From Desmond Mgboh, Kano
Elder statesman, Alhaji Tanko Yakasai is renowned for his courageous views and convictions. He has been outspoken for the North in the same measure as he has defended the South in several instances. In this interview, he says that the clamour for restructuring will fail because it is driven by a particular hatred for the North and its God-given advantages. He also blames the present administration for its handling of the youth in Niger Delta, saying it ought to have sustained the Yar’Adua approach in tackling the challenges of the region.
Recently, in Asaba, a former CBN governor, Prof Charles Soludo suggested that we should try something close to what it was in the Republican Constitution where states generated their own revenue and paid taxes to the centre as a way to strengthen the economy. How do you see his view?
Well, the suggestion by Professor Soludo that we should go back to the 1963 revenue sharing formula is largely idealistic. It is not practical because he was talking about a time when this country had three or four regions. Today, we have 36 States and Abuja. In 1963, we had three or four regions, each region had its own independent source(s) of revenue. The North had groundnut, cotton and others; the West had cocoa and the East had timber and gum. But today, it is a different tale altogether. Out of the 36 states that we have in Nigeria, the only state that is generating sufficient revenue to meet its recurrent revenue is Lagos. And even Lagos is able to do that because of the percentage the state is getting from the federally generated revenues like Customs duties, ports authority taxes from industries, Pay As You Earn (PAYE), from the banks and the other financial institutions in the state. These are the elements that make it possible for Lagos to generate enough revenue to meet its recurrent expenditure. No other state in Nigeria has been able to generate sufficient revenue for running its affairs. Even the so-called oil -producing states depend on the revenue that the Federal Government collects from oil and when they come to share them, they will give them 13 percent. That is what makes them viable. Without the 13 percent, they are not viable and I can say that 35 states in Nigeria are today not viable without oil and would not be able to fit into the concept of the former CBN governor.
Recently too, the Emir of Kano, Malam Muhammad Sanusi 11 said that oil was no longer a critical factor in the Nigerian economy, advising those who are afraid that they don’t have oil not to be intimidated by those who make noise on account of the oil in their region. Do you agree with him?
No! I do not agree with him. I am a politician and he is an economist. So, you can see the difference. As a politician, I must be realistic in my position. And my take is that today, no matter how anybody feels; we have no alternative yet to oil revenue. We cannot talk of oil in that way only and it is only when you have created a viable alternative of generating revenue before you begin to think of forgetting oil. At the moment, we are still dependent on oil revenue. So, to ignore oil as a main source of foreign exchange earnings and also, as a realistic source of generating revenue is unrealistic. But it is a good idea to the extent that we should begin to think of opening other revenue sources for the country. And it is not something of a magic wand. You have to plan it and you have to work and implement the plan.
One other statement credited to the monarch was his remarks on the foreign exchange regime of the administration. He said the regime provided a window for corruption and made fraudulent billionaires. How do you see it against the background that the President, who is averse to corruption, allowed such an exchange regime?
It is not the President as a person that is running the government. A government involves a huge number of people . The President is only on top of the system and I can tell you that in those days, during the military era, there were lots of things that were on in the government without the President directly giving charge to them. But the President has a major chunk of the blame over what is happening to the economy, in my opinion… This is because this Single Treasury Account system is not something that you just impose overnight. You have to think of the consequences, you have to think of the implications. What adjustments are there to do, what plans do you need to put in place to implement the policy and you cannot just implement the policy automatically. It has to be gradual. I understand that it was the idea of the previous administration, but they had their own strategy on how to implement it successfully. I guess the present administration did not understand the strategy, they only picked up the idea and at a go; they embarked on its implementation. What we should realize is that by the time there was no Single Treasury Account, TSA, the banks were the main depository of government funds and those funds were given out as loans to industries and other borrowers in the country, which helps to generate income and employment, which generates salaries and taxes that boosts the economy. By the time, there was this sudden introduction of TSA. the banks were deprived of the funds they were lending to industries and commerce and the result was that the activities of those sectors suddenly collapsed and the people woke up to realize there were no employments and, therefore, they could not be paid by the industries where they were working. So now this is one area. The other area is the foreign exchange. You see if you create scarcity, you are creating competition because people would not stop demanding for it … if you create scarcity, people would look for means of accessing that item which is scarce. And in doing so, the people would be ready to pay more to get to that item. These people can afford to pay more to get dollars. Secondly, the government is a culprit here. This is because the new foreign exchange measure introduced by the CBN is indirectly making the government play the role of a bureau de change. The government is selling dollar at a black market price in order to generate Naira to meet its domestic and national commitment. So, actually the price of dollar that is going up because of the black market, is because of this officializing the black market system in the country.
Let me ask you about poverty in the land. Some people are of the view that there is endemic poverty across the land. Do you agree?
Are you saying some people? Are you not feeling it? Everybody in Nigeria is feeling it the hard way, even Aliko Dangote is feeling the bite of this economy. This is because if the money is not circulating and if the ordinary man cannot afford to buy what he is used to buy , then it would gravitate down to the biggest pocket. The biggest pocket would not be able to get the inflow of cash that they used to get. The hunger is brought about by the rise in prices and many people who are selling do not have enough money to buy and, therefore, they have to raise the price to be able to raise the naira to enable them to buy the dollars that they need. This has affected even local items that we grow like corn, millets and the rest . Their prices have gone up because the farmers need money to buy items like soap, milk and other important things.
What is your advice to the government on the way forward?
The immediate thing is for the government to plan and, unfortunately, the government came to power without a plan. I said it before, they were annoyed with me but now, I am vindicated. You have to plan.
Early this month, I read that the President was swearing in an economic adviser almost two years after the government came to power. This is one of the appointments that should have been done almost immediately after the President was sworn in. It should have happened just at the same time when the Secretary to Government and the Chief of Staff were being recruited. He did not do it. But it is better late than never. But the appointment of a single economic adviser would not solve the problem because the single economic adviser can only be an expert in one aspect of the economy. You need a team. You also need an expert in that particular area. For example, the Minister for Planning and Budget is a lawyer. A lawyer is not an expert in economics. So what I am saying is that you need the economic team that will be composed of people who are specialists in different areas of the economy to give you a blueprint of how to get it right. So what is actually happening today is a consequence for lack of planning or the outcome of coming to government without well- thought out plan.
There are suggestions that the president should reshuffle his cabinet given the unimpressive performance of many ministers. What is your view?
What I will advocate rather is that we should change our methods of appointing ministers. We borrowed this constitution from the United States of America. In America, you do not appoint any Tom, Dick and Harry as a minister. You appoint somebody who is very familiar with the terrain where you are going to post him. This is the reason why you cannot appoint a minister in America without designating him to a particular department before you send him to the Senate for approval. Then the Senate, in examining the designate would think of his experience in relation to the position he is to occupy. If you are appointing somebody to the Defence Ministry or to the Ministry of Finance, the position must be well-known in advance of his appearance before the Upper House. He has to have experience, relative experience in the area of his appointment
But that was not the case in the appointment of the ministers in the present disposition?
The constitution did not specify it and that is why I am asking the National Assembly and the states Assemblies to come and review the constitution. This should be one of the priority areas, that a minister or commissioner will not be appointed just like that, that they must be attached to a specific ministry and he must have some experience and knowledge in the particular ministry where he is being posted.
The calls for restructuring is again gaining popularity across the land. What is your view?
You see the way most of those people are agitating for restructuring is unpatriotic. Most of those people who are calling for restructuring in Nigeria today are doing it with some kind of hate in their minds. The thing that is working in their mind is to find a way of denying states from the North of getting the kind of share they are getting from the Federation Account. You see some of the factors that the government is using to distribute revenue are God-made and not man-made. For instance, when they talk of population, the Nigerian people were not created by the Nigerian government.
It is God who created the Nigerian people and concentrated some of them in a particular area, which is the North and which always has more than 55 percent of the total population of Nigeria. If you go through the records from 1911 when census was started, even before the amalgamation, the percentage in the North is roughly 55 percent of the population in Nigeria. Now, if you go with the other factor, that is landmass; the North has two third of the total landmass of Nigeria.
You cannot deny a northerner those advantages given to him by God simply because he is getting some revenue based on those creations. These people who are talking of restructuring are actually hiding their real intent under the slogan. They are yet to explain what this restructuring would mean. They are only fighting and shouting restructuring because of the share of revenue the North is getting, that the Northern states are getting.
Is there any kind of restructuring that you think would add value to Nigeria today?
What I have in mind I would not call it restructuring. But if it is, so be it. It is for us to go back to the parliamentary system of government. The current presidential system of government is not suitable for Nigeria. Why? This is because it is very expensive. With 37 governments in a country which is underdeveloped, there is no way you will not squander the little money you are getting. The expenditure of the federal and state governments is several percent above the revenue. As long as you retain the present system, the bulk of the revenue would go for the payment of recurrent expenditure and would leave nothing for development purposes. So we should go back to parliamentary system and instead of having 36 governors and president, you would end up having a president who is elected by the parliament. And take note that each time we come to the year of election, we will conduct five separate elections, each with separate candidates and even the political parties have to produce different posters for each of the candidates. It is a very costly matter. Let us have one prime minister for the whole country. Let us not have 36 state governors. However, my fear is that this suggestion would not fly because most of the state Houses of Assembly are under the control of the governors. So the matter would die once you take it to the states. It is nothing that you can achieve by way of slogan. It needs serious reflecting upon.
Last one sir, how do see the issue of the Avengers and the crisis in the Niger Delta. What are your thoughts?
It is the fault of the government. You see during the administration of President Umar Musa Yar’Adua, some experts calculated the amount of losses that Nigeria was incurring as a result of the militancy in the Niger Delta.
They worked out the cost and they approached Yar’Adua and told him that this is the cost that your country was experiencing every month and every year on account of the conflict. And they worked out how much was needed out of the total revenue to take care of the Niger Delta issue altogether and it amounted to less than 10 per cent of the total revenue and he agreed and asked his ministers to look for the leaders of the Niger Delta youths. They got them and they agreed to pay them something. That was how their leaders like Tompolo was recruited and was asked to set up a company, which was charged to watch over the pipelines and in the months after, the production increased and everybody was happy for the policy move…… But when this government came to power, it took several steps that differ from the existing understanding and that no doubt exasperated the situation in the Niger Delta. The militants added new dimension to their activities by sabotaging the pipelines that are supplying crude or supplying gas to electricity generators and the result is a drop in the generation of electricity in Nigeria, the export of oil has crashed too. We are now exporting about 1 million bpd as against 2.5 million bpd. The result is that we are not only suffering from reduced oil price but reduced products and all these are the very ailment that is affecting the economy. So, it is the fault of this government. They should have gone to the details of the agreement between the government and the youth in the Niger Delta and sustain it, rather than antagonize it.