Why FG should have a rethink on border closure —Olatubosun
Honourable Olajide Olatubosun, representing Saki West/Saki East/Atisbo Federal Constituency of Oyo State in the National Assembly, speaks on state of insecurity in the country, partial closure of Nigerian borders, among other national issues, in this interview by JACOB SEGUN OLATUNJI.
NIGERIA is progressively becoming insecure. What are those things that you will suggest that the government should do to reverse the trend?
The strategy has to be in the short, medium and long term. We need to address security. But before we address physical security, we must address social insecurity. There are lots of challenges; a lot of our people are unemployed. People are becoming poorer by the day. But we should not say it is the fault of the present government. I think it is the fault of the system that we run. As a matter of urgency, we need to go back to federalism, at least, fiscal federalism. We must also ensure that we take the commanding height of this economy from the government to the private sector. With that, we will be able to create corporations, small businesses to ensure that our people are employed. For instance, look at our budget; a country of about 200 million people, every year we have about N2 trillion capital expenditure. What can that do? For us to grow at about six or seven per cent, we must be doing like 15 per cent of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to build infrastructure. We have to start from that. Even the N2 trillion, we don’t have the resources to finance it. So as a matter of urgency, we need to redirect this economy.
As a legislator, I hope and pray that the ninth National Assembly will quickly resolve the issue of Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) because we know that this economy depends largely on the oil sector. If we can get the PIB right and that sector is deregulated, government can get a lot of cash to fix roads, education and have safety net for the poor. Look at the issue of subsidy, it is a major distortion. The average person for which the subsidy is meant is not enjoying up to 10 per cent of it. Nigerians smuggle subsidised fuel to neighbouring countries. That has been confirmed because since that last few weeks that our borders have been partially closed, we’ve had figures of 10 million litres of petrol (PMS) per day that have been saved. So, imagine the amount of subsidy on 10 million litres everyday for 365 days in a year for all these years! Therefore, we’re not doing the right thing. It is high time we began to do something so that in the next 11 years when Nigeria will be 70, we have another story to tell.
What should the ninth Assembly do now to change the narratives as a strategic arm of government?
I’ll say we should quickly pass the PIB. There are four bills: the Host Community Bill, Fiscal Bill, Administration Bill and the Regulatory Bill. Once we can do that, it means immediately the Nigerian National petroleum Corporation (NNPC) will be a commercial entity. This means that it is going to be free from bureaucratic bottlenecks and be able to run like other oil corporations. If that is done, government is going to have more money. We also need to pass other laws to ensure that more government assets are sold. In other words, government should leave business for the business people because the more they are involved, the more to leverage capital, expand their business, employ more people and if we can do that, in 10 years from now, everything being equal, we’ll be telling a different story.
Kidnapping now constitutes a major national security challenge. After the kidnappers were dislodged from the Abuja-Kaduna highway, they seemed to have relocated to the Abuja-Lokoja Road. How should the problem be tackled by the authorities?
I don’t think there are quick-fixes because what we’re seeing today is a manifestation of so many years of bad governance. There is an adage in Yoruba land that a household that is peaceful is because the bastards are not yet grown. Unfortunately, those children that can be referred to as ‘bastards’ have grown in Nigeria. So, as a matter of urgency, I’ll advise that we start community policing framework immediately. What this means is that policemen that will serve in a place will be recruited from that community and not be transferred to another place. It means they are recruited for the sake of their own people.
I think the challenge we have now is the failure of intelligence. We need more intelligence than the police officers wielding guns on the road. In the medium to long term, we need to fix social security. The youths need to be gainfully employed. Unfortunately, how many people can the government employ? Job creation is largely for the private sector in an enabling environment. Government should hands-off business. When we’re talking of railways, airports, owning airlines, power, oil sector, government should leave them to the private people. Within the next five to 10 years, we can get private capital coming in to the country to expand these businesses, employ our youth and gradually insecurity will die down.
On our borders, they are very porous and through them, people smuggle all sorts of things. Fortunately, in the last few weeks, they’ve been partially closed. The question is, for how long are we going to do that? Is it a sustainable solution? The answer is no. So, it is just a fire brigade approach. It is working now but in the next one year, trust Nigerians they’ll find a way round it. So, we need to do something that will be more enduring and sustainable.
But Nigerians along the borderlines are complaining that the closure had impacted negatively on their businesses. Even Nigerian neighbours are trying to prevail on the government to review the partial closure because of the repercussion? What will you consider as the gains and the losse?
As I talk to you, the government’s decision to close the border is affecting my constituents because they are near the Nigerian-Benin Republic Border. Most of them are being seriously affected, even people that are into legitimate business. So, I’m calling on the government to look at the issue, with a view to resolving them and reopening the borders. My constituents are suffering a lot. One of the gains in the closure of the borders is that the government has been able to reduce the inflow of illegal items like arms and ammunitions. So, the challenge now is: how can we work with the neighbouring countries to ensure that they don’t allow their ports to be used for such illegal activities? But closing the borders permanently or for a very long time is not in our best interest.
Nigerians are going through very difficult times because of the parlous state of the economy. What advice do you have the new Economic Advisory Council (EAC) set by President Muhammadu Buhari?
The EAC should advise the president to become more pro-market. I know the president is patriotic; he loves Nigeria; he doesn’t want Nigerians to suffer. But holding unto government assets is not the way to go because that breeds corruption. The new council made up of eminently qualified Nigerians, brilliant economists and financial experts, should ensure that we have fiscal and monetary policies that will create the enabling business environment: tax holidays for investors in certain sectors of the economy and things that will ensure that Nigerians invest their money in Nigeria and they don’t take it to Dubai and other places and also to encourage foreign direct investment. If we can do that and ensure that investment is safe, I think that they would have done a very good job.
How will you assess the fight against corruption by the Buhari administration so far?
In fairness to the government and the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC), they’ve done well, considering the prevailing circumstances and environment. But it is a very tough job because the legal system we practise is that of presumption of innocence. Until someone is proven guilty by a law court, you cannot say he is corrupt. What you have in most cases is an allegation. Cases could go on for as far as 10 years and they are still on it. You can’t get evidences that you can use to convict the suspects. They’ve done well, but if we can have a paradigm shift, like entrenchment of fiscal federalism, better governance structure to promote openness, transparency in government finances and government handing-off all those commercial ventures, it will be better. Look at the issue of the P&ID scandal, if the Federal Government owns only 20 per cent of the equities, we won’t have the mess that we’re having now. It means the government just has to sit on the board and other shareholders will not open their eyes and allow someone enter into a nonsense contract. If we’ve done that, we don’t need to report to an EFCC that somebody had signed a contract that had put the country into trouble. They’ve done well, but I think in the long run, to reduce the burden and to put our energy in a place that can advance the prosperity of our people, let us conduct government business in a private sector-driven way.
Can the legislature tinker with the constitution in such a way that the presumption of innocence, which obviously delays the prosecution of corruption cases, be addressed?
That’s legal jurisprudence. I’m not a lawyer, but it is a fundamental issue and those have to do with fundamental human rights. There was a time the president said that when he was a military Head of State, if they accused somebody of stealing, it was that person that would have to prove that he had not stolen. But now that he is a civilian president, there is a lot of difference. When they accuse you of stealing, it is the government that proves that you’ve stolen. So, you have somebody that has stolen so much and he’s still walking free on the streets and you wonder. It is not that anti-corruption bodies are not working, but they must go by the rule of law. Even if the accused had stolen N100 billion, until the court convicts him, he is not guilty. Changing that jurisprudence, I don’t know, but we can have other laws that, if you have assets that are reasonably suspected to be from proceeds of corruption, such can be forfeited temporarily until the case is determined. That was an Executive Order signed by the president about two years ago: some people have challenged that in court; that it infringes on their fundamental rights. It is a very delicate balance that we need to strike. To ensure that the people’s fundamental rights are protected, I’ll agree that we go by the presumption of innocence, but with other necessary laws to ensure that corruption cases are not unnecessarily delayed by lawyers with frivolous motions in the courts.
How will you rate the performances of the National Assembly in the last few years?
From the eighth National Assembly, because I’m part of it and now in the ninth Assembly. Let’s put it in historical contexts, we have not performed badly. Don’t forget that we gave long years of military rule and in those years we didn’t have the legislature. The longest uninterrupted period that the legislature has existed is 20 years, from 1999-2019. So, it Is still work in progress. We’re learning the ropes. Even in advanced democracies, they’re still learning, but we could do better, especially with legislations that will ensure that our federal system of government is entrenched because what we have now is a pseudo federal system. We need to amend the constitution to promote fiscal federalism. The legislature has not done too badly, considering the environment we have found ourselves.