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National conference not remedy for Nigeria’s socio-economic problems

Prof. Ayodele Atsenuwa

Director, Legal Research and Resource Development Centre, Prof. Ayodele Atsenuwa, in this interview with ADEMOLA ALAWIYE speaks on solemn issues in the country

What is your view on doing business in Nigeria?

I think that the business climate is definitely challenging. I think we are not aware of the indices of corruption which mark up the cost of production. We are not unaware of the problems of transportation which hinders the distribution of goods and services and again hike the cost. We are not unaware of the fact of poor infrastructure which has forced many of the manufacturing companies to close down. I do not know of any economy which can grow effectively in the absence of manufacturing. Otherwise, it is going to be consumer based which will be about buying and buying only. I’m also aware that the quality of education is on the decline. The quality of people to be employed to do the work around which business are founded is declining. All these make business environment to be harsh.

Is that why most businesses in Nigeria don’t live beyond five years?

A business will definitely fail when there is lack of infrastructure even if you have a fair income.  If you have a fair income but you have failed infrastructure such that you have to buy fuel to power your generator, sink borehole to provide uninterrupted water supply, provide security for yourself, then you have little money or no money left to purchase anything more than what you require for just survival.  And of course if there’s no market for what is produced, then there is going to be more challenges.

Vocational skills can be a game changer in the labour sector but interest in it has really declined. How can government revive this sector to address unemployment?

It will appear that technical education and the regulation of technical education have been left unregulated. I do not know any artisan that actually holds certification. People register business names without showing any certification that indicates that they are actually trained. You will not register a nursing home without showing that the person who is going to take charge is trained. We need to recreate awareness.

Some people are agitating for an increase of the 13 per cent derivation fund; do you think that is a right call?

I believe this is one of the issues that the national conference should address. It is not a figure to be fixed arbitrarily; it is to look at what is the expectation of the people of government, what amount of social goods should be delivered at the devolved level. It is when we have a realistic conception of this that we will be able to say if states control their resources, then we will be sure that what accrues to them is effectively used. You just don’t fix things arbitrarily, you must look at what end will be served. Of course, there should be a lot of calculation to determine what should be for government at the centre.

What is your view on resource control?

I’m a federalist but I believe areas of Nigeria which produce the resources should definitely have control over the resources. I think that if the resources are controlled from that point, we can mediate, we can ensure that the Federal Government has access to some of the resources. But I think we have a military legacy that makes us think that it is only the Federal Government that is capable of delivering social good and so many things.  Experience has shown that when the control of resources is over-centralised, there is a tendency to be too far removed from the people. Then it makes accountability even more difficult. It becomes difficult for people in the different parts of the country to hold the Federal Government to account than it is to hold the state governments.

The budget of N7bn earmarked for the conference has fallen under criticism; what’s your take on that?

The budget of N7bn is not an insignificant amount of money. It is not so much as to whether it is just too much but as to whether it is going to be judiciously put to use. I have not seen the breakdown of the budget but I think the key concern is that if we are going to spend N7bn, we must hold the government to account and the process must work in such a way that the outcomes can yield result. We do not want this to be like the National Political Reform Committee of 2005 during President Olusegun Obasanjo’s time, we do not want it to be like the committee chaired by Justice Uwais which engaged in a very consultative forum but a significant number of its recommendations were rejected. If this is the way we are going, then it’s unacceptable.

Do you think the conference is coming at the right time?

I do not think the national conference is coming at the right time. However, I accept that we are far gone into the process of convening the conference. The reason why I do not think it is coming at the right time is because there are elections in the offing and I’m concerned that some of the issues that will be taken on at the confab are issues that Nigerians are passionate about, and I think it’s important that the intentions around those issues are not transposed on to the electoral process in form of violence etc. Also I’m aware that there is a constitutional reform process that is ongoing and I believe that quite a number of issues to be addressed in the conference will likely touch on the issues that will be addressed in the constitution. I’m concerned that there is nothing in the modality stated that shows how the outcome of the conference is going to interface with the ongoing constitution reform being undertaken by the National Assembly.

Do you think the conference is a remedy to Nigeria’s socio-economic problem?

I believe it’s critically important that Nigerians talk because the coming together of Nigerians is something that has always been questioned. To the extent that to some people, this question challenges the legitimacy of the Nigerian state. It is not enough to say that there are no go areas because if people feel that something is questionable and they do not accept its legitimacy, silencing them does not legitimise it for them so we will continue to have dissatisfaction around the question. So I think it is important for some talking and hopefully in that talking, we will actually know how we can move forward. It is not all the solution because bad governance is actually what has led to the challenge of the Nigerian state. It is the failure to deliver good governance in large part that has caused all these problems, it is that sense of alienation. So having the conference is not the real solution. We will continue to have alienation if we do not work very hard at ensuring inclusion, and at ensuring that people get the beneficial outcomes of being members of the Nigerian state.

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