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Lanlehin: Buhari should hands-off economy, allow experts tackle recession


Femi Lanlehin

Femi Lanlehin

Mr. Femi Lanlehin, former Senator who represented Oyo South on the platform of defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) from 2011 to 2015, before joining Accord Party (AP) said President Muhammahu Buhari should allow economic experts to address the issue of recession. He also wants the three arms to work together to get the country out of economic doldrums. SEYE OLUMIDE reports.     

Did the Seventh Senate, in which you served, have any premonition of the present economic recession or privy to the fact that the economy will get this bad?
There has always been this need for caution because of the monolithic nature of our economy and this issue of our foreign exchange generating monolithic pattern. We always bear it in mind that the fluctuation of the oil price may affect our economy.

For instance, in the 1980’s the oil price went south. At that time there were indications that the oil price may go down because of the discovery of oil in some other climes around the world, for instance, in the United States and some other countries.

There were these feelings then that the economy might run into turbulent waters and that was why the Seventh Senate in which I served was always having issues with the executive, who wanted to have a benchmark for appropriation act.

To me, the current economic recession didn’t come as a surprise because the indices were there long time ago. The situation should not have taken us by surprise and we should have prepared for it.

What is the way out?
The way out is for Mr. President to hands-off managing the economy. He is the President and the buck stops on his table, but at the same time I believe the economy needs to be handled by economists, people who understand the method, the process and the undercurrent of the economy. We need people who have the experience and the ability to manage the heat. To that extent, I believe we need the cooperation of the three arms of government.

The reason is that in interpreting the laws of the country, it must be done in a reasonable way, realistic and in the interest of the nation and meant to guide the affairs of the people. But particularly, there is the need for the cooperation between the executive and the legislature.There is the need to put all these personal issues aside and concentrate on how to get us out of economic recession.

Do you have any regrets leaving the ACN without realising your dream of picking the governorship ticket of the AP?
I always make my decision in the interest of the community and in the interest of my immediate constituency. I have not regretted it. Sometimes, you find yourself in a situation where you just cannot flow because of certain things and you either move out or keep your mouth shut.

It was understood that you had some running battle with Governor Abiola Ajimobi throughout your four years stay in the senate…
I didn’t have any battle with him. We have a governor who seems to do and know everything and who seems to think that he got to the office by virtue of his strength, power and strategies. Unlike where I am coming from, I like to believe that party is about people, about common strategies, cooperation of the leaders, but unfortunately the governor thinks he is a superman and unfortunately too, even the system we practice places too much powers in the hands of governors. The presidential system is such a wonderful thing.

When you and some of your colleagues dumped Ajimobi, the feeling was that the governor was done for, but he eventually won again. How come?
Many things happened and not until we have an electoral process that will actually reflect the wishes of our people, we won’t have accurate results in elections. People think they won election because they have money and the violence that goes with it and the undercurrent and manipulation that go with it, along with the INEC. They don’t think that they owe the people anything.

Democracy is about the wishes of the people but unfortunately that is not the case in Nigeria due to many manipulations.Unfortunately too, the presidential system we operate puts so much power in the hands of the president and the governors, such that anybody who dared to confront them is like attempting to hit his head on a very hard rock.

Do you buy into the idea that Nigeria should be restructured?
Nothing could be better than a parliamentary system for this country. I know that in the parliamentary system, not only are you representing the people in government, you are also representing them in the parliament, and to that extent, you cannot be made a minister, you can’t be in any public office without being elected. The system gives public officers the opportunity to know what the people need and what they don’t need; how they need it and how you get it to them, because during campaign you would have gone round the whole places and interacts with them to know their needs. No novice to the needs of the people can attain any ministerial position under the parliamentary system.

But in a system where the people who run the government don’t have any connection with the people, then how do they deliver? The minister got nominated by the president and approved by the senate because he knows one godfather. The minister could be who just got into town and doesn’t know the name of the town he is in, so how does he deliver what the people want? That is presidential system for you. But under the parliamentary system, before you are made a minister, you must first of all take the consent of your people.

How can Nigeria return to parliamentary system or achieve the much mouthed restructuring, could it be done by reviewing the 1999 Constitution or through total overhaul of the current arrangement?
What we have is far above what the National Assembly can do.  The National Assembly has been trying to amend the constitution since 2003, it attempted in 2007 when former President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo wanted to inject something into it, the same thing happened in 2011 and even now we have another constitution review committee in the House of Representatives and the senate is doing same.

The challenge of Nigeria is so major that it has gone beyond what the National Assembly can do. What we need is a major restructure, which at the end of the day will give us a new Nigeria and a new constitution.

The current effort of tinkering with the constitution is a mere play, what we need is a major restructuring, otherwise we might have no Nigeria.We have young people leaving schools for years without anything to do. Unemployment abounds. If not for the fact that religion is entrenched in this nation, our crime rate would have been unprecedented.

Again, we are basically different people. We are so fundamentally different to one another. We should maximize what is our strength in every region and then have a common approach at the centre.We must restructure very quickly because things are just falling apart and I know if there is the will to restructure, it will affect our development.

What is the guarantee that restructure will take care of the challenges in the country?
It depends on how we restructure. The major factor that has continued to hold us down is our feeding bottle attitude. We are been spoon-fed with the proceeds from oil and not until we find a way to de-emphasize our focus on revenue base from oil, this country would hardly move ahead.

We also need to have a new look at how we share the common resources. We need to look at other resources that we can tap into. It baffles me when we talk of having foreign partners in this age of technology and information.

We must restructure in such a way that we go back to the basis and look at the conventional wisdom. We must look at those things that worked for us before the discovery of oil.

The economy has gone so bad that we cannot even measure it. For instance, I bought my second or third car, Peugeot 505 for N5, 000 at the Rutam House, now The Guardian Newspapers in 1980. I was given five per cent discount.

What can N5, 000 buy today? So what has happened, we must do something very quickly because the way we are going there is no light at the end of the tunnel.We must go back to the system where the leadership must stay connected. Public officers must be accountable.

We also need to reform our electoral system. This is very important, especially where the president appoints the chairman of INEC and Resident Electoral Commissioners (REC).

What is your view regarding the constituency projects lawmakers allegedly incorporated into the budget for their people?
Constituent projects are just a drop in the ocean. It is a very small percentage. The last time the constituency projects was less than N2 billion in a budget of six trillion and each senators got less that N180 million. It is such an inconsequential amount compared to what we promise our people during campaigns.

What are those things you can beat your chest that you accomplished with your constituency projects allowance?
I put every kobo of the money into the projects needed in my constituency. I even spent beyond it. I can tell you that even before we received the money, I was spending my personal money on some projects in my districts.

Do you agree that the South West, which has always championed restructuring, is also the major obstacle considering the role some of its leaders played during the 2015 election and during the 2014 National Conference organised by former President Goodluck Jonathan?
Of course the region has a great role to play, in fact, it should be the shinning light, it should be the pathfinder in making sure that this nation gets out of the present doldrums. But the region, unfortunately, has not been given the opportunity to actaulise what you raise.

It has the opportunity during Obasanjo’s administration but of course he will tell you that he was the president of Nigeria and not of the Yoruba. But I do say that the power of the president is so horrendous that he has all the resources in his hands and could determine what he wants.

Jonathan made a very good attempt by organising the 2014 conference, except that the timing was wrong. But here we have someone who doesn’t even want to look at it at all. I hope President Muhammadu Buhari’s hard posture to the issue of restructuring and dialogue would not lead to consequences unexpected in this country.Let me say with all confidence that restructuring is inevitable in this country.

Do you see a third force political party springing up in 2019, that would be potent enough to challenge the ruling APC with the way things are going?
First, the parties we have today are not ideologically based. They don’t have a common bond that political parties ought to have. What we have in the APC is combination of groups with different interests and that is reason the centre cannot hold. To that extent there must be realignment of parties based on ideology for a common goal, for a common way of doing things. We might even have more than a third force.

Like Obasanjo said, we have a dead opposition party and a weak ruling party. To that extent, there is no way another party will not come up because of the present arrogant of power we are currently seeing.

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