Hon Olajide Olatubosun representing Saki West/Saki East/Atisbo in this interview bares his mind on social and political developments in Nigeria as the country clock 59. While warning against permanent closure of the nation’s land borders as he maintains that doing won’t be in the best interest of the country, the lawmaker calls for accelerated passage of PIB Bill. Lawrence Olaoye was there. Excerpts;
Nigeria will be 59 in a few days, how has the journey been so far?
We thank God for if a man is 59 years old, no matter the challenges, he has to look back and say God I thank you for making me alive. Having said that the journey has been very challenging. Unfortunately, Nigeria has not been able to achieve her potentials because at 59 Nigeria should by now be a prosperous nation that the citizens are having a good standard of living and enjoying their lives. But we don’t have that. So, it’s still work in progress and a lot needs to be done.
Nigeria is progressively becoming insecure, what are those things that you’ll suggest the government do to reverse the tide?
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’s the fault of this 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 6-7 percent, we must be doing like 15 percent of our 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 PIB because we know that this economy depends largely on the oil sector. If we can get 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’s a major distortion. The average person for which the subsidy is meant is not enjoying up to 10 percent of it. Nigerians smuggle subsidized fuel to neighbouring countries. That has been confirmed because since last few weeks that our borders have been partially closed, we’ve had figures of 10 million liters of petrol (PMS) per day that have been saved. So look at subsidy on 10 million liters everyday for 365 days in a year for all these years! So, we’re not doing the right thing. It’s high time we began to do something so that in the next eleven years when Nigeria will be 70, we have another story to tell.
In your view, what should the Ninth Assembly do now to change the narratives?
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 NNPC will be a commercial entity. This means that it’s 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 ten years from now, everything being equal, we’ll be telling a different story.
Kidnapping is fast becoming a hyra-headed challenge. When the kidnappers were dislodged from Abuja-Kaduna route, they relocate to Abuja-Lokoja road. How do you think they can be stopped permanently?
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 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 youth need to be gainfully employed. Unfortunately, how many people can 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 ten years, we can get private capital coming in to the country to expand these businesses, employ our youth and gradually insecurity will die down. In the issues of our borders, they are very porous and through it 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 the sustainable solution? The answer is no. So, it’s just a fire brigade approach. It’s working now but in the next one year, trust Nigerians they’ll find a way around it. So we need to do something that will be more enduring and sustainable.
But Nigerians along borderlines are groaning, complaining that their businesses are being affected. Even Nigerian neighbours are pressurizing the government for a review of the border closure, what are the prons and cons of this decision?
As I talk to you, government decision to close the border is affecting my constituents because they are near 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 reopen the borders. Because my constituents are suffering a lot. The gains 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.
President Muhammadu Buhari recently set up an Economic Advisory Council, what in your opinion should be the agenda of this council?
It has to be to 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 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’s administration so far?
In fairness to the government and the EFCC, they’ve done well considering the prevailing circumstances and environment. But it’s a very tough job because the legal system we practice 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 allegation. Cases could go as far as ten 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 percent of the equities, we can’t have these mess that we’re having now. It means it just have 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 has 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.