Friday, February 20, 2015

THAT PRESIDENTIAL MEDIA CHAT (I)




I watched the media chat of the president, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan on NTA about a week ago and several things ran through my mind.
People who have looked critically at his presidential campaigns have talked about them resembling presidential complaints. Within the first two minutes, the chat began to look like another complaint session on the state of affairs in Nigeria too. He started by telling Nigerians that the world is going through a phase in history that is fraught with challenges and that Nigeria is not alone. What he did not explain was that in other countries, when there is a challenge, the leader leads by example and not by precept (apologies to Government College, Ibadan alumni).
He went on to describe as worrisome the antics of some people in getting the political office they want. He said we should not destroy Nigeria because you need a country to rule over if you want to rule. I guess he was referring to his opponents there and although it is a valid point he raised, he seemed to be oblivious of the irony in it. 
We have criminals of Niger Delta extraction with whom our president freely associates threatening war against the country if their kinsman, the President, loses the election; regardless of how free and fair the election was. Neither the president nor his spokespersons have issued any disclaimer or a denunciation of these words of treason and brigandage. One wonders whether the thugs were carrying out the president’s wish.
As far I could discern, the media chat was supposed to be an opportunity for the president to douse tension and clear the air on the insinuations that he was buying time through the election postponement. Somehow, Dr Jonathan bungled that opportunity.
When the journalists asked him about the election postponement, he said he saw no big deal in it and likened it to a soccer match that can be rescheduled for another day. That was too puerile to come from a sitting president, and it is sad. Elections are not like football matches; one is a sport, the other determines the course of a people’s future; that is why many die in the process. How can someone think that toying with the dates is not a big deal? How can you give reasons that look and sound untenable and hope people will trust or believe you? Allah has commanded the remittance of trust and has made it unlawful for the leader to betray the people’s trust.
Another question the president answered so poorly was that of the six weeks window that the military requested. Ibrahim Sheme of Blueprint Media asked why Dr Jonathan thinks the security agencies could rout Boko Haram in just 6 weeks. As usual, our president started by exonerating himself and distancing himself from the act. He said he was not consulted on the date change and that he was not the Chief of Defence Staff that wrote the security advisory letter to Jega. I find that disingenuous coming from the man to whom the said CDS reports. 
We should not forget that just a week before the postponement, the same security chiefs gave assurances of their readiness for the elections. After that, the NSA, Colonel Sambo Dasuki, began to execute what, in all honesty, was a well-orchestrated plan to stop INEC from conducting the election as scheduled. Dasuki interfaces with the service chiefs and knows what they know. If they gave their word that they were ready, Dasuki also knew they were ready. Suddenly, at the Council of State meeting, all the service chiefs began to sing a new song, led by the choirmaster, the NSA.
At that meeting as widely reported in the media, the service chiefs and the PDP started pushing for a date change. Jega insisted that not only were they substantially ready, they were better prepared than in 2011. After the meeting, Olusegun Mimiko of the PDP let the cat out of the bag as to what Nigerians should expect when he pitched the outcome of the meeting as being that the INEC should reconsider the dates of the elections. Rochas Okorocha of the APC had to correct that impression. However, the orchestrators were not done just yet.
A few days later, the INEC chairman, Attahiru Jega called a meeting of all political parties and gave a press briefing thereafter telling Nigerians that despite their readiness, the service chiefs had written him formally to say they would not be available to provide the needed security for the elections for the next six weeks. He was forced to change the election dates. President Jonathan tried unsuccessfully to explain away the arm-twisting that happened. He said the security chiefs had just received new equipment to fight Boko Haram and that there was tension in the land, which made them write Jega. 
What he could not explain was why the chiefs, who must have placed the order for procuring the equipment earlier, did not know when the equipment would arrive and why they initially said they were ready before eating their own words. Falsehood always gives itself away through inconsistencies and doublespeak. It is just as Allah said in Surah Al-Anbiyaa: 18, “Nay, We hurl the Truth against falsehood, and it knocks out its brain, and behold, falsehood doth perish!”
Nevertheless, if there is something positive coming out of the date change, it is that our security chiefs have suddenly found impetus to regain Nigeria’s lost territories and to fight Shekau and his monsters. President Jonathan said Nigerians would see a change in the fight against Boko Haram now that our neighbouring countries have joined the fight. That is strange news indeed.
Since Shekau started his madness, Niger, Cameroun and Chad have been fighting Boko Haram within their own territories. They have recorded better success than the Nigerian troops in many instances. Last year, Nigerian soldiers fled from Boko Haram into Cameroun where the Gendarmes promptly disarmed them and gave them shelter in a school before repatriating them to Nigeria. Of course, our military spokesperson said the boys did not flee; they were having a ‘tactical manoeuvre’. Indeed! Pray tell how you manoeuvred into another country? Nigerians must come across as extremely stupid to these people, or else they would not tell us such daring lies.
Our president went on to condemn politicians who are instigating young adults to attack him; not exactly mentioning anyone but insinuating that they were from the opposition parties. The problem with that is the fact that since the political parties signed a Peace Accord in Abuja, no one has done more to destroy that pact than the president’s supporters and men. 
Barely two days after the pact, a Rivers State campaign office of the APC was bombed. After this, some angry young men burnt a PDP bus in Kaduna. If not for the prevalence of smart phones with video cameras, people would have assumed that APC members or supporters did the burning. It became known that the burnt bus was because of a disagreement over the sharing of money among PDP youth members.
After that, the president was stoned in Bauchi. It was none other than the PDP governor of the state, Isa Yuguda that told the world on BBC Hausa service that fellow PDP members organised the stoning to embarrass him as host to the president. Following this false flag operation of the President’s men, Musiliu Obanikoro issued a statement condemning the stoning of General Buhari in Lagos.  It was amusing to read that the APC denied any such stoning. The cat was let out of the bag when the ‘boys’ hired to stone Buhari did not deliver. They said the crowd around the general was too large to pull off that kind of stunt. 
Before that, there was the infantile front-page advert by Ayo Fayose of Ekiti State. He barely stopped short of saying Buhari would die soon. That is not just an unintelligent thing to do; it is also a cruel and mean way to play politics. His fellow PDP members have since chided him for it, but not the president, in whose name he took out that advertorial.
Then there was the historical fiction documentary, which was called The Real Buhari. In it, the president’s men went as far as to mock the death of Buhari’s daughter. It was a sharp departure from all known moral values of decency, decorum and circumspection. This is apart from the sheer amount of complete lies, deliberate inaccuracies and half-truths they embedded in the video. Their target was obviously the gullible and the young; those who were not old enough to remember the Buhari years in government or who were not even born at the time.
The APC supporters in Borno have also been as rash and barbaric as other political party supporters. There have been media reports of the wanton destruction of property at a PDP campaign office in the state.
The APC in Rivers State has also been spiteful, refusing to give approval for the use of the stadium for Dr Jonathan’s campaign. The president’s men used the military to force the use of the venue. This is while the First Lady was telling the world that she would prevent APC from campaigning in Okrika, her hometown. It was no ordinary threat, as recent events have shown. 
On Tuesday, 17th February 2015, right before our eyes on television, gunmen attacked the campaign crowd of Dakuku Peterside, the APC governorship candidate in Rivers State. The level to which some of our politicians have sunk is indescribable. It beggars belief. 
When the panel of journalists asked the president whether he has confidence in Jega and whether he has plans to remove him from office as Nigerians have been speculating, his answer embarrassed me as a Nigerian. He said he wished it were a ‘twin interview’ with Jega beside him so that Professor Jega could answer the question himself. I did not know what to think when he said that. You are asked about the state of your mind regarding another person and your answer is to wish that the person would answer the question. I have filed a piece of information in my head since that poor performance; never take it for granted that a PhD is the same as a sharp mind. 
At last, he said he did not tell anyone he wanted to remove Jega and that he would have removed him if he found him wanting in his duties. I am not going to comment on the illusion under which the president stated that he could remove Jega if he wanted to. Let us examine the facts on Jega’s purported removal. 
The president’s political father, Edwin Clark, has repeatedly called for the removal of the INEC Chairman. If the president insists that Clark was on his own and a mere political appendage, what does he have to say about his own Presidential Campaign spokesperson, Femi Fani-Kayode? He has held several press conferences to allege that Jega was unfit to run the INEC and that he is biased and should be removed. 
Unless the president is telling us that he is not in charge of anything happening in his name or around him, he must have seen, heard, or read those comments. He has neither refuted nor condemned them. It smacks of a man who prefers others to do his dirty jobs for him while appearing to be aloof and above it all.
It is galling to hear the president say that he does not know 80 per cent of those issuing statements in his name and disparaging his opponents when the evidence shows they are his men. The responsible thing to do would have been to issue disclaimers and refute what he does not approve of. Silence while atrocities are committed in your name means consent, Mr President.



Thursday, February 12, 2015

EMIRATES TOP HAJJ / UMRAH AGENTS AWARD




For the  2014 / 2015 award of Top Hajj / Umrah Agents, Emirates chose 10 best companies from the industry in Nigeria. These are: Dan-Bare and Al-Halal Travel and Tours, from Kano; Allstates, Batijay, and Comerel Travels and Tours, from Abuja.

From Lagos there were the remaining five companies - Ajoke, Alhujjaaj, Libra Gold, Hajj Mabrur and Tafsan Travels and Tours.

The chief executive officers of these companies were invited by Emirates to come to Dubai for the award, and a meeting with Mr Adil Al Ghaith, Senior Vice President of Emirates. In this kind of invitation by one of the best airlines in the world, I do not need to mention that all expenses, from tickets to boarding and lodging were borne by Emirates. The Abuja / Kano contingent actually travelled on first class for the outbound trip, and business class for the inbound.



It was interesting to see managing directors of these companies being treated as mere passengers at the check in counter of Emirates on Wednesday 4th February, 2015, the day of their departure to Dubai. These are CEOs who have made their mark in organising hundreds of passengers to all destinations around the world, and pilgrims to the holy land. But there we were at the airport with Emirates ground staff under the supervision of Mr Eghe Ekhator, the Sales Manager for Abuja who was also travelling with us, handling our departure arrangement.

There were two arrivals into Dubai on 5th February, 2015, as the Abuja / Kano group landed earlier onboard EK 786 at 05:50 hrs, while EK 782 touched ground with the Lagos contingent at 07:40 hrs local time. 



Meet and Assist was handled on behalf of Emirates by Arabian Adventures, The Destination Management Company, and which later transferred us to Le Meridien Dubai Airport Hotel. The efficient way in which Arabian Adventures conducted this assignment brought to mind what some of us do on our packages in receiving our passengers and VIP pilgrims. As we disembarked from the aircraft, Arabian Adventures staffers were at the main entrance of the Arrival Hall with placards on which our names were boldly written. At every point, from Passport Control, Luggage Claim, and airport shuttle, special arrangements were in place for easy passage and avoidance of hassles for this group of Nigerian CEOs.



At the hotel we were given few hours to refresh, have breakfast  and get ready for transfer to the Emirates Group Headquarters (EGHQ) for a meeting with the Senior Vice President by 11:00am.




When we arrived the EGHQ the open courtyard was crowded with staff from all departments, including the top management, attending a ceremony christened The Najm Chairman’s Awards, Emirates ‘most prestigious honour, awarded only to those who have far surpassed what might be expected of them. From saving lives and showing extraordinary compassion to pioneering innovation and saving millions of dirhams…’  This was another lesson for the visiting CEOs from Nigeria.



The whole place was decorated with gorgeous flowers and a cocktail of Western cum Arabian designs in diverse hues. There were huge loudspeakers, super-sized flatscreen televisions fixed in all angles, sophisticated studio-video cameras, and even though the event was staged in open space, in the afternoon, nevertheless, there were, for additional illumination, lighting devices that I have never seen in my life. The entire courtyard was transformed into a quasi-outdoor studio - every word spoken, every image present was clear, and not obscured in any way. 

To present the award, the name of the winner is called, his picture, and/or video clip is shown, and a citation of what informed his choice is read. The awardee then comes forward to receive the Emirates Najm Chairman’s Award amidst thunderous cheers and applause from the audience.

Our meeting started immediately after the awards ceremony in the meeting room on the ninth (executive) floor. Mr Manoj Nair, Regional Manager, West Africa introduced members from the Emirates side. They were Adil Al Ghaith, Senior Vice President, Mohammad Al Hashimi, Vice President (Commercial), Jaber Mohamed, Manager Greece & Albania, Karthik Viswanathan, Key Accountants Development Manager Global Sales, and Roy John, Tours Sales Manager.



On the Nigerian side of the table were Eghe Ekhator, Sales Manager, Emirates Abuja, Mohammed Kabir Maiwada, MD, Al Halal Travels, Yahaya Suleiman Nasidi, CEO, Danbare Travels, Abubakr Siddeeq Muhammad, CEO, Comerel Travels, Saleh Kareem Rabo, MD, Allstates Travel, and Tijjani Uba Waru, CEO, Batijay Travels.



Others were Abdullateef Kola Olawunmi, MD, Tafsan Tours, Zhikraha Folake Aduke Akanbi, CEO, Libragold Travels, Isiaka Adegoke Adedeji, CEO, Ajoke Travels, Lukmon Olajobi Sanusi, MD, Alhujaaj Travels, and Zulkifil Babatunde Adewunmi, MD, Hajj Mabrur Ventures.


The introductions over, Hafiz Azim, Regional Manager, Commercial Operations for Northern and West Africa, informed the gathering that Emirates Group Headquarters connects to the railway station and even the airport. The crew and staff hardly use their cars to the office. They just go to the nearest rail station, park their cars and take the next available train to the office, and do the same thing at close of work. The vastness and nature of activities that go on around the first floor of EGHQ, according to Hafiz, is larger and greater than what obtains in many airports around the world. 



In his welcome remarks, Adil Al Ghaith, Emirates Senior Vice president expressed gratitude for the support that the Nigerian contingent has given to Emirates in its Umrah and Hajj operations. He assured the meeting that Emirates was there to listen to our ‘concern on Ramadan and Hajj flights, and come up with ways to improve mutual benefit in future engagements.’

There was a short powerpoint presentation by Mr Manoj Nair on the operations of Emirates in Nigeria at they relate to the number of pilgrims in line with visas issued by the Saudi Arabian Embassy according to the quota allocated to Nigeria by the Saudi authorities.

The visiting CEOs from Nigeria, and recipients of the Emirates awards, raised the following concerns at the meeting: 

  • Making the list of 10 best Nigerian companies in Umrah and Hajj in this Emirates Awards was due to our dealings with the airlines through the seats that our pilgrims buy. It is sad to note that Emirates benefits more in this business relationship by making us sign stringent conditions for securing group bookings. We deposit non-refundable fees, commit ourselves to unrealistic terms, and at end of the day, where the seats are not sold, Emirates gains at the expense of our loss. Oftentimes these unsold group seats are filled by Emirates before departure of the flights, but still, we get no refund. If we are indeed partners with Emirates in this venture, there should be flexibility in the issue of securing group bookings, return of unsold seats and refund of money deposited.
  • Although Emirates is the preferred airline of all of us, and there is no point of comparison with other competitors, the airline is impeding our business by late release of group seats in both Umrah and Hajj operations. Also there is a lack of any significant difference in fare between low and high seasons, and the unnecessary splitting of a group of say 100 pilgrims to travel on different dates. This split means little to Emirates but much to us because we have to provide a leader for each group, which increases our overhead. 
  • Uncertainty in pricing is making us loose credibility in the eyes of our clients who buy Emirates tickets from us. The main issue is the parity of rates between what you are given now on the booking system and what the actual rate will be when you issue the ticket. Why are tickets sometimes cheaper on the system than what Emirates gives us for group rates?
  • Emirates should address the problem of block booking of business class in the high season of the holy pilgrimages.
  • The rigidity in Emirates is making some passengers ‘taste’ other products by competitors in the industry. Issues like insisting on one piece of check in luggage at a time when other airlines allow two pieces of 23 kg each even to economy passengers is repelling people from Emirates.
  • Why is Emirates not in Kano? We worked hard in advertising Emirates only to be disappointed at the last minute that the flight is restricted to Abuja. Emirates is making a big mistake by not flying from Kano. Most of the people you see in Lagos, and later Abuja are actually from the Kano catchment areas and even the Niger Republic.
  • Now, since Emirates is not flying from Kano, we request that you give us chartered flights direct to Madinah during the Ramadan and Hajj seasons. 



We got the following responses from Emirates representatives at the meeting:

  • We are trying to be as flexible as possible, but even at that, last minute cancellation leaves virtually no room for Emirates to do anything. 100% refund cannot be guaranteed, but you as agents should be able to make your passengers be responsible for last minute cancellations. We agree with you that there should be flexibility in terms of certain conditions entered into. 
  • The parity in low and high season rates was an error, call it a one-time error, and it is rectified. But the difference in rates during high season is due to demand and supply. People travelling late, as close to the time of actual pilgrimage as possible and wanting to leave as early as possible. So, if you want to leave early you should pay more, because Emirates finds it hard to get slots for extra flights. Such demand is not from Nigeria alone; Emirates entertains requests from all over the world.
  • Splitting groups at times is due to operational impediments. But honestly, it  is cheaper for Emirates to take you all at once. This is one area that quota and landing slots in Saudi Arabia affects everybody.
  • Emirates is pleasantly surprised with the success of Abuja; it was far above our expectations. More flights should not be out of place; the route is a huge success story. We are not ready for Kano yet, but we shall be in Kano. Not all our requirements have been met or fulfilled from the officials in Kano. Of course Kano is a market under our radar. The fact that we have a full fledged office in Kano is an indication of our commitment and seriousness. Kano was stopped for operational reasons, that is all.
  • Charter from Kano will depend on the time we get slots, but we will look into this, not just raising your expectation, for that is why you are here, to present your concern directly to Emirates.









As a businessman and as one who is a keen observer of management practices, I commend Emirates. I am not writing because my company was chosen for the award. I am writing to highlight how it should be when a company gets it right. Emirates showed foresight and vision by taking charge of the market through a quick appraisal of the market leaders and a rapid familiarisation with the problems they face. They are poised to adjust and deliver better service.

They have shown that they can listen and they have demonstrated that the maxim that you spend money to make more money is true. They went to  considerable lengths to get the CEOs’ attention and input and they did. Kudos to Emirates, I have learnt another management lesson.