YA’U: A Sincere Government Can Fund This Economy

Ya'u---CopyGoing through the manifesto of the APC, there are many very laudable proposal in it. But against the backdrop of dwindling resources, especially oil, how do you expect government to fund this economy?
IT is true that this government is coming at the time there is a drastic fall in revenue from oil. It is also a government that came on a large bank of expectations, meaning that much is expected of it when less revenue is expected to come to it. It is how the government is able to respond to this paradox that will test its sincerity, creativity and commitment to the ideals it campaigned for. While no government can deliver without resources, I think that if the government manages what we have, it can perform credibly.

To do that, it needs to do a number of things simultaneously. First, it needs to cut substantially the cost of governance. More than 70 percent of the budget goes to servicing government at various levels. We need to cut down on this cost by reducing the number of political appointees and slashing the salaries and emoluments of the presidency, legislature, governors and other political appointees. If we do this, there would be huge savings that can go into financing development.

Secondly, we know that less than 30 percent goes to capital budget in actual expenditure. This in itself is not good. Government must reverse this in favour of capital budget. But even the little that gets appropriated for capital projects, more than 90 per cent of it is siphoned into private pockets through corrupt practices and deals. This is the reason why there is no decent infrastructure in every sector of the country; ending corruption will, therefore, release huge resource for the financing development projects.

Add to this the fact that in the last couple of years there has been massive corruption on a scale never known before. Government can get back substantial amounts of these looted funds by launching a bring back our money campaign by diligently investigating and prosecuting all those found to have corruptly enriched themselves. That must be a front banner of the corruption agenda of the regime.

Thirdly, the government needs to diversify the economy. You cannot run a modern economy on the basis of only extractives. There are many things that it can focus on in this direction. For example, it can initiate a massive outsourcing programme. The country has the potential to be the desired destination of global outsourcing and we know that the market in trillions is huge. India’s economy is largely fueled by outsource and software exports. Nigeria can do the same. We can also turn the brain drain through reversal into the foundation of competitive education and health sectors, which will allow us to leverage our endowment and export education and health services, tapping into the framework of the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS).

A third aspect of the diversification is to address our import dependency. We virtually import everything we need from junk food to exotic handsets. If we strategise we can develop a competitive and selective import substitution that will not only create jobs and wealth, but also conserve foreign exchange. Take the importation of rice or fish. We lost billons through just the corrupt grant of waivers for rice importation, not talk of the drain on the actual importation and its negative impact on agriculture in the country. We have the potential to produce both rice and fish that can feed the West African region. A well-focused agricultural programme can serve to stop the hemorrhage of fund, while creating jobs.

The President has been talking to global leaders, of what economic use could they be and at what cost?
Talking to global leaders is good. Countries must trade, and engage one another. No nation can be an island, but we must understand that when developed countries say they want help other countries, it is just a euphemism for seeking ways to protect and promote their interests in the countries they purport to help. The issue is, therefore, not about whether other countries can help us or not, but how we can leverage economic diplomacy to advance our interests. Countries claiming to want to help Nigeria have articulated how their interests can be embedded in such development assistance. It is left for us to deconstruct such and also embed our key interests in the packages.

Does Nigeria need external help, financially?
Development assistance should not been seen just as finance. It can take various forms. For instance, we need all the solidarity, support and cooperation internally to defeat the Boko Haram insurgency, not simply because it is our problem, which it is, but also because it is an international problem. We need to renegotiate the terms of some of our past agreements or commitment. We need access to markets of some countries just as others have access to ours. We need better terms of trade. All these can go in as external help. In this sense, Nigeria does need and should accept external help and development assistance, but we must be careful to unpack all the terms of such development assistance to ensure that at the worse, it is mutually beneficial, and not a one way puzzle. The government must also understand that while development assistance can help, we cannot build our economy on the basis of foreign benevolence. Ultimately, must be the engineers of the source of our economy.

The IMF/World Bank, at one stage or the other, have intervened in Nigeria’s economy. Can we stil turn to them?
The history of the intervention of IMF and World Bank in developing countries is the same everywhere: deceitful impoverishment of the citizens of those countries, enthronement of authoritarianism and de-industrialisation. It is not different in Nigeria. Since the IMF/World Bank assumed the philosopher king and emperor of Nigeria’s economy in the mid-1980s, the economy has continued to regress.

The types of harsh conditionalities that IMF/World Bank have been pushing are only sustainable in countries where the resilience of the citizens has been completely crushed. They are only sustainable to a point in authoritarian regimes. That is why these conditionalities are also mirrored in the history of revolts. They cannot remain uncontested. We should remember that the pro-democracy movement in Nigeria that saw the military outgrew out of the anti-SAP protest. It is the same pattern everywhere and no country has developed on the basis of these prescriptions.

We have seen of recent attempts to implement similar harsh conditionalities in some European countries are being vigorously contested, generating discontent and disorder that have sown the seeds of instability in those countries. The Buhari government must have nothing to do with these. It should remember that it was indeed an IMF coup that saw him out during his military stunt as head of state. We should not tolerate unelected and unrepresentative people sitting in Washington and Paris ramping inhuman prescriptions for impoverished citizens of third countries. An accountable, responsive and responsible regime should not listen to the IMF/World Bank.

As a way of cutting expenditures, there are fresh calls by the IMF and others for complete removal of oil subsidy, would you support the call?
I definitely will not support removal of subsidy if that is supposed to be a euphemism for increasing the price of fuel, which has always been the case In Nigeria. But past governments have always been dishonest with Nigerians. Whenever they talked about subsidy removal, they were looking for cover to hide the terrible corruption that takes place in the oil sector. Government can dismantle this corruption without further pushing citizens to more hardship.

What it needs to do is to refurbish all the refineries and build more and make sure the country ends its dependence on foreign refineries and refine its needs. This can be done. Niger has done it within a few years and today lots of the fuel we consume comes from Niger. There is no reason for subsidy removal apart from giving in to corruption. The government should not waste its time in the chasing the mirage of subsidy removal by engaging in an unproductive debate with its citizens. Instead, it should roll out its drums and make sure that the nation’s refineries are up and doing and build new ones such that the national capacity to refine can expand, not only meet national consumption, but also export refined fuel rather than keep exporting crude.

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