It is Monday morning and the weekly research briefing starts at 8:00am sharp in the Boardroom. The briefing is a snapshot of the Nigerian Economic and Capital Market Update and attendance is compulsory for all Afrinvest staff.
As usual, the macro picture was not cheerful. The briefing provided a recap of some worrying statistics for the Nigerian economy. Debt to GDP continued its five-year upward trajectory from 12.6% in 2014 to 19.1% in 2018. While that ratio might seem reasonable when compared to similar emerging market countries averaging 65.5%, what was more troubling was that the Government’s non-debt recurrent expenditure consumed 75.5% of its actual revenues in 2018. On top of this, borrowing costs has become quite elevated with debt service to revenue now at 60.8%. The rest of the briefing dwelled on the capital markets and reaffirmed continued interest by investors in fixed income securities, given our high interest rate environment. Meanwhile, the equity markets recorded another negative week pushing the Nigerian Stock Exchange All Share Index down 12.1% year to date. All our 13 indices are in the negative save the Afrinvest ICT Index.
On the back of such dismal economic and market news, I scanned the newspapers to see what else had happened over the weekend that I might have missed from my multiple social media handles. Roman Catholic priests had held an unprecedented public protest in Enugu following the killing of yet another priest by alleged Fulani herdsmen, now globally recognized as a terrorist organisation. Several opinion pages continued to debate the rapid Senate screening and passage of the President’s 43 ministerial candidates, more than half of whom were still being investigated by the government’s own anticorruption agency for various crimes of criminal enrichment from public purses. One wonders how President Buhari and his new cabinet is going to rise up to the occasion of stopping the rapid backward drift of Nigeria talk less of finding the willpower to move the country forward. There was a side story about Nigeria spending 10 times more than the UK to maintain its past leaders while the UK government rakes in 37 times more cash than Nigeria, a country where over 90 million out of a population of 191 million live in extreme poverty.
Having had my fill of the negative news, I take a deep breath and refocus my mind on the multiple transaction documents from the investment banking division awaiting my review. We are presently in the middle of developing a securitisations structure for one of our largest clients. After an hour of reviewing investment decks, I go off to meet with the head of asset management to consider the launch of AUSSTINTM, our US dollar linked structured investment note which we plan to sell to foreign investors seeking to benefit from our high domestic interest rate environment. Later in the day, I do my walk around various departments to check on my different teams and generally see how the staff are doing. We have just built a new cafeteria, but they are yet to install a TV in the room.
In the afternoon, I switch hats rapidly from Afrinvest business to (i) the Rhodes Trust where, as the National Secretary for the Rhodes Scholarship for West Africa, I need to plan the interview calendar for November/December 2019 during which time the Selection Committee members needs to select our 2020 Rhodes Scholar; (ii) American University of Nigeria where I head several committees of the Board of Trustees and need to update the Chairman of the BoT and the President on my committees’ findings; (iii) Anambra State Investment Promotion and Protection Agency where as chairman of the Governing Council, I need to speak to the Managing Director about a number of ongoing investment transactions that the State Governor wants to complete timeously,(iv) Fitness Factory, a gym business which I set up with a friend that is fast becoming one of the leading fitness centres in Lagos and (v) Making of Champions, an organization seeking to raise funds for a group of exceptional athletes training to represent Nigerian in international competitions including the Olympic Games. In between all these, I initiate and respond to multiple calls, emails, texts, tweets and WhatsApp messages. Our media team have put out an interestingly uplifting #MondayMotivation post on Instagram and Facebook. I definitely needed the uplift given the absolute mess the country is in.
I get home about 8pm and continue to worry about my country. It is apparent that Nigeria is rapidly under-developing across all indices – health, education, rule of law, institutional capacity, infrastructure, etc. I fear greatly for the future and wonder how the younger generation are holding up in the face of the daily bombardment of negative ethical values and choices. From corruption in high places to Boko Haram terrorists, kidnappers, armed robbers and herdsmen causing mayhem across the country while the security forces look on. From the abject neglect of human capital development indices to the inane policies of a political class who pay themselves the highest salaries and allowances among public servants in the entire world. From the terrible state of road and electricity infrastructure to a government spending billions of dollars subsidizing petrol consumption for the elite. The more I think about this, the more I realize that a child born in Nigeria in the last 20 years can grow up believing that wrong is right and right is wrong and his mind-set would be no different from that of our current crop of political leaders. How, amidst all this moral and ethical decay, can a new crop of leaders be developed, nurtured and sustained to the point where they can begin to make an impact? Can this possibly be done before it is too late?
A lot to think and worry about. I am home and I shift gears, drop Nigeria’s problems and enjoy dinner with my family…
Ike Chioke is the Group Managing Director at Afrinvest West Africa Ltd, a Rhodes Scholar (Nigeria & Wadham 1989), and the National Secretary for West Africa.