By Muyiwa Adetiba
Like any leader, or indeed any patriotic Nigerian, our Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki has of late, been showing considerable concern for the country’s economy. Fresh from a two-month, fully paid Sallah break with his fellow distinguished legislators which they must by now know that the country can no longer afford, he recommended the sale of some of the country’s assets and the sack of the Ministers of Finance and Budget and Planning.
Some of the senators backed him. Some backed off. Some urged caution while some didn’t even understand what was going on. A week later, they have come out in their collective wisdom with the decision that the country will be better off without the sale of some of its assets.
I really don’t have any problem with selling assets to raise cash whenever it is needed. It is done everywhere—in private, corporate and public lives. However, you can sell your car and use the proceeds to pay your child’s school fees or to buy a plot of land. You can also use the proceeds for a wedding or a funeral.
While the former is an investment into the future, the latter leaves you with nothing at the end of the day. Unfortunately, we seemed to have preferred the latter as a people as none of the previous sales has shaped our future in any positive way.
Another reason for selling assets is to make them more productive and profitable especially if an entity has over diversified and the satellite bodies have become unwieldy and gross. As a result, the parent company now wants to become lean so as to face its area of core competency. So whether it is to raise cash or to become more focused, the sale of assets can be a strategic move towards a better performance.
But those who urge caution have a point. What has been the fate of all the assets we sold in the past? We have had brilliant technocrats in charge of the sale of our assets— or privatisation as we chose to call it in the past—yet very few of the sales can be said to be a success story.
Petro-chemical companies, Iron and steel companies, paper mills, aluminum and fertiliser companies were all industries that were once owned by the Federal Government, the sale of which could have galvanised the industrial take-off of the country while putting money into the national treasury.
Today, many of them are either moribund or mired in controversy just because those who should know better allowed greed and selfish interests to override national interests. The sad part is that many of them were sold for a pittance.
‘What is the price of a knocked engine?’ was Mr El-Rufai’s—now governor—rhetorical question when he was asked about the low price tags on some of our national assets. He was then the head of a body that packaged some of our assets for sale. It is possible that some ‘tear rubber’ assets were sold as scraps under the guise of ‘knocked engine.’
So the country never really gained from many of the benefits that the sale of assets should bring like cash, job creation, competitiveness and infrastructural development. The same thing can be said for our concessions.
The second recommendation is the removal of Mrs Kemi Adeosun as the Finance Minister and Senator Udo Udoma as the Minister for Budget and Planning. I have not met Mrs Adeosun but I have read her and listened to her on several occasions. I have been impressed by her passion and commitment to reduce the areas of wastage in public finance and make the giant of Africa stand on its wobbly feet. That is more than we can say for those who are disparaging her efforts and ability.
Her sin is that she is young and inexperienced. I personally don’t think she is too young for the job given global trends. In any case we can see where the seasoned and experienced economists have led us. I have known Senator Udo Udoma since his King’s College days. He is intelligent and solid. The argument that he should have been given a different ministry is an interesting one.
Interesting because I had that argument with friends about a year ago. There is merit in those who believe that certain jobs need technocrats to manage them. This is largely because he will be on a familiar turf and thus be able to grasp the intricacies and demands of the job faster. He will also be better able to appreciate the consequences of a bad error of judgement.
That said, I personally will pick a good administrator over a technocrat. The person who turned the fortunes of Punch Newspapers round is neither a journalist nor an accountant. He is just a brilliant administrator. And some of the most successful hospitals all over the world are not run by doctors.
What Udo Udoma brings—or should bring to the table—are his intellect, integrity and good judgement. In any case, he is not exactly like a fish out of water. I am glad that the governors and indeed, some of the senators shot down the recommendation.
Now, my recommendations to those who have made these recommendations, Saraki and some of the honourable members of the National Assembly—since they were reluctant to look inwards—are these: First, they should stop distracting us with their utterances and actions. The Jibrin/ Dogara drama has gone on for too long. Those who wore mufflers in support of Dogara are insulting the rest of us.
Obviously what they are reading is not what the rest of us are reading. We are reading fraud, sleaze and abuse of office. We are reading ‘bold face,’ impunity and cover-up. Second, they should be made aware that everybody is uncomfortable with their salaries and allowances. We therefore recommend a drastic reduction. As it is, they represent the unacceptable face of capitalism and its rent seeking best.
Third, they should be courageous and patriotic enough to admit that their job should at best, be part time. No other sector in the country works the number of days in the year that they work and collect what they collect. Besides, they have proved to us that the nation does not need them to work 365 days. Fourth, either the Senate or the House of Reps should go.
We can no longer afford the two. Finally, those of them, and I am including some Ministers here, who collect pensions as ex-Governors or ex-military officers and are collecting another pay in their second jobs should please, please stop. It might be legally permissible but it is morally reprehensible. It is also another indulgence that the country can no longer support.