A Nigerian author, Olusegun Olatunde Oyegbami, has accused President Muhammadu Buhari and former President Olusegun Obasanjo of causing the present economic woes in Nigeria.
Oyegbami, who is the author of ‘Reversing the Rot in Nigeria’, made this known in this interview, where he also talked on the fraud behind the Petroleum Equalization Fund (PEF) and other national issues. Excerpt.
Sir, what is the inspiration behind this book?
The inspiration is that things have become so bad that we must speak out and I have plumbed the depth of what has been happening in Nigeria for the past forty to forty-five years and have struck the nail on the head that the way we have being running the oil industry is what has led the economy collapse as we are witnessing today. When we are talking of recession, the recession didn’t start today, it has actually been in the pipeline because we have been doing the wrong things in running this economy as more or less a social service, which it is not. The economy is something that we should have been running on economic platform and we have not being doing that and that is why we are in this deep hole we are in today as a country.
And to me is the most important book in Nigeria today because there’s so much rottenness in our society that we must sit up, know exactly what happened and how we can turn things around.
What do you think actually went wrong that led us to where we are today?
The over dependence on oil has actually led us into this situation we are in. Before discovery of oil, agriculture happened to be the main stay of Nigerian economy, and it was providing employment for the teeming population of Nigerians. But when oil was discovered, the way we have been running the oil industry made us to forget about agriculture, and we have also been running the oil industry in a fraudulent way such that everything that has being going on in the oil industry which is about 90% of the economy, everything that has been going on there has been full of manipulations and fraud. Such that as at now we are still maintaining that fraudulent situation and that is why this book is very timely.
We should note what I have written in this book is to make a turn around to rationality and sanity. It is only when we do that, that we can improve on the economy.
For now, we are just deceiving ourselves. The corruption is still very much ongoing in the economy and it is not being addressed by this present government.
What could have been done to bring us out of this present state?
Only if we have been running the economy on honesty template all along, You see what has been happening all along is that we claim to be marketing petroleum products but what we are really doing is allocating petroleum product to different sections of the country by government and that should not have happened. We should have allowed market forces to let the product flow round the country. If that had happened we will not be in the current state where we are now. We don’t even know how much petrol we are really using as a country, because when you use the country’s money to send petrol to every part of the country, so that you are trying to maintain equal price, you are encouraging smuggling out of Nigeria and that will not allow us to know how much of fuel the country really needs to run the economy.
In the book, you hit hard on some men of God by shielding some politicians, can you please expatiate on this?
Well, it is when the economy has been seriously bastardized and going downhill, that means the livelihood of people have been destroyed and they have become seriously hopeless. When life has become hopeless for people, then they want to take any chance at all cost to get their bearings right. So, it is this kind of hopelessness that the so called men of God are exploiting to even render them more prostrate, and that’s why I said that the politicians have destroyed peoples livelihood, they have made them to become hopeless and now, in “going to God” they have ended up being deceived further and their situation is being exploited and the society becomes even worse.
So, my own postulate in the book is that talking seriously there are really no men of God anywhere, anybody who is talking of God is doing it for his own personal benefits that is why we now have the so called men of God competing with the politicians even in the material acquisition of wealth such that we now have men of God in Nigeria, riding aeroplanes and building estates, acquiring a lot of material properties, which is actually in contrast to what the bible and the Quran teach us that we should build our treasures in heaven and we should help one another to make life better for everybody.
But the men of God in Nigeria I don’t want to be mentioning names again because the names are already mentioned in the book, this book is a book that I will say does not pull punches a bit.
We have the men of God running universities where the tuition fees are very high, though I am not against high fees in universities. Don’t get me wrong, because if you want quality education you should be ready to pay for it. But when it is not being put in place by government but it’s put in place by these “men of God” just to make even more money than we should call into question our so called obedience to God, because God wants us to prosper and He wants us to be properly educated but it is not these “men of God” who should educate us but it’s the government to educate us. It is when government has failed to perform its duty, these people have moved into that lacuna i.e the space that is left vacant.
When there is a vacuum in educational sector by the government, that is why we now have so many churches having universities. You see university of Aladura people may be that one is called ‘JABU’, The Redeemer, Covenant, Baptist, e.t.c when government should have being able to gather the money together and provide the facilities for the people. But because we have a failing government, because the politicians are just after what they can make from the society and that is the unfortunate situation we find ourselves in Nigeria.
Don’t you think these pastors going into politics can redress some of the alleged wrongs perpetrated by the political class?
In the first place, religion is divisive. Religion is not actually helping society to get it right. The problem we have in Nigeria is that we are almost 50:50 Muslims to Christians in our religious orientation. This is a big negative influence in our developmental process. In any society where everybody is looking towards a direction they tend to make more progress, than when you now have religious dichotomy. These religious men especially the pastors are not supposed to have been in charge of our political space. Imagine if a pastor is a politician, obviously he will think more of the Christians in terms of orientation, therefore the support from Muslims will be limited or they may even be antagonistic to him. So, it will not help the corporate political progress having a pastor in government; the Muslims are not going to be happy.
Also, religion should not be allowed to have too much influence on our political life, it should rather be a private thing. by the time you have a pastor as a political head, you should be neutral as far as religion is concern, and if you are going to be a religious leader, help your society to improve morality. But we cannot mix politics and religion successfully, that is my own take.
In your book sir, you pointed out the pointlessness in Petroleum Equalisation Fund (PEF) and declared it fraudulent, could you please educate Nigerians on this alleged scam?
The Petroleum Equalisation Fund, PEF was put in place either late 1975 or early 1976, and the intention might have been honest to let everybody have equal access to the petroleum product but equal access should not have been the mantra we should follow but equitable access. That is to say if you are in a particular place where you are close to the petrol, then you can buy it slightly cheaper but it should be available to everybody in that location at same price. The whole idea in economics is that you operate on a comparative advantage and localization of your advantage. When you are in a place like Warri or Port Harcourt and when we are talking about importation, Lagos where the petrol lands should necessarily be cheaper than other places where they come to pick that petrol but where government is now paying to transport petrol to far places that is where the fraud comes into it, which make us to be running a non-economic platform, it is very wrong. Until we change this, Nigeria can never make any progress.
Because it is looking like Government is favouring those people transporting the petrol to their places at government expense, this should not happen and this is what has been happening for more than forty to forty-two years and until we change that we cannot get it right as a country. I am very convinced about this, you run an economy on an economic template and not as a social platform, it is what have been saying in the book right from the beginning to the end.
Looking at situations in which when there is scarcity, they now say dealers are hoarding, meanwhile dealers have never came together and decided on hoarding petrol, but when the petrol is being pushed around in a way that you are saying give it to this place don’t give it to this, that is when mismanagement starts from.
On the Assets Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) initiated by Jonathan’s administrations, is there any hidden agenda behind this initiative?
It is not too hidden, AMCON is put in place to warehouse debts incurred by some organizations and some individuals. Some horrendous huge debts that if it were to be treated in a proper banking systems way, all their assets should have been seized and send them into bankruptcy. But because the government wants to protect them, the government collated all those debts, paid off the money to the banks and AMCON will now seize their assets and match the assets to the debt.
But the assets turn out to be a small fraction of the debt, so they hope after freezing the debt the assets can be generating income to liquidate the frozen debt, but the debts are so much and whatever assets this people have cannot cover those debts.
That’s why I called it favoritism at its most reprehensible. It is so glaring that it’s (AMCON’s) purpose is to save their faces. But it is the economy that has taken a beating.
You said in your book that since 1975 till date, Nigerian government has never subsidized petroleum for its citizenry for one day, can you clarify this?
The price, at which petrol has been coming in, has always been the economic price and up until the PEF scam became the money was being collected started to be more than what has been voted out of the purse of fixing the price. Is like when you increase the price from N1 to N1.50k maybe before they use to allocate 5k out of that N1 for transportation but when it is now N1.50k they will add another 5k to transportation cost so that they will now have more money to pay for transportation and 10k will now be used for transportation. So, they have not subsidized the price of petrol as at that time, all they have subsidized is transportation of the product to distant locations. So, it was when, often time when the price began to sky rocket to N100 they now decided that because we are bringing it in at N80 we are going to be giving you additional money, but all the extras are being added to cost of transportation.
Constantly, the cost of transportation that is the bridging element in the price build up, that is what always goes up steadily. I am telling you that out of N145 as the cost of petrol today, N6.20K is still allocated for transportation. Why? It means that anybody using fuel down south is still paying N6.20k more than he should have paid. This is now gathered together to transport petrol to other parts of the country, especially the North. It is really an economic matter that the south should not continuously right from over forty-two years ago be paying for transporting fuel to the North, because come to think of it whatever is coming from the North always has its own element of transportation that the South pays for. We have never eaten beef, cow, yam at the same price as the north. It is purely an economic matter, it is when looking at it from political angle that you will say this man is trying to incite one tribe against the other, No, it’s purely economics. These are elements of deception that we have been having in this country. Sometime in the Second Republic some people were arrested for “smuggling” beans from Bida to Oyo. That is funny.
Nigeria government should let the Nigerians trade fairly among themselves, if we are going to trade in petrol take the petrol at the available price at the depots, add your own transport cost and sell it there, we will have normalcy in this economy within a year or two but now we still have deception and manipulation going on even right now because anybody who is buying petrol in Lagos is still paying N6.20k for carrying it to the north, it is wrong. That should stop.
It is when this manipulation stops then we know this government of Buhari is ready to fight corruption, because the same Buhari started the PEF far back then and he’s still protecting it till today, until we stop that before we know he is actually dealing with corruption honestly and he’s treating all Nigerians fairly across board. But for now, No, that is not happening.
Politically, you described Goodluck Jonathan has not being a good President and also described Buhari as not a better choice, what do you mean by this?
What I mean by that is that I am not a politician, but I analyse all politicians equally, and I have seen that none of them is honest about developing Nigeria so far. ‘None’! Any intelligent man who is interested in how his country is being run must be a political animal but am proud to say that with the deception that is going on in Nigeria on the political scene, I do not have a voter’s card and I have not being voting because I see all of them as deceiving all of us who are trying to actually to make Nigeria develop for everybody’s benefit. All the politicians are looking for their own personal benefits. PDP, APC, ANPP, all of them are not honest with us.
Look at the APC that is ruling us now, they are fighting among themselves, Saraki is not in good terms with Tinubu, he is trying to placate the President, at the same time Tinubu is fighting with Oyegun.
So, APC is fighting, PDP too is unsettled within itself, we have Sheriff and Makarfi in a tussle for power; all of them are not honest. That’s to say we need robust consciences to really move this country out of the woods, is not about politics or religion, or being member of any church or division. I want all of us to think more of being honest Nigerians who have God to answer to at the end of time. If we have good conscience we will not be interested in amassing wealth, we will be interested in all round development of Nigeria.
For instance, Senators who are fighting among themselves for budget padding, budget of constituency allowance of each Senators probably earning about N30m monthly when in fact the minimum wage is difficult to pay and then we will be talking of how to use the country’s resources to develop the country. In this situation where we find ourselves, why don’t we gather all these oil wells and get them back and the let the federal government own the oil wells and administer for all Nigerians? Why are some individuals so specially privileged to own oil wells in Nigeria that is so impoverished. Let’s say about 100 or 150 Nigerians own the oil wells, they don’t have two heads so why must they own oil wells and we are all going to die anyway so why can’t they return back and we use this to develop the country. For example if we are talking about assets sales which some people are mooting, personally I think it’s highly unpatriotic for any responsible government to say they want to sell the nation assets just to get us out of recession. Why not retrieve the oil wells and get the nation out of recession once and for all.
Saying Goodluck is not good and Buhari is not better, but both of them have been receiving accolades both home and aboard, what do you see to this?
Well, people give accolades for different reasons, maybe they want to make money out of them. Many people that give awards, at the end of the day you find out that they may now ask for donations from the recipients. All those things to me are spurious. It is how you develop your society, how the average man is able to see the value of what you’ve done for the society that should really qualify you for the award.
The award I want people to have actually gone for is the award of posterity, how people talk about you after you have gone, how you impacted on the society not on how many universities you were able to build when you are alive, but how many people were able to get employment when they leave your university, how much employment you have generated for your society, improving the quality of life of your people. People that are ruling Nigeria today are going to different parts of the world and they see how their government used their common sense for material advancement of their society.
Look at the Lagos- Ibadan expressway, we have been trying to expand it and construct it to modern standard for probably more than 15 years now, I am sure with the way they are going, in another ten years we might not have completed that place because there are still long stretches that have never been touched at all. This is disgraceful.
National award is meaningless in Nigeria today because you cannot give what you don’t have. The country itself is not honourable so why are we calling some people honourables, why are you calling some people Grand Commander of the Order of Niger? I will not take an award from Nigeria because the country itself doesn’t qualify for an award.
As an economist, IMF wants Nigeria to devalue Naira, what is your reaction to this?
The Naira is officially a confused currency in Nigeria today, because nobody knows the actual exchange rate. One thing I want to state here emphatically is that at any time you have a dual exchange rate for any currency, it is an invitation to fraud. In Nigeria today, we have minimum of treble or quadruple exchange rates. It is very corruptive and fraudulent, it is very wrong. At any point in time there must be only one exchange rate, anytime a government has more than this, that government is fraudulent. So now based on the exchange rate criteria we are running now in this Buhari’s government, I made bold to say that its most fraudulent government ever, because we have exchange rate now ranking between 197 and 480. look at that band! It means some people can quickly do fraud, if they want to manipulate the system they can actually collect the dollars at 197 and they can sell at close to 480, so we are just going deeper and deeper into corruption and it is most unfortunate that this government is the one that is supposed to be fighting corruption. But what this government is doing today is barking against corruption and grandstanding against corruption, I think we should actually be ashamed of ourselves in this country today.
So, talking of IMF demands for devaluation of Naira. The idea of devaluing is find a sensible realistic rate for your foreign exchange rate. So, there is no reason for questions or argument and talking a lot of theories about if we are devaluing or not devaluing just find the exchange rate that you can provide the dollar at any point in time against it. In any reasonable or developed economy of the world there is always exchange rate that goes up and down by probably 0.1% and at worst 0.3%, that is how exchange rate should float.
But when you now say you are fixing exchange rate for different categories of people, a rate for people bringing things in for government (N350), different from sourcing for it privately is (N470), for going on pilgrimage (N197), it is corruption incorporated. Please, whoever is in government should know that as soon as the exchange rate that as of now have 50k differential from a second level (if there is at all) that is an invitation to corruption, there should always be one exchange rate in any honest economy and Nigeria economy since we started PEF not been an honest economy. It’s quite unfortunate, we have Ph.D in economics all over the country, I challenge them to read my book and see where they have been running contrary to the dictates of their calling. You can’t have Ph.D in Economics in Nigeria and we are running the economy the same way we are running it in Nigeria and say you are proud of the Ph.D. I challenge this specifically man who I know very well who doesn’t know me Dr. Peter Ozo-Eson, we were in University of Ibadan (UI) together, I challenge him to read my book and know that, he has not been true to his calling, and many others like him should read the book.
You said rigging of election brought vagabonds to power, now that we are having card reader, are you saying there’s still rigging of election in Nigeria?
It is the way we have run the politics of this country and we have use the politics to destroy the economy that made us to be where we are today, we have use politics and political manipulation to destroy the economy, we are now in deep shit, people are hopeless, they have also been hit very well on religious front. But taking the question specifically; the rigging thing, when you say people are godfathers that itself is an aspect of rigging, manipulating peoples’ mind, which they call money politics is a reality in Nigeria today and is an aspect of rigging.
The card reader thing I remember when Goodluck Jonathan went to vote the card didn’t work so you can see that it is not so much an issue of technicality or equipment that we need, its change of attitude. For example when you are doing election and you shut down the whole economy for days is disgraceful. It means you are putting too much emphasis on politics to the detriment of the economy. The basic thing is that the whole of our life is being rigged, even in the way we are running the Nigeria economy today.
It is not the question of election victory alone; it is get there and do the right thing, right thing as to what common sense, what decent humanity dictates. Look at what is happening in Ekiti State today, as far as they are concerned there was no rigging but people who are there in governance today, the House of Assembly members have already rigged themselves against the people they are supposed to be protecting, where you find the workers not being paid, you find the governor caught with about N4b plus in his account and the legislators said the governor is their man, that they have to protect him. To my own mind it just shows that the country is upside down, because the man is there and if there’s going to be any judgment about the matter, it is going to be delayed justice and we know that justice delayed is justice denied, so the people have already rigged themselves against the electorate because I can’t understand why as of now the lawmakers are supporting the law breaker so the whole country is downhill we need to actually go back to God instead of going into religion, we need to sit down and think that what we are doing in Nigeria today has nothing to do with God inside it. What I said in my book is that God is for enthronement of truth, justice, equity and all the positive indicators of a good quality life.