By Daniel Kanu
Former Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) and former Finance Minister, Chief Olu Falae, ran for the presidential election in 1999 under the platform of Alliance for Democracy (AD). Since then, he has remained one of the greatest promoters of national unity and growth of democracy in the country.
He was the national chairman of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) before he retired from active politics in 2019.
He is today the Olu of Ilu-Abo in Ondo State.
In this exclusive chat with Sunday Sun, the consummate politician-cum-technocrat speaks on the re-designing of the naira and its wrong timing, critical issues presidential candidates must provide how to tackle, and not just promises, why he does not have a candidate and may not vote in the 2023 elections, among other sensitive issues. Excerpts:
As a renowned financial expert, tell us your view on the move by the Central Bank to re-design the naira?
Well, the redesigning or re-issuing a currency can be designed to achieve multiple objectives. At times, when the currency is gradually devalued you have to carry a lot of paper to make small payment, so to tackle the inconvenience you redesign the currency. At times also the reason may be to discourage those who hoard the local currency, the naira, for doing all kinds of dubious businesses. And when you redesign the currency what they are holding in huge quantities at home will become useless because it will be difficult to get all of that money to the banking system. So, there are various reasons for redesigning currencies, but in this case of Nigeria, the timing of the redesigning is very unfortunate. I say that because even before the Central Bank announced that a new currency may be issued in December the naira was already undergoing tremendous pressure from politicians who are trying to buy dollars for campaign and election. That was already devaluing the naira in a very serious way, that was going on and then the Federal Government announced that they were going to redesign the currency. This led to people holding huge quantities of naira rushing to the market trying to buy dollar with the naira they are holding. This is because the bulk of what they are holding cannot be taken to the banks without raising eyebrows because a lot of the money must have been acquired in the first place in a dubious manner, otherwise how do you have a N2 billion in your house? So, in my view, it is very unwise to have announced the redesign at this time because you are now putting an additional pressure on the naira, the devaluation will get worse and then to counter that they sent police men and law enforcement agency after currency dealers. You see, the best way to manage an economy is through the use of appropriate policies not strong armed military or police methods that never work in a free enterprise system. We tried it in the past with price control in Nigeria, then the marketing board was controlling the price of produce, what happened? Smugglers will take Nigerian cocoa and take it to Benin Republic and bribe everybody on the way because a ton of cocoa was then N4,000 in Nigeria, but N20,000 in Benin Republic, so enough profit to bribe everybody. And what happened on the international trade statistics? Benin became a major exporter of cocoa without planting any cocoa and Nigerians export disappeared through smuggling, but when we removed the Marketing Board and we freed purchase and buying of cocoa they (Benin Republic) stopped being an exporter of cocoa and Nigeria again became an exporter of cocoa. The point I am making is that the use of control, force, EFCC, police, military etc; those are no instruments for managing an economy. It’s a mistake, it’s an error, they are using them because they made a mistake or putting additional pressure on the naira in addition to what the politicians have already done.
How do you assess the ongoing election campaigns, the issues on conversation, particularly as it concerns the presidential candidates of political parties?
To tell you the truth, I don’t know what you call issues. You see in an election the politician will want to get your vote anyway he can and on the election day they will all abandon the issues; they will bring out the dollars, that has been their strategy for winning elections, buy the votes. But the issues that should dominate the presidential campaign in my view should be three issues. What are they going to do to deal effectively with the security situation? With insecurity nothing else can happen. You cannot develop agriculture, you cannot develop industry, you cannot develop education, you cannot travel from your home to your farm, there will be violence, so security is number one. One of the most fundamental issues in society is security of lives and property, that is number 1. The citizens must be secured and safe before any other thing can follow; education, health, etc. That is because you are alive, but if there is no security then the very fundamental issue in society is compromised. The second issue is the economy. The government itself decided to sell the national assets now, that happens and an individual bank customer becomes bankrupt. The bank will obtain a court order to declare you bankrupt because you cannot service your debt and the court order will allow them to start selling the assets of their customers, now the Federal Government itself is beginning to sell national assets indicative of bankruptcy, so if you want to run a bankrupt system how are you going to finance it. Thirdly, the polity, the restructuring of Nigeria is absolutely essential for the survival and progress of Nigeria; those are the three issues that they should be addressing, in concrete terms, tell us how are you going to engage the terrorists, not just saying we will deal with it when we get there, no what exactly are you going to do? Look, Yar’Adua adopted a multi-pronged strategy for insecurity in the Niger Delta, dialogue with them, fighting them, amnesty, training e.t.c. So, we want to hear from those would be president what specifically are they going to do to deal with insecurity and terrorism within the first six months of their becoming president. That is what we want to hear, I am not hearing that; 70 per cent of government revenue, according to the Minister of Finance, not me, is being used to service debt now; how are you going to take care of your staff, the civilians, the military, the police, custom, immigration, the embassies abroad, maintain the roads, universities and polytechnics, where are you going to find the money to run those issues? That’s what I want to hear specific proposals and then restructuring of Nigeria, it is wishful thinking to think we would continue to uphold this bankrupt constitution called the Nigerian Constitution. So, we want to hear from them on this specific issues, detailed proposals so that some of us can have an input in the debate.
Are you really hopeful that the presidential candidates, at least, those you have seen their campaign will deliver?
I have my doubt, because I am yet to hear from any of them with the kind of concrete, doable, realistic proposal for dealing with the problem facing the country, these are problems that threaten the very survival of Nigeria, if the terrorists take over then Nigeria has come to an end, but we are bankrupt and when you are bankrupt you cease to exist, but the country cannot cease to exist; what will happen is that they will just be sent in to lower level of living in to poverty and hopelessness, God forbid that. If you don’t restructure the country polarisation and violence will continue. So, these are existential problems; these are not ordinary problems, so I have not heard any of them address any of these problems in a pragmatic, realistic, concrete way, so I have my doubt whether they can really do the job.
How will you react to the activities of your party, the Social Democratic Party(SDP)?
I retired from partisan politics four years ago, I don’t have any party, I used to be national leader of SDP. For the past four years, I have retired and I announced it and it was carried publicly by all the media, including The Sun that I have retired from partisan politics, though politicians don’t retire, I have retired.
But you still advise them being your party?
Anybody who comes to me I will advise, there is nothing like my party, I don’t have a party, that is why I am not supporting any candidate because I am just a voter now, I am no longer a politician, on election day I may vote if I think there is a candidate there that can do what needs to be done in Nigeria. If I don’t see any one, then I stay home, I won’t vote at all.