By Dike Onwuamaeze and Nume Ekeghe
The federal government has been advised to utilise the challenges posed by the current outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic to transit to an economy that is not highly dependent on oil revenue.
This call was made by the Chief Executive Officer of Mascot Consults Limited, Mr. Marcel Okeke, when he spoke on: “Nigeria Without Oil,” at a Webinar organised by the Finance Correspondents Association of Nigeria’s (FICAN) in Lagos, at the weekend.
Okeke, a former chief economist of Zenith Bank Plc explained: “Let me mention briefly that the issue of COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on all economies, especially oil dependent ones like Nigeria and rendered economic development a mirage.
“In fact, recession is starring us (Nigeria) in the face. It is a question of how big it will be and anything contrary to that would look like magic.”
He noted that oil revenue had been the mainstay of the Nigerian economy over the years, yet scarcity of funds has been a major challenge of government at all levels.
Therefore, now that the mainstay of funding for the economy, which is oil, is practically gone, there is an urgent need for an alternative economy which is a Nigeria without oil, he said.
“And this means that dependence on oil as the major revenue earner has come to an end. So other sources must be urgently explored and exploited. This points to an urgent restructuring of the economy of the country such that substantial revenue must come from neglected sources.
“Those areas that have been neglected before would give us a direction on how to finance Nigeria going forward,” Okeke added.
He pointed out that agriculture, effective tax administration and exploitation of the numerous non-oil minerals would be the major drivers of the Nigerian economy.
He emphasise the need to restructure the economy with constitutional amendment done where necessary, to free the country’s three tiers of governments from the monthly oil revenue sharing habit.
“There is an urgent need for fresh legislation to disentangle the three tiers of government from oil money sharing culture. In a situation where you now have Nigeria without oil, this culture will disappear.
“So, there has to be a genuine amendment of the Nigerian constitution to reflect the new economy that no longer depends on oil,” he said.
Okeke, also advocated for a new emphasis on gas exploration and exploitation, the refocusing of the Nigerian banks to support the real sector of the Nigerian economy, the elimination of rent- seeking activities that inhibits productive investments and the repackaging and marketing of the country as an attractive investment’s destination.
He added that emphasis should be laid on internally generated revenue by sub-national governments.
He also recommended that Nigerian banks should be refocused toward industrialisation and real sector growth and be made to desist from current activities like dealing on treasury bills and government bonds,
Okeke also stressed the need for infrastructure development, especially power and transport infrastructure, the redirection of the country’s educational system toward digital education, improvement on internal security and a shift toward small government with reduced bureaucracy.
He pointed out that under the new economy that would evolve after the pandemic, Nigeria’s foreign reserves should no longer be used to defend and preserve the naira, saying, “when we move into Nigeria without oil, you will now utilise the foreign reserves only when it becomes imperative. The focus will no longer be on defending naira by borrowing and getting grants from all over the world
“What it calls for is re-orientation that things and times have changed. We must move to Nigeria without oil and then adjust our belts to the dictates of the time.”