Villascope with Lawrence Olaoye
National Chairman of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, needs no introduction when it comes to saying things as they are without minding whose ox is gored.
The firebrand erstwhile Labour leader demonstrated his inbuilt candor on Wednesday in the Council Chamber at the Presidential Villa during his remarks at the Presidential Policy Retreat chaired by President Muhammadu Buhari.
Also at the dialogue where government policies in the last four years of Buhari’s presidency were x-rayed with a view to setting fresh agenda for the Next Level, Oshiomhole’s penchant for opposition activism came alive as he told the participants, including state governors, where they are currently getting it wrong. Oshiomhole’s unabashedly painted the the stark reality of the state of the nation like an opposition element would do whenever he has an opportunity to come face to face with policy makers.
The APC helmsman betrayed his background by openly advocating for pro-poor, pro-masses policies. He gave kudos to the government where necessary and delivered pungent knocks where necessary. Considering the prevailing economic realities in the country, Oshiomhole pointed out where government at all levels are playing the ostrich.
Unlike in the past where those in power are being patronized by mere platitudes, Oshimhole, in his usual abrasive manner, made discomfiting observations aimed at gingering the leaders to their responsibilities to the people who elected them into offices.
Beginning with the President on his self set targets of fighting insecurity, corruption and repositioning the nation’s economy, Oshiomhole told him point blank that there were rooms for improvements even when he acknowledged that there have been notable improvements.
Unlike some other praise singers in the corridor of power, the APC Chairman was bold enough to tell the President that insecurity in the country has taken another dimension requiring intuitive initiatives from government at all levels. He told the stakeholders that the reports of criminalities like banditry, kidnapping and armed robbery are on the rise and require proactive measures to be curtailed.
“On the economy, there is the challenge of high rate of poverty in spite of all the efforts and in spite the fact that we are out of recession and we are able to talk about economic growth. But unfortunately the rate of growth is still far less than the rate of population growth. If our economic growth rate is still lower than the rate of population growth poverty would remain endemic. On the economy, there is the challenge of high rate of poverty, inequality, access to credit and mortgage.
Mr President, I know deep in your heart and assessing the basis of our campaign the issue of inequality is primary. We don’t just want to grow the economy, create more wealth, we are also interested in who is benefiting from this wealth and what policy instruments are required to ensure that inequality is addressed and that the average Nigerian people, particularly the masses that constitutes the electorates, benefit from the fruit of growth.
This will require a review of access to credit and access to mortgage, unemployment, low level of manufacturing and the need for diversification of the economy.
In addition, there is the need to increase our revenue, block leakages and ensure that our budget delivers services to the citizens.” These truisms coming from someone in power is rare in this clime. What we are used to is patronizing words aimed at glamorizing those in power even when they are not doing the right things.
He went ahead to assess the government’s anti-corruption war and pointed out the obvious that everyone in power would rather ignore.
Oshiomhole’s argument was that the government should put in place social and financial valves to make corruption unattractive. As things stand now, corruption is inevitable considering the nation’s economic reality.
Examine his analysis: “There are many who have said that we should not just pursue corruption, we should deal with how to even prevent it.
Many wondered how can a salary earner who desire to have a house but who is paid in 30 days interval where they are paid regularly and he earns a million a month, that is even to put the number generously.
How can he own a house if a house cost as much as 10 million naira?
Everywhere in the world, people have access to credit and that credit does two things – because you have borrowed, and you know if you don’t work the house would be taken from you. We can’t continue with a system where you have to have N20 million, N50 million or even N100 million to be able to build a house.
“The banking system is not delivering to the ordinary people. Access to credit remains a major issue. Let me share my own ignorance. I am unable to understand, for example as a worker, why in Europe when they are in economic recession they reduce their interest rates. In Nigeria when we are in recession we increase our interest rate. How do we price money at such level and expect that the ordinary people can borrow to set up businesses? We do need practical solutions beyond theories. We need to re-examining our condition what we saw different from what we see elsewhere in the world. If you want to buy a car Mr President, you must have N20 million to pay cash. To have N20 million to pay cash if you are not a big businessman it cannot possibly come from a legitimate salary given the known salary structure in the Nigerian public sector and even the disclosed portion of the Nigerian private sector. So if people desire to buy a car and the banking system is not open to credit, the only way is to steal big in order to purchase. But we have all travelled round the world, 10 percent is enough to own a car if you have verifiable job and a banking history and you pay in installment month by month until you deferred the car.
As a worker you know the benefit of that if you don’t work and you are fired that car would be recovered by insurance company or whoever is the lender. So, we do need to review all of these so that in dealing with corruption, we deal with the preventive part.” So apt and direct!
Now, one can see how difficult the government will find winning the war against corruption with the prevailing economic reality.
Oshiomhole also queried the use of the nation’s pension funds. Like he pointed out, such funds running into trillions of Naira under the National Pension Commission (PENCOM) is supposed to be issued out to people as long term loans but such is being borrowed by government.
Hear the APC boss: “The logic behind introducing the pension scheme under PENCOM, was that the workers social capital that they deducted every month, which they would not need to draw on until they retire about 30 years or 35 years later, provide a basis for long term fund.
Happily, pencom has generated over five to six trillion naira since it commenced operation. Unfortunately, the money is borrowed by government both federal and state and unfortunately it is not available to address the social purpose of the working people whose contributions the pension fund evolved. I asked our experts to recognize that the primary purpose of the workers social capital is that it would be creatively managed and deployed to workers social needs including housing, education and all the other factors. It wasn’t meant to fund government’s deficit, it wasn’t meant to support federal government deficit. It was meant to address the primary social purpose of those who work so that they are sure that by the time they finished their employment that they are retired, they have a modest home to retire to.”
With frank talks from Oshiomhole and his ilk in government and the demonstrated willingness of the President to listen and act accordingly, I’m convinced that the Presidential retreat won’t be a jamboree. The masses who have been bearing the brunt of bad governance in the past are likely to soon smile if the anomalies highlighted by the APC National Chairman could be addressed.