The proposed sale of national asset to raise funds to be spent towards economic recovery has pitched Nigerians into two broad groups – supporters and opposition.
Different categories of Nigerians have stated their stance on the proposed sale with many of them justifying their position.
PREMIUM TIMES brings you a summary of the stance of some Nigerian elites and groups.
A hint of the proposal was first given by Minister of Budget and National Planning, Udoma Udoma, during the session to present the 2017 federal budget details in Abuja.
The Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun, also spoke about it in her first meeting with finance correspondents in Abuja last month.
A formal pronouncement about the plan came at the end of the inter-ministerial retreat in Abuja.
Mr. Udoma said sale of some national asset was one of the resolutions at the retreat for government to raise funds for a $15 billion (N4.72 trillion) fiscal stimulus plan to reflate and pull the economy from recession.
The other ways, he said, included advance payment by joint venture operators for license renewals, infrastructure concessioning, use of recovered funds etc, and long term, low interest loans.
The National Economic Council (NEC), consisting the 36 state governors and the CBN governor, Godwin Emefiele, and chaired by Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, also gave a seal of approval on the proposal.
On September 20, the first day of the resumption of the National Assembly from its annual recess, Senate President Bukola Saraki also urged the federal government to raise capital from asset sales to shore up the nation’s foreign reserves.
“The Executive must raise capital from asset sales and other sources to shore up foreign reserves,” Mr. Saraki told members in his address.
“This will calm investors, discourage currency speculation and stabilize the economy.
He spelt out measures government must consider, namely part sale of NLNG Holdings; reduction of government share in upstream oil joint venture operations; sale of government stake in financial institutions like Africa Finance Corporation (AFC) and privatization and concession of major/regional airports and refineries.
About 72 hours earlier, Chairman, Dangote Group, Aliko Dangote, had told a South African television, CNBC, that the federal government needed to sell its asset to save the country from its current economic woes, rather than resort to foreign loans.
Mr. Dangote had argued the country could reap $15 billion from such sales, instead of borrowing to revive the ailing economy.
He said the action could also boost the country’s foreign reserve.
“My suggestion was that government should even sell 100 per cent of the Nigeria LNG. I don’t think government should be in any business of investing in the liquefied natural gas sector.
“A company like that, with earnings of $1.5 billion on the average, should fetch anywhere between $12 billion and $15 billion,” he said.
Apart from his views at the NEC, CBN governor Godwin Emefiele, who has been a long time sympathiser of the view that government needs to divest from some JVs in the oil and gas sector, also spoke in favour of the proposal.
Addressing media executives during an interactive session in Lagos later in the week, Mr. Emefiele disclosed the process had begun for the sale of about 15 per cent of asset held by NNPC.
He said the exercise was expected to yield an inflow of $10 billion for the country.
Already, he said, a team of consultants had been commissioned to carry out a study to recommend modalities for the proposed sale.
Mr. Emefiele’s predecessor and current Emir of Kano, Mohammed Sanusi, also lent his weight to the proposal.
“We need to consider the sale of some of our oil asset and some refineries in a transparent manner that gives you value and does not hurt our strategic interest,” he said.
“We can even add a buy-back clause if we want to ensure when the situation improves, government can re-purchase them. But basically it will help raise revenue.”
Former President, Olusegun Obasanjo, also backed the proposal.
Mr. Obasanjo, who was addressing the National Council on Finance and Economic Development (NACOFED) in Abeokuta, Ogun state, said the proposed sale of under-utilised asset and shares of NNPC, NLNG and other national asset was a right step.
He however added a caveat. “They (asset) should not be sold to kiths and kins as well as cabals.”
“Many people thought selling was a bad thing. No! You are reorganizing the sector,” he said.
The Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) said it was wholly in support of the call for the sale of national asset by the federal government.
President of MAN, Frank Jacobs, hailed Mr. Dangote for speaking the minds of its members.
“We are not saying government should sell its shares completely in the NLNG, worth $15 billion. They can sell part of it and still maintain some level of ownership,” he said.
“By so doing we will generate money to beef up our foreign reserves and engender confidence in the investing community, both domestic and international.”
Former Chairman of the Technical Committee of the National Council on Privatisation (NCP), Atedo Peterside, also said sale of government stake in all the oil and gas joint venture operations was one of the ways to avert economic meltdown.
Mr. Peterside, who is also the Chairman of Stanbic IBTC Holdings, said government must quickly “sell down its stake in the JVs from 55-60 per cent… to no more than 40 per cent each.”
“Anyone in his right mind will gladly pay a premium to attain 51 per cent (stake in the JVs) and move away from the clumsy and unwieldy structure where they are junior partners in a joint venture with a historically meddlesome and value-destructive Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC)”, he said.
Mr. Peterside said all the four refineries in Port Harcourt, Warri and Kaduna should be sold outright as “NNPC has never been able to run them.”
The Abuja Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) said it was in support of the proposal if proceeds from the sale would be properly channelled into reviving the economy.
President of the Chamber, Tony Ejinkeonye, described the proposal as quite apt.
“We truly support the call for the sale of the country’s national asset only if transparency is key in the entire process. If the right people acquire the asset, it will be better for the country and Nigerians by extension,” Mr. Ejinkeonye said,
The Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce Industry Mine & Agriculture (NACCIMA) said there was nothing wrong in the proposal to sell national asset that are no longer useful or efficiently operated by government.
But acting Chairman of Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC), Shettima Gana, opposed the proposal to sell NLNG to save the economy.
Citing a NEITI extractive industry audit and financial report of 2013, Mr. Gana said it was improper to sell a company that paid about $12.9 billion to the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) from its operations over an eight-year period.
“It is the considered view of the Commission that Nigeria’s asset like NLNG and other strategic national resources should not be sold to meet short-term financial obligation,” the commission said.
Rather than dispose of NLNG, the Commission said it was strongly in support of borrowing from international financial institutions like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and others.
A former Director in the Budgetary Department of CBN, Titus Okunronmu, said sale of the country’s asset to boost the economy would further restrict income, as only very few would be able to buy them.
Mr. Okunronmu said in Ota, Ogun state, that rather than restrict income, the government should redistribute income through untapped resources.
Also, a development economist, Odilim Enwegbara, condemned the proposal.
He said government should rather review all the oil blocks previous administrations handed to some local and foreign cronies, fronting for past leaders.
“We should not only end there, President Buhari should go as far as hiring some of the world’s best auditors to come after the asset acquired as a result of the oil blocks.
“This will lead to the recovery of over $50 billion in cash, while government should expect not less than $300 billion asset it can easily confiscate,” Mr. Enwegbara said.
Lagos lawyer, Femi Falana, said calls for sale of national asset to raise funds to rejuvenate the economy out of recession was illegal, while those involved in the proposal were engaging in asset stripping.
“Sale of national asset is a big disservice to the nation,” Mr. Falana said. “Those clamouring for it are looking for opportunity to cherry pick the asset at giveaway prices.
“It is pertinent to point out, the suggestion is in total conflict with Section 16 of the constitution prohibiting concentration of the nation’s wealth in the hands of a few people or a group.”
Rather than sell off the national asset, he urged government to recover the ones sold under the Obasanjo administration, because they were grossly undervalued.
Labour too has condemned the idea, saying it will make a few to amass the wealth of all and deepen the seeming despair in the land.
Although Senate President and some of the senators support the proposal, others in the Senate were opposed to it.
Deputy Senate president, Ike Ekweremadu, and All Progressives Congress (APC) senator from Benue state, George Akume, condemned the asset sale proposal.
“I have heard about the issue of selling of our asset. I need to caution that other countries are not doing the same. The United Arab Emirate does not even allow you to get to their oil wells, let alone selling them.
“If we must sell, we have to sell the non-performing asset, so that people can turn them around and create employment.
“We need to amend section 162, especially from sub-sections 3,4,5,6, where every money in the Federation Account is shared among the other levels of government,” Mr. Ekweremadu said.
Mr. Akume (APC, Benue North-West) said it did not make economic sense to sell the country’s oil asset at this time global oil price was in decline.
“The thing is very straight. If you want to dispose of your oil asset at this time when the price of oil has crashed, precisely how much are you going to realise?
“We are making a mistake here. What we intend doing is very unpatriotic. We will ensure those who are within the bracket of the stolen dollars to still come to buy.
“I believe that this is not the time to sell these asset,” Mr. Akume said.
For Ovie Omo-Agege (Labour Party, Delta Central), sale of the NLNG, which generates over $22 billion per annum would be “the biggest mistake of the century.”
Former Vice President of the World Bank, Africa Division, Obiageli Ezekwesili, said what Nigeria needed was economic reform and better management, not sale of national asset.
“Managers of the economy must resist our wonderful politicians now chorusing quick fixes, like asset sale,” Mrs. Ezekwesili said.
“There are no easy options here. It seems the default instinct of our political class is ‘sell and spend.’ It won’t work,” she warned.
“Any asset sale at all should be within the context of an empirically guided, deliberated and deep structural reform of the sector of the said asset.”
The former Minister of Education said rather than selling the asset, government should embark on key structural reforms such as petroleum sector deregulation and liberalisation, civil service reform and increased investment in agriculture.
A former governor of the Central Bank, Chukwuma Soludo, described NEC and Senate leadership’s recommendation for the sale of some national asset to raise funds to reflate the country’s economy out of recession as dangerous and troubling,
Mr. Soludo, who dismissed the proposal as largely self-serving and convenient, said the scheme would only be a win-win for both government and its private sector collaborators, with Nigerians and the economy as the only losers.
Mr Soludo said the proposal was fundamentally flawed and was based on a false foundation.
The Managing director, Financial Derivative Limited, Bismarck Rewane, also said the NLNG was a cash cow and should not be sold.
“I believe in the sale of national asset in a strategic manner. That is, you sell and go into a simultaneous repurchase agreement, so that when the prices go up, you can buy it back and pay a carrying cost. But, I am against selling the NLNG, because it is a cash cow.
“You can sell a non-strategic asset at this time. But, even if you sell the strategic asset, you cannot even lock down. So, we must have a simultaneous option to repurchase when the prices improve,” he said.
The chief consultant of B. Adedipe Associates, Biodun Adedipe, said: “I am not in support of the sale of the nation’s oil asset because of recession. That will amount to a desperate move to weather the storm. What are we going to use the money for?”
All the major labour unions, NLC, TUC, PENGASSAN, and NUPENG described those calling for the sale of national asset as “enemies of Nigeria.”
The NLC President, Ayuba Wabba, described those behind the proposal as “economic vampires government must beware of.”
PENGASSAN also labelled the recommendation as a self-destructive move Nigerians must resist.