Rafsanjani: Strong Economy Will Bail Nigeria out of Poverty

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Executive Director, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) Mr. Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, at the just concluded 2019 Spring Meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank Group in Washington DC, United States, participated in five-day policy dialogue sessions with civil society organisations, where views were exchanged on a wide range of issues affecting nations and humanity. In this interview, Rafsanjani shared with Funke Olaode some outcomes of the meeting, especially those relating to subsidy removal, illicit cash flow, economic growth and poverty eradication

What is your view on the economic projection for Nigeria by the World Bank and IMF?

It is very disturbing to see the World Bank analysis of Nigeria’s economy. It is also very clear that because of the absence of sound economic team that is why we are not actually making the necessary progress in terms of consolidating and strengthening our economy in Nigeria. Therefore, it is not surprising given the fact that Nigeria has not make appreciable progress in terms of diversification of economy, in terms of effective economic management, which is as a result of sound policy or legislative framework that would deal with the economy particularly the oil and gas sector. You would recall that we have been advocating for the Nigerian government to ensure that we have Petroleum Industry law passed in the country which has been languishing in the national assembly.

It would have helped to ensure the economy is strengthened, would have eliminated corruption, duplication of responsibilities as well as inefficiency. Nigeria government is yet to do that. Secondly, the non-oil sector has not been consciously developed in a way that will help drive the economy. You have so many areas that we as a nation is not utilizing very well. That is why we have found ourselves in Zero Economic Stagnation which the World Bank has rated us. And besides the World Bank, there are other institutions that have warned Nigerian government in terms of ensuring that it should have been more focus, more productive way of improving the economy because once the economy is not rolling well, definitely, the issue of poverty, employment will be affected.

According to the IMF Chief, Ms. Lagarde, the country in the last four years has spent over N5 trillion on subsidy which could have been channeled towards health, education and infrastructure on subsidy. What is your take on IMF’s advice to Nigeria on subsidy removal?

Nigeria should have done away with the subsidy long time ago. The present administration promised to stop paying subsidy because they discovered at that time that it is a scam, it is a fraud and nothing is being subsidized. Unfortunately, we have not seen that commitment being fulfilled by the government. The government is spending a lot of money on subsidy. For me and many Nigerians, the problem is not about subsidy, the problem is about corruption, it is about inefficiency in the management of so called subsidy because once some people imported petroleum to Nigeria, they claimed to have brought certain amount of tones of petroleum which is not being verified or authenticated and yet they get their payment. That is why the problem is. Had it been the government had eliminated where this fraud is we would not be talking about it. And if government had taken steps to ensure that the refineries are working, you would not be talking about subsidy. It is funny that Nigeria as an oil producing country has to be spending that much to import petroleum for its citizens consumption. If we are able to fix our refineries and make them efficient, and effective, the question of subsidy would have been eliminated.

The issue of illicit financial flow and how it can be tackled also came up. What do you think about it?

The illicit financial flow is a very serious issue because in the region, Nigeria account for over 70 per cent of the illicit financial flow in West Africa and this is an alarming rate. It has not stopped. It is still happening therefore there is no way a nation can have vibrant and productive financial system once people are deliberate and consciously siphoning public funds abroad. I think government anti-corruption should intensify more effort to block these leakages and we must make sure that people that are found guilty or caught in the act are interrogated and prosecuted. And the refunded money can be injected back into the economy so the issues of poverty and employment can be reduced.

Also, during the meetings, there was a comment by some economic experts that poverty is like a time bomb ready to explode. Do you agree with them?

We don’t have to wait until 2030 because poverty has already exploded in Nigeria. When you have a large per cent age of the population that is living in abject poverty and cannot avoid descent living. They cannot afford education and so on they are already in abject poverty and that is why you see a lot of crises going on in Nigeria because people are already in poverty orchestrated by corrupt public officials coupled with lack of government planning to come up with programmes that would deal with poverty. For me, expansion of economic base that would encourage diversification, more investment from local and international investors that would help create jobs, which would address the issue of unemployment. This is the reason why IMF body is projection abject poverty or extreme poverty by 2030. A lot of Nigerian youths are idle, they cannot feed themselves and you need to go round as see how poverty is walking naked.

How do you think all the issues raised can be addressed and tackled?

As said earlier, sound economic team being led by committed, knowledgeable personnel that understand global economic framework should be put in place. Secondly, government must eliminate wastage, shun corrupt official. Government must consolidate easy way of doing business in Nigeria so that there would be business and idle hands can find something to do because in the past last of unfavorable environment has hindered many investors from investing in Nigeria. There is no strong legislation that can protect their investments as a result of corruption and uncertainty in the direction. Government must create more economy diversity instead of relying on oil and gas sector…

Cut in…There is the claim by the FG that Nigeria has achieved so much in the area of agriculture and so on. Do you agree with that?

Like you said, it is a claim which to me is not backed by any statistics. There was a claim that Nigeria has stopped importing rice but just last week, there has been a report of an alleged tons of rice being smuggled into the country. So if we are actually producing that the issue of smuggling wouldn’t have come up. I think government should stop propaganda and actually focus on work that international community would appreciate because there is a limit at which one can blow obvious lies that is not on the ground. So I will advise government at local, state and federal levels to focus more on work and stop propaganda that would not take us anywhere and will be raising a false hope.

And because one state is producing rice does not mean that the entire 36 states in the federation is producing rice shouldn’t be used as a measure of complete success. Government should encourage local participation in economy. We have a lot of textile industries that have gone into comatose because of lack of energy and other basic infrastructure. Let government do the talk and walk the walk.

For instance, on issue of asset recovery which to me can help revive the economy if properly managed. Now, Nigeria is interested in recovering more funds but lack of legal framework to ensure that the recovered money would be used on Nigerian people is there. Many countries are even skeptical even though it is not their rights to deny Nigeria to have its money back. Here in Washington DC, last week I was I the US State Department. I have been in France few weeks ago. I was invited by the French parliament to discuss about their plans on how to return assets that they are holding in France to various countries including Nigeria. So I suggested to them on what to do so that money returned can reflect on the citizenry. So there is hope but what the governments in of these countries are saying is framework that would guarantee that the money would be used. I am calling on Mr. President to constitute people of integrity that would get engaged with these countries.

Women empowerment, girl-child education and financial inclusion are still issues. What effort is the CSO making to be the voice of the voiceless?

Well, it is an on-going process which efforts are yielding gradually. During CISLAC side event at the United Nations Commission on the status of women during its 63rd Session held in March in New York, we as a non-for-profit organization played an important role. We used the gathering to serves as an enabling platform for different stakeholders and international community to interact in proffering holistic solutions to the current trend and challenges confronting adequate, accessible and effective multi-stakeholder approach towards promoting social security for African women.

This event is primarily aimed at provoking critical discussions and harnessing potentials for what will ultimately lead to showcasing the plight of the African women to the international community and exploring gender relevant issues to promote social security for women in Africa.

It has become continuously imperative to keep the issues of women in general and African women in particular on the front burner of the international discourse. We observed that despite the progressive policy commitments and institutional frameworks on gender equality and women empowerment, implementation remains slow and inconsistent. To date, some countries in Africa are still battling with domestication of the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women, popularly known as CEDAW, a treaty adopted since 1979 by the UN General Assembly. This treaty is described as the bill of rights for women and has been ratified by 189 countries. Most African countries that have domesticated CEDAW are yet to fully implement the provisions, hence the need for other social developmental laws for women including Gender policies which are not even taken seriously.

Equally, the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa has not secured universal ratification. It is pertinent to note that no nation can fully attain sustainable development without including women, girls and all vulnerable groups. The cost of non-inclusion is shocking. According to a World Bank report released in 2018, countries are losing worldwide 160 trillion USD in wealth because of differences in lifetime earnings between women and men.

The extent of the problem is disproportionally more serious in Africa. UNDP in its Africa Human Development Report for 2016 says, “Gender inequality is costing sub-Saharan Africa on average $US95 billion a year. Yes the issue came up and what we are saying is that African women should be protected from issues of violence, poverty, lack of opportunity, justice and equity. We must get away with gender discrimination and misguided believes based sometimes on cultural and norms.