Chief Ode Ochi Emmanuel, Chairman, Middle Belt Traditional Council (MBTC) in the South West and the Oji Kpururu 1 of Ibilla, is the Chief Executive of Dominion Global Logistics Limited, a Lagos-based maritime services provider. In this interview with EJIKEME OMENAZU, he spoke on the huge burden of foreign loans on the country, the failure of Federal Government’s agricultural policy and the Apapa gridlock, among other issues. Excerpt:
Do you think the Federal Government’s agricultural policy is working considering the continued killings of farmers in the North Central and other parts of the country by the herdsmen?
It is not working. That is why we are saying that the security apparatus of government needs to be re-jigged. But, as it is, the President seems to be handicapped to take that decision. Such a re-jig will bring new ideas to stem insecurity. Now, the farmers have been living in the Internally Displaced Peoples (IDP) camps. This will bring serious famine in the country.
Right now, there is not much going on in terms of farming. The herdsmen have taken over the land meant for farming. The farmers have been chased away. This is worse in Benue, a state that is the nation’s food basket. The people are being killed and the farms are being destroyed. There is no farming going on there now. The menace is too much. Farmers are no longer free. They are gripped with fears. It is only in pages of newspapers that the government is talking about agriculture. Nothing is happening in the sector now, except destruction of farmlands and farm produce by the herdsmen and their cattle.
The Nigerian government is not serious. Some of us had earlier warned that the Federal Government has not been taking the issue of the herdsmen seriously. They have been handling the issue with kid gloves until is spread to several states in the North Central, where the foods are being produced. Since, the killings and destruction by the herdsmen has not really stopped. It will bring serious famine in Nigeria. At the end of the day, the government’s talks about agricultural export will be a mirage.
Already, Nigerian government is banning food importation, but they are not providing the enabling environment for farmers to increase their yield so that Nigerians can feed. It is when there is enough to feed Nigerians that there will be some for export. So, with continued killing of farmers in the Middle Belt, the Federal Government’s plan to export agricultural produce to other countries cannot work.
How are the current political crises in the country impacting on the business and commerce sector?
Business cannot thrive when there is insecurity and unchecked appetite for corruption. As things are today, those fighting corruption are neck-deep in corruption itself. So, the issue of fighting corruption is hypocrisy.
The situation is causing tension. That is why nothing is happening in the area of business. There is no proper finance. There is no proper demarcation in terms of policy direction. If you check round, you will discover that the volume of finance has not released information regarding policy statement as regards policy direction as contained in the 2018 budget.
The Nigerian economy is import driven. The situation on ground has driven almost all existing companies to shut down operations due to harsh economic environment, very high cost of diesel which most struggling companies use to power their generators.
Under the high cost of production, they cannot sell because they cannot compete with the imported goods due to price war. This is forcing those who cannot operate to shut down, turning their staffer into the labour market. All these are caused by insecurity and infighting among politicians, resulting in lack of governance and lack of economic policy direction.
The World Bank recently revealed that Nigeria’s debt profile has hit $150 million. What are the implications of this?
The implication is that the Nigerian state has been mortgaged and the future of our children is bleak. If the government has taken loans amounting to that, what are the physical developments on ground in terms of short and long term that can generate revenue to pay back the loans? To me, there is nothing on ground. That means that such loans have found their way into private pockets or accounts.
There has been flagrant disregard for decent way of running public funds over the years. It calls for worries. Because of the greed of a few, the destiny of Nigerians born and unborn has been mortgaged.
As early as January 2017, some of us have been warning the government not to go for foreign loans. But, the government paid deaf ears. 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 should have been to generate your earning to fund your activities. Issues of borrowing should have not been the best option for the government. It should have been the last resort. The amount to be borrowed should have been that which can be easily repaid.
Did the government exhaust all options on Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) before taking the foreign loans? But, every year, since this administration, the government will base a large chunk of its annual budgets on foreign loans. This is in addition to bonds. All these will take several years to pay back.
For Nigeria to come out of this problem, it is only by the intervention of God. Nigerians have not come to terms with this reality. When they are given the opportunity to select their leaders, they will still go for the old ones who will bring out the meagre part of their loots to cajole gullible Nigerians to elect them back to power.
South Africans have been killing Nigerians in their country while their companies have been reaping a lot of profits in the country. How do you think the Federal Government should handle this issue without creating problems between the two countries?
The issue of violence against Nigerians in South Africa, think is due to the fear of domination by Nigerians in that country. Nigerians are hard working and their entrepreneurial prowess is always standing out wherever they are, giving them inroad into South African economy. The South Africans are feeling cheated and threatened, hence the willful attacks on Nigerians.
The Nigerian government, with the help of the High Commission in Pretoria should engage the government of South Africa to prevail on its citizens and security agencies to see Nigerians as partners in progress and not in hostility.
We are all Africans, we should accommodate each other given the backdrop of what Nigeria did to fast-track the independence of South Africa.
What is your take on the emergence of a new Nigerian Airline?
Nigerian government has no business in going into commercial activities. The government cannot be talking of privatising some of its stakes and it is acquiring some major stakes in the business sector. If government privatized the National Electric Power Authority (NEPA) because it was not run profitably, why will it be going into another venture of floating an airline when government is not good in managing its businesses? What happened to the former Nigerian Airways? So, the current plan of government to go into airline venture is a misplaced priority. It is not too late for the Federal Government to do an assessment and retract from the venture.
With the Abuja light rail coming on board, what do you think will be the effect f Federal Government’s renewed interest in rail services?
The Federal Government should hand over rail business to the private sector to manage. It has been my view that business managed by the government is bound to fail. This is because people see government business as the extension of the national cake. I believe that if the private sector handles rail business, that is when it will work and become profitable. From the past, Nigeria operated the national railway services, what happened? All the coaches were abandoned. The private sector will manage rail services and it will yield dividends from the investment.
With the special team put in place by the Lagos State government, what is the situation at the Lagos ports presently?
Until the tank farms in and around Apapa are removed, there is no amount of arrangement that will ease up Apapa. Again, until the inner roads in and around Apapa are in order, there is no solution to the gridlock.
The tanker drivers are not the problems. They are not the ones causing the gridlock in and around Apapa. The government knows the problem. Let the government address the problems.
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 proper repair and maintenance of the port routs and some areas that need some services.
Several reforms were said to have been carried out in the maritime sector. How positive have they impacted on the sector?
To some extent, some of the reforms have been 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 a serious problem.
The nation’s maritime sector is bedevilled with so many problems. These problems have already been there. Accountability is the 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. Not much has been done since three years of this administration as regards the ports access roads.
Do you think the current federal administration has been tackling the problem of infrastructure across the country?
It is only in newspapers, radio and television that we have been hearing of billions of naira contracts awarded. On ground, I have not seen anything. The issue of Second Niger Bridge is an example. They said they have awarded the contract. I passed there recently. I recall that I did not see anything. Nothing is happening there. Whatever the government is saying about infrastructure across the country is deceit. Government is not serious. They award contracts that run into billions of Naira and there is nothing to show. The Federal Executive Council (FEC) award contracts and it ends there. There is nothing to show. If the funds are being well spend, there should have been physical infrastructures on ground for people to see. Nigerians are worst hit in terms of physical development.
People believe that the Akinwunmi Ambode administration has been doing a lot in terms of infrastructure. Would you agree?
Well, we have been seeing massive efforts at development in Lagos State. However, we hope these ongoing projects will be completed soon. However, every action of Nigerian politicians is not really intended for the benefit of the masses. It will therefore not be totally wrong to say that these may be a ploy to secure the sympathy of Lagosians towards the 2019 elections.