What I will do differently to address Nigeria’s socio-economic crisis —Atiku

In this interview during the 26th Lagos Business School (LBS) Alumni conference held in Lagos, monitored by IMOLEAYO OYEDEYI, former vice-president and presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP, Atiku Abubakar, addresses some of the peculiar challenges plaguing Nigeria and how his government, if elected, will deliver the needed reforms and changes.

Many Nigerians believe that the federal government is trying to do too much in terms of what it is covering. Some have even been saying that in order to move Nigeria to the desired level, we have to work with the state and local governments. In view of this, looking at the Exclusive List, which of the duties therein do you think should be moved to the Concurrent List and Residual list?

Thank you very much, there is actually no time for protocol, because this is a business school. But before I answer your question, I will like to tell a short story. When the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was elected in 1999, we really did not have a policy document. We didn’t have a plan, but we met a country that was heavily indebted and was having a crisis among its various component parts. I went to the annual World Bank/ IMF conference in Washington. When I got there, I told them that listen, we have a problem of mounting debt in Nigeria and we owe so much that we don’t know why we are owing, who we are owing and for what reason. In order, we did not have any records in the Ministry of Finance and the World Bank official said look, we have a brilliant Nigerian in this bank. And I was introduced to the Nigerian former Minister of Finance, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. I came back and told the president and we invited her to join us. From there, we had to realize that we have to set up what we call a Debt Management Office. We sat down together and drafted the law establishing the office. We then ask: who will be the chairman of the DMO and they said the Vice President. And for the deputy chairman, they said the Minister of Finance.

To cut the long story short, we got the National Assembly to approve that law and that is why today, the chairman of the DMO is the Vice-President, while the Minister of Finance is the Vice-Chairman. Then, I also realized that we did not even have an economic blueprint and, together, I invited some friends like the former Managing Director of Guaranty Trust Bank (GTB), Fola Adeola. And we then sat down to set up an economic advisory committee. And we appointed Professor Anya O. Anya as the chairman of the committee.

The team, including myself, put up a report and I took it to the president. And when he looked at it, he asked me how we can implement the report and I said, Sir, we are politicians, but the team members are technocrats, let’s invite them, provide the political leadership and then ask them to implement it. But the president said he would have to interview every one of the team members and I said no problem, I can invite them and I did. I started with Professor Anya. He said he didn’t want to hold any government appointment and that we should take him out of it. I asked Fola, how about you and he said I will work with you, but I will not work with your boss.

Then I called Bode Argusto and he said yes. I told him I want the president to interview you. I then took him to the president and he told him, Bode, I want you to be our Director of Budget. And Bode told the president that, but first of all, you can’t pay me as I am earning more than what you are earning. So, I will take the job, but I will not take your salary. And I want you to make a commitment to implement one thing. The president said, what? Bode said I want you to promise that you will provide electricity to everybody in this country and the president raised his hand and said, “I promise you. I will fix NEPA.” So Bode came on board and became our Director of Budget. And that was how we went about head-hunting for people we believe will help us in this country and they actually helped us run the country, such that we achieved the success we accomplished during our time. And all of them were members of the private sector. So let me use this opportunity to pay tributes to the private sector for contributing so much to the success we achieved during our years in government. But for the team that I put together, we would not have achieved what we achieved. So thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to give you this brief history.

You asked a constitutional question and I have been advocating the devolution of powers in this country, because I believe that if this country is to continue to remain one country, we have to review our constitution, because it is a product of the military. So I want to say very clearly here that I support the review of our constitutional arrangements to devote more powers and resources to the constituent parts of the country. I am a believer in small government. Too much government in my life is unacceptable to me. And if you look at our economic indices, you will find out that it is the private sector that is driving the economy. But it is the responsibility of the National Assembly to decide what should be the duties of the states and federal government. So, I cannot sit down here and tell you that ABCD items should go to the states and EFG should go to the local governments. It is going to be a subject of negotiations among the various component parts of the country. But all I can assure you is that as President Atiku Abubakar, I will make sure that the constitutional issue is resolved. The specifics you are looking for in your question cannot be answered, because they are constitutional matters. I hope I have done a little bit of justice to your question.

 

Secondly, sir, many people believe that the cost of governance in Nigeria is too high and you are also aware that we have the Oronsaye’s report that recommends the downsizing of government. So how will you reduce the cost of governance and will you implement the Oronsaye’s report and when, will it be in your first or second year?

Again, I would like to draw your attention to the fact that it was our administration that set up the Oronsaye’s committee. I personally believe in small government. When the Republican Party came from the United States to visit me and I told them the kind of government I want, one of them said that you will be more republican than we are. And I said I believe there is too much government in our lives. And that I prefer a small effective government that will provide leadership and guidelines for the component parts of the country. So, first and foremost, I want you to give kudos to the PDP for setting up the Oronsaye’s committee. And fortunately the government White Paper that came out after the PDP left office didn’t conform to the contents of Oronsaye’s report. And this is understandable, because it is the top civil servants that normally draft the government’s White Paper. So, they will definitely protect the interest of the large government bureaucracy. So, I believe the Oronsaye’s report is a good one, but the White Paper issued in response to it didn’t conform to it in any way. If I have the opportunity, I will review the White Paper, so that its recommendation can be in conformity with the principles that set up the Oronsaye’s report. It is not that I want to render people jobless or anything, but I believe there should be a rationalization of the federal bureaucracy, which makes sense and reduces cost on the public treasury.

 

What is your plan to address the pervasive insecurity that we have in Nigeria and what are your views on the need for state police?

Again, we cannot go outside the constitution. I believe in a state police, but it will still be a subject of negotiations between the National Assembly and the state assemblies. What powers do we give to the state police? We must remember how politicians misuse powers given to them. So the question is: how do we ensure that when we have state police, the politicians at the state level will not use them against our people? Just last week, you remember how we were attacked in Borno State. Can you assume what they would do if they had the state police? So it is up to the national and state assemblies to come up with a formulae. What type of state police can we have? I have argued that in the United States, you have about four or five levels of state police. And they all act within the law. But we don’t have that kind of guarantee here. So, we will have to find a way on how to regulate the activities of state police and the federal police, whom the federal officers sometimes misuse. It is a double-edged sword, but we have to do it to ensure our peace and security.

Of course, other than that, Egypt has a population of 38million, and with about three million police. But Nigeria has a population of 200million, yet we have less than 250,000 policemen on the streets. How can they police this country effectively? So clearly we have a shortage of manpower as far as the federal police is concerned. So we believe that a shared responsibility between the federal and the state will first of all increase the number of policemen all over the country and secondly, with better training and equipment, most importantly if we can deal with the high rate of unemployment and tackle the issue of education. For instance, the guys that attacked us in Maiduguri, I watched them. I am very sure those guys couldn’t have been educated. I am very sure that those guys had been first of all been used by Boko Haram and when they found a way to get a house, politicians are now using them to carry out all kinds of nefarious activities. I watched the guys so closely and just knew that they couldn’t have been in school, because I saw them hurling stones at us and shooting. Only yesterday, we lost one of our people that were attacked and we still have about 70 others in the hospital. So they couldn’t have been school children as many schools have remained closed for several months in many parts of the country, particularly in the Northern part of the country. So, again, Oronsaye’s report will be reviewed and implemented. It was our baby and if you elect us, we will complete the job.

 

Sir, with what happened in Borno State, you will agree that since 1999, we have had so many economic reforms, yet we are where we are. And they said the inflation rate might be up to 20 per cent soon. You know the unemployment rate. As of 2014, we were told that about 60 million Nigerians were working, but by 2019, it has reduced to 40 million. So with the various economic problems on ground, if you are elected next year, what are the various economic reforms that we should expect from you, when they will be implemented and how they will make a significant difference from what we are seeing now.

The economic reforms we implemented during the PDP reign produced very good results. That is why if you look at our rate of unemployment, inflation, debt rate, foreign reserves and others cannot be compared with what has been happening in the last seven years. So our economic reforms clearly worked. But you people said you wanted change and you have had the change in the last seven to eight years. So, it is now up to you to compare our record of performance and that of the current people, whom you said you wanted and then decide which way to go next year. But I stand to say that I am extremely proud of the records achieved by the PDP government between 1999 and 2015. And if you give us the opportunity to serve you again, I can bet you that we will do better than what we did back then.

 


In terms of key reforms Your Excellency, what will you do?

For instance, when it comes to fiscal and monetary policies, I have already said that I would prefer to see the elimination of multiple exchange rates and a convergence. You know that we did it before and if you give us the opportunity, we will do it again. Now, you have about four or five exchange rates, but as far as I am concerned, that will be dealt with. Secondly, I have said before that I will continue privatizing key aspects of our oil and gas sector. Up till now, our moribund refineries are not functioning, yet we are spending money on them. So, as far as I am concerned, we will rather privatize them. We have about three or four of them and we have been spending money without any production. If we had privatized them, they would have been producing by now, because no private individual will buy a refinery, be spending money on it and have it not producing anything. So, I will definitely privatise them, so that Nigeria can even be the refinery hub of West Africa, because by the time those three refineries are functioning and Dangote refinery too is functioning, there would be four refineries and no African country has the capacity to have such refineries.

And we will be exporting refined products to all the West African sub-regions. So these are fundamental economic policies I will implement. And if you study our policy document, which is my covenant with Nigerians, you will see where we are going there and the direction we will take. If you have even read it, you will only invite me to come here and just do anything, because all the questions you have asked me have been answered in that policy document. The five topics in the document are written by myself. I sat down and drafted them. I asked myself as a businessman, what are the basic issues affecting my business and I identified them, such that they are seamlessly connected to one another. So, the issues you raised have been expertly answered in the policy document.

 

The fuel subsidy has been a troubling issue for the past and present administrations in Nigeria. We all know the kind of pressure that subsidy spending has been imposing on the finances of the government. We also know its impact on the rising wave of fiscal deficit and its implications on opportunity cost and investment in the oil and gas sector. Can you explain how you will deal with the subsidy issue?

The economic reforms that we implemented between 1999 and 2007 contain removal of subsidies. I was appointed chairman of the Committee on the Removal of Fuel Subsidy. And I sat down and said that the subsidy will be removed in four phases. And during our time, we implemented phase one after we had met the demands of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC). Afterwards, we removed phase two. And then, we left. Since we left, no government has summoned the courage to continue with the implementation until today. And it is because it requires a political leadership that believes in the principle. So, if elected, I will continue from where we stopped. Subsidy will be removed, because the amount of money we spend on subsidy will be put back into the treasury to deal with issues like education, health care, etc. Subsidy is just a fraud, sorry to say.

 

We want you to elaborate more on foreign exchange policy, which is at the heart of every economy? This is because the country presently is characterised by high exchange rate volatility as we have a serious liquidity crisis in the foreign exchange market and it is affecting capital flows and greatly demeaning investors’ confidence in the economy. So, what specific measures will you adopt in addressing this issue of foreign exchange?

I think firstly, once you abolish the multiple exchange policies, you would first of all accomplish stability in the exchange rate and afterwards, the next question will be, how do you now have enough forex? So, we must first of all support our industries to make sure that they produce enough to satisfy our market and meet our exporting needs. Another way we can encourage the flow of foreign exchange is by giving incentives to foreign investors. And then, there is the Diaspora remittances. How you support them is another question. So, by the time you stabilize the exchange rate, you would have also encouraged remittances from abroad.  So, there are quite a number of measures, which we believe, if we implement, will make a great impact.

 

We are grappling with a major debt crisis, even though the current administration doesn’t admit that we have a major debt crisis. But the reality is that our debt stock has risen to over 60 trillion Naira. And what has been proposed for debt servicing in the new budget is over 6 trillion Naira, while the expenses of the government is 9 trillion Naira. So you can see how very disturbing the station has been. So, how will you deal with this issue of debt?

I think there are two issues there. They are foreign debts and there are domestic debts, so I don’t know which one you are talking about. But if you are talking about foreign, it is imperative we engage our debtors and renegotiate the debts, because there is no country in the world that doesn’t borrow. Coming to our domestic debts, there are definitely policies that you have to take and first of all is to bring down the level of acquisition domestically and this will make us borrow less from the CBN and others. Again, I want you to compare our record with the records of this administration and see who can do better to the economy.

 

Your Excellency, still on the issue of economy.  With oil and gas, you are quite familiar with oil theft which has forced quite a number of our foreign investors to leave. Despite this, we are still struggling with our OPEC quota, which is 1.8million barrels per day, while our export figure is even less than that. In the light of all of this, how can we get a quick turn-around in our oil and gas sector, so that we can have more investment in the sector and more revenue to support our foreign reserve?

Well, I don’t know whether you recollect the situation we met in 1999. From approximately lower than one million, we boosted production to more than two million. Our target then was to produce up to four million barrels per day, but unfortunately we couldn’t do it, before we left office. But this country has the capacity to produce up to four million barrel capacity per day. I will go back to that plan to see that we re-engage our foreign investors who have the money and capacity to invest in the oil and gas sector. More importantly, we will put more efforts on gas and the transition to clean energy policy in the country. So these are how we intend to tackle the issue. Of course, there is the issue of crude oil theft. I know because of the huge public outcry. The government has tried to do something about it and they have discovered most of the areas where the crude oil is being siphoned illegally. They have tried to block them, and that is why recently there was an upward rise in the production of crude oil. But again, it is still below our expectations and OPEC quota. So, we will restore adequate security to our pipelines and invest more in oil production and gas exploration.

 

 Still on the economy, the inflation in the country has had a very devastating effect on the country, especially on the performance of businesses, such as the purchasing power of Nigerians has been massively eroded over the last couple of years. And this has led to a very serious increase in the level of poverty. So, in light of the very devastating effect that inflation is having on Nigerians and the economy, what kind of strategy will your administration adopt to deal with the problem of inflation?

You see, a number of factors affect inflation and some of the policies that we have discussed here, if properly implemented, will to a large extent bring down inflation, because it is a by-product of economic malfunctioning generally. This is because once you put the economy on the right track, you will definitely control inflation. Some of you should remember that when we were in office, we used to engage the private sector, sector by sector, on a monthly dialogue. We did ask them then, what do you recommend we do to boost production in this sector of the economy and so on? And once we implement the inputs we get from those interactive sessions with the private sector, we see results. But I don’t think any group of the private sector has been engaged by this administration in the last seven or eight years. If you have a sector that produces the highest employment rate, production rate and all, yet you are not in dialogue with them, listening or even interacting with them, how will you know whether you are doing the right thing or not? So, virtually if you get the implementation of the economy right, you will be able to tackle inflation, because it is a by-product of economic mismanagement.

Many Nigerians believe that the federal government is trying to do too much in terms of what it is covering. Some have even been saying that in order to move Nigeria to the desired level, we have to work with the state and local governments. In view of this, looking at the Exclusive List, which of the duties therein do you think should be moved to the Concurrent List and Residual list?

Thank you very much, there is actually no time for protocol, because this is a business school. But before I answer your question, I will like to tell a short story. When the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was elected in 1999, we really did not have a policy document. We didn’t have a plan, but we met a country that was heavily indebted and was having a crisis among its various component parts. I went to the annual World Bank/ IMF conference in Washington. When I got there, I told them that listen, we have a problem of mounting debt in Nigeria and we owe so much that we don’t know why we are owing, who we are owing and for what reason. In order, we did not have any records in the Ministry of Finance and the World Bank official said look, we have a brilliant Nigerian in this bank. And I was introduced to the Nigerian former Minister of Finance, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. I came back and told the president and we invited her to join us. From there, we had to realize that we have to set up what we call a Debt Management Office. We sat down together and drafted the law establishing the office. We then ask: who will be the chairman of the DMO and they said the Vice President. And for the deputy chairman, they said the Minister of Finance.

To cut the long story short, we got the National Assembly to approve that law and that is why today, the chairman of the DMO is the Vice-President, while the Minister of Finance is the Vice-Chairman. Then, I also realized that we did not even have an economic blueprint and, together, I invited some friends like the former Managing Director of Guaranty Trust Bank (GTB), Fola Adeola. And we then sat down to set up an economic advisory committee. And we appointed Professor Anya O. Anya as the chairman of the committee.

The team, including myself, put up a report and I took it to the president. And when he looked at it, he asked me how we can implement the report and I said, Sir, we are politicians, but the team members are technocrats, let’s invite them, provide the political leadership and then ask them to implement it. But the president said he would have to interview every one of the team members and I said no problem, I can invite them and I did. I started with Professor Anya. He said he didn’t want to hold any government appointment and that we should take him out of it. I asked Fola, how about you and he said I will work with you, but I will not work with your boss.

Then I called Bode Argusto and he said yes. I told him I want the president to interview you. I then took him to the president and he told him, Bode, I want you to be our Director of Budget. And Bode told the president that, but first of all, you can’t pay me as I am earning more than what you are earning. So, I will take the job, but I will not take your salary. And I want you to make a commitment to implement one thing. The president said, what? Bode said I want you to promise that you will provide electricity to everybody in this country and the president raised his hand and said, “I promise you. I will fix NEPA.” So Bode came on board and became our Director of Budget. And that was how we went about head-hunting for people we believe will help us in this country and they actually helped us run the country, such that we achieved the success we accomplished during our time. And all of them were members of the private sector. So let me use this opportunity to pay tributes to the private sector for contributing so much to the success we achieved during our years in government. But for the team that I put together, we would not have achieved what we achieved. So thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to give you this brief history.

You asked a constitutional question and I have been advocating the devolution of powers in this country, because I believe that if this country is to continue to remain one country, we have to review our constitution, because it is a product of the military. So I want to say very clearly here that I support the review of our constitutional arrangements to devote more powers and resources to the constituent parts of the country. I am a believer in small government. Too much government in my life is unacceptable to me. And if you look at our economic indices, you will find out that it is the private sector that is driving the economy. But it is the responsibility of the National Assembly to decide what should be the duties of the states and federal government. So, I cannot sit down here and tell you that ABCD items should go to the states and EFG should go to the local governments. It is going to be a subject of negotiations among the various component parts of the country. But all I can assure you is that as President Atiku Abubakar, I will make sure that the constitutional issue is resolved. The specifics you are looking for in your question cannot be answered, because they are constitutional matters. I hope I have done a little bit of justice to your question.

 

Secondly, sir, many people believe that the cost of governance in Nigeria is too high and you are also aware that we have the Oronsaye’s report that recommends the downsizing of government. So how will you reduce the cost of governance and will you implement the Oronsaye’s report and when, will it be in your first or second year?

Again, I would like to draw your attention to the fact that it was our administration that set up the Oronsaye’s committee. I personally believe in small government. When the Republican Party came from the United States to visit me and I told them the kind of government I want, one of them said that you will be more republican than we are. And I said I believe there is too much government in our lives. And that I prefer a small effective government that will provide leadership and guidelines for the component parts of the country. So, first and foremost, I want you to give kudos to the PDP for setting up the Oronsaye’s committee. And fortunately the government White Paper that came out after the PDP left office didn’t conform to the contents of Oronsaye’s report. And this is understandable, because it is the top civil servants that normally draft the government’s White Paper. So, they will definitely protect the interest of the large government bureaucracy. So, I believe the Oronsaye’s report is a good one, but the White Paper issued in response to it didn’t conform to it in any way. If I have the opportunity, I will review the White Paper, so that its recommendation can be in conformity with the principles that set up the Oronsaye’s report. It is not that I want to render people jobless or anything, but I believe there should be a rationalization of the federal bureaucracy, which makes sense and reduces cost on the public treasury.

 

What is your plan to address the pervasive insecurity that we have in Nigeria and what are your views on the need for state police?

Again, we cannot go outside the constitution. I believe in a state police, but it will still be a subject of negotiations between the National Assembly and the state assemblies. What powers do we give to the state police? We must remember how politicians misuse powers given to them. So the question is: how do we ensure that when we have state police, the politicians at the state level will not use them against our people? Just last week, you remember how we were attacked in Borno State. Can you assume what they would do if they had the state police? So it is up to the national and state assemblies to come up with a formulae. What type of state police can we have? I have argued that in the United States, you have about four or five levels of state police. And they all act within the law. But we don’t have that kind of guarantee here. So, we will have to find a way on how to regulate the activities of state police and the federal police, whom the federal officers sometimes misuse. It is a double-edged sword, but we have to do it to ensure our peace and security.

Of course, other than that, Egypt has a population of 38million, and with about three million police. But Nigeria has a population of 200million, yet we have less than 250,000 policemen on the streets. How can they police this country effectively? So clearly we have a shortage of manpower as far as the federal police is concerned. So we believe that a shared responsibility between the federal and the state will first of all increase the number of policemen all over the country and secondly, with better training and equipment, most importantly if we can deal with the high rate of unemployment and tackle the issue of education. For instance, the guys that attacked us in Maiduguri, I watched them. I am very sure those guys couldn’t have been educated. I am very sure that those guys had been first of all been used by Boko Haram and when they found a way to get a house, politicians are now using them to carry out all kinds of nefarious activities. I watched the guys so closely and just knew that they couldn’t have been in school, because I saw them hurling stones at us and shooting. Only yesterday, we lost one of our people that were attacked and we still have about 70 others in the hospital. So they couldn’t have been school children as many schools have remained closed for several months in many parts of the country, particularly in the Northern part of the country. So, again, Oronsaye’s report will be reviewed and implemented. It was our baby and if you elect us, we will complete the job.

 

Sir, with what happened in Borno State, you will agree that since 1999, we have had so many economic reforms, yet we are where we are. And they said the inflation rate might be up to 20 per cent soon. You know the unemployment rate. As of 2014, we were told that about 60 million Nigerians were working, but by 2019, it has reduced to 40 million. So with the various economic problems on ground, if you are elected next year, what are the various economic reforms that we should expect from you, when they will be implemented and how they will make a significant difference from what we are seeing now.

The economic reforms we implemented during the PDP reign produced very good results. That is why if you look at our rate of unemployment, inflation, debt rate, foreign reserves and others cannot be compared with what has been happening in the last seven years. So our economic reforms clearly worked. But you people said you wanted change and you have had the change in the last seven to eight years. So, it is now up to you to compare our record of performance and that of the current people, whom you said you wanted and then decide which way to go next year. But I stand to say that I am extremely proud of the records achieved by the PDP government between 1999 and 2015. And if you give us the opportunity to serve you again, I can bet you that we will do better than what we did back then.

 

In terms of key reforms Your Excellency, what will you do?

For instance, when it comes to fiscal and monetary policies, I have already said that I would prefer to see the elimination of multiple exchange rates and a convergence. You know that we did it before and if you give us the opportunity, we will do it again. Now, you have about four or five exchange rates, but as far as I am concerned, that will be dealt with. Secondly, I have said before that I will continue privatizing key aspects of our oil and gas sector. Up till now, our moribund refineries are not functioning, yet we are spending money on them. So, as far as I am concerned, we will rather privatize them. We have about three or four of them and we have been spending money without any production. If we had privatized them, they would have been producing by now, because no private individual will buy a refinery, be spending money on it and have it not producing anything. So, I will definitely privatise them, so that Nigeria can even be the refinery hub of West Africa, because by the time those three refineries are functioning and Dangote refinery too is functioning, there would be four refineries and no African country has the capacity to have such refineries.

And we will be exporting refined products to all the West African sub-regions. So these are fundamental economic policies I will implement. And if you study our policy document, which is my covenant with Nigerians, you will see where we are going there and the direction we will take. If you have even read it, you will only invite me to come here and just do anything, because all the questions you have asked me have been answered in that policy document. The five topics in the document are written by myself. I sat down and drafted them. I asked myself as a businessman, what are the basic issues affecting my business and I identified them, such that they are seamlessly connected to one another. So, the issues you raised have been expertly answered in the policy document.

 

The fuel subsidy has been a troubling issue for the past and present administrations in Nigeria. We all know the kind of pressure that subsidy spending has been imposing on the finances of the government. We also know its impact on the rising wave of fiscal deficit and its implications on opportunity cost and investment in the oil and gas sector. Can you explain how you will deal with the subsidy issue?

The economic reforms that we implemented between 1999 and 2007 contain removal of subsidies. I was appointed chairman of the Committee on the Removal of Fuel Subsidy. And I sat down and said that the subsidy will be removed in four phases. And during our time, we implemented phase one after we had met the demands of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC). Afterwards, we removed phase two. And then, we left. Since we left, no government has summoned the courage to continue with the implementation until today. And it is because it requires a political leadership that believes in the principle. So, if elected, I will continue from where we stopped. Subsidy will be removed, because the amount of money we spend on subsidy will be put back into the treasury to deal with issues like education, health care, etc. Subsidy is just a fraud, sorry to say.

 

We want you to elaborate more on foreign exchange policy, which is at the heart of every economy? This is because the country presently is characterised by high exchange rate volatility as we have a serious liquidity crisis in the foreign exchange market and it is affecting capital flows and greatly demeaning investors’ confidence in the economy. So, what specific measures will you adopt in addressing this issue of foreign exchange?

I think firstly, once you abolish the multiple exchange policies, you would first of all accomplish stability in the exchange rate and afterwards, the next question will be, how do you now have enough forex? So, we must first of all support our industries to make sure that they produce enough to satisfy our market and meet our exporting needs. Another way we can encourage the flow of foreign exchange is by giving incentives to foreign investors. And then, there is the Diaspora remittances. How you support them is another question. So, by the time you stabilize the exchange rate, you would have also encouraged remittances from abroad.  So, there are quite a number of measures, which we believe, if we implement, will make a great impact.

 

We are grappling with a major debt crisis, even though the current administration doesn’t admit that we have a major debt crisis. But the reality is that our debt stock has risen to over 60 trillion Naira. And what has been proposed for debt servicing in the new budget is over 6 trillion Naira, while the expenses of the government is 9 trillion Naira. So you can see how very disturbing the station has been. So, how will you deal with this issue of debt?

I think there are two issues there. They are foreign debts and there are domestic debts, so I don’t know which one you are talking about. But if you are talking about foreign, it is imperative we engage our debtors and renegotiate the debts, because there is no country in the world that doesn’t borrow. Coming to our domestic debts, there are definitely policies that you have to take and first of all is to bring down the level of acquisition domestically and this will make us borrow less from the CBN and others. Again, I want you to compare our record with the records of this administration and see who can do better to the economy.

 

Your Excellency, still on the issue of economy.  With oil and gas, you are quite familiar with oil theft which has forced quite a number of our foreign investors to leave. Despite this, we are still struggling with our OPEC quota, which is 1.8million barrels per day, while our export figure is even less than that. In the light of all of this, how can we get a quick turn-around in our oil and gas sector, so that we can have more investment in the sector and more revenue to support our foreign reserve?

Well, I don’t know whether you recollect the situation we met in 1999. From approximately lower than one million, we boosted production to more than two million. Our target then was to produce up to four million barrels per day, but unfortunately we couldn’t do it, before we left office. But this country has the capacity to produce up to four million barrel capacity per day. I will go back to that plan to see that we re-engage our foreign investors who have the money and capacity to invest in the oil and gas sector. More importantly, we will put more efforts on gas and the transition to clean energy policy in the country. So these are how we intend to tackle the issue. Of course, there is the issue of crude oil theft. I know because of the huge public outcry. The government has tried to do something about it and they have discovered most of the areas where the crude oil is being siphoned illegally. They have tried to block them, and that is why recently there was an upward rise in the production of crude oil. But again, it is still below our expectations and OPEC quota. So, we will restore adequate security to our pipelines and invest more in oil production and gas exploration.

 

 Still on the economy, the inflation in the country has had a very devastating effect on the country, especially on the performance of businesses, such as the purchasing power of Nigerians has been massively eroded over the last couple of years. And this has led to a very serious increase in the level of poverty. So, in light of the very devastating effect that inflation is having on Nigerians and the economy, what kind of strategy will your administration adopt to deal with the problem of inflation?

You see, a number of factors affect inflation and some of the policies that we have discussed here, if properly implemented, will to a large extent bring down inflation, because it is a by-product of economic malfunctioning generally. This is because once you put the economy on the right track, you will definitely control inflation. Some of you should remember that when we were in office, we used to engage the private sector, sector by sector, on a monthly dialogue. We did ask them then, what do you recommend we do to boost production in this sector of the economy and so on? And once we implement the inputs we get from those interactive sessions with the private sector, we see results. But I don’t think any group of the private sector has been engaged by this administration in the last seven or eight years. If you have a sector that produces the highest employment rate, production rate and all, yet you are not in dialogue with them, listening or even interacting with them, how will you know whether you are doing the right thing or not? So, virtually if you get the implementation of the economy right, you will be able to tackle inflation, because it is a by-product of economic mismanagement.

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