Dr. Philips Nt
Dr. Philips Nto is a World Bank consultant and former Commissioner for Finance and Economic Planning in Abia State.
The distinguished academic who presently lectures at Michael Okpara Federal University of Agriculture, Umudike, spoke to Nigeria News Flight and other media outfits in Lagos on the economy, its challenges, the need to consult ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo and what needs to be done for a turnaround.
The former Provost, Abia State College of Education Technical Arochukwu (ASCETA), also disclosed his fears for Nigeria, and the way forward to restore hope among other burning national issues.
Could you dissect the Nigeria’s present economy given your background on sector?
Nigerian economy, unfortunately, has a very weak foundation. It is really worrisome that we expect a super structure to stand on a shallow foundation. We have a nation boasting of a population in excess of 200 million, which should be an advantage and which other countries envy us.
We have a land mass of over 920,000 square kilometres, which is very arable, very fertile; again, which should be an advantage.
We have agro-friendly climate, which is lacking in many countries we import from. Yet we depend on food imports to meet our food needs.
Conversely, other nations like China exploit our large market. Even the northern farmers can no longer go to the farms because of insecurity.
Our industries are closed because of so many production risk factors. So, we are now a consumptive country entirely dependent on imports. That is the sad situation and that is what is pushing up the inflation rate which is now at about 25 percent.
The consequences are that poverty is ravaging the land. Families that were hitherto categorized as middle income earners have descended to low income earners while those who before now were low income earners have gone down to be the poorest of the poor.
We are now described as the poverty capital of the world. Before now, the index to categorize a poor family was those living below one dollar a day. Now, with a dollar exchanging for one thousand,two hundred naira, many families in Nigeria are in serious trouble.
Our over independence on crude oil is our bane. You cannot leave your economy to be controlled by the international market when you are producing and exporting next to nothing. So, we urgently need to diversify our economy. We have potential areas like entertainment, agriculture, digital economy and micro, small and medium enterprises which all need the support of government to flourish.
I believe that is what we need as an escape route from the excruciating poverty in Nigeria.
Is it not even more disgraceful that Nigeria could shamefully import grain from war-torn Ukraine.
Nigeria is blessed with so many natural resources but most not tapped. Those tapped are exported in primary form while secondary form is imported back.
The economy is not doing well. Is it as a result of bad economic policies or poor implementation?
It is a marriage of both compounded by nepotism. Let’s take for instance, those who are formulating our economic policies. How were they selected or recruited? You cannot expect a fresh medical doctor to effectively manage the critical case of a kidney or cancer patient. So, we require the services of highly experienced consultants in economic matters to manage our economy.
We have these experts in Nigeria but nepotism, tribalism and other base considerations have not allowed such people to come on board. That’s why you find such highly talented people abroad effectively managing the economies of foreign nations like Canada and America. Another problem we have is policy summersaults or inconsistencies.
Every successive government throws away the policies of its predecessor without examining the merits and forgetting that government is a continuum. So, we should interrogate our process of recruiting our economic managers by giving opportunities to only the best.
Just last Monday, at the Federal Executive Council meeting,the government approved a proposal to take another World Bank loan of $3.45 billion. What is the implication for the economy?
Is it in the best interest of Nigerians?
Nigeria is like a family or household. Some families, like mine, do not even believe in borrowing. But the question that keeps agitating my mind is, what are all these borrowings for?
If you borrow for consumption or to pay salaries or even for palliatives, you are simply postponing the evil day which must surely come. Now, if you are borrowing for investment, in which areas are you making this investment?
The last administration borrowed to do rails. What has come out of it? If you borrow and invest in an area that is not viable, it is the same as borrowing for consumption.
We should know that the World Bank is not a charity organization. They give out money to countries that have potentials for investment.
So, if you borrow recklessly,with no intent to pay back, you end up mortgaging the future of the future generations. That is the implication for Nigeria.
Like I said, I don’t support borrowing except if it is for investment. If we put our acts together, we don’t even need to borrow.
Maybe we should go on our knees to ask President Obasanjo how, in eight years, he did not borrow but cleared all our external debts and left a huge foreign reserve.
Experts have accused Nigeria of over-dependence on the dollar. Can it actually be avoided?
It is absolutely correct that Nigerians, especially politicians, depend on the Dollar for their activities. During elections and other nocturnal movements, many politicians who are the ruling class and our economic formulators, depend on the Dollar for whatever they do.
Indirectly, the rising price of Dollar is attributable to them. Those who require dollars for imports, legitimate businesses are not the people responsible, neither is it as a result of balance of trade. So, we can actually avoid this dependence on the dollar if the agencies in charge of fighting corruption step up their game. Activities of Bureau de Change people should be monitored effectively to check round-tripping by government officials and bankers.
Also, acquisition of dollar should be on proper identification with NIN and BVN. Most importantly, when we cut down on importation and increase exportation, the demand for the dollar will also go down while Value of Naira will go up.
Another worrisome aspect of it is that so many people save their money in dollar so that they retain value for their income.
As an accomplished academic who has headed a tertiary institution, what do you think government can do to restore hope in education?
It is unfortunate that due to the rot in the education sector including dwindling quality, many Nigerians have continued to troop abroad for tertiary and even secondary education, thus putting further pressure on the demand for dollar.
In the 80s and 90s when the quality of our education was high, foreigners used to come here for their education. Sadly, the reverse is now the case. During that period, we also attracted foreign exchange from the education sector. There are some fundamental issues involved. One, I query the method of recruitment of teachers in the tertiary institutions.
I query the funding. I query the amount paid as tuition fees in these institutions when compared to what is obtainable abroad. I also query corruption in the system and the use of these institutions to play politics by some of our leaders.
Government knows what to do to restore hope in the system. They should start by addressing those posers I raised. The people in power now benefited from a sound education system during their time. They should go back to the drawing board to know when the rain started beating us.
What are your fears for Nigeria?
I have fears over tribalism and its attendant consequences in the polity. I have fears over the retarding effects of nepotism.
I have fears over the way we are using religion to threaten national unity. I have fears over the corrosive influence of corruption. And I have fears that we are destroying our core values as a people.
We lack national cohesion. Our motto of unity, peace and progress, is now only on paper. Our redemption is to go back to the sincere implementation of that motto. Of course, I fear the rising rate of unemployment.
I fear the rising wave of insecurity and I fear the rising number of politicians without any iota of ideology.
Most Nigerians have proposed restructuring as a means of addressing the problems of Nigeria, including your fears? What is your own idea in that regard?
To me, most of those politicians are not even sincere in their calls for restructuring. When a particular situation or government favours them, you won’t hear anything about restructuring. But when it does not, you hear them shout out that they want restructuring. But the truth is that if you have tried something for so many years and it keeps giving you the same result and the result does not solve your problem, you don’t need a soothsayer to tell you to change tactics. The current structure does not and cannot work. We should go back to the draft document produced during President Goodluck Jonathan’s national conference. Members of that conference dissected correctly the problems of Nigeria and proferred solutions to them. So, if we want to make progress as a nation, we should embrace the document and implement it faithfully.
What is the way forward for Nigeria?
It’s not a difficult task to achieve a Nigeria that will cater for the yearnings and aspirations of all . Straight to the question is honest dialogue among all the tribes and zones. The cry for marginalisation, and secession is becoming alarming. Every administration should run an inclusive government devoid of sectional interests. Youths should be adequately represented in government. Political positions should be competed for to get best brains, not for the president, unilaterally picking cabinet and policy makers.