Chief Ochi Ode Emmanuel, is the Chief Executive, Dominion Global Logistics Limited, a Lagos-based maritime services provider. In this interview , he took a hard look at the on-going recession and why the Federal Government finds it difficult to grapple with it.
Nigeria celebrated her 56 anniversary recently. As a major stakeholder in the maritime sector, how has the sector fared within the period?
The maritime sector has not fared very well at all. International trade is anchored on so many indices. The indices that promote trade relations internationally have been worsened by the unacceptable exchange rates of the Naira to major currencies of the world. Therefore, there is currently comatose in the maritime sector.
Sir, could you expatiate a little, please?
Well, since the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) during the Ibrahim Babangida administration, the Naira has been on the free fall against the major currencies. It is unfortunate that the more government tries to address the situation, the more crises it gets entangled with.
It is getting worse because of the prevalence of selfishness on the part of politicians and the capitalists who are also selfish to the core and the connivance of the banking sector that have really aggravating the situation by the round tripping activities. It is rather unfortunate that most Nigerians, who by their position and influence should grapple with the current challenges, are reaping heavily from it to the detriment of the masses of Nigerians.
It is rather unfortunate that the round tripping in the banking sector is allowed to go on despite the repercussion on the performance of the economy.
The economy moved from relatively stable exchange rate to a steady galloping downward regime of the Naira fall to the major currencies in the world. This can be regarded as wickedness of the highest order by the players in the economy and the maritime sector. They are not bothered to stop the bleeding on the economy.
The government that the common man looks up to, to arrest the situation, has not done anything in cohesion, to arrest the situation. All we are hearing is discordant tones from the major players in government.
The Minister of Finance is saying one thing and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), which is under the ministry, is saying another thing. One wonders whether they work as a team to address the challenges of the economy. If they do, they cannot rise from a meeting and begin to tell different stories on how to address the problems. This casts a doubt on the consistency and cohesion in the government of the All Progressives Congress (APC). That is why this issue of recession is becoming a frightening matter.
Several reforms were said to have been carried out within these period in the maritime sector. How positive have they impacted on the sector?
To some extent, some of the reforms are working. But, we must not forget the Nigerian factor. The reforms are supposed to be executed by port players. But, there are applications that have elements of sabotage. Change is a necessity, but change that blocks some loopholes, with time and persistence and connivance of the port operators, will be better off. In terms of port reforms operations, it has impacted well on the sector. But, the issue of multiple agencies has not been addressed properly and that is is a serious problem.
How would you say the current recession affected the operations of the maritime sector?
Purchases in international business are based on Dollars, Pounds and Euros denominations. As far as the exchange rate is not favourable, when you do the calculations, if they are merchandised at the high rate, when you buy and come here to sell, you will add your profit to the landing cost. You find out that the cost of goods is very high. With the attendant purchasing power of the buyer, you cannot sell. If you bring down the cost of gods to sell, you will be doing a colossal damage to yourself. If it is goods for manufacturing, when you bring out the gods, the cost is also very high. If you cannot sell, you do a serious harm to your business and you cannot go out to buy again. That is why many companies are grounded.
The Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) cried out that companies are being shut down due to high cost of raw materials and lack of funds to access foreign exchange to buy raw materials. This means throwing more people to the labour market. This is a disaster. It seems the government has no solution to this development.
How do you think the Federal Government should address this nagging issue of recession before things get out of hand?
The Nigerian state or government should learn from different countries that have experienced recession and see how they can quickly get the country out of it. In the United States of America (USA), during the hay days of President George Bush, that country’s economy was so bad. When President Barak Obama came into power, he addressed the issue squarely, rather than lamenting the failures of President Bush administration.
Lamentations will not solve any problems, but actions that will help to address the recession. He who continues to be on the seat of lamentation from morning to evening will have not story to tell the next morning. The government should hit the ground running and clear whatever they see as a mess
The traffic hold-up on the ports access roads and congestion of the ports have become a well known story about the ports. Has the situation changed?
The issue of port congestion is a perennial matter. Those things that would have addressed the issue are still there. The port access roads are still in despicable condition. Containers fall by the day because the roads are bad. Until the roads are fixed, these will still be there. Although the port access route is not directly responsibility of the Lagos State government, it cannot exclude itself as it collects port landing fees. Lagos cannot shy away from the responsibility. They should channel part of the landing fees to the repair and maintenance of the port routs and some areas that need some services.
To what extent has the current federal administration contributed to the development of the maritime sector since its inception in May last year?
The sector is bedevilled with so many problems. The problems have already been there. Accountability is key to the development of the sector. What has the government done to the inaccessible roads? One would have expected the government to have done something about the access roads by now, one and half years since they entered into power.
Do you think the President Buhari’s economic team is capable of turning the economy around? Would you support the call for the president to re-jig the team as well as his cabinet?
I have always said that in fixing a problem, you must put a round peg in a round hole. But, looking at things and what is happening in government, we are not putting a round peg in a round hole. The majority of the members of the federal government’s Economic Team are all lawyers. The head of the Economic Team the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, is a Professor of Law.
The Minister of National Planning, Udo Udoma, is a lawyer by profession. There are several others like that. This is not putting a round peg in a round hole. With the gravity of the problem at hand, the basic step is to put a round peg in a round hole before you think of as right step to solving a problem. But, this is not so. I stand to be corrected. It is long overdue for President Muhammadu Buhari to re-jig his economic team, including his cabinet as a whole.
Would you say that giving President Buhari special emergency powers will do the magic of making him turn around the economy?
All the powers he needs to address any issue is within the constitution. He does not need any other special powers. I believe his Attorney General and Minister of Justice I aware of this. He cannot claim that he is ignorant of the powers he wields.
How do you see the current agitation by the Lagos State to be granted special status, which was shot down in the Senate?
To me, the issue of special status for Lagos State is not necessary. Addressing the issue will create more problems and agitations across the nation in future. Once this is granted, other states will agitate for same. It will create disharmony between states and the federal government. If Lagos State has a challenge, it can write to the federal government asking for support in certain areas that they feel they need federal support. If they discuss at the Federal Executive Council (FEC) and they feel that their reason for asking for special assistance is genuine, why not? But, giving Lagos a special status is a time bomb which can diffuse when the time comes. What is good for the goose is good for the gander.
How serious do you think the federal government is towards the resolution of the Niger Delta crisis through dialogue as the trouble there had been affecting the nation’s oil output, export and earnings?
The problem of the Niger Delta, I have tried to look in-between the issues. The Niger Delta issues are persisting unresolved largely due to personal interests of some individuals and groups.
The agitators and militants are in one page. The so-called leaders are on another page. On the way forward, many of them are are uneconomical with the truth because of what some of them may gain. Because of this, some people from that area may of recent have been monetarily influenced to speak against some key people intending to break the rank and file of the people. Because of this, I do not understand. Sometimes, you hear that the government is discussing with the militants. At another time you hear different story.
I think the government should come out with a master plan to address the issue. They should not play politics with it. As long as militancy continues in Niger Delta, all efforts of government to get Nigeria out of recession will not yield dividends. Let them not deceive us with the talks about diversification.
The effects of the diversification of the economy cannot be felt soon. It takes time for things or projects to mature and achieve results. So, the government should be more serious with the proposed dialogue to bring restiveness to an end to be able to break the deficit in the 2016 budget as a result of deficit from the sale of crude oil.