“Henry Boyo was the one we read to get a lay man’s interpretation of economic policies”
– Khaleb Ogbonna
Sometime in December 2011, I was mandated by PUNCH editorial leadership to reach out to a certain columnist with a poetic pseudonym, Les Leba, and get him to write a weekly column on economic and financial matters for the newspaper. The column he wrote was aptly named, Rational Perspectives, devoted to dissecting and analysing the Nigerian economy with a self-imposed task for advocacy on “saving the naira”.
The proposed weekly column on the back page of The PUNCH, I was further asked to tell him, would entail unravelling the writer’s identity by revealing his real name and showing his face to our teeming readers in line with our editorial policy for the (back) page. Unknown to me and many Nigerians, the face behind the pen name was a popular analyst on the Nigerian economy and financial matters on national TV named Henry Boyo!
When I eventually contacted him via telephone on December 20, 2011, Boyo, who studied Economics at the University of London between 1971 and 1974, told me that unveiling his identity was a tough call. He preferred to remain “Les Leba” to the reading public. Eventually, in communicating his acceptance to write the column, dedicated primarily to economic analysis with emphasis on X-raying, in particular, the Central Bank of Nigeria’s monetary and fiscal policies and their impact on the welfare of Nigerians, Boyo, via an email he wrote to me the next day, expressed his gladness “to make regular contributions to your paper”. Sounding like a crusader is wont, he maintained that there was a nexus between “saving the naira and saving Nigerians from poverty” and that the latter’s attainment depended solely on the former. He was unequivocal in his belief that, “…the accommodation of my advocacy is the fundamental requirement for the turnaround of the economy. This might sound arrogant, but I don’t intend it to be so!”
Thus, Boyo set out what appeared to be the Holy Grail of his column: to defend the naira, and save Nigerians from what he perceived as the “failed” monetary authorities’ bizarre handling of the foreign exchange regime. A few years later, the Rational Perspectives, column was renamed, Economic Renaissance, when its day of publication was subsequently changed from Friday to Monday.
From the first draft of the column sent on December 21, 2011, Boyo’s ideological and philosophical standpoint on touchy national economic issues, especially the seemingly endless fuel subsidy conundrum, was not lost to the reader. He approximated a capitalist crusader moulded in the image of a humane and welfarist Marxist. In the pioneer article entitled, “The bogey of fuel subsidy”, Boyo insisted, in response to a self-imposed poser asking if there was any relationship between fuel subsidy and the naira exchange rate: “In reality, there will be no need for fuel subsidy if the CBN adopts a naira and people-friendly framework for infusing dollar component of monthly allocations into the economy.” This point he explained seamlessly in a question and answer format, which became the trademark of his writing style.
Tracing the origin of fuel subsidy in Nigeria, Boyo said, “If we cast our minds back, we will recognise that the bogey of fuel subsidy evolved from the dastardly blows to the naira and welfare of Nigerians by Gen. Ibrahim Babangida’s reckless devaluation of the naira in consonance with the IMF’s prescribed Structural Adjustment Programme in the late 1980s.”
He argued: “The reason for this inverse relationship between the naira value and fuel price is obvious: fuel prices, like most commodity prices, are denominated in dollars. Thus, if, for example, the international ex-refinery price of petrol is about 50 U.S. cents, then, our domestic price will be N75/litre (@ N150=$1) plus shipping/transport and clearing charges, plus reasonable profit margin for the importer.”
Arguably, that was the first time a newspaper columnist, not drawn from the Ivory Tower, could sound so magisterial and professorial. But, his was a ground-breaking, even though unpopular, intellectual adventure as he saw in the payment of dollar earnings to subnational units the silver bullet to Nigeria’s economic woes.
If his strident advocacy on the issue was revolutionary, his subsequent conclusion, read lamentation, was unmistakable: “…the naira value vis-à-vis the dollar is a significant determinant of the local price of fuel. Unfortunately, neither the media nor labour unions, nor indeed, government seems to recognise this reality! Consequently, Nigerians are misled into searching for solutions to fuel subsidy removal everywhere else but this one!”
This was how Boyo announced his arrival. And it became the central theme of his engaging weekly interventions on this page for eight years, until last Monday, leading to his winning, in 2013, the DAME award for Columnist of the Year and emerging the First Runner-up in the Informed Commentary category of the Nigerian Media Merit Award in 2017. To his credit, Boyo held on tenaciously to his convictions till his last day on earth, on Monday, November 18, as evidenced in the title of his column that day, Govs’ demand for dollar payments: The way forward, a follow-up to his earlier piece, Forex accruals: Finally, state govs remove their blinkers.
Boyo’s writings were as critical as they were prescriptive. In his column on September 30, 2019, entitled, Nigerian bank customers as beasts of burdens, which discussed “sporadic deductions from bank deposits”, Boyo wondered why “the CBN, as the prime regulator of the banking sector, has kept aloof and remained mute to the cries of tens of millions of bank customers for justice.” In the article, $26bn Diaspora remittances: Where are the dollars? (The PUNCH, September 9), he maintained that “the official strategy of deliberately sequestering Diaspora dollar inflow in overseas accounts, instead of the local forex market, is patently misguided and seriously injurious to our economy.”
Boyo, endowed with profound intellectual fecundity, was one analyst who spoke his mind. As a senior financial journalist enthused, “Boyo was never afraid to speak his truth…always saw another perspective to economic issues.” For instance, in a two-part essay in July, he likened the five-year plan of the CBN to “chasing shadows with a charmed audience!” At another time, he queried what became of the $7bn loan given to 14 banks by the CBN under Chukwuma Soludo and wondered if it was a “dash”! (See, The PUNCH, February 11, 2019). Reacting to the 2020 budget presented to the National Assembly by the President, in an interview in The Sun in October, he declared that, “It would be foolhardy to expect any meaningful impact” from the budget.
Aside from economic matters, Boyo leant his uncompromising voice to social issues like commending the Air Peace boss, Allen Onyema, for providing aircraft to evacuate distressed Nigerian victims of the xenophobic attacks in South Africa, free of charge, (See, Onyema, Nigeria’s pride and apostle of peace, September 23, 2019); or condemning the government for its perceived indifference to the continued abduction by Boko Haram of Leah Sharibu, whom he likened to MKO Abiola because of her “unflinching adherence to her faith”. (See, Like MKO Abiola, like Leah Sharibu, June 10, 2019). I am aware that Boyo was so concerned about the plight of Leah that he toyed with the idea of spearheading a fundraising for her family’s upkeep with a seed offering.
Boyo, a Fellow of the Nigeria Institute of Management, Chairman, Economic Policy & Intelligence Committee and Treasurer, Manufacturers Association of Nigeria, Ikeja branch, among other accomplishments, embodied the distinctive values of PUNCH through his fearless advocacy for the downtrodden and the weak, relentless but constructive criticisms against regulatory failure and institutional missteps. Nonetheless, he had a firm belief that “e go better”, an expression of his deep Christian faith and background.
In his death last Monday, at the age of 72, a voice for the poor has been stilled and a bulwark against corruption, policy instability and value disorientation has been forever sidelined. Never to holler again on the back page of The PUNCH every Monday. Surely, Boyo will be sorely missed by his numerous readers, The PUNCH and Nigerians at large.
Adieu, The Crusader!