The Director General of Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Assembly, Mr. Adewale-Smatt Oyerinde, in this interview enjoined President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s ministerial team to maximise opportunities to restore Nigeria’s economy on the path to growth. Dike Onwuamaeze brings the excerpt:
President Bola Ahmed Tinubu has inaugurated his ministers and signed portfolios to them. What is your assessment of the president’s ministerial team?
We commend the President for the inauguration and the caliber of individuals in the cabinet. Many of the ministers have demonstrated competence in their former positions as core technocrats and known politicians. We have no question about the leadership capacity of the ministers and their understanding of the challenges that the nation is currently facing. However, we can only emphasise to the ministers that there is very little margin for error. The challenges are multidimensional and the approach to solving them should also be multidimensional.
Looking at ministers at the head key ministries like the finance, industry and labour that impact directly on the economy, do you think that we have the round pegs in round holes in these ministries?
Indeed, the ministries of Finance, Labour and Employment as well as Industry, Trade and Investment are very important just as other ministries. Mr. Wale Edu, who is the Minister of Finance also have the distinct responsibility of coordinating the economy. He is an erudite economist. We believe his choice will add value to the government and give needed focus, not only to the fiscal and monetary policy environment, but to the economy as a whole. The key task for him will be stabilising the macroeconomic environment and also ensuring inter-ministerial synergy. In the same manner, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Mr. Simon Lalong, who was the immediate past governor of Plateau State, also has his work cut out for him. With many issues that included the need to fast-track the passage of the Labour law; need to deepen social dialogue, strengthen the institutions of labour administration in the country and reform our industrial relations system, we believe that he will hit the ground running. There is no gainsaying that there is an urgent need to ensure the survival of local businesses and attract new ones. Therefore, the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment will have to deepen her engagement with stakeholders in the private sector to promote investment, trade and non-oil export, while also ensuring that we aggressively promote made in Nigeria products.
As a major member of the organised private sector, what is the NECA’s expectation from these ministers?
Our major expectation is that they should maximise the opportunities available to drive the economy back to the path of growth. They should be focused and strategic in their engagements with the organised businesses in order to make their work easier and impetus to the much needed economic transformation project.
Nigerians expected that the current austere time demands a slim government but President Tinubu rather increased his ministers to 48. Sir, what signals will economic stakeholders take from this?
With the creation of new ministries, it is expected that there will be new ministers. However, rather than having ministers of state, we had expected that the permanent secretaries would have been empowered to do more. This would have reduced the cost of governance. However, with the nature and extent of the challenges we currently face, all hands must be on deck to get the economy back on track.
Tinubu in his inaugural address envisioned an economic growth of 7.0 per cent for the economy. What policy direction would you recommend to realise this scale of economic growth?
Political experts say that you campaign in poetry and govern in prose. While the 7.0 per cent economic growth projection is desirable and achievable, to do that, your policies must be pro-growth and business-friendly. A hospitable environment that will attract investment, promote local production and reduce import dependence and a regulatory/legislative environment that compliments growth must be put in place. Without these, the desire will continue to be a mirage.
What advice do you have on organised labour’s demand for a new national minimum wage?
It is obvious that with the current economic situation, the N30,000 national minimum wage is no more sustainable, making the call for a new national minimum wage justifiable. The economic situation has eroded the value of the purchasing power of Nigerians and put organised businesses under a lot of strain. Notwithstanding this, we expect that the Minister of Labour and Employment will commence the process of reconstituting the National Minimum Wage Committee in line with the ILO Convention 131 (Minimum Wage Fixing Convention) so that the process can commence before the end of the year, 2023.
You are among those that called for a specific economic roadmap from President Tinubu. Hundred days down the road, has the president been able to come up with a specific roadmap for the economy?
So far, we have seen glimpses of the economic direction that the President Tinubu’s administration wants to thread. We hope that with the swearing-in of the ministers, a more definitive roadmap would be announced to assist general planning and alignment of organised businesses.
But the president has announced his eight-point agenda. What is tour take on this agenda?
The 8-point agenda is apt, at least it gives a general highlight of the government’s priorities. It is left for the Ministries, Agencies and Departments to drive and implement in a coordinated manner. We wish to say without mincing words that the success of the agenda depends significantly on the organised private sector. We need a healthy, thriving and sustainable private sector to help the government achieve it. The president needs to address all bottlenecks that are currently stifling the private sector, from regulatory and legislative arbitrariness to forex and security issues. Of importance also is the need for high level alignment and inter-ministerial coordination so that the contradictions witnessed in the polity in the last administration can be reduced to the barest minimum.
Stakeholders in the organised private sector welcomed the removal of petrol subsidy and the unification of the foreign exchange rates. What is your view on the outcome of these policies that have resulted in a free fall for the Naira and escalation of the price of petrol?
Our option as a nation was limited as per the removal of fuel subsidy. We believe that it is the best thing to do as we were in a deep financial hole. Also, the previous forex market under the last administration was more like a scam, because it significantly promoted round-tripping and genuine businesses hardly get the forex at the official rate. While both policies have not yielded the desired results, we strongly believe that there is no magic to it. It took us time to get into the economic rot and financial quagmire that we found ourselves today as a nation and it will take us some time to get out of it. We urge the government to stay focused on the implementation of these policies, consult more with stakeholders, ramp up forex revenue, get the refineries back on track and block leakages (oil theft, etc.) Going back to the era of fuel subsidy and unregulated forex market will be catastrophic for us as a nation.
Is there any need for the unseen hands of the government to moderate the interplay of the market forces in the management of the economy?
Absolutely! With our level of development and the nature of our economy, the government cannot hand over the economy strictly to the market forces. There should be some moderate regulations. Nations that leave their economy to the interplay of market forces have strong regulatory framework that guides and controls the excesses of operators in that economy. Our regulatory framework is not yet so strong.
What is your view on the palliative measures being rolled out by the federal and state governments to cushion the hardship of recent government’s policies? Is that the way to go?
We commend the government for making the effort because nothing less would have been expected. There is no gainsaying that the palliative measures are not comprehensive enough, but they do count for something. Our major fear is that the palliatives might not get to those that really need them because those who really need them are the most vulnerable that made up the over 100 million Nigerians that are multi dimensionally poor. We urge the government to step up its support for Nigerians and organised businesses to enable us weather the storm of this difficult time. It is also important that a clear and definitive distributive framework that is transparent and credible be communicated to Nigerians to enable proper tracking and ensuring accountability.
The manufacturing sector is in quandary. What measures would you recommend to President Tinubu to revive the sector?
There is urgent need to support the manufacturing sector and indeed all sectors. The textile sub-sector of the manufacturing sector is already in comatose, ditto many others. There is need to promote the patronage of made in Nigeria products, support backward integration and improve on our ease of doing business rating. In addition, for Nigerians to maximally benefit from the AfCFTA, we have to ramp up the provision of relevant infrastructure for the manufacturing sector and make FOREX available for the importation of inputs, pending when we can adequately achieve backward integrate in the long term.
What is NECA’s role in creating employment opportunities and encouraging a good work place for Nigerian workers?
At NECA, we promote responsible enterprises and believe strongly in decent work. We have invested time and built collaborations towards employment generation over the years. We currently have a thriving partnership with the Industrial Training Fund (ITF), on technical and vocational skills project. Thousands of young Nigerians had been trained and assisted to either get jobs or become entrepreneurs. Also, we currently run series of employability development projects that aim to assist young Nigerians to up skill themselves to be fit for employment. These programmes and projects are ongoing.
What is your view on the need to appoint a substantive governor for the Central Bank of Nigeria without further delay?
We currently have an acting governor and the substantive Governor of CBN, Mr. Godwin Emefiele, is just under suspension. We believe that a new governor would be appointed as soon as the current occupier is relieved of his duties or his tenure elapsed.