Hon Chibudom Nwuche is former Speaker of House of Representatives in the 4th National Assembly. In this interview with CHIKA OKEKE, he said the solution to the falling naira is for the federal government to invest in the productive sector and provide long-term loan for entrepreneurs.
What is your appraisal of the 2016 Budget?
For many years, our economy has relied entirely on oil and that is why Nigeria is suffering the effect of oil price decline alongside Venezuela. We have relied on oil revenue and not develop agriculture and solid minerals, so the budget tried to address this issue by allocating resources to solid minerals, agriculture and education.
In a country where we have many youths, it is critical that we develop the capacity for education. I believe the budget is trying to move Nigeria away from over-dependency on oil which is now called ‘Oil Curse.’ But oil will not be a curse if we have good leadership which can revamp the economy and nurture other sectors. That is what I think the budget should focus. The budget is a proposal and the NASS will now look at it and assess the view of Nigerians. They want less dependency on oil because they believed oil fuelled corruption. These days, people now rely on handouts when we have the capacity to be productive. There is no part of this country that doesnt have resources to sustain their people. We need to invest in those resources.
How realistic is N6.08 trillion budget and a crude oil benchmark of $38?
The problem is that the country’s currency is dependent on the production of the economy. Because our economy is over-dependent on oil, people import everything including toothpick down to small glass cups. We must be productive and people should account for their existence in this world. We should find ways to generate long-term loans for entrepreneurs to build factories and employ our youths. The only answer to the falling naira is to make the economy more productive by investing in the productive sector. Nigerians will be fully engaged when we build more factories to produce what we need locally. That is the only way the naira can be strong. The stuck of dollar is because the demand for oil have reduced, so the demand for dollar is higher and that is why the naira is weak. The naira can only regain its strength when we begin to diversify the economy away from oil and ensure that Nigerians are more productive. That is why I like the fact that our new leadership is now emphasizing prudence, austerity, transparency and honesty.
Before now, too much emphasis was placed on conspicuous consumption and affluence because Nigerians worship people who have money. We are getting to a point where it will become fashionable to be poor or honest. Before now, the honest ones felt they were losing out but when there is some form of punishment for crime, people will begin to ask questions. The problem with Nigeria is that we have laws that are meant to divorce honesty. What Nigerians required before this time is mentorship and good leadership that will lead by example not by pretense.
Let leaders at every level imbibe the dictates of the economy. If the economy is bad for the average Nigerian, those who represent them should reflect the same traits, then we can begin to work together to rebuild the economy.
Does it sit well that government would borow to fund the budget?
The only downside to borrowing is that when the government borrows too much, it will have effect on the private sector which is the productive sector. If we can find a way to give room for private sector borrowing at reduced interest rate, I dont see what is wrong with borrowing.
Some say there is much focus on anti-corruption fight and neglect of economic drive?
Its a question of balance. If you dont fight corruption, you cannot develop the economy. When you fight corruption, you can now begin to build the economy. It means that whatever revenue we earn will be accounted for. One important thing we should expect from the government soon will be the formation of an economic team to alongside fight corruption, focus on the economy, create jobs and see how they can get out of the circle of naira depreciation and begin to revamp the economy, allow the productive sector to thrive. In doing that, whatever revenue we earn will be accounted. Corruption debilitates a country; it ruins the economy, makes people lazy and causes inflation because monies that are spent are not earned.
How do you see the renewed pipeline vandalism in the Niger Delta and the amnesty programme?
Those who are damaging pipelines are not doing that on behalf of Niger Delta. They are doing it for their selfish reasons.
We have told our youths not to join that train. If there are issues to dialogue about, the government is open to dialogue. We are part of Nigeria and oil is our commonwealth.
Therefore, nobody should damage pipelines and should not allow themselves to be used to fight proxy wars. Buhari has our mandate now and we must support him. The Amnesty programme is well intentioned and was formed by late President Umaru Musa YarAdua. The programme should be re-energised and should be allowed to remain until whenever it’s meant to phase out.
There should also be similar programmes for other parts of the country that have similar challenge. For instance in the North-east, where people are displaced and the youths are unemployed, the federal government must find a programme to rehabilitate them and give them skills to live a decent life without resorting to criminality and terrorism.