This interview was first published on 29 October, 2016.
Chief Rasheed Gbadamosi is a former chairman, Petroleum Products Prices Regulatory Agency. He was also a Minister of National Planning. He discusses some economic issues with Ademola Olonilua
Were you surprised when it was officially declared by the Federal Government that Nigeria is in recession?
No, I was not surprised. It had to happen but it was a question of when it would happen. It was meant to have come a long time ago.
Why were you not surprised?
I was not surprised because before Buhari’s regime, we had anticipated that the recession would come. It was something that was anticipated but what did we do? There was a feeling that somehow it would not happen and we would be able to weather the storm but that was not the case. Poor mother Africa was hopeful that the cross would pass over us but it did not seem to be so. There was a feeling that Olusegun Obasanjo could have averted such a situation if it happened during his time.
In what way do you feel Obasanjo could have averted the recession we are currently facing?
Baba Obasanjo in a way had this magical capability but it is a shame he could not bring things about. When we talk about the awful turning point in the economy, I don’t think Buhari can do anything about it, to be frank.
But what do you think brought about the recession Nigeria is currently facing?
I really cannot say what caused it but what I know is that it was meant to have hit Nigeria a long time ago. I need to think a lot about it.
The government has said that the pains of the current recession would not have been severely felt if Nigeria had been saving. Do you agree with them?
It is not just a question of Nigeria saving, we were not totally prepared. I think we threw caution to the wind. Look at what happened to some other nations of the world, they had been through this but they weathered the storm. I think Nigerians thought the world owed us a meal, they believed the world owed us a living.
Some people have opined that the government should spend more on capital development in order to get us out of this recession; others have argued that government should borrow money. What do you think government should do?
What do we need to do? I am frightened, but I believe we do not need to shrink the economy yet again. I really don’t know what the government can do and that has frightened me greatly in the past 24 hours but we don’t need to shrink the economy. I wonder why we believe we need to shrink the economy. I think we should review what has happened in the last four years and open up the economy. We should let the great, the good, and the gullible people of our various spokespersons in the president’s cabinet to start talking in terms of what is happening. I think we should talk a lot now.
Are you saying that Buhari’s cabinet members are not vocal enough about the current economic reality in Nigeria?
They are frightened. They are so frightened by the current situation and they fear for their lives. I think they believe that we may not be able to weather the storm. If we experience another period of drought in this country, we would be in trouble.
When you say trouble, what should Nigerians be expecting that is worse than this?
If we are not able to bring in investors, then we would face the drought. I have noticed that there have been drought in some parts of the country and we don’t want it to be a generalised thing. Let’s hope that there would be no shortage in the land.
Despite the reported effort put in place by the current government, Nigeria still solely depends on importation of fuel. Do you think Nigeria would ever work on its refineries and stop fuel importation?
I am afraid not. I have worked in that sphere and I can tell you that we totally depend on fuel importation.
What can be done to stop that dependency?
I think for a start, we might have to look elsewhere. I have been thinking of the coastal region of Lagos that the Folawiyos might want to do something about. We should look at the coastal ways and see if that might work if we open it up. Also, I have read about the northern coast line but it is very expensive. It is too expensive to explore oil there at the moment. Let us see if they are able to do something about that. They should also look at the promise of gas. We thought we could do something with gas but we did not. What happened to us? It is very sorrowful that we have not been able to utilise the gas. Why did the Niger-Delta boys blow up all what we can get from gas? What were they trying to do? How can you have a nation and not see the promise of the state?
A lot of Nigerians have been clamouring that the government should privatise the refineries. Do you support such calls?
I have always believed in the privatisation of the refineries but my take on that is to say what we believed in and it is that the whole world is going to get saturated sooner or later. There would soon be saturation of hydrocarbon because the whole world would be filled up and I really don’t think there would be redemption.
But do you think the refineries should be privatised?
I have always believed in the privatisation of the refineries. You must just get the proper pricing, get the appropriate amount and if you do that, everything would be alright.
A lot of Nigerians had believed that the fuel subsidy has been removed only for the NNPC to announce that there is still subsidy on the fuel we buy. What do you think is the way forward?
To be frank, I don’t believe there is any subsidy. In all the years that I have worked in that sector, I have never believed in subsidy. If you do not put the appropriate price on a product, you would not get its right price.
It was reported that bodies like MAN, NECA and others came out to say that Buhari’s economic policy is not working. Do you think it is working?
It cannot be ideological. Perhaps in six months down the line, something else can happen, you can never be sure. Wait until the American economy would crash and then Trump would just go crazy. Let’s see what would happen but you would never know.
Do you think Buhari’s administration has a sound economic team?
I am sorry but no, he doesn’t. I am afraid that the man has taken on too much and he needs to rest for a while and then we would see how it goes.
Some people have argued that he has not included major stakeholders like Dangote in his economic team…
Look at what happened, there is a patent exhaustion in the last few days. Suddenly there is a fatigue. Talk to me in two months and let us see.
Do you think that in two months things would get better or worse?
I hope it gets better. There is palpable exhaustion in the air because we are tired, I am very tired. A lot of my investment is in real estate and honestly things are not moving. I just cannot make a sense of it, things are very bad. That is where we are now. I am sorry for the next generation and I hope they would be able to make sense of whatever Nigeria becomes.
Are you saying things are still good for this generation and it can only get worse for the next generation?
I am afraid so. Look at what is being reported in the newspapers.
What do you think can be done to rectify the situation?
We would continue to suffer and smile, things are awful.
So you don’t think there is a quick fix that the government can embark on?
Quick fix? Where? It is not going to happen. I am sorry but it is the way things are.
Are you saying that there is no light at the end of the tunnel?
There would be light at the end of the tunnel in the end. We would wobble through and it is not going to be an easy ride.
So Nigeria has never had it this bad before?
No we have not. If you had spoken to me about five months ago, I might have been more optimistic. But Buhari has nothing to offer Nigeria when it comes to economic policies. He has no clue when it comes to economic matters. He has no clue. Nigerians should just leave him and let him play the agriculture card.
Do you agree with people that say agriculture might be a way out of this economic mess?
Yes, it can and it better be a way out, otherwise we are all doomed.
What do you think the government can do to make agriculture enticing to the people again?
We would beg and pray because the agriculture sector has a lot of promise and it might do something to the economy. However, we can only be hopeful. Agriculture was something we believed in at a time.
Some months back, the Minister of Finance said that the recession experienced by Nigerians would soon be a thing of the past. Do you agree with her?
I think she is a sweet young lady but I don’t agree with her. Nigerians should just leave her and see how things happen from now till next year. However I feel sorry for her because she is not going to get there. The workload is too heavy for her to bear. It is too much for her. I pity her a lot. When it does not work, it is never easy. She is an adorable lady but she is not going to get there.
Do you think Nigeria can ever have a stable power supply?
Yes I believe so. We have the promise of gas and it can bring that back. What we can do is to beg the world to look at us and help us open up the promise of gas.
The ruling regime has also argued that recession crept in because of Nigerians’ preference for foreign goods, do you agree?
When I was much younger, we used to manufacture things. I was making Ragolis water but that is no longer the case. We would pray that small scale businesses would begin to thrive again in this country.
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