By Peter Uzoho
Analysts at THISDAY Dialogue have proposed to the federal government some radical approaches to get the country out of the woods in the face of the headwinds of COVID-19 pandemic and a sharp drop in oil prices that have massively reduced revenue flows to the Federation Account.
Among such proposals is that the federal government should declare a 30-month amnesty programme for treasury looters from October 1, 1960 to April, 30, 2020.
This, they added, could fetch the federal government over $100 billion in loot recoveries within short time if given a guarantee that they would not be probed during the deadline for surrendering their loot.
The stakeholders made the suggestions at the Policy Dialogue organised by THISDAY Newspapers on the backdrop of COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on the country as well as the need to use the opportunity to chart a new course for the country’s economic transformation.
In a communiqué at the end of the virtual dialogue, the analysts said: “Nigerians who have money in Switzerland, Dubai, China and other countries, including those tiny islands or inside mattresses or water tanks in their respective homes in Nigeria, would be encouraged to bring the money out as fixed deposit in Nigerian banks within the next 90 days. Zero probe. Zero explanation on the source of the money – 100 per cent confidentiality.
“The money is ready for national development – just deposit and go home and sin no more. For the shock of our national life, Nigeria could raise more than $100 billion from this exercise. The owner gets one per cent interest on fixed deposit and the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) can borrow the money at five per cent interest rate.”
They said the approach would be a win-win for Nigeria and the “owners” of the money.
The stakeholders, however, suggested that anyone caught looting the national treasure again after April 2020 should face life imprisonment or capital punishment.
They also recommended that the federal government should direct all banks to do a comprehensive audit of their customer base in the last 50 years and come up with a comprehensive list of and the total amount of money belonging to customers who died without stating their next-of-kin.
They explained that those unclaimed money, estimated at billions of naira and foreign currencies, whose owners have refused to supply their Bank Verification Number (BVN) for fear of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) could be used as part of the stimulus package for (MSMEs).
Similarly, they proposed that all the trillions of naira in unclaimed dividends and share investments, which have been appropriated or “hidden” by other people, should be forfeited to the federal government through collaborative efforts of the Central Securities Clearing System (CSCS), the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Nigerian Stock Exchange working with an independent consultant with deep knowledge of the market.
The process, they added, would require enactment of an Executive Order to proceed.
Another way the federal government could generate funds at this critical time, according to them, is by raising $50 billion from 10 million Africans in the Diaspora investing an average of $5,000.
They said this option was better than borrowing from China or the International Monetary Fund (IMF) with their conditionalities, adding that the African Development Bank (AfDB) could be called upon to play a midwifery role to support the sovereign guarantee.
They recommended that Nigeria should apply for $20 billion grant from the European Union, the United States and the United Kingdom as a stimulus package.
According to them, “This is a far cheaper ‘vaccine’ to give Nigeria today out of their combined $3.5 trillion stimulus package than having to deal with 200 million refugees later on their shores. This is all about diplomacy. It is in the enlightened self-interest of those countries to support Nigeria in this trying time.”
On support to businesses in the country, the analysts suggested that Nigerian businesses that are five years old and above should be allowed to draw up to a maximum of 20 per cent of their three-year average yearly turnovers as a loan at five per cent interest rate with one-year moratorium within seven days after the lockdown is lifted, using their businesses as collateral.
They advocated a grant of 50 per cent salary subvention, covering April, May and June, from the government for all Nigerians working in corporate organisations.
They also called for the disbursement of $20 billion directly to MSMEs as special grants to be administered by an independently-supervised Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) for transparency purposes.
They urged the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to mandate commercial banks to extend the moratorium on business loans that have fallen due by one more year without penalties to the borrower and to the lender.
On cost-cutting measures, they called for the reduction of salaries, allowances and perks of all politicians/political office holders and advisers by 50 per cent with effect from April, starting from the president and the vice president.
While urging the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) to reduce its cost structure by 30 per cent and save about $5 billion yearly for government to spend, the stakeholders, however, advised the federal government, CBN and Lagos State Government to “prioritise Dangote Refinery as a “critical national security asset” backed up by Executive Order, just the same way President Donald Trump and Xi Jinping prioritise rare earth minerals in America and China.”
“The refinery should be accorded 101 per cent support to ensure it is commissioned by year-end,” they said.
Also at the dialogue, analysts made a case for President Muhammadu Buhari to cut the cost of governance by reducing the number of ministries, departments, gencies and parastatals (MDAs).