Senior Special Assistant to the President on Public Affairs, Dr. Doyin Okupe
Senior Special Assistant to the President on Public Affairs, Dr. Doyin Okupe, last week fielded questions on the state of the nation, particularly the planned introduction of N5,000 notes by the Central Bank of Nigeria. Chuks Okocha presents excerpts of the interview...
The excitement that heralded the President Goodluck Jonathan administration appears to have faded significantly. What happened?
That’s not true. I am pleased to inform you that President Goodluck Jonathan is gradually delivering on the promises he made to the electorate. I have had to go and read his inaugural speech and from there I have extracted certain promises he made which I will enumerate to you in the 15 months or so of his administration.
So, we can categorically say that Jonathan is delivering on his promises. One, President Jonathan promised electoral reforms in the country but people didn’t believe that it was possible. He even offered himself as a guinea pig for election and was prepared to leave and go back to his home.
The presidential election, notwithstanding whatever anybody else says, has been adjudged globally as perhaps one of the best elections ever held in this country. You will also observe the same with other elections that had taken place under the watch of President Jonathan. He had insisted that every man’s vote will count in those elections and they counted. Not only that, he has ensured that manipulations and thuggery that characterised previous elections are gradually being wiped off. The latest in our mind is the electoral victory of the ACN in Edo State, where there was so much tension and so much apprehension. Not only that, some of the strongest PDP stalwarts come from that state, yet, President Jonathan ensured that the apparatus of government maintained neutrality and firmness and the outcome is for everyone to see. So, on electoral reform and the conduct of proper election which President Jonathan promised, he has delivered.
Number two, when the president assumed office, the energy capacity of the country at that time ranged between 1,900 megawatts to some 2,200 megawatts. The Independent Power Projects— 10 of them— were grounded and nearly moribund. But today, Nigeria is generating in excess of 4,400 megawatts of electricity. Some cynics have said this is due to high level of water in the hydro generating plants in Shiroro and Kanji. This isn’t true. I can tell you authoritatively that while it is true that every year there is a marginal increase in power supply because of the increase contribution in the hydro plants, that cannot account for the 15 hours or so that is being currently enjoyed in many parts of the country.
The reason for this additional increase is coming from the NIPP projects that are now adding between 600 and 800 megawatts to the national grid. That’s what is responsible for this new improvement and between now and December, we are expecting an additional 1,000 megawatts, because of increase and an arrangement that have been made for purchase and supply of gas to some of these NIPP projects. More areas will enjoy longer hours of electricity supply by December. So, on power, it is obvious that President Jonathan is fulfilling his promise to the Nigerian people.
The third one is on infrastructure. The Ministry of Works has concluded several thousands of kilometres of roads in the last 14 months, including the dualisation of Onitsha road. Recently, contract for the Benin-Ore road was awarded at a cost of about N55 billion and that road is going to be fixed. The one that gives a lot of anxiety to the Nigerian public is the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway. It is a test case in the Public Private Partnership and it is obvious that globally, this is a trend that government is patronising. It is important that we do not give wrong signal on this major one and that is part of the reasons why government is taking its time. The Federal Government has judgment debt in excess of hundreds of billions naira. So, government is also trying to avoid issue of unnecessary litigation. But I can tell you authoritatively that everything concerning the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway is about to be perfected. Real construction work is likely to commence within the next four to six weeks, maximum.
The Jonathan administration promised good governance and rule of law. On rule of law, there are so many evidence and cases that show that unlike before, this government isn’t one of those governments that disobey court orders. The government has upheld the rule of law and without due obedience to the rule of law, you really cannot have a democracy. So, why this may not be something tangible that people can hold on to, a lot depend on the rule of law and attitude of government to the rule of law, including foreign investors and all that. If your country is a place where jungle justice exists, nobody is going to bring his money.
What can you make of the lamentations by the president that he is being criticised, despite all that he is doing?
When the president jokingly alluded to the fact that he was the most criticised president in the world, Nigerians and the Nigerian media missed the point. The point he was trying to make is that he has brought liberalism into governance; even the security forces have become democratised. They no longer jump at people and detain them. If democracy indeed is about government of the people for the people by the people, the consultations that the president held recently with the civil societies is an outstanding example of a government that believes in dialogue and consultations with various sections of the society.
Are you not also worried that his is an administration that runs on committees?
Many have accused the president of running the government with committees and I find that interesting. In a population of about 160 million, there is need to tap its human resources. The issue of tapping from the experience of the experts cannot be criticised.
So, how come there was no consultation on the planned introduction of N5,000 notes? Even Benue State Governor, Gabriel Suswam, confessed that he and his colleagues were in the dark. Is that not a contradiction?
This (N5,000 note) is a CBN project and in truth, presidential approval was given, but it is also important to carry the people along and to educate them and I am sure the CBN would embark on this exercise. I don’t want to pass judgment, but personally from my own investigation and discussions with experts, we are dissipating too much energy and time on the issue. It is not that it isn’t important but its impact on us, both as citizens and on the economy of the country is almost minimal. It will be foolhardy for anybody to say that Kalu Idika Kalu is nobody in the field of economy. He is perhaps one of the best we have in Africa and such celebrated financial expert, consultant and economist have made statement to the effect that the introduction would have no bearing whatsoever on the economy of Nigeria.
What I have observed is that we intend to over politicise everything in this country. This is an issue that should be left in the purview of experts, but it is now being discussed by ordinary people like you and I. The American government has $1,000 bill but it isn’t for everybody, it is only for those who require it; you aren’t compelled to demand from your banker N5,000 because I heard somebody saying that ‘can you imagine, after working for thirty days they just give you four N5,000 notes.’’
That takes the debate to the level of the ridiculous because it isn’t compulsory that you are paid with that denomination. If you want to be paid in N20 note, the banks have it. They also have N500 and N200. If we cast our minds back, there was a time when the highest denomination we had was N100 and they now brought N500 and they brought N1,000. It will not affect the price of anything and will not impact negatively on the economy. I think awareness campaign can be done and reassuring moves will still be made by CBN. Nigerians should focus on very serious issues that have potential to directly affect our lives.
Some people have said this money will encourage corruption and all that. People who have to carry large sums of money, presently, I have observed they will rather carry dollars than naira. Three quarters of those who buy dollars in Nigeria aren’t buying it to pay for foreign services, but they are using it for their own internal transactions. So, if we have a naira note that has a high denomination, that makes it easier and more compact to carry big sums of money. That in itself will reduce the demand on dollar and it will help to shore up the value of our currency, because fewer people will now go after the dollar. Over fifty percent of those who purchase dollar aren’t purchasing it in order to use it for overseas transactions; they are buying it in order to limit the volume of cash they carry.
Is it not right that a critical arm of government like the National Assembly should have been carried along?
National Assembly? I have no information. But it is also important to carry the people along and I am sure that the CBN will do this.