From Femi Folaranmi, Yenagoa The Ijaw Youth Council [IYC] has rejected the planned take-off of Operation Crocodile SmileII in the Niger Delta region scheduled to commence Saturday. Lately, the waterways in the Niger Delta region especially in Bayelsa State had been gripped by criminal activities culminating in the attack and killing of soldiers and other security…
Whenever controversy erupts on the direction of administration in any society, it is normal for prominent figures to exercise their right by taking a position. This exactly is what former president Olusegun Obasanjo has done by coming out in support of selling our national assets, as it is being proposed in some quarters. Obasanjo is qualified in the light of his performance during his economic reforms except that inevitable questions will arise for President Muhammadu Buhari to consider before buying into his former Commander-in-Chief’s position.
Questions can be many for Buhari to consider but the most important is: Why did Obasanjo, during his eight years tenure not sell Nigeria’s major national assets, as Buhari is now being goaded – specifically NLNG, NNPC, Nigeria Ports Authority and NIMMASA? After all, under Obasanjo, Nigeria was indebted and for much of the time, Nigeria also could not finance the entire budget. Also, how much did the privitisation project under Obasanjo yield for Nigeria and what happened to the proceeds? Fund was easily available for a constitutional conference projected at a subsequent aborted third term ambition, both costs without the enabling appropriation act. To be fair to Obasanjo, on leaving office in 2007, he left behind about forty billion dollars in foreign reserves, which was no surprise in view of very stable oil prices at not less than one hundred and forty dollars per barrel and over two million barrels per day for most of his tenure. Compare that amount to cost of oil at barely over forty dollars per barrel today for about one million five hundred barrels per day, owing to the sabotage of Niger Delta militants virtually from Buhari’s first day in office.
The bottom line was that eventually, even if after Obasanjo left office, proceeds from questionable privatisation and the foreign reserves neither fortified Nigeria’s economy nor saved Nigeria from re-incurring foreign debt. As a people, we are incorrigible. If, for example, Obasanjo had sold NPA, NNPC, NLNG and NIMMASA on his first or second coming, which national assets would he (Obasanjo) be advising Buhari to auction today? And should Buhari take Obasanjo”s advice to sell these assets, which other assets would be available for Buhari’s future successor(s) with which to finance the economy or repay foreign debt?
President Buhari must, therefore, not allow himself, even inadvertently to be consigned into history that under his administration, Nigeria’s assets were looted purportedly to beef up an ever unstable economy.
There is this mistake of regarding the national assets as government property, and the government can, therefore, decide whichever way. In reality, the assets are the wealth of the people of Nigeria. Those in government are no more than our servants, merely administering in trust for us. At this stage, even those claiming to have been elected in the National Assembly now reckon with people’s possible reaction against any provocative move. When last time, protesting Nigerians occupied the National Assembly for days, members could not show their faces. Let us not forget that the very idea of selling national assets originated from the National Assembly when the leadership wrote President Buhari, claiming to put forward suggestions on how to improve the economy. The fraud behind the move probably dawned on individual senators, who thereafter voted against the proposal. The question then arises on whose authority did the National Assembly write Buhari in the first place, suggesting sale of the national assets?
Quite a number of the senators are ex-governors, who looted their states and are rich enough to buy major shares in the companies lined up to purchase the national assets. In some cases, they may not even pay a kobo, as shares will be allotted to them gratis. In a way, it may even be in Nigeria’s interest that our foreign reserves should not be much because the richer Nigeria is, the more and easier is the looting spree and the transformation of politicians even from local government level into dollar millionaires, all, while roads throughout the country are death traps, hospitals are without drugs, school buildings are dilapidated, workers’ salaries irregularly paid, unlimited various taxes imposed on the people, school leavers at every level mostly unemployed, To sell national assets for the sole purpose of increasing foreign reserves for these crooks to loot?
In its contribution to the controversy on whether or not to sell national assets to beef up the economy and foreign reserves, Central Bank had the cheek to assert that selling ONLY (indeed, only) ten per cent of the national assets would increase the foreign reserves by forty billion dollars. So what? How much was foreign reserves, which the same Central Bank depleted by releasing bilions upon billions of dollars to politicians in government on the authority of ordinary piece of paper instead of the mandatory finance act? Would the Bank of England or America’s Federal Reserve Bank so deplete state funds and ever come up with the fraud of selling national assets? Should the Central Bank be financially replenished once more for free and unaccounted spending? Worse still, Central Bank based its idea of selling our national assets on the recommendation of some so-called accountants.
In such situations, consultants, more of salt to injury, are merely employed to formalise and legalise intended fraud. In any case, after collecting fees, would any local or foreign consultant advise that the Central Bank was wrong in its proposal to instigate selling of our national assets? Did consultants also advise Central Bank to release billions and billions of dollars with which politicians and National Electoral Commission officials were bribed for the 2015 elections?
This must interest President Buhari. Until a few months ago, he rightly resisted all calls for devaluation of the naira because, as he noted, such a decision would impoverish the lower class. That was not the beginning of his sympathy for the wretched group. Announcing his third bid for the presidency in 2011, Buhari openly shed tears at a public engagement at International Conference Centre, Abuja. He wept because, as he explained, there was no reason for the plight of the poor in the midst of Nigeria’s wealth, The sad information for Buhari today is that the poor of those days are worse. Part of that decline was caused because Buhari allowed himself to be blackmailed by our big turenci-speaking economists into devaluing the naira, a disastrous move sneaked on the country by Central Bank, claiming to render exchange rate to be “more flexible”. The naira thus lost value from N197 to N340 for one dollar and now almost N500 to the dollar in black market. To think that the same experts turned round to blame Buhari for the effect on the masses?
The choice is, therefore, Buhari’s to sell or not to sell our national assets. Should he decide to sell, sometime, some day, he will be reminded we warned against such misadventure.
All in a ruse, Nigerians are also being deceived that only so-called non-performing assets would be sold. Which is that non-performing national asset and where will the line be drawn? Would Nigerian Ports Authority be sold and NIMMASA retained or vice versa? Would NLNG be exempt while NNPC is sold or the other way round?
Incidentally, deregulation of the economy as was under structural adjustment programme must not be confused with selling our national assets. For example, Nigeria Airways was not sold, But through bad administration over decades, the airline was just incapable of meeting growing demands of air travellers in the country. Accordingly, while Nigeria Airways was still in operation, somewhat epileptically with only one aircraft for flights within Nigeria as well as London and New York (yes, only one aircraft), the government deregulated the aviation industry by opening the sector to private airlines owned by local and foreign investors. The result is the ease with which thousands of travellers move by air from any part of Nigeria to another everyday.
As elected president, Obasanjo resuscitated Nigeria Airways under emblem of Air Nigeria run jointly with British Virgin Airways. Still the venture collapsed even on the domestic level while other private airlines still flourish. President Buhari has similarly resuscitated Nigeria Airways but it is still to take off in competition with private airlines.
Similarly, NITEL was not sold under the structural adjustment programme. In a world of instant communication, Nigeria, before structural adjustment rogramme (SAP) had barely half a million telephone lines. Phone facilities were for the super rich. The telecomms sector was, therefore, deregulated to allow private Nigerian and foreign investors participation. Today, he is virtually not a Nigerian if he or she does not own a phone. Nigerian population? Over one hundred and twenty million, each owning a phone line. NITEL remains unsold and free to compete with private phone companies.
On the other hand, after SAP, the NNPC was partly deregulated by breaking its monopoly on oil imports. The result? The large scale fraud of oil subsidy committed by politicicians, businessmen and their family. As part of the partial deregulation of the oil industry, Nigerians obtained licence to establish refineries anywhere in Nigeria, as may be needed without discrimination. Except Aliko Dangote (and, perhaps, others yet unknown), these fellows cannot invest to operate refineries.Instead, they would rather steal our geese, pretending to buy them. We must resist.
Last line: Soccer maestro, J.J. Okocha, is eventally having the last laugh. Sam Aladyce, his manager at English clubside, Bolton, has been forced to resign with ignominy, as manager of England national team after only few weeks in charge. Aladyce was caught in a trap of corruption and indications are that the man may be banned from the game of football.