Chief Olu Falae, was both a former Finance minister and Secretary to the Government of the Federation SGF under the former Military General Ibrahim Babangida. In this interview, he spoke with Saturday Vanguard on a number of national issues such as the new minimum wage, the N30b bill before the NASS, common currency for West African countries, proposed new visa policy, the hate speech bill and the nation’s electoral system amongst other burning issues. Excerpts:
As a former Finance Minister is the new minimum wage for workers in the country desirable.
It is very sad that we are still talking about the minimum wage issue which would be granted after a lot of debate and disagreement. Workers would enjoy it for six months to one year and after one year, they would still go back to their previous years. What affect your standard of living is the quantum of good and services that you consume, it is not the amount of paper notes. If we can reduce the wage as well as the prices of goods and services, we will be better off. It is not the quantum of money you get but the quantum of money relative to the goods and services. So it is better to work on the stabilisation of goods and services, and also solve the electricity problem, get people trained to start producing things locally and your present salary to buy more foods. So it is not the quantum of the money but since the government appears not to do much on quantum of money and prices of goods workers then demand higher wages. As a Federal Permanent Secretary, my last salary was N15,184 per annum and I was living well. You can be paid N10 million a day and still can’t feed yourself.
What is your take on the N30b loan the Federal government is requesting for which is presently before the National Assembly for approval?
Even when I was in government I will only support loans which are called project loans with concessional terms. Those are the types of loans I’ll support. I’ll not kick against loans just because they are called loans.
The point needs to be made that the ability of Nigeria to service foreign loans depends very heavily on our ability to pump oil an sell oil at the international market. From what we all know now, our customers at the international market are already moving away from the use of oil in many areas of the economy.
They are already producing and marketing cars that will no longer use petrol. France, America, Britain and Japan, 10 to 15% of the cars they are making no longer use petrol.
They are making and marketing them now. And you can project that in the next five years the demand for our oil will be going down. So, the ability to service our loan and repay them will be going down. We should bear that in mind that we should not create a situation where future generations will find it difficult if not impossible to service loans and repay them. If that were to happen because it has happened before when I was in government when the IMF said we should pay back our loans which we could no longer afford to pay back, that means the IMF will automatically take over the country’s CBN and Ministry of Finance. It is an obnoxious thing that we should not allow to happen. And that is why the Babangida’s government did not accept the IMF loan because the terms were humiliating. So, we must work against that kind of situation ever arising again.
President Buhari recently preached against health tourism but he does contrary whenever he is indisposed.
He should lead by example. Since he became President he has gone abroad for health challenges quite a number of times. I’m not saying Nigerians should do it but before he says Nigeria should not do it, he should ensure that hospitals have the necessary facilities. It is not easy for a Nigerian to travel abroad for treatment under the present economic situation. I welcome what he said but he should lead by example.
There are calls that troops in troubled parts of the country should be withdrawn. Won’t this be counter productive?
Ordinarily, the police is in charge of security but once it is beyond that, the government has the right to bring in the military to overcome the insecurity. In their opinion, if the insecurity is still high it will be unwise to withdraw the military.
A common currency for West African countries has been proposed. Do you subscribe to this?
As one of those first group of officials in the formation of ECOWAS I recognized that ultimately the objectives of a common market is to have a common currency. I have always known it from economic theory and I have seen it from Euro. But I want to remind us that for several decades Britain is in Europe and it never adopted European common currency.
The reason is that if you belong to the currency union, you will lose control over the regulation of your economy and once we belong to the West Africa currency union, you are no longer the sole managers of those forces that stabilize the currency. At this stage, it is too great a risk for us to take because it is not at all clear to me what we are going to benefit from it. In terms of size and potentials, Nigeria is bigger than all the other countries put together. Unless of course if they will join the naira. It will be suicidal for us to join a currency that will not be in our control. I strongly advise against it. All you need are flexible convertibility of the currency, the Naira, and the CFA.
Are you expressing the same fear on the proposed VISA Policy by the Federal government
They have not told us what the objective is. If it is to facilitate free movement of people, it will be in both directions that other members of ECOWAS can come in without visas and we Nigerians can also go to their country without visa. That is absolutely the minimum condition which is called reciprocity and if it is not, the question must be asked.
One of the reasons you have a visa regime to the receiving country is to know those who want to come to the country. Your embassy is there, they apply and they find out if they are criminals or terrorists. You then filter the process and allow only those who will not bring problem into the country. Your first consideration is the security of your country which you don’t want to put at risk. You can have a liberal policy. They must apply, vetted and your embassy staff must have certified them. Unregulated visa policy is disastrous.
If government says it wants Africans to come into Nigeria without question, I’m asking, for what purpose? You see people coming into the country that’s already grappling with acute unemployment and you think people there won’t challenge them? The Nigerians in those border states who are unemployed seeing more people coming in, will ask questions. In any case, the reason visa has become an international issue is that it enables the welcoming countries to verify those coming into their own country and see whether they constitute a threat to national security or not, whether they’re terrorists, kidnappers and all. But to now say people should come into Nigeria without any visa requirements leaves much to be desired, it does not make sense to me. In any case, in diplomacy, there’s something we call reciprocity, if you’re going to grant such privilege to citizens of other countries, they must reciprocate by granting the same thing to Nigerians, unless we waive it. I don’t think Nigerians want to waive such privilege. I’m not saying we cannot help weaker African countries, of course, we’ve been doing it, I believe we should, but I think we must do such in a way that will benefit us and also help them too.
We should do it, when they will come in and have a better life here than they were experiencing where they were coming from and also contribute to the development of the host country, Nigeria. But to now open our borders to people to come in just like that without mutual benefits, that doesn’t make any sense to me. I know how much we did for South Africa, and I know what they did to us and what they’re still doing to us today, if only because of that, we ought not to have an unmanaged visa concession. I’m not saying we can’t have visa concession, all I am saying is that such must be well managed and guided.
In all sincerity do you think Boko Haram has been defeated as claimed by the military?
We still hear of attacks but it is difficult to know who is attacking who. All kinds of people get together and do all sorts of things in an attempt to survive. The military deployment to the North East is still in place but we still hear of attacks from time to time. I will say that the impact of Boko Haram has been substantially reduced. From what I hear and what I see Boko Haram is still very much alive and we cannot afford to be complacent. These terrorist organizations have a way of reinventing themselves and becoming more violent.
Your advise to government on disobedience of the orders of court
The law and the constitution is the only link between us. So, anybody who disobeys that link is threatening the unity of the country.
Many Nigerians believe our electoral system is faulty, what’s your take on this?
It is unfortunate, we are no longer voting for our leaders, our leaders are now buying votes openly. They now do it openly and unashameably. They should not claim that they have anybody’s mandate, and that’s the truth. What we are having now is no longer election, and it is raising a question of legitimacy on our electoral process. When I was in politics, on an occasion one of my candidates ran to me here in Akure and said where they were voting a candidate of another party was sharing money openly and the police were looking up and he went to report to the policeman but the policeman asked him to go and look for his own money to share. In that situation people have not chosen you it is your money that has chosen you, that is what is going on in the country. It is a shame, it raises the question of legitimacy, what legitimises the office is that it enjoys the sovereign support of the people but if that support has been bought it is no longer the sovereign support. Government based on rigging of election is illegitimate because the will of the people have been perverted. It is the support and will of the people that authenticate the electoral process but those have been substituted with violence and moneybags
What is the way out?
We can only hope and pray that at some points when it gets so bad the whole thing will unravel and we will have a new electoral system, simpler than this run by all of us with integrity,s that all of us will want our choice to prevail whether for councillor, governor or President because those that are parading themselves now are not our representatives
Let’s talk about the controversy that the hate speech and social media regulation bill at the National Assembly is presently generating
The question I want to ask is that why is it that in the recent time government policies are often controversial, it is as if they like to provoke people. First we heard about RUGA for cows in other people’s territory. A government must take care of all the people, but if a policy will favour one side and provoke other people, you should drop it, don’t even talk about it. If you will do anything you must consult properly, you would have got signal that those policies are not acceptable to most of the people and you exist to serve everybody, so there should be consultation. The other time I heard that rivers are going to be acquired by the federal government but I don’t think that one will be possible because God created the rivers on their own and I don’t think anybody can transfer it.
Why these controversial policies, why can’t we bring policy that will make people clap and shout but instead we have policies that will make us fight, fearful. It is lack of consultation, it is as if they know it all in the democracy and it is not like that. You know there are some people who will go to governors or the president to persuade them to do certain things for selfish reasons but it is for the president to say no this thing will favor the tailors in Nigeria but carpenters would not like it, I am for both tailors and carpenters, I am for all Nigerians, that should be the reaction of those in government in order to minimize controversy, violence and disagreement. There can be no growth and development if there is instability. I think it is lack of control of the policy making process that is generating all these controversial and mindless kind of policies .