Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Obasanjo backs sale of national assets

Former President Chief Olusegun Obasanjo said he foresaw the current economic recession the country is currently going through in 2014 and he hinted of its consequences. He also threw his weight behind the sale of some public assets but also warned that it must not be sold to cabals, adding that the number of shares an individual or corporate entity should buy in such public assets to be sold should be regulated. He said this on Tuesday in his goodwill message at the opening session of a two-day National Council of Finance and Economic Development conference held at the Green Legacy Resort, Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library, Abeokuta. It was held in conjunction with the Federal Ministry of Finance. The former President, who lamented the current economic downturn in the country, said his warning about the recession in 2014 was contained in a lecture he delivered at the 80th birthday ceremony of Justice Akanbi on 26th November, 2014. He brought a copy of the 2014 lecture to the event and read part of it to the audience. Obasanjo, however, proffered solutions to how the country could get out of recession. He urged the Federal Government to spend less than the country was earning, fashion out ways to earn more revenue and borrow. “For me, we have brought it on ourselves, we don’t have to wring our hands and say ‘where are we? In a simple layman’s language, the situation is that we are spending more than we are earning. We have not been able to save, so that we can go and take from what we have saved. “If you are spending more than you are earning, you will have to spend less, you earn more and you borrow. “For us, we are to do the three as quickly as possible, we must borrow and we must go to the people that will give us loan with reasonable interest. “You may do it with the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund. I don’t say we must not go to them. When I was in government, I never say no to them, but don’t do their bidding. Out there, there is money but people will not part with their money unless you are doing the right thing.” The former President said that Nigeria must encourage production to earn more and increase its revenue. He noted that since the nation was not in control of oil, it should therefore diversify on the things it could control. Obasanjo, who harped on the need to develop agriculture, frowned on policies which tended to turn the country into a dumping ground for other countries’ products. “I was shocked when the ban on importation of toothpick which we imposed in 1977 was lifted four years ago. “How can a nation seeking to rank among the best in the world continue like that? “We must begin to do away with things that we can do without.” Obasanjo, who backed the call for the sale of national assets to raise money, described such act as natural. The former President suggested that the government should consider selling some shares of the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation to members of the public, but with a note of caution. “I do not see why 48 per cent of the NNPC cannot be privatised. “I think the problem is in the coinage “selling of asset” as if we want to throw out our inheritance. “What we are actually doing by that is simply reorganising. “It should however be done transparently and let it actually go public and not to cabals, their relations and friends. “This is always the fear of Nigerians when issues like this arise.” The former President expressed confidence in the ability of the Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, saying that “she is doing a marvelous job in a difficult situation and that only time can prove her right.” The minister, who spoke earlier, noted that the Federal Government had till date invested over N700bn to stimulate growth in the economy. The host governor, Senator Ibikunle Amosun, and the Governor of Gombe State, Ibrahim Dankwambo, promised to tell the other 34 state governors to key into the outcomes of the conference which continues today (Wednesday). Speaking earlier at the opening session of the third edition of the World Pension Summit (Africa Special) in Abuja on Tuesday, Obasanjo had said his advice to governors to save for the rainy days when he was leading the country between 1999 and 2007 was ignored. He added that if his suggestion had been implemented back then, the country would have fallen back on such savings at this time of recession. He warned that while the pension fund could provide the needed funding for developmental projects, caution must be taken in order not jeopardise the objectives of the pension scheme. Obasanjo, whose administration was instrumental to the establishment of the CPS in 2004, said with the fund rising to about N5.8tn, there would always be the temptation to tamper with it for other compelling needs such as infrastructural development. Copyright PUNCH.

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