Nigeria needs less import, quick move to agriculture

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Nigeria’s renowned professor of credit management, Chris Onalo is the Registrar/CEO of the Institute of Credit Administration (ICA), Nigeria’s only national body for credit management. He has created a niche in the Nigerian economy through his sustained advocacy for a credit driven economy. In this interview with Moses Nosike, he commended the economic foundation the Buhari administration is laying and the pains Nigerians need to endure to deliver desired results. Excerpts:

Recession and state of the nation…

Economic recession in Nigeria today is the fallout of so many things that had happened in the past. Specifically I’m referring to various macro credit policy deficiencies on the part of past governments; lack of savings and much dependency on a single product – Oil. Also, failure of past governments to hold people accountable to industrialisation. In other words, the government policies over the years have not encouraged entrepreneurs as well as foreign investors to move into agriculture and undertake businesses that trigger multi-purpose raw materials advantage that can be used for different production of things at different times. That is what brought us to where we are today.

Again, I have maintained a sustained voice over the years that Nigeria was not properly founded on solid economic and political pillars that can sustain liberal democracy. The consequences of it is before us today. And that underlines my strongest position that anybody who is criticising the present government is not getting it right, and I consider such person or group of persons enemy of Nigeria for lacking in objective, constructive and fact based criticism.

Nigeria is a massive country and one of the highly populated countries of the world. Nigeria has good brains, well educated but not so learned people. We saw images of bad omen coming but because of selfish interest we turned our faces to go the other way and we all looked the other way. You can’t blame Buhari administration neither would you expect them to fix up things within six months, it’s not possible. To our own face, we have seen few individuals who smartly looted, defrauded all of us, brought down our common wealth and the recovery of some billions and trillions of Naira today is a pointer to this allusion. Where were all of us when these few people were looting our treasury? We rather celebrated them, we gave them national honours, and we honoured them with honorary doctorates, all kinds of awards. We have the culture of celebrating mediocrity. The same Nigerians are very quick now to expect Buhari government to fix the economy immediately. It is not possible. Most Nigerians hate truth. They prefer someone who would tell them lies. We should know that incalculable damage has been done to our economy, to our democracy and social values. We got it wrong for too long a time. We can’t fix it over night, but with sustained efforts and good governance, focusing on human capital build up and courageous purging of our long entrenched materialistic greed and self-centeredness, this nation can emerge stronger.

Recovering of looted wealth and present administration…

This is what I’m saying. What kind of system are we running that allow individuals to enmesh such wealth and even keeping cash in their houses, dug a tank farm and hid the country’s money there. This tells you that something is fundamentally wrong with our set up and the earlier we realized it in order to address it for the better for us all. This may take us some long time to achieve; it is not a thing of first four years. It would not even be second year term, not even third. We need consistence, and I think Buhari administration is really pragmatically trying to lay that foundation for a radical reform in terms of economic strength of the nation, reculturizing Nigerians to know their priorities through obedience to the rule of law, and human capital capacity building which is the greatest asset of any nation. My message to such transformer and his cohorts is that he or she must lead by example. Let nobody live a life of affluent that send wrong signals to our young generations, even if some of them may have made their money before coming into government; let them put up the tune of emotion and feelings for Nigeria. What Buhari administration is doing now is foundation laying, and I can understand that some people who don’t really appreciate what leadership entails, are still thinking that being in government means go and bring us money. This point of view of mine is totally an honest expression. I do not belong to any camp of Buhari government nor any political party. I felt as an educated and learned professor of credit management, I should be fair, objective and down to earth sincere and truthful in assessing the state of things in my country –Nigeria.

Therefore, my advice to Buhari government in this foundation laying is for him to ensure that Nigerians are sufficiently carried along. In doing this, there also should be some measure of palliatives in place to take care of the highly vulnerable general populace who are affected by that huge step of change that the government is taking. But government should not relent in the recovering of the nation’s looted wealth. At the beginning of Buhari administration I did say that Buhari should concentrate more on recovering of looted funds, and I’m still saying the money that few heartless Nigerians had taken away from us if we can recover at least 70% of it, we will not be thinking whether oil price has crashed to some length or borrowing from other windows.

Border closure and high cost of commodities…

Again, shall we continue to live at the mercy of other nations. Now what is the priority of Nigeria? As a nation, we have got unacceptable history of misplaced priority. From my years of running business and interfacing with global community, Nigerians have calved out a name for themselves, “big buyers”. Why should we solely depend on what other people produced; yet we are in a position to produce the same thing? We have all it takes, natural endowments to produce the same thing we are spending all our money to buy from foreigners. And we call ourselves a country with massive number of people. I disagree with those who condemn border closure. The question is, crying against border closure, who are we protecting? Those who can afford to buy cars are fewer in number compared to large number of Nigerians that are not talking of cars but what to eat and where to lay their heads. We have a problem with the so called elite and the media should be very careful so that we don’t continually run down every good intention of the government. What is passing through the border – is it beans, garri, pepper etc. but cars, for who, What class of people? If we can’t produce a critical components and tie them together to give us cars, at least we should be able to assemble cars or vehicles in Nigeria. We cannot throw our borders open. I’m not the president of this country, but he has done my best wishes. If we must lay solid foundation, Buhari administration or any other future government will still take painful decision that would affect everybody. If you are eating five times a day, you are likely to reduce it to two. But my focus is on the down trodden because they form the majority. Policy must be fairly friendly to them because their level of provocation could amount to destruction.

Federal Government and price monitoring

Government is not a spirit, and palliative measures will not come from the blues. If government wants to take steps in reducing the cost of commodities that the masses buy to keep themselves alive, I don’t see what magic the government can perform. You don’t even have enough production on ground to think of the other way that perhaps the producers are unnecessarily hiking the price, in which case, government can meet with them and strike a balance.

Again, it is the function of demand and supply that if production of consumable items entails high cost, government is required to look at those areas to cut down the costs, so that sellers of those commodities will have fairly reasonable space to reduce prices. That is all about democracy; it’s all about coming together to reason, not by administrative fiat. The agriculture roadmap is lucrative, but it has not yet come to full reality, it will eventually. Rice is not yet everywhere, Corn is not yet everywhere, Beans is not yet everywhere. Those things, and much more are products of agriculture. There are no good road network as yet to assist farmers move their produce to urban cities where they can sell them. The little they are able to convey to town becomes very expensive in terms of price. In my opinion, government is doing well, though they need to do more. It also depends on the availability of resources. In all of this, government wants to make money and the same government is called upon to bring down the cost of doing business, it is a very complex situation. We must recognize the tedious pathway that government is moving on to get things right.

Issue of Forex

It is so because our consumption level is denominated in foreign commodities. If 95% of what we consume comes from foreign market, we should be ready to face the problem of foreign exchange mismatch. The little thing we were buying under a fair exchange rate regime is now high and majority now live on those products. Government now has a major task of moving the economy from being foreign dominated to localization, where we have less import and more reserve. I think what Nigeria need now is less import, more local production of goods and services and strong reserve so that we can be a creditworth nation. We don’t need to produce and the next moment we are running abroad to buy the same products. It’s the consequence of what we are now facing. In fact, it’s high time we changed our preference for foreign goods even though it could take 5 to 6 years for us to achieve this. Government policy is designed to discourage import, it certainly will not be palatable.

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