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Which national assets are for sale?

By Rotimi Fasan
THAT the country is in recession and the economic crisis in which we’ve found ourselves is biting hard is now old news. Yes, we are in recession and Nigerians are presently preoccupied with finding solutions to our economic troubles.

It’s no longer an issue to be left to the government alone, hence the involvement of everyone. From different sectors of the economy and the polity, solicited and unsolicited suggestions are pouring in as to how the economy could be reflated and the country returned to the path of buoyancy.

The search for a solution has pitted different groups and individuals against one another. Even officials of the present government are not on the same page when questions turn to how we can claw our way out of recession. The country’s monetary and fiscal authorities are at this moment at loggerheads as to what is the best approach out of our economic quagmire.

Kemi Adeosun and her colleagues in the Ministry of Finance believe a way to economic revival lies in cutting interest rate to enable domestic borrowing. But the Central Bank under Godwin Emefiele does not see the wisdom in this. Both groups have their supporters and it does not look as if either is willing to shift ground.

But while Adeosun and Emefiele are hawking their different ideas to the Nigerian public, they are by no means left to imagine they are the only people allowed to proffer solutions to the problem at hand. The contest for solution has not left out any group. It’s an open field for any willing person or group within and outside official circles.

This past week however witnessed a convergence in position between the Buhari administration and the business community. One of the earliest voices on this came out of the National Assembly where the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, argued for the sale of the country’s investments in joint ventures with oil majors and others.

Mr. Saraki it should be made clear cannot be considered an insider of the Buhari government. But he has nevertheless canvassed a position that shows him to be within hearing distance of the administration’s plans. For him sale of the country’s assets is a better option than going for foreign loans that might in the end not provide enough funds to help us out of recession.

Having been on its usual recess for a long while, the National Assembly has not appeared to be part of the conversation on the parlous state of the economy. It has been more occupied with its personal troubles which made Saraki’s call appear at once like one from the dead and a way to announce the legislators’ return to Abuja.

The intriguing thing about the call by Bukola Saraki is that no sooner was it made than it was taken up by officials of the government in power and other players in the national circle. Just about the time Saraki spoke, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, the Sarkin Kano and a former governor of the CBN declared his support for Emefiele in his disagreement with Adeosun on the interest rate matter.

For him Emefiele’s position was an indication of independence on the part of the CBN. But Sanusi didn’t stop at that as he would soon follow his comment with a call for the sale of the country’s ‘national assets’ in order to revive the economy.

As if on cue Aliko Dangote also made his pitch, calling for sale of the country’s assets. The manner in which these individuals spoke, with each seemingly taking his cue from the other, gives one the impression that the calls were rehearsed; a position already agreed on by the country’s business and political elite. It doesn’t all look spontaneous. The matter must have long been bruited about or at least decided and agreed on within official circle before each person or groups started pushing it in public.

Since the goal is to get us out of recession and bring respite to Nigerians, it may be worth asking what national assets we are being told should be sold and who the buyers might be. By national assets one presumes that what is being referenced are those state run/owned utilities and corporations that Nigerians are told were established more for the services they provide than for their purely profit-making potentials. I doubt if any such assets exist in the true sense of the word (national) today.

Perhaps, what those calling for the sales of these so-called national assets should be talking about are national scraps. We need to be provided a comprehensive list of these state owned businesses, their location, how they had fared before now and their present state. We should also be apprised of what led to their failure to meet national expectations, the names of those who managed them and the likely beneficiaries if and when they are sold.

The Nigerian Railway Corporation, the Nigeria Airways, the Nigerian Telecommunications Company, the Power Holding Company, the Nigerian Liquefied Natural Gas and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation should count among these so-called national assets that have been sold or are being proposed for sale. Aside the NLNG and the NNPC which of these companies returned value for money even after sale? Was it NITEL or PHCN? Nigerian business men are hardly known for starting any business on their own.

Their main and only client is government and they became rich taking unfair advantage of loopholes in the Nigerian business environment. All they want is to wait on the side, help in the destruction of state owned businesses and thereafter propose their takeover.

The NRC was run aground by men who set up rival haulage businesses that destroyed our road networks and impoverished a company that used to be one of the highest employers of labour. The Nigeria Airways was once one of the most lucrative airlines in Africa before it was destroyed by government neglect and sold off on the cheap to business people who only used it to leverage their personal standing as businessmen without adding any value to the airline.

It was left much worse and bankrupted than it had been before it was taken over. In its last days, it was bogged down in litigation and left so unattended to the extent that the only thing we can call a national carrier today is perhaps the presidential fleet with eleven or more aircraft, far more than most private commercial carriers in the country.

Previous sales of national assets have not resulted in better management of the concerned assets or improved revenue for government. The present calls for sale of assets are therefore nothing but an attempt to further dispossess the Nigerian people of their patrimony and reduce everyone to beggary in their own country.

 

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