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2023: Why Nigerians must concentrate on the weakness of presidential aspirants and not their strength – Omotola

2023: Why Nigerians must concentrate on the weakness of presidential aspirants and not their strength – Omotola

Lai Omotola, group managing director, Masters Reality International Concepts Limited (MRICL), chancellor of E-Boot Camp Limited, and political commentator, in this interview told AMAKA ANAGOR-EWUZIE his fears about the 2023 general election, the handling of the nation’s economy, the mistakes of successive governments, the state of the economy, among others. Excerpts:

From what you have seen in the last few years, what can you say about the socio-political environment of Nigeria?

The year 2022 is a pre-election year and it will be more of politics than economy. In fact, it has commenced already. To every succeeding government there will always be liability and assets. A new election is coming but we need to ask the one that is going, have we done any good to you? Are you better and have you gotten any dividend of democracy? So, if you answer in the negative, then, we need to ask ourselves how we got here. What I have realised is that whenever we want to choose our leaders, we concentrate on the strength of the leader without looking at the weakness of the leader to know if we can live with the weakness. This is because that which you complain about that he or she is doing is actually the person’s weakness. So, is either we look for someone that can complement that weakness or it remains void.

From 1960 till today, every successive leader has been worse than the predecessor. If they bring Abacha years back to Nigeria, is a miracle; the whole country will turn upside down because we know what dollar was and how much we were buying petrol those days. But in Abacha’s time, we could not wait for him to go and when he died, we said yes, it was the hand of God.

So, from 1960 till now, it has been a trend downwards. The question is, what is the guarantee that the person coming is going to be better than the person going? That is why they are saying that it is only when Buhari leaves that we will appreciate him. That is not a prayer that we should say amen to. The prayer should be, may we never appreciate him forever because for us to appreciate him, it means that the person coming is going to do worse.

Let us look at the election year dispassionately. It is unfortunate that today there is no clear sense of leadership because every ethnic warlord is singing a different song. Abuja is the centre and the entire six ethnic warlords are polling away from Abuja and it will take a time when the centre cannot hold.

Everyone who is a leader from every region talks extremely for his region and they have carved out a territory for themselves. Those are the kind of leaders we have today. This means that Federalism in the whole sense of it cannot actually work because of our behavioural sense. We are more ethnic than being Nigerian. Everybody is tweeting from the centre and we need statesmen that when they speak, they will not speak to address a section but to address the whole country. Until we get a statesman that will address everybody in different parts of the country at the same time, things will not be said to be okay.

What solution do you proffer that will deal with issues of insecurity and banditry in the country to enable Nigeria have peaceful election in 2023?

We cannot have peaceful election in 2023. Is not a prophecy because whatever you sow, you will reap. The storm is gathering and stakeholders are not showing any sign of conceding to anybody.

In the issue of insecurity, it can be solved if there is sincerity. Nigeria is divided into wards that make up local governments and every local government has what is called a King or district heads. If government makes security local by giving the local people the right to protect themselves, if any stranger enters the community, the people will know.

But when you have institutions that are feeding fat from issues of insecurity in Nigeria, and they see the situation as revenue creator, it becomes another challenge. We say that we are one Nigeria but some people cannot go back to their villages because kidnappers are on the road. So, the country is already divided. The insecurity is challenging our lifestyle such that people are always in fear when they are on the road but our leaders don’t see it that way because of the money they are making from it. So, it is the sincerity to solve the insecurity that is not there.

Read also: 2023: Okechukwu asks Tinubu to drop presidential ambition for Igbos

What is your take on the increasing external borrowing by the government?

The speed at which the Nigerian government borrows money is a lazy man approach. Borrowing can never be the only solution but is lazy, sweet and quick; that is why our people do not want to go through the hard way. In fact, a legislation should be passed in the National Assembly that in the next 20 years, Nigeria will not borrow because all the money that we are going to borrow abroad are already in people’s houses locked up in their reservoirs, tanks and banks. The money in Nigeria can feed the whole of Africa.

Nigeria is a nation where a young musician will say he needs N200 million in one hour and that same nation will exceed it to N250 million, after which the nation will go and borrow. It is more of curse than a situation and this is because we have lost deep thinking and if we do not do critical thinking, we are going to be a slave to people that are doing critical thinking.

The Nigerian government has refused to be pro-business. Any government that is spending money on infrastructure is wasting its time. The government needs to spend money on business, not infrastructure. There is not one single business in Nigeria that is global. The only global business in Nigeria is church. If the church can do this then, every business in Nigeria can do same but that remains a tall order. Imagine if we have over 10,000 businesses that are global. There are two global companies in Sweden that is adding so much to their economy and they are Ericson and Volvo. But we are not global in anything except. If we are global, it means that all our businesses outside the shores will repatriate their funds back here and it will lower the exchange rate. Exchange rate goes high due to the high number of people purchasing dollar but if the number of people selling dollar is high, it will lower the rate.

This country must first decongest, over 10,000 youths must leave this country not to the entire globe not to go and study but to go and do business. That is what the Chinese are doing. That is the way to progress and not that we want to go and read. What do you want to read that you cannot read in Nigeria or not in the Internet? Going to read outside Nigeria means that you are going to spend dollars over there. Our migration should be that business-oriented because we must repatriate back to the country when we do business.

Are you satisfied with the policies of government as they affect the economy?

The economy remains very vital to our welfare and indeed affects all aspects of our lives. This is why everybody wants to know how the economy is doing. There are certain indices that people look at to how the economy is doing. What are those indices for the economy? Number one is inflation, which has continued to increase and it is now 15.99 percent. Inflation of double-digit means that we need to raise serious alarm.

Another one is exchange rate which is at N575 to dollar and you look at what was the exchange rate in 2015. Then, you look at the size of the economy in terms of the GDP which is at $440 billion. This for a giant of Africa is little. When you look at the budget size for 2022 is N16 trillion. The question is how are we going to spend the budget? The government is saying that there is going to be a deficit N6.3 trillion out of the N16 trillion.

What is deficit? It means that we have a budget but we do not have enough money to cover it and we are going to borrow N6.3 trillion either from domestic or foreign. So, that begins to raise a flag. We are even budgeting beyond what we produce, which is a no from day one but they say we need to continue that way otherwise the economy will shut down.

When one looks at the budget to find out what we are spending money on, you will find out that out of the N16trillion, we are spending N6.8 trillion on recurrent expenditure, which is close to 30 percent of the budget. On personnel cost, we will be spending N4.11trillion. Then, the question is which government parastatal in Nigeria can one enjoy excellent customer care service. Can one have a good experience at General Hospital, Passport Office or Police despite the amount spent annually on personnel cost?

Another question is- where is this money coming from? The budget says that 80 percent of the funding will come from oil. This means that for the past 60 years that we have been talking about diversification, we still remain in the same place.

Nigerian oil still provides 95 percent of foreign exchange and 80 percent of budgetary revenue. This means that Nigeria still remains a mono-economy. So, 20 years of democracy plus 32 years of military dictatorship, has not shifted us forward but we have gone backward.

Consumer Price Index is the purchasing power of the people. What is the cost of bag of rice, beans and bread? Are they on the increase coupled with the inflation? This shows that the economy is on a shaky ground and government that is coming and going will always leave a liability. If we look at this economy very well, nobody should be anxious to takeover if that person is truthful to himself if he wants to respect his name. This is because as the economy seems today, the best the most ingenuous person can do is to let it stay where it is today for the next four years.

If it is the most intelligent human being, the person should ensure that the economy does not go down nor go up but allow it to maintain a stay. Our borrowing is eating seriously into our revenue and our revenue is not increasing, nobody will tell us where we are going. Now, we have a debt of N38trillion and in 2022, we are going to borrow another N6.3 trillion to add to it when the total capitalization of Nigerian stock exchange is N28.2 trillion. This means that by the time we finish on 2023, we should be comfortably be on the N50 trillion. When you look at how to service that N50 trillion, it will mean that the people that must takeover leadership must not be normal people that we see every day.

We all know what our problems are. We must produce what we want to eat, wear and our inability to do that is what has brought us here. This is why we see more of rent taker businesses than the productive businesses.

For instance, when you look at what contribute the N28 trillion of Nigerian capitalisation, you will see that it is more about banking than manufacturing. This has made the country very porous such that anybody can come into the country and begin to dismember it in terms of capital flight because there is no safeguard.

For the economy to turnover and change, Nigeria must be looking not only for an ideas man but for an executioner that can say that the Niger Bridge will be ready on October 1, 2022, and it will be so. An executioner that will say that the three refineries in Warri, Port Harcourt and Kaduna will be ready by 2023, and it will be.

Until Nigeria finds that executioner, our journey will still continue to manifest the way it is. It is now about executing ideas than giving talk shows, and seminars. We usually say that leadership is the problem of this country but we have now realised that human capital drain is totally on the increase and worse than leadership. This means that there is a vacuum of knowledge. Scarcity of knowledge is one of the reasons why we are where we are today.

As an entrepreneur, what are the challenges facing manufacturing business in Nigeria?

Manufacturing today is extremely difficult even the big ones are finding it difficult because the cost of production in Nigeria still remains times 50 the cost of production in China and India. The first major challenge of manufacturing is electricity. Even when you have electricity for 24 hours, it is too expensive.

Number two is logistics, which has become a nightmare. People go through a lot to move goods from Apapa to Maiduguri. This means that moving products across the nation is a trouble.

The number three thing is funding. The cost of funding is very high and beyond reach as businesses pay as high as 25 percent while in other countries of the world, cost of funding is at 5 percent. This is why loans in Nigeria usually go bad because the cost is high.