Published On: Mon, Jul 17th, 2017

Restructuring Nigeria will take a painful process—Lati Bakare

 

Alhaji Lati Bakare, is a chartered accountant and a politician who was a governorship aspirant under the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Osun State. In this explosive interview with OLUSESAN LAOYE he talked about the mismanagement of our economy, restructuring of the country, devolution of power and other vices which have eaten deep into our system in Nigeria.

Excerpts

What are your views about the current economic policy of the APC federal government vis-à-vis the ongoing economic recession?

Well, let me be frank with you, there is no need for the country to have gone into recession in the first place, if the past leaders had handled the economy well.  Honestly, the economy has been battered before the action of the present APC government without the people realizing it. It has been a gradual thing over the years.  What actually got the country into this mess was the level of corruption, in government circle. Although corruption was perpetrated during the tenure of previous administrations but the impunity with which the treasury was looted during the last administration, was very alarming. The discovery being made by the EFCC now shows that the country is doomed.

What then is your reaction to the ban on some imported goods and food items especially rice; which is regarded as the common food for everybody in Nigeria, when the country has not made provision for an alternative to ensure that the local ones are in large quantity?

I have nothing against the policy or the ban on imported rice. Before now, Nigerians ought to have been growing rice and by now we should have been a large producer of the product.  It is good if we now intensify efforts in agriculture. But we have to look at the situation critically; the ban should have been a gradual process until the commodity is sufficiently grown for local consumption and probably for exportation.  As for other items, there is the need for the country to develop agriculture so that our agro-allied industries would have locally grown raw materials that would sustain them, so that there won’t be the need for us to keep importing raw materials that we could produce here locally.

We shall like you to comment on the recent imbroglio between the custom boss and the senate over the heavy duties placed on luxury items especially vehicles, as it was speculated that the issue they had with him, was because of the policy which affected some of them?

I think the Senators did not get their priorities right. Although Col Ali may have done something in the past which offended some of them, but frankly speaking, the policy should not have caused any problem or animosity between them. In Nigeria we want luxury without wanting to pay for it. In some countries they have standards and if you must go outside the standard you have to pay for it. For instance, in India, they have their standard cars and if you must go outside the standard especially if you want to ride a Mercedes Benz you have to pay one thousand percent duty. They don’t care since that is your choice. If you want to ride a Royce Royse   they don’t care because they have a standard value for it. You just pay the one thousand percent and everybody would go away without any problem

Honestly I support the policy. Let us begin to do it. Let the elites who want to use Royce Royse and even the most expensive cars in the world pay for it, as long as you can afford the duties and the taxes placed on the vehicles you are free. I think it is high time we start doing what is right irrespective of our positions. The law and the rules of the country should be obeyed. If you want to eat Uncle Benz rice you should be able to pay for it. We have the Abakaliki rice that is now very good and I don’t see the reason why we cannot go for our own locally grown rice, which is good and chemical, free. We have the Ebonyin rice the offada, Kebi and so on, which are equally good. As far as I am concerned, it is the market that would determine what will survive. The numbers of Nigerians who could afford Uncle Benz rice are not more than 5percentof the population of the entire country. Their market is a very close market, so all you need to do is to say yes, for every tone of the rice imported to the country; this is the duty on it, whereas these are products that are quoted. Nigerians are prone to corrupting the system. What is to be done is to get one or two people and punish them. That is why in the National Assembly they are saying that they want to change some of the laws about corruption, to attract death sentence and all that. Some state governments have done laws on kidnapping; this should be extended to corruption too. High wired economic crime should attract death sentence and not the kind of stealing of chicken money by a cashier, but for a real high wired economic crime. You will see that by the time two or three people are killed, the whole thing would stop and no one would be interested in amassing unnecessary wealth at the detriment of other Nigerians and the masses.  Honestly everybody would sit tight. That is the only reason that in Singapore, China and Israel  everybody sits tight, when it comes to the issue of corruption. In Israel, their own penalty is not death but jail sentence. It is real jail not the, kind we apply in Nigeria that does not serve as deterrent to others but encourages more stealing. Honestly we need to get to that level in Nigeria, because a bad disease required a bad medicine. Corruption has become a problem to Nigeria but my own worry about the whole thing and about the Present government, is that there is too much noise about this corruption. Tome, the essence of governance is not to fight corruption, but to provide good governance to the people and part of it is to fight corruption by preventing it and punishing when it is detected. It cannot be what we are going to live our lives on as it is being done now.

With what you have just said now about corruption, it shows that the government doesn’t have good advisers because if it has the situation would not be this bad. Do you think President Buhari now has the kind of advisers who can bail us out of the present predicament?

Well this is a question which is beyond me. I am not there and I don’t know the kind of advice they offer the President. I don’t know whether is the president that does not take what they offer him or whether they are the ones who do not give him the proper advice. I am only commenting on what I am witnessing, like an ordinary Nigerian like you and me and the benefit of my own knowledge that it should not be like this. Let me also say this, there is so much discordant tunes between the Ministry of Finance and the Central Bank. They have been fighting themselves; they are the two flanks that our economy rests on. Concerning monetary policy, it is the central bank while the fiscal policy is handled by the Ministry of Finance. These are the two bodies that drive our economy. If there is too much money in circulation or the inflation is too high, you have to reduce money in circulation or you even want to increase inflation because you want production to go up, but it must be objective driven and not to be reacting on every step you take. You have to set your  objectives that, ok, now that there is a recession, what do we do,  Is it that we have to put money into peoples’ pockets so that they can buy more,  Is it that we have to reduce tax or  banks should lend money to small holders or big companies, or do we encourage customer lending  which is called consumer lending, in banking such that you allow the banks to put a bracket on  whatever they lend to consumer lending and say if it is  up to one million Naira, two million Naira  it would attract  some kind of benefits, especially the interests  earned on it,  which should be pegged to a particular rate. The interest must not however be sterilized, so that tax would not be paid on it. This would encourage lending and with that, you, will see people buying small, small things, you will be happy because you will see painters buying paints, bricklayers’ buying cement, the artisans would be working. You must not be reacting, you must plan it and say this is what you want to achieve. Even when Obama came in, America was almost in recession, and what he did was to put more money into peoples’ hands to spend. So when we want to do that as well in Nigeria, we should not put money into peoples’ pocket so that they can buy imported goods and useless things like cosmetics, lipsticks and tooth picks. What we need to do is to get the enabling environment right.

Honestly the government is not making lives comfortable for the people because there is no regular power supply, you pay exorbitantly for what you don’t even consume. To ensure that you are comfortable, you need several inverters and generators which are very expensive to maintain. These are some of the things affecting our industries, because if they want to produce they have to generate their own power, look for water and may be the only thing you are not looking for is air.  I believe that the present President and the former ones like Goodluck Jonathan, Babangida and even Obasanjo cannot do everything but what should happen is that they ought to have allowed our civil service to be functional.  There should be 20years strategic plan for all the ministries like power, housing, rural development, agriculture, and water resources.   In the case of Power for instance, there should be a plan whereby they will say we want to diversify our power generation. They could say we want to use coal 10percent, hydro, 20percent, gas 30percent and waste 2 or 5 percent and sola.  This means that all the country would not be using the same kind of source of power. If it is solar that is applicable for Sokoto, Maiduguri or elsewhere, it should be applied. They should identify areas to use a particular source of energy. The way we plan now is not ideal, because as far as power generation is concerned; when dry season comes all the country suffer for electricity generation which is not supposed to be so. We should even plan for buffer.  This should lead us to our aggregate demand and to determine the buffer we want. If it is 20percent, we could say let us have a target of 25,000megawatts and plan how this could be obtain in 10years without any embellishment. If we are sure of what we want, we would then start to work towards it.

What then do you think is happening to us now do you mean that we are not planning at all for development of our infrastructure?

What, I mean by long term development was exhibited in Lagos, by the Military.  For example, General Yakubu Gowan did the first Mainland Bridge up to Adekunle Fadeyi, Murltala Obasanjo did their own up to the Toll Gate while Babangida did the third Mainland Bridge up to toll gate. This is a long term development. Even on power, Babangida did the Afam, plant, did all the thermals stations, he did his own bit and left, I don’t know whether Abacha did something, whatever the case may be, he did his own bit and left. We can do an audit on what we have now and say this is what is available. Obasanjo in his time said he spent 16billion Dollars, which is all right. What is wrong with us is that we just don’t plan. We have coal in Enugu which could be used advantageously but we won’t do that. In South Africa 30 percent of their power generation is on coal. The colonial masters used coal effectively and it served the whole country. I just cannot imagine why we are allowing the Coal power plant in Ijora to be idle. This is the time for the country to revive it and build more coal power stations where they could as well be effectively utilized for the development of the country especially, our industries. In fact, some of us are beginning to think that it is getting to a situation whereby we would go back to our colonial masters to do the planning for us. This is because there has been so much motion but no movement, particularly on energy, and this is unbelievable. Just look at the money we spent on generators and diesel to provide light for ourselves. Honestly if all we are spending to provide light are donated to the Power Holding, our lives would be better. The last factory I ran, we were buying one tanker of diesel a week.

This now brings us to the issue of restructuring of the country, Some people believe that this would go a long way for each of the segment of the country to fashion out ways of development and that this would stop all the agitations and some of these things you have pointed out that is hampering the growth of Nigeria do you subscribe to this?

 On the issue of the restructuring of the country, my worry is that the Military may be for their own selfish reasons created small units as states which are not viable. To me, any restructuring that does not include cancelling those states, is a waste of time, that is, the truth, whether we like it or not. The problem again is how do you get the legislators to legislate itself out of existence.  The bicameral we now have in the National Assembly, how do you get it to become unicameral? You mean the Senate would pass a law that in four years’ time we would no longer exist, can that happen? How do you want the governors to sit in council, to say after our tenure we want to reduce the country to 12 states or six regions or zones? I just laugh when people make noise about the restructuring of the country with the trap which the Military has set for Nigeria. With the way things are now, restructuring would be difficult.  I am also worried as well on how we can get out of this lacuna. To be sincere with you, we need a painful process. But is the present civilian government we have now, ready for it?

Does it mean that true federalism cannot be achieved in Nigeria now?

Like I said before, whatever we need to do now to get us out of this mess requires a painful process. True federalism yes, we can, but we need a determined president who would be ready to surrender power. I want to make an objective statement here, even if he is willing, with the situation on ground now and the thinking of Nigerians I doubt if that can be done. Let us assume our president now, Muhammadu Buhari a great man who has seen it all at 74 years of age and   that because he has seen it all and is not bothered about anything again, say let us reduce the size of the federal government and devolved a lot of powers. What would happen is that People from the North would say no, it cannot be during our time that you will do it, let another person come and do it because this is our slot, and if you want to basterdise it, is not going to be during our slot, so he is handicapped there. As a clever person he knows that ones he finishes his presidency he is going to return to Katsina and at best Kaduna. He is not going to stay in Abuja because he has never stayed there before. If anybody would stay Obasanjo,  Babangida, Sonekan, even the immediate past President Jonathan could have stayed. Those are the issues which circumstances forced us to be there. The only way out is that when we all get to the road block and there is no more way, we would now say yes, let us  see the truth and we would say how do we move from where we are, but we have not reached there or that stage now.

What will you say about the South West governors now coming together to fashion out common agenda on the development of the region?

It is a good idea but are they serious? I am sorry to say this, Fayose of Ekiti state was not backing them when PDP was in power; When Mimiko was there he was doing his own game. Now that the APC is in power, they are rallying round and because of the overbearing presence of the federal government, everybody wanted to fall in line. As far as I am concerned if the Objective is not central and people’s  oriented they are wasting their time. They said they need a Railway system, is that what they need?  It is Nigeria that needs the rail System because let us say the truth; the disunity in Nigeria has been aggravated by 50percent because of the decline in the railway system. You can leave Lagos in those days at any time to go to Kafanchan. In those days little kids are boarded on train to go to where they have not been before and people feel safe and comfortable. Railway stations are like Airports when people go to meet their relations friends coming from other parts of the country. People go to school in Kaduna Kauranamoda by train and the school authorities are aware of this and on resumption day, someone would be detailed at the railway station to pick students to school. Students from different areas meet on the train and became friends. It brought a united Nigeria but the collapsed of the railway system has divided us as a nation. Like I said earlier, the idea of South West integration is good because the region has become a critical economic entity in Nigeria. But do we as a nation at this point want to encourage that kind of integration, what it does, is to start providing room for segregation. You can imagine the 19 Northern Governors hosted in America, to me that was  bad, because there is nothing peculiar in the North that does not happy in other parts of the country. What we ought to realize is that these people have a way of vesting crises within Nigeria from their country. But it is for us to be sensitive to it.

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