New Telegraph

Emmanuel: Let’s be cautiously optimistic about 2024 Budget

Can you give us your views on the 2024 budget?

The budgets that we come up with are not realistic budgets because most of the time, while the budgets are being prepared, they fail on many grounds. Number one, we have signed a lot of agreements and we have become a part of a lot of decisions as regards how many percent of our budgets should go to some major sectors of the economy and we have never been able to achieve that. Number two, when we look at most of our budgets, we convert our budgets to dollars or pounds, but suddenly we have realised that we are just joking. Number three, when we look at the budgets, we find out that most of the time, when it comes to the expenditure aspect of the budget, we go all out. But when it comes to the income aspect of the budget, we are not ready to do what needs to be done to bring in the income that will meet up with the budget.

When you look at the recurrent aspect of the budget, you will see a lot of stuff that you are like, are these guys serious?

The challenge is the fact that most of those right decisions are being taken without putting in place the right modalities to ensure that those decisions don’t have the kind of adverse effects that it is having on people now. But, I am very hopeful. There is a particular phrase that we have coined, we call it, ‘cautiously optimistic’. They call it renewed hope, while our hopes have been dashed over and over again, they are trying to renew our hope. Let’s also agree that something good will come out of this. Let’s be cautiously optimistic because when they break your heart so many times, you become heartless.

There is so much noise about the relocation of some departments of the CBN and the FAAN to Lagos, what’s your take, does it even make any economic sense?

Yes, it does. If you are someone that looks at things objectively without any ethnic, political or religious colouration, you will see the good intention in what is being done. They are not moving Aso Rock or the National Assembly back to Lagos, so what are we talking about? We are just being emotional and sentimental because we have not trusted people in the past. I don’t know if there is any law in Nigeria that says the president should not be talking. When there is open communication directly from the president, you will instill value in the people and you will also not give room for people to come up with different versions. When people are confused, they assume an assumption is the lowest level of knowledge. When something is unknown, the only option for human beings is to assume.

Don’t you think the trust deficit on our leaders is rightly placed considering that the body language of our leaders do not give anybody hope, and sometimes, they behave as if they don’t care about the masses?

You see, the higher you go in life, the farther you are from the grass roots and the realities of what is happening downstairs, because you are trying to focus on carving a niche and creating a path for people to move. What happens to leadership is that it is at the mercy of the information it gets. That is why the issue of communication is key. I am 100 per cent in support of the fact that many of our leaders are not giving the right vibes that will help us to trust them, but they are also taking the right steps. So, let us be cautiously optimistic.

How do you think the galloping inflation we are currently experiencing will be tamed?

The inflation we are seeing now is a further validation that we are not a productive economy, but a consumption economy. We need to become more productive. Monetary and fiscal policy also have a part to play in inflation. It is also an opportunity for those that know how to play the money game.

The Nigerian Customs Service has set a target of N5.1tr, implying that they will squeeze businessmen and importers, how is that going to encourage businesses?

You know that I am all for integrity. If they declare all the goods that are coming in and they pay the normal duties, that money will come in. The challenge is corruption and manual labour. If everything is automated, you will see the money coming in and nobody will complain. Automating a lot of things will settle many things in this country. All this manual labour is giving room for human beings to play the game that messes up everybody.

Government seems to be going round in circles. Mid last year subsidy was removed, about two weeks ago they are subsidizing electricity to the discos to the tune of N1.6tr this year and subsidy is said to be gone. Does this add up?

There is nothing wrong with subsidies. Anywhere in the world, subsidy is an economic principle for ensuring that the citizens do not suffer needlessly. The challenge with our kind of subsidy is that when it is done, most of the time, the people you claim to be subsidizing for are not the ones enjoying the benefits of the subsidy. Right now, the gencos are generating more power than we can transmit. So, you are paying for a power you are not using. You are generating 8,000 while your grid can only carry 3,800 or 4,000, implying you are paying for 4,000 that you are not using. If you do more than that, the grid will collapse. And because you have generated 8,000 but only sent 4,000, the people on the other side will be paying for 8,000, because you have to pay the guy for the 8,000 he has generated. They are not educating the people to know the problems. When they said they are subsidizing, what are they subsidizing? Have you noticed that till date they have not been able to give us prepaid? Let us pay the real money and have the light but let everybody be metered. If you make one decision, there are a lot of ancillary decisions that you need to make concurrently to ensure that you can get the result that you are supposed to get.

Once again, the exchange rate, your advice to the government?

Everything that we are importing that we have control over, we will have to stop it. Whatever you are spending dollars on, you just stop it immediately. So, we will not need the dollars. The only source of dollars now is from our crude oil sales and the money is going to the NNPC and doesn’t come out. I will suggest that every domiciliary account where dollars and pounds are sitting idle in Nigeria should be audited and let them tell us where they got the money from. You will see that within 90 days, a lot of things will be sanitised. But when the people who are supposed to be making the law are also guilty of the law, they can’t shoot themselves in the leg. So, it’s a combination of complex webs that require a group of selfless people that are really interested in transformation of the nation because national transformation is a function of patriotic citizenship and visionary and transformational leadership.

For everything we have said, Nigerians are feeling the heat, how can we survive this period?

Like I said over and over again, principles are universal. But the application of those principles are personal, contextual and geographical. So, the principle of savings is a universal principle but in order to apply it, you look at your personal life, you look at your personal context and you look at your geography. The principle of delayed gratification is universal. So, when it comes to surviving hard/complex economic terrain like we are in right now, the principles have not changed but how we apply them is what we have to now look into. Personally, as an individual or family, we should look at our context and the geography of where we are and then we begin to know how we will navigate it. Again it is, reduce your expenditure, and increase your income. Simple, it has not changed. There is always a level you can operate from. The economy is tough and its going to get tougher but we need to make adjustments where necessary.

Because of the forex issue, there is a call for Nigeria to increase crude oil production, what is your reaction to that?

We don’t have production problems, we have diversion problems. Crude oil theft has not stopped. Crude oil diversion has reduced after the subsidy removal but has still not stopped. The only way we can be able to increase production is to block those leakages. If you are producing more, are you producing more for them to steal? It is a complex matter.

Its tough everywhere and the government is going about as if all is well, living in denial. How can we send the message to them that we are dying? T

hey live in denial because they live in a bubble and it is understandably so because they don’t understand the things you are crying about. But unfortunately, again, this generation seems not to understand that they are making market noise that doesn’t mean anything. While we make all that noise let’s also articulate them into a proposal, a petition, a policy, into a document and then begin to push through the right channels and begin to do the lobbies that are required and begin to be patient to push and push and push until it becomes a reality.

Okay should we be patient until the bubble bursts?

Well, if it does, it will burst on all of us. The bubble is in the air, probably filled with acid, if it bursts, it is people under that will collect it.

Read Previous

Wall St muted after hot inflation data douses early rate-cut hopes

Read Next

NGX approves two companies’ request for extension of time