Manifest amongst our problems is the issue of the economy and whether to devalue the Naira or not. There should be no argument about that as devaluing the Naira would bring no advantage to the general populace considering we are not an export-dependent country, so what would be the point devaluing our currency? Ask the Chinese to devalue the Renminbi (Yuan as popularly called) and the United States as well as major exporting countries would shout in uproar as they consider the Chinese would be giving themselves an unfair advantage, so why would anyone then come tell a nation like Nigeria which is import-dependent to devalue its currency? The only people who benefit from a devalued Naira are corrupt officials who have stolen the nation's wealth as they can bring back some of their loot and exchange it for lots of Naira which they then go on to use in destabilising the country and government.
Other beneficiaries are portfolio investors who use hedge funds to invest in our stock exchange when the Naira is devalued, as well as Nigerians based in the Diaspora who remit monies home. The government itself gets no real benefit as the prices of our major export – oil is low and therefore there is no much foreign exchange coming from it, so why devalue? Not only would it weaken the Naira, it would lead to inflation as we have to print more Naira to substitute for the foreign monies brought into the country. Rather than devalue our Naira further and end up 'murdering' the Naira whilst attributing it to so-called market forces, it is time to revalue the Naira prior to 1986 and the advent of SAP which former Head-of-State Ibrahim Babangida (IBB) used in ruining Nigeria.
IBB it was via a decree in 1986 single-handedly raised the price of the Naira against the Dollar from N0.892 to N2.02 and by time he stepped aside thankfully in 1993 the Naira had been devalued by over 2000% and today we still feeling the effect of an artificially induced exchange rate which we pretend is controlled by market forces. Before Sambo Dasuki and ex-president Goodluck Jonathan went on a spending spree for the latter's re-election the Naira was hovering around N155 to 1US$ by the time the dust settled on over $8 billion dollars of extra-budgetary spending (sourced from our foreign reserves) including the printing of Naira by the Mint courtesy of Dasuki and Jonathan, the Naira had devalued itself to the present rate. Do we also call that market forces or artificially induced rate due to corruption, which? Luckily President Buhari does not need to issue a decree, it is time to go back to Professor Charles Soludo's 2007 Strategic Needs for the Naira policy, which sought to revalue the Naira within a year and bring it back to its true value pre-1986 when IBB's Structural Adjustment Programme destroyed the Naira. It is time to restructure our entire currency by moving two decimal points to the left or dropping two zeroes and also issue more coin denominations, it would make at current exchange rate the Naira becoming N2 to US$1 and then we can have the true value for the Naira. This can be done within a year to allow for cost of printing new notes and coins.
In 2007, the Ghanaian Cedi exchanged for 9,270 Cedis to $1 but by the time they moved three decimal points to the left it became 0.9 Cedis to $1 in January 2008, as at today (eight years after) it is staying at 3.9 Cedis to a Dollar which is the true effect of market forces not the artificially induced type we have here in Nigeria. Between 1973 and 1985 the Naira lost just 7% of its value due to action of market forces, compare that with losing 2000% in eight years of IBB between 1986 and 1993, when there were no sanctions on the country and we had the Gulf oil windfall in that period of time. It is also more pertinent we revalue our currency, because the African Union (AU) in celebrating its 100 years of existence in 2063 plans to have a single currency for the Union just like the Euro and Nigeria has been designated to have the AU Central Bank just like Germany has that of the Euro, so it is important we have a very strong currency by then starting from now. To save Nigerians and re-position our economy properly we need to revalue the Naira by moving two decimal places to the left, side by side with fighting corruption and plugging leakages.
In getting our economy back on the right track, we also have to remove the regulation of banks from the hands of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). The CBN as it were is not properly regulating our banks and making sure they perform their true functions to the economy. In most cases they are in cahoots with each other and easily blackmailed from regulating them properly. We would need an independent financial regulating body that would be an ombudsman for the financial sector, setting conditions, standards of service and ethical practices the banks must adhere too. I would save space for next time to write about Nigerian banks and their unwholesome practices but for now we would need one or two independent financial services regulator to regulate their conduct and services they provide and remove those duties from the CBN, so they can concentrate more on monetary and fiscal policies.
In not just criticising the government for the sake of criticism, we also need to point out the issue of illegal immigrants and workers in the country. There are an estimated 3-4 million illegal workers in the country who have taken jobs in prime sectors like the Oil and Gas, Construction, Services and Retailing industries. There are many foreign companies who come into the country to invest in businesses Nigerians can do themselves if we had single digit interest rate lending from our banks that have become “socially useless” as one columnist rightly described them recently. While there is nothing bad in foreign companies investing in Nigeria, the danger is when they come with their own nationals to fill up all the positions in their organisation and leave irrelevant ones to Nigerians. They do this on work permits that are obtained for short periods as experts with the hope that they would pass of their knowledge to locals in a Knowledge Transfer Programmes (KTPs) but many years afterwards they are still in the country on expired visas and work permits making big monies at the expense of Nigerian citizens who can do the same job or trained to do so. Thus, the government through the Immigration service (NIS) need to clamp down on illegal foreign workers in the country especially those from outside the ECOWAS region and they abound in millions including lots of Southern and East Africans, Westerners and Asians. They should be told to regularise their stay or politely leave the country as they are denying Nigerians of jobs in their own country. It also behoves on the Ministry of Labour and Employment to ensure major companies and multinationals in the country have appropriate apprenticeship programmes for young school leavers and teenagers, training for local staff and KTPs where knowledge is transferred to Nigerians that can do the same job as expatriates when trained, to save them paying in foreign currencies to so called expatriates cum illegal foreign workers that depletes our foreign reserves.
We also need to proffer solution to the issue of electricity, as there can be no meaningful development in terms of wealth creation, industrialisation, and overall health and well-being of the citizenry if we do not solve the issue of power. To this end the recent Multi-Year Tariff Order (MYTO) is an aberration and it is a case of putting the cart before the horse. I read the Minister of Power make an argument for it and as clear as he was in his mind, it left me totally unconvinced. You cannot ask Nigerians to pay for what you are not capable of providing and base it on the premise that private investors would not invest in generating power unless you increase the tariff many months before they even generate one ounce of megawatt to the National grid. At the moment what we generate is between 4,000 to 5,000 MW which is grossly inadequate for the country of our size, but why should we then start paying more through the MYTO when it would take between six months-1 year to generate any extra Megawatts to the grid? Why don't you wait till you can double the available generating capacity from 5,000MW to about 8,000 to 10,000MW before you ask Nigerians to start paying more?
Asking the citizens to pay 43% more for electricity even before you can generate more capacity is grossly unfair and unjust. We did be paying for what is not available and it is equivalent to paying for thin air. In any case it would imbalance the economy further and make life more difficult, as Nigerians in our uninformed and mischievous ways would start jerking up prices of goods, services and commodities blaming it on “increased dollar and electricity”. At the moment a bag of pure water (water bagged in polythene bags) has shot up from N100 to N150 in some environs in Lagos and the sellers blame it on increased electricity tariff and dollar exchange rate (as they claim to buy water purifying chemicals from abroad) and that would soon spread on to other goods and services. The MYTO should be put on hold for now until the end of the year when we can double our generating capacity as promised by the Minister only then can we increase tariff, despite the fact that even 7,000-10,000MW is still grossly inadequate for the country. If private investors are capable of generating electricity, let them do so and when delivered we can then increase tariff to suit their investments, we can't start paying more before they or the government generate any extra capacity.
In helping President Buhari we also have to remind the National Assembly not to play politics with the budget and delay its passage unnecessarily. There has been so many padding noticed in the budget which is the product of the haste used in producing it and incoming Ministers who had little time to look through, but the padding can simply be circled and such items removed from the budget by the N/Assembly. That should not take more than two or three weeks to do and pass the budget, while glaring cases of fraud in padding the budget can be referred to the EFCC to investigate and prosecute. For example the different Departments and Agencies (MDAs) that could not get right the price of a Toyota Hilux should simply have such items dropped from the budget by the Senate, when they know the true price of an Hilux they can budget for it next year, it is that straight-forward. There should be no need delaying the budget and tanking the economy further because of some few devious miscreants in our different Ministries and Agencies.
Presidential handlers should also help the president more in giving him enough briefings before addressing the media. The recent remark by the president admitting Nigerians abroad are into crimes making them unacceptable in the UK and US is unnecessary and does us no good. This is no criticism but pointing out the real issues and how we can better address things next time. In a 2013/2014 survey of criminals in British jails, their next door neighbour Ireland came first for crimes such as burglary, theft and violent robberies, Nigeria was nowhere near the first five countries on the list of arrested nationals in the UK for such crimes. We've seen the drug trafficking gangs in Dublin, Ireland shooting themselves to death recently with a gang war being fought between a certain Gerry 'the Monk' Hutch and Spain-based Irish fugitive Christy Kinahan, with the latter owning over £200million worth of assets from drugs and laundered monies for gangs across the EU according to the UK's Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA. There is no organised drug trafficking empire or ring in Nigeria worth anywhere close to that, and the success the NDLEA right from President Obasanjo's time has made in curbing the drug trafficking trade in Nigeria makes it impossible to find such barons in the country. I also strongly doubt if the Irish PM would go to the UK and ever say such about his country and its nationals, but he did rather talk about the solutions they are offering to the problem.
I'm glad the President mentioned the fact that his presidency was trying to salvage whatever issues the country is facing including our stereotypical image, but just like listening to the Lagos State Force PRO Dolapo Badmus, saying bad things about your country would not make you look good in the eyes of foreigners, they would still treat every Nigerian the same when they come across us as they stereotype every Nigerian as fraudulent or capable of committing a crime. It is even worse when you meet a racist or white supremacist, to such minority of people among them, all blacks or Africans are the same. What we should be talking about is solutions we are rendering to our problems and how well we are tackling our issues. We should be more positive and prove to the world Nigeria can and would do well if we are ready to think properly and act accordingly. All said and done, Buhari cannot do it alone. He would need help from committed Nigerians and not just mere criticism. The question we should ask ourselves is whether we believe in Nigeria as a country and happy to leave our children and unborn generations in it the way it is or do we see it as a corporate entity where we want to steal from it and ignore its fate? The way we answer the question would determine how much help we give Buhari to reset our nation's destiny or just sit down and criticise.
Ola’ Idowu is a Management Consultant, Researcher and Humanist. Can be reached via: [email protected]