Nigeria’s Economic Managers Have Failed – World Bank Consultant

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Dr. Phillips Ntoh

By Kelechi Uche

Dr. Phillips Ntoh, former Abia State Commissioner for finance, World Bank consultant, and Provost, Abia State College of Education, Technical, Arochukwu, (ASCETA), in this interview with Journalists in Lagos, speaks on why Nigeria is failing, and in constant drift, the 2023 presidency, alarming economic indices, embarrassing insecurity, Abia charter of equity among other critical national issues.

How will you react to the implication of the recent report that Nigeria’s monthly debt has surpassed the revenue being generated monthly …?

(Cuts in) it’s worrisome. There is no country in the world that you can say is debt-free, that is the fundamental issue. But the issue is that: Is your revenue able to service your debt? That is the question that is not answered by the managers of our resources.

Our revenue is not able to service our debt, by implication; it means that money will now be borrowed to service our external debt. That is why the economy of the country is going down and it points to the fact that our economy is not productive. It is the reason you now have the dollar as at today, at N720, which is not a good thing for an emerging economy like ours. The implication is that the prices of goods will skyrocket, the reason we now have a loaf of bread selling for over one thousand naira (N1000) depending on the bakery and where you are buying it from. The minimum you can get a loaf of bread anywhere in this country, family size is not less than N700/800 naira. So since the dollar is high, the implication is that the price of all imported goods will go up. It means that the prices of all import-dependent products will rise and how will the ordinary person survive. So, rising debt profile has a negative implication on all the economic indices like the exchange rate, interest rate, investment and most times it leads to the devaluation of your currency, which is the Naira in our own case.

The fact is that our financial/economic managers are not doing their work well; they are not formulating the right policies. If the economy of a country is not producing or productive, that is what you get.

So what should be the solution?

The solution is that we should come back home, let the economy be productive; you cannot be a mere consuming nation and expect a miracle in your economic growth. We must go back to agriculture, that is the only way out and let us think about value addition. It is not just producing and exporting our raw materials, the agricultural raw materials, but we should also produce secondary goods. Not a situation where you produce, let’s say cassava, and you export the cassava raw. You produce cocoa, you export the cocoa raw, such will not attract good foreign currency, it will not attract the dollar, but in a situation where the farmer will produce the cassava and then it is converted into secondary and tertiary products, or the farmer will produce cocoa then the cocoa will be converted to secondary and tertiary goods then you now export the secondary and tertiary products, it will attract the dollar. The major problem is that we must de-emphasise on crude oil exportation. The developed world are already thinking of other sources of energy, nobody is talking about crude oil now. Cars for instance are now being driven electronically…I know you are aware that some countries are already working on how to use the water technology to drive their cars. These are innovations, people thinking ahead, thinking beyond the use of your crude. People are thinking about what other sources of energy that is greener, but our national economy is still dependent on crude oil. And now that the price of the crude oil is fluctuating it will continue to affect our currency because we depend solely on petroleum. I think we should start talking genuinely about agriculture, other sources outside oil, we need to look inwards on our non-oil sector and there is a lot there to explore. We need to diversify.

What is your take on the level of insecurity in the country today?

It is sad that we have come to this point. It is an embarrassment on the government but what do you expect when poverty is going up and has hit the roof top. We are not producing, unemployment is high, it means that our able youths will go into crime; they will go into other sources of making money like kidnapping, banditry etc but when you are able to create employment, when you are able to make the economy productive, it means that citizens will be meaningfully engaged. Instead of carrying AK47 to go and start looking for how to make money through illegal means, you already know that there is employment or job somewhere for you to engage yourself and make money seamlessly without getting involved with crime. Let me say it here that extreme poverty in the north and high number of out of school children are, indeed, major factors to the insecurity that we are witnessing today in the North.

The insecurity naturally will go down if you fix certain things like making the economy work, creating jobs but a situation where people are joining the unemployment queue when they graduate, no job in sight…it will be a call to increase crime in the society, a call to anarchy, a recipe for insecurity. Fundamental issues must be properly addressed or the way out for the youths will be either to use their brain to go into Yahoo- Yahoo or they look for other crimes they have the capacity to undertake.

You see, when our youths who are supposed to be in school are at home, it makes it easy for the terrorists and bandits to easily harvest them for their criminal activities. It is part of the reason this ASUU problem with the federal government just have to be resolved without further delay because when the youths, our children are in school they will not have the time to engage in criminal activities. As they say: the devil provides job for idle mind, idle mind is devil’s workshop. If our youths are fully engaged in their studies they will not have the time to dissipate their energies into frivolities and criminal acts.

The other aspect is that of political. What I just mentioned is the economic aspect, empower the people. When you empower the people they will go out of crime, they will begin to think of how to be useful to themselves, nobody will want to die because the kidnapper knows that if he does and fail, if he is caught he will die, he is already determined to die but when you create meaningful means of livelihood nobody will want to go into crime. Even if there will be somebody or persons who will still want to engage in crime, their number will be minimal and that will not pose a security threat as we are witnessing it today. The political aspect of it is that a nation survives well under equity, fairness and justice. When there is no equity, when there is no fairness, when there is no justice insecurity will go up. Some people or groups in this country are feeling that our national wealth is skewed towards a particular group, they are feeling marginalised and they will not be happy. Some people are feeling that our wealth is skewed towards a particular person the other person won’t be happy but when there is equitable distribution of our national wealth, when there is equitable distribution of political offices, when there is equitable distribution of everything in the country, our political offices etc, you will see that there will be peace. It is the reason you see agitation everywhere, all over the country there are agitations from one state to the other, from one geo-political zone to the other. And this will also affect our economic life. Go to the North they don’t go to the farms again for fear of being slaughtered. You think people are still going to their farms in Borno because of Boko Haram or in Zamfara. In Kogi, Benue states they can’t go to farms because of Fulani herdsmen. In all political zones, Northeast, Northwest, Northcentral etc…Which state is safe? No where. The miners in Zamfara cannot go to mining site because of insecurity, so it will continue to cause problem in our economic life.These are part of the reasons Nigeria is not working.

Let’s look at the presidential candidates so far that have emerged. Do you have hope in any of them having the capacity to salvage this country?

Well, I have listened to all of them but as a young scholar I believe that there is certain age in life the law of diminishing return will set in. I am an economist, once the law of diminishing return sets in it means that instead of getting the best from you, whatever you expect to do will start to get down. So let the electorates think of a presidential candidate that is still young, at least within the age of 50-60. Our retirement age for civil service is 60 and in some cases 65. When somebody is above 65 he or she may not have much to offer. Is his idea in line with contemporary issues? Is the person in touch with the realities on the ground? So it is left for the electorates to critically examine all the presidential candidates’ mission and vision statements and let us be guided. But that is also not saying that all that is within the 50-60 bracket has the capacity to perform and bring the genuine change that we need. Of course there are exceptional to every rule. There can still be somebody above 70 with youthful ideas that will perform. An old man that has good youthful ideology should also be considered by the electorate. But in all, it is left for the Nigerian electorates to choose. We know the antecedents of all of them parading themselves as presidential candidates; it is left for Nigerians to make a bold statement with their vote. I expect Nigerians to elect any of the presidential candidates that is in touch with the reality of the moment. Now we are facing serious economic and insecurity challenge, we need somebody that is in serious touch with Nigerian problems. I don’t believe that the person must come from Igbo land, Yoruba land, from Hausa or Fulani but let the person connect easily with the youth, connect easily with the old people and with world trends. The world is moving and not waiting for Nigeria, so we need a person that will provide that right leadership.

How will you react to the Muslim-Muslim ticket of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC)? Should we not be concentrating on competence…?

(Cuts in) No. I said it earlier that for a country to survive, for democracy to strive there must be equity, justice, and fair play. When this three key components are lacking it means that the democracy may be heading towards hell. So, now, a situation a group is feeling excluded or groups feeling excluded, feeling marginlised, it means that there is no equity, it means that there is no justice or fair play. That is a danger signal and calls for concern. So for the presidency of a country to do meaningful work, to formulate meaningful policies, to do meaning projects and programmes, it means that it must be all inclusive, various opinions must be involved, all the religious groups, ideologies must also be considered and included. A situation that you exclude the Christians at such critical level is wrong, it’s condemnable, it’s bad political calculation, it’s sowing a suspicious seed in the polity. Are you saying that they (Christians) do not have very competent people with their massive population? If you can select people from one religion to form your presidency, you can as well also pick people from the same region to also be in the presidency. You can also say that picking Southeast Southeast, South-South South-South, Southwest Southwest etc, that it does not make any meaning, that it does not matter…No, it matters, it has deep meaning. I am seriously against Muslim-Muslim ticket; it doesn’t give room to inclusiveness, equity or fairness or even for justice. Our diversity should at all times be respected if we must survive and succeed in nation building. Even the Bible in so many chapters detest lack of inclusion in public administration. That was why at every time Moses will make his choice leaders across the twelve tribes of Israel. He never at any time chose all from one tribe. Nigeria should reject Muslim-Muslim ticket as it is totally against biblical principle of sharing political offices. Read: Exodus 18:25, and Numbers 13:2 and you will see the need for inclusiveness.

It appears that the Abia Equity charter has been set aside in view of the fact that the governor Okezie Ikpeazu-led PDP refused to zone the governorship slot to Abia North?

Well, I may not be the right person to answer this question because I will be misunderstood by many or accused to be bias being a political office holder in the state. I am sill an appointee of this Abia government under the leadership of Dr Okezie Ikpeazu and whatever, I say is likely to be misconstrued. I may not be the right person to answer any question about the Abia Charter of Equity issue. But I will vote for somebody that is competent, our vote should go to the person that will take the state to the next level from where Dr Okezie Ikpeazu has taken it to. We need somebody that will also move it to higher level building on what the present leadership has been able to do.

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