FORMER president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, has proffered solution to the present economic problems of the country, advising the Federal Government to spend less, earn more and borrow money to salvage the country.
Obasanjo, in his remarks at a two-day conference of the National Council on Finance and Economic Development, in collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Finance, hosted by the Ogun State goverrnment, at the Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library (OOPL), Abeokuta, on Tuesday, noted that the country needed to lend money from its allies in reasonable terms.
The theme of the conference is “Enhancing Revenue Generation and Obtaining Best Value for Money in Expenditure.”
The conference was attended by the host governor, Senator Ibikunle Amosun; his counterpart from Gombe, Alhaji Ibrahim Dankwabo; ministers of Finance and Mines and Steel Development, Mrs Kemi Adeosun and Dr Kayode Fayemi, respectively, Senate Committee chairman on Finance, Senator John Eno; Chairman, Federal Internal Revenue Service (FIRS), Mr Babatunde Folwer and the Controller General of the Nigeria Customs Service, Colonel Hameed Ali (retd).
Others in attendance were commissioners of finance from states of the federation, chairmen of states Internal Revenue Service and delegates drawn from the private and public sectors.
The two-term president maintained that for the country to overcome the recession period, government must focus on massive agricultural production and stop importation of goods that could be produced locally.
“If you are spending more than you are earning, there are only three solutions. One, you spend less; two, you earn more; three, you borrow in the hope that you would pay back.
“For us, we have to do the three as quickly as possible. We must borrow, otherwise, we will just be deceiving ourselves. As quickly as possible, we must go to people who will give us that money, on reasonable terms. And there are friends with whom we can do that. With all due respect, if we want to do that with the World Bank…; if we want to do it with IMF…; I don’t say don’t go to them. We must go to them.
“When I was in government, I said to all my collaborators ‘never must you say no to World Bank and IMF, but never must you do their bidding. If you say no to them, they will rub your face on the floor. They will make sure that that happens to you. And if you do their bidding, you will fail and when you have failed, they would say it’s because you didn’t do it the way they had wanted you to do it.
“Borrowing may be the quickest and the good thing also is that, out there, there is money. I know that. Now, people will not part with their money unless they are sure that you are doing what is right for you to get yourself out of the hole that you find yourself. If they find that you are digging yourself more in the hole, they won’t allow you to have access to their money. So, money is out there; it’s how to access it for us and to get ourselves quickly out of recession that is important.
“The issue of earning more; we are not in control of the price of oil. We can only pray that those who are in control will do what is right, so that the price will continue to go up. But what we are in control of is not what we can get overnight.
“We are in control of agicultural production, it takes time. Not only does it take time, it also takes the right policy. If we give out in one hand and we take back in another, then we are not going to get there. If we continue to allow things to come in to be dumped here and you say go on producing, and what we are producing we cannot sell because of what is dumped here, then it is not right. Also, what should we be importing? More than 30 years ago, in 1977, we banned importation of toothpick. And I ‘ll tell you of how it came about.
“We had something like this at that time and they said we are importing food items in billions. I said let me have the list of the food items that we are importing and they listed the food items. One of them is toothpick. Two and half million dollars of toothpick we were importing at that time. So, I then said, toothpick in my village, we use. This is what we are now importing with $2.5 million? I didn’t stop there. I just said look, for establishing a toothpick industry at that time, you needed a machine of $25,000. We banned importation of toothpick.
“Some four years ago, we lifted the ban on the importation of toothpick. And this is a true story and I was shocked. I went to my boss. I said sir, toothpick that we banned many years ago. In fact, when you go to my farm in Ota, by the gate, there was a man who was producing toothpick. He was also producing chop stick which he was exporting. I said how come we now have to unban toothpick? Well, the rest is history. The answer is I did not read before I approved. The rest is history.”
He warned, however, that no such nation would part with its funds without observing that we are taking practical steps to come out of recession.
The former president threw his weight behind the call for the sale of national assets to raise money, while identifying that part of assets of the Nigeria Port Authority (NPA) and the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) could be partly sell to generate fund.
“I do not see why 49 per cent of NNPC cannot be privatised. I think the problem is in the coinage ‘selling of asset’ as if we want to throw out our inheritance. What we are actually doing by that is simply re-organising.
“It should, however, be done transparently and let it actually go public and not to cabals, relations and friends. This is always the fear of Nigerians when issues like this arise.
“Look, NNPC was run as personal thing. Even, the Central Bank was also run that way, they write notes to the Central Bank to release so much. We cannot have country run that way. I said it this morning, two institutions that were not tampered badly or not tampered with at all in the last six years was NLNG, the second one was Pension Commission, which is going to about N6 trillion and had captured only seven million people out of over 20 million wage earners, if we can even double that, you imagine what that can be.
“I see no reason why NNPC cannot be privatised, don’t give it out to cabals, friends, relations, kiths and kins, let it go public, so that even my driver can buy 10 per cent of NNPC and there should be limit to the share any individual or any cooperate organisation can buy, there is nothing wrong in that. The NNPC will then be run as NLNG was run,” he said.
Adeosun, in her welcome address, insisted that under-performance of the economy would no longer be tolerated, saying that the Federal Government had, till date, invested over N700 billion to stimulate growth in the economy.
“We are working on an economic model that will change Nigeria from being consumption-focused to investment-focused,” she said.