National Asset Sales and Elite Conspiracy, By Zainab Suleiman Okino

Government should not stretch the patience of Nigerians to its elastic limit. The 2012 fuel scarcity strike set the stage for the eventual defeat of the Jonathan PDP government. The APC government of Buhari can at best take a cue from that ugly past.

Just because the richest man in Africa, Alhaji Aliko Dangote proposed the idea of selling off national asset to stave off economic recession, cannot and should not make it the gospel truth. When Dangote first mooted the idea, a lot of people felt he was flying a kite. However, when the National Economic Council approved the plan but which the Senate roundly rejected, it became obvious that there were hidden hands behind the idea; it is a clear conspiracy by the moneybags and the people that control the levers of power to take advantage of a very bad situation to further enrich themselves.

The proposal to sell national asset was borne out of the need to take the country out of the economic recession it has found itself in, according to the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo after the Minister of National Planning, Udoma Udoma presented the plan to the council. Although the asset to be sold off were never itemised, speculation is focused on Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG) and refineries, which the government hoped would fetch it $50 billion to fund the 2016 budget.

In an infographic published by Daily Trust last Friday, the Federal Government owns 100 percent stake in the four refineries, 100 percent in the 22 federal airports, 45 percent in NLNG, 42.5 percent in African Finance Corporation, 24.9 percent in West African Gas Pipeline and six joint venture oil assets. If we sell these off, what else do we have to our name as an independent entity? And what do we leave for the coming generations?

This must be voodoo economic thinking. Our past experiences do not hold much hope for this new thinking. When previous governments went into privatisation frenzy, government corporations were cannibalised and sold off as scraps; the new buyers stripped the asset, after they had gulped millions of taxpayers’ money. What did we get in return? A few people were enriched and loss of jobs by workers in the process compounded the nation’s woes. The Assets Management Company of Nigeria (AMCON) was set up to buy debts back and keep companies running; that too ran into troubled waters. If recession is only a temporary downturn, and assets are permanent, why do we have to do away with permanent asset to solve temporary challenges?

The logical thing to do is to look for solutions in the problems: Produce what you consume, earn FOREIGN EXCHANGE through the development of other sectors, cut down on wastage and reduce expenditures. And these can only be effective if we start from top to bottom.

There might be some economic sense in selling off non-viable government corporations, but because of the political dimension the sale might take, it is not worth considering. The government earns almost $2 billion from the NLNG. When this government came in newly, it was to NLNG it ran, to get money for the first bailout to states. (The NLNG has injected $46 billion into the economy). The politics of it is very obvious; only cronies, moneybags, and supporters of this government, who, because of economic recession, are probably finding it difficult to recoup the money they lost through election funding, might be given the opportunity to buy. Is that why the government is considering the idea?

The mere thought of this has further deepened the loss of trust and confidence in this government. Elsewhere in the world, governments never cease to intervene in public and private corporations to help them come out of the woods. When Obama came in newly, America was in recession and several companies were threatened, but the Obama government bailed them out. They remained and have remained in business to continuously keep the economy going. State intervention in business is legendary and allowing market forces or selling off assets are definitely not a way out. Imagine selling off today, and in the next few years, the nation witnesses another recession, what are we going to sell then? In stimulating the economy, we can borrow a leaf from countries that have successfully done it: increase taxes of the rich and ostentations, cut down on benefits for the top echelons.

Although economic recession is almost global, Nigeria’s is biting hard because of a mono-product and dependent economy, profligacy of the past, and the exportation of scarce FOREX to oil our lavish lifestyle and import consumption of foreign goods. The logical thing to do is to look for solutions in the problems: Produce what you consume, earn foreign exchange through the development of other sectors, cut down on wastage and reduce expenditures. And these can only be effective if we start from top to bottom. The executives and lawmakers should reduce their remunerations, and the number of their aides; presidential jets, which are about 10, should be reduced to at least two.

It is not a surprise that Organised Labour and PENGASSAN, in particular, are planning to shut down the nation if this government goes ahead with its sinister plan. Workers are always the first casualties of such decision, as did happen with the privatisation of NEPA, steel companies, NITEL, oil companies, Daily Times newspaper, etc. This time around Nigerians will not allow this government to go away with blue murder, because that is what it is. They went scot-free with constant hike in the pump price of fuel, tax increases on ordinary people, hikes in school fees, TSA, and all such tough measures and hard programmes that only inflict pains and hardship on Nigerians. It is now a different ball game. Government should not stretch the patience of Nigerians to its elastic limit. The 2012 fuel scarcity strike set the stage for the eventual defeat of the Jonathan PDP government. The APC government of Buhari can at best take a cue from that ugly past.

zainabsule@yahoo.com, www.zainabokino.blogspot.com, 08098209791, Text only

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