No end to Nigeria’s economic crisis unless… – Chartered Accountant

Our guest today is Sir Temple Ogueri Onyeukwu, social crusader, philanthropist, opinion analyst, Chartered Accountant, politician and retired Air Force Officer.  He spoke to Christian Voice on diverse issues, including the state of the nation, the economy and politics among others.  Excerpts:-
What is your take on the clamour for restructuring of the country?
The clamour for restructuring is not to break up Nigeria. The clamour is to make Nigeria work more effectively and bring out the ingenuity in the various federating units. Reduce the powers concentrated at the centre and devolve same to the federating units. As presently structured, Nigeria is very clumsy and cannot work. It has not worked since the imposition of the Unitary System by the military and can never work. Unless we restructure Nigeria will continue to have motion without movement and perpetually remain a country of great potentials. Restructuring is the key to unlocking the potentials. Restructuring appears the only key to avoid an imminent break up of Nigeria. It is the avenue to avoid Nigeria slipping into another Ruwanda. With fratricidal war on all fronts. Ironically the North will benefit more than the rest of the country in the eventual case of a restructured Nigeria due to the massive land mass and the Agricultural potentials of the region.
It appears the agitation for Biafra is undying. Why?
The Agitation for the republic of Biafra will continue till the Nigerian state institutionalizes Justice, Equity and fairness to all regions of the federating unit. The main cause for the agitation is the injustice the Igbos have continued to suffer in Nigeria. The Igbos have and continue to be the only group in Nigeria that believes in the indissolubility of the country. However where ever they go in their so called country, they are persecuted.. When someone in America, Britain or Holland blasphem the Holy Prophet Mohammed, Igbos in Kano, Kaduna, Kastina and other Northern states are slaughtered in their thousands and the federal government does not do anything. This trend has been going on for decades.
IPOB is not agitating for a peaceful country. They are agitating for a Nigeria where Justice, Equity and fairness reigns supreme. They are agitating for a Nigeria where the federating units are equal partners, and are allowed to develop at their pace instead of the present configuration where you have the slave masters and the slaves in the same country.
The spirit of Biafra is the spirit of Justice, Equity and fairness. The agitation cannot stop until these ingredients that guarantee peace are entrenched in the governance of the nation. No force of arms can stop these agitations until the needful is done. The warfare between Nigeria and Biafra has moved to the spiritual realm and we need spiritual solution to it. Spiritual solutions of Justice, equity, fairness, truthfulness, honesty, commitment and accommodation. The agitation for Biafra has continued because the Ibos born after the war are suffering the same injustice that prompted the war.
Hunger in the land and massive retrenchment in offices, don’t you think the government should declare a state of Emergency on the economy?
State of the Economy – Rapid depreciation of the Naira, sky rocketing inflation due to high MPR by the CBN, No indices to indicate economic recovery in the medium term, drastic weakening of key production sectors, increasing closure of the real sector, infrastructural decay, deterioration of unemployment situation, disturbing insecurity and socio economic conditions. The Nigerian economy will definitely get worse. Because the foundation of the economy is faulty. The foundation is predicated on sustaining the manufacturing companies in UK, USA and other European and Asian countries. Nigerian economy is the market for all these overseas manufacturers. Keeping their factories working and unemployment minimal. The recovery is a distant future with sound economic policies today. The government must critically review our liberal trade policy with a view to excluding more luxury items from benefiting from the official foreign exchange. One may ask how many Americans, British and other foreign nationals are studying in our universities? Why should the government subsidize the education of Nigerians who rejected our universities to study abroad by allowing them access to foreign exchange at the official rate? Why is the government not willing to grant federal universities autonomy which requires them to raise their operational costs from the fees they generate? Why are we tied to policies from abroad that have no local peculiarities and are divorced of our environmental dictates? We must go back to the drawing board. Most of the laws in our country today were inherited at independence in 1960. These laws have been reviewed several times in UK yet our national assembly are busy fighting over juicy committee appointments. Where do we go from here? When there are no enabling laws to guide the process of re-engineering the economy to the path of sustainable growth? The President, National Assembly, and the Judiciary must work harmoniously to proffer lasting solution to the economic recession. Whether the government declares a state of emergency on the economy or not, we are already in that state. The question is, what is the way forward?
What is your take on insecurity?
The solution has to be taken holistically. First the National Assembly has to amend the constitution to enshrine the establishment of state police. This will enable states or Geopolitical zones establish their own police apart from the federal police, secondly the National Assembly has to pass a law liberalizing the possession of fire arms by all citizens who can afford it and over 25 years of age. Thirdly, the country must adopt true federalism, fourthly the government at every level from federal to the state and local government must as a matter of policy make justice, equity and fairness their fundamental guiding principles. We must go back to Aburi. This is the solution to either Boko Harram, cattle herdsmen, Niger Delta militancy, Biafra renaissance movement and other forms of insurgency – threatening the unity of the country. Government must make deliberate effort to create employment and stipulate the economy. The central Bank of Nigeria must reduce the monetary policy rate to not more than 5% and the lending rate to not more than 7% to ensure affordable credit is made available to the real sector to stimulate industrial growth and productive activities which in turn will ensure long term economic growth.
How is your local government?
Mbaitoli local Government Area is the second largest local government in this country with monthly allocations commensurate to its size and population. However, the entire local government has been cut off from the rest of the state due to extremely bad roads. The roads can pass for the worst in Africa. For example Obazu a community in Mbieri is less than 3km from Orji – Okigwe Road but you cannot access the community again. The inhabitants have no representative in the government. The Deputy Governor who is from a neighboring village and whose Alma matta is Obazu community Grammar School appears helpless. The school built through community effort has been closed for four years now for reasons best known to the government. It is worthy of note that without Mbaitoli votes, no governor can emerge in Imo state and Mbaitoli supported APC in the last election voting against their brothers and sisters who contested on other platforms. WE CALL ON THE GOVERNMENT TO LET US KNOW THE OFFENCE WE HAVE COMMITTED THAT HAS WARRANTED THIS MONUMENTAL HATRED, NEGLIGENCE AND PUNISHMENT.
Economic diversification
This is the key to sustainable growth in the short, medium and long term. Economic diversification should not be limited to Agriculture alone. NIGERIA IS BLESSED WITH THE SECOND LARGEST DEPOSIT OF BITUMEN IN THE WORLD. WE MUST URGENTLY TAP INTO THIS GOLD MINE. Taxes must be streamlined and double taxation should be eliminated from the system. Many micro and medium enterprises that constitute the engine of economic growth are currently under heavy burden of multiplicity of taxes. In some states every ministry, department or agency has a particular tax or levy businesses must pay. All they do is to send a bill to the house of Assembly of the state. The house passes the bill and the governor assents to it. Every business becomes liable as long as you are operating in that environment. The arbitrariness has become so much that very soon, micro, small and medium enterprises will be nonexistent. That will spell more economic hardship than we are currently facing.
When do you think the economy will bounce back and come out of the present recession?
As I said earlier on, the foundation of the economy is faulty. It therefore requires total restructuring and re-engineering of the economic fundamentals to bring the economy out of the present recession. It will get worse before it starts getting better. So everyone must tighten his belt and look inwards. Made in Nigeria products must be patronized. Those whose businesses are mainly importation will witness slow business and in some cases, due to lack of purchasing power, there will be a glut in the market. They must start thinking of exiting imports business and investing in local manufacturing of those imported goods. Government must on their part provide the basics for sustainable industrial growth like electricity,  elimination of double and in some cases triple taxation, provision of good roads, revive the mortgage industry and make it viable to enable workers own houses and pay installmentally. The environment of business must be such that will encourage investment and not a disincentive to investors. We must utilize any opportunity resulting from any increase in the prize of oil, spend prudently and save for the rainy day.
The present and past administrations are trading blames on who is to blame for the economic recession. What is your take on this?
We must know that the blame game is an escapist strategy. The military in 1966 blamed the politicians of corruption and that resulted in the first coup. The Shagari administration continued to blame the military until the military sacked it. The Obasanjo administration continued to blame the military. When Yaradua/Jonathan came in, the blame game continued. Now it is the time of President Buhari and the buck passing has not abated. Governance is a continuum and when you assume the mantle of leadership at any level, you right the wrongs of your predecessor, continue and build on his strong points and innovate your policies to set the pace of your administration. President Buhari blaming former President Jonathan or vice versa will not help us. What we require now is for the administration to be focused and build sustainable foundation for economic growth, that will guarantee the welfare, peace and security of Nigerians in the short, medium and long term. Obasanjo inherited less than $4bn in foreign reserves. Buhari inherited about $30bn in foreign reserves.
Do you support the War on corruption? How should the government spend the loot recovered?
The war on financial mismanagement, profligacy and outright looting of the treasury is commendable but must be expanded to cut across political party lines. At present some may interpret it as a political persecution of members of the opposition political party. However when we talk of corruption, it involves everybody as a result of our orientation. The messenger, Clerk, Cleaner, Supervisor, Assistant Directors, Director, Permanent Secretaries, Directors General and even Ministers are involved in one form of corruption or the other. That is the essence of the change begins with you mantra of this administration. We must all help ourselves by imbibing the fear of God in our dealings. In my candid opinion the government should channel the recovered loot on economically viable infrastructure that will continue to generate revenue for the state  take one road in each geopolitical zone, build it and put tollgates on the road.
Do you think the president has a viable economic team or should he assemble  another?
The problem is not with the team. Nobody has a magic wand to turn the economy around. The problem is with the foundation. The Bible in Psalm 11:3 says, “When the Foundation is faulty, what can the righteous do?” we must go back to our roots. China took some extremely drastic measures to get to where they are today. India took very difficult measures to reach where they are today. We must be prepared to face more economic challenges to develop. However we must know our destination. We must be focused. WE HAVE LIVED A FALSE LIFESTYLE FOR LONG CONSUMING WHAT WE CANNOT PRODUCE AND SPENDING UNEARNED MONEY. THIS IS THE TIME TO ADJUST AND WEAR CONTENTMENT AS OUR CLOTHES.
The menace of cattle herdsmen has been the bane of Agricultural development. What do you advise?
Cattle herdsmen are businessmen. They have no right, moral, legal or otherwise to graze their cattle on people’s farmlands. The owners of the farmlands are also either peasant farmers or businessmen. They have all the right to protect their farms to enable them continue in business. Ironically the farmers are not armed but the cattle herdsmen are said to be armed sometimes with sophisticated weapons. They have killed many farmers and sacked many villages. This is unacceptable. Infact this is part of the reason why the National Assembly should promulgate laws liberalizing the possession of firearms by Nigerians of 25years and above. It is essentially for self defence.
Recently a herdsman was jailed 2years in Ekiti State for grazing his cattle on farmland. Do you support other states to emulate Ekiti State?
The Eikit state house of Assembly has passed a law prohibiting the grazing of cattle on farmlands. The governor has assented to the bill. It has become a law in that state. Consequently even if the herdsman is the owner of the farmland, he should not contravene the law. As business men, it is proper they establish ranches instead of grazing their cattle on people’s farmlands. The cattle herdsmen have continued to kill and terrorize communities especially in the South East. The case of Enugu State is very fresh. This should be condemned by all Nigerians. Other state houses of Assembly must make laws to protect the wellbeing and security of their citizens including their means or livelihood.
Thank you for your time.
Thank you sir.

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