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Former Minister of State for Works and National Coordinator of South-West Agenda for Asiwaju, Prince Dayo Adeyeye, shares his thoughts on President Bola Tinubu’s adoption of the Stephen Oronsaye report, the current hardships faced by Nigerians, among other issues

Nigeria has been experiencing a continued rise in the prices of goods since the removal of the fuel subsidy and the floating of the naira in 2023. Do you think the economy can continue to carry the heavy burden of that subsidy removal in the face of competing national priorities like education and healthcare infrastructure?

Is subsidy removal important? When you have a subsidy that means you will have the burden and it is what led us to this. Lack of courage from successive governments is what led us to this dire strait. It is a huge burden to subsidise the price of fuel and that is a burden on the economy of Nigeria. It is the burden put by President Bola Tinubu, and of course, it has its consequences, which is the increase in prices of foodstuffs and some other items. In Nigeria, when prices go up, they never come down. Yes, but this is not a new experience. We have had it before. The thing is that it was practically impossible to begin to subsidise fuel.

Let’s face it. At the time we were buying fuel at N180, in our neighbouring countries a litre of petrol was selling for nothing less than about N950 and there was huge smuggling of petroleum products across borders. I travelled across West Africa last year with my wife, and we saw this practically. So, it was not sustainable; it was particularly impossible to continue like that because the NNPC and the Federal Government were broke. So, the thing is that the fuel subsidy has been removed and people are working around the issue to make sure that life is better for Nigerians.

Firstly, we have to make sure that the economy does not collapse completely. Like Governor Chukwuma Soludo of Anambra State said, by the time Tinubu took over, Nigeria’s economy was like a dead horse. It was already dead. It was just put there standing, and there was no economy. That was the truth. The money in Ways and Means, money you did not earn, is what is fueling inflation now. Nobody does that in the world. The price of the dollar has continued to go up even though the government has removed fuel subsidies. This is what is going on, but the economy will get better. However, the policies that the government is putting in place cannot have flexibility. It’s like when you plant a seed, it’s not immediately you get it to grow up, you need to give it time. That’s why I am saying Nigerians should give the presidency a little more time so that the effects of the policies that have been put in place will come to a full stop. I am optimistic that things will be better around the corner.

You mentioned price control while talking and you said that when the prices of things go up in Nigeria, It never comes down. How do you think the government can address the situation?

It is the present situation where the price is artificially up. It will still come down. Compressed Natural Gas is an alternative for powering vehicles, particularly for vehicles that move goods: trailers, and others. The cost of transportation will come down drastically. You find people coming to build the ground by way of local production of those items because for example, if you import toothpicks, which we are still importing, and it costs like N300 per toothpick, and I think that there are 60 per cent of chances in my place that I can produce this toothpick for less than N130. I will do that. So, as imports become more expensive, the locally produced food items become super.

Therefore, you have to increase production locally. These are common sense economics, and I wish we applied it in the case of Nigeria. When I said the price is going up, what I meant is that naturally when there is a normal increase in price, it doesn’t come down like that in Nigeria, but in this present situation that we are going through, these prices will come down because they are artificially induced.

There are insinuations that the interventions from the Federal Government were marred by the lack of accountability and poor feedback mechanism, which is not robust enough to send the right signals that the process adopted, is not delivering the maximum result. What is your thought about that?

I have said again and again that those interventions are short-term decisions, and you know the Nigerian family situation. Yes, the President eased the tension, and he has released a lot of money. Now, all the state’s and local governments’ allocations have doubled, but we have not seen the effects. To alleviate the suffering of the masses in the interim, please take some measures; pay the pensioners and the minimum wage. Some of them have not yet balanced the payment of salaries. Make sure that you have, in terms of transportation, found a way to subsidise the movement of goods, especially agricultural products to the cities.

Do that by calling the transporters and saying, ‘I’m going to give you this amount of money because we have more money now’. If you give them, then they can move these goods cheaply to the areas where they are needed. So, we need to hold the local governments and state governments more accountable because the Federal Government doesn’t have a particular territory by the law that it controls. It just sits up there and if it wants to do anything, it is through these local and state governments. When you pass this money to them and they are not carrying out what they are supposed to do with the money; of course, you will not see the development in society. So, they need to be held more accountable. There should be more pressure on them to do more for the masses.

You claimed that President Bola Tinubu’s administration has not favoured the South-West. Many Nigerians will not agree with you on this. Why did you say so?

How has he favoured the South-West? If you look at the statistics about the last government in the last eight years, then check all the power centres. President Bola Tinubu is only trying to balance things, and he is balancing it with all Nigerians. He was accused completely of favouring one side, then you will begin to see people complaining that he is favouring only his side. President Tinubu is favouring all Nigerians. The appointments are balanced in my view. In the South-East, we know how many they got in the past, but today, you have many of them who have been given important parastatals.

Even in terms of the ministries today, we have people in charge of science and technology compared to what they had in the past, and then we have the South-South too. Most Nigerians can feel a sense of belonging now under President Tinubu. He is not favouring any particular side of the country. I think the appointments are well-balanced, but Nigerians will just jump to a conclusion. He has a high sense of fairness. President Tinubu is more than just a person. The appointments are well-balanced if you do a thorough analysis. I know what I was saying when I said he didn’t favour the South-West. I didn’t even elaborate on this to this level in that study. Do they still want the South-East to get more appointments? They said President Tinubu is favouring the South-West. I said, ‘Give me the facts’; and they couldn’t give the facts.

Even if you look at all the ministries, Tinubu has been fair in sharing the appointments for all Nigerians. I was a national secretary of Afenifere; I had the authority to issue statements, which were authorised by our leaders. We had the reason to complain that former President Olusegun Obasanjo was not doing anything to revamp the situation because he didn’t want to be accused of favouring his area, and they did everything to ensure that the South-West did not get anything. You can remember that under the Obasanjo regime, the Lagos/Ibadan was in bad shape and was never touched. He didn’t even do anything to his place in Sango-Ota. He did nothing in the South-West because he didn’t want to be accused of favouring the South-West. Now, you want to blackmail President Bola Tinubu to do the same thing so that the South-West can suffer. We want him to be fair to all Nigerians and we don’t want him to subject the South-West to a bad situation.

Recently, the Senate asked the Federal Government to distribute food stamps, which can be exchanged for food to people on low income as part of its measures to cushion the current economic hardship. Do you think that is the best way to go at this moment?

It is good to say these things but what about the implementation? You are asking me that many ideas have been put forward, but they are not working and now you are talking about food stamps. It is nonsensical for the President to leave his seat and start distributing it to the markets. These are the issues, and I don’t think food stamp is the solution for us in Nigeria. Just by the level of wealth of America which is at least worth $1tn to that of Nigeria, people still suffer hunger and still have to rely on food stamps which until recently, I believe Nigerians didn’t need to have food stamps before they would eat.

As Nigerians, we must realise that the economic hardship here is so bad and it is not in Nigeria alone. I even saw a video where people are queuing for food, the same thing happens in other European countries, even in Japan too. So, it is not limited to Nigeria, there is worldwide inflation partly as a result of COVID-19, which people have not recovered from. I don’t want to support food stamps; I believe in local production, and better distribution of local food, which is the most important thing. I believe that the food stamp is not the solution to improve the local production of food. We produce enough food in this country. What we need is to put them into effective use. I do not eat any foreign-produced rice. I eat the rice produced in my state, Ekiti. That’s what I eat, and most people can testify to that. That has happened for more than 10 years now. I think people must realise that we need to eat our rice. Even when I go abroad to see my children, they will always say if it is possible, bring some rice for us, and that is Ekiti rice. I’m saying that the programmes put in place by President Tinubu are the right ones for the country and that means the policies can be effective.

As a former Minister of State for Works, what interventions should come from the government to stop the frequent national grid collapse across the country?

The first thing is that we need to rethink our power sector policy completely. We need to decentralise. There is too much concentration of things in Nigeria and that’s why I support restructuring and devolution of powers. I don’t believe that one authority should be responsible for supplying power to all Nigerians. I don’t believe in it, and I think that should be decentralization. That’s why I applaud what happened recently in Abia State, where they completed the power plant, the light-up project that they did, which is going to supply power to about nine local governments in Abia State. That should be the way forward. The way forward is for every state, local government, and university to begin to think of how they can generate their power.

Solar, wind, hydropower, and build gas supplies on their own, and supply their utility and be out of the grid. I’m surprised that a lot of people who are building estates in Nigeria today can’t think imaginatively to say, ‘These estates we are building will not be connected to the national grid because we’ll make everything solar’. We have an abundance of sunlight in Nigeria. When I went on a visit to Israel, I saw it there. Some estates in Israel are self-sufficient. They built their solar panels on the rooftops and generated their power. They don’t have to be on the national grid.

However, the Federal Government has also planned to increase the power capacity to 20,000 megawatts from the 12,522 MW projected within the next three years. What impacts will this have on the economy?

It will have an impact, but I can still believe that even with that, there will be a lot of decentralised management of that power sector. That will be the solution. Allow organisations to generate their power, transmit and supply. I think the Constitution has to be amended now to allow that. I expect the private sector and the state governments to sit and see how they can generate their power and be self-sufficient in that sector. That’s the way forward because even if we generate more megawatts, we are still going to deal with bureaucracy, with the same set of situations. We must allow the private sector to come in. I believe that because of the nature of Nigeria, the Federal Government inherited this, and it is not in a position to manage this efficiently.

The nation is currently facing multiple challenges of insecurity, and it is believed by security experts that the national grid collapse helps criminals to perpetrate their activities under the cover of darkness. What is your thought about this? 

The national grid collapse is more of sabotage. Maybe the tactics are even responsible for that. If the bandits know that they cannot put the whole nation in darkness and that it can only affect one or two areas, when you decentralise, they will rethink. You know under the cover of darkness; they can perpetrate more atrocities. Though they do perpetrate atrocities in broad daylight, the effort of the government, I will also say, is commendable in the area of security because people testify that the incidents of banditry are reducing. We still hear about it, but it is reducing. People can travel from Kaduna to Abuja more freely now, but we still have great challenges and I believe that with time, the government will be able to tackle these issues.

The NLC said it suspended the two-day national protest meant to fight against the high cost of living, inflation, insecurity, and hardship in the country. Do you think the protest and the minimum wage request of N1m by Labour are justified?

They are not justified. That guy is just playing politics with the Labour thing. Why is he using the NLC to nurture his political agenda? N1m minimum wage in this economy! So, for somebody on Level 8, the minimum wage will be N1m; are you saying some companies will be able to let go of N1m? You just want to ruin the economy because he is an unreasonable person, and he is doing politics with it. The same thing he did in Imo State the other time. A week before the election, he went to Imo State and said they had not implemented one thing or the other and he said he was going to lead a demonstration.

You saw the result there. People there attacked him; only God saved this guy. The guy should be reasonable and that’s why I want to commend the President and the leadership of the Trade Union Congress who are more reasonable. You have made your demands to the Federal Government and if they will be met, it is not in a day. All you need to do is give time. For some of these demands, there is no way they are going to mature after another one or two years but the ones that are implementable now, the government is making efforts to implement them, and then you are saying N1m minimum wage. Is it not the purchasing power that matters? 

So, how much do you think should be the minimum wage considering the current economic realities?

I am not the one to determine what the minimum wage will be. People in charge of it will look at all the parameters, factors, and resources of the country, and everything will come out with a stable figure, but in Nigeria, you should not go and dream that if you have a minimum wage of N1m, then you are rich. People will die because of the N1m minimum wage because what they are buying today for N10,000 will increase. The inflation will spiral up. It’s not the amount of money that matters, it’s what the money can buy and not even about the N1m.

The NLC President, Joe Ajaero, said the protest was suspended due to intimidation and threats from the government. Do you think threats and intimidation against peaceful protests are necessary in a democracy?

When he went to the National Assembly, nobody threatened him there. Why is the man playing politics with the leadership of the Labour Union? The man has a hidden agenda to force Peter Obi on Nigerians so that the Labour Party can have its way. Should everyone be following him like sheep? He carried out a protest and nobody was arrested even though I saw the video where policemen were helping them to distribute water and providing security for them. So, where is the harassment and intimidation? It is not true and there is no evidence of it.

How will you react to President Bola Tinubu’s directive that the Oronsaye Report should be fully implemented after its submission 12 years ago?

This is why I campaigned for President Bola Tinubu. I see that he is a man of great courage, who is not afraid to take the hard decisions that are necessary to put Nigeria on the right foundation and the path of development. That’s why I voted for him. This is what has been lacking, especially in Nigeria. The bureaucracy was too large. The recurrent expenditure was taking almost 80 per cent of the budget of Nigeria. So, former President Goodluck Jonathan came up with an idea on how to reduce our bureaucracy and be more efficient so that we can have more allocation of resources for capital development. Ninety per cent of the country’s development will remain only 10 per cent to do roads, build bridges, and some other infrastructure. There is no way you can develop with that. The report was submitted to former President Goodluck Jonathan, but he didn’t implement it. For eight years former President Muhammadu Buhari was here, but he didn’t dare to implement it.

As a man of great courage, who is not afraid to make high decisions, and a man of great vision, he said he would do it. I just hope that he will carry out that vision. There were about 350 MDAs in Nigeria at that time, and it was said that we needed to free up more resources for capital development. Since our recurrent expenditure, which was just to run these agencies and pay salaries was mopping up almost 80 per cent of our budget, allowing new development to take less than 20 per cent of the budget. That was the situation and that was what Jonathan thought about to see how these agencies can be streamlined through this panel. Oronsaye submitted his report to President Jonathan. Buhari came into the office and the report was there as part of his handover notes. And for eight years, he did nothing about it.

At the time that Orosanye and his panel did their job, Nigeria had about 350 agencies, which they would now streamline to about 150 but the number of agencies is no longer critical. We now have about 1,300 agencies and departments. It’s no longer 350. So, I don’t know if this has been brought to the attention of President Tinubu. We can’t even begin to implement the Oronsaye report fully now because it is obsolete, it is outdated. What I think the President should do is ask Oronsaye to come back with his members on the panel and ask them to look at these 1,300 MDAs and see how they can be streamlined into something more manageable.

Every year, since Oronsaye submitted the report, we continue to create commissions and agencies and that is putting extreme pressure on our recurrent expenditure, which has now gone up to about 90 per cent of the total budget. So, I support the reaction of President Tinubu to this situation, but I think if we just go home now and dust off the report as he wants to implement it, we won’t be serving justice to ourselves. What we need is to review it to see how we can reduce these commissions and agencies drastically and to put a moratorium on the creation of commissions, agencies, and departments for quite some time.

The Oronsaye report recommended the merger of some Federal Government ministries, departments, and agencies, and the scrapping of others. While the Federal Government said there would be no job loss, Labour insisted that there would be massive job losses. What do you think about it?

The Labour people have to be reasonable. The Federal Government said there would be no job losses. All these agencies will keep on employing people every year if they remain independent but if they are merged now, for some time, at least there will be no unnecessary commitments to those agencies. I support the idea that there will be no job losses for agencies because of the economic situation.


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