By CHRISTIAN OCHIAMA
On assumption of office on May 29, 2007, President Musa Umaru Yar’Adua met a nation with vital infrastructure such as roads, power, water etc in comatose state, while key sectors such as manufacturing, agriculture, education and transportation were floundering.
It was against this background that the president unveiled a seven-point agenda which he hoped would put back the economy on track. The agenda was to be the platform on which his administration would spring off.
In his inaugural speech, Yar’Adua had said: “Our goal now is to build on the greatest accomplishments of the past few years. Relying on the seven point agenda that formed the basis of our conntract with voters during the recent campaigns, we will concentrate on rebuilding our physical infrastructure and human capital in order to take our country forward.”
He enumerated the seven point agenda as power and energy; food security and agriculture; wealth creation and employment, mass transportation, land reforms; security; qualitative and functional education and pursuance of the rule of law.
Yar’Adua added that his administration would focus “on accelerating economic and other reforms in a way that makes a concrete and visible difference to ordinary people.”
Without doubt, these are the kernel of what has come to be known as the president’s economic blueprint.
However, the question many are asking is whether the famed seven-point agenda is capable of lifting the economy from the doldrums.
Nigeria has seen such economic packages before that gave hope to many, only to be dashed. President Shehu Shagari had his Green Revolution and the austerity measures. Buhari/Idiagbon junta’s most remarkable economic game was the change of the colour of the Naira. President Ibrahim Babangida came with Structural Adjustment Programme,(SAP).
General Sani Abacha’s economic package till date has remained amorphous except that he succeeded in stabilizing the exchange rate throughout his regime.
President Olusegun Obasanjo’s economic policy included privatization, monetization, consolidation, among others. Before these were the National Development and Rolling Plans all with varying degrees of success, if the state of the nation today is anything to go by.
Compare these economic blueprints with the New Deal of President Harry Truman whose implementation restored confidence in the American economic system after the Great Depression of the 1930s. Or for that matter, the Marshall Plan that rebuilt Western Europe ravaged by a bitter and fratricidal World War II.
The New Deal and the Marshall Plan succeeded because the implementation processes were pursued with a determination to succeed. So, what are the chances of Yar’Adua’s agenda? Alhaji Mohammed Yinusa, President, Business Club, Ikeja and Group Managing Director, Dunlop Plc, Dr Ausbeth Ajagu, Group Executive Chairman of Betcy Group of Companies, Lagos, Mr Nosa Victor Omoregie, the Registrar Certified Institute of Cost Management and Mr Solomon Mbamalu, a lawyer and ex-bank executive, were unanimous in their assertion that President Yar’Adua hit the nail on the head with the seven-point agenda.
They assured that the agenda is “a true reflection of what are basically the issues that needed to be addressed if the nation must and should move forward.”
They agreed in separate reactions to Daily Sun inquiries that a dispassionate and committed implementation of the agenda would, indeed, give the nation’s economy the oxygen bag it desires to excel alongside its counterparts in Africa and elsewhere in the world. However, even with this agreement, they differed on details.
Yinusa, at the Business Club, Ikeja 2007 Economic Review/2008 Budget implementation Inputs, gave a forensic analysis of the Yar’Adua economic blueprint. In his paper entitled:The Nigerian Economy: Shaping for Economic Growth, he gave a sector by sector assessment of the agenda.
First, to come under his searchlight, was the energy sector. He said that on assumption of office, the president promised to declare a state of emergency in the power sector which he described as a failed sector that is fundamentally slowing down the nation’s economic progress. Yinusa identified epileptic power supply as one of the strongest variables in the factors militating against the manufacturing sector.
“The real sector is crucial for the achievement of the objective of vision 2020. The power sector is characterized by low generating capacity relative to installed capacity. Currently, electricity generation is in the region of about 3,000 megawatts, while the current estimated national consumption need is not less than 25,000 megawatts. The potential demand for electricity in Nigeria has been estimated at 100,000 megawatts”.
The Dunlop boss continued, “government must focus not only on power generation but also on distribution. Hydro, thermal and solar sources of energy generation should be exploited. Communal policing of power lines, grids and equipment to prevent theft and vandalization should be exploited. Significant deregulation of the power sector should be pursued. The case of NESCO in Kuru, Jos is a historical example.
States should be encouraged to venture into energy generation. The 20 companies issued licences by the National Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) to build power plants under the Independent Power Projects (IPP) programme should be given early deadlines to meet targets. More licences should be given to interested investors and non-performing ones cancelled.”
He said that the deregulation/privatization model used in the telecoms sector from 2001 with significant improvement from only 400,000 lines to over 40 million lines within six years, should be employed in the power sector to move from the paltry 3,000 megawatts to the potentially required 100,000 megawatts within a very short time of the next 3-10 years.
Gas as an alternative industrial energy source, he said, should be taken more seriously and incentives given to interested developers.
On infrastructure, Yinusa said government must be steadfast in developing roads and housing to fast-track economic growth. The rail system, he said, should be efficient to reduce undue pressure on our roads. “The road network is generally in poor condition, the problem being more with the quality and maintenance than with the number of roads.” He cited a recent survey which indicated that 50 per cent of federal roads, 70 per cent of state roads, and 90 per cent of local government roads are in very poor condition. “It is important to note that 80 per cent of Nigerian traffic (men and materials) is by road. Weigh bridges should be reintroduced to reduce damage by excessively weighed vehicles. The East-West link road should also be given very strong consideraton,” he said.
The transport sector, the Business Club president said, could not achieve much in the outgoing year owing to huge costs. This, in his opinion,was due to deplorable state of major highways. “Water transport remains limited to few small boats which ply the riverine routes in the West, and a few speed boats in some parts of the Niger Delta region.
As regards the railways, it is still the same story. The last administration’s plan to contract the Chinese to reconstruct the Lagos-Kano line to standard gauge is being reviewed by the current government. It is desirable that government repairs/rebuilds existing highways to facilitate movement of men and goods in safety. The railway system has to be rejuvenated for mass transit and heavy materials. If we cannot do a standard gauge rail line for any reason, government should revamp the current Railway Corporation now and commercialise its operations. This will reduce the pressure on our roads and improve their lifespan. Inland waterway transport has to be exploited for the same reasons.”
He stressed the imperative of water and rail transportation for mass movement of goods and persons and insisted that it could no longer be ignored even as he said that, “If we had a metroline in Lagos, for example, traffic jams will reduce, freeing significant man-hours for productive activity. Movement stress will also reduce, and health will improve.”
The Dunlop managing director observed that the deregulation in air transportation has paid off. “Regulatory and monitoring activities should be further strengthened and modern navigational aid equipment put in place at airports.”
On telecommunications, Yinusa expressed appreciation for the efforts of the administration in ensuring effectiveness in the sector. The phenomenal growth in the telecommunications industry, he said, has not only “enhanced our national tele-density rating, it has also continued to provide direct and indirect employment to a large number of Nigerians. As more players enter the deregulated sector, competition becomes keener and service/access charges drop even with better quality services.”
The deregulation of the education sector, Yinusa said, has also paid off. Education, he noted, required much more allocation than it currently gets. “High quality manpower development is expensive. Federal Government should focus on tertiary, states on secondary and local governments on primary education”.
He advocated that systems for performance monitoring should be put in place, while Federal Government should only assist with funds where necessary. Regulatory services and inspectorate services should be strengthened at federal/state levels.
The BCI boss said that the quick resolution of the Niger Delta problem was pivotal to creating the right atmosphere for the realization of revenue projections needed for the success of government’s economic reforms in the year.
Said he; “The security breaches witnessed in the last few years are unprecedented in the Niger Delta. The corrective development effort being made now by the Federal Government in the Niger Delta, though belated, is a welcome one as we believe that it is only through dialogue, incentive, recognition, and provision of infrastructure and amenities for the citizens of the Niger Delta that peace, harmony and development can flow uninterrupted in the area and in Nigeria. The youths need to be co-opted as stakeholders in the security of the area.”
Yinusa also said that the Federal Government’s seven- point agenda which includes Niger Delta should be strengthened to accelerate development in the oil- rich zone, create jobs for youths and establish peace for order and good government. Quick industralization of the area, he insisted, would help in jobs creation and added that the government should move fast on the petroleum development phases.
“Allocation to Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) in 2008 stands at N69.9 billion which is 191 per cent growth over 2007 figure of N24 billion, most of which was not released. We expect the funds to be released at timely intervals and the use effectively monitored.”
Dr Ausbeth Ajagu, in a wholistic assessment of the president’s seven-point agenda said: “I would say that the president meant well and still means well. Everything about life starts with planning. If you don’t plan, that means you are already planning to fail. The seven-point agenda is his thinking, his planning having thought of the problems of Nigeria. And he feels that this seven-point agenda would be a solution to jumpstart the economy. If you asked me, if he had been steady in trying to achieve what he had planned, I would say to an extent, yes. But given the Nigerian factor and the decadence in the society over the years, he has not been able to achieve to the best of his knowledge and ability even though it is less than one year.
“In the area of rule of law, we have seen that he has maintained steadfast interest in that. He has demonstrated a determination to succeed in that area even when some of the decisions are not pleasant or pleasing to him and his administration or his political party. He has continually and continuously adhered to the court judgments and rulings.” Also in the area of security, Ajagu, who has diversified interest in real estate, oil and gas, tourism, agriculture and construction, said “The president is trying. He is doing his best. He is equipping the Nigeria Police. He is doing everything humanly possible to make sure that these things are achieved”.
When asked to comment on the energy situation in the country, he paused for breath and then said, “it is sad to note that nothing much has been achieved because it appears we are still where we were before he came. He has the interest of the nation at heart, no doubt.
” Proffering a solution, Ajagu said, “but I would suggest that the only solution is immediate privatization of the power sector to competent hands who are financially capable and technically sound. This is the only solution that would bring succour to this very important sector.
Because, without the electricity sector being efficient, nothing would happen, you and I would not be able to forge ahead. The cost of doing business in Nigeria remains the highest in the world. It’s been proven statistically that an average Nigerian industrialist is 35 per cent disadvantaged compared to his Asian and European counterparts. It is not acceptable. The time to change this scenario is now. So, all hands must be on deck to ensure that the nation is privatized in terms of electricity.”
Mr Nosa Victor Omoregie, on his part, posited that the seven-point agenda of Mr President has adequately addressed the very issues that are fundamental to the socio-economic and political development of the nation.
“The president has good plans, they should allow him to implement them. So far, some of his actions portend hope. Second, it takes time for policy to yield results, particularly in our own environment where there are lot of inconsistencies in policy implementation”. Discussing the security situation, he said that “the government should allow the police enough time to produce result before attempting unnecessary review as in the case of port concessioning, private participation in government owned educational institutions or even the unbundling of Power Holding Company of Nigeria”.
Taking the items one at a time, Omoregie said, “power supply is hardly available to maintain the existing production and service capacity. While petroleum products are available for now, they are at an unreasonable price level relative to the position of our country as a leading oil producing nation”.
Commenting on the state of infrastructure, the fellow of the Institute of Chartered Acountants of Nigeria (ICAN) said, “the nation has experienced serious decay particularly in the power sector, transportation, education. So, adequate attention is needed if we are to make any progress,”
On the Niger Delta issue, the Edo State indigene said: “Some of the problems in the energy sector could be attributed to the problem in the Niger Delta. The earlier the issue is resolved the better before it deteriorates to the pattern of Middle-East where you move around with high sense of insecurity.”
Mr Solomon Mbamalu argued: “I think the seven-point agenda can give Nigeria the desired push.” But you see, one thing is to raise the seven-point agenda, another thing is their implementation. Those points he raised are the key points. If they are well-taken, they can move us forward. The issue is how will the implementation be done. They are the issues we have in Nigeria today. Once you resolve them very well, confront them frontally, every other thing will fall in place”.
Like the lawyer Mbamalu is, he took the issues sequentially. “Of course, you don’t need to be told that the crisis in the energy sector has worsened. As far as I am concerned, nothing has happened. What we keep hearing are the billions and billions that have been earmarked for energy and nothing comes out of it. You are in my office now, we are on generator, you can’t concentrate, you can’t do anything reasonable. At home, you burn diesel throughout the night, throughout the day. In the office, the same thing.
You come out you can’t concentrate, the noise pollution. Without energy, actually, nothing can work. And that was what Obasanjo told us for eight years. Where has all the money budgeted for power supply gone to, not accounted for, nothing has improved. The days of Abacha were even better electricity-wise. Those things will form the fundamentals. For the economy to move, you must have reliable energy. Those are the responsibilities of government. They must put these things in place, then the private sector will tap into it. Nothing has happened. So, almost one year down the road, we are still where we are, even a step backward. That’s the truth.”
On the issue of security, Mbamalu insisted that it was a relative one. “The Niger Delta has worsened. In Lagos, security has improved a bit. It depends on where you are coming from, where you are looking at, which state are you evaluating. But if it is nationwide, maybe, we score security 40 per cent, considering the situation in Lagos and Abuja where the security agencies are concentrated. As far as I am concerned, when you talk about security, where people look at is Lagos and Abuja and the government is deceived. Once there is apparent security in these two areas, officialdom is relaxed. But it is not supposed to be so.
Go to Port Harcourt where the warlords will come out at any time, saying that they will make the place ungovernable, and they go ahead and carry out their threat. They come, burn police stations, kill people, go back, hijack, kidnap, rob banks and get away with it. And nothing is happening on the side of government. I was in Port Harcourt recently. On the airport road, I saw almost a battalion of troops moving in front, then there was a Coaster bus loaded with white men.Two Hilux pick up vehicles loaded with security people were escorting them.
Are we at war? This is the only way these white people can move about, if not they are in trouble. So, what type of security is that. Investment in Port Harcourt is disappearing. People are trying to leave the place. It is not secured. You don’t know what would happen next. As far as I am concerned, that area is still a war zone and the government should come out and do something about it. Government must be government. It is the responsibility of government to provide security, however, it is achieved. The citizens must play by the rules, obey the law and the government will provide security.
But the government is not doing that. The only area I would commend the Yar’Adua government is in the area of increase in salary of the police. If you want them to perform, enhance their welfare, provide infrastructure. If you go to police station, they tell you bail is free. Go and take it free. If you lodge a complaint, they will tell you oga transport, you think they are joking. You have to provide money, otherwise they won’t move and nothing will happen. You have to provide these things. For instance, the Inspector General said the other day that police uniforms were sold all over place. A situation where the government cannot buy such things, it won’t work.
They should have equipment to work with, pay them very well, so that their morale can go up and it will be regarded as one of the professions that people will need and aspire to go into. Abroad, to be a policeman is something to be proud of. I don’t know if that is the position here. It is doubtful. The review of salary is the only area he has worked. If he can match that with the provision of all other facilities, their morale will be high and they will be able to provide the needed security.”
The lawyer and banker asserted that the war on corruption is on until the government says it is not on. “I do not think that we can fight corruption without breaking certain rules. You see, when FBI raids a place, their raid is different. There are certain procedures that are necessary, if we want to fight corruption. You have to play on all fours in order to fight it. Corruption is not as straight forward as armed robbery. Corruption takes two and both of them make up their mind to hide it. Both the giver and taker of bribe.
Now, for you to burst it and fight it you have to use some unorthodox methods. There will be a conflict between the rule of law and the fight against corruption. We have to find a middle ground. The anti-corruption agencies should be given a free hand to go up to an extent and take it for granted.
Referring to the president’s perceived commitment to rule of law, Mbamalu said, “If you insist on rule of law, I agree with you.
But if you continue on that rule of law and make it a song you have to sing, the war against corruption will first go. At some point in the fight, you must break some rules, if we are serious with the war. Mind you, if you are fighting corruption, corrupt money will be fighting you. The people we are fighting have so much money at their disposal and there is poverty in the land.
For you to be able to fight them, you match them with whatever they have, then at the end of the day, we talk about rule of law. During the Obasanjo era, the EFCC was a law unto itself. They were in fact above the law. That shouldn’t be. They must obey court orders. But we must be careful in order not to use court orders to defeat the fight. We must try and strike a balance between rule of law and the fight against corruption. EFCC must be made to operate within the law.”
Ajagu, Omoregie and Mbamalu agreed that less than one year was too short to begin assessment of the president performance. Mbamalu, however, maintained that Yar’Adua was definitely too slow. For instance, “in the power sector, he said he was going to declare a state of emergency. We are yet to see it one year down the line. Same for roads, there are certain roads you must not allow to deteriorate. It doesn’t take much. Get into it.
If planning takes you one year when there is emergency, only God knows how long it is going to take you to implement it. Those are very straightforward things. That Ore/ Benin road, for instance, if it is fixed, the nation will heave a sigh of relief. Maybe he wants to err on the side of caution. But he should be more practical. Play down theory. Assemble technocrats and hit the nail on the head. You see, he has only four years.
Granted that he can get another four years, he should strategize and move on. There is nothing wrong with the policies, he should tackle the implementation and be very fast about issues. Anybody he has on board who is not ready to be practical, he should drop the person because at the end of the day, he is the person that the history will judge. Soon it will be one year, what has he achieved. He has a sound policy. He should follow it up.”
Culled from the sun