monthly salary of N494k!

Third, another unintended consequence of minimum wage is that it might reduce job opportunities for young people because employers may be forced to prioritise experience and skills. Also, minimum wage laws could reduce the chances of employment amongst groups, like the physically challenged, for example, who may be perceived to be less productive.

Of course, there is the other side – those who argue that if left alone, the typical employer would squeeze the last productive juice from the worker before any wage adjustments.

Supporters of this position say that the fair thing to do to reduce income inequality, boost economic growth, reduce labour turnover, and promote social mobility, among other things, is to fix wages. Prominent economists Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz belong here.

I don’t. And I have no regrets. Not that I don’t believe that fair is fair. My point is that that is not a lesson the government is competent to teach the market. If an employer – any employer – decides to mistreat its workers, it would only be a matter of time before such an employer would be out of business. In a free market, the skills and talents of the worker will, sooner than later, find better, more rewarding opportunities.

Other options

And who says minimum wage laws are the only way to encourage fairness and social mobility in the workforce? Earned Income Tax Credits (EITC), which target low-to-moderate-income earners or a more transparent variety of the Nigerian equivalent – conditional cash transfers (hopefully with a more reliable database) – is another way. Several African countries, including Kenya, South Africa and Ghana, have modified and adopted this system.

Also, market-indexed wages (here again, Ghana could serve as an example) remove the unending, disruptive cycle of national minimum wage negotiations and strikes. There are other options, including performance-based pay and flexing compensation.

Many workplaces today were built on the expensive brick-and-mortar model, which has become too costly and inefficient. Employers could consider flexible work hours or more remote options to reduce commute and overhead costs and encourage moderate wage compensations.

On whichever side you belong, the consensus among economists is that minimum wage laws increase unemployment among low-skilled workers, a bitter truth that Labour may be unwilling to face.

Of course, it’s not only minimum wage that is bad for jobs. Over-regulation concerning capital, high corporate taxes and levies, poor infrastructure and bureaucratic hurdles to contract enforcement are also bad for jobs, businesses, and workers.

Thatcher way

I don’t like Magaret Thatcher, primarily for her duplicity over apartheid. But she gets full credit in my books for saving Britain from the wild strikes of wild unions that brought the country to its knees.

Of course, it’s also fair to say that, unlike Nigerian governments, Thatcher did not break workers’ eggs to make her omelettes. She was not for the turning in her determination to free the economy from the shackles of unions and in her government’s example of austere living.

Yet today, Britain appears to be losing its competitive business edge. Partly a result of the resurgence of the unions and right-wing rhetoric, it falls among countries which have been worst for income in the last 15 years, with incomes across the board growing by just six per cent since 2009, making it a laughing stock among countries in its league.

Half-full

Nigeria is not listed among countries with the slowest wage growth at least in the last 15 years, a list which includes countries like South Sudan, Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Niger, Malawi and so on. Apart from bureaucracy and corruption, the main challenge for Nigeria has been the tendency, especially among states, the main power blocs, to prioritise rent and politics over creativity and competition.

The strikes and disruptions over wages are not funny at all. In the cauldron of Nigeria’s post-election politics, this may look, smell, and even feel like a continuation of the war by other means. But in the end, we all pay a price. And you know what? The serious world doesn’t care. It is moving on!

** Ishiekwene is Editor-In-Chief of LEADERSHIP and author of the new book Writing for Media and Monetising It.

How to build businesses that last

America is not just the land of red-blooded capitalism. It has an esoteric tradition of capitalist altruism, too. Take Trader Joe’s, an own-label grocery chain like m&s in Britain. It somehow retains a local-community feel, like an indoor farmers’ market with good prices and wonderful staff, despite having 549 stores. Whole Foods Market, a 530-store Mecca for well-heeled health nuts and epicureans, has a similar vibe. Or at least it did until 2017, when it was sold to Amazon for $13.7bn. Its co-founder, John Mackey, has recently published a book full of joie de vivre about his 42 years at its helm. “The Whole Story: Adventures in Love, Life and Capitalism” comes a few years after an even quirkier memoir by the founder of Trader Joe’s, the late Joe Coulombe. They are strikingly different characters who approached retailing in unusual ways. Each offers good lessons in entrepreneurship.

Mr Mackey’s book starts with him as a college dropout having an lsd-fuelled epiphany: “I was IT. And it was me, and I was there. And it was ALL.” Don’t be put off. Whether or not would-be entrepreneurs should drop acid for inspiration, in his case it worked. The Texan’s quest for self-discovery leads to a new philosophy of natural-food retailing that conquers America. Coulombe’s book, “Becoming Trader Joe”, has no New Ageiness, even though his chain started in California in 1967. As a lesson in how to beat the big guys in business, it does exactly what it says on the tin. His first anecdote is about the merits of relabelling Peruvian tuna as pilchards to avoid import quotas and cut prices.

Such contrasts are telling. Though Mr Mackey is a proud capitalist, he seeks to make Whole Foods a “values-based” company that puts the interests of customers, suppliers, staff and the environment alongside those of shareholders. He becomes an advocate for “stakeholderism”, though is refreshingly candid about the difficult trade-offs involved. Coulombe put Trader Joe’s success down to more nuts-and-bolts factors: well-paid employees; cheap, interesting produce; an encyclopedic understanding of retail regulations (and how to get around them). Given the struggles that pepper Mr Mackey’s book, from internal coup attempts and vulture investors to customer boycotts, Trader Joe’s more down-to-earth approach looks, to say the least, less exhausting.

The two firms do share similarities. Both have been celebrated as good places to work while being staunchly anti-union. Coulombe wrote that his core value from the start was high compensation, which he says boosted productivity so much it was worth it. “You can’t afford to have cheap employees.” Mr Mackey says pay was of secondary importance, but that Whole Foods’ sense of mission and community attracted workers. Both founders had a nose for changing customer tastes. In the 1960s Coulombe realised that Americans were becoming better educated and travelling more, which made them keen to explore new tastes. Early items he sold were wine, which offered a guaranteed profit thanks to price controls, and Brie, on which Wisconsin’s cheese lobby had neglected to demand import restrictions. Mr Mackey bet boldly on his hunch that even young Texans would crave healthier foods. Later, after a proselytising lecture he heard on olive oil, he was quick to see the potential in foodies as well as hippies.

Both men, for all their community values, had a shrewd eye for the bottom line. Coulombe’s business epiphany came when he centralised the stores’ buying and delivery activities, slashed the number of items available, put most of them under the Trader Joe’s brand, and sought a gross profit on every one (“No ‘loss leaders’,” he wrote). Whole Foods had a less centralised approach. But it kept tight control of administrative expenses, and reinvested profits in the business. It was a master at making the stores that it acquired quickly profitable, enabling further expansion.

As father figures of their firms, their differences are more obvious. “I’m going to disillusion those dear souls—there seem to be a lot of them out there—who think that Trader Joe’s sprang, fully developed, from my brain, like Athena from the head of Zeus,” Coulombe wrote. He was not one to dwell upon himself. Mr Mackey, in contrast, puts himself and his personal life (including paramours) at the centre of the Whole Foods story. Likewise, they built their companies in different ways. Coulombe said that in order to survive, Trader Joe’s had to be regularly reinvented from the bottom up. Mr Mackey, to begin with, treats Whole Foods as his baby. As it expands, he accepts that it should become more independent of him. But there is not enough reinvention.

Stakeholder in the heart

For all Mr Mackey’s faith in “conscious capitalism”, Whole Foods developed a problem in the wake of the global financial crisis of 2007-09, when its pricey fare earned it the moniker “Whole Paycheque”. It stuck. He admits in the book that the firm’s inability to cut prices, partly because of a fixation on high margins, was a big strategic error. That was never a problem for Trader Joe’s, which still prides itself on offering value for (not much) money.

The fallout for Whole Foods was momentous. First came accusations from regulators in California and New York City that it was overcharging customers on pre-packed food. These led to a fine and a settlement. Then shareholder activists tried to oust Mr Mackey. In response, he sold the company to Amazon, which swiftly cut prices and raised hourly pay. He writes that he regrets the circumstances that led to the sale more than the sale itself. But he gives the impression that Whole Foods quickly lost its individuality. Frustrated, he quit in 2022. Coulombe had regrets, too. In 1979 he sold out to the Albrecht family, co-founders of Aldi, a German discount retailer, though he stayed on as boss for nine years. He died in 2020, wishing he hadn’t sold. Like Mr Mackey, he built his business to last, not for the quick buck.

 

The Economist

In a not-so-surprising development, the federal government has admitted that Nigeria, Africa’s largest oil producer, will be spending up to N5.4 trillion on oil subsidies in 2024. This admission follows months of repeated denials by government officials who had insisted that there were no subsidies.

The revelation came during a presentation by Wale Edun, the Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy, on an Accelerated Stabilisation and Advancement Plan (ASAP). The plan is designed to address key challenges affecting reform initiatives and stimulate development across various sectors of the economy.

“At current rates, expenditure on fuel subsidy is projected to reach ₦5.4 trillion by the end of 2024. This compares unfavorably with ₦3.6 trillion in 2023 and ₦2.0 trillion in 2022,” stated a draft copy of the ASAP presented by Edun.

Previously, the federal government had maintained that it would no longer subsidise fuel costs, opting instead for a deregulation policy.

In April, Heineken Lokpobiri, Minister of State for Petroleum Resources (Oil), asserted, “As far as I’m concerned, the President removed the subsidy and it remains removed till today. Anybody who is saying that subsidy is being paid, it is left for the person to bring the facts and then we will talk about them.”

Approximately four months ago, Mele Kyari, Group Chief Executive Officer of NNPCL, also denied the return of fuel subsidies. “No subsidy whatsoever. We are recovering our full cost from the products that we import. We sell to the market, and we understand why the marketers are unable to import. We hope that they do it very quickly and these are some of the interventions the government is doing. There is no subsidy,” he stated to State House Correspondents after a meeting with the President at Aso Rock Villa.

President Bola Tinubu, during his inauguration on May 29, 2023 declared that the petrol subsidy was “gone”. This latest admission, however, contradicts those earlier declarations.

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), also known as Doctors Without Borders, is facing an overwhelming influx of severely malnourished children at its medical facilities in Northern Nigeria. The global humanitarian organization raised the alarm in a statement on Tuesday, issued by its Field Communication Officer in Nigeria, Abdulkareem Yakubu.

According to the statement, MSF in-patient facilities in Northern Nigeria have recently recorded an "extraordinary increase in admissions of severely malnourished children with life-threatening complications," surpassing last year’s figures by over 100 percent in some locations.

"For the MSF teams, this is an alarming indication of a premature peak of the lean season and the increase in acute malnutrition that accompanies it, typically anticipated in July. We are resorting to treating patients on mattresses on the floor because our facilities are full. Children are dying. If immediate action is not taken, more lives hang in the balance. Everyone needs to step in to save lives and allow the children of Northern Nigeria to grow free from malnutrition and its disastrous long-term, if not fatal, consequences," said MSF’s Country Representative in Nigeria, Simba Tirima.

MSF called for urgent humanitarian assistance, urging Nigerian authorities, international organisations, and donors to take immediate action to diagnose and treat malnourished children and engage in long-term initiatives to address the root causes of the crisis.

"We’ve been warning about the worsening malnutrition crisis for the last two years. 2022 and 2023 were already critical, but an even grimmer picture is unfolding in 2024. We can’t keep repeating these catastrophic scenarios year after year. What will it take to make everyone take notice and act?" Tirima queried in the statement.

In April 2024, MSF reported that its medical team in Maiduguri, Borno State, admitted 1,250 severely malnourished children with complications to its in-patient therapeutic feeding centre, doubling the admissions of April 2023. By the end of May, the centre was urgently scaled up to accommodate 350 patients, far exceeding the 200 beds initially designated for the peak malnutrition season in July and August.

Similarly, the MSF-operated facility in Kafin Madaki hospital, Bauchi State, recorded a 188 percent increase in admissions of severely malnourished children during the first three months of 2024 compared to the same period in 2023. In Zamfara State, in-patient centres in Shinkafi and Zurmi saw a 30 percent increase in admissions in April compared to March, while Talata Mafara’s facility experienced a 20 percent increase. Major cities like Kano and Sokoto also reported alarming surges, with increases of 75 and 100 percent, respectively. The therapeutic feeding centre in Kebbi State documented a rise of over 20 percent in admissions from March to April.

Despite the dire situation, MSF stated that the overall humanitarian response remains inadequate. Other non-profit organizations active in the region are also overwhelmed. In May, the United Nations and Nigerian authorities issued an urgent appeal for $306.4 million to address the nutritional needs in Borno, Adamawa, and Yobe states, but this amount is deemed insufficient for the broader region.

"The catastrophic nutritional situation seen in recent years calls for a bigger response. Reductions in already limited funding for the North-west have dangerously affected the provision of crucial therapeutic and supplementary food. Supplies were completely unavailable in Zamfara for the first four months of this year and are now only available in lower quantities," the statement noted. This reduction has limited treatment to the most severe malnutrition cases, compromising early intervention and increasing the risk of mortality.

MSF warned, "We are alarmed by the reduction in aid at these critical times. Reducing nutritional support to only severely malnourished children is akin to waiting for a child to become gravely ill before providing care. We urge donors and authorities to increase support urgently for both curative and preventive approaches, ensuring that all malnourished children receive the care they desperately need."

Seventy-five percent of the clients at Thornaby’s Sprouts Community Food Charity (SCFC) are now Nigerian students grappling with financial difficulties, charity manager Debbie Fixter revealed. The charity, which offers food, clothes, and household items, has experienced a surge in Nigerian students seeking help.

Fixter told BBC News that the charity has reached its “maximum capacity.” SCFC reported a shift in its clientele in recent months, with the majority of visitors being Nigerian master’s degree students from Teesside University.

Nigerian students in the United Kingdom have recently been making headlines, with some being blocked from continuing their studies and ordered to return to Nigeria due to unpaid tuition fees. The devaluation of the Nigerian currency has reportedly wiped out some students’ savings, forcing them to cut back on essentials.

Fixter noted that an increasing number of Nigerian students in the UK are turning to community charities and organizations for much-needed assistance. “They’re really struggling, they need help, and they’re part of our community,” she said.

Boluwatife Elusakin, a Nigerian student in the UK, told the BBC that he has had to “dive deep” to afford the cost of living and studying in the UK. “Things are no longer the same, I’ve had to cut costs because of the currency crash. It hit my savings as I’d already budgeted funds to come here. It makes me feel sad, but I hope I can endure just one year and all will be well,” he said.

Another student, who wished to remain anonymous, criticized the university for changing its payment plans from seven installments to three, exacerbating the problem. He also pointed out that students hoping to find jobs to fill funding gaps are limited by the number of hours they are legally allowed to work.

“When I was applying, the exchange rate was around 600 naira per pound, but by the time I arrived, it was 1,400. At the time we filled out forms, we had proof of funds to cater for nine months. But the money is not enough; you don’t have a job or the means to get one. The little you have is depleting, and a lot of us are facing difficulties. When you don’t have funds in your pocket, frustration sets in and many are experiencing mental health issues. Some wish they had never come.”

Fixter emphasized that more needs to be done to address the crisis, stating that SCFC is currently at “maximum capacity” and struggling to meet the demand for assistance.

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