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‘Fix refineries to stop subsidy’

The Executive Director, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, at International Monetary Fund/World Bank Group Spring Meetings in Washington DC, spoke on the outcome of the policy dialogue sessions with civil society organisations by world leaders regarding illicit cash flow, fuel subsidy, economic growth and poverty eradication, among other isuues. Excerpts:

What is your take on the economic projection for Nigeria by the IMF and World Bank Group?

It is very disturbing to see the World Bank analysis of Nigeria’s economy and that we are not actually making the necessary progress in terms of consolidating and strengthening our economy.

Therefore, it is not surprising given the fact that Nigeria has not made appreciable progress in terms of diversification of the economy and its effective management, particularly in the oil and gas sector. You will recall that we have been advocating for the Nigerian government to ensure that we have Petroleum Industry Law passed in the country, which has been languishing in the National Assembly. It would have helped to ensure the economy is strengthened, would have eliminated corruption, duplication of responsibilities as well as inefficiency. The Nigerian government is yet to do that.

Secondly, the non-oil sector has not been consciously developed in a way that will help drive the economy. You have so many areas that we as a nation, are not utilising very well. That is why we found ourselves where we are. And besides the World Bank, there are other institutions that have warned the government in terms of ensuring that it should be more focused, make the economy more productive because once the economy is not rolling, well, the issue of poverty, employment will be affected.

According to Ms. Lagarde, over $5 trillion has gone into subsidy payments globally instead of investements in health, education and infrastructure. What is your take?

Nigeria should have done away with the subsidy long time ago. The present administration promised to stop paying subsidy because they discovered at that time that it was a scam, a fraud and nothing is being subsidised. Unfortunately, we have not seen that commitment being fulfilled by the government.

The government is spending a lot of money on subsidy. For me and many Nigerians, the problem is not about subsidy, the problem is about corruption, it is about inefficiency in the management of the so-called subsidy because once some people imported petroleum to Nigeria, they claimed to have brought certain amount of tonnes of petroleum which is not being verified or authenticated and yet they get their payment. That is what the problem is. If government had eliminated that fraud, we would not be talking about it, if government had taken steps to ensure that the refineries were working, we will not be talking about subsidy. It is funny that Nigeria, as an oil producing country has to be spending that much to import petroleum for its citizens’consumption. If we are able to fix our refineries and make them efficient and effective, the question of subsidy would have been eliminated.

The issue of illicit financial flow and how it can be tackled also came up. How can it be tackled?

The illicit financial flow is a very serious issue because in the region, Nigeria accounts for over 70 per cent of illicit financial flow in West Africa and this is an alarming rate. It has not stopped. It is still happening, therefore, there is no way a nation can have vibrant and productive financial system once people are deliberately and consciously siphoning public funds abroad. I think the government’s anti-corruption effort should be intensified to block these leakages and we must make sure that people that are found guilty or caught in the act are interrogated and prosecuted..

What has been your driving force in fighting for the common man?

My driving force on the fight for good governance is basically about justice, consolidating democracy, ensuring that our developments eradicate poverty and having no tolerance for impunity. We ensure that there is justice in the country and equal opportunity for all Nigerians. Nigeria and Nigerians will appreciate more if we have a more inclusive, transparent and accountable government where impunity, corruption and incompetence are not tolerated in our country. To do away with the entire ethnic and religious crisis that we have, lack of access to information is driving so many Nigerians to criminal activities. For example, many youths indulge in violence because they lack the opportunity to have tertiary education.

We want many Nigerians to have space so that they can maximise the potential they have got. Because many wicked leaders have embezzled funds from institutions that will allow everyone to benefit therein such as education, healthcare, among others as these acts lower the productivity of the uneducated people. Lack of education reduces one and can easily make a person to be manipulated. That is why we insist that public institutions must be restored and work. Nigerian officials had their education in Nigeria. So why are they depriving this generation of good education. Many officials are also depriving people of their right to good healthcare. Not everybody has the money to go to private hospital or to go abroad for medical treatment. So, it is important that, as a civil society organisation to continue to centre our grievances around improving governance, making it work and creating economic diversity for many Nigerians.

The country will earn from such kind of human expertise and resources. Then, they can share a lot of productive things to make government work better. When you deprive people from all that you actually programme them to go and remain in poverty. That is why CISLAC, the transparency international organisation in Nigeria, have been calling for transparency and accountability. This is the reason my drive and the organisation that I represent also insist that until we improve in our governance system and have transparent, accountable and competent system of government at the local, state and national levels. Indices indicate that nothing is working well in many sectors. We need accountable leadership. Nigerians can be given reasons to do away with corruption and things that can bring about violence and impunity.

How do you react to government’s response to your organisation’s criticisms ?

As long as the Nigerians are happy with the position you are taking and as long we are not going to undermine the constitution of provision, we are not so much worried by the position of those paid government spokespersons.For any concerned person in government, when issue of great concern are raised by CISLAC, in the case of corruption, the first step is to look at the report and get where they are doing it wrong because don’t just criticize, we also proffer solutions to issues raised. If some beneficiaries of bad governance see our criticisms, they will oppose anything that will block leakages of bad government.

Instead of them to address those issues, they turn deaf hear and reject them. We are not worried about that. There are a lot of people in governance who appreciate our efforts and know that civil societies are contributing immensely towards improving governance in Nigeria.

There was a comment by economic experts that poverty is like a time bomb ready to explode. Do you agree?

We don’t have to wait until 2030 because poverty has already exploded in Nigeria. When you have a large percentage of the population living in abject poverty and cannot afford decent living, good education and so on. This is why you see a lot of crises going on in Nigeria because there is abject poverty already.The situation is orchestrated by corrupt public officials coupled with lack of government effort to come up with realistic programmes to deal with it.

For me, expansion of economic base that would encourage diversification, more investment from local and international investors that would help create jobs, which would address the issue of unemployment will be the answer. This is the reason why IMF is projecting abject poverty or extreme poverty by 2030. A lot of Nigerian youths are idle, they cannot feed themselves and you need to go round as see how poverty is walking naked.

As I said earlier, a sound economic team being led by committed, knowledgeable personnel that understand global economic framework should be put in place. Secondly, government must eliminate wastage, and prosecute corrupt officials. Government must consolidate its policy of ease of doing business so that idle hands can find something doing because in the past lack of favourable business environment had hindered many investors from investing in Nigeria. There is no strong legislation that can protect their investments as a result of corruption and uncertainty in the direction. Government must create more economy diversity instead of relying on oil and gas sector.

Women empowerment, girl-child education and financial inclusion are still contending issues. What are CSOs doing to give voice to the voiceless?

Well, it is an on-going process, which efforts are yielding gradually. During CISLAC side event at the United Nations Commission on the status of women during its 63rd Session held in March in New York, we as a non-for-profit organisation played an important role. We used the gathering to serves as an enabling platform for different stakeholders and international community to interact in proffering holistic solutions to the current trend and challenges confronting adequate, accessible and effective multi-stakeholder approach towards promoting social security for African women.

This event is primarily aimed at provoking critical discussions and harnessing potentials for what will ultimately lead to showcasing the plight of the African women to the international community and exploring gender relevant issues to promote social security for women in Africa. It has become continuously imperative to keep the issues of women in general and African women in particular on the front burner of the international discourse. We observed that despite the progressive policy commitments and institutional frameworks on gender equality and women empowerment, implementation remains slow and inconsistent.

To date, some countries in Africa are still battling with domestication of the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women, popularly known as CEDAW, a treaty adopted since 1979 by the UN General Assembly. This treaty is described as the bill of rights for women and has been ratified by 189 countries. Most African countries that have domesticated CEDAW are yet to fully implement the provisions, hence the need for other social developmental laws for women including Gender policies which are not even taken seriously.

Equally, the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa has not secured universal ratification. It is pertinent to note that no nation can fully attain sustainable development without including women, girls and all vulnerable groups. The cost of non-inclusion is shocking.

According to a World Bank report released in 2018, countries are losing worldwide 160 trillion USD in wealth because of differences in lifetime earnings between women and men. The extent of the problem is disproportionally more serious in Africa. UNDP in its Africa Human Development Report for 2016 says, “Gender inequality is costing sub-Saharan Africa on average $US95 billion a year. Yes the issue came up and what we are saying is that African women should be protected from issues of violence, poverty, lack of opportunity, justice and equity. We must get away with gender discrimination and misguided believes based sometimes on culture and norms.