Nigeria Needs A Passionate Leader To Drive The Economy – Agbakoba | Independent Newspapers Limited
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Nigeria Needs A Passionate Leader To Drive The Economy – Agbakoba

Posted: Mar 8, 2016 at 1:00 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

Olisa Agbakoba, SAN, founding partner, Olisa Agbakoba and Associates, a leading maritime specialist law firm in Lagos, in this interview with Don Okere and Sylvester Enoghase, speaks on how the dwindling oil price would inspire the Federal Government to make merit flourish, and allow intellectual property to drive the economy. Excerpts

Considering the falling and unstable oil prices, what key areas of the maritime industry do you think can be readily positioned for the intervention of  the nation’s economy?
There is a big problem in Nigeria, and the problem is that  the oil prices are dropping  at the international market  and the money is not coming as usual and the Federal Government wants to diversify and we can see that the maritime sector is a veritable sector.

What aspect of the sector do you think the Federal Government can harness, to replace oil as a major source of revenue?
Let me comment on what you said, that there is a big problem, I do not think there is any problem. I am very happy that the oil prices are going down and now that we seem not to have money, we are technically insolvent, then we need to be creatively inspired, and what that does is that we allow merit to flourish, and allow intellectual property to drive the economy. And so, if it took the dwindling oil resources to bring us back to our senses, then I am happy. I thought that I need to underscore that.

The second point I need to underscore is the interesting dynamic of how President Buhari is trying to reset the economy and that point is lost. Many people say, does he have an economic policy or agenda, and if he does, is it as articulate as it should be?
Now, for informed people like us, what I see so far, whether it would succeed or not, I cannot say, but what I see is that the Government is trying to reset the economic agenda.
And whether that is because what you described as the need for Government to diversify, and whether diversification is not done because there is no money in the first place is open to question.
It is an open question, but the fact is that it is happening. And so, when you now look at what should happen before we go into the question of where he can find the money, whether it is in space, or the maritime sector, or intellectual property, it is important to  say we need to till the ground.
And so, the ground in Nigeria need to be tilled, and that is why we ranked very low in the World Bank business index. And so, nobody is going to come to Nigeria, no foreign investor is going to invest in the country, or even domestic investor, unless we have the enabling environment.
And so, to your question, I will assume that all these would have been done before now.
The maritime sector is the most important sector in any economy, because even the oil and gas is actually useless without the maritime sector. I do hope you know that not even the drop of oil can actually be extracted from the ground, unless you use tools and those tools are all part of shipping equipment and the value of those tools lies in the hands of foreign investors, in the international oil companies and their various subsidiaries, they are worth trillions of dollars.
And so it is like you with a huge farmland telling me to pay you rent every year and I expropriate everything that belongs to you, worth a hundred million and I hand you two million. And so, your son would say daddy it does not make sense, why don’t you actually control the value chain?
I am not an expert on all parts of the value chain like hydrocarbon production, but I am an expert in shipping and I would like you to talk to people like Ifesinachi, Chisco.
The transportation business between Lagos and Onitsha gateway alone is worth a trillion Naira a year and it is not very well developed, but we need to know that the type of business that runs between here and Onitsha is huge. And that goes to tell you what is happening in the oil and gas sector that we do not control.
What happens in a typical case is that Shell produces oil, float and upload 10,000 and it can hold 10 million worth of crude oil balance and all of that is exported and there is no Nigerian Content, which is why we are talking about value chain originating process of creating the Nigeria value as one value chain.
I cannot begin to quantify what we have been doing in the oil sector, and how much of that value chain is not localised. But the reason why we haven’t is that we do not have vessels. It is very clear, because there is no business, and therefore, there are no vessels.
If you look at these foreign investors, they cannot come into the country and take everything. If you look at the original agreement written by BPE, with Mouler & co. what they did was to make the port conducive to just upload there and make the ships turn around very fast and go, but they have not developed the infrastructure at the port. And so the leakage is massive.
I personally place the value of the industry at about N7trillion. I have not talked about the ports, and even the customs side of the port, and what the customs inefficiently remit to the Federal Government is about N2trillion a year. And that is just one arm of the port, and not to talk about the terminal operators, and so you can see the various frameworks on which an efficient maritime administration and appropriate authorities and good legal and regulatory framework can bring money to Nigeria. And so, it is in other fields that cut across aviation, banking. When the National Bureau of Statistics is saying that 100million Nigerians are unemployed, that is not surprising because the governments is not creating the enabling environment for the economy to grow, develop and make Nigerians to be busy.

What is your position on calls for review of the Cabotage Act, which should have been a way to shipping development?
I proposed the cabotage Act under Ojo Madueke when he was the Minister of Transport. It is lack of political will. All these question you are asking me is summarised in a little book written by Chinua Achebe. The trouble  with Nigeria is simply and squarely the failure of the nation, that the leadership is unable to project Nigeria as a country where there is democratic institution.
I made this point in a seminar the other day that there is no nation called Nigeria, but Adams Oshiomhole disputed  my argument that there is a nation called Nigeria, but  Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Dr Nnamdi Azikwe and Tafawa Balewa showed that the Nigeria entity was just a mere geographical entity.
Nigeria was created by Lord Lugard and yet after 100years, we are unable to say to ourselves how can we become a nation that will bring forth economic benefit. And so, if you do not look at that political framework, then the nation does not have the character of  leaders with passion.
Chief Awolowo was a leader with passion, and that was why Ojukwu said Awolowo was the president  Nigeria never had. I made it clear that without passion, you cannot drive any process, and that is why the nation’s economy and other sectors are not doing well.
Nigerians have  attributed the inability of  president Buhari to turn around the economy in the last few months , to his lack of  an economic team that would roll out strategic economic plan. What is your comment on this?
That is why I was describing the issues of passion, because passion drives people.We do not see a passionate expresssion in the leadership of Nigeria, rather what we see is a formal expression. In the anti-corruption crusade, he has done well,maybe in a framework that cannot be defined, but he has done it well.When a person is passionate, he repeats it,  and clearly, every body knows that he is passionate about it. And that needs to extend accross the field of economic planning.

In your view, how can the nation strengthen the intermodal system to boost maritime trade?
It is back to planning, you want to narrow it down but you can’t. The reason why maritime intermodal system doesn’t work is again back to what I described, as it never thought about planning, intramodern or intermodern system of transportation. Osumanike managed to plan but it is only a plan, so the question is, why is it not obvious that a plan is needed, that is the issue, so we are back to who are the responsible planners for the maritime economy. Are they people who have the relevant skills? We want to see what the transportation Minister Rotimi Amaechi will do, because if you don’t know what you are doing, it is irrelevant, it is like asking me to be a pilot in an Arik airline 747 to London, I will just crash the aircraft because I can’t fly it. If I may go back to maritime again, the port concession is in the right direction.

Is the government doing the right thing to sanitise the system?
They are doing the right thing but we need to have a clear and articulate policy that is my pure analysis. If Nigerians understand what the government is saying they want to do, then it will make it easier but the government has not communicated as well as it should be, I keep stressing it, the need to communicate to Nigerians, this is where we are and here is where we want to go.