Eze Onyekpere, lawyer and Executive Director of Centre for Social Justice tells Udora Orizu, his concerns about the Nigerian economy and why INEC may have difficulties organising a credible election
We have to look at evidence. The last two elections INEC conducted in Osun and Ekiti have been highly disputed. And if we are to go with that trajectory particularly with the last results in Osun state, one may express some doubts about the ability of the election management body to conduct credible polls in 2019. I don’t think what happened in Osun is credible enough. We are also a little bit worried with the late approval of the budget for INEC. We are not so sure enough resources have been released to INEC to do its job because there’s going to be procurements that are not off the shelve. They have to be commissioned. Nobody is sure if the resources available will enable them organise fully credible elections. There is also the issue of legal regulation for the elections. This election is in February. If the law that will enable INEC to conduct elections is not even made, the full details are not even out in the public domain, it means that INEC has not started preparing towards election with the enabling laws that will help it to organise credible polls. Beyond what the officials of INEC will do, these are circumstances which may make it difficult for INEC to achieve the kind of heights in of credibility, transparency and fairness that is expected of an election management body that has been organising elections in the past years and also meet the expectations of Nigerians. There could possibly be issues on the side of capacity and their performance and there’s also issues about the environment under which they are working, the laws which are not certain as at today, the money which has not been released or made available to them unless someone has released money without telling Nigerians or in the sense that he has released money for them to work without allowing the National Assembly to do appropriation.
The nation’s reserves have been declining in the last few months. Many people have called on the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to stop defending the Naira with our reserves, and allow market forces prevail. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has also advised Nigeria to be careful on the use of its foreign reserves in view of the volatile nature of oil prices. What is your position on this?
The issue of monetary policy especially issues of the value of a currency, the Naira, are issues that are not easily understood by majority of Nigerians. My fundamental position is that the value of a currency is both an economic and a political decision. I will not outrightly say let market forces determine or whatever those proverbial market forces are because we have seen a situation where the Naira went up to 500 to one Dollar. If that’s the interpretation of market forces, then that’s not my idea of how market forces should work. I think that what we need to do is to have less fixation on the value of the currency but greater fixation when increasing the capacity of the Nigerian economy to produce goods and services both for local consumption and tradable goods and services that can be traded outside our shores to earn foreign currency. We have to understand the need to harmonize trade policy, your foreign exchange policy, industrial policy, service delivery policy and policy on technology. By the time we focus on that then the currency will find its proper value. I don’t understand why we should be importing hundreds of thousands cars every year when there are local companies that can start producing. The government can empower them to produce the equivalent of a people’s car, the Volkswagen that civil servants can use. You don’t put all these Prado jeeps in the budget and expect your economy to grow. I don’t want to get fixated on that area, I will rather get fixated on something that can lead to the need for less foreign currency and your currency will definitely shore up. Let nobody deceive you, the world is trading with American Dollar. It’s the currency of the world but there’s no world central bank that mints and controls its value. It’s controlled by the American treasury and American government. All these are international politics. Our economists and politicians should sit down to understand the whole interrelatedness between the economy, politics and how you manage yourself. We need a knowledge-based economy, economic managers that have knowledge of both the economy, economic management challenges and the issues and resolutions as well as the international politics that go along in making your economy credible. Nobody takes us serious because we are busy behaving like a people who are senseless, the leadership is rudderless because there is no direction. We should focus on the right things.
It’s the continuation of the norm, the same directionless. It’s not going to lead us anywhere. We are going to borrow more money. We are not going to start producing stuff. We are continuing more of the same. That’s why I said you can’t separate economy and politics. Who is going to ensure that herdsmen don’t continue destroying crops of the farmers and when they complain people will be killed? To the extent that you don’t have these kind of resolutions, the agriculture will not grow. All the value chain discussions we have had where has it taken us? Who’s ensuring that the foods that are wasting in the axis of Benue and Plateau are converted into fruit juice or preserving them? Yet we are importing all those kind of fruit juice and stuff. There’s nothing to be excited about. There are no ground breaking postulations in fiscal policy,. We are not having anybody talk about increasing VAT or expanding the tax base properly without the political noise all around it. We are not having the big picture of increased transparency and accountability so that people can begin to believe more in the government. It’s just the usual auto pilot mediocre performance, there’s nothing to be excited about. We have been talking about this for years. They refuse to listen. There is othing to tell them again that we have not told them before. People who don’t understand the system, simply are occupying positions. Let them continue occupying. If Nigerians want them to continue occupying and mess up the system, then, goodluck.
That shows you part of the rudderlessness. You want to sell assets as a basis, why have you not sold those assets since to implement the capital budget? You just got approval to go and raise Euro bonds which will not happen until next year. And early next year will be time for campaign so you may not even get it early next year and this is the government that says they are serious. There’s nothing more to say than we are simply into a sinking ship. If Nigerians want the ship will sink and all of us will collapse. At the end of the day, you cannot be talking of a 2018 budget at the end of 2018 you are going to borrow money to start implementing it. Both the executive and the legislature are joking. They are not taking Nigerians seriously, the day they want to get serious they will know what to do. The President refused to sign a constitutional amendment that would have mandated the budget to be ready before December 31 of every year. What I’m saying is that we are in the midst of crisis and you do not play politics with the economy. The economy needs hard headed decisions. You are doing fuel subsidy without legislative approval, you are borrowing a lot of money and Nigerians are not seeing the results. Nigerians are hungry and angry, there’s no security in the land. What I expect is that the government of the day should have had a real debate on the way forward in the economy and not for anybody to pretend he’s a technocrat when he knows next to nothing. Because there’s no evidence of any major performance. Nigerians up till now don’t have the job reports for the year 2018, have we been told what we doing in terms of employment recently, because if the figures are out they will be scandalous. Government is losing jobs and is not creating new ones. He doesn’t want a debate on anything, there’s nothing to discuss because these guys don’t get it. If you don’t have the knowledge you can’t give what you don’t have. There’s so much lack of knowledge around and this government is running the economy as if to say ignorance is a virtue and that’s not the way things should be done.