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Buhari’s policy is not helping our economy —Hon Yusuf, Chairman, House Committee on Capital Market

Honourable Tajudeen Yusuf, Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Capital Market and other Related Institutions, represents Kabba/Bunu/Ijumu Federal Constituency, Kogi State. In this interview, he speaks on a number of issues in the polity. KOLAWOLE DANIEL brings excerpts:

 

What is happening in your committee?

If you observed, we had a two-day technical-stakeholders’ forum where everybody that matters in the capital market came together to identify their challenges and solutions. If you follow financial reports of recent, you would realise that there have been improvements in the capital market.

There’s no nation anywhere in the world that attained sustainable height of development without a viable capital market. No nation depends on commodities such as oil and gas. You must take money from the capital market for investment and not a platform where it can be misappropriated. It helps corporate governance, it helps monitoring. So, the Nigerian capital market can be said to be under construction and there’s calm in the capital market and we have master plan implementation committee, a 10-year master plan so that men of honour and integrity would drive it.

In recent time, we’ve entered into agreements with Debt Management Office (DMO) and other relevant bodies to be able to issue security bonds. The outcome is that the forum was able to identify that the drive which we had before now was too superficial; it was a reactionary drive. Banks have so much money after recapitalization and so were the ones driving the boom in the capital market. It was pseudo; it was not real and it was not deepened. So what we are having now is re-laying the blocks in perspective and making sure we have a viable capital market. The structures were dwindling and the House committee on capital market has come out with a robust procedure to begin to oversight those who are saddled with the responsibilities of making rules for the capital market. In a few days, we will come out with private bond placement. What is required is to have the confidence of our investors back.

Unfortunately, at the early days of this government, there was a policy somersault. When the government came out with the idea, I don’t know who gave them the advice of no forex transaction for about three, four months. It’s simple! You are not a Nigerian, you invest in Nigeria and you are told no forex transaction. Is your investment secured? The first thing you think of as an investor is not profit. It’s how to get your money back. If you now get profit, fine. So, that became a challenge, but it has been reversed now. But the consequence of a policy somersault of just four months can last more than six years. Go to Apapa Wharf or Tincan Island now, you can drive up to 180km per hour. In those days, you spent four hours to get across, why? Our ports are no longer preferred ports of destination abinitio. Why? Because demurrage starts from the third day here in Nigeria, while in Ghana it is nine days, in Togo, it is 12 days and in Cotonou, it is 10 days. While our charges are high, you now say I can’t transact in forex and so everybody moved to those places.

So as at where we are, portfolio investors constitute the major drivers of our capital market and when that policy was introduced, they all withdrew their money. So what we are doing now is to build their confidence back. It’s a process. However, what we are doing ultimately is for retail investors for you and I to take over the capital market, not portfolio investors any more. Because we don’t have those who have the chunk of money in the market to dictate what happens in our economy. The capital market is growing. There is tremendous improvement, there is better monitoring and there are things put in place to avoid the re-occurrence of what happened between 2008 and 2009.

 

What are the punitive measures put in place to check a re-occurrence?

I’m trying not to delve into some of the issues regarding what the committee is doing on this matter. We will be looking at the issue of private placement. One of the things that obtain in the world, in fact, the American parliament which is one of the democracies that we copy, is seen as one fierce policeman with an eagle eye that can see what goes on at the Wall Street.  This is because naturally, human beings love to circumvent laws. It is the fear of being caught and the consequences that bar people. By His grace, under my watch, we will go into that. For those who took those monies and assume it is eldorado, too bad; we are coming after you.

 

What is the committee doing about unclaimed dividends as SEC had said there would be a time frame after which such funds can be accessed and ploughed back into the market as government bonds?

You are pre-empting the committee again. We intend to go into that to make sure that these monies actually go back to the companies. Two, they are held in trust because they do not belong to the companies; they are people’s money and we want to be sure that they are adequately and efficiently reinvested. Unfortunately, where we became a bit handicapped as a committee was that a lot of these unclaimed dividends were dividends for shares bought within the period of capitalisation. When banks recapitalised, they had excess money, they advertised shares, they would call and give you loan to buy their shares. So, in an attempt to go beyond your capacity because there’s a limit to what you can buy, people now used fictitious names to buy these shares and so the addresses changed over time and even the signatures used in signing the certificates couldn’t be remembered. So the truth of the matter is that a lot of these things cannot be claimed. But going forward, SEC has introduced e-dividends now. So you get it online straight. And there’s a fund now that’s being created to serve, at least, as a form of shock absorber for investors. So if anybody goes to the market now and gets his hand burnt, there’s a fund made available to, at least, make sure you don’t lose your whole investment.

 

What is your take on recent happening in the Ondo State chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)?

It is so very unfortunate that those who benefited immensely from a reasonable plain field leading to an opposition becoming a ruling party are the ones causing problems now. The ruling party at that time made sure opposition was not stifled; they were given a voice and a platform and democracy itself ceases to be democracy when there is no virile opposition. What is happening in Ondo is a desperate attempt by the present government to find through whatever means a foothold in certain areas of the country they assume they might not be in control of in 2019.

Everybody knows that Jimoh Ibrahim was in the ANPP with President Muhammadu Buhari and as at the time he claimed to be in PDP, he was even a card-carrying member of the Accord Party. So how does INEC choose the court it obeys? Don’t forget there were two judgments regarding the Port Harcourt convention and the police choose the one to obey. One thing I know is that when you attempt to deny people a legitimate platform to express their views, you push them into seeking alternative means to do so. And unluckily for us, we as a nation have travelled this road before when we were under the military rule. And now, that is where we seem to be, because we are in a purely police state. So what’s happening in Ondo is nothing other than the federal government through the INEC and Attorney General trying to subvert the process, but by conviction, I know that the people of Ondo are resolute; I’m convinced that those who think subverting PDP will make them win will be disappointed.

 

But the PDP itself is divided; there is the Ahmed Makarfi faction and there’s the Ali-Modu Sheriff faction. How then do you think it is the Federal Government and INEC that are the problems?

I disagree that PDP is divided. There’s somebody somewhere who claims to be in control of certain structures and I say it is purely the presidency that is orchestrating this; there is no doubt about it. After the aborted Port Harcourt convention, the staff of PDP wrote the Inspector General and said, ‘given the happening in Port Harcourt and the insistence by Sheriff that he remained the chairman, give us security to be sure of what is happening’. When the Makarfi’s committee was finally constituted, they wrote back to the police to say, ‘we no longer require their presence in our secretariat’. The police said they wanted to consult with the Attorney General, which is why the PDP national secretariat is still locked till today. I wrote you, give me policemen and I now wrote back to say I want my secretariat, you say there is a faction. Is there a division in the national exco? Sheriff was made chairman of PDP by NEC. He sat over NEC that now called for convention. By the PDP Constitution, when we are at the convention, nobody has powers that supersede that of the convention. If you are elected today, the convention can remove you tomorrow. If you like, be elected for 10 years, if the convention feels you should be removed after one day, you are out. But because there were court injunctions that said there shouldn’t be elections into the offices of chairman, secretary and treasurer, INEC wrote the party and it said, okay, we won’t have an elective convention. INEC was part of what happened in Port Harcourt, just like in Ondo. The primary that produced Tayo Jegede was monitored by INEC. Jimoh Ibrahim went to a hotel in Ibadan and had a caricature meeting. INEC wasn’t there; in fact, by the Electoral Act, can you have an Ondo primary in Ibadan? So there is nothing that gives that power to Sheriff. He can’t address the national caucus meeting; he can’t address the governors’ forum and so who is he chairing over? Yes, there are bound to be cleavages in any organisation, but this man is doing a hatchet job. And if you know him, if you follow his antecedents, you won’t be surprised. But one thing I want to assure you, we are not in any way oblivious of his antics and what have you. Let’s cross Ondo, the masquerade would be unveiled.

 

What is your take on talks about new party alliances, even among leaders of PDP?

Politics is about talks and engagements, thesis, antithesis, and synthesis; it is normal to be certain interaction. But one thing I want to assure you is that there is more commitment on the part of those who know what it takes to have a virile democracy to free Nigeria from the despotic tendency that this government is gradually establishing. As a young boy, I risked my life, travelled round this country, under military rule, to deepen the desire of our people that no matter what, the worst civilian regime is better than the best military regime. I led my local union, I was NANS Secretary General. I sat back and looked at how God has been able to keep me alive. Many of my friends died in the process and all we did was a minute silence for them; they became martyrs. For those who can think deeply, they would realise that we cannot allow ourselves to go back to such tendencies. We must understand that, as at today, there is no better form of governance than democracy where the opinions of the minority is expressed and the majority has its way while the minority goes back and plans how to do it next time.

 

What is your take on the $30billion loan being sought by the government?

I will support such moves. I’m not saying we don’t need loan, because Dubai which was a city of one lane in 1990, loan made it what it is now. But there must be a plan. Where’s our development plan? The loan will not be given to us today. It is going to be given in bits for 14 years, so have we, as a nation, come out with a development plan for let’s say, 10 years? Then, two, that quantum; Nigeria has never taken such before. Imagine where we were with the little we took before and you are now going to take N10trillion. The whole capital for 2016 is N1.2trillion and although they claimed to have implemented 75 per cent of it, I don’t know maybe it’s in the dream; I have not even seen it. What is the capital for 2017 or is the loan going to be a parallel budget? So, one of the first things I think we should have done is to have a development plan. We can now say going through the normal means, we have so and so funds for this. And why would you say you want to take $30billion at a go? What is the incoming government going to do? Can you finish the project in four years? So, I disagree.

And sincerely some of those things mentioned in the loan are already tied to an agreement with China. Some of them were what former President Goodluck Jonathan negotiated with China, which this government went back to China initially, claimed that it went to negotiate a fresh loan but when put on the scale now admitted re-negotiating Jonathan’s agreement with China. The agreement was the Lagos-Kano rail. The Abuja-Kaduna light rail is a sub-section of that project. The Itakpe-Warri rail is another component of it. So it was broken into different sections. But is it that the China agreement is not working again? Where is the new loan coming in? Like I said, I’m not opposed to taking of loan; I’m an economist and, for me, it’s what you do with the loan that matters. Naturally, such loans should reflate the economy. You don’t create wealth by holding back; you create it by spending. The elementary knowledge of how bank makes money is by taking my one naira and giving it to you as loan. That one naira becomes ten naira.

 

The current government has been grappling with the issue of recession for so long. As an economist, what in your opinion are they not doing right?

One thing you must understand is that perception is reality. The first thing this government did wrong is that after they won election and came into power, they forgot that campaign was over. Our leader was still going round like a presidential candidate demarketing Nigeria and they said he was saying the truth. Show me any country in the world where frauds are not perpetrated. I am a Nigerian business man, you are an investor from China and my president comes to say we are a fraud and you had wanted to transact with me? The answer is No!

I mentioned the issue of ill-advice about forex transaction. In 1984, President Buhari, then a military Head of State came in and it was alleged that politicians had stolen money in naira. Naira then was at per with the dollar, so they were stealing in naira. And they came up with an economic policy to change the colour of the naira to stop politicians who had stockpiled naira from spending the money. Because of this, they denied legitimate businessmen because one had to queue as there was a limited amount of money one could change in a day. I was in secondary school then; my mother used to send me to the bank to go and queue. I remember that as a market woman, that affected my mother’s business. He now came in 2015 with the same ancient policy that because people had stolen money in dollars, there should be no forex trading anymore. Those who stole money in dollars keep such money in their houses. Do dollars kept at home complain of idleness? It is those who do legitimate business that you have denied. And what you have done is that, you have shut down manufacturing. The man, who manufactured this table that requires maybe this formica from China, would need to pay three or four months before purchasing is done. Now Nigerians go to Ghana to pay for goods abroad; they go to Ghana to pay school fees. So what you have done is that you’ve denied the bit of in-flow that comes into Nigeria and then reflate the economies of other countries.  So one, he de-marketed us.

Two, there’s so much propaganda going on. You don’t win anti-corruption war by doing media trial. In fact, you know one funny thing about it, it makes criminals have the justification that they are being victimised. And because you are doing media trial, you would have injured or defamed an innocent person. Take for instance, the issue of the PITAD woman. She didn’t steal a dime. You are not aware now but she is now back in Canada and she won’t come back again. But there is this mob approach of let’s pull him down. I’m not a lawyer, but I know that in law, there are rules of proceedings. There are processes that you follow and you don’t have to be seen in everything you do. Stop those stories about corruption in Nigeria. I’m not saying stop the war on corruption, you can fight corruption without making noise. So there is a lot of propaganda. Propaganda doesn’t bring economic solution. It is better to sit down and consciously reflate the economy.

 

What is TSA?

TSA is not to warehouse money. TSA is meant to ensure that all government income comes and resources get to the pool or where it is supposed to get to, so that there is no loophole. But it is not to deny contractor his money for nine months. You now created another cabal in CBN and the Ministry of Finance. Let me give you an example, you are a small business man; you do a job for a government agency maybe as an IT provider. You use your small collateral to take loan and execute the job. You have about 30 staff and you need your payment so that you can pay your staff and they now say because of TSA and then can no longer pay you directly. You now have to pursue your payment for one year. What happens to your business?  That was why the last government relaxed TSA and we claimed it was weakness. Tthese are the kinds of things that show the quality of a man. What makes a man is not the size or the age, but one of the fundamental things that makes you a man is when you are on a journey and you realised that you are going on the wrong route; tell yourself the truth and turn back. So let the government come back and face reality, we’d be out of the doldrums.