Former Deputy Speaker, Cross River State House of Assembly and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) stalwart, Chief Orok Duke, spoke to ANIETIE AKPAN on how the Federal Government can boost the nation’s economy and curb insecurity in the Niger Delta and the North East.
How can the Federal Government improve the fortunes of the naira and the economy?
FIRST and foremost, government should not devalue the naira. I am in total support of not devaluing it because we are not into production and we are not manufacturing anything. If we do, we will lose.
Instead of devaluing the naira, we should stir up the manufacturing sector. What is done all over the world is get banks to loan money to those who will establish manufacturing industries; single digit loans. We cannot do double digits and expect anybody to break even. That is why industries are not manufacturing. They should cut the red tape of involving the banks.
Take the example of former President Babangida’s graduate loan scheme. I was a beneficiary. When we graduated in 1986, 87, 88, Babangida set up a loan scheme. You write a proposal, and as far as you agree to employ three to five people, they disburse the loans directly, regardless of the period the Central Bank has given. All the money was routed through the banks. For instance, the banks have not granted loan (SME), which is Central Bank money, to anybody in Cross River State because it is supposed to be given at five percent. The banks did not find the graduate loan scheme lucrative, so they sabotaged the project.
The Central Bank should go back to what Babangida did and disburse directly to beneficiaries. There are so many people wishing to access Small Business and Medium Enterprise loan. The funds are with the Central Bank. But since we are passing through the commercial banks, it will not work. Now, the system has been suspended, otherwise if you consider the time President Jonathan released the money, up till now, we would have been able to generate employment within the economy. It is not creating any impact because of the wrong implementation of the policy. So, they should do away with the red tape and do away with the commercial banks and disburse directly.
What the National Directorate of Employment did was show you the money and you get somebody to recommend and guarantee you; this is not necessarily collateralized. And they disburse directly. It was a very successful scheme. But when they reintroduced it, brought in commercial banks and gave them a certain percentage, they subverted the entire process in order to make more profit.
What other things do you think the government can do to stabilise the economy and ensure the naira is restored?
Go into the solid mineral sector; try to stimulate the non-oil sector. Look at Cross River State; we have close to 30 solid minerals. But the constitution is such that the Federal Government is in total control of all the minerals, yet they don’t have the capacity to start exploiting some of them. The Minister for Solid minerals has gone ahead to say that states can set up industries and exploit sold minerals. But everybody is aware that the power is with the Federal Government, enshrined in the 1999 constitution, as amended.
Look at Cross River State; we have close to 30 solid minerals. But the constitution is such that the Federal Government is in total control of all the minerals, yet they don’t have the capacity to start exploiting some of them. The Minister for Solid minerals has gone ahead to say that states can set up industries and exploit sold minerals. But everybody is aware that the power is with the Federal Government, enshrined in the 1999 constitution, as amended
Everybody is worried that if the power is still with the government and the Minister just makes a statement that is not backed by an amendment of the constitution, how can people put millions of dollars into the sector when another pronouncement by government can wipe off the investment. Potential investors are apprehensive. Except there is a definite law backing the involvement of other stakeholders in the exploration and exploitation of solid minerals, the pronouncement by the Minister will not suffice.
What is your take on security?
There is so much insecurity in the country. I have always proposed something. Apart from the issue of state police, we should liberalise the ownership of guns. Expanding gun ownership will help. Marauders and robbers acquire automatic rifles and we are still going back to pre-colonial times when we are only given licences to guns that are not automatic. Even a renowned person in the society, like the Justice of the Peace, cannot get a good gun because he needs a presidential approval.
An armed robber or bandit can enter an entire community knowing fully well that in the entire community nobody owns a gun. They will spend hours, there, robbing from house to house. The Federal Government should either license individuals or introduce what is done in America: that is private security companies that are licensed and trained to carry guns and protect communities and individuals.
The Federal Government alone will not be able to do it. You bring somebody from Calabar to go and become a policeman in Borno. As far as there is no corresponding intelligence report from the community, that is somebody who knows the area very well, you will not match that terrain. You will be there like a green horn and crime will continue to be perpetrated. Like the Inspector General of Police said, you need the cooperation of the host community to be able to turn information to intelligence. And if you are not familiar with the community, you cannot win their confidence. To be able to convert information from a community to reasonable intelligence, you need to get the confidence of the people within the community. And it is very difficult for a non-indigene and a non-Christian to do that, hence you have these issues playing out in various areas of security.
What do you think the Federal Government should do to win the insurgency in the North East completely?
In the case of the North East, I think some taboos need to be broken. Now, they (terrorists) are not holding territories; they are just wandering. When you consider their cultural practices of wearing the hijab (veil) and concealing bombs… If you don’t destroy some of those cultural tendencies, you will not be able to disrupt their campaign. A small girl enters a market, fully covered, and you cannot know whether she has a bomb or not. Right now, they are not holding territories but going around bombing vulnerable targets. With the situation on ground, you need a disruption of the cultural practices to secure the North East properly.
We have started having fresh crisis in the Niger Delta. What strategy is needed to check this?
You cannot ignore these people. Even during the height of the amnesty project, they were still kidnapping people and refusing to leave the creeks. They kidnap people, take them to the creeks and then blackmail the government into protecting or securing contract to protect the pipelines. It is not proper for individuals to protect Federal Government’s property, like that, arming them and buying navy ships and so on for them. The situation, now, is called paradise lost. They have lost their paradise. They need to bring themselves to face current reality that things have changed. In line with Buhari’s change mantra, they should readjust and also work with government to secure the pipelines.
Government should standardise the process of modular refineries. Destroying over 1,000 modular refineries…you are not helping the institution. Rather you are driving them deeper into unemployment. The crude is there; at times they do not really break the pipes to steal the crude. The same way that some people sit in Abuja and exploit the crude is the same ways these boys get it. Nigerian crude is not metered. You will see a ship that has a capacity for 100,000 tons buying 50,000 tons. But while the ship is loading, they put in 100,000 tons. They all know this trick, which has been ongoing.
I discovered it as far back as 1994 that Nigerian crude is not metered. Nobody knows how much crude is being sold. In 2015, a Minister under Jonathan said Nigerian crude was still not metered. So, we need to metre the crude because some people pay less but take away large volumes. The practice has been going on for a very long time and the people of the Niger Delta are aware of it and they want to participate in their commonwealth. They create small refineries and you send the navy and army to go and destroy the refineries. Meanwhile, the big fish are in Abuja stealing.
I think the government should create a standard with modular refineries at the creeks. By so doing, the people will be fully engaged and fully employed. Destroying refineries is not fair. Our normal refineries cannot consume the excess crude dedicated to them. For instance, 300,000 barrels a day is dedicated to be refined for local consumption, but our refineries cannot take all and nobody will see were the 300,000 barrels of crude have gone and nobody will account for it.
So, allow the Niger Delta people to get involved but control and standardise. If you don’t control and standardise, you make them roguish and they keep breaking pipes because of the pressure from law enforcement agencies that are also parties in the trade.
Look at the budget. Politicians don’t count the figures to the smallest fraction but they hand everything to the civil servants and I dare to tell you that 90 per cent of all houses built in all the urban areas in Nigeria are owned by civil servants. Politicians don’t own up to five per cent of houses in Nigeria. I have done an empirical study on it. Civil servants stay there and hide the files of contractors for 35 years and take bribe from contractors for 35 years. They make so much money by doing those criminal acts. The country can be salvaged but it takes a person who has guts and conviction, and who is ready, to do it.
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