Chief Ochi Ode Emmanuel, a major maritime stakeholder, is the Chief Executive of Dominion Global Logistics Limited, a Lagos-based maritime services provider. In this interview with Ejikeme Omenazu of Daily Independent, he took a hard look at the 2017 budget of President Muhammadu Buhari, the issue of foreign loans and what should be the focus of government in this financial year, among other issues.
How do you see the 2017 budget of President Muhammadu Buhari?
My take on the budget is in two ways. How well has the 2016 budget been implemented and what is the impact of that budget? What are the realities on ground? These form the basis of anchorage for the 20176 budget. The budgeting year is anchored on the workability of what you set out to do in the framework of the budget. Because it is a yearly event, the elements of seriousness are no longer there. That is why government is not excited about the performance of the outgoing budget. So, I do not see anything exciting about the 2917 budget of President Muhammadu Buhari.
Do you think the 2017 budget is capable of pulling Nigeria out of recession?
It is one thing to budget and another thing to implement. What is the level of success of the 2016 budget? Recently, the Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun, said that Nigeria has no option than to borrow. Thus, the budget is zero unless the government is able to secure the loan it is talking about. While I am not pessimistic, I do not see any difference from what obtained 2016. When people say the budget will take Nigeria out of recession, I see them as being unserious.
Recently, it was reported that the borrowing clubs had said that they would not release funds to the Nigerian government as loans unless the government puts forward its plans. One wonders if government is serious. You must have a precise plan before you seek loans to execute such plans. That was the problem the government had with the National Assembly. The Senate had to throw out the government’s request because of lack of plans on the loans. That is what the international community is saying. So, where lies the work of the government’s Economic Team
From the experiences of the past, do you see the National Assembly passing the budget by March ending so that its implication can start at the second quarter of the year?
The issue of budgeting is serious. Because government sees it as a yearly routine, they have not attached elements of seriousness it deserves. That is why every year, the budget is packaged haphazardly. That is why it creates problems at the committees at the National Assembly, thereby delaying the passage. I do not see this year’s budget as different from those of the previous years. One would have expected that the recession should have made it necessary for government to put all hands on deck to reverse the previous trends in budgeting to address squarely the recession, so that the suffering of Nigerians will be eased off. So, I do not see the National Assembly passing the budget until April or May. I know the National Assembly will tinker with the budget and there will be issues bordering with presidential assent.
What do you think should be the focus of the federal government this year?
It is obvious that Nigeria is in recession. The focus should be on how to get the country out of recession. Anything outside this will portray the government as insensitive of the suffering of Nigerians.
How do you see the government’s plan to release N2 trillion promissory notes to clear debts owed local contractors?
It is a good development. The government has already crippled local contractors. That should be encouraged. Payment of local contractors will have multiplier effect as the economy and stabilise the economy. The contractors owe their suppliers. With the payment, they will pay those they owe too. This will trickle down and will impact on the economy positively.
Do you think the government really needs foreign loans to implement its programmes?
The best way you can get on top of challenges is self-help. Borrowing is mortgaging your future freedom. The money you borrow must be repaid. So, one should not be eager to borrow. The best bet is to generate your earning to fund your activities. Issues of borrowing are not the best option, but should be the last resort. The amount to be borrowed should be that which can be easily repaid. Government should exhaust all options on Internally Generated Revenue (IGR).
The IMF and the World Bank has predicted a growth rate of between 0.8 % and 1 % for Nigeria in 2017. What is your take on this?
The forecasts are based on indices and what is seen as the crucial happenings which are seen to progress to a level. The forecasts by the IMF and the World Bank are based on current outlook. This can be sustained or otherwise by the activities of the government in the execution of the budget. Since it is a forecast, the ingredients to actualise it rests on government. That is basically the action or inaction of the government.
What is your view on the ban on importation of certain essential commodities, and the clamp down on importation through the land borders?
The ban on importation of some commodities and vehicles through the land borders will be welcome if necessary things were put in place. What do I mean by this? Nigeria is been an import-oriented nation. If government wants to reverse the trend, there are basic things it should put in place over a period of time to guarantee a flexible transition. But this, the government has failed to do. That is why one will question the rationale behind government’s actions in this regard. The government in December 2016 announced the ban on importation of goods through the land borders and fixed January 20, 2017 as deadline. The government, I believe, is aware that orders placed on vehicles take minimum of three or four months before the vehicles can reach their destination or country of import. If an order for a vehicle takes three or four months before delivery, and the government suddenly placed a ban, will you say it is the fault of the importers? That is why so many vehicles are trapped on the Nigerian borders. That is not healthy to the economy and it is unfair treatment of the unsuspecting importers, which is totally unacceptable. Government’s actions should be long-term. I expect government to give at least one year notice for such a ban. It should be December 2017. This information should be in jingles to remind those importers to take note. That is how it is done in other climes.
How do you see the failure of the Senate to confirm the appointment of the Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Ibrahim Magu, based on a purported security report from the DSS?
The issue of the EFCC Acting Chairman, Magu, I do not have much to say. The security report is what the Senate used to disallow his confirmation. I wish to stress that for anyone to head an anti-graft agency, such a person should be a saint. Anybody whose dealings in the past are questionable should not be on that seat. Would one say that the senators influenced the report of the DSS? The answer, I think, is ‘No’. It will not be right for the Senate to disregard the DSS report. The DSS is carrying out its constitutionally assigned duty. So, the DSS report cannot be disregarded by the Senate.
How do you see the corruption allegations levelled against the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Babachir Lawal?
On the SFG, we understand the President set up a committee to investigate the report. The Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) has submitted his report. The presidency has already cleared him. So, I think the matter should so rest until may be the National Assembly or security agents can come up with fresh facts that can nail him.
How do you see the recent announcement that the government has started to pay the N5,000 monthly stipends to the Poorest of the poor?
For me, that thing is a fluke. I do not know how they come about the list. They said the list has been there. We do not know the criteria, how they got the people and who they are. I foresee that in no sooner a time, a can of worms will be opened. Nigerians are waiting patiently.
What is your view on the recent visit of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo to the Niger Delta?
I see these as insincerity on the part of government. They are not committed to the lasting peace in the Niger Delta. From the body language of the president, he is not committed to peace in the Niger Delta. The visit of the Vice President was only intended to calm the frayed nerves in Niger Delta. I don’t see any seriousness on the part of government about the Niger Delta issues. There is no element of commitment on the part of the government on the issues. If the president is committed, he should have taken it seriously so that Nigeria can have substantial revenue from the oil sector to pull Nigeria out of recession. OPEC has allowed Nigeria to produce as much oil as we can, while instructing other OPEC member nations not to increase their output. If Nigeria cannot put its house in order because the government is unserious, will the problem in Niger Delta, who is to be blamed?
What is your take on the current rate by which Nigerians embrace the MMM Scheme?
I have never liked getting into things people see as easy income. I think government should place a total ban on it. It is robbing Peter to pay Paul. That should not be encouraged in this modern time. I think it is fraudulent. It did not work in United States of America and United Kingdom. Why must you rob Peter to pay Paul? That is my take on it.