• Tuesday, June 18, 2024
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Agbakoba in the corridors of power!

Rosevelt’s new deal, Thatcher’s big bang hold compass for Tinubu’s $1trn GDP goal – Agbakoba

Thirty-five years ago, Olisa Agbakoba founded Olisa Agbakoba and Associates, a leading commercial and maritime specialist law firm in Lagos. In this interview with RITA OHAI, the former president of the Nigerian Bar Association and founder of Nigeria’s foremost human rights organization, the Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO) discusses the 2015 elections, maritime sector and tells us what he would do if he were to be president.

The ‘’Agbakoba name sends a chill down the spine of many.

With the timbre of his baritone voice ricocheting off the walls of each room he enters, legal practitioners across the continent tremble when forced to face him at tribunals.

However before he became a heavyweight attorney, he paid his dues fighting battles in court and advocating for justice in governance.

Soon after he formed the law firm, Olisa Agbakoba and Associates, fame for his work in human rights and democracy movement across the country grew- the most popular case being the defence of civil rights campaigner, Ken Saro-Wiwa who was executed in 1995.

As a result of his activist role during the dark military era, he was arrested multiple times and branded a threat by the dictators in power.

So when he analyses issues of national discourse, he does it with a measure of authority and a large dose of bravado.

Olisa-Agbakoba
Olisa Agbakoba

With the 2015 elections drawing nigh, the presidency struggling to implement an austerity budget and terrorist attacking citizens at will, concerns over who the next democratically elected leader will be is raising apprehension across the landscape.

While voters prepare to hit the polls, Agbakoba in his usual candid manner states that this year’s electoral process gives him nothing to be expectant or excited about.

As far as he is concerned, the manifestos of both parties are “unrealistic.”

“They cannot deceive us,” he says, “You do not just go to a rally and say I will build 10,000 schools. This applies to both APC and PDP. Before you start blabbing, you must design the framework that will make sure that vision is achieved.

“The 2015 elections will just be yet another run of play. I do not see any presidential candidate stating clearly how they intend to fund any of the programs they have talk about.

“In the context of dwindling oil prices, tell me how APC or PDP will tackle the supposed deficit funding Nigeria is facing. We are going to be in a heap of trouble but the average Nigerians may be excluded from the trouble anyway because government does not give him schools, jobs or basic welfare. It is the politicians who will run away and that is why I am happy.

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“We need clever people and the APC or PDP have not shown that they have the right people.”

With the nation’s downturn in fortune largely due to the misappropriation of funds for social and infrastructural development among the political elite impeding growth, the call for the diversification of the economy and higher fiscal accountability is gaining momentum.

As the founder and first president of the Nigerian Shipping Chamber of Commerce (NCS), he finds it disconcerting that no presidential candidate, in mapping out strategies for diversifying the economy, has thought to pay close watch to the large water-bodies surrounding the coast as a primary source of income.

Olisa said, “Nigeria is deficit financing yet none of the leaders is telling us how they plan to raise funds from areas like the maritime sector which is a goldmine.

“This sector is such a huge source of revenue because it is rich in fiches and amount of import and export duties gotten from there is unbelievable and nobody sees it. Neither the PDP or APC has considered the management of shipping because that is not their interest; their interest is to fasten on to the obvious money from crude. There is the mortgage, construction, art and leisure industries but no one wants to look at them,” he finished.

As a means to proffering solutions to the overwhelming fiscal difficulties belabouring the country, economists are bent over the drawing board seeking alternative sources of revenue to fund a budget largely composed of exhorbitant recurrent expenditures.

In like manner, Agbakoba who was deputy chair of President Jonathan’s committee on reviewing the maritime sector, mandated the workforce at his firm to compute a master-sheet placing a value on the potential revenue that can be generated from the maritime sector if proper mechanisms are put in place.

The figure they came up with is N17 trillion – a sum almost four times the current value needed to fund the 2015 budget as stipulated by the National Budget Office.

While this presents a positive outlook for the waterways industry, incontinent laws as well as the inability for its leadership to plug illicit financial outflows serves as a deterrent for the value maximization of the coastal treasure.

Highlighting some vital modifications required to transform the fate of a dying marine economy for the better, he enthused, “We need to have a strong regulator. The maritime sector is bigger than aviation, so I question why aviation as a matter of policy has a ministry and the maritime does not. I would rather like to see a ‘Minister of Shipping’.

“Most coastal countries in Europe have a responsible policy driver but over here maritime policies are not getting the attention that it ought to get because there is no minister. All the tariffs collected in the central West African area are 80 percent definitely Nigerian (but are unremitted). Imagine how much Nigeria is losing from that!”…a lot, we imagine.

Although many state that it is easier to criticize a sitting government than to function effectively within it, Olisa has a different point of view.

He firmly believes that, given the chance, he can lead Nigeria’s affairs as commander-in-chief.

When asked what systemic changes he would put into action to aid this sector he so is passionate about as President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Agbakoba gave a rather quaint response saying, “In the area of water security, if I were the President, I would change NIMASA back to the old Nigeria Maritime Authority (NMA) and allow them to do cabotage, enforcement and cheap development.

“I would also give them the task of monitoring our waters.

And finally, “after this phase, we can them invite the privates sector to collaborate. They are the ones who will then generate the business that sustains the good regulations that the government has put in place. That is all, it is so simple!”

RITA OHAI