Zainab Ahmed

The proposed plan by the federal government to sell-off government assets in order to fund the 2021 federal budget has drawn applauses and punches from Nigerians. Often, economists and national planners look at this type of move purely from the economic advantages to the nation, forgetting the political consequences, which are paramount as well.

To some citizens, the sale of national assets is an emotional issue not only in Nigeria, but the world over. It is an issue that may boomerang politically against a government despite the economic advantages, if the right steps were not taken. The federal government must design an exceptional strategy that addresses potential political and economic implications of the sales and educate the nation and its citizen on the economic imperative to sell-off some of these assets. The government must be ‘politically-correct’ on this issue, despite it being purely an economic matter. The Minister of Finance Zainab Shamsuna Ahmed said on January 22, 2021, that only moribund state assets would be sold. This is the first step in enlightening the citizens on the matter. But how would Zainab reach both the elite and the common man at the same time and convince them for full support? Zainab and her team should launch a ‘heavy’ but short-time enlightenment campaign using all the channels of communications to inform Nigerians on the need and advantages of selling moribund national assets. A small committee made up mainly of non-government officials can be engaged to develop objective public communication strategies, which will be all-encompassing, achievable and implementable within a short-time.

Another approach to address the issue is collaboration with all relevant stakeholders. On November 17th, 2020, the Senate Committee on Privatization said that the Senate is not aware of any plan by the Bureau of Public Enterprise (BPE) to sell or concession some national properties to help fund the 2021 budget. The Chairman of the committee, Theodore Orji, disclosed this to the public. He also complained that the relationship between the panel and the BPE has not been cozy. So there is a need for synergy between all concerns.

Research by The World Bank Research Observer pointed out that private ownership alone is no longer argued to automatically generate economic gains in developing economies; pre-conditions (especially the regulatory infrastructure) and an appropriate process of privatization are important for attaining a positive impact.

Most of Nigeria’s strategies on privatization were mainly those developed in the 1980s and 1990s which are deficient in some issues that have recently come to the fore, especially income distribution and political consideration. So the experts and managers of our economy, including the economic team, should always assess issues from the perspective of local needs, the common man, and his needs. In fact, our economic programmes should be largely home-grown and off-the-shelf approaches that would include the views of laymen, the real local players in the markets, social commentators, academics, farmers, etc. This approach will increase the pool of opinions and local content in our economic strategies. The first step is for the minister to put in place an excellent public communication strategy to enlighten Nigerians on the need and advantages of selling-off moribund national assets.

Zayyad I. Muhammad, Jimeta, Adamawa State