Prince Billy Harry is the President, Forum of South-South Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture. In this interview with OLAOLU OLADIPO, he speaks on a wide range of issues affecting the country and calls on President Goodluck Jonathan to demonstrate courageous leadership in tackling the numerous problems plaguing the country.
As a key player, how would you describe the state of the country’s economy?
If I take a look at the country’s economy, I will tell you that we are not progressing in anyway. The scenario is such a big disappointment, considering the calibre of those people saddled with the task of managing the country’s economy as a collective in the National Economic Council. We are not able to see what the economic growth indicators are. So far, what we hear is the numbers being bandied around about the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) rising. You cannot run the economy in isolation of the people: the citizens must have inputs in governance; they must know what those in government are doing if we sincerely want to grow a particular economy. My take is that the economy is not performing at all; it is nothing to write home about, at least in the last one year.
But it is said that the country’s economy has been growing…
What are the parameters used for determining the growth rate of the economy? Is it infrastructural development? Is it the size of the take home pay of the average worker? Is it the activities in the real sector? We have a budget running into N1.7trillion; now we don’t see it being implemented. Rather you hear interventionist initiatives that are supplanting the structure that had been planned. Interventionist programmes should be a short term project that should be implemented and must also be the catalyst to kick-start and make the economy to grow but we do not see that happening. I will give you an example: when you take N3billion to build a school in a local community, you will ask, how does government pay the teachers that would be engaged? Is the school what the local population needed? Projects to be embarked upon must be self sustaining, that is how development is planned. At best, what we have is a growth pattern being used in a rogue way. I will only say that the Nigerian economy is not performing.
If you are in the shoes of President Goodluck Jonathan, what would you have done differently?
Let me say that the economy can never grow if there is no infrastructure to support it. Key amongst these infrastructural requirements is electricity, roads, decent transportation, health care system, water and food. These are key indices for measuring a performing economy. I will suggest that there are key things that the government can do within its powers. For me, there is no magic about how to make power available to the people. Different methods have been achieved privately by the people to general their power requirements, so we are not going to reinvent such means at governmental level.
Government has been implementing its road map on power, what is your opinion?
The road map looks rather attractive to me but when you look closely, there are gaps in the document. For instance, there are still the problems of power transmission and generation in the country. If power is given the desired priority, all will work well. There is the problem with the approach, but I want to say that government can segment its project by mapping out the country into six different zones. Government needs to stop this centralised approach to the issue: some areas can depend on gas-driven generating facilities; some wind; some on solar;? some can depend on hydro power. So when the segmentation is finished, government can now programme its timeline to meet up with the energy requirement schedule. That is the way it works. When such focus is made, that is not to say that other key infrastructure like road should suffer. With that in place, economic growth will come about by re-energising the real sector; economic growth is not about government employing more people.? What I am saying is, let us take power, housing, health and food: these should form the basis; every other thing will fall in place.
Are you satisfied with the privatisation in the power sector?
As far as I know, people who have been in power over the years have only been making the noise without real or concrete action on the issue. The question is: what is government privatising? Is it privatising an encumbered PHCN full of debts and inefficiency? Or is it working to partner the private sector who will try to make it work by injecting the necessary funds? As far as I am concerned, the privatisation process that is ongoing, as good as it should be, is not being fully implemented. It is not being applied at the right speed that would see Nigeria out of the power doldrums. We can have short-term plans to meet up with the developmental needs calculated in such a way that the country does not lose resource. Whatever is done should have the capacity for sustenance, with minimal maintenance. If I am given the opportunity to be the power generating coordinator, I will achieve power sufficiency in less than five years.? It is possible, if contracts that are given to contractors by the government are well monitored and supervised, honestly, it would be attained. We have so many projects that are ongoing simultaneously that are not being monitored. When late President Umaru Yar’Adua was the president, the incumbent was in charge of the power sector reform. So four years down the line, he should have grappled with the intricacies involved in providing electricity to the people. We ought to be seeing results by now, not having a situation whereby people keep paying lip service to the issue.
Apart from power and infrastructure, what other aspect of our national life is begging for reforms?
You can see where my passion is. In other climes the banking system is configured to support activities in the real sector and entrepreneurial endeavours to stimulate the economy, but in Nigeria banks are only busy looking for deposits from virtually all tiers of government. With these deposits, they turn around and declare bogus profits that question how their operations are run. My thinking is that there should be a banking system that should be driving the economy. Unfortunately, the governor of the CBN is not too disposed to putting in place the right measures that would compel the banks to get involved in real economic activities. I think the banks should get down to business by assisting the organised private sector. They (the banks) should be able to work with policies and issues that will give impetus to re-energising the real sector. What we have now is a situation whereby government favours only individual businesses.
What about tourism?
There is no part or country in the world that tourism is not given the pride of place. The tourism potentialities in the country is so enormous. It can be harnessed but I do not see any deliberate efforts by the government to encourage private initiatives in this sector. The situation still goes back to what I said earlier: the lack of adequate infrastructure in the country. How do you explain a situation whereby tourists come and would not be able to move around the country as the roads are bad, or another situation whereby electricity fails when visitors are around. It is ironic to note that tourism alone can fetch this country up to about N7 trillion. Tourism is an untapped goldmine.
How do you see the decision of the government to send a Petroleum Industry Bill to the National Assembly?
I don’t really know the details regarding the contents as there are so many of such versions in circulation, but the issue has questioned government’s transparency; secrecy should not be the order in governance. The Bill has been on the table for so long but we are happy that some of the efforts we had made in the past to call government’s attention to the? series of misnomer? in the industry are being addressed. But the bill should have been allowed for public scrutiny and input.
Are saying government did not consult widely on the issue?
Yes! Those in government are carrying on as if they know it all. They should have allowed critical players to participate in putting the Bill together. I agree that most of the contents would not be acceptable to everybody but, then, what should come out should be what would benefit everyone in the end. If I say, for instance, that community content should form part of the Bill, I won’t be out of place. That is what the government should do; every section of the Bill should have gone through public scrutiny, especially by stakeholders in the industry.? Even the Local Content Bill that was signed into law is still having so much ambiguity because people don’t know how to maximise its benefits. It is the duty of those in government to go from place to place to educate people on the benefits of the Bill. We are happy that it has seen the light of day but we will insist that its passage should be carried out in the right way.
Generally, how would you assess the overall performance of the Presidency of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan?
I will just say that the President needs to buckle up. This is the first time we are having a thoroughly educated breed running the country. By estimation, he should be one president that should understand the intricacies of leadership and would be able to implement right policies that would benefit the people. He was a teacher before coming into power, and as a teacher, he would not want to fail. So far, there are key indicators of the president’s success. For instance, before he came in, the Niger Delta problem was there; it would not be too pleasing to say because he comes from there and that is why the crisis had abated. It’s simply because somebody somewhere is applying ideas that are critical to assuage the agitations of the people of the area. These palliatives are not adequate: the South South is still being shortchanged, and we have not seen a commensurate development of infrastructure in our area regarding the contribution to the national economy. We are not saying that, because he is from the area, he should give us undue advantage in terms of development. Mind you, he is the president of the country, and? must equitably focus policies and actions that would fast- track development of the area.? He should, moreover, develop the economic potentialities of the other areas, so that they will not only get the kind of derivation coming to the South South,they too would contribute meaningfully to the country’s economy.
What areas do you think government should focus more to fast-track development in the Niger Delta?
He needs to ensure that projects to be embarked upon by both the federal government and the individual states are properly supervised to ensure quality because of the difficult terrain. He must also sit up and address the security challenges facing the country. There should be a deliberate, lopsided economic stimulus in favour of the Niger Delta that will take care of the economic disadvantages of the people of the zone.
What do you consider to be the president’s major headache?
It’s the security challenge facing the country. the Niger Delta is not as quiet as it seems. We still have cases of gun battles here and there. I don’t think that the president is complacent about that. You can see what he has done recently: he sacked his kinsman as the national security adviser, which was not out of place as other regions have been having their people appointed in the past.