• Thursday, May 23, 2024
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How Nigerian economy can exit present economic recession – Financial Expert

Nto

Philip Nto is the provost, Abia State College of Education (Technical) Arochukwu. A financial expert, World Bank consultant, former lecturer of Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike and a former Abia State commissioner for Finance and Economic Planning. In this interview with our correspondent, UDOKA AGWU in Umuahia, he spoke on the current economic recession in the country; how to wriggle out of it; education for employment policy of Abia State government and other national issues. Excerpts:

Last quarter of 2020, Nigeria’s economy slumped again into recession but the Minister for Finance and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed has told Nigerians that the country would come off the recession by first quarter this year. What is your take on this issue?

Welcome my brother; I want you to know that some of us are worried with the situation on ground. We may recall that last year was a turbulent year for the whole world and Nigeria in particular. The first and second quarters were bedeviled by Coronavirus pandemic, which made the country to pull into a lockdown all round.

After that, we had another national issue, which was the #EndSARS protest, which also caused serious problem to the economy. After that, we are also having insecurity problems. All these things are not good for the economy of this nation. It is not a palatable story for Nigeria to be in recession, given all the numerous endowment we have in Nigeria. But, our problem is that we have refused to develop some of these things. We have serious human capital development. The country is seriously endowed with human capital, we are seriously endowed with fertile land for agriculture, we are also blessed with a lot of mineral resources; but our problem is corruption. Our problem is the utilisation of all these things that we are blessed with. Take a look at the year 2021 budget, where also, 30 percent of the budget is funded with borrowing. It doesn’t speak well of an economy. An economy that is blessed with so many resources, blessed with human resources, mineral resources, yet we are borrowing over 30 percent to fund our 2021 budget. So, it means that if a serious action is not taken, it may be difficult to come out of this recession. Our prayer is, let it not lead to depression, because that one is more dangerous.

What are the solutions that you as a financial expert can proffer to get the country out of this problem?

Like I always say, the way out is, one, we must look at our security. The insecurity problem will never allow us to attract foreign investors. We have the population, which is a very big asset and that our population which is an asset, goes a long way to tell about our market size, because when you have a population of over 200 million, it means that the market size will also be large. So, what you need to do, is just to organise the security architecture of the country in a manner that foreign investors will have serious confidence in what to do here. When they have serious confidence in the country, they will come and invest and it will lead to an increase in employment, our GDP will increase, the standard of living will increase and naturally, we will come out of recession. So, to tackle this economic problem, you must first of all tackle the security challenges. If you go to the Northwest, you have the problem of banditry; you go to the Northeast, Boko Haram; you come to the North Central, Abuja, Kaduna axis and also Southeast and South-south, kidnapping.

That wouldn’t augur well for an economy that is trying to come out of recession, it will not! So, the best thing is to first of all, fight insecurity problem. Once we get our security right, investors will come because our population is a serious attraction to the foreign investors. The founding fathers laid the foundation of this country on unity, peace and progress. With unity you can achieve progress. When there is unity, there is bound to be peace, which in turn leads to economic progress. The peace can only be gotten through social justice and with that also, you can achieve economic prosperity. So, given that, for us to achieve economic development in this country, there must be unity. All the zones must have faith in the other. The Igbos must have faith in the Hausas, the Hausas must have faith in the Igbos. The Igbos must have faith in the Yorubas, the Yorubas must have faith in the Igbos. All the major ethnic groups and the minor ones must believe in one another. It is only when we believe that all of us should stay together as a sovereign state that is when we can now say, okay, how do we progress? But looking at what is happening, it may be difficult to achieve economic prosperity unless the security situation is handled.

When did you assume office as the provost of ASCETA, what did you meet on ground, and what is the present status of the College?

When I took over the mantle of leadership of the Abia State College of Education (Technical) Arochukwu on March 3rd, 2016, we inherited myriad of problems, ranging from decayed infrastructure to low students’ enrolment, to staff that were seriously demotivated; that is the staff with low morale. We also met an environment that was not taken care of, in a manner that will make it befitting for human habitation; an institution that never operated within the framework of the regulatory agency. There was no accreditation conducted for a period of over 13 years before I took over. Also, the students never obtained certificates after graduation right from the inception of the school and so many problems. So, those are the things I inherited. Like I always say, my appointment marked a serious turn around. The College by now might have been dead and buried, if not my appointment by the Governor of Abia State, Okezie Ikpeazu. I have done first term and in that first term, the narrative changed. The story of the institution changed, that made the governor to give me another opportunity, the second term, to consolidate on the gains we recorded, among which include: the development of infrastructure. We have erected so many buildings, like the College library which never existed, which I may say is the best in the Southeast. I mean when compared with other Colleges of Education. We also erected befitting buildings for School of Arts and Social Sciences; for School of Science Education; for School of Education itself and School of Business Education. We erected also, a befitting auditorium for the College. We are also undergoing a landscaping. Outside that, we have also reorganised the academic infrastructure in a way that people that passed through the institution will be marketable. Like I said, before I took over, the institution never underwent accreditation. We also, immediately within the first term in office, invited the regulatory agency with the help of the governor, Ikpeazu. We were able to invite them to come and conduct accreditation. It is important to use this opportunity to inform the general public that all the programmes (above 20) presented; all of them passed through. They got full accreditation. Also, because of the things we are putting in place, our students’ enrolment has been increasing. All the problems we inherited, we have touched on all of them, to make sure that the story changed.

What is your take on Abia economy and Governor Okezie Ikpeazu’s administration?

I find it difficult to answer a question of this nature, given that I am part of the administration of Governor Ikpeazu, because, anything I say, the critics will say, you are already part of it. And it is like asking me to score myself in an exam that I wrote during my undergraduate or postgraduate period. But, having said that, I may raise some critical issues or critical areas our government and that of Governor Ikpeazu has done well, which the opposition, even the people that may not like him because of his face, will see that he has actually performed. One, I will start it with my own college of education. Like I said, even our detractors in the state and in the host community, have seen what we have done in Arochukwu and in the College Of Education. There was no infrastructure when I took over. People can go there to see for themselves, what we have done. We give credit to Governor Ikpeazu. I said that the College never underwent accreditation, Ikpeazu funded it. People may say that what we have achieved in the College was as a result of the fund that we got from TETFUND, but he (Ikpeazu) gave us free hand to handle the disbursement. If you go to some states, you see governors interfering with the activities and utilisation of the TETFUND and this most often makes the project to fail. But, in our own, he gave us free hand, so that is why I always give credit to him. Assuming he interfered, one, I may not survive as the Provost and eventually, an incompetent person might go there and may not actualise all the things we achieved within that period. Talk about funding of the institution, just only in December last year, we got three months arrears, even when many states were unable to pay salaries, he paid us three months. I may say, since the inception of that institution, that was the first time the staff of that College went home with salaries for their Christmas. So, the detractors of Ikpeazu can verify this. They are things you can verify, they are not mere speculation. You can ask the staff or go to the college to see things for yourself. I have the pictures of how the College was looking before I took over and then you now do a comparison to know whether Governor Ikpeazu is working or not.

Let me come out of the College, it should not also be forgotten that Abia State has consecutively come first in SSCE because of Gov. Ikpeazu’s education policies and reforms. Talk about Enyimba Economic City, which is adjudged to be the best economic policy in this country. That particular policy, when fully implemented (because it has taken off) has the capacity to create over 500,000 jobs. Do we have up to 500,000 people looking for jobs in Abia State? The answer will be no. Which means it will also create jobs for people living in the nearby states. People always compare Aba as a commercial city with Lagos. You know Aba suffered serious destruction during the Biafra-Nigeria civil war, which Lagos didn’t experience between 1967 and 1970. What Aba passed through is what Gov. Ikpeazu is still trying to rebuild. Move round the communities that surround Aba and see the level of road infrastructure. It is not the Federal Government project, it is Governor Ikpeazu project, he is the one doing it, geared towards the realisation of the Enyimba Economic City. For you to talk about Enyimba Economic City; there must be road infrastructure around the Aba area, which means, people from nearby states can easily access Aba. Right now, you can easily connect Akwa Ibom State through Obingwa; you can also connect Imo State in less than an hour; you can connect Anambra State in less than an hour, thirty minutes. You can connect Ebonyi State too, which makes the Enyimba Economic City a very viable one to the South East and South-South. You know Aba is a commercial city, and as a commercial city, whatever is produced in Aba can easily be exported through the Onne wharf and the deep sea port being constructed in Akwa Ibom State.

So, Governor Ikpeazu is a visionary leader. He is a generational thinker that sees tomorrow. All these things he is doing now are things our children and children’s children will reap not the immediate generation. People want things that can benefit them instantly but as a generational thinker, he is not supposed to think about now, he is supposed to think about tomorrow. He is not like the other politicians, who just think about now, now, now. That is why people like the late Sam Mbakwe, Michael Okpara are still being remembered today, because all of them were generational thinkers. Gov. Ikpeazu wants to be like Okpara and Mbakwe, who were also thinking about their generation. So, the people that will remember him will be the coming generation not those that are already competing politically with him.

Talk about his Education for Employment programme; that is a very good policy, which many people that criticise him don’t even understand. We have incorporated it seriously into our own curriculum in Abia State College of Education (Technical) Arochukwu. This education for employment is what will help a graduate to do something independently for his or herself. You start to create jobs or it will make you to be employable. You find out that the graduates we used to raise before, when they finished, they started carrying files up and down looking for white-collar jobs. That is not the kind of graduates, Gov. Ikpeazu is talking about.

He is talking about graduates that are employable, graduates that can finish from the higher institution, get established and employ others. He commissioned all the secondary schools and all tertiary institutions to incorporate skills acquisition into what you are doing. In our College, no matter the course you are studying, you must learn one skill or the other, with that, unemployment rate will go down and the standard of living will go up. That is the policy of Gov. Ikpeazu and that is the brain behind the Education for Employment programme.