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INTERVIEW: FG needs to think more… circulars won’t solve naira-dollar disparity, says Agbakoba - THE CABLE

FEBRUARY 28, 2024

Olisa Agbakoba (SAN) is a former president of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA). In this interview with TheCable’s TEMIDAYO AKINSUYI, he speaks on the current economic challenges in the country and offers solutions on the way forward.

TheCable: Nigeria is currently facing serious economic challenges with the naira, which is on a free fall. The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has been making efforts to address the situation, but it appears to be getting worse. How best do you think this can be addressed?

Agbakoba: We need a solid economic plan, which must come from ideas that the government is providing. It is the job of the government to think through very clear monetary, fiscal, and trade policies. I do not see an alignment between these three policies. Once these policies are not aligned, then there will be problems.

I see the CBN trying very hard to control the slide of the naira, but I think it is all wrong because what the CBN is doing is simply issuing circulars. Circulars will not cause the naira-dollar disparity to be corrected. What will make it right is economic activity in the country. That is the only way.

I am not an expert, but if you ask experts what the level of economic activity in the country is, it is probably five per cent. Let me also remind you that it is not really important to discuss the naira-dollar parity so that people should not get worried if the exchange rate is N3,000 to one dollar. It is not important because the Japanese Yen has a very big gap. What is important is not the numeric value of the exchange rate. What is important is the productive value of the naira. Currently, what is the naira producing? For instance, let me say I am a poultry farmer, and I have borrowed N100 million to pay the bank over the next three years. I have 100,000 chicken breeds. However, because of my inefficiency, I have only 2,000 chicken breeds, and the rest have died. So, as a result, I can’t meet my target.

TheCable: The president has also rolled out some measures aimed at rejuvenating the economy and cushioning the hardship experienced by Nigerians as a result of the subsidy removal. Do you think his approach is working?

Agbakoba: The federal government is not communicating the message of hope to the people

Agbakoba: Nigeria’s problem is that it doesn’t have any idea about the economic problems or what ought to be done to increase its productive value. If you have a grave level of insecurity in the country, you can’t talk about the productive value of the naira or the issue of the economic production of the country.

So, everything points to a downward decline in terms of what the government is doing. To be quite honest with you, I’m very disappointed because I spoke with President Bola Tinubu at Senate President Godswill Akpabio’s birthday, and I pointed out what I thought needed to be done. I thought that what was most fundamental was the question that the late Bola Ige asked a long time ago before he was assassinated. The question is, ‘Do we wish to be Nigerians?’ That is a very critical question, and we shouldn’t take it for granted. If we don’t wish to be Nigerians, we can’t be a great country. It is not a question to be swept aside. If we answer ‘yes’ to the question, then the second question is, ‘How do we want to be Nigerians?’ I think that is our problem. Like Governor Charles Soludo of Anambra has said, ‘You cannot build a 20-storey building on the foundation of a bungalow’.

The government is missing the very fundamental question of governance. If the governance foundation is not there, such that the states do not see themselves as economic entities of production but as consumers who go to Abuja to share money, then the 36 states are useless. They are useless, even though we have about 46 major solid minerals. If the 36 states see themselves as always ready to go to Abuja and collect their allocations every month, then they will produce nothing. Virtually, all the states are unviable because they think that they want to go and take their share of the cake rather than bake the cake. It is such an easy problem that I don’t understand why nobody sees it.

Sometimes, I tell my wife that maybe there is something wrong with me. Maybe I’m getting mad. Why is it that I am the only one seeing what I’m seeing and people in government cannot see it? They just inaugurated a new constitution review committee in the national assembly. They have been doing that for 30 years. They kept doing the same thing again and again without results, and that consumes billions of naira. This money being wasted on constitution review can be channelled towards building schools, hospitals, and so on. So, if people ask me, why is Nigeria still like this? This is the answer. We have a government that needs to do more thinking.

TheCable: Because of the current hardship, some Nigerians have argued that government officials are not leading by example by moderating their lifestyles and cutting down on the cost of governance. Do you also share this view?

Agbakoba: I agree with those saying that officials in the presidency are not leading by example by moderating their lifestyles and cutting down on the cost of governance. It is very clear. The empathy of the government is not apparent. There is something that former US President Franklin D. Roosevelt said in the Great Depression years of America in the 1930s. The thing to do about making people happy is not to give them a job; you first give them hope.

So, the government ought to be communicating hope. They ought to be saying, ‘We are going through this difficult period, but there is light at the end of the tunnel’. This government is not communicating that at all, which I think is a big error. Failing to communicate hope makes Nigerians depressed. It is not that Nigerians cannot live with high food prices. They will always find ways to manage difficult situations. Even IBB (Babangida) said that he doesn’t know why Nigeria has not collapsed.

The problem we have is that the government is not communicating hope. If you communicate hope and say to a person who has malaria, ‘Don’t worry, in two weeks, you will be well’. That will lift the person’s spirits because he has that hope. Right now, if the government is telling us that, in two or three months, we are likely to be in a better state. That is the biggest problem: the government is not communicating properly.

The second one is that the government is not even telling us how we can come out of this problem. That is why, as we are beginning to see, there is a slow revolt around the country, pointing to a protest of the cost of living. It is everywhere. I just pray that the situation doesn’t get out of hand. I pray that the government will be very concerned about this. The NLC has gone on strike. So, we are not in a good position.


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