Chiemelie Ezeobi in Lagos and John Shiklam in Kaduna
Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo on Tuesday urged Nigerians not to despair over the prostate state of the economy, saying that with the measures being taken by the federal government, speedy recovery from recession was on the way.
He spoke in Kaduna at the 4th Progressive Governance Lecture Series organised by governors of the All Progressives Congress (APC) with the theme, “Building the Economy of States: Challenge of Developing Inclusively Sustainable Growth.”
He assured Nigerians that government was on top of the situation, hinting that some policies to be unveiled shortly would reverse the prevailing economic hardship faced by Nigerians.
The vice-president’s hope raiser coincided with the United States Secretary of State John Kerry’s and Lagos State Governor Akinwunmi Ambode’s interventions on Nigeria’s dwindling fortunes advocating separately that the nation needed to restructure and diversify its economy in order to realise its great potential.
While Ambode recommended that the federal government should play the lead role in encouraging states to unbundle their potential by concentrating on their areas of comparative economic advantages, Kerry called for an urgent diversification of the economy, particularly at these times of low oil prices.
Ambode spoke in Kaduna at the Progressive Governance Lecture Series, stating that the federal government had a critical role to play in addressing the fundamental structural challenges undermining sustainable and inclusive economic growth in the states of the federation, among which is unbundling the potential of each of the federating units.
He said the federal government should allow states to develop natural resources within their domain and create the necessary infrastructure that would attract investors.
Ambode, who spoke on the Lagos experience of de-emphasising reliance on oil, said governors should also be encouraged to tap into multiple streams of income in their respective states.
The governor said it was absurd that governors had power over land but could not exploit the resources, including water that is under it, arguing that the law must be amended to empower states to have control of their resources.
He said: “We need to start looking at some changes that we need to make within and among ourselves as a government irrespective of whether it is federal, state or local government – that will now unbundle the potential of each state, which is the cornerstone of the whole message we are talking about.
“There is a great need for all of us to decide once and for all to unbundle the potential of each state; take the comparative advantages of each state and fuse them together for the benefits of our people.
“Governors are the owners of the land in their states but underneath the land and even inside the water, the federal government is structured in a way that it controls those potential.”
Ambode said the spoon-feeding of states through the monthly allocation from the Federation Account should stop, contending that it was a disincentive to the unlocking of the potential of the states.
“In a situation where the states are being spoon-fed, because I call the federation account more or less like spoon-feeding. The federal government collects total revenue on Value Added Tax (VAT) and various revenues on behalf of all of us and makes us to come to Abuja and more or less share it to us as peanuts thereby not allowing us to reach our potential as competitive states individually,” he said.
While alluding to the fact that the insignia of progressivism in Nigeria should be first seen in the APC states, Ambode said all critical actors must work together in the common interest of the people.
He said: “There is just one economy in this country and so we need to first of all accept the fact that there is nothing like private sector as against public sector; there is nothing like federal government as against state governments. We are collaborating together to drive the economy of this country. So if that describes what Nigeria is and what it ought to be, we also want to say that government should be seen as an enabler; a platform that more or less creates the enabling environment for the public sector to thrive.”
Also speaking at the event, a former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Charles Soludo, said Nigeria was facing unprecedented and tremendous political and economic challenges with global and local dynamics.
He also said for the current war against corruption to be successful and enduring, it must be tackled from the systemic level rather than dealing with the symptoms.
According to him, economic growth in Nigeria would not be inclusive unless poverty is broken and states take advantage of their comparative and competitive edges.
He noted that politicians and elected officials were under pressure to deliver quick short term benefits to the people while in reality what might be needed to address the economy were painful long term solutions.
“There seem to be a potential conflict with what the people want and what the country needs to survive sustainably,” he said.
Speaking on the topic “Fragile State with a Failing Economy, Making Progressive Change Work for Nigeria”, the former CBN governor maintained that the APC must move from a coalition of political parties that won election to that of a coalition of governance.
He said Nigeria was not secured and made politically sustainable especially through the de-strangulation of the hold of the federal government over states.
He warned that the global economy was unravelling and the burst might be there for a while, stressing that there was need to look at the long term solution.
According to him, the realities in the Nigerian economy is marked by localised trapped economies plagued by terrorism, kidnapping, militancy and other social vices which also threatened opportunities for attracting investments.
Soludo recommended the restructuring of the economy from consumption driven to production with consistent micro economic policies. He advocated fiscal federalism in ways that allow states to have greater control of their resources as well as the evolution
of a master plan for mass export oriented industrialisation that answers the economic questions of today’s realities.
In Abuja, the US Secretary of State, Kerry, urged the federal government to, as a matter of urgency, strive to diversify the economy, especially with the global reduction in the price of crude oil.
Kerry said this at a meeting with the staff and families of the US Embassy in Abuja, reiterating the commitment of the US government to curbing forced child marriages and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).
He said the free fall of the price of oil had challenged the economy, adding that the way forward was for the country to diversify its economy, promising that the US would be a willing ally in that direction.
“We will also do everything in our power to help adjust the economy to a change. No country should be single-resource dominated in its economy, and the lesson is you’ve got to diversify,” he said.
Speaking on female genital mutilation and child marriages, he said: “I just came from an amazing meeting with a group of young women, Nigerian women. We know that there are 6 to 8 million, 10 million girls who aren’t in school in Nigeria.
“And we know the difference that educating young women can make to the capacity to build a future for a country. And I quoted the Egyptian poet, Hafez Ibrahim, who said, ‘educate a woman, you build a nation’.
“That is so true. You cannot have a country that works leaving half of your population on the side lines.
“So we are committed, deeply committed, to helping girls to be able to go to school, to helping girls to be able to have opportunity, to trying to change this notion of forced marriage in childhood – 10, 11, 12 years old – and also trying to deal with the problem of female mutilation, which we really need to see stopped.
“So there’s so much on the table here. This is a country that has enormous capacity, enormous potential, and we want to help tap into it.”