Professor Akin Oyebode is the Chairman of the Office of International Relations, Partnerships and Prospects at the University of Lagos and a member of the Governing Council of the Nigeria Institute of International Affairs (NIIA). In this interview with BIYI ADEGOROYE, the former International Law and Jurisprudence lecturer at the university examines President Muhammadu Buhari’s two years in office and the confusion created by the wordings of his recent letter transferring power during his second medical trip
What is your impression about President Muhammadu Buhari’s letter to the National Assembly, stating that Vice President would coordinate governance while he is away on medical trip to London?
I believe that it was, maybe, a mistake of the head and not of the heart, more so as Vice President Yemi Osinbajo had acted previously for nearly 50 days, during the absence of President Buhari, when he went to the UK for the first time.
So it was not unexpected that he would assume the mantle of leadership again this time. From the wordings of the letter, it appears the powers that be are rubbing salt on our wounds, because it is bad enough that the President is incapacitated.
Constitutionally, when the President is not available, he asks the Vice President to take charge of affairs. So for me, it was, may be a mistake as I said. It could not have been intended to make Yemi Osinbajo an overseer or somebody who is just co-ordinator governance.
He is the Vice President for God’s sake and we normally joke that the VP is a spare tyre; that you have no need for him except you have a flat. And now we have a flat.
And Yemi Osinbajo, whether you like him or not, is the man in charge of affairs – whatever description you want to give.
But it is a little bit provocative, and demeaning, insulting to pretend that he is not the Acting President. So, I think they want to ruffle feathers by making that statement, or give credence to the allegation that a cabal is charge of affairs. But without prejudice to that, Osinbajo has become the acting President and those who are displeased with his ascendency to that position should cope with the reality, not express regret or discomfiture with the fact that once again Yemi Osinbajo is the Acting President of Nigeria.
And that was why last time, we thought it was not altogether right for President Donald Trump to have spoken to a President that was out on vacation. Protocol requires that he should have spoken with the Acting President and I hope they are not sending wrong signals to the international community that Osinbajo is incapable, or that he is an impostor or pretender to the office of Acting President.
So may be that was wrong use of language, which I believe the National Assembly has just ignored.
What should we expect from Prof. Osinbajo while he occupies the office in acting capacity?
As I said, it is like a de ja vous. He has done it before for about 50 days and he showed a lot of panache in running state affairs. He went to places where the substantive President could not go to – Niger Delta and he chopped off success after success. He showed the nation and the world at large that he has the competence to run the affairs of the country. God forbid that an eventuality happens; Yemi Osinbajo will have to carry out the duties of President of Nigeria.
As I said, he is extremely cerebral and competent. He was my stu dent. I know that he has the ability to deliver the goods.
Like you said, in the case of an eventuality, do you foresee as replay of the 2010 experience?
I don’t see that happen because Yemi Osinbajo was elected on the same platform, on the same ticket with Buhari, so it was not the case of a godfather bringing him through the backdoor to impose him on an unwilling or reluctant President. Nigerians voted for them and they came on a joint ticket. So it is unthinkable now to imagine the Umaru Yar’Adua scenario if we want Nigeria to survive. Because the stakes are so high that if anything that rocks the boat, might bring about calamitous consequences.
At a workshop in Enugu a couple of days ago, Professors George Obiozor and Chukuma Soludo said the Nigerian project is one that has refused to work. Do you share this view?
I know of Soludo, but I know George. George is a student of realpolitic, a student of Hans Morgenthau; so he believes in politics of power and power of politics.
If by that he meant that we have been running a rickety federal system, then I am in all fours with them.
This is a funny federalism which is actually centripetal instead of being centrifugal. So there is too much concentration of power at the centre and there is a necessity for devolution, to break down this federal structure, bring the government closer to and empower the constituent units. So that the states would stop going to Abuja every month, ‘to replenish the feeding bottle’, like Ike Ekweremadu once said.
You know Ekweremadu was in my school in Toronto, Canada, and said Nigeria is running feeding bottle federalism.
That means that every month they take their feeding bottle to Abuja.
May be that is what Soludo and Obiozor have in mind and I agree with them.
We really need to dissemble, reconstitute, reformulate and decentralize governance and have functional federalism and have clear cut division of power, because that is the meaning of federalism; that power is not concentrated on one leader at the expense of the other leaders.
Again the military caused this because of the kind of constitution they imposed on us. These are some of that the confab which I am proud to be part of deliberated on. We labored for over two months, agonizing over the fortunes of this country.
And we made about 600 recommendations by consensus and that is why I’m miffed by the arrangement by some northern elements, not all of them, who met in Abuja and asked the government to ignore the recommendations. Actually that was very ungentlemanly of them, because if we agreed at a meeting and all the arguments were resolved by the so-called committee of elders. I thought it was too late in the day three years after for those who were part of that discussions and agreement to now rescind and renege on the implementation of the recommendations.
Penultimate week, some of your colleagues at the National Confab reconvened in Abuja. Were you there and what were some of the decisions taken?
I got the invitation but I was not there because we have expired so to speak and didn’t see any point reconvening.
And I smelt a rat because of the venue and because I know the posture of some of the characters and so I decided not to attend. May be it is time for some of the confabulates from the South to give a response to what some of elements in the North were trying to do two months ago. But the fact that the gentleman for all seasons, by the name of Prof. Jerry Gana, my former Pro-Chancellor, one of the prime movers, who spoke made the difference.
It was not a conclave of southern delegates, but a spectrum of confabulates, and he said patriotism should be given precedence over ethno-centricism. I think the discussion is still on because we are yet to perfect our union because of the way federal structure was tampered with by the military, starting with Yakubu Gowon and ending with Abdusalami Abubakar.
Nigeria is yet to have what lawyers would call an autochthonous constitution. Because what we had operating in 1979 was the Olusegun Obasanjo Constitution and in 1999, the Abdusalami Constitution and that constitution was Decree 24 by the way, of 1999.
It is not a genuine document by a constituent assembly in Nigeria, but one forced down our throat as constitution of Nigeria. The last time they wanted to amend the constitution, there were 118 proposed amendments. It is like panel-beating a car. If you have to panel beat 118 parts of a car, is it not better to discard that car and get a new one?
The Obasanjo efforts at creating a new constitution for Nigeria was dead on arrival because of it ulterior motive. And then the last time the National Assembly toyed with the idea of amending the constitution, they had about 62 proposed amendments. So if the document is so fractured, I will say it is worse than useless. May be we should go back to the report of the 2014 National Confab and see what we can select from there to make Nigeria a better country for all of us.
What do you make of the fact that for the past two years President Buhari has never hidden his aversion for the confab report?
Well, I am on record as having said he should rethink that position, because you don’t throw away the baby with the bath water. You might not be enamored by the person of former President Goodluck Jonathan, but you don’t kill the messenger in order to discredit the message. The lack of the bona fides by Jonathan immaterial, but that was a proposal that is on top of the table.
We should not run away from the fact that the constitution is fracture and we should not run away from that fact. We don’t have a working constitution because of the fissiparous nature of the Abdusalami Constitution. We might not require another constituent assembly because we have a proposal from those who were paid to produce one on a nationalistic and patriotic basis. Buhari will do himself a lot of good and go down in history as a President who did the needful in order put a fillip to a failed political economy. When you look at the array of personalities that took part in that conference, I remember discussing it with one of the confabulates Femi Falana, that no election could have brought that assemblage of people.
We should not shoot ourselves in the foot. We are living in very perilous times and we have to count our losses. It is disturbing for me to know that Buhari is listening to some people who were not impressed by the proceedings and recommendations of the confab.
In another two weeks, President Buhari would be two years in office. How will you assess his first two years?
As I said previously, we have a lethargic administration. To start with, it took him two months for him to put his cabinet together.
Then he said that those people who thought they would become ministers were noise makers. For me that statement was not too encouraging and the fact that he did not come out with a blueprint with regard to Nigeria’s political economy until two months ago, shows me that may be his government was not prepared for the administration of the country. And for a long time Buhari appears to have merely being in office, but not in power.
The change mantra, on whose crest he rode to power; if you shouted change, change and you got the power, and not two years after, it is just business as usual. Where is the change? He had three objectives – the issue of security, (Boko Haram), tackling corruption and the economy.
So if you want to look at the scorecard on President Buhari, I will say that it is in fits and starts. It will depend on his roadmap and where is the roadmap? We don’t seem to have his roadmap except in the area of corruption and even in that area it is more atmospheric than strategic in fighting corruption. We don’t really strategy in fighting corruption.
Corruption is part and parcel of free enterprise capitalism. Buhari is no revolutionary; he is an assured member of the ruling class, so he does not want to commit class suicide.
Although certain elements of the ruling class in the North don’t like his courage, because they say that he is too populist and they are afraid.
You know rich men are usually afraid of revolution. Buhari is not Jerry Rawlings. He had tried three times to become President and the fourth time Allah smiled on him.
I think it is work in progress. Mid-term report, again, I think his health has not been good. Somebody who has been challenged by old age affliction might not be able to give his best. Look at Robert Mugabe, 92 going on 93, he is now going to Singapore on medical tourism, how long will he survive?
And those who wish Buhari bad might not succeed because they are not God, because God has a purpose for everyone. And anybody can be sick at any time. So they have to indulge him, pray for him, and hope that he would come back and impress Nigerians during his remaining two years of his mandate.
The APC had a manifesto but as it is now, where are the three million jobs they promised? Where is the free lunch for school pupils and the unemployment allowance they promised? We have not seen any.
Why did you say the anti-corruption has been atmospheric?
I say it is more of drama, more of media show. There is no strategy. They do not even have any clear figure on how much has been retrieved. I know that some malevolent voices have said that most of the money said to have been discovered were more of hot air, managing to give the impression that something was happening. How many people have been convicted? Now I know of the INEC staff that made confessional statement and has been convicted. Fighting corruption is a revolutionary activity. You don’t fight corruption with kid gloves. You must be prepared to change the modality for governing Nigeria.
For instance, the legal system we inherited has been part of the stumbling block.
Recall that in far away Ethiopia, Buhari once said that the judges were part of his problems. What is safe to say is that there is a need to overhaul our criminal procedure system such that we put the shoe on the other foot. By that I mean do away with the presumption of innocence and replace it with presumption of guilt.
So if you are seen to be living beyond your means, and you have humongous amount of money with you, you are presumed to be guilty until you prove your innocence. So we adopt the French system instead of the British. Those things require a revolution. We are not in fact in a revolutionary situation rather a pre-revolutionary situation.
That is where Buhari’s problems begin, because the guys that are accused of fraud are high-heeled. They have a lot of money and nuisance value. Then they can pay heavy duty lawyers to defend them and you can see he scenario playing out. Because they will tell you there is presumption of innocence and the onus of proof is on you.
They will even make it difficult. In one particular case, I heard that one of the lawyers ran away to Dubai with the title document of property of an accused person- specifically that of Air Marshal Alex Barde, former Chief of Defence Staff. So it caused a lot of brouhaha on the part of those politically exposed persons accused of corruption. And they have been enjoying their long day in court with no end in sight. So it is a little problematic to issue a scorecard on Buhari’s administration.
What are the implications of the emergence of Emmanuel Macron as Presidentelect of France and Moon Jae-in as that of South Korea?
It tells me that everything depends of the level of political sophistication of the electorate. The French are very sophisticated politically. Next to Germany, they are the most important economic power in Europe and they have a very interesting history. It goes all the way back to the overthrow of the Bourbons, then to the French Revolution, the Napoleonic wars, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizens, then three-colour flag, the Storming of the Bastille.
The French have settled all these issues way back in the 18 century. France has tremendous love for what they call glory; they call it the glorious France; they have a lot of history and they voted in their national interest to remain in Europe. France has the focus; unlike the current American disaster of a President they call Donald Trump, who thought that his populist policies would smash European Union into smithereens.
But you saw what happened not only in France, but in Holland, Austria and I think the same thing will happen in Germany. You can see that the theatrics of Donald Trump have been curtailed. Even in South Korea where you thought there was going to be some dramatic issues with regard to DRK, you can see that they have elected a former human rights lawyer, who is a little bit left wing and who wants to do business with Pyongyang.
It is a slap on the face of Donald Trump, because he has driven the situation to such a high level, high octane, high decibel And you know that North Korea is not a small fry. I was there in Pyongyang in 1989, and I saw the exploits of the Koreans and you know them and it dated back to 1953. I was in Panton Juan, the hottest part of the world now. Where you have troops of North Korea facing American GIs and the young man in Korea is leaving nobody in doubt that you don’t mess around with North Korea.
You remember the case of USS Pueblo of 1967 when the Koreans ceased an American spy hip and stripped it of anything usable and returned the carcass to the US.
So most of what Trump has been drumming up smacks of braggadocio. He knows that he could have brought World War III if he did anything nasty and the South Koreans want to do business with their kilt and kin and not want to be part of anybody’s geo-politics with massive vote against American intervention in the Korean Peninsula. As it is now, it seems Donald Trump is losing left right and centre. Look at what he did the other day, he fired the Federal Bureau of Investigations’ Director, James Comey and he made the reasons very plausible.
So all that is happening in the world now is a rejection of Trump’s American recipe for the globe, because Trump, I am sorry to say, is a political novice. That is why he is putting his mouth in every part of the world. And the last thing I want to say is that even the British that voted for Brexit, I think, will be having a rethink now, and Theresa May may have the shock of her life by losing the election that is happening very soon.
She might want to catch in, but with what is happening now, the British people would be asking: ‘Is it right to go it alone?’ I think they made a terrible decision and they are going to rue it…
And what point is Theresa May trying to prove? This is 2017; we are not in the 16 century when the British defeated the Spanish Armada. They should wake up and smell the coffee. They need reality check.
What is your take on the release of some the Chibok girls. One of the negotiators said over 1000 girls are still in their custody?
I am yet to read that as at now, but I heard that some of them are unwilling to return. Boko Haram is an arm of ISIS and they are very deadly.
Look, the havoc that ISIS has committed pales into nothingness when compared with what Boko Haram has done – the devastation of an entire region of Nigeria. If they are holding on to about 1000 more people that may not be far from the truth, but you know that the President has risen to the situation by routing them out of the country.
You remember what he did to Maitassini and he is a man who has commanded many of the divisions of the Nigeria Army.
He has proved his mettle and you can’t compare him with Jonathan, because Buhari has scored a lot of kudos in dealing with Boko Haram in the language they understand. Like Ibrahim Babangida once said they are masters in the management of violence.
So in that regard, I think we should commend President Buhari.
Interest rates cut likely at MPC’s meeting in 2018 –Aigboje
Managing Director, Capital Bancorp Plc, Mr. Higo Aigboje in this interview with Chris Ugwu, speaks on the financial services sector and the economy and concludes that there is a possibility of rates cut in 2018. Excerpts:
What is your take on the financial market?
The Nigerian financial market performance in 2017 was more stable than the previous year using some economic and market indicators as yardsticks.
Unlike the previous year where only the money and bond markets were active as a result relatively high interest rates occasioned in part by the ever increasing inflation rate and federal government’s appetite for borrowing, the stock market had its fair share in the upbeat with the stock market index closed northward and ranked as the third best performing stock market of 2017 globally.
The Foreign Exchange market experienced some level of stability owning to CBN’s actions on introduction of Investors’ and Exporters’ Window and CBN’s direct intervention occasioned by the accretion to the foreign reserves from oil revenues.
The banking industry also saw some level of better performance as some of the banks were able to latch on the opportunities in Nigerian Treasury bills in the year. The banks also saw an improved provisioning as a result of the improved performance of some of their debtors in the year.
Do you expect the gradual recovery in the economy to gain momentum this year?
In what we describe as a fair outing for the Nigerian economy in 2017 having come from a difficult year in 2016, I think the country looks poised to record better performance in 2018. In the early part of the year, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) projected a growth rate of 0.8 per cent while the World Bank projected a growth rate of 1.00 per cent for 2017.
Recent forecast by both bodies have maintained their initial growth forecast for the country. However, we are more bullish as we maintain our growth estimate of 1.5 per cent for 2017. Growth in 2018 was projected to significantly improve on the back of firming oil prices, improved foreign exchange liquidity, rising government revenues and increase in the government spending.
Going from the third quarter 2017, GDP report released by the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics (NBS), the non-oil sector of the Nigerian economy needs to report signs of a recovery for growth to reach levels seen before the oil price decline as consistent negative growth in the non-oil sector will continue to remain a drag on the overall growth potential of the Nigerian economy.
I also hope that appropriate policies, both monetary and fiscal will be put in place in 2018 to drive economic growth. I think also that the Federal Government will rapidly pass the 2018 Budget into law and execute the projects in desirable time to boost economic activities. 1 am of opinion that if the government rides on the current events, which presently are in the favour of Nigeria, the country will grow by an average of 2.2 per cent in 2018, despite downside risk to this growth forecast.
So, what are the downside risks to Nigeria’s GDP growth?
The projected GDP growth rate for 2018 should become a reality if the government continues to boost its non-oil sector revenues and properly deal with issues relating to wasteful government spending and non-friendly business policies.
Some of the downward risks to GDP growth also include a sudden decline in oil prices due to increased production from exporting countries; a sudden rise in insecurity and insurgency, which may disrupt economic activities in Nigeria; improper management and use of its foreign reserves, which would lead to further depletion and cause FX volatility and lack of clear and proper fiscal policies to drive different sectors of the economy.
The trending patriotic policies by advanced countries may also hamper inflow of both Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs) and Foreign Portfolio Investments (FPIs) even as some advanced countries have reported a rise in interest rates.
Looking at how some banks fared in 2017, do you think they will continue to return profits in 2018?
The Nigerian banking sector has remained one of the most vibrant and delicate sectors in the Nigerian economy especially as it has the capacity to send shock waves round the economy if it fails.
The sector has since 2015 continued to suffer significant headwinds as the CBN monetary policies and economic realities have continued to hamper its ability to significantly grow profits. However, most of the Tier-1 banks have been able to surmount these headwinds and have continued to surpass expectations even in the face of the unfriendly business environment and hostile business policies.
2017 saw the banking sector continue to post bumper earnings especially for most of the Tier-1 banks and a few Tier-2 banks. The rest of the group have continued to battle with high level of loan impairment, which has eaten deep into their operating profit and dampened their ability to grow their bottom line.
Non-Performing loans as at June 2016 stood at 11.7 percent and rose to 12.8 as at December 2016 with a large portion of the rise attributed to the banks in the Tier-2 space. The CBN may need to increase its oversight of the credit and approval process of the tie-2 banks in a bid to limit the rising NPLs.
The banks in 2017 are also expected to report higher interest income on the back of the high interest rate environment observed during the period while we expect an increase in cost to income ratio for the period.
Going forward, the banking sector is expected to remain robust and continue to return profits into 2018 but with the implementation of IFRS 9, which require banks to recognise impairment sooner and estimate lifetime expected losses against a wider spectrum of assets, which is expected take effect from 2018, we expect a prompt increase in the banks impairment charge, which will reduce profitability going forward but make banks stronger and less exposed to risk of impairment shocks.
Also, despite the reduction in interest rates, which is expected to increase banks’ lending to the real sector of the economy, the implementation of IFRS 9 may hamper some of the banks as an aggressive rise in loan advances would give rise to increased provisioning, which may affect the bank’s capital buffers in the immediate. All in all, the banks are expected to have a decent outing during the year 2018 with less shocks expected in the sector.
Do you think there is need for rates cut following the decline in inflation?
Having maintained the Monetary Policy Rate (MPR) and Cash Reserve Requirement (CRR) at 14 per cent and 22.50 per cent respectively while also retaining the asymmetric corridor of +200 bps above and -500 bps around the MPR for over a year, we expect a rate cut at the first meeting of the Monetary Policy Committee of the CBN in 2018, and we are of the opinion that the committee will cut the benchmark interest rate by 0.5 per cent or 1.00 per cent thereby taking the Monetary Policy Rate (MPR) to 13.50 per cent or 13.00 per cent.
The projected cut in rate is imminent owing to CBN’s continuous slash in stop rates for treasury bills, which once stood at a high of about 18.815 per cent in May 2017 and closed the last auction date at 15.57 percent last November.
The continuous decline in inflation figures have also supported the banks target to reduce the interest burden on its debt obligation and also offer real return on its securities.
In a bid to reduce the country’s domestic debt obligation, CBN repaid all the maturing treasury bills that matured in December 2017 and have signalled that it would continue to drop its stop rate going forward into year 2018 even as the CBN targets inflation rate below 12 percent for 2018.
As CBN drops MPR rate, we expect the real sector of the economy to benefit as a few banks will be forced to lend to the real sector of the economy as government securities become less attractive given the low return being offered.
Businesses will also see their interest expense drop on the back of dropping interest rates and we anticipated the MPR to close the year at 12 per cent, 2 per cent down from 14 per cent benchmark rate as at December 2017.
What is your take on the stock market in 2017 and the prospects in the current year?
The Nigerian stock market had an impressive showing in 2017 having closed the year with return of 42.30 per cent making it the third best performing stock market behind Argentina, which returned 77 per cent and Turkey that returned 48 per cent, we have projected a 25 per cent return for the Nigeria Stock Market for 2018 though downside risk to achieving this target remain visible.
The market gains in 2017 were driven by impressive returns in the Banking sector, which returned 73.32 per cent, the consumer goods sector that returned 36.97 per cent and the industrial goods sector, which returned 23.84 per cent while other sectors of the market recorded gains except for the Alternative securities market (ASEM), which closed down by 8.60 per cent.
The trading aspect recorded significant recovery while the market witnessed increased issues compared to 2016 where there were no issues.
The year 2018 is expected to witness a similar trend observed in 2017 as economic indicators have improved and the world now projects increased investor confidence and GDP growth for Nigerian economy.
Going forward we expect to see more trading activities in the secondary market as listed companies will begin to trade at new highs never seen before even as their profitability soars on the back of a vibrant economy.
The primary market is also expected to be active in the year with expectation of new listings, mergers and acquisitions, Rights issue, listing by introduction etc. are all expected to drive overall market activity and deepen the market in the process.
What do you think will determine the success of the market this year?
The success of the Nigerian stock market will be hinged on many factors. Amongst them are the firming or stability of oil prices; constant monitoring and effective management of the foreign exchange market; improvement in corporate earnings for the period; significant focus on the non-oil sector to increase output; enhancing the country’s non-oil sector export proceeds to improve FX liquidity; a lower interest rate regime; effective implementation and communication of the government economic policies.
Others include government focus on the real sectors of the economy to stimulate the economy; improve market participation by local investors and Domestic institutional investors; continuous robust regulatory oversight of the listed companies by all the market regulators; passage of Petroleum Industry Bill, unbundling of Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and listing of the resultant companies; listing of already privatised companies such as MTN, Gencos and Discos and effective use of monetary policies.
Having seen the nine months earnings result for most of the listed companies, investor will begin to take position in anticipation of the companies audited result, dividend declaration and Q1 2018 result, which we expect to boost stock prices in the immediate and also trigger further activities especially for companies, which report impressive performance for their Q1 2018 numbers.
Generally, despite the downside risk to the outlook of the equities market, we are optimistic about the performance of the equities market as we believe that most of the fundamentals are in favour of a further surge in the equities market.
In conclusion, despite the rally observed in the equity space in 2017, there remains a pool of untapped potential in the stock market as most of the listed companies still trade at prices below their book value while a few stocks still trade at prices below our recommended target price.
We believe the current prices still gives room for ample upside and significant return to investors despite the fact that the dividend yield of the company would have slightly inched lower on the back of rising prices but still remain attractive especially with the potential benefit of capital appreciation in the short to medium term. We however, advise that investment in the stock market be made mainly on fundamental analysis and not on the back of a band wagon effect, which could fizzle out at any moment and keep the investor trapped in a wrong stock.
Ogebe: FG must brand killer herdsmen as terrorist group
He plies his law trade in the United States of America (USA). Emmanuel Ogebe, managing partner of US-Nigeria Law Group, in this interview with TUNDE OYESINA, speaks on killer herdsmen, proposed cattle colonies, anti-grazing laws and sundry issues
There are a series of solutions being canvassed by major stakeholders to at least curb excesses of the Fulani herdsmen and its attendant implications on nation building. And one of them is Anti-Open Grazing Law passed in Benue and a few other states of the federation. To what extent would you say this would help to tame frequent clash between the Fulani herdsmen and the farmers?
Barely a month after our last fact finding meeting to Nigeria, the human rights situation has continued to deteriorate and on January 1st, 2018, there was a serious massacre in Benue State, where about 73 people were killed. We went on a fact finding mission to Benue and it what we found was deeply disturbing. The piece of evidence we got support the allegations we heard previously about the Adamawa attack that there was government action of bias in favour of the attackers.
In Adamawa, we heard that the Air Force officers were used against the indigenes who were trying to defend themselves from the attackers. In Benue, it was even more grievous in that the Minister of Defence announced while we were in Benue, essentially, that these attacks were justified because the governor passed a law that they didn’t like and we evaluate whether the Fulani herdsmen are actually terrorists as it’s being reported by the global terrorism unit, we begin to see that the case is being established.
If you have a group that says they are rejecting a duly passed law by a constituted authority and they demonstrated their protest against the law by taking up arms against the state, that is an insurgency. They are now confirming what they said about taking over Nigeria and for the officials of the federal government, including the minister of defence to actually go against a state government that passed a law which was popular in the state is very worrisome.
There were protests by Benue indigenes over the activities of herdsmen in the state and they were the ones who pressed on members of the State House of Assembly to pass the law. It is a very sad situation where the FG is undermining the state to regulate activities of herdsmen in the state.
They feel the movement of cattle is a threat to their safety, farmland and crops, hence, the need to pass the law.
For the FG to begin to undermine the state is something that is very bad and should be condemned
Do you think the Fulani herdsmen’s claim that they were not carried along before the law was passed is enough justification for the mayhem?
That allegation from my investigation is false because it was a bill. There were public hearings on these bills and they were invited to make their presentations. We were told that an additional hearing was done in different locations just to accord everybody the opportunity to air their views.
We talked to current actors in the state and past officials of this administration. One of the things that we were told was that the president said to them that for God sake go and accommodate your country men. People from the past administration said that they flew down the Sultan from Sokoto to come and speak to those people as part of the peace efforts. Not only that, the previous administration built a mosque for them.
Despite the fact that Benue state is a Christian state, they went out of their way to build a mosque for them. It is a fact that Benue state “over accommodated” these people as an average of six people were killed in a day, that is an epidemic between 2003 and 2016 as there were over 40 attacks in Benue.
Do you think the cattle colony as being suggested by the Agric Minister, rather than the Anti-grazing law in the state is the way out?
Of course, by now, this government is supposed to have realised that the use of the term colony is despicable and unacceptable to any right thinking Nigerian. What has happened is, in Benue state, I found out that the former Senate President, David Mark has a ranch and has herds of cattle and he is obeying the laws of his state. Then, other people from outside will come into the state and talk about rejecting the laws when indigenes are obeying the law? He was the Chief lawmaker of the Federation and he is respecting a state law. It is very bad that the Federal Government wants to propose cattle colony, a solution they do not have the legal capacity to implement.
Land is vested on only two people, the state and the local authorities, and that is why we have the C of O’s and the R of O. The Federal Government essentially do not have land. So, they are proposing something that they cannot even implement.
Another finding we made when we were in Benue state was that they had ranches that were actually developed under the civilian democratic dispensation that Buhari overthrew. We have cattle ranch in Igumale and Ikyogen. You can see that at least 30 years ago, cattle ranch was already in order in the state but now, what we are looking for as a potential solution is for the state to resuscitate those ranches. It is not even the best agricultural practise to be running cattle up and down.
The leadership of the Miyetti Allah Breeders Association visited the NBA president in his office here in Abuja and said that Governor Samuel Ortom was warned before passing the anti-grazing law. What do you have to say about this?
You see, it is worrisome when an NGO makes threat to a duly constituted government. There have been other laws that have been attempted to be passed. There was the proposed social media law, NGO regulation law and many others but what did the civil society do? They did advocacy against these laws and those laws were not passed.
That is what any right thinking civilised person should do. But when you start killing people, then you are legitimising barbarism. What we should have seen would have been advocacy when the bill was being debated upon. You can even go to the extent of filing legal actions instead of trying to justify the mayhem that is not justifiable.
It is only in Nigeria that you see cows in stadium, expressway, Airport runway and everywhere. Cows have turned to executive convoy. What these people should do is to either obey the law or leave the state. When they were introducing Sharia laws in their states, President Buhari went as far as saying that why are the Christians bothered about cutting of Muslims hands. He told them to keep quiet.
The same argument can be made in Benue. Benue people are saying that they don’t want cows to destroy their farmlands and they should respect the laws of Benue. If you cannot pass through Benue without destroying their farms, find another route and go to states that allow destruction of farms. This is an issue of survival of human beings because the food stuff is been threatened not only in Benue but the whole of Nigeria. You have a situation where in addition to the hardship that has been caused by government’s policies, you also have the hardship of the herdsmen atrocities.
We went to Benue and we saw farmers in IDP camps. If the farmers are not working, there is going to be a shortage of food supply and obviously when there is a shortage of food supply and high rate on demand, the prices go up. So, the government inaction is having an adverse economic effect in Benue.
The civil servants in Benue have not been paid and the only way they survived in Benue is through farming. You now have a double jeopardy where salaries are not been paid and the farmers cannot farm. There is food crisis in Benue as we speak and within a short while it will spread across the country. We have a serious food crisis situation in Nigerian when the Boko Haram started and now we have a new additional factor of the Fulani herdsmen.
These herdsmen have claimed more lives this year than the Boko Haram. They have the broader footprint of the attack in Nigeria than Boko Haram. This year alone, they’ve attacked Taraba, Benue, Adamawa, Plateau and Ondo.
Mass production of local products’ll curb smuggling’
Mr. Ralph Osayameh is the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of GF Investment Group. In this interview with BAYO AKOMOLAFE, Osayameh insists that mass production of local products will reduce cases of smuggling in the country, stressing that economy diversification into agriculture and mineral resources hold the ace for economic recovery, among other sundry issues.
What is your take on the Federal Government’s Export Expansion Grant (EEG)’s modification?
It is a good step in the right direction. We need to stimulate export. From the way it is being executed now, both Nigerians and foreigners can benefit from it and don’t forget that the creation of the free zones are intended to leverage on the perception of government as well. I think it is a step in the right direction.
Nigeria is an import-driven country. We even import fuel when we have the crude to be refined. Government is making efforts to stop importation of rice and other products and it has not deemed it necessary to stop fuel importation by focusing on local refining. And we need to ask ourselves: why has it been impossible to refine fuel locally? It is one of the unfortunate developments in our political system. I read recently the amount of money being voted for the usual turnaround of the three refineries, which have refused to perform. Sell these so-called gigantic national assets and diversify. You can even do quite manageable refinery at less cost with less problem. But part of what government has done, which is quite possible, is what they have done to Dangote. The Dangote refinery will do quite a lot in this direction.
Has Nigeria come out of recession as claimed by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS)?
Technically, yes. We have got out of the economic recession with a very small margin. But in practice and with regard to what we have and the potential of what we have to do for the future, we are really not far from where we were before. It is a very slim margin and many economists are worried that these indices that you are flagging do not support the fact that we can be out of the woods for a very long time. We are still on mono product economy, we have a much-bloated expenditure profile and the projection does not even support the indices.
If the current economic level cannot be sustained, what other ways would you suggest for us to overcome this fragile economy?
Let me state clearly that the projection for 2018 budget tends to stipulate that we are going to have oil output of 2.3 million barrels. That is not sustainable, given the kind of oil cut that is now predominant in oil market and other oil climes. But having said that, the agricultural sector that we have been drumming support for over the years, which can take us out of the doldrums, is not being vigorously pursued. I must commend the present minister of agriculture, who said we are going to be self-sufficient in area of rice production in the future. But we need to do a lot more in the area of mineral resources for which this country is so richly blessed and which can re-order our pattern in revenue profile. We have not done much in that direction. What are we doing with limestone? What are we doing with gold? What are we doing with many other mineral deposits we have in this country? The truth is that we haven’t done much at all and these are being left to ordinary artisans. I think we need to articulate this better and until we re-direct the economy from the current apathy towards major products, I don’t think it is not sustainable.
How do you think government can suppress smuggling of rice in order to attain self-sufficiency?
By the time we over-supply, based on the abundance of evidence that we have, we can then crash the prices and smuggling will become unattractive. By the time the strategy is formalised in the next two to three years, Nigeria will become net exporter of rice and even if we don’t become net exporter, we will satisfy our local demand and consumption. Then, tell me what will be the urge to bring some quantity of rice through smuggling. That is not to suggest that even if we produced adequately for our use, we should create a situation whereby we manage all these influx of things that are not desirable. Now that people are eating local rice – the Ofada rice – then, the foreign taste will go down. Some of us are now patronising local fabric. If we do that, the message will be clear that this is a new initiative. Patronise what is Nigeria and, at the same time, boycott foreign products. I am not concerned about smuggling. You cannot even eliminate smuggling totally. By the time you have increased internal production, you will totally wipe off external products.
How has the policy of Single Treasury Account (TSA) and foreign currency restriction on certain imported items helped to grow the Nigerian economy?
Well, if there is any sector that has done well, it is the banking sector, particularly the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). We are totally dependent on import and that is why the exchange rate went beyond the roof to almost N550 to the dollar. But because of so many cries and exercises, we have been able to get it back to normal.
The Treasury Single Account (TSA) has done very well also because a lot of leakages came up. One government agency will have as many as 200 bank accounts without any control. Now, they have been able to centralise these, to a large extent, not totally. So, wastages have been controlled. Also, you can have complete control of what is available by way of disposable revenue in a more transparent manner, unlike what it was before whereby accounts were kept all over the place and with the TSA, a lot of money had been earned.
Don’t forget the Bank Verification Number (BVN), whereby CBN limits cash flow by way of ‘corruption money’. If anybody has to open an account now in three to four different places, the BVN can now do a summary of all of them. So, it limits corruption and if it is sustained, it will be better for us. So, with the exchange rate management, foreign exchange will no longer be granted for certain import items. The effective implementation of BVN and TSA in the country will be better for us all.
So, why are people evading tax in Nigeria?
Well, my own submission on this is that there is nothing good in moving money from your own domain to a place where you can avoid tax. If you legitimately move money for investment purpose from one area to another, based on universality of money, there is nothing bad in it. But for you to move money from one area to another, just because you want to hide it or because you don’t want people to know about it because you want to avoid tax, I don’t think there is anything good about it. But, unfortunately, it has become a universal phenomenon. The rich will always be richer and they discuss among themselves to find out how to avoid tax. It is the ordinary man who cannot hide his income that bears the brunt. One thing is that whatever is not desirable is not desirable.
I am not against free flow of fund all over the world. It is universal; money can flow. After all, we were talking of direct foreign investment. If money can flow in to do business here, why not? Legitimately, they bring it in; it is recorded at CBN that foreign money had flown in. If they want to repatriate, they can, if they want to have dividend, they can repatriate it. That is good money. But it is bad if it is for the purpose of avoiding tax and laundering. This can be termed as corruption in another way.
The banks today are declaring jumbo profits even when they have mountain of bad debts, which should ordinarily eat up their profit going by the prevailing financial reporting standards. Despite their huge profit, their interest rate is high. Some experts have accused them of window dressing.
Do you think Nigeria has capacity to address economic challenges?
It is a question of perception. There is an economic team led by the vice president and they are doing a good job. It was very visible during the regime of Obasanjo because we had a dominant president and a dominant minister of finance who doubled as chairperson of the economic team, which was Okonjo Iweala. You know the vice president has brought intellectualism into governance. They are doing a lot of things quietly. Everything cannot be fixed in one day. The only thing I want them to do really is that they should be consistent and they should find solution to the problem of power supply.
Permanent solution to the problem of power supply is a major variant in any development programme for any country. If we cannot even have supply within the economic sector; particularly the manufacturing sector, that is not good for business. No foreign investor would want to start investing in generators to power his or her business. I remember that somebody said some time ago when he was making sarcastic comment that Nigeria is the best economy in Africa and one of the best in the world. For a generator-based economy to be one of the best, then something must be wrong. We must find a common solution to the power problem. There are so many opportunities these days. We can have a modern system that is solar-based; we can have organisations that are within some geographical location that can have something like that. I think it is one of the issues that government must look into. State governments don’t need to spend money to get power supply into the grid and if any state government can do it, let them do it and let them face competition for the survival of the fittest.
You said the vice-president and his economic team are doing fairly well when we have not witnessed inflow of foreign direct investment through the campaign for the ease of doing business in Nigeria. How will you justify your comment about the economic team?
You saw the classification of Nigeria some time ago. From about 120 rating, the country has moved 24 points within two years circle. If this is sustained, it means that even by projection, in another five years or 10, we are going to move by 50 points. This country is still a very fertile ground for investors to come in. In which country in the world do you think you can have a return on investment of about five to 10 per cent? In the developed economy, you will be lucky to have modicum of investment return. But here, you can have five to 10 per cent returns. Despite all the challenges such as lack of power supply, poor infrastructure, the investors are still willing to come because they know this is a fertile ground. But we must put our house in order. This is a regime that started well. If they can continue like this in another five years’ time, the story will be quite different. So, we are on the right track and I suggest that if it is maintained, we can get better.
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