• Thursday, May 23, 2024
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Nigeria can’t achieve food security because there’s warfare going on – Agbakoba

Nigeria can’t achieve food security because there’s warfare going on – Agbakoba

Olisa Agbakoba is a senior advocate of Nigeria (SAN) and a regular commentator on national issues. In this interview with Zebulon Agomuo GOMUO, Editor, he spoke on a number of issues ranging from the naira rebound, to the steps the government must take to make the recovery sustainable, to the danger of government security agencies working at cross-purposes, and to the negative implication of the continued insecurity across the country in relation to food security in the country. He also urged President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, whose administration will be one year next month, to engage the “throttle” and “accelerate.” Excerpts:

Some critics say that the naira rebound is a fluke. What advice do you have for the Federal Government to make in stabilizing the currency a sustainable recovery process?

It is very simple. Broadly speaking, there has to be an aggressive economic plan that is executed with a sense of emergency. We are an open market. Everyone comes and dumps goods here; so, we argued for the last 10 years with the late Ambassador Osakwe who was the first trade negotiator. The Nigerian policy makers don’t understand the importance of trade. If they did, they would not sideline the office of the trade negotiator who I prefer to call trade ambassador. That’s number one thing. Why did Britain, in my view, leave the European Union? It was because they felt there was a trade imbalance; and that they were not gaining anything by continuing to be in that Union. Whether that is so or not, would be seen. But it was a trade decision. There has to be a benefit. You know, when Donald Trump came and all the phone companies- Apple and others- were flooding China, and he said, you can do all you like with China, but when you come back, your duties will be 25 to 40 percent; immediately they stopped. They stopped because they saw a president willing to protect the market. We have to protect our market. We can’t be a dumping ground for everybody. So, Nigeria is a borderless country where everybody comes and dumps things. So, Peter Obi’s touch line, “from consumption to production” is the perfect policy solution. If that “from consumption to production” were to hold firm in all the sectors, you will see the result. The answer is simple; if there were an articulated National Economic Policy that says “Nigeria First” and government really pursues and implements it, you would see the result. It would be very obvious whatever sector you may think about. Look at the North; the North is a massive agricultural terrain but nobody can put in, say $2billion because all the land is small holdings. To then acquire land is to go and read what President Roosevelt did in the 19s when he had a top agricultural Minister who understood what it was. Therefore, he went from smallholding to mechanized industrial agriculture. That will drop the prices of food; it is not to say you want to import rice from China, or the one that Emefiele did -Rice pyramid. So, we really need to move from “conception to production” so that we can see the things growing- local tomatoes; local onions, local rice, local yam, local everything- local hospitals, etc, the prices will go down; but not to sit in Abuja and keep making policy statements without backing it. If you ask me; President Tinubu’s policy statements were refreshing because they were different from Buhari’s and president Tinubu’s policy statements were almost akin to what Peter Obi and Atiku said.

I think the difference is that President Tinubu needs to pick up speed to understand that there is serious suffering in the land. In order to pick up speed, he has to hold ministers accountable. The ministers that I would be proud of today are the Attorney General, Festus Keyamo and Mr. Nyesom Wike. Those are the ones I can see that are doing things. In the case of the attorney general, it is very invisible; so, what about the other ministers? Now, do we have the right tools to deploy an aggressive, urgent, economic policy that translates into visible results? So, if you ask any Nigerian now, are you feeling good? The answer is no; because the prices of goods are too high. That’s the message that government should take.

On May 29 the current administration will be one year in office. How may you access the performance so far and what can you say of the states too?

President Tinubu came into office on the promise of “Renewed Hope”. I read his campaign speech; good paper. I saw the takeoff. People criticised the subsidy removal and the naira fall; I don’t, because the economy has to be structurally adjusted. If I were an architect and someone takes me to an old building, asking me the best thing to do whether to renovate or bring it down. I will tell him to bring it down because there are visible and dangerous cracks all over the building. We need to adjust the economy very well. It is called “market correction.” He was right to say what he said on the subsidy withdrawal. I will repeat what I said at the Godswill Akpabio’s birthday. The issue is the consequential support for the withdrawal of subsidy. I would have

thought that the refineries should have long been working. So, if you get into an aircraft, the most difficult part of the pilot’s journey is the “climbing out”. So, Tinubu is climbing out; he hasn’t gotten to cruising height. I need to see the speed. In assessing his one year in office, I would say his speed is not as fast as I would like to see. There is the need to tell Captain Tinubu to push the throttle back and accelerate; so we can get

to some cruising level quickly. This is because there is a possibility of “air return” (Calling the pilot back), he could be advised by the air service control, that you no longer can continue climbing; so, do you need to turn back. That’s where we are. We have not stabilised.

Tinubu as the pilot is behind schedule. He needs to accelerate; he needs to push the throttle; he needs to look at the entire environment. Are the Ministers right people to be in office? Are theright issues being addressed? Why is government still in business? Why should government not involve business/private sector? If the government were to take that decision to say henceforth, government will not be in any business, you will see the massive opportunity that would open. I know that Nigerians are actually going through serious pain, but that’s the pain that is required if you want turn around. But there is still a big trust deficit. If you ask me to bear a pain and I see you are not going through the same pain; there will be a trust deficit. The president needs to do something about that trust deficit. Look at Beta Edu who was accused of #500 million embezzlement or so; three months have passed, and nothing is being heard about her case; that doesn’t help trust. As for the states, I don’t see anything. Do you know there’s a reason for that? If I understand that I have been protected all these years, by a very large federal government, I will not do anything. The states are not moving because they go to Abuja every month cap-in-hand to collect revenue. What is the federal government to do is to say; “You know what, everything is over.” President Tinubu would now present an Executive Bill that will amend the constitution and remove all those 68 items that give him an exclusive power. He now says, “I am shrinking it to 10; the other ones are for you. Don’t come to me again. Look at the Electricity Act. The Act purports to open the market but it doesn’t; because the electricity (power) matter is in the Concurrent List. The exclusive is exclusively for the federal government; and there the states cannot come in; so, they are crippled; when they have no power, they are crippled. We need the federal government to liberate the states. If the states are not liberated and in turn the state will not liberate the local governments; it remains the same thing; you only have one federal government, 36 states doing nothing; the FCT and 774 local governments doing nothing but collecting revenue and chopping the whole thing.

There was this bizarre incident in Abuja last Wednesday involving different agencies of government at the residence of former Governor Yahaya Bello. Security offices were working at Cross-purposes. Again, a court gave an injunction that nobody should touch the former governor. Now, what do you make of what transpired there and what is the implication of this for the health of the country?

That’s part of the problem. You remember that former president Buhari said that National security supersedes rule of law. So, the rule of law is simply talk. I hope that the massive conference that the AGF (attorney general of the Federation) has called this week, will resolve the new National Order where the rule of law stands supreme, because the rule of law does not stand supreme. The AGF has also raised the question of these law enforcement agencies, whether they are really necessary; are they not in conflict -EFCC, ICPC, etc. I am hoping that this AGF will resolve all these. If an investor wants to bring in his money into the country and asks me, “how does Nigeria work? Tell me about the court.” Let me tell you something; I have a case in court against a bank, 10 years have gone. So, how can anyone want to come in here? So, your point is pertinent. If the agencies of law enforcement are fighting one another, there is a problem. I personally believe that the EFCC is an unconstitutional entity; it ought not be there. If we want Nigeria to be a respected country, the rule of law must be respected and work. Donald Trump, former American president, appointed over 60 judges, he is appearing before them and see the heat he’s getting. He is facing an institution. In the eyes of the law, he is not better than any other American. Can it happen here? But we have to make it happen; that’s the way to know that Nigeria is working There is a relationship between security and food crisis in the country. Food prices are continuously on the increase, and we hear about wanton killings in some places and people are being chased away from their farms, how can Nigeria achieve food security this way or what is your thought here?

First of all, the index of failed states which measures how secure a country is, has since rated Nigeria as being in a low-grade Civil War. The reason is clear. What can we do? The most difficult warfare to fight is the irregular warfare. When you can’t see the enemy, the fight becomes a difficult one; anything can happen. When you are fighting an irregular war, the tools change. The security architecture must change to regular tactics. That is not what is happening; apart from the fact that I believe, in an irregular war, you can never win. You call you opponent into a discussion; and you settle it. If you settle it; investment will flow, and agricultural farmland will be available for the people to cultivate. So, when you talk about food security, how can there be food security when there is a warfare? The reason why you have high cost of food is because nobody is ready to plant. If you go and plant cassava, you find that tomorrow, someone will go and blow it up and destroy everything.