Chief Owolabi Salis, a chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), is a United States- based lawyer and chartered accountant. He speaks with journalists on issues of national importance. BOLA BADMUS brings excerpts:
How would you assess President Muhammadu Buhari’s first year in office?
It is difficult to do an assessment because the intention of President Buhari is not being carried out by those who are supposed to be working with him. I know the President has good intentions, I met him in Chicago in 2004 and was able to assess him and to judge how passionate he is about the less-privileged people. To be a good president, one thing you have to learn is how to delegate authority. There are so many things that are salient that I have studied.
The exchange rate has gone up, but somehow, there is some level of stability in pricing. I do a lot of travelling between United States and Nigeria. I was around this time last year. This year when I travelled, it’s like half of the air fare because last year I paid $1600 but this year, it’s about $862. Usually when you are travelling to Nigeria, it is very expensive. I came into Nigeria few days ago and discovered that the price of cement is what it is supposed to be. Something is going on, like curbing corruption which is hidden. I know the president has very strong, good intentions
Critics have said he lacks a vibrant economic policy, do you agree?
It still borders on the people working with him. For me, I have a definition for saying his economic policy has been successful. An economic policy is linked to many factors, jobs, GDP. Except for security, every other thing is involved. Principally, Nigeria’s economic policy is shaped by two major factors – inflation which every country experiences and the exchange rate, but then we are consumer nation, so our exchange rate is linked to the dollar.
Nigeria is shifting towards the Chinese Remimbi which means people’s money. It’s a challenge to the Western world but then, the world is bi-polar. I have been to China, Malaysia, Singapore and many others, and I found that they have different economic systems somehow. On the western side, they have the dollar. Asians have the Remimbi and the eastern Europeans have the Euro.
One thing Buhari needs to do right now is to take advantage of the multitude of Nigerians in the diaspora. I don’t know what the weekly exchange rate purchase is, but it can be funded by Nigerians in the diaspora. How do we do that? You have to open the dollar entry because as far as I know, the Office of Foreign Affairs Control in the US allows banks to move money; so they can open the economy for the dollar to come in. There are a lot of Nigerians in the US and I know Nigerians could do a million transaction; a day because they have to give back to the society. The minimum transaction people want to do is a hundred dollars. Some will do more than that. Before the end of the week, you know what that will mean.
The argument about a dollarised economy by the former Governor of Central Bank, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, now Emir of Kano, is hollow is zero. It made a lot of Nigerian in US to hold back their money and people began to do round-tripping. If the president really wants to keep the exchange rate stable, he must make things open, may be through Western Union to collect dollars, to enable them get it at the right rate. This will make the market to be flooded with all the dollars they probably need and there will be less pressure on the official exchange rate.
Quote me, Nigerians in the Diaspora have a lot of projects that are doing back home. They want to send dollars to their families every week. I was reading a World Bank report that said Nigerians repatriated $24 billion. They could do more if we open in the market. Believe me, it will help Nigeria a lot and help to stabilize the economy. Some of the challenges we have are connected to the exchange rate.
There is ongoing crisis in the Niger-Delta occasioned by the activities of a group, called Niger-Delta Avengers, who have resorted to bombing of oil pipelines, what is your reaction to this?
The president needs to look at that area very carefully because the resource control issue has been a challenge. I went to the Niger-Delta in the past to have a firsthand knowledge, as far back as 1991/92. I was given a job by Schlumberger to do a retirement training for some of their staff. Then I was practising at Fadeyi, Lagos, and there were about four of us. We travelled down to Benin, from Benin we moved down to Warri–Patani. You can see that the whole area was devastated and the roads were terrible. Honestly, I started feeling for the Niger-Delta people.
When I left Nigeria for the US in 1997, I joined the campaign for the Niger-Delta people and eco-democracy. Now, caution needs to be applied because they are not getting resources from their land, not only from the Federal Government, even from their people. We have the NDDC, we have the 13 per cent derivation. We have two things there, but there is a lot of corruption by the leaders. There are warlords who have also come up for selfish reasons.
The Niger Delta Avengers are now saying they are the genuine ones but it requires caution from the people because it could lead to war. The people have access to the international waters and lots of oil is being stolen for arms. Besides, there is international conspiracy. Buhari should look at this theory in the light of the Remimbi issue and dollar issue. The Avengers might have international support.
How would you assess the challenges posed by Fulani herdsmen?
This is something that beats my imagination. It’s in order to feel elated that their son is onboard, but they should not make it look like Buhari is sectional. Everybody in the country wants to make sure their people are not marginalised, which is in order. We heard that some people from outside the country are behind these killings. It may be to embarrass the president.
What I want Mr. President to do is to carry out thorough investigation on it. It’s a very tough thing. I hope it’s not true that the Fulani are just killing people and taking their land. If that be the case, that is not the right thing to do and Mr. President needs to look into it.