Nigerians yet to realise enormity of recession – Aregbesola

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… says fresh crisis looms

  • Sanusi, Bakare, Ambode dissect economy, proffer solutions
Uba Group

G overnor of the State of Osun, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, has said that most Nigerians have yet to come to terms with the level of dilemma the current economic recession has thrown the country into.
This was even as he warned that the country risked a fresh recession and, indeed, might be in for deeper economic troubles, should oil price fall below its current level in the international market.
According to Aregbesola, the nation is in a dilemma, which most Nigerians unfortunately assume is mild.
The governor spoke when he joined experts across different fields at The Point Newspaper’s Public Presentation and First Annual Conference on Economic Regeneration, titled, ‘What is the Economics of Change?,’ last Friday in Lagos.
Wondering why Nigerians could depend on what they were not producing, he challenged them to domesticate their day-to-day needs and said this would serve as an antidote to the current recession.
Aregbesola, who was Lead Presenter, said, “Nigeria is in a dilemma and it should interest us to know how to get out of it. It does not appear to me that many of us understand the dilemma our nation is in. We need to understand what form of dilemma we are in. We (Nigerians) assume we are in a small thing. It’s either we survive or we starve to death.
“We should take our destiny in our hands and challenge the orthodox (developed countries), who say we must depend on imported things to live. Why must a nation depend on what it does not produce?”
He added, “We can no longer fund our forex. If we can domesticate the materials we use in building houses and what we wear, there will not be recession. But as we keep depending on importation, we will need a miracle to get out of this recession.
“In the 70s, rice was eaten. Rice was subsidised to lure Nigerians into rice consumption. Today, we are no longer interested in eating yam, plantain and other locally produced foods,” he lamented.
Aregbesola also stated that if the country failed to take necessary steps to change the direction of its economy from dependency to self-sufficiency, the recession being experienced at the moment might be mild compared to the hardship that would follow.
According to him, changing the direction of the economy to make it self-sufficient would require some sacrifice, hard work, determination and unrelenting pursuit on the part of the country.
He, however, said that failure to make such sacrifice and endure the hardship involved would make it imperative for the country to prepare for a fresh period of recession anytime the price of oil fell again.
Aregbesola pointed out that the country also needed a national policy on entrepreneurship development. He noted that the most successful and leading enterprises in the country were owned largely by foreigners, with Nigerians being minority shareholders.
The State of Osun governor added that the cause of the recessions Nigeria had so far experienced had always been a fall in the price of crude oil in the international market.
He attributed the severity of the current recession to the lack of foresight and planning on the part of governments, adding that the difference between past recessions and the current one was that the previous ones never lasted this long.
He, therefore, called on Nigerians to shift from over-dependence on foreign products to patronage of locally made goods to boost the nation’s economy and help to pull her out of the woods.
Other prominent Nigerians, who spoke at the conference, blamed the current economic hardship facing the country on existing obsolete laws and lack of adequate fiscal policies.
They agreed that it had become imperative for the current administration to overhaul the political and economic system inherited from its predecessors to avoid greater consequences arising from increasing hardship, high lending rate and economic sabotage.
The captains of industries argued that the recovery of the largest economy in Africa could only stand on a tripod, including government efforts, citizens’ embrace of the change mantra and the ability of the country to live with the consequences of its decisions.
The Emir of Kano, His Royal Highness Muhammadu Sanusi II, who was the Special Guest of Honour at the conference, blamed the current economic recession in the country on decades of policy failure.
Sanusi said that failure on the part of the country’s past leaders, who introduced policies which he said had become a clog in the wheel of its economic development, to put in place the right policies was responsible for the current hardship.
According to him, stopping Nigerians from consuming imported goods is not the biggest problem confronting the country, but the lack of local production of essential commodities and goods.
Sanusi said, “The policy makers have failed to produce those commodities here. When I became the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, I was obsessed with the issue that Nigeria was importing tomato paste from China because we had a very large tomato belt in Kano and I knew that the farmers lost 50 per cent of their products between the farm and the market. What we cannot get from China, we import from Italian companies owned by Chinese.
“There was an argument that most of the tomatoes produced in the North were watery and that they could not make the red paste. But we discovered that there were 33 different varieties of seed that could produce the Chinese red paste, sitting in Nigerian research institutions and they were not being commercialised because some genius had written a law that said that a company had monopoly of foundation seeds. All it took was a change in that regulation. We brought in the seed and supplied the farmers, trained them and negotiated the price. If that factory operates at full capacity, it can produce one-third of the total tomato paste imported into the country in one year. It is just about having the right policies in place.”
Sanusi, therefore, advised the Federal Government to take decisive steps on the type of economy it wants to run.
The Senate President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Dr. Bukola Saraki, however, said that factors like harsh economic environment, obsolete laws, weak governance framework affecting public accountability, bogged down by obsolete laws and practices were responsible for the current situation.
The Senate President, who was represented by the Chairman, Senate Committee on Banking, Insurance and Other Financial Institutions, Sen. Rafiu Ibrahim, noted that the expectations of Nigerians were high.
“We have the will and we have the zeal. What we ask for is the support of all Nigerians to go with us all the way. This is the time to create the necessary structure for a new Nigeria to emerge,” he said.
The General Overseer, Latter Rain Assembly, Pastor Tunde Bakare, who was the Chairman of the occasion, explained that having a clear definition of what change implied for Nigeria and Nigerians at such a critical period had become crucial.
He said, “Does it mean numerical and qualitative improvement? Does it mean a radical re-thinking of the very basis of our nationhood? We need to critically assess, not only the content of the change agenda but also its philosophical underpinnings. Is the change of which we speak bold and robust enough in the light of Nigeria’s governance needs? Or does it need to be fundamentally re-considered, re-focused or expanded?
“Do we perhaps need to expand the content of change to include an economic perspective on the restructuring debate?” Bakare noted that, as far as the content of change was concerned, the communication strategy to keep the people abreast of development was very important.
For him, there was still an opportunity to develop a well-branded and strategically communicated economic plan.
Like Bakare, Governor Akinwunmi Ambode of Lagos State reminded patriotic Nigerians that they should have the same goal of building a strong and sustainable economy that would be efficient in the management of human and national non-oil resources.
Ambode, who was represented at the event by the Lagos State Commissioner for Economic Planning and Budget, Mr. Akinyemi Ashade, observed that it was, however, expedient for Nigerians to agree on the appropriate policy mix that would guarantee the desired results for the country.