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2016 Business Eye Roundtable Panel Discussion

2016 Roundtable Special Edition

The 2016 Business Eye Roundtable Discusstion held on Thursday 14 January at The Wheatbaker, Ikoyi, Lagos. At the event, stakeholders from the public and private sectors gathered to lend their voices to, and to chart the way forward for the Nigerian economy in 2016. Public leaders, economic experts, social analysts and critics, industry captains and government officials were in attendance. The panelists at the event were Rt. Hon. Rotimi Amaechi, Minister of Transport; Mr. Bismarck Rewane, Managing Director at Financial Derivatives Ltd.; Mrs. Ibim Semenitari, Acting Managing Director at Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC); and Dr. Abiodun Akinkunmi, Lagos State Commissioner for Finance; while Mr. Kayode Akintemi, General Manager (Operations) at Channels Television, moderated the sessions. Muyiwa Falola provides excerpts.

Kayode Akintemi: We are at that point in Nigeria where some people are saying this is the worst it will ever be, so the only way is up from here on. But there are some of us who are not economists but we are quite cynical. And we are saying that we haven’t bottomed out yet; that we are not at the lowest that the economy of Nigeria will be. And for that reason, it means we have to brace ourselves and that means we will also have a very interesting conversation awaiting us this morning because we have an economist, we have a minister, we have a former commissioner who has done a lot of reportorial, we have a currently serving commissioner, and also we have different people who will be having this conversation with us. Then of course, every single individual in these room is an economist of some sort.

So I would start by first asking the Honourable Minister for Transport that we have an economy that some economists and those of us who are not economists have said has not bottomed out. You have inherited this; but a lot of people are saying very clearly that it is seven months or almost eight months of this government and your position being minister is just weeks old. If we were counting weeks, where do you think we are as Nigeria?

Rotimi Amaechi: I prefer that question should go to Bismarck who is an economist.

Kayode Akintemi: Before I ask Bismarck, I would want to find out from you. You have inherited an economy that everybody seems to believe is dysfunctional. A lot of people said a lot of money is being stolen or being looted and we have serious fraud. But I want to believe that those who are working with the present government would know that we have a problem. How serious is that problem? You were at that federal executive council meeting yesterday. What are you saying amongst yourselves?


Rotimi Amaechi: Every single member of the Federal Executive Council is aware that we are in big problem. I think we have seen that much in the Nigerian public. The problem is that the Nigerian public either seems not to believe or they assume that we are miracle workers. The assumption is that, once you are voted into power, we say, ‘God, give us better economy’ and the economy will just drop and everybody will begin to enjoy. It is not going to be so. It is going to be a bit challenging. I hate to use the word ‘difficult’. I prefer to see it as a challenge. When I listened to Bismarck talk about Nigerians saying, ‘it is time to stop criticizing the past government’, I will say ‘no, you can’t say that’. You certainly can’t say that. When I was speaking about what the past government was doing, how many Nigerians stood out with me? Nigerians are forgetting that, even before Lamido Sanusi and President Jonathan began to quarrel, I had to leak that letter. Sanusi wrote a letter to the President in September. I leaked it sometime in January.  And that letter was personal: “Mr President, $49b was missing. And that was it.” I got a copy of that letter and I looked at it. Americans visited me saying that the president had invited them to come and see how much they can protect the crude oil or stamp out crude oil theft and that those stealing our crude oil have become the seventh largest producers of oil in Africa. Seventh! I asked how much they are stealing and they said ‘$7b a year. I told them to forget that, and let them steal $7b and instead requested that they should save us from this missing $49b. When they asked how, I showed them the letter the CBN governor wrote. Instead of the federal government to deal with the matter, they began to debate with the CBN governor, and Nigerians joined in the debate, with chants of ‘it’s not possible’, ‘it’s not possible’. Now they have seen that it is possible. Maybe when the federal government concludes the ongoing investigations with the arms deal, they will go to oil. Maybe when they finish with oil, they will go to education. You will be seeing the stealing as it is going. And Nigerians were clapping for them for stealing. They said I am insolent. They said I don’t respect the president. But I kept on emphasizing that they were stealing. And you were clapping for them. Now you are asking us who didn’t join in the stealing to do what? To begin to do miracles? Not so.

Let me go to answer the question. Are we out of the problem or is it the end of the problem? No. It is scaring. We had assumed that if the benchmark was $38, we will be comfortable. But as we are talking now, the oil price is $30. This means the National Assembly must have adjusted the benchmark towards $20+, because if they leave it at $38, where will the money come from? Economists have argued that it may rise to $40 – $45. Supposing it doesn’t?  In fact, our initial projection was $42. And the following week, we saw the price something coming down to $43. We then arrived at $38. So now that we projected $38, it is $29. No one knows what will happen until it gets to a point where production cost is higher than the money in sales. That is when you can say that those causing this crisis may have to look for a way to find solution to this problem. I will therefore not say it has bottomed out completely. We had a debate on a platform I belong to, called the ‘Port Harcourt Advisory Committee’. Those people were advising me when I was a governor. You will see different kinds of citizens’ action. Our citizens are not docile. But a lot of Nigerian critics are critics because they are waiting to be part of the sharing. When they start criticising, it is because they are requesting to be invited to be part of the feast. The mentality of these critics is that if they don’t get invited to the feast, then they will continue to criticize. Those who joined in the feasting are clapping. So Kayode, I don’t know whether I have bottomed out. And I am not saying this as Minister, because we will start seeing headlines screaming ‘Federal Government said…’ This is not federal government. This is me telling you about the role I played as Governor of Rivers State.

Kayode Akintemi: We are saying that things have not bottomed out yet, and we know that an international financial organization has said clearly that it probably will go as low as $20pb? That’s the crude oil that we depend on so much. If that is the case, are we approaching the management of our fiscal policy the right way, going forward, looking at the budget we have now?


Bismarck Rewane: Yes. First and foremost, there is what we call cyclicality of market and economic activity. So it could go down. Even if it goes to $20, the closer we are to the bottom, the faster the recovery will be. Agreed, the resilience of the economy and the versatility of that economy depends on how you have used the past. And if you don’t have the buffers of the past, then you are going to start building it from today. So there will be the long term measures, but there will be the short term haemorrhage issues which you are going to deal with. Most important is that – and I don’t want to overlabour this – it is important that the people and the stakeholders must understand the gravity of the problem. And that it is time for mobilization of the people for sacrifice. To make them aware, to make them know that there is political democracy, that there is economic democracy, and that there is peoples’ rights. This country spent $1m a day during the civil war. This country compelled all Nigerians to save 20% of their salaries during the civil war. No external borrowings and we were able to prosecute the war, run an economy as well as finance reconstruction, rehabilitation and redevelopment of the country. So it has been done before. It is the will, the capacity to do it, and being honest and sincere about it to the populace that are most important. I say this because if President Buhari cannot communicate this to the people, if he cannot make the sacrifices, if he cannot lead the sacrifices, I don’t see any other person who can. He has the credentials. It is important that the people must believe in him to carry it out and that he is not going to chisel them. That is important.

Now, what are the policies? The policies are fiscal, the policies are monetary, the policies are social, the policies are trade, and all of these things must be consistent. So there is also creating an understanding of political office holders, understanding of policy makers, consistency of policy with the peoples’ expectations and consistency of policy with market expectations. There are three things that are required: revenue has to be improved, borrowing, debt and investments. Revenue is out of our control, but to a large extent, we can raise it, we can enhance it, we can stop leakages. For debt, we will have to repay because it comes with interest. Investment is what we need more than anything else.

So what is it that is going to make people invest? Investment is a response to confidence in a market. There is an inverse relationship between confidence and risk on one hand and uncertainty on the other. People don’t mind risks. They can manage risks. They can mitigate it. They can avoid it if they want to. But what people don’t like is uncertainty. You cannot say this morning that one cannot go to the Bureau de Change’s and in the afternoon you come out to say you can now go to the Bureau de Change’s. You cannot say it is illegal to wear a white shirt in the morning and it becomes legal to wear it in the evenings. That is uncertainty. I want to know that there is some certainty. What you see is what you get. Investors must be confident to do it. So I don’t care what you say. If you policies are consistent and if they reduce uncertainty, people will invest. And when they invest, this economy will recover faster than you ever think.

Kayode Akintemi: There are people who will tell virtually everyone on earth that speaking truth to authority is absolutely essential and I think that is what the Rt. Hon. Chibuike Amaechi has done during the previous government’s regime. May I ask you Mr. Rewane, would you want to speak the truth to this government? Do you believe that where we are at now, almost eight months on, there are some things missing that need to be done in terms of creating the fiscal policy to get us out of the doldrums we are in?

Bismarck Rewane: I think the question is: Do you want to tell the Nigerian people the truth? You see, these leaders are there at the mercy of the people. They did not appoint themselves. And even if they rigged themselves into elections, they will be thrown out. So the reality is that we should have a public debate. I will say what I like to say on Channels Television. You cannot tell me – neither you nor John Momoh can tell me – what I say. I say what I say and nobody edits what I say, right? And if President Buhari wants to listen, he is free to listen. If he does not want to listen, he will find out later – sooner or later – that it is the truth. You cannot run away from the truth. I am not looking for a job, so I will tell you the way I think it is and there is nothing you can do about it. If you don’t believe it, that is your own business. But that is the truth. The earlier people start saying the truth to the public rather than coming to tell you in the private, the better for everybody. We will have our private discussions, but the only way to make him do what he has to do is to say it publicly. I sent a text the other day to Ameachi: ‘The air conditioners were not working in the airport’. He didn’t respond. All I found out was that the next day the air conditioners were working. When we were in the trenches, he will respond and call me. But now that he is in the office, he knows that if I tell him today that the air conditioners are not working, the next day I will be on Channels and say the air conditioners are not working and it will be more expensive. So we have an honest relationship. I will tell him the fact. We do not agree on everything, but we agree to discuss everything. I think that is communication and the way it should be. Abiodun Akinkunmi is here, I see him every day. I told him the other day that finally, I got water. For six weeks, there was no water. I called him and said, ‘if you don’t fix the water, I am going to go on air and say there is no water.’ And it is not just me that did not have water. He agreed that this is what is happening and it worked. So tell the people the truth. The people are the ones that appointed these officers, Tell the people the truth. If you tell them, we will have more citizen activism, which is what we need.


Rotimi Amaechi: Just hold on there. That is what I was saying earlier that the problem of the Nigerian government and the Nigerian people are the Nigerian peoples themselves. Because, if at the time we were saying there was heavy stealing going on and they had citizen action and people were on the streets to demand explanation, maybe it would have been better. You see, the then CBN governor is not a mad man. He does not smoke. He does not take alcohol. Honestly, I know him very well. I am not aware that he will sit down in his office and dislike people and write a letter of $49b not accounted for and then the president goes to war whether it is true or not. You know somebody quoted me when Wole Soyinka invited me to a function when I said that, ‘if Nigerian citizens continued to remain docile, the Nigerian thieves will continue to steal.’ The only way that you can stop Nigerian thieves from stealing is that the people will come out and fight for themselves. The other civilized way you would have fought would have been voting. But unfortunately, the voting process in Nigeria is yet to be transparent. Until it becomes transparent, that is when you can say: ‘Let me keep quiet; I am waiting for him or her for four years.’ And some Nigerians will still vote you again into power after four years, egunje right? God bless you.

Kayode Akintemi: In terms of revenue, a number of States across the country are facing serious or dire situation because of lack of fund. In fact, a number of economists have said of States in Nigeria, that some of them are insolvent because they can’t pay salaries and some of them have serious issues. How do you begin to move from the level where the likes of Governor Amaechi, Governor Fashola and others have taken governance in their states, raising the bar in terms of revenue generation, how do you go further from there? Who do you begin to get more money from? In terms of Internally Generated Revenue, who do you get it from? The people who don’t have money now, or where?

Abiodun Akinkunmi: First thing, we are not going to raise taxes. I just want to make that very clear. But with that said, there is a bit of history to it. In 1999, we had a bit of a challenge with the federal government.

Lagos State internally generated revenue was around N600m and with that, it stretched for a while and the then governor, Asiwaju Ahmed Bola Tinubu, started looking inwards and that N600m moved up to N20b, which is what we have today.

I always pride that Lagos is looking more like a country as opposed to a State. Now, a lot of the laws that we use for revenue generation are federal-based. And what we are doing in Lagos is to be more efficient in our collection, and we are have not even scratched the surface. So we are employing more technology and working more with the private sector. The business of Lagos is real estate. As you well know, Lagos is becoming very high density and even right here where we are now in Ikoyi, the value is up quite high. So we need to be more efficient. We are getting more and more quite efficient in our collection. And if I take you back in 2014 relative to 2015, 2014 was a good year while 2015 was an election year and there was a bit of challenge. Yet our 2015 collection is higher than 2014 collection. That shows you the trend; that shows you the good news coming to Lagos.  And our budget, which of course, has been passed, is I bout 24% higher than the previous year. So, there is a lot of exciting things coming out of Lagos, a lot of good news coming out of Lagos in the areas of internal generated revenue.

Kayode Akintemi: Do you think that other states around the country, especially those that are finding it extremely difficult to survive, do you think they can replicate what Lagos is doing?

Abiodun Akinkunmi: Well, I believe so…

Rotimi Amaechi (cuts in): Hold on there. If Zamfara employs more technology and become more efficient, they will raise the kind of money you just told us? Certainly not.

Abiodun Akinkunmi: Your Excellency, we will take it case by case.


Rotimi Amaechi: You did not say so. The question was can the other states do the same thing? You said yes, if they are more business friendly. So, I am Zamfara governor. I like business, I give free tax. Just come to Zamfara. Don’t do anything. Then you will tax the cows, tax those who chase the cows. Just tell me who? The location of Lagos is essential in determining its economic viability. The next thing is the presence of the federal government. You must also realize that. I tell people that as governor of Rivers State, I have never seen any federal government infrastructure in Rivers State. Let the federal government come and name one. They are mostly infrastructures built by the state government.

Someone cuts in from the audience: The airport!

Rotimi Amaechi: What is the airport? The one they say is the worst airport in Nigeria? Security is not the same. As a governor, when there is crisis in Lagos, we all come in to make sure no one knows about the crisis because it will affect the entire Nigerian economy. So it will be wrong to say that whatever you apply in Lagos can be applied in Sokoto. There are a lot of factors to be put into consideration, because some of you will say ‘they are bad governors’. No! I usually say that if you take Bishop Desmond Tutu to be the president of an apartheid South Africa, it will not be different from what the white man is doing because the system is still the same.

Kayode Akintemi: Ibim, you’ve been a journalist, you’ve been a commissioner, now you are heading an agency of government. In terms of management of agencies of government, I guess NDDC would be quintessential in terms of what you see across the board. What has been your experience in the last few days, and do you think agencies of government in Nigeria do justice to whatever resources government put at their disposal?

Ibim Semenitari: I think that there is something that Bismarck raised which perhaps we should think about and that is the role of the peoples themselves in why government agencies do not function; because in just a few weeks at the NDDC, you will find that the rot cascades.

It is not about what the agencies are doing or not doing right. It is what the people themselves are doing.

Let me give you an example. For the NDDC, which works as an interventionist agency in the Niger Delta, the contractors are largely from Niger Delta. So when you talk about failed projects, you are talking about failed projects by contractors from the region who are supposed to be doing work for the region, but who refuse to do it. You talk about complicity by staff who are not necessarily political leaders but who are civil servants at various cadre whether at junior, middle or senior cadre, who are accomplices in the stealing of government revenue because they do not allow the contractors do their job or allow due process. So it is not about government agencies as much as about the interaction between allow of us, whether we are staff, or contractors, or service providers, or even family members or community leaders, or young people, or traditional leaders, or the elite. It is about the failure of everyone to take part in their own governance. And I think that is the point Bismarck is making when he said it is about the people. It does not matter what you do about the economy this year, if we don’t talk about behaviour change from top to bottom, then we are going nowhere.

We cannot continue, and let me quote Bismarck unashamedly, “eating pork chops, and travelling the same lifestyle, and taking caviar, and drinking champagne and expect any difference, if we don’t change our spending pattern”. So we have got to begin to ask ourselves critical questions as to whether we want the economy to function or not.

Kayode Akintemi: Okay, so you work for government now, and one of the government agencies. Where do we begin in terms of engaging the citizens for that change of orientation? We have a National Orientation Agency that does not seem to engage Nigerians in changing orientation. Where do we begin, because people are likely to wake up one day and replicate what happened in Egypt? But we don’t want it to get to that. Where do we begin the engagement?

Ibim Semenitari: Where we begin is with things like this; and this is without prejudice to the things we have done in Business Eye. One of the reasons why Business Eye started this series of talking about what is going on is to get everyone in the room having a conversation and deciding to do something about it. So it is not just about waiting for the people, I agree with you; it is also about what the role of the media in ensuring that there is a change in behaviour. At what point does the media stop taking sides with two politicians in a room, in a debate, but rather takes sides with the people and insists on accountability on the part of those people who are there to serve? At what point should the media be saying to Mr. President, or to the Minister of Transport, or to the Managing Director of Niger Delta, ‘we want to know what happened to budget 2015?’ So, yes you are doing all of these budget round for 2016, but how did you spend 2015, and why are you repeating items in Budget 2016 that we noticed in 2015? Didn’t you do those things? Why are you buying a transistor radio in today’s world as part of your problems for 2016? Why are you repeating this road five times? Why am I seeing this road appear in the NDDC budget, in the Rivers State budget and in the Federal Government budget; same road, same number of kilometres, why? The media must begin to ask the critical questions of government and of people who are supposed to be superintending government agencies.

Kayode Akintemi: So, we have a problem with our media? Is that what you are implying?

Ibim Semenitari: I am saying the media could do better.


Kayode Akintemi: So, the media could do better not that the media has not. Yes. Okay?

Bismarck Rewane: Ibim, now you have hit the nail on the head. NDDC; you have been there, couple of days. When are you going to name and shame? We have a hundred thousand – or I don’t know – abandoned projects. Where are the projects? Who are behind it? And the people are walking around. It is not just Dasukigate, there should be an NDDCgate.

Ibim Semenitari: Message taken.

Rotimi Amaechi: Nobody is frightened by your threat of an Egypt thing replicating in Nigeria. It is not possible. Why it is not possible in Nigeria is that Nigerian citizens are participants in government. The Egyptian citizens were not part of government. They were not. Why I say that Nigerian citizens were part of government is that as you sit here, 80% of the people a governor sees a day are people asking for money. They are not asking for money because they know you are productive; they now your salary. Nigerian citizens know your salary. They know that by right. For them, there is no other normal or legal means by which you can make money. So what they are saying to you is, ‘we know you touch illegal money; can you bring it for us to share?’ Now, when they take that money, what they will be asking for is not a change in the system but a change in individuals. Nigerians wanted change. We have brought change. What are you complaining about?’ The change the president has brought is a change in the system. He is saying no to a lot of things that had become the norm. This is the first time ministers are being paid N4m for accommodation. N4m in Abuja will give you accommodation in Gwarinpa and Nyanya, not at Maitama and Asokoro. And the president says that is what the law says. When he says ‘lead by example’, that is what you are seeing now. Nigerians don’t want that kind of change. What they want is change in human beings and then the ‘sharing’ continues.

Kayode Akintemi: If we are going to create change, you will expect that change to begin with those who work with government or for government. Ministry of Transport for example, if we are going to see change, where are we going to begin? Removal of NDLEA from there, removal of Customs, the 13 or 14 agencies that are working with the same establishment and at the end of the day a number of them are not really doing much beyond, ‘oga, take care of your boys o’. How do we begin that change?

Rotimi Amaechi: That is not just the only thing. For me, the change is symbolic. The change should be structured. It should be such that at first, it has to affect the economy. We are currently in the process of trying to look at how many agencies can be at the airport, how many agencies can be at the seaport, why should someone travelling have to give his or her passport to an immigration officer and thereafter, an SSS officer seizes it? What an SSS officer is doing at the airport is to monitor watch list. By now there should not be a watch list because this federal government is not afraid of anybody. It was under the last government that they had a watch list and my name was there, but I was travelling freely. So if there is a watch list, all the agencies can integrate. They can stay in their offices and interact. You will see Nigerian Army at the airport, you will see Nigerian Police, and you will see Civil Defence. And they are all supposed to be there for security. The army should go back; the civil defence should also go back. Let the Police man the airport. If there is any challenge that will overwhelm the Police, then soldiers will be invited by the Chief Security Officer of the airport and they will come.  You have a case where an officer of the Nigerian Airforce is at the airport with the sole responsibility of passing officers’ wives and former officers’ into the plane, when they are travelling.

As a governor, I will usually queue up with other travellers and Nigerians will put it on social media. As governor, I was doing that in my own interest because if I don’t search my box and my suitcase and they put something there before I fly, then I will be in trouble at Heathrow, for instance. So it is better for me to queue up here and go through the processes. At Heathrow, I will be more comfortable because my luggage has already been searched here. I don’t see why governors will want to travel and there are twenty to forty staff running after them at the airport. But when the same governor gets to London, he does not have any staff running after him. He walks in all by himself, right? So why can’t he walk in here? Some of them would come in and just go through the way out. Then one tout will come in and say he is from foreign affairs, pick their passports and go and stamp. Foreign affairs has no business being at the airports except there is a dignitary that is coming to Nigeria that the foreign affairs has to receive. A foreign affairs staff comes to the airport to receive the dignitary and go. What is image laundering? Wonderful government, reduced people at the airport, seamless airport or seamless terminals and so on.

The major thing are economics and punishment. When Governor Wike accused me of being corrupt, I asked him to proceed to court. According to the law, even if the tribunal or the panel indicts me, I cannot be punished for that indictment. But if you take me to court and I am found guilty, I would not even be a minister and I would not serve. But instead of going to court, you are going to press every day. I believe that what the government is doing today is the right thing – by going to court against those they have alleged to have committed the crime of corruption. And when there is punishment, then there will be that change. If you are leading by example, first thing is to keep the law. No fat ministers any more. You can see the president. You don’t see the president’s wife everywhere, do you? Do you see her flying? In fact, the former president, when the wife is flying, all the aircrafts will wait on the ground first. You know that? This one, you see the wife of the vice-president in commercial airline, right? The same with the president. It is not symbolic. That is what the law says. So, if we keep to the law, you will find out that everybody is ordinary. It is the authority you give to me that makes me special. If you say you will pass the same road with me, try it and see, nobody will stop you. Try it, I did. I tried it, didn’t I?

Kayode Akintemi: If we move on to one of the things you just highlighted in terms of investment, there is hope for Nigeria if there are enough investments. But if there is none, no matter what we generate, we will end up spending. But if there is investment, it means there is hope for creating jobs and opportunities for the future. How do we begin to make that happen individually, as entrepreneurs and for government creating enabling environment especially with the level of uncertainty that we tend to have now and then?

Bismarck Rewane: First of all, let us understand it in the context of macroeconomics. The national income is made up of government expenditure, investments and consumption. Consumption will consume, but government and investment have multiplier effects. This government is relying on an increase in government expenditure, borrowing and debt financing to jumpstart and stimulate the economy out of the problem. It has to be complemented by investment and there is an investment multiplier. That is, if you invest N100b, the impact on income will be a multiplier on that one. Two, it creates jobs. Three, there is transfer of technology. And four, the money that comes in as investments is used to pay off some debt items. So, it is multifaceted. Its impact is quite profound. And when investors make that decision, they are taking a risk. They are altering their position. Others will follow. And so, if there is anything that this country needs, it is investments; but investment in competitiveness, not investment in protectionism. Investments respond to signals. You cannot penalize people. Regulatory agencies are supposed to be collaborative, not adversarial. If you want to get a Nigerian visa and you go to the Nigerian High Commission or Embassy and you cannot get it, then the ease of doing business, the competiveness, the narrative has to change to, ‘we want investments’. You want to go out and get investments so that it can affect the production, consumption and saving functions for Nigeria. There is this saying that even though you raise all the revenue in the world, and you raise all the debt in the world, it will not have the impact that investments will have. But if you complement all of these with the investment, you will find what is happening in China – $3.2b of reserves, second largest economy in the world, the Chinese market opens every morning and everybody is shaking. This was a country that was that – 10 to 15 years ago – virtually nobody cared about them. But they have made a conscious decision to invest more than 12% of their GDP every year on infrastructure for an extended period. Now, they have the fastest train in the world. We are all going there. We are going there to go and talk to them about our railway. We are going there to talk about everything. It couldn’t have happened in the past.

Kayode Akintemi: So, what do we need to do here? Key things.

Rotimi Amaechi: Check corruption and stealing.

Bismarck Rewane: Reduce uncertainty. Make consistent policies. Give the people incentives. Do not penalize people willingly. Encourage collective responsibility and ensure competitiveness. If other countries are doing it, do better. Otherwise, you will not be a destination for investments. The target is your own Nigerian investors first, before international investors. India for example – when they needed money – the Indians in Diaspora came in fired up by incentives, working with Goldman Sachs and they were able to use it to fund and bridge the gap. So, the message, the consistency, the incentives and the discipline not to raid the funds is important. And once the signals are clear and consistent, this country can attract as much investment as it actually needs.

Kayode Akintemi: I remember that in 2005/2006, I came back to Nigeria and I did a little bit of work in radio and at that point, I was trying to get the then governor, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, to be a guest on a radio show that I anchored then for just about three months. And I remember very vividly that the commissioner for information at the time, Dele Alake said, ‘it’s not easy to get Asiwaju; I mean Lagos is a country on its own; it’s like if Lagos sneezes, the rest of the country will catch cold.’ Now, let’s look at short term plan for Lagos. Because, if it works in Lagos, there is a potential that we can replicate, though, never mind what the ex-governor has said that Zamfara might not be able to do the same thing. But if it works in Lagos, it might be replicated across the country.  What will be your short term view or plan for Lagos State, because there are Lagosians here. If we want to look at it, can you just itemize some of it?

Abiodun Akinkunmi: The big thing for us, at least on the short term 2016, is infrastructure. Investment in infrastructure. I am sure you have seen our light rail, the blue line coming from Oworonsoki all the way to CMS. We have the red rail as well. Even within this year, we are preparing for the Lekki axis to accommodate Dangote and his products. So we can open more of the roads from Epe axis all the way to Ikorodu. We have a whole lot on the infrastructure. On the social side, we are looking at all our schools and reviewing the physical structure, the curriculum, and all the benefits for our teachers. On the health side, we are going back again and looking at our hospitals. Some of the hospitals started as clinics and some of them are now being used as general hospitals. So all of these are on the radar high of the Lagos governor. Also on the social side, we have the one meal a day which we will definitely do hopefully before the end of the second quarter of this year. What is important for us is to make sure that at least, we cover the entire chain of that one meal a day and make sure that it works well. So these are very critical to the governor and as our campaign promises, we take them very seriously.

Kayode Akintemi: I was leading up to the final question I was going to ask you. You mentioned infrastructure, schools, the physical structures, health – to do with hospitals, one-meal-a-day and so on. The conversation here is, ‘Nigeria’s Economy 2016, Charting The Way Forward’. What within your plan is geared towards the improvement of your economy plan by those things you itemised that are short term plans? How do you align it with the economy of Lagos State?

Abiodun Akinkunmi: Just to step back a little bit, Governor Akinwunmi established an office within his office called, ‘The Lagos Global’. And the idea of The Lagos Global is to encourage foreign investors as a one-stop-shop coming into Lagos. Within that, we are looking to address a whole lot of the incoming investments into Lagos and to fast track a lot of the foreign investors that are looking forward in coming into the state. Now, how does that work in line with our infrastructure? When you build infrastructure, you solve a whole lot of problems. The goods and services move a lot faster. Again, I hate talking about Dangote, but it is the reality because it is significant investment.

Dangote products have to move from the Lekki axis. We cannot afford to have the same challenge that we have in Apapa today.

And right on the same line, we have the Lekki Free Trade Zone. We will be talking about the Lagos Airport. So there is a lot of interesting things coming around that.

Kayode Akintemi: So the final question now for Ibim. You are working with an agency now. You are managing a government agency that is extremely important to the Niger Delta. The American government, a number of other governments and international organizations, value the importance of the Niger Delta and that is why they are investing in re-orientation of those who have been Niger Delta militants and so on. Going forward for NDDC, what will be the long term, short term, medium term plan that you can quickly itemize for us apart from the number of contracts that have been given out? What will be the key things you want to focus on that will change the economy of the Niger Delta as a whole?

Ibim Semenitari: Well, the NDDC Act stipulates that the commission’s role really as an interventionist agency is also to be able to help affect policy and planning for the Niger Delta region. That aspect of the commission assignment over the years has gradually taken a back seat, while we have become more of a contract awarding commission. And that is what we are changing in the immediate. We are changing that in the immediate to go back to the original reason for the commission. How do we ensure that – whether at the federal, the state or the local government levels – the policies tie into the Niger Delta development master plan? That is part of what we are going to do. We are collaborating; we are speaking a lot along partnerships. We are looking at partnerships with the local governments, with the states, with the federal government agencies. And I am sure you already saw that. We engaged in one with the amnesty programme where we are moving it from a situation where the NDDC or the amnesty programme is seen to be a handout to ‘the boys’. We are moving from there to saying that we should be talking wealth creation. How do we move a region from just a question of ‘dash’ to a question of creating people who are entrepreneurs?  A lot of what we will be doing in our budgeting this year would be looking at wealth creation and entrepreneurship, how we can move people into becoming micro-entrepreneurs, how we can move the micro-entreprenuers into becoming small business owners, how we can move the small business owners into becoming medium business owners, and so on. That is what we want to do in the region. If we do that, we know that the economy of the region will improve.

The other thing we are looking at is how to intervene in terms of high-impact infrastructure. Not just infrastructure in the sense of the one kilometre roads or the solar lights that go nowhere and that are in bushes. We want to begin to look at high impact structures. If we are intervening in infrastructure, it will be infrastructure as it will directly impact on the people. We will look at completing projects like the cardio-vascular hospitals or things like that, which are regional projects that will immediately affect lives and then help the federal and state governments spend less in that area. So it will be collaborative. And it is interesting to note, for instance, that last year the NDDC in the first half, that is January-May, received about N15b. But since President Buhari came in, between June and December, the commission received N27b from the federal government. That is a difference of 12 billion already. It shows that, in terms of commitment, we have a government right now that is actually willing do things in the Niger Delta area. Doing things that could go beyond what we are handing out to how we are changing the area, so that you are not talking about agitators. Every morning when I get to the commission I see a lot boys who are calling out to me. We have to move beyond that because really, the people in that region are a proud people. How do we move them back to where they were? We have to move to where they are not just becoming layabouts who go around trying to ask for handouts, but actually people who become wealth creators.

Published in the Business Eye’s print version, Feb 2016 edition.

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