That we are losing export proceeds of about 700,000 barrels of crude oil a day due to the militancy in the Niger Delta could have been predicted by a layman who followed closely the hard rhetoric and the ethnic and religious cracks in our journey to nationhood that were exposed by the 2015 presidential election. Thus, the renewed agitation should have been foreseen by the President and his intelligence team and adequate preparations made to mitigate and nip it in the bud. There is still a window of opportunity to ensure that we produce and sell the 2.2mbpd which was projected in the 2016 budget. This can be achieved through negotiation with the people of the Niger Delta especially now that the militants have agreed to come to the negotiation table. But media reports still indicate that the Federal Government is being begged to constitute its negotiation team and proceed to the dialogue table. The fiscal crisis could have been mitigated when the price of crude oil rose above the $38 benchmark if we were meeting our 2.2mbpd quota.
Nigeria needs a detailed economic diversification plan; one that links education to agriculture, health, industries, etc. The idea of having sectoral policies with no links in- between cannot propel the country out of recession. The coherence of the plan will for instance ensure that our corn and tubers will provide the pharmaceutical and textile grade starch to propel local drug manufacturing and value addition in the textile industry. Our tubers cannot continue to be wasted when they can be used as chips to feed animals for meat production. The fruits that are wasted across the land should be channelled to fruit juice production and this is not rocket science grade technology. It is just the simple process of pasteurisation which everyone who passed through secondary school read the theory. We need to get to a point where hides and skin produced in large quantities in the north of Nigeria can be converted into shoes, belts, and bags locally.
There are several low hanging fruits on which we can begin our economic revival. The country has established various research institutions whose results we have also left to waste. Even though they are poorly funded, we have not been able to link their work to economic reforms. These institutions should be funded to solve specific challenges in important sectors of the economy within targeted time frames. For instance, the research institutes under the Ministry of Agriculture have their work cut out for them in these times of hunger.
In terms of resources, there are lots of Nigerians who have rich reservoirs of financial and other resources. These hard times call for leadership ingenuity. Instead of chasing the proverbial foreign investors, the leadership must give them comfort and confidence to invest their money in their country. Media reports had indicated that Nigerians in Nigeria had over $20 billion in domiciliary accounts within the country. What policies and strategies should we use to have these resources channelled into areas of great national need instead of scaring away these Nigerians who may have been compelled to move their money elsewhere? What about the billions of dollars in terms of Diaspora funds that come back every year? Bankable projects ought to be developed to tap into this window of opportunity. There are many hard-working Nigerians living outside our shores who can invest in the country through Special Purpose Vehicles or who can buy into Diaspora bonds. The administration through its policies must give them a sense of comfort that their investment in the country is worthwhile. Some Nigerians who left the country out of frustration have through dint of hard work become financially successful. If all the stories they read about their beloved country are still the negatives, the chances of a commitment to the country become slim.
As we reform, we must take cognisance of the fact that the cost of projects from airports, seaports to road construction in Nigeria is one of the highest in the world and especially higher than the costs in other African countries. In times of lean resources, frittering away money at not less than $3m to $4m per kilometre of road constructed is not the way to go. Other countries with our type of terrain are constructing the same roads at not more than $1.5m per kilometre. Public procurement must therefore be remodelled to mainstream value for money. It should also be used to mainstream the buy Made in Nigeria campaign through domestic preferences. The fact that the quality of Made in Nigeria goods and services may not be up to the standard you find in more advanced countries should not stop our patronage. But the producers should be encouraged and given the opportunity to improve over a given time frame.
This brings the discourse to the point of remodelling our federation to liberate the energies of its constituents. The lazy idea of contesting elections so as to be a partaker of the monthly oil revenue sharing in Abuja is unacceptable and antithetical to development. It keeps fuelling the Niger Delta crisis. It is simply an idea that a huge cake has been baked and everyone should come out with a knife to take a cut. It stultifies the ability of states to develop their resources, competencies and capacities. In the quest to share oil money, we abandoned agriculture, manufacturing and value added to the extent that the huge food import bill weighs down our trade balance. It is therefore time for the President to come down from his high horse and consider the implementation of the agreements of the last National Conference.
We need a federation that decentralises most of the functions that touch the lives of the people to the states. It should be a federation where sharing from the revenues of the federation is directly and proportionally linked to contributions. This should be an incentive for states and or regions to work hard and compete to generate resources instead of the extant perverse incentive to share oil resources. The abrogation of the First Republic’s 50 per cent derivation by military fiat is partly responsible for our financial crisis. That sharing formula was the product of the agreement of the founding fathers. Since the military intervention, physical and intellectual laziness has taken over the land and might has become the basis of governance instead of rigorous debate and dialogue leading to the agreement of people who make up the territory of Nigeria. The country cannot continue on this dysfunctional path and expect to be on the path of progress and economic growth.
Finally, the President and his team need to communicate their plans and programmes clearly to the people to guarantee a buy-in where both the leadership and the led move in the same direction.
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