Hon Babajimi Benson is representing Ikorodu federal constituency of Lagos State. In this interview with RUTH CHOJI, the lawmaker speaks on the challenge of Nigeria’s current federal system. He also believes that the early announcement of the 2019 general election dates will cause a distraction from attending to the frail economy.
Nigerians are worried that if something is not done fast to get the economy out of recession, we could slide into depression, do you share such views?
I do. More so, the timetable for elections has been released. If we are not focused, we will get soaked into the election trail and if that happens, the economy will be ignored.
Is the Buhari administration doing enough to move the economy forward?
They are doing enough but I always used the acronym VUCA, which was introduced by American army war college to describe the situation: it means Volatile, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguous. It is a word that was coined by America when they are going into war and everywhere is hostile, they call it VUCA. You can take that word to describe what is happening in the economy today. So what is happening in the economy is not peculiar to Nigeria alone. Other major countries of the world are facing hard times and they have also said that, Nigeria has fared well. It means this administration is doing its best. I am not saying they are excellent, but there is a work in progress.
Where do you think they missed it?
I will also talk about VUCA again because the down trend of oil prices didn’t happen with this administration, it is an event that started before this administration. The Niger/delta militants started their bombings and violence erupted. It wasn’t planned by this government. They were also taken by surprise.
What will it take to revive the economy?
I will go for restructuring without batting an eyelid because every economic policy should be undermined by political economy as well. I don’t think the way Nigeria is run will make us archive the optimum.
When you mention restructuring, the first thing that comes to mind is the federating unit. Do you think something is wrong with the units?
No, I am talking about political restructuring and economic restructuring. I am talking about resource control and appropriate revenue sharing ratio so they can provide State Police and other things that will give meaning to federalism. We need to do that first. Unitary federalism we practice here is not working. States must generate and manage their resources and send a percentage to the center. This will make states viable and people will not migrate to the center to congest it.
Should Nigeria go back to regionalism?
I will not subscribe to regionalism because we have states already. I would advise that those states be given their dues appropriately. I will subscribe that states that are doing excellently well be patted on the back and given more leverage to do more. In America for instance, you have three states that carry America on their shoulder. I am also told that in America, the states are allowed to generate revenue, they only share out of that revenue with the federal. Some states are only allowed to return 18% to the federal because they look at their complexity and their GDP. So they encourage them. That doesn’t happen here. If it is allowed to happen, it will encourage competiveness. That was what informed my bill. I am sponsoring a bill that will mandate the FG to remit 20% of their revenue to states who have more population of over ten million and above. What that bill seeks to do is to encourage states to look for population and migration by providing infrastructure. So if you provide infrastructure and have high IGP growth, multiple people will move to your place, you get 20% of internally generated revenue within that state.
Some parts of the county have complained of being marginalized by this administration, what do you think?
I always feel sorry for my eastern brothers because they have five states, it means they get less appointment in the federal structure. It means they get less members of House of Representatives and senators. Nigeria fought wars in the spirit of no victor, no vanquished. We need to assist the South-east a little more. I represent a different generation from others. I think that we should use the carrot approach that will draw the South-eastern people to us because they are very enterprising. They are family oriented. So we need to find a way of embedding them in Nigeria. For the South-west, we have very powerful ministries that we are manning, we also have a vice president who is doing excellently well, powerful ministries and the rest.
There is the herdsmen attacks, the IPOB in the South-east and the increase in kidnapping and the rest. By your estimation, do you think these security challenges threaten the unity of the country?
I think that our strength lies in our diversity. I think you have brilliant people in different parts of Nigeria. It is our coming together that gives us strength. I think we must think out of the box. We need to make the nation work. We need to fashion out new ways of making our diversity count. The pseudo federalism we have is not helping matters, so the sooner we wake up from that, the better.
Although there has been talk of generational shift, the older ones are still holding sway, what will it take to wrest power from their hands?
I am one of those who believe that, not too young person should be allowed to contest and campaign, but that, there should be an age limit to those seeking elective positions. I also think the older generation’s negative history is something that the younger generation doesn’t even care. People in that old generation still live with that mentality of ethnicity and religious differences. If you look at the census, it says 70% of Nigerians are youth.
Are you contented with the content of the budget?
It is called the budget of growth and recovery. It was hinged at$42.5 as the benchmark, and today, the price has risen to about $50 which means we already have a head roll of about $5. The budget also devoted lots of money to infrastructure because it makes people grow. For the first time about 30% is devoted to capital the euro bond was thoroughly sold, I heard it was oversubscribe by 80%. The implementation of 2016 budget wasn’t rosy because we had financial challenges. The expectations were not thoroughly made. So it can be better. We must fix our security. Nigeria is not as secure as people will expect. Lots of people are not convinced that they can come in and invest and go back. We also have multiple exchange rates.