By Louis Ibah
Dr. Felix Adesanmi, Managing Director/CEO of Banquaires Facilities International Limited, is a policy economist and turn -around expert.
He served as Project Director of EMRO, an economic research organisation established by former Head of State, General Sani Abacha to carry out the socio economic survey of Nigeria developing a long term economic plan for the country.
In this interview with Daily Sun, Adesanmi said ongoing economic and security challenges making life unbearable for Nigerians are direct consequences of the failure by successive governments to conceptualise and successfully execute an economic policy for the country.
What is your assessment of the economy in the last six years?
Let me answer you as an economist, and one vast in policy economics. Basically the Nigerian economy has been wobbling. We have been trying to put up, but the situation has actually not succeed in peaking. The Federal Government tried to boost the economy by injecting a lot of funds into the states when it came on board, and in some commercial institutions, but we have not really been able to get good results. We have also seen the government trying to work to respond to challenges in different sectors of the economy, but again we have not been able to get much results.
I always tell people that as an economist, I don’t think the problem is from this government; honestly our problem stems from the fact that over the the years, we have failed to plan. And when you failed to plan it means you don’t desire a better result. Because in planning you set goals and targets, but when you don’t plan there are no targets to work with. For instance, the Lagos -Ibadan express road, I guess it’s about 110 /120 km at most. The reconstruction work started with President Olusegun Obasanjo, he did it, handed it over to President Yar’adua who passed it on to President Goodluck Jonathan and now it’s President Buhari that is on the same project. This is a typical case of what I mean when I say no plan, no deadline and no target. That’s the problem we have in Nigeria which you hardy find in other developed countries. That Lagos-Ibadan road depicts a system with no cogent plan that clearly states if the road was to be constructed in three years, and what happens if that target is not achieved, the results and benefits to citizens and government, if transportation or food cost will go down, amount of money people spend on car repairs will go down because of a new road and the trend of spending 10 hours on a 1 km road.
So we don’t do things like it is done elsewhere when it comes to economic planning and its benefits. The problem didn’t start today, it has always been there. Buhari has come to inherit it, we are in a bad shape, the problem is too enormous. I served under General Abacha, as consultant to the presidential economic committee. Abacha envisaged what the economy was going to be like in 2010 and he put up an economic plan, and said Nigeria should be at this stage by 2010, but immediately he died those plans were kept in the wardrobe.
Are you linking ongoing economic crisis to the jettisoning of Abacha’s Vision 2010?
Not only did we jettisoned it, we killed it. It was a long term plan; there was to be a rolling plan. There was a short term and medium term plans. In 2010 we envisaged where we will be and there was a commitment to achieve set targets. Today those economies that are far ahead of Nigeria ran with those type of development plans and we are lagging behind with poverty, unemployment and poor infrastructure.
It is like a family where there is no plan; no one knows the number of children or those that would be in school by five years, and everyone is left to their fate. That’s a disaster. Same with Nigeria, no one knows the number of children that comes out of the university every year, we don’t know the number of children that gain entry into the universities and What courses they study? No valid data. So we can’t even plan for the jobs that will absorb them when they graduate. So we now get a lot of disgrunted youths since we can’t provide jobs for them nor do we care how many of them come out and what they will do? So we have a huge youthful population indulging in all manner of activities that is detrimental to the economy because we didn’t plan for them years back when we ought to. So we are suffering from lack of planning.
How much harm do you think terrorism, banditry, kidnappings have done to the economy?
First, we have to look at what brought us to this level. I already told you how I was on the team that carried out a total survey of Nigerian economy during the General Abacha government. Then we toured 21 states; we started with Oyo state, what we did was to comb every city, community and towns in the states and we came out with results, we were able to know the problem of the people and how to meet up with those problems. Now, if you look at the Nigeria setting, the suburb locations are not developed. Even a five or 10 kilometers drive from Abuja, you will be shocked at the kind of people living there. Development in Nigeria is mainly centred around urban areas, especially the state capitals. This means we have created a disturbing pattern where people from the suburbs once they graduate from school or trade migrate leaving the farms and petty jobs they do at that suburban locations to the city centre in search of better life. Sadly, as they migrate to the cities, these areas become overcrowded, infrastructure becomes overstretched. The greatest danger however is that for those that arrive the city center and don’t find the jobs to meet up with their needs they delve into crime. To any jobless man in Nigeria, crime is the only good business for them. So if while in the city, they hear that someone somewhere kidnapped and is being paid N100 million or in dollars they also plan to set up their own group, this this is what we call in economics ‘demonstration effects’ which is if these crooks can do it, I can also do it. So if they set up a banditry group in the corner and make such money we can do so in Lagos, Port Harcourt, anywhere, this is what’s going on now. Now, the youth are no longer interested in jobs because they have found out what they consist easier ways of asking money like yahoo yahoo or yahoo plus or banditry and kidnapping. If you were to unveil these people you will find out that they live with us. But because we are in a society where no one questions you on the source of your wealth, they appear to go free with their evil. You answer to nobody on how you make your money, you can ride Okada (motorcycle) today and tomorrow drive an expensive car like a limozine. But what brought us to this level is the failure to plan on how to develop more suburban locations to status of cities.In the last 10 years we have had this relocation of factories and industries from Nigeria to neighboring countries, and when a church or mosque or spiritual house buys such industry, we are very happy, but when those jobs are lost and the people who lost those jobs turn to vices we are not happy with them.
So today we have armed herdsmen terrorising people, which we call Fulani herdsmen, but as I do tell people, not all herdsmen are Fulani. Once we remove the two words (fulani & herdsmen), and somebody commits a crime and we say a crime has been committed, by who we don’t know his tribe, and we get the criminal, we describe him as a criminal and he faces the law, so the narrative must be right for us to get things right.
How do we get out of the economic crisis?
The first thing to do is to declare a national emergency. Nigeria needs to develop, we must look at the whole sectors that make up the economy, and ask ourselves if we want to develop them. How many years are we giving ourselves, five , six or, seven years to fix these sectors. Then we start taking positive steps to bring positive sums to the economy. Positive sums are those results that add value to the economy. If we want to build a road, market or industry, we must be sure it would add value to the economy and not that we are wasting money on white elephants.
Cost of doing business in Nigeria, and epileptic electricity has no doubt made the environment hostile, but when we have economic plan, we take cognisance of those factors, and put plans in place to reflect the cost of doing business in Nigeria which is not attractive. So what do we do, we come up with incentives for private sector investors.
For instance we don’t have textile industries anymore, our textile subsector used to generate over 10 million employment to Nigerians, different from other collorary businesses from the agricultural sector. Former President Yar’adua was ready to revive this sector and I was in a conference where he pledged that commitment, but before things could reach that level, he passed on. The subsequent governments couldn’t adopt it, but if we had had those companies running, they would be generating millions of employment, saving Nigeria foreign exchange. Am using textile as an example, we spend on daily basis bringing in clothing from abroad, we said to the government, allow cloths to come in for two to three years, put a high tariff on whatever you get from imports, and from the tariff put it back to the industries. Let’s forgo those big textile industries, there are modern textile industry that run on brand new technologies where you don’t need the whole Lagos to build a textile factory, but unfortunately those were jettisoned and those are the things we d need to re-plan. The problem we are facing now stem from what had happened in the past.
Now if you speak with local manufacturers, they will tell that the greatest challenge they face is the regulatory agencies, you set up a factory to manufacture your are facing competition from those who import even substandard and cheaper products, we have to discourage importation, we cannot stop importation entirely, we could have small pains, but we have high tariff for those products coming in and ones we have those tariff, you are indirectly creating every opportunity for the local manufacturer who run without tariff and excise duty to be able to compete at the market level then you can come up with incentives like tax holiday for them for some years because they are the ones creating massive employment for Nigerian people.
I tell you if government is serious ad focused we should have been producing enough on so many sectors for local and foreign markets. And when we produce for foreign market we bring dollar of foreign exchange into Nigeria, when we produce for local market we save dollars, so why can’t we do everything possible to help local manufacturer, even if it means giving them subsidy on electricity so that they produce at minimum cost.
We have to make it a national policy to create those factors that would make people comfortable back home and not migrate to cities. Let me explain, someone living in Ondo can come to Lagos to commit crime and disappears into thin air because nobody knows him, but if he’s comfortable back home, to commit crime there would be somewhat difficult. In local communities they know who is who and if he overstep the boundary it’s so easy to spot him or her as a criminal and work out how to arrest him.
That is a long plan we have to work out.
We must focus on near optimum utilization of our human and material resources. Every hand must be productively engaged. Like I said we have to accelerate growth factors in our suburban areas. We must deliberately create a state of collateral prosperity because right now what we have is collateral poverty. Our governments must encourage the creation of institutions that create prosperity for citizens even at local government levels.
We must ensure that security is not done alone by the government and that we are all involved.
If we are security – minded and someone infiltrates, we will know and confront the person and get his details and his source of living, name and other information, if the person has plans to commit a crime in that vicinity already you have taken him up, he will abort that plan or leave for another community. But what we witness is someone comes into a community, buys land for N30 million, starts building, we take our eyes from him and he completes a N100million house, and till when he’s caught somewhere by law enforcement agencies years later, we become perplexed that we were living with a criminal. It doesn’t work that way even in some African countries, so security is everyone’s job.