By Akoma Chinweoke
Chief Goody Uwazurike is the President of Aka Ikenga, the Igbo think tank and a delegate to the 2014 National Conference. In this interview , the legal luminary says the with the harsh economic situation on ground, the Buhari led government needs to sit up especially now that economy is somersaulting in different directions. Excerpts:
So much energy has been devoted towards fighting corruption by the present government who believes the monster would ruin the economy if not checked. How would you react to the anti-corruption war so far?
I would give this analogy and I want people not to misunderstand me. Buhari’s government is behaving like a hunter not like a farmer. A hunter keeps hunting with the hope that something good would come out. He takes his weapon into forest to go and look for what to catch . At the end of the day , he would come back, tomorrow he would start again. It is called speculation. It is a game of chance. What would you do tomorrow?
I would try and see if I can catch any animal . That is the hunter for you and when he comes back tomorrow, he says all the animals have run away. But a farmer plants and knows what to plant at a particular season, water and nurture the plants and in the next seven and eight months , he starts harvesting. This is why a farmer has a barn where he keeps harvested crops. In order words, having planted, the farmer knows what to expect, a good harvest and with that he can relax. He thinks he has planned his life. In today’s government, they are more interested in fighting corruption than in planning for the economy and this is what fighting do.
The goods that were supposed to come into the country this January, were they ordered by businessmen at that time? If they were not ordered at the right time, then there would be shortages in February and March. So, like a hunter, we did not plan but like the farmer, we must learn to start planning and that is what makes the difference between a government that believes in planning and one that believes in hunting. Do I say that all corrupt persons should be allowed to go, no, but please realize that all those things are mere allegations and not one person has been convicted. It is only when the government has gone into trial that you hear from the accused persons. As at now, we are only hearing from the government . All the issues about money spent, recovered and stolen is one sided. Therefore we need the government to sit down and plan in the next one year what they are going to do especially now that the country’s major source of revenue, crude oil is in trouble. So, I want Buhari to behave like a farmer.
What do you think of the recent visit of IMF President, Christine Lagarde, to Nigeria and her suggestions on how to revive the economy?
Well, you know IMF came also when Buhari first came to power as head of State. Between 1984 and 1985, the IMF and other international financial bodies made efforts to engage president Buhari but it did not work. All those efforts failed and because they failed, Buhar’s government engaged in what I would call trade by barter which also failed. As soon as Babangida became the head of state, he engaged in opening up of the economy and suddenly there was the influx of tokunbo products and so on because for almost two years Nigerians were starved. So, I would want the president to discuss ideas and not to borrow money from the IMF or from any world body. They have ideas, you borrow their ideas and learn from them. Lagarde has been here fine. The IMF boss does not travel because she is a tourist. There are certain things she must have said and for those who can read between the lines, she was saying in simple terms buckle up or your country would go into economic recession any time soon. But most people did not understand this. Economists are economical with words. So, you must think like them to understand them.
Controversy is still trailing the government restriction on forex . What are your thoughts on that?
The first decision by the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN to stop sales of foreign exchange (FOREX) to Bureau de Change (BDC) operators was a blunder but as you know, it was triggered up by some thing . Believe it or not the income that come into Nigeria from crude oil has reduced drastically and When your income reduces, you must adjust. I think federal government needed to readjust and the CBN is part of the Federal government .
So, for them now to say, we want to ease off that restriction, but at the same they have decided to starve the Bureau de Change (BDC) operators. I know many businessmen who depend on the BDC operators for forex exchange, those people are troubled now . Many people are going to be out of jobs. What about the local roadside traders, they are the ones who would flourish . So which ever way, it is our economy that is in the doldrums. Our economy is somersaulting in different directions and we really need to sit up and it is the job of the government to ask itself how what it is doing will it affect us in the next six months . That is one message we are waiting for. Lagarde came here and had a chat with the federal government, I don’t know how many economists were in that meeting . I have gone through the list of those at the Federal cabinet, I don’t know how many of them are economists. So, when you have an economic team made up bankers whose job is to balance an account , you have a problem .
Do you think this government is ready to explore other avenues aside oil to ensure that Nigeria’s economy is diversified?
Well, I was at the 2014 national conference otherwise called the centenary conference. We realized then that our income from oil was dwindling as America has stopped buying our oil. We set about making suggestions and we also realized that the federal government was not getting any money from solid mineral and believe you me we have lots of them here particularly in the north. Why can’t the government increase its revenue base from there.
These minerals were being mined by businessmen who took interest and lord themselves over the lives of ordinary people who are all over the place trying to make money for their daily bread . For instance in Zamfara, they have zinc. So; we looked at all those things and made suggestions. The national conference report is there. So, once the federal government can look into that report, we have nothing to lose. Every state was represented and it does not make sense if you try to reinvent the will . Diversification of the economy is fine but what have you said about manufacturing. Manufactures are waiting for Mr. president to make a clear cut policy on the sector. In order words, are you going to encourage manufactures which is the bane of every economy and what does this manufacturers want, it is left for him to find out .
What is your message to government concerning the plight of the country’s unemployed youths, many of whom now feel the future is bleak for them?
If the president want the economy to progress, the youths should be given their pride of place. The economy does not run in isolation. Anything that is called the movement of the economy means the labourers, artisans,and graduates should be employed. Any major contract given once a week by the federal government runs into billions and the multiplier effects of the billions spent is what would affect the youths.