Measuring our freedom from want goal

Buhari’s Inaugural SpeechIN his oath of office, President Muhammadu Buhari swore to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Contained in chapter four of the basic laws are fundamental rights.

Those rights are listed from Sections 33 to 43 of the 1999 Constitution as amended. By his election, Buhari must tackle these rights as the President of our dream.

Although the right to life granted by Section 33 is threatened by the ongoing Boko Haram insurgency, we shall not deal with that as freedom from want threatens the whole country much more urgently.

Identified as right to dignity of human person, freedom from want means freedom from poverty. Our situation and conditions were exacerbated by petroleum scarcity recently. During that time, there was no petrol on sale because its sellers were on strike. Even now, we feel lingering scarcity of petroleum products.

Thus, the ongoing scarcity of petroleum products is linked to the recurring issue of petroleum subsidy which has dominated the public domain since the 1970s. At that time our government decided that imported petroleum products should be subsidised. Later, economists contend that subsidy should be scrapped. Their argument was that deregulation should be the main plank of our oil policy.

However, another school of thought says government has a duty to ensure that petroleum products are made available to the people at a low price as an oil-producing country. But the World Economic Forum (WEF) avers that money used to subsidise petroleum in Nigeria could always be used on social welfare in such categories as health, education and rural infrastructure.

Unfortunately, it has come to the realisation of Nigerians that subsidy is a monumental fraud. It has been estimated that Nigeria loses more than $10 billion to subsidy yearly. Ongoing litigation on subsidy scam came to justify the decadence of the subsidy regime and the existence of ghost importers.

In the circumstance, abolition of subsidy on the supply of petroleum products is the solution and best policy option for the Buhari administration. However, it is inherently contradictory for an oil producing country as Nigeria to depend on subsidised imported petroleum products. This is perverse because Nigeria is the only Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) member operating this corrupt policy. Therefore, as the removal of oil subsidy is desirable, we should hasten the building of more private refineries and the sale of refineries currently owned by the Federal Government.

Thus, privatisation of government agencies is the solution to corruption, unemployment and our bloated civil services, issues that have bedeviled Nigeria since independence. In the United States, the Council of Economic Advisers is charged with ensuring full employment in the country. Likewise, we should have a national full employment programme to ensure adequate employment for all who want to work.

In a recent business forum held at Abuja, the boss of the National Investment Promotion Commission gave Nigeria’s rising profile thus: We have the sixth largest population in the world. Nigeria is the sixth largest oil producer. We are the fifth fastest growing economy, the fourth nation with the largest younger generation. With this kind of profile, Nigeria needs to be careful in crafting an economic blueprint.

The first priority for the Buhari administration is power. Let President Buhari expand a board of electricity technocrats and power providers with the mandate to give Nigeria an uninterrupted electricity supply within 12 months. The Minister of Power should be a member of that board. Also, we recommend breaking Nigeria into three zones.

The Electricity Corporation of Nigeria should provide electricity for both the South East and the South South. The National Electric Power Authority should man the South West and the North Central while the Power Holding Company of Nigeria should serve the North Western and North Eastern zones. Without doubt, power should remain in private hands.

Buhari should never deceive himself by asking civil servants to administer Nigeria’s power structure. They will bastardise the service through corruption and dereliction of duty.

We recommend a national full employment programme. The underpinning ideology behind such a plan should be to eradicate poverty and unemployment in our land. The programme should be a middle way between a truly free market and social planning. We believe a national welfare state is necessary to ensure social harmony. This means government must regulate the size and composition of import substitution industries.

For poverty alleviation, economic development and industrialisation, economists have always recommended imitating the western economically advanced society. Thus, apart from the full employment plan, other agencies like the Bank of Industry, Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Programme, the National Poverty Alleviation Programme and the Small and Medium Enterprises Development Agency should be reorganised. Moreover, scheme of loans for agriculture and industry should be established as a bank product like ‘‘Baraka loans” made available from any banking and financial institution in the land.

For security, Buhari is already doing the needful by seeking the cooperation of Chad, Niger and Cameroun. A joint offensive of the four nations commenced simultaneously will break the back of the insurgents. For infrastructural development, let Buhari revive the Directorate of Foods, Roads and Rural Infrastructure (DFFRI) of the Babangida era. To discongest urban areas, let Buhari develop rural areas by imitating Israel’s integrated rural poultry farming and agriculture. Cheap food will bring down inflation and stem rural-urban drift.

Consequent upon the public philosophy that economic growth must be reflected in the quality of life of the people, rather than the rhetorics of public officials couched in agency reports, President Buhari should prune the government agencies responsible for economic growth. Such institutions as banks of industry, agriculture, infrastructure and the NNPC should be privatised.

All the refineries should be sold with contracts for building new private ones approved. Let Buhari not deceive himself with the civil service. The Nigerian civil service is irredeemably corrupt. Let him privatise public institutions for probity and efficiency.

•Ogumupe wrote from Lagos.

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