Senate Ike Ekweremadu

John Alechenu and Eniola Akinkuotu

Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, and a former Minister of Education, Mrs. Oby Ezekwesili, have opposed the proposed sale of Nigeria’s national assets as part of the means of moving the country out of economic depression.

Ekweremadu expressed his opposition against the suggestion of business mogul, Aliko Dangote, and the President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki on Wednesday when he led other senators at a plenary to reject the call for the sale of the country’s national assets.

The senators at the plenary also urged President Muhammadu Buhari to reshuffle his cabinet as part of measures to take Nigeria out of the current economic woes.

The advice against the sale of assets come barely 24 hours after Saraki urged the Federal Government to consider the partial sale of some key national assets like the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas Holdings to raise needed foreign currency to revive the economy and stabilise the naira.

He also suggested that some airports should be privatised or put up for concession.

During the Wednesday plenary, the senators urged Buhari to consider a cabinet reshuffle to give bite to his economic team.

Specifically, they asked that the Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun and her Budget and National Planning counterpart, Udo Udoma, should be considered for other appointments.

Ekweremadu, in his contribution, advised against the sale of national assets, insisting it would be counterproductive to sell assets for short-term gains.

Ekweremadu said, “The President needs to look at his cabinet. He has to put square pegs in square holes. Your Excellency, distinguished colleagues, Udo Udoma is my friend, an accomplished lawyer for that matter, but in fairness to him, I believe he can do better in another ministry especially like trade and investment but certainly not budget and planning.

“The minister of finance can do much better in another ministry. At this critical time we need somebody who is more experienced to man the ministry of finance so that he can coordinate the strategies for this recovery.”

On the issue of the planned sale of national assets, he said, “I have heard about the issue of selling of our assets. I need to caution that other countries are not doing the same. The United Arab Emirate, does not even allow you to get to their oil wells let alone selling them.

“…So, if we must sell we have to sell the non-performing assets so that people can turn them around and create employment. We need to amend section 162 especially from 3,4,5,6 where every money in the federation account is enjoined to be shared among the other levels of government.”

Speaking in a similar vein, Senator George Akume (APC Benue North West), said, “The thing is very straight: there is a buyer market and there is a seller market, if you want to dispose of your oil assets at this time when the prices of oil has crashed, precisely how much are you going to realise?

“We are making a mistake here. What we are intending to do is to very unpatriotically ensure that those who are within the bracket of the stolen dollars will still come to buy.

“I believe that this is not the time to sell these assets. Fortunately the Central Bank of Nigeria governor made a very powerful statement that the worst days of the recession were over and therefore we had to look elsewhere and not sell our assets. We should rather focus on industrialisation through agriculture and try to revamp this economy.”

Ezekwesili, who is a former Vice-President of the World Bank’s Africa Division, made her submission on her official Twitter handle on Wednesday.

The ex-minister added that what Nigeria needed was economic reform and better economic management.

She said, “Managers of the economy must resist our ‘wonderful’ politicians now chorusing quick fixes like asset sale. There are no easy options here.

“It seems that the default instinct of our political class is ‘sell and spend’. Sell oil. Spend. Oil fails? Sell assets. Spend. It won’t work.

“Any asset sale at all should be within the context of an empirically guided, deliberated and deep structural reform of the sector of the said asset.

“The economy can’t get back to the high and sustainable growth rates necessary for wealth creation and poverty reduction without macro-economic stability.”

She said rather than the sale of assets, the Federal Government should embark on key structural reforms such as petroleum sector deregulation and liberalisation; civil service reform and increased investment in agriculture.

The ex-minister argued that without restoring macroeconomic stability, growth could not resume and without growth resuming, more people would fall into poverty.

Ezekwesili said it was unfortunate that despite the billions of dollars generated from oil over the years, Nigeria failed to save for the rainy day.

She said taking foreign loans would only be effective if the money was well-spent.

The ex-minister said, “A country that earned over $600bn within this decade during a six-year oil boom period now cheerfully goes ‘a-borrowing’. Wow.

“Other times this country went ‘a-borrowing’, what followed was ‘a-sorrowing’. By all means, borrow to stimulate and recover growth but be wise!”

Ezekwesili, who is the co-founder of Transparency International, said the Buhari administration should not take all the blame as the cause of the recession was cumulative.

She, however, argued that the inability of the Buhari government to act quickly contributed to the problem.

The ex-minister added, “Baggage from the past can’t be waved off nor can the indefensible delay by the current. In economic management delaying right action is costly.

“This Federal Government was handed a lemon package by the former but it worsened that heritage by a mix of delays, uncertainty and wrong policies.”

When asked by one of her Twitter followers if Buhari’s economic team was competent, the former minister said it was not bad.

She, however, argued that the team must do better

Ezekwesili added, “I am not one of those that think this Federal Government does not have bright lights on its team and I’ve said so before. It does. But they must do better.”



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