Business

Abubakar: It’s time we address reality

Professor Sulaiman Abubakar, a former Minister of National Planning and currently the Director-General of National Institute for Legislative and Democratic Studies (NILDS), in this interview with SUCCESS NWOGU, speaks on a broad range of business and national economic issues

 

Power supply epilepsy has been a major challenge as businesses in Nigeria continue to groan. The Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) said its members spent about N143.29 billion on alternative power supply between 2019 and 2020.   From March 2022 till date, the national grid had collapsed five times. Is this not impeding FG’s industrialisation drive as well as stifling businesses, companies and individuals in Nigeria?

The epileptic power supply tends to defy all solutions and financials. But again, as long as the ruling class fail to take the right decisions,

issues of economic growth and development, issues that border on poverty, unemployment and survival of Nigerian people, things may not improve. From what the price of fuel was in 2015 to what it is today, as long as we fail to address this issue with sincerity and holistically as a country, so shall we keep on wallowing in this kind of abject neglect.

What you have said is known to a pupil in a primary school. When there is no power supply, you can not get anything done. When there is no power supply, you cannot fix infrastructure. When there is no power supply, the small-scale entrepreneurs can not get anything done.

When there is no power supply, the informal sector cannot thrive and when the informal sector cannot thrive, there can not be growth and development. It is a chain of networking. And that is why we are where we are today. As long as people reap from the importation of generators; as long as people believe that they are making money from the power sector, they are making money from the oil sector and they believe other people will go to blazes, it is a matter of days.

We do not pray for that time. But I do not pray that my children will take arms against me. This is an issue that the more you raise it, the more saddened you become. I believe that there is a need for God’s intervention and that intervention will come very soon.

In 2022, the unemployment rate in Nigeria is estimated to reach 33 per cent. This figure was projected at 32.5 per cent in the preceding year. Chronological data shows that the unemployment rate in Nigeria rose constantly in the past years. In the fourth quarter of 2020, over 33 per cent of the labour force was unemployed, according to the Nigerian methodology. How do we tackle this monster?

When you have unemployment, you are breeding poverty. And when you are breeding poverty and people are not working, they can not take care of thems e l v e s .

That may have implications for social security. It is a straight chain. It is a network. One crisis leads to another crisis. We address unemployment through policy framework and through political will. Our annual budget, what are they meant for? What are we planning for?

We have a lot of abandoned beautiful plans. What are we doing in the area of infrastructure? How do we address the issue of electricity? How do we address power generation? How do we address insecurity? Until we are able to take all these sectorial challenges, one by one, we are not heading on the progressive side. You can not create jobs when there is no power.

That cobbler, that carpenter, that bricklayer, and the vulcanizers need the power to work. When things are at the level they are now, there is nothing you can do. When diesel is being sold as it is sold now, how do we power factories and other companies we have? So these are issues. We have the issue of insecurity, people can no longer go to the farm. We have to take all these challenges one after the other.

As long as we abandon them and do not want to address them, it is a thing of crisis. It is a network. It is systemic. One that leads from one system to another. So we must address the issue of power, we must address the issue of insecu- r i t y, we must address the is- s u e of infrastructure. We must come out on clear terms. But above all, there must be that willingness on the side of the ruling class to address the problems of this country.

Transformation requires a h o l i s t i c view of where we are; It requires a holistic blueprint of where we are going and determin a –  yes-we are set to address this issue.’ We must come up with a vision to address these challenges. As long as we are at the level of followers, the level of the political class, and the level of the ruling class, we are paying lip service to all these.

It is a crisis that very soon might overwhelm us and I wonder how we are going to address them. It is getting too late. We know where the problems are and until we are ready to handle them as a nation, I do not think we can get anywhere.

Since 2018, Nigeria was ranked the poverty capital of the world. According to data from the World Poverty Clock, Nigeria now has over 87 million people living in poverty. This is despite the incredible human and material resources of the nation?

What is the way out? We need to look at our base, the product level. As long as we are only consuming and we are not producing, the poverty level will keep increasing. We will not be gathering foreign exchange and we will not be making revenue. As we keep on importing, we keep on borrowing from other nations to survive, we keep on looking to other nations to survive, and we will continue to wallow in poverty.

As long as we abandon labour or workers as the pivot of productivity, we can not get anywhere. Most of the expenditures are just to pay salaries and for consumption and are not geared toward production or infrastructure. We spend less of our annual budget on capital and more on personnel. As long as that is the nature of our economy, we can not get anywhere. We are thriving on poverty, and we are increasing the poverty level. We need to really look at industrialisation. How do we get our productive sector moving?

How do we see people/labour as pivotal to development? How do we get our youths energised into the productive sector? These graduates who are coming out from the universities and other higher institutions, how do we get them into the economic sector? That should be our priority.

As long as we neglect productivity and we do not see the relevance of manpower in us, the potential in our young ones, the potential in our workers, the potential in our labour; as long as we do not channel that labour into the productive level, we can not address the issue of poverty.

What are your achievements since you assumed duties as the Director-General of National Institute for Legislative and Democratic Studies (NILDS).

I was three years old on the saddle on June 3, 2022. The institute itself is a capacity- building institution for Nigerian legislatures and for critical stakeholders. Over the last 13 to 14 years of its existence, it has done a lot in the area of building the capacity of the parliament.

Since I took over three years ago, precisely on June 3 2019, we have tried to build on what my predecessor did, in terms of enhancing the capacity of the national and ECOWAS parliament. But one great or remarkable accomplishment I made, was a clear departure from the past as we have started to bring capacity-building services to the sub-national level.

Under my administration, much has been done in enhancing the capacities of the senators, members of the House of Representatives, and parliamentary staff through diverse technical interventions. We have also been conducting post-graduate programmes; research, publications and dialogues. We have also ensured the facilitation of parliamentary exchange visits between Nigeria and regional parliaments like the ECOWAS parliament.

 

Upon assumption, we observed that little has been done in building the capacity of the legislature at the state levels. So, we tried to go down to the sub-national levels by partnering with a lot of donor agencies. One of such is the KAS (Konrad Adenauer Stiftung) Foundation, United Nations Women (On The Issue of Gender Inclusivity), Westminster Foundation, UK, the European Union and many other donor agencies. How do we get the capacity of the state legislature enhanced?

How do we make sure that we are able to avail them of best practices across the globe in the areas of parliamentary studies, legislative procedures and practices? I can say with all sense of pride and responsibility, that in the last 3 years, we have been able to cover about 29 states out of 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory, (FCT) Abuja.

We have ensured that we get such training, workshops and other capacity programmes down to the state level, and even to the local government level. An example of such is the pilot studies on training for the Area Councils in Abuja which were carried out in 2019. Since then, you can see that the services of NILDS, the training capacity, and the training needs, which were mostly tailored needs, have been greatly enhanced.

 

One major achievement of the institute under my leadership is in the area of internal reforms. There are many internal reforms we have embarked upon by ensuring that systems and appropriate mechanisms are put in place where necessary. We run postgraduate programmes in partnership with the University of Benin (UNIBEN). We believe that the University of Benin is our sister university through which we run the various programme(s) and award certificates.

In spite of its previous success, we, however, needed to put up some structures that will beef up our academic content. So when I came on board, I initiated with the support of the Governing Council, the Academic Advisory Board comprising seven erudite professors across the country.

One professor is representing one geo-political zone and the Chairman of the Academic Advisory Board is Prof. Nuhu Yakubu, the former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Abuja. The board has been able to beef up our academic content, give advice on academic programmes, and serve as a broker between UNIBEN and the Institute. So far, it has achieved much in ensuring that our academic content is in line with the National Universities Commission (NUC) and some other regulatory agencies in the country.

Through the Academic Advisory Board, we were able to get our Governing Council to approve the need for the core staff in the academic department to be elevated. One of such is that an academic staff/research fellow could rise to the level of a Professor in the Institute.

So without going through any other university, without deferring to any other institution, my staff now under the tutelage of the Academic Advisory Board and with the approval of the Governing Council could rise to be a reader and a professor. We are almost at par with other academic and research institutions in the country. In 2019, I met an institute with four departments. As part of the restructuring, I believed that an institute of this nature needed to go beyond four departments for us to effectively carry out our mandate.

So I made a presentation to the Governing Council and I can tell you that today, we have nine departments. These nine departments are Democracy and Governance; Training and International Cooperation; Economics and Social Studies; Finance and Accounts, Administration and Human Resources; Library; Internal Audit and Legislative Support Services.

These nine departments were approved by the Governing Council. These are as against what it used to be in the past. In the past, we had Research and Training, Legislative Support Service, Finance and Administration and Democratic Studies. Today we have nine departments that support the DG in running the administration   

The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) in its Consumer Price Index (CPI) and Inflation Report May 2022 said Nigeria’s inflation rate increased to 17.71 per cent on a year-on-year basis in May. What are the solutions?

Inflation has to do with using more money to buy fewer goods. And we keep on using more money to buy fewer goods. The same bottle of water you bought last year at the rate of N20, you are buying it today at the rate of N300. That is inflation. As long as we do not produce, and we only consume; as long as the only thing we can do is import, it dwindles our foreign exchange earning.

Dollar remains constant. It is our currency that is depreciating because we spend money out and nobody spends money with us here. It has to do with our economic planning. It has to do with our economic policy. It has to do with what we put on either fiscal or monetary policy. How do we help out industries? How do we help our factories? How do we fix our infrastructure?

How do we help our youths? How do we grow our agriculture? How do we make sure that people have access to their farms? How do we make certain incentives available to the younger ones to be on their own? It is a holistic sectoral matter which we need to look into. How do we look into the issue of electricity?

As long as we cannot produce anything on our own within the country, inflation will keep rising. Even tomatoes now, we have to import from the Niger Republic. We have the land here. Agrarian farming is there. We have very fertile land.

Even fertiliser we have to import. These are issues. As long as we keep importing, without exporting and we keep on spending on the foreign products, there is no way we can limit the inflationary trends in the economy. I think it is the same sectoral crisis that we need to address.

Much grammar will not help us. The reality is known to all of us. It is high time we address the reality and call a spade a spade.

For some years now, Nigeria has not conducted a census, not knowing our population and the demographic parameters, is it good for this country? Is it not affecting us in the area of planning?

It is not good for this country. Normally we are supposed to conduct a census every ten years in line with the United Nations recommendation. The last time we had a census was in 2006. When you do not conduct a census, you do not know how many you are and you can not plan for your country. You can not plan for education, youth, health and other things.

Every nation must know how many they are in terms of population and in terms of shelter. When you do not have it, you do not know how many shelters and infrastructure to make available for your country.

But one of the issues is that as long as there is no law, adhering to the United Nation’s recommendation may be difficult. It is one thing for the United Nation to say that each nation must have a census every ten years and another thing for each nation to domesticate it. Every country must domesticate the UN prescription with a law. Not having a census is not a good thing. We need to look at it.

But there are challenges to conducting a census now. How do you access the nooks and crannies of the northern part of the country? How do we access the nooks and crannies in some parts of the country where security challenges are rearing their ugly heads?

What about the issue of infrastructure? What about the issue of electricity? There are a lot of things we have to look at and do. Funding perhaps is another challenge.

Yes, funding for the census should not come from the Federal Government alone. By UN standard, it is donor agencies 50 per cent, the home government 50 per cent. But again, do we have the requirements that may come from the Federal Government? These are issues that we need to look into. Though they said they are going to digitalise the census process this year, how are they going to do it?

 

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