Three Federal Government announced last week its decision to sell some national assets as part of the 12 priority strategies with which it hopes to jolt the country out of economic recession. The decision has been approved by the National Economic Council (NEC) composed of governors of the 36 states and the Governor of the Central Bank, and chaired by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo.
A statement issued by the office of the Vice President said the proceeds of the sale would be injected into the economy to tackle the recession. The other recession-fighting strategies include the rehabilitation of the oil refineries, raising of crude oil production to 2.2 million barrels per day from its current 1.9 million bpd., enforcement of advance payment for licence renewals and the execution of an ambitious housing scheme.
The proposal on assets sale is not new. It has always been cited as an option in view of the country’s budget financing difficulties arising from the collapse of oil prices in the world market. Among eminent Nigerians of independent thought who support the sale are the Chairman of Dangote Industries Ltd. and Africa’s richest man, Dr. Aliko Dangote; former Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) now Emir of Kano, Alhaji Mohammed Sanusi and Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki. Opposed to the sale are other equally eminent persons and institutions such as the former Governor of the CBN, Prof. Chukwuma Soludo, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and its leader Mr. Ayuba Wabba, and the Revenue Mobilisation and Fiscal Accountability Commission (RMFAC).
When the idea of the sale of national assets was first mooted last year, we had advised the government to be circumspect on the matter, recalling that the previous sale of the National Electric Power Authority (NEPA) and Nigeria Telecommunications Ltd. (NITEL) yielded little or no visible economic gains to the country. We had then suggested a more prudent management of resources and the institution of fiscal measures that can stimulate the economy. Our argument, then and even now, is that a hurried auction of our national assets will shortchange the country.
We have not shifted from our position on this all important matter. Assets sale is always beset with difficulties. But, it would appear that after months of disputations and cost-benefit analyses, government has now reached a final conclusion that there is no better alternative to the sale.
Now that the NEC has voted for the sale, the assets must be properly and transparently audited and assessed. Due diligence must be seen to be done. The government must be specific and transparent on what it wants to sell and what it intends to do with the proceeds of the sale. The country will need a detailed breakdown of the needs that must be met that have made the sale compelling and inevitable, and the money realised from the sale must be used to meet these needs.
Besides, government should step up other measures that will help pry the country from the grip of recession. These should include infrastructure concessioning, effective use of recovered funds, meaningful diversification and drastic reduction of importation.
In this regard, we laud the proposal from the American conglomerate, General Electric (GE), to partner the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) on the rehabilitation of the Port Harcourt, Warri and Kaduna refineries, in order to bring them fully on stream.
In the same vein, we commend the Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kehinde Adeosun, on the Public/Private Partnership on affordable housing, with a delivery target of 400,000 to 500,000 housing units per annum. This would have been a great shot in the arm for the economy, but for the fact that the N500 billion initial outlay seems inadequate for a nation-wide housing campaign.
We urge the minister to pursue the programme with single-mindedness. A similar proposal was made by one of her predecessors, but nothing more was heard of it after the initial announcement.
Let the government pursue its economic recovery plan with all sense of responsibility. If any national assets are to be sold at all, it must be done with all sense of seriousness and with the best interest of the country in mind. Every effort must also be made to ensure that the gains of such sale get to the citizens who should be the main beneficiaries of the initiative.