Mufutau Egberongbe is the Chairman, Lagos State House of Assembly Committee on Physical Planning and Urban Development, and represents Apapa Constituency 1. In this interview with SENIOR REPORTER,AKINWUNMI KING, the lawmaker argues that President Goodluck Jonathan has not demonstrated that he can run the economy of Nigeria successfully. Egberongbe also accused the Coordinating Minister of the Economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, of super-imposing the supposed policies of the International Monetary Fund on the Nigerian nation. Excerpts…
Recently, Muhammadu Buhari, the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), said he would be coming to the presidency to inherit an empty treasury. What does this tell you?
That tells you the high-level of corruption that we have been made to live with in this country and as witnessed by our failing economy. It equally tells you that Jonathan has squandered all that we have in the name of politicking and that is very, very serious. Like I have said at various fora, if what Buhari and Professor Yemi Osinbajo would be bringing is the fight against corruption, then we would have succeeded. The volume of crude oil that has been stolen in Nigeria triples the number Ghana has as a nation. This is Ghana that is being counted as one of the oil producing countries in the world today. And in Nigeria, the oil is stolen on a daily basis. Look at the N10 billion Diezani Alison-Madueke, Minister of Petroleum, spent flying private jets about. I understand that Aregbesola spent N2.7 billion to feed school children in the State of Osun for one year. That means the amount squandered by Alison-Madueke would effectively feed the school children in the State of Osun for four years. And this is the amount the Minister spent, not to procure an aircraft, but to fly aircraft even when the presidency has so much in the presidential fleet.
Some people say Nigeria’s economic woes lies in the fact that President Goodluck Jonathan does not have a deep understanding of the nation’s economy. What is your take on this?
Honestly, President Goodluck Jonathan is not just serious about governing the country. And directly on the issue of the economy which you have asked a question on, I don’t think this man knows what it takes to run an economy. I don’t think he ever had the inkling of how a state should be run. If you have the knowledge of how an economy should be run, then you should not leave the office of the Minister of Finance vacant just to wait for someone (Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala) who you have appointed but who was with the World Bank at that period till she finally resumed. But the fact is very obvious; the Nigerian economy has been run aground.
There is this argument in some quarters that Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala could be acting a script of the World Bank to keep Nigeria perpetually poor and dependent. How do you react to this?
I want to think that the world over, economic policies should be localised. Whatever principles and fiscal policies you have come up with, at whatever level, needs to be domesticated, depending on what is on ground in a country. I think this is where Okonjo-Iweala is getting it wrong. What she has succeeded in doing is to super-impose the supposed policies of the International Monetary Fund on the Nigerian nation And she is not shy of this; it has always been her position ever since she resumed office. This has been the case even during her period with Chief Olusegun Obasanjo when Charles Soludo was the Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). But Obasanjo was able to curtail some of her excesses.
Even with the seeming economic challenges facing the country, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala has maintained that Nigeria has the biggest economy in Africa –
My brother, I am not interested in any voodoo economist. I am very much interested in tangible things that we can see by ourselves. I don’t care about what your professorial theories about the economy are. However superfluous your economic theories are, what I am interested in is what I can see and feel. It doesn’t make sense to say that and yet I see economic problems everywhere. All I can see include the rising foreign exchange (the dollar heavily rising against the naira tending towards 100 percent). And up till now, the President and the Minister of Finance have not seen any reason why a State of the Economy should be addressed. As it is now, there is an urgent need for the President to address the nation on the state of our economy. Our economy is tending towards comatose. No serious and honest investor would want to come and invest in the Nigerian economy. It is so unpredictable and seriously sliding. Add that to the state of insecurity and you as a citizen of the country and a businessman would not have faith in the country and its business environment, talk less of a foreigner. I am not asking the President not to campaign, but he urgently has to arrest the dying economy. You can’t be a failure in relation to the economy and still want me to vote for you; on what basis do you want my vote? What magic would you be doing differently? Are you not still the same Jonathan that is on seat now? You should convince me about what you have done, what you are doing and hope to do as far as the economy is concerned. We have never had it this bad in Nigeria that the oil would be selling for about $40 in the open market, a dollar is going for about N220. It’s never been like this; not even during the austerity era.
Maybe some of these are the reasons he does not want to address Nigerians –
Then it shows that the man has nothing upstairs. Why should you as a leader be afraid to address the country on the state of the economy? How do you want to run the affairs of the economy if you, as a leader, does not have a grip on the economy and economic affairs of the country? The economy is so key to the existence of a nation-state. Honestly, without being political, I am beginning to think this man is not a blessing to the Nigerian nation. I don’t know what we have done to God for Him to have given us a leader like this. I am very serious about it. Now, suffice to say that election is very important, but I do not think the election is more important than the issue of the Chibok girls that have been abducted for nearly a year now. If the military is now suddenly making efforts and getting the needed equipment to combat insurgency just because the elections are right staring at us all, are we saying this same efforts would not have been needed several months ago since the abduction of these girls and the attendant agony Nigerians have passed through as a result in the first instance?
President Jonathan once said his government underrated the Boko Haram and that this was why the group festered. Now that he is fighting the terrorists, don’t you think he deserves some commendation?
If you have been the President of the country for six years and you could say your government underrated terrorists, then you can as well underrate for God-knows-when. It shows his weakness as a leader. On assumption of office as a leader, you would want to be briefed on the economic situation, the socio-infrastructural situation as well as the security situation of the country. On what premise do you even plan your budget? Is it not on the situation of the country? If you say you underrated anything, it means you do not know the position of a lot of things in your country six years on the seat. Then suddenly, faced with an anticipated gloomy result during the forth-coming election, you now claim to have the knowledge.