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We’ll exercise caution in amending CBN Act – Sani Musa

We’ll exercise caution in amending CBN Act – Sani Musa

Mohammed Sani Musa is a politician and the senator representing Niger East Senatorial District in the National Assembly. He has been a federal lawmaker since 2019 and is presently the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance. Born on May 11, 1965, in Minna, Niger State, Musa attended Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, where he earned a B.Sc. in Business Administration in 1990 with a specialty in Banking and Finance. He also holds a postgraduate certificate in international management from the University of Liverpool and a postgraduate diploma in public policy and management from the University of London. A finance and business expert, Musa boasts a rich repository of leadership stripes in both the private and public sectors. He was chairman of a string of private entities and also served in various capacities in Niger State. During his first term as a Senator, Musa was the brain behind the controversial ‘Protection from Internet Falsehoods and Manipulation and Other Related Matters Bill, 2019, popularly known as ‘The Anti-Social Media Bill. The bill was widely criticised for trying to muzzle free speech in the new media. He, however, argued that the aim was to curb fake news on the internet and ensure sanity in the social media space. In 2021, he announced his aspiration for the national chairmanship of the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC) and was among the top contenders for the office of Senate presidency in the 10th National Assembly in 2023; both were unsuccessful. Known for being expressive, the Distinguished Senator has sponsored several other bills, including the National Rural Employment Guarantee (Est., etc.) Bill, 2021; the Loan Recovery (Regulation) Bill, 2020; and the and the Rape and Insurgency Victims Stigmatisation (Prohibition) Bill, among others. Musa believes that Nigeria will, among other things, need a cashless society to curb abuse and corruption. In this exclusive interview with BusinessDay’s John Osadolor, Onyinye Nwachukwu, and Godsgift Onyedinefu, he speaks on several economic and political issues and assures that the National Assembly will proceed with caution while amending the CBN Act in order not to erode its independence.

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The 10th Senate will be one year by June, what have been your major achievements so far?

Under the leadership of Senate President Godswill Akpabio, the committee has made significant progress in legislation, representing constituents, and ensuring the smooth running of governance. They have taken executive bills seriously, such as the student loan bill, the 2024 appropriation act, and the supplementary act of 2023, and have received assent from the President. Private bills from distinguished senators have also passed first and second readings, and some have gone for public hearing. The committee has also acted on the supplementary budget, held investigative hearings on stamp duty and waivers, and facilitated interactions with government-owned enterprises and ministries, departments, and agencies to ensure funds are remitted to the Federation’s consolidated revenue account. Overall, at the committee level, we have done very well.

You’ve had quite a number of interactions with both fiscal and monetary authorities, and they keep assuring on lasting solutions to some of the huge challenges bedevilling the Nigerian economy presently. Do you think that enough is being done in this regard?

We will have to look at the issue of the economy from different perspectives. Globally, if you look at the trend the economy is going, it has been slow as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic that ruptured so many things around the world and in this country. When we came out of that, not too long ago, we transitioned from one government to another. In a country where fiscal and monetary policies are still evolving, it’s not going to be easy for the economy to rise. You can see the predictions that the World Bank and the IMF are making in terms of global growth; we can all agree that they are not good, and they are also not peculiar to Nigeria. Our economy is very slow, and most times when Nigerians see things not going well, they blame the government. Around the world, the power of the economy rests on the private sector. What the government does is provide an enabling environment, and I believe that this government is doing that. What we need to do is enhance our productivity in different sectors. We are running a monolithic economy in terms of income, but there are other sectors that we need to look at. If we really want our economy to evolve, we need to diversify, and in whatever little way we can contribute, it’s up to us Nigerians. The government will regulate, and the government will make sure that Nigerians are given an enabling environment.

If, for instance, I am a farmer and I’m able to produce groundnuts and I am able to get a small machine that can dry off those groundnuts, process and package them, and even try to export them to the neighbouring countries, I will, and by doing that, I’ll be able to get a little inflow coming in. And when we have thousands or millions of people doing similar things, the multiplier effect of that little will go to so many places. I give you a simple example: In Kenya today, they process nuts. When you see where they process these nuts, it’s not as big as my office; it is a very small place, but they have a machine with which they can process nuts, seal and package them with labels, and then certify that it meets standards. If you fly British Airways today, the nuts they will give you are boldly written “produced in Kenya.” British Airways will not go to Kenya to buy groundnuts with pounds; they will take pounds from the UK to buy that groundnut in the Kenyan currency. What it means is that they will convert the pounds to the Kenyan currency. Why should it be like that? Why don’t they keep the pounds? It’s because they want their currency to be strong. That is the only way you can make your currency strong; otherwise, by the time you want to exchange for anything, maybe to buy machinery, you will see that you are not at par in terms of foreign exchange. So we need to encourage Nigerians to go into real production processes. Our cottage industries are what we should encourage. Forget about having an industry the size of the National Assembly; no, we don’t need that; let’s have cottage industries and nano-industries. For example, we often term those little cobblers informal, but there’s nothing informal about them because what they need is inclusivity. The financial inclusivity we are talking about will also help our economy and GDP grow.

Are you discussing any policy options with the executive on these?

Yes, we are. Members of my committee met yesterday, and we have agreed to come up with a blueprint on how we can harness the natural and human resources that we have. When I’m talking about natural resources, I mean those untapped ones. We are not talking about crude oil; we are not talking about getting contracts; we are talking about real things that every average Nigerian will feel that something is coming. So we agreed that we must try as much as possible to see how we can domesticate our economy, meaning that we will not rely on somebody from any other place to tell us the best way to manage things. We can do it in this country; we have the human capital of renowned experts everywhere in the world. And that is what Mr President is doing now, and honestly, I wish Mr President had been in office from the time he was even the governor of Lagos State. I believe this country will have been something different today. So the policies this government is coming up with are good ones.

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You can see that we have been under the PDP administration for 16 years, and we didn’t try to do anything! We did not have those rolling plans. When a government comes in, it is supposed to come up with a plan with a timeline to achieve it and strictly make that policy more like a law through legislation. That is what this government is trying to do now. There is an economic bill for the growth of this country that Mr President is packaging with his team, and I believe that that is just one thing that this country needs now. To answer your question on policies, these are the only ways that we can help our economy. I do not believe that we are just going to take an IMF loan or a World Bank loan; even if it is at zero interest, it’s a loan that you must repay. Does it add to your deficit, or does it contribute to your growth? These are the things that we need to ask ourselves. But then I believe that Mr. President, with his insight and economic knowledge, is definitely going to transform this country.

Your committee has frowned at the N17 trillion losses incurred in the last five years due to alleged abuse of tax waivers. Please talk us through this.

I can tell you without any fear of contradiction that even in 2023, the waivers were over N5 trillion, and it’s something that we can put in some sectors to make a lot of difference in the economy and in the development of this country. Mr. President has graciously agreed that we need to look at such waivers very carefully. There is no country that does not give waivers, but it is regulated. In Singapore, they do the single window, whether IGR, income, or anything. So we can create a scheme such that someone who has zero duty will bring in certain machines to set up an industry that will generate employment. It is the reason why we give the waivers: to set up an industry, employ more Nigerians, and boost economic activities, and with the multiplier effect too, it will contribute to the GDP.

So whatever it is you want to bring in, we will quantify how much it is, and you will pay. Then you will bring the documents for us to be sure that you did as agreed—you actually brought those things in, not in finished form, not CKD, but as raw materials that you will use in production. We will analyse it, then compute it, ensure your documentation is okay, and then give you a rebate. A rebate does not mean we will give you cash or anything; no, it will be a seed fund somewhere that you can use when next you are bringing in the same thing. It’s just like the withholding tax we have, whereby if you don’t pay some of your tax, you cannot get a complete refund; they will deduct all those tax liabilities and then refund what is due to you. We will do the same thing, and that way, our economy will definitely come back to where it should be. Nigeria is supposed to be among the 20 most developed countries in the world with what God has given us.

We have manpower, human resources, and natural resources, and God has given us a landmass. What does Ukraine have apart from agriculture? But you can see that if Ukraine shakes, the World Food Organisation will know that something is wrong somewhere. Yet we have lands in Nigeria; 80 percent of the lands in this country are arable; we must take advantage of these resources now, and that is part of the blueprint that Mr. President is bringing.

Your committee said it will be working with the Nigerian Upstream petroleum Regulatory Commission (NUPRC) to attract more investment into the oil and gas sector, generate revenue and of course block leakages. Has that process started?

The conversation is ongoing, and the area in which the committee gets itself involved is making sure that there is metering. We need to know the output that goes out; that is the only way we’ll be able to know how much we are going to earn. We cannot just forecast, but if there is a metering system from every location to every terminal, IOCs are doing their own, and we are saying Nigeria cannot be short-changed. We will be able to determine the quantity of whatever product we have that is being taken out. If you come to other resources like the mineral resources we have underneath the earth, you keep hearing “illegal mining.” It’s not illegal as far as I’m concerned because something is being taken out. What we need is to formalise it, regularise it, and then take advantage of that as well, just as we will take advantage of the oil.

Today, we don’t have a single refinery for gold in this country, so we take it somewhere else. Something that can give you a big size, but because we don’t have a refinery here, they will tell you anything, and you can’t argue. Meanwhile, your resources are going. It’s the same thing with the oil companies when they say crude oil is being stolen. At one time, they said about 400,000 barrels of oil per day were being stolen. Who is stealing it? Who? You pay for an allocation of 10,000 metric tonnes, but you bring a vessel that can take 15,000 metric tonnes with a paper weight of 10,000 metric tonnes.

What are we talking about? So we need these metres on all flow stations, and NUPRC will be able to know at the click of a button with the technology that is available today. Saudi Aramco is doing it; Petrobras is doing it; why can’t we do it here? That is the only way we will be able to determine how much we are making in this country since it is our major source of revenue. Mr. President is seriously working on it, and I believe that we will see some differences to ensure that metering.

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The Senate seems to be bent on amending the CBN Act. The IMF recently said the Senate needs to proceed with caution; what’s the current position on it?

I attended the World Bank and IMF spring meetings in Washington, DC, recently, and I’m also a strong member of the Banking and Insurance Committee. I will raise some of the observations I’ve made. Whatever it is, the amendments are coming in good faith, but we should also be able to aggregate the standards internationally. I don’t want a situation where, whether in the interests of politics or anything, we will make any amends that will affect the CBN Act and hinder it from operating optimally. But in any case, laws are always made when you see circumstances that call for those changes. There is nothing cast in stone; we are evolving, so our laws need to evolve. We will look at the CBN Act once again, and one thing I can assure you is that we will stand on the path of making and strengthening the CBN institution to be able to achieve its fundamental objective. To be honest, I don’t think there’s any ulterior motive to it.

What’s your committee’s stance on the level of borrowing now? Is it of concern?

Do you know the country that has the highest debt? It is the United States of America, but the system works, there is productivity, and there is new research every day. What are our research institutions doing? What are we doing with all these monies when we bring them? What are we doing about backward integration? These are areas that we need to strengthen. Nigeria can stand if we efficiently and effectively manage our resources; there cannot be a poor man in this country. The percentage of the poverty level in Nigeria would have been less than one digit, I’m telling you. And all this goes together with the kind of leadership you have. I wish Mr. President was here when oil was being sold for one world (121–140). I wish that time was now. The President has a lot of hope for Nigerians, and believe me, I have interacted with him personally so many times, and I have seen his genuine willingness to change this country. If we are good at producing yam, Mr. President wants to see us produce yams that will feed Nigeria and be exported. If we are good at garri, he would want to see how we can process garri, feed Nigeria with it, and export it. If you are mining gold, he wants to see how gold can be mined, and then we’ll be at the same level as those countries that today make a lot of money. There is no money in crude oil, believe me. Have you checked how much cocoa is costing per ton? Have you seen how much shea butter costs? How much is crude oil per barrel? How many barrels will make a ton? Calculate it and compare it to how much we will get if we produce all the other things that we all have in abundance. Go and find out how much sesame seed there is. So, I think we have started doing the right thing now, and I pray that God gives our president the strength to continue the kind of plans he has for this country. I believe it will work.

What is the NASS doing to hold MDAs accountable and help check the level of corruption we see currently?

I can tell you from the outset that both at the committee level and the National Assembly in general, we are actively engaged. The Committee on Finance, the Banking and Insurance Committee, Appropriation, and National Planning hold joint meetings to coordinate our approach towards the MDAs, among others. Since the introduction of the MTEF, we have engaged with many of these agencies, and our engagement is ongoing. We follow a timetable in collaboration with the Fiscal Responsibility Commission to ensure their financial records are accurate. During an investigation I started last year, we discovered that many MDAs collect government funds and fail to remit them properly. They often claim these funds as operational surplus or capital. This practice is unacceptable; for example, it is inappropriate to take N20 billion and remit only N3 billion to the consolidated revenue fund. We have now taken steps to stop this. Following our investigation, some agencies that had delayed their remittances are now rushing to the Office of the Accountant General to produce receipts and cover up. We have made it clear that we will no longer accept this behaviour.

I had a meeting with the Minister of Finance and the executive chairman of FIRS, and we agreed that on the operative surplus or whatever collection, we must go back to the Constitution. I think it’s Section 91 that stipulates that all monies collected must go to the consolidated revenue. So, if for any reason an agency wants operational money, it will be appropriated. The minister can, in his wisdom, decide to give them seed money or allow them to utilise 50 percent of it. In two months, the federal government was able to collect over N850 billion. I can proudly say it, so it’s good for this country. Corruption is a menace affecting every fabric of this society, not only in governance but even in our own homes. The only way we can tackle it is through self-repentance. Let us all change our attitude and our desires for what we cannot afford. If I cannot afford a car, if I see one, I will just admire it. I would not say that I must drive it because that is what pushes people towards the corruption you are talking about. We must imbibe self-repentance. And those who are given responsibilities with public funds should know that even if they do it here and get away with it, they will not escape the wrath of God. They will wake up one day and explain.

In the National Assembly, not everyone is corrupt. What is the corruption in the National Assembly? Do we have access to funds? Do we control the Treasury? No, we do not. How do the National Assembly members get money apart from normal allowances and salaries? However, we must be made to account for every constituency project we claim to be implementing, and if we don’t do it, take us on that. If I said that I would build 30 boreholes for instances and do 20 instead, I would be questioned, put to task, and even sent to officials of the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission. I swore to an oath: Why will I pocket money to construct boreholes for the benefit of my people? It’s crazy. Among us, there are the good ones, and I will not rule out that there are also bad ones; all we need is self-repentance.

With what Mr President is doing today, especially in the area of revenue generation, and by the time the single window he has just launched takes off, it will start as a small unit of organisation and expand, just like the TSA. The TSA is good, but it has been abused. If it is true that money will go to the Account General, and he will take over N120 billion, then there is a problem. And that is the reason why the single window is good: you will not even have access to get money. Every fund that is going out, no matter how small, is seen and accounted for. I want to also call on the Central Bank to, as a matter of urgency, see how they can evolve seriously in this cashless society. When we have a cashless society, it will checkmate abuse and corruption. I want my country to be like the UK, where today, if you are holding say $10,000 in your pocket and for any reason the police find such money on you, you are in trouble; it is a criminal offence. Also, if they see you with pounds more than what they expect you can afford by virtue of your income, you’re in trouble. You can’t pocket 5000 pounds in the UK and move around and do what you like; you only do it quietly without the authorities knowing, because it is a breach of the law. We have the same laws in Nigeria; we must try to enforce them over time.

The National Assembly is probing the CBN N30 trillion Ways and Means; what is the update?

Since the National Assembly is already working on it, why don’t we wait for the outcome of the probe?