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States should manage their resources to be viable – Ogunbiyi

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Chairman of Mutual Benefits Assurance Plc, Dr Akin Ogunbiyi, speaks with NIKE POPOOLA on major economic issues in the country

Nigeria’s inflation rate rose for many months but has been declining in recent months, according to the latest figures from the National Bureau of Statistics. Do you think the NBS figures reflect the market prices?

When COVID-19 came, economic activities were not the way they used to be. But now, we are having a bit of stability and I think that is impacting positively on economic development and inflation rate. What was published by the NBS is close to reality when you look at how economic activities in the country have improved.  It is not just government spending that is making the impact, but when you look at the individuals and various companies, economic activities have actually picked up and that will definitely impact the economy. Look at real estate, trade and commerce, even major towns and cities in Nigeria, economic activities have picked up, except in the North where we have insecurity issues. The level at which we were bringing things to the South was badly affected when COVID-19 started.

Many people who require travelling to do their businesses are scared of going by road because of insecurity, and travelling by air is expensive. How in your view is insecurity affecting the business environment?

I’m happy with the aviation industry each time I travel and see the activities at the airport, and the response index with the level of traffic; it is phenomenal. The airlines are buying new aircraft. It is not that they are too comfortable, but they are managing themselves and they are responding. Why will people abandon the roads and go for aircraft? It is at a great inconvenience, I must say. What is the cost of a flight from Lagos to Abuja? It is so high. But can you blame them? Insecurity in this country has affected trade and commerce. Even the few people travelling by road and carrying their goods are being disturbed on the road by Customs agents.  Customs are to secure the borders. But if the goods have passed the borders and somebody is travelling within and he has to pass through several checkpoints by Customs, and for every point, he has to drop something, it will only add to the cost of the goods, apart from the insecurity on the roads. You have to organise your security if you are going by road. Thank God for IT, services can be rendered online now. But no matter what, some services have to be done physically. We don’t have good roads also, aside from the security challenge.

Nigeria is spending a substantial part of its revenue on debt servicing and is still borrowing. How sustainable is Nigeria’s mounting debt?

Let the government do an analysis of the debt profile and tell us what they used each debt they have taken for. The National Assembly will not ask questions. There is nothing wrong with taking debt. America borrows but it is still the wealthiest country. They are taking debt to satisfy their needs. If you are going to borrow money, attach it to a particular project. Let the project have its life, cash flow generation, then the project will pay back. If it is a social project like education and health, let us see exactly what you used the money for. I don’t subscribe to Nigeria taking any further credit because they took this money to satisfy the few. How can you be taking debt to satisfy your recurrent expenditure; is that how it is done? How sustainable is that? It is unfortunate that you pass debts to other governments after you. I will say Nigeria should stop borrowing to fund recurrent expenditure. The projects awarded in the country most times are exaggerated.

If you are borrowing money, give it to people that will deliver the projects, but do not overload the cost of the projects. How many billions have they spent? They are too complacent; nobody asks questions. And when our youths rose up, they killed them. I just pray that in the next elections, Nigerians should vote rightly. How can you sell your conscience because of money? The youths have the power to change the leadership in this country.

Let them come together and form a party. They have the population. I am challenging our youths to rise up. We don’t have another country. Our country is one that we should be proud of. I am challenging the youths; don’t just go and protest. There are better ways to do it. The election is 2023; they can organise themselves now. Let them register online now. There will be sanctity in the unity of Nigeria; we should not compromise it. We can do it better.

Many states have very low internally generated revenue and are depending on the Federal Account Allocation Committee allocation to meet their needs. How can this be addressed?

One thing affects the other. How many states are viable the way they are run now? That is why I support the idea of regionalisation. A lot of our states are not viable. If we run federalism the way it should be run, the states should have control over any resources that are in their domain. The power in the centre should be decentralised to the states. For example, Osun State can provide resources that oil is providing. We have stock of minerals in Osun State, but what is the state getting out of the mining business that the Chinese are doing in the state? If the Federal Government allows Osun to take over the resources and ensure the management of it, you will see the development. And that is how it is happening in many other states. The way we operate our federalism is the issue. We first contribute resources to the centre and the centre now looks at it. Look at the recent agitation on the Value Added Tax? A state that contributes little is getting more. Again, in terms of IGR, how many businesses are registered in the states? How many businesses are paying taxes? Tax evasion is criminal. Who is implementing the laws? The laws are there. I wish and I pray that the right leadership will emerge for this country and for each state.

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