Some Ministers Not Fit For Positions They Occupy – Nto

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Dr. Philips Nto is former Commissioner for Finance and Economic Planning in Abia State. In this interview, he speaks on President Bola Tinubu's government, the economy, electricity subsidy and insecurity, among other issues, ANAYO EZUGWU brings the excerpt

Nigeria's economy seems not to be getting better despite some of the strategies put in place by President Tinubu's government. What do you see as the missing point causing this perceived failure? The missing point is the nepotic tendency of the current administration. Tribalism and nepotism make us not look for suitable round pegs for round holes. We even put square pegs in round holes so far it serves a nepotic interest. A president, who will turn the economy around must be one with a broad mind, someone who will look for the best even if the person is not a Nigerian.

You will see that advanced countries like Canada, the U.S. and the UK are engaging Nigerians in their critical sectors. Our problem is that the appointment of those managing our economy is based on a single criterion of the person coming from your place. The president cannot have the political will to sack a Central Bank governor or Minister of Finance that is not performing.


Can you imagine how Betta Edu was quickly suspended as minister for Humanitarian Affairs because the appointment was not based on nepotism? Some ministers are not just fit for the positions they occupy. For instance, such analogue retired and former governors use their positions as ministers to fight for relevance and political survival rather than to better the lives of the citizenry. The economy of Nigeria is not irredeemable the way it is because you need the right people doing the job.

Can any of our leaders do trial and error in their choice of medical doctors that manage their health? Let the right people be employed to do the job. This will mark the turning point and thus will mark the formulation of the right and unbiased police.

This will also rekindle the confidence of citizens and investors. If the president can look for the best medical doctors anywhere in the world, when he is sick, it is also of paramount importance for him to look for the best economists now that the nation is economically sick.

Insecurity is still on the rise despite claimed efforts by the Federal Government that it is on top of the challenge. Now that lawmakers are discussing the state police option; do you think it may be a way out? The Federal Government may claim to be on the top of the challenge! Yes! They may be. But the citizens will only see it, when kidnapping, banditry, and terrorism are over; we can only accept the claim when traders and tourists can travel around the country without fear; when Investors will troop into Nigeria as it were in the 70s and 80s when farmers in northern Nigeria will leave the IDP camps and go back to the farm.

I feel sad to see the way our military men and police are being ambushed and killed daily. The challenge of insecurity is still there unabated. I do not see state police as the solution to the problem. What is the equipment the state governors will provide for the state police that the federal cannot provide for the current police? Most of these crimes are committed across state boundaries.

State police can only handle minor crimes within the state. State police will never solve the problems of Boko Haram in the North East, banditry and kidnapping in the NorthWest; or unknown gunmen in the South-East or herdsmen problem in the North Central and South-West. As far as I know, state police will only arm the governors to hunt down their perceived enemies. There is nothing that they can do differently.

How would you access the All Progressives Congress (APC) government at the centre under the leadership of President Tinubu? I take exception to the use of APC in your questions. For me, he is now President Tinubu for Nigerians. He takes the blame and credit for every bad or good decision he makes. However, if you compare the APC and Peoples Democratic Governments (PDP) governments that left in 2015, the response will be a different thing. Be that as it may, every government has its areas of strength and that of weakness.

Every government has areas it succeeded and areas in which it failed. Every assessment must have a component of bias. An APC person will tell you that the Tinubu government has solved all Nigerian problems, while the opponent will have different answers, same also the influence of religion and ethnicity on response to your question. But my assessment will be based on the availability of food on the table for everyone; the price of the food; the exchange rate as against what it was last year; the number of hours a household enjoys power per day; ease of doing business and ease of getting a job after graduation.

For me, these issues raised and others will help one to properly assess the performance of a government. However, the government of Tinubu still has about three years to put all the things that will raise the standard of living in the proper perspective. Let the government bring in the right people who understand the problems of Nigerians and address them.

The economy of the South-East appears to be under serious threat with the continuous stay-at-home directive by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB). Do you think releasing Mazi Nnamdi Kanu will ease tension in the zone? The economy is solely associated with the Igbos. What affects a tribe automatically will have adverse effects on the Nigerian economy. The stay-at-home will affect food items movement from North to South-East since trucks and lorries cannot move on Mondays.

It will also affect banking transactions, and so many commercial activities across the other zones will be affected. A trader in Aba cannot pay his associate in Sokoto on a stay at-home day. Also if young people in the SouthEast are not well tutored because of stay-at-home, the person may end up working in the North or West.

So, the issue of stay-at-home should not be viewed as that of the Igbo economy but Nigerian problem. However, so many personalities have called for the release of Kanu, and I join my voice to others to appeal to President Tinubu to release him.

A president who will turn the economy around must be one with a broad mind. Someone who will look for the best even if the person is not a Nigerian

What is your take on the students' loan bill that has been assented to by the president, which critics have complained about its stringent assessment procedure? There are so many worries about this bill that seem to provide loans to students of tertiary institutions. First, does the government have statistics or population of students who qualify for this; secondly will they cope in providing the required funds?

Who will accept to guarantee the loan when it is clear that there is no available job after graduation that will enable the student beneficiary to pay back within the stipulated period? In developed countries where student loans exist, the unemployment rate is very negligible.

In our case, the implication is that the guarantor may end up being the person to repay. The government should rather give bursary awards to brilliant students recommended by various institutions. Besides, those recommended will also be subjected to a general examination or aptitude test.

Condemnation is currently trailing the removal of subsidy on power. What is the implication of the removal? Even the government of advanced countries allows subsidies to encourage production at lower costs. They even go as far as allowing tax holidays for startups. How can the economy that is battling to stabilise the effects of fuel subsidy removal also face that of power and both are critical in production?

For me, it will hurt production and also further increase the cost of goods and services. However, the obvious fact is that the said power is not even available hence many companies are folding up because of the erratic supply. Removal of subsidy on power adds more to production challenges and the suffering of ordinary Nigerians.

You are now the Director, Agribusiness Incubation Centre of Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike. What do you intend to achieve there? I have by the Grace of God occupied positions of responsibility in the past at various government organisations and agencies, but being Director of the Agribusiness Incubation Centre aroused my enthusiasm more than the previous ones. The position, which is courtesy of the dynamic and visionary Vice Chancellor of MOUAU, Prof Maduebibisi Ofo Iwe, came at a very auspicious and critical moment in our national history.

It came at a period when the country was facing serious economic challenges such as food insecurity, unemployment, and poverty. The position came when food inflation was at an alarming rate of over 38 per cent, youth unemployment at about 53 per cent, and poverty rate at about 40 per cent. The Agribusiness Incubation Centre which is an establishment of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security under the Renewed Hope Agenda of President Bola Tinubu is the game changer.

Coming to your question, the centre has as its core mandate to reverse this ugly trend. I want, as the Director to achieve food security through more youth engagements in agribusiness. When more youths and women are engaged in agriculture and agribusiness, unemployment and poverty will be reduced. As a centre which provides a hub for agribusiness training and capacity building, it will help youths and women to acquire skills in modern agribusiness value chain and entrepreneurship.

Our people do not tap from the extensive value chains that crops provide. Through the training and sensitization which the centre will provide, many young people will get interested in agriculture and agribusiness. We intend to achieve food sufficiency for every household at least in Abia State. If each household can produce what can sustain it, the country will not have all these poverty-related and food crises. I always say that Nigeria is a blessed nation in all agricultural ramifications but still under serious food bondage.

What has been the acceptability of the centre by indigenes in terms of patronage? It is a known fact that agriculture and agribusiness provide platforms for reducing unemployment and poverty, and boosting food availability. The level of hunger in the land makes the acceptability of our programmes and packages very high. Since the commencement of the scheme in February, this year, the patronage has been unprecedented.

It opened my eyes to the fact that everybody is interested in addressing the current hardship facing the country. The centre provides training for various packages like processing of confectioneries from tubers and cereal crops, processing of consumables from ginger, turmeric, garlic etc; as well as production of various drinks from crops.

The centre also provides training on micro gardening and hanging or space farming. These packages have received several patronages from the people, especially youth and women, because of their interest in quitting the labour market and poverty

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