Mr. Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, Executive Director of Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) who just returned from the 2019 Spring Meetings of the World Bank Group and the International Monetary Fund held in Washington, D.C., United States of America, spoke to GEORGE OKOJIE on contentious issues like subsidy removal, illicit cash flow, economic growth and elimination of poverty and what the government needs to do to get the economy out of the woods
You were at 2019 Spring Meetings of the World Bank Group and the International Monetary Fund held in Washington, D.C., United States of America. What is your take on the Nigeria’s economic projection by the World Bank/IMF?
It is very disturbing to see the World Bank analysis of Nigeria’s economy. It is also very clear that because of the absence of sound economic team that is why we are not actually making the necessary progress in terms of consolidating and strengthening our economy in Nigeria. Therefore, it is not surprising given the fact that Nigeria has not made appreciable progress in terms of diversification of economy, in terms of effective economic management, which is as a result of sound policy or legislative framework that would deal with the economy particularly the oil and gas sector.
You would recall that we have been advocating for the Nigerian government to ensure that we have Petroleum Industry law passed in the country which has been languishing in the national assembly. It would have helped to ensure the economy is strengthened, would have eliminated corruption, duplication of responsibilities as well as inefficiency. Nigeria government is yet to do that. Secondly, the non-oil sector has not been consciously developed in a way that will help drive the economy.
We have so many areas that we as a nation is not utilising very well. That is why we have found ourselves in zero economic stagnation which the World Bank has rated us. And besides the World Bank, there are other institutions that have warned Nigerian government in terms of ensuring that it should be more focused, more productive ways of improving the economy because once the economy is not rolling well, definitely, the issue of poverty, employment will be affected.
IMF Managing Director, Ms. Christine Largade’s advice triggered some kind of controversy when she said the country in the last four years has spent over N5 trillion which could have been channeled towards amenities such as health, education and infrastructure on subsidy. Do you subscribe to this ideology?
Remember, the present administration promised to stop paying subsidy because they discovered at that time that it was a scam, it was a fraud and nothing was being subsidised. So, Nigeria should have done away with the subsidy long time ago. Unfortunately, we have not seen that commitment being fulfilled by the government. The government is spending a lot of money on subsidy.
For me and many Nigerians, the problem is not about subsidy, the problem is about corruption, it is about inefficiency in the management of so called subsidy because once some people imported petroleum to Nigeria, they claimed to have brought certain amount of tones of petroleum which is not being verified or authenticated and yet they get their payment. That is why the problem is.
Had it been the government had eliminated where this fraud is we would not be talking about it. And if government had taken steps to ensure that the refineries are working, you would not be talking about subsidy. It is funny that Nigeria as an oil producing country has to be spending that much to import petroleum for its citizens consumption. If we are able to fix our refineries and make them efficient, and effective, the question of subsidy would have been eliminated.
Most experts are of the view that the nation’s economy can be revamped through Agriculture. Do you think the federal government has achieved so much in the area of agriculture to achieve this aim?
There was a claim that Nigeria has stopped importing rice but just last week, there has been a report of alleged tons of rice being smuggled into the country. But it is a claim which to me is not backed by any statistics. So if we are actually producing the issue of smuggling wouldn’t have come up. I think government should stop propaganda and actually focus on work that international community would appreciate because there is a limit at which one can blow obvious lies that is not on the ground.
So, I will advise government at local, state and federal levels to focus more on work and stop propaganda that would not take us anywhere. And because one state is producing rice does not mean that the entire 36 states in the federation is producing rice. This shouldn’t be used as a measure of complete success. Government should encourage local participation in economy. We have a lot of textile industries that have gone into comatose because of lack of energy and other basic infrastructure. Let government do the talk and walk the walk.
For instance, on issue of asset recovery which to me can help revive the economy if properly managed. Now, Nigeria is interested in recovering more funds but lack of legal framework to ensure that the recovered money would be used on Nigerian people is there. Many countries are even skeptical even though it is not their right to deny Nigeria to have its money back.
I have been in France few weeks ago. I was invited by the French parliament to discuss about their plans on how to return assets that they are holding in France to various countries including Nigeria. I suggested to them on what to do so that money returned can reflect on the citizenry. So, there is hope but what the governments in those countries are saying is framework that would guarantee that the money would be used. I am calling on Mr. President to constitute people of integrity that would get engaged with these countries.
Nigeria has continued to groan under the yoke of illicit financial flow, how can it be tackled?
The illicit financial flow is a very serious issue because in the region, Nigeria account for over 70 per cent of the illicit financial flow in West Africa and this is alarming. It has not stopped. It is still happening therefore, there is no way a nation can have vibrant and productive financial system once people are deliberately and consciously siphoning public funds abroad. I think government’s anti-corruption should intensify more effort to block these leakages and we must make sure that people that are found guilty or caught in the act are interrogated and prosecuted. And the refunded money can be injected back into the economy so the issues of poverty and employment can be reduced.
In the face of all these leakages, do you think the problem of poverty can be effectively tackled in Nigeria?
We don’t have to wait until 2030 because poverty has already exploded in Nigeria. When you have a large percentage of the population that is living in abject poverty and cannot avoid descent living, they cannot afford education and so on, they are already in abject poverty and that is why you see a lot of crises going on in Nigeria because people are already in poverty orchestrated by corrupt public officials coupled with lack of government planning to come up with programmes that would deal with poverty.
For me, expansion of economic base that would encourage diversification, more investment from local and international investors that would help create jobs which would address the issue of unemployment. This is the reason why IMF body is projecting abject poverty or extreme poverty by 2030. A lot of Nigerian youths are idle, they cannot feed themselves and you need to go round and see how poverty is walking naked.
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