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Why Nigeria Needs Institutions Stronger Than Individuals, by Jiya

Senator Peter Jiya represents Niger South Senatorial District on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). In this interview with CHUKWU DAVID, the Vice Chairman, Senate Committee on Aviation, speaks on the nation’s debts, naira devaluation, state of the economy and solution to Nigeria’s economic woes

The President of the Senate, Senator Godswill Akpabio, in his speech during President Bola Tinubu’s presentation of the 2024 budget, asked him to do all he could to reduce the country’s high debt profile. Is this request feasible, in view of the fact that the President just requested the National Assembly to approve fresh loans for him?

Yes, it is feasible. All nations, even the United States, live on loans. The economy is shaky and we need more funds to make it stable; to diversify the economy through infrastructural development and to create enabling environment for trade and businesses to thrive as well as to allow for income generation to be able to overtime, wipe out our debt. But even if we have so much money, we are still dependent on other nations financially and even politically to some extent. Dubai is thriving today but they are sitting on serious debt. But then, the capacity, the basis is there.

There is this confidence of creditors to continue to give and Nigeria possesses that. I think all that we require is strong leadership and forth- right administrative capacity to be able to cater for all the issues that surround our economy. So, there is nothing bad in going for loans. What is required, however, is judicious use of those loans, productive use of those loans, that the people are serviced and avenues are provided to generate more wealth for the nation and for the people.

President Tinubu promised Nigerians that fuel subsidy removal was going to save a lot of money for the country. Why then is he going for more loans; is it that money is no longer being saved from the subsidy removal?

We are saving from the subsidy proceeds but if not for that, the deficit would have been much higher than what it is. But the removal of subsidy alone is not enough to service Nigeria’s financial needs. And like I told you, they may not have subsidy issues in the United States but today, the United States is the biggest borrower of funds. The economy is thriving; the system is established and predictable. To fix Nigerian roads, the rail, the airports, require so much funds. And again, it will take time; it cannot be immediate.

During his campaigns, the President promised that if elected, he would address the economic woes of Nigeria. Unfortunately, the country is sinking into more economic distress. What is your take on that?

I think what we lack is patience. No farmer goes to the farm, plants a seed and harvests the next day. A woman that desires to get married does not get married and give birth the following day. She has to take in; nurture the baby for nine months inside the womb before bringing forth, likewise, a farmer that goes to the farm to plant seed. He allows the seed to germinate and then nurtures the seed to maturity to produce fruits. The period between planting and harvesting is not easy. It consumes a lot of time, re- sources in every respect you may think of. But when the harvest time comes, most of the pains are gone or reduced. Yes, the President promised to turns things around but he is just few months in the office. Just about five months down the line; and the much rot we have on ground cannot be wiped overnight.

Remember that the last administration during the dying days of the Ninth Assembly had to legalise, as it were, expenses of over N20 trillion. Whichever way, those are monies expended. How do we plug the holes? How do we remedy the illegality that took place? It can’t be overnight. Even if you want them to be overnight, you don’t even have the means to make it within a day or two. So, these are the challenges we face as a people. It is just as you and I went to school from nursery, primary, secondary, university and thereafter, we start talking about work. We don’t go to school today and by tomorrow we start working.

President Tinubu’s administration has devalued the Naira. Is this a responsible economic strategy at this moment, and can the Naira ever regain its lost value vis-a-vis other currencies of the world?

Well, these are all about economic forces. The base is not there; and once the base is not there, it is like building a house without a foundation. Yes, the Naira can recover but the foundation has to be set aright. The only way to make the Naira recover is to be productive. The reel sector of the economy should be rejuvenated; it should be rejigged.

Do you see indices of productivity in the present administration so far?

Yes, the President talked about human capital, which is key to development. He talked about agriculture, and he talked about youths. For agriculture, yes, we have to be deliberate in certain things, about certain areas of the economy. And we cannot do it at the same time; it has to be selective. If we want to go for agriculture and we identify the areas we can concentrate on, then we deploy our youths there as modern day farmers. We will have enough food to eat, and we will have enough to export, and then we earn foreign exchange. The foreign exchange we earn will counteract and reduce our import dependence because that is key. We are not productive as a nation and that is where we need to brace up.

The Minister of Aviation, Mr. Festus Keyamo, was quoted to have criticized former Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, for granting Ethiopian Airlines five years tax waiver. As the Vice Chairman of the Senate Committee on Aviation, what is your reaction to that?

As a committee, we are yet to have an interactive session with the ministry. The agreement has not been seen to know the terms and conditions of such an agreement. So, it would be a bit risky to comment wholly on the matters before it. But again, that goes to show the kind of country the Nigerian nation is. The foundation is faulty. Former United States President, Donald Trump, came into a well- established system and thought otherwise, to alter it, but the system rebuffed him and recovered itself. That is what we require in Nigeria; building a system that will survive any individual. So, I think that is basically the is- sue. We need to build a system.

The system should be stronger than any individual, be it the president, be it a minister, it does not matter. Once we have a laid out plans for the short, the medium term and the long term plans for the nation in different sectors, then it is for all people to come and follow that plan with some little modifications, having regards to the present circumstances. But without a system, that cannot happen and that is our country today. So, if we are able to build and establish a system, then things will work out well for all of us. I think that it is what we should all try to do now.

And for you, the media, it is not the administrators alone, we are all administrators in one way or another because the things you write influence in one way or the other, operators of the system. So, exclusively, we are all operators of the system by what we do. We write to emphasize the need for a system, a culture that should be established and gradually we begin to move in there and get a strong system, a strong culture/tradition that we will follow. The circumstances of each government will now dictate some little modifications here and there and which will make the system stronger.

It has been observed that some Nigerians, especially the political class, spend dollars recklessly in Nigeria thereby undermining the value of the Naira. How do you relate that to building a system that is stronger than individuals?

When we say we don’t build a system; we are simply saying that corruption rules. Having a system that works takes care of all that you are saying because the system will check you and you cannot go beyond certain limit. There should be a minimum base below which we should not go as a country or as an individual. For instance, looking at happenings in this country, the South East for example, has been crying of marginalisation. Recall that George Bush was a one- time President of the United States and later his son became president. The system allowed it to work.

In this country, it may not happen because it is not the birth right of any particular individual, family or geopolitical zone as we see from what plays out in America. That in one family, you have the father as president and after him, the son emerged as president again. Our diversity has not been well managed. If there is a good system in place, Nigerians will not mind if their leaders come from the same family or geopolitical zone. The president could come from anywhere. In fact, you may not even bother to know his tribe. All you are bothered about is what he can do.

So, there are issues no doubt, but we need a strong leader that will lead the way. Even with a strong leader, we need to be cautious because there are policies that may tend to work against the interest of either of the zones and a strong leader may have the tendency to enforce it on the people. These are the challenges that we are envisaging but we are overcoming them gradually. Although they don’t appear to be visible, we are overcoming them in bits.

The Senate President, Godswill Akpabio, had during a courtesy call by the management of Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation Ltd (NNPCL) led by its Group Managing Director, Mele Kyari, encouraged the establishment of modular refineries by individuals that have the resources to do so. Do you think that the Federal Government will allow that?

Before now, those who engaged in the establishment of illegal modular refineries were punished, but the establishment of modular refineries can be legally done, and in fact, this is the period that the government should reduce investment in corporations. Rather, government should assist people to set up corporations and tax them to boost the revenue of the country. In other words, government can hands off all refineries, but again, part of our problem is that we are too selfish. For instance, during the privatization period under former President Olusegun Obasanjo, one of the issues I had against Nasir el-Rufia was on the part of the sales of government property.

Agreement is executed between government and entrepreneurs that were buying over national assets. In a normal situation, there is what is called a recall clause in such an agreement. That is, if the entrepreneur does not perform, government will take its asset back and re-sale it to whoever is willing to buy. These things are missing and that is why you can see the Ajaokuta Iron and Steel remains a sad story today. This is because there is no recall clause in the agreement. So, if we must build a system, these are the things that should go with the sales agreement of our national assets.

In the 2024 budget estimates, security got the lion share, but going by what we have seen on ground, it appears that the security agencies are overwhelmed by terrorism, kidnapping, banditry and others. Do you think that allocating more funds to the agencies is a solution to the problem?

I don’t think I want to comment much on security issues. It’s not what we can wipe out overnight and each government will have a designed purpose for tackling insurgency. For instance, when you meet an old house, it is either you pack in there as it is or you break it down and reconstruct it. It is always the case with each administration or management. When a managing director takes over an administration, there are things on ground and he will take his time to study through reports received, see the gaps and the need to modify. I think the five or six months of this administration in office is not too long for a vast country and a diverse people that we are.

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