What FG must do to revive economy –Philips Nto, World Bank consultant and Development economist

Dr Phillips Nto, University teacher, World Bank consultant, development economist and former Abia State commissioner for finance in this interview with a select group of journalists, speaks on the economy, off-cycle election, the Army error at Tudun Biri bombing, Electoral Act, problem with Nigeria and what should be done to salvage the country among other national issues.

Let’s know your assessment of the off -season elections that recently took place in Kogi, Imo and Bayelsa states?

Candidates and parties have won and lost but the issue remains whether the elections met with the aspirations of Nigerians. The question is whether the elections were conducted in line with international best practices? Can INEC objectively give itself a good pass mark in the conduct of the elections? Those that won may claim that INEC did a good job while those that lost will say that INEC compromised. The issue is that, was INEC transparent and fair? How did security agencies conduct themselves? Was voting free? I heard about vote buying and yet I don’t know how many people were apprehended and prosecuted. I heard about compromise by electoral officials, and yet no one was called for questioning.  I even saw a viral video of a security agent caught in ballot snatching, yet there is no disclaimer. For me, this off-season election ought to be an improvement in the February and March General election, but the irony is that parties in power use every available instrument to sustain themselves to hold onto power in their states. It is widely believed that the electoral body and security agencies assumed partisanship in the states to Favour sitting governors. For me, this off-season election even fell below my expectations, as a result of over deployment of     security agencies which led to voters’ apathy in the three states. The electorate lost faith in the process. 

Is there anything lacking in the Electoral Act that you think should be included, so as to make elections more transparent, credible and less violent?

I am not a lawyer to say anything is lacking in the electoral act but morally speaking, I may say integrity is lacking in the implementation of the act by INEC. Integrity is also lacking in the interpretation by the judicial system. During the voter’s education by INEC before the general election, INEC told us that the 2022 electoral act covered everything that will make them to transmit election results electronically, but what happened? The 2022 electoral act and guidelines were thrown away. There was no use of IREV; there was no use of BVAS; no electronic transmission of result. INEC was not honest in walking their talk. If elections could be conducted the way they told the public that made many Nigerians to pick interest, everything would have been okay. However, the Nigerian factor did not allow the electoral body to undertake a credible election despite whatever that is in the electoral act. In summary, for there to be a credible election, everybody including voters, the electoral umpire, and security agencies must put Nigeria first and not their pocket. If elections are conducted in free, fair, transparent and credible manner, it will reduce litigation. My call is for total overhaul of INEC to make it more responsible. There must be a sanction where a compromise is established.

   What is your take on the bombing error by the military on the Tudun Biri community in Kaduna State?

It is regrettable and sad that there was such a military error. However, I blame it on human factor as the military cannot play God, it cannot be perfect. It is just unfortunate that the apologies, regrets and compensations cannot bring back the lives lost.  I pray God to grant the dead a peaceful repose.  Let such a calamity not happen again in our national history.  While I condole with the families of the bereaved, I caution against playing politics or bringing in tribal sentiments in such a national tragedy. However, subsequent operations by the military should be handled with the highest level of precision.  Government should assist to rebuild the damaged community as soon as possible in addition to providing palliatives and succor to the families of the deceased.

Some critics say, the 2024 budget is a budget of theory and hopelessness. What can be done to make it a realizable budget that will inspire hope?

Doing a little analysis on the 27.5 trillion budgets, it could be seen that the recurrent expenditure is 9.92 trillion while the capital expenditure is 8.7 trillion while debt servicing is 8.25 trillion. That cannot address economic growth that will alleviate poverty. A close look at the figures will show you that the budget handles more the ostentatious lifestyle and welfare as well as comfort of the ruling class rather than the living condition of the poor masses. The debt servicing of 8.25 trillion as well as the deficit of 9.18 trillion will make me to ask questions on the whereabouts of the money saved from the removal of fuel subsidy. For the budget to achieve the desired economic growth and address the welfare of the poor masses, more funds ought to be allocated to capital expenditure rather than recurrent expenditure. The percentage of capital expenditure should be more than recurrent. Even in the capital, more funds should be allocated to infrastructural development, education, agriculture, and health. Let sectoral allocations have direct bearing on the poor masses, especially activating economic activities and thus creating jobs for the unemployed youths. However, I still maintain that there shouldn’t be any room for deficit, which will give way to borrowing. If we put our acts together, there will be a lot of money to fund the budget rather than mortgaging the future of our future generation. our political class should cut down frivolous expenditure that will not add value to governance. There are so many offices and agencies that are duplicated which should be reviewed. The 2024 budget can only aspire hope when all its intents and purposes are centered on the welfare of the poor masses who are suffering unimaginably. In many countries, when things are so tight for the poor masses, you see political class sacrificing their personal comforts and remuneration to bridge the inequality gap. But , here, the reverse is the case. The poor pay more taxes to sustain the luxurious lifestyle and comfort of those in government as well as their unnecessary overseas travels.

As a development economist, what exactly should the government do to revive the economy because Nigerians are hungry?

The government should diversify the economy through investment in agriculture; provide an enabling environment for micro, small, and medium enterprises to strive. The government should formulate sound polices and ensure strict implementation so as to enhance local production. Agriculture alone sustained the pre – and post-colonial era in Nigeria. All the regions of the country then depended on agriculture and not crude oil.  It is a fact that crude oil made us lazy and fueled massive corruption. Can the president double as minister for agriculture as it is for ministry of petroleum? Which is supposed to be the bedrock of our economy? My prayer is that the crude oil should quickly dry up. This is the only condition that Nigeria will return to the glorious era of agriculture.  The nation is blessed with enormous agricultural potentials such as arable land and good climate. Also, other minerals in the country like gold, limestone, tin, etc, are abandoned. If you bring issues of solid   minerals in the concurrent list, you see many states, especially in the North, doing better.  The government should also ensure that epileptic power supply is a thing of the past. Power is very crucial in reviving the economy. No business can succeed without regular and adequate power supply.  Many businesses, even large enterprises, are folding up because of the huge amount spent on diesel to power their production system. I carried out a survey round the country some years back, power supply ranked as number one problem facing all forms of business enterprises. Like I said in the case of Agriculture. Presidents can also double as minister of power or declare an emergency in the sector. The irony is that despite the fact that Nigeria is blessed with numerous energy sources like heavy sunshine from Sahara Desert as well as that of dry season and that of hydro, or even from heavy wind from the ocean, Nigeria still generates only through hydro and one national grid for the whole country. This is laughable.

Another area government should take a look at and tap from the great potential is the human capital. Nigerian professionals are greatly talented and are seriously sourced for all over the world but are neglected here. The government currently is not paying serious attention to our education sector. The academic curriculum of various levels of education should be structured and overhauled to equip our youths to face challenges associated with skill development.  This is the only way to solve unemployment problems, which in turn will solve our security challenges.

Most Nigerian statesmen are calling for the restructuring of the country. Do you share in such view, and what kind of restructuring will you propose?

I have severally made my opinion clear on this issue of restructuring, so many people fear the term, ‘restructuring’. But it is a must if we are to move forward as a nation. You cannot continue to do things in the old fashion and expect a new and better result. Those who hate to hear restructuring or are opposed to it are the people benefitting from the current state. Can Nnamdi Azikiwe, Tafawa Balewa, Awolowo, Amadu Bello, Okpara, etc. in their resting places proudly say that this was the type of nation they desired and struggled for her independence? The answer obviously will be no. They will be crying in theirs’s graves and regretting to have struggled for a nation where the poor cannot feed; cannot go to school; and cannot go to hospital; and are homeless. These great men never prayed for a nation where the youths will graduate from school rather than get a job in their own country from the factories they built then, will rather line up in the embassies struggling for visas to ‘japa’ to Europe and America. They never prayed for a nation where every month, federating units would assemble in Abuja to share money like esusu organization. America that we copy from, states do not gather in Washington DC every month to share money, same as United Arab Emirates. To be honest, restructuring is a must, like I said earlier. Former president Jonathan confab did an excellent work which If implemented, will make Nigeria great again. Let us go back to it and adopt it hundred per cent as my formula for restructuring. All aspects of our governance should be reviewed, including constitution, procedure for elections, judiciary, police including the university where I work requires restructuring to develop human capital that can meet global needs.

What exactly do you see as the problem with Nigeria?

Leadership! Our major problem is Leadership. Right people and righteous people are not in the leadership of Nigeria. Biblically, when a righteous person is in power, the people rejoice, but the implication is that when the wrong person is in power or authority, the people suffer. This is the situation here. The country is blessed with everything required for life but lacks Leadership to provide direction and coordination. We need a leader with ideology to harness and unlock the untapped potentials., a leader that is out to serve and not rule. One who goes for the best and not blindfolded with nepotic and tribalistic tendencies. A leader that will manage the nation’s diversities. Such a leader will not rig election; such leader will not allow corruption to strike; such a leader will provide comfortable environments for all, both the rich and the poor to breathe. The leader will not think about himself or his party or his people but Nigeria. If not for bad Leadership, how will a country with numerous natural resources, allow poverty to rule it?  If not for bad Leadership, how will a nation with enormous fertile land be wallowing in hunger? if not for bad Leadership, how will a nation with both hydro and solar energy sources be bedeviled with darkness? If not for bad Leadership, how will human beings elected to office overlook the poverty in his constituency and accept SUV of 160 million Naira?  If not for  bad Leadership, how do we carry numerous delegates to Dubai to discuss climate change even when we don’t have serious climate and environmental problems in Nigeria? If not for bad Leadership, why are we not tapping from our talented and active youth population? Obviously, our problem is Leadership. Once we get Leadership right, everything will be right.

What then is the solution?

The solution is simple, let’s put Nigeria first and go for the best leaders in every aspect. Serious and advanced countries in the world like America move all over the world to buy the best brains. Such countries don’t compromise good brains in all aspect of their existence, be it politics, military, medical, technology, academics, etc.

But, in Nigeria, the major qualifications are tribalism and religion. Look at a country like the United Kingdom that is traditionally a Christian country, overlooked religion to elect a prime minister that is not a Christian. Their interest is performance. 


So far, how will you rate the performance of your state governor, Dr Alex Otti?

We are talking about Nigeria. If we get Nigeria right, the 36 states will be right. I don’t like discussing the performance of governors. It is left for the people of Abia people to assess the performance. The people’s judgement should be more objective.


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