Says the economy must work under President Muhammadu Buhari…
Says Unemployment Data is worrisome...
Before his emergence as Chief of Staff to Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State, Taiwo Akerele had earlier had a few stints with the World Bank, the European Union and the Lagos Business School. His love for service to his people would see him join the Economic Development Team of former Governor Adams Oshiomole, where he brought in his experience to bear on the economic policies of the Comrade Governor.
Akerele, speaks on a number of issues, including his resignation as Chief of Staff earlier this year.
On the economy , he says he is worried and wants the sitting President and the ruling party to do more.
TTP.ng- Before your emergence as Chief of Statf to Governor Godwin Obaseki, you had played huge roles in a number of assignments both in the private and public sectors, could you give us a rundown on such engagements?
TA: Well thank you, as you know, I was the immediate past chief of staff Edo State and I had prior to my appointment as CoS,had previously worked at the Lagos Business School, Center for Applied economics and United Bank for Africa, Strategy and Business Transformation Unit; I have also in the time past consulted for the World Bank and the European Union on public finance management, public works, budget reforms, audit reforms and State Integrated Financial Management Information System (SIFMIS). Presently, I am a Senior Fellow at the Nigerian- Canadian think-tank, Policy House International, the group anchoring the Borrow Right Africa program and the Incentive Based Initiative for Nigeria North East Region.
Recently , I was also among the few delegates from West Africa at the Civil Society Policy Forum in the just concluded annual meetings of the World Bank and the IMF in Washington DC with virtual sessions held with the President of the World Bank Group and the Managing Director of the IMF on key issues around global child immunization, gender equality, climate change, crisis of basic education and credit/aide effectiveness for developing countries.
TTP.ng – You were a key pillar in the election of Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State, for which he made you his Chief of Staff. However , you were to fall out with him and before long tendered your resignation, what issues led to your resignation and is it true that you were forced to resign?
TA: I resigned in April 2020 on administrative and governance grounds and I was never forced to resign, I did so on a matter of principle. I still maintain a healthy personal relationship with his Excellency the Governor of Edo state Godwin Obaseki and I even congratulated him on his election victory, even though I campaigned for Osage Ize Iyamu. I am still a member of the APC in Edo state even though I have spent quite a lot of time promoting our initiatives and programs across the globe. Edo APC went through a lot and I hope the leaders will spend time to start reconciliation and genuine dialogue amongst its members. We know all that transpired but again as I have always said it is time we move on. There is no doubt that as we need economic reforms in this country we also need serious political and electoral reforms genuinely.
TTP.ng- Can you kindly let us know some of the issues that led to you resigning?
TA: Like i said it is time to move on, Governor Obaseki has won a second term and I am happy for him, it is time for him to face the issue of governance squarely, there is little or nothing much I can say to that.
TTP.ng- As a member of the APC, how would you rate your party’s performance at the national level, particularly on the economic front?
TA: I think President Muhammadu Buhari, the the party leadership and state governors elected on the party’s platform must demonstrate seriousness and rise up to the occasion of managing the country’s economy in the right manner . For instance, former President Goodluck Jonathan handed over an economy that was growing at 5% per annum even with all the challenges at the time, but today the Nigerian economy has twice slipped into a recession, posting an annual growth rate of 1.4%. This for me is not cheering for us as a party and as a government.
The unemployment data especially for youths is very worrisome and it seems the laudable policies of the government are not reaching deep and far into the targeted populace. This must be tackled immediately. The growing resentment among the population should be arrested with positive monetary and fiscal policies aimed at stimulating the economy. The President in his wisdom set up an economic management team; do they have the capacity to manage the economy well? What is their impact after almost two years in the saddle? Are they all in all in terms of ideas? Are they receptive to other schools of thoughts? Time shall tell. They should know that whatever are their achievements, it is we as the APC members’ professionals, technocrats and appointees that will bear the brunt at the local level so they must communicate effectively at the right time. We the young elements in APC are not going to sit down and watch things degenerate to a level where we cannot go home anymore. This is very important.
TTP.ng- As a youth, what were your thoughts as regards the #EndSARS Protests?
TA: I see the recent #ENDSARS protest across Nigeria as a subtle message to the Nigerian government to wake up. Our party must inject new blood and new ideas into the running of the economy, this is not a time for blame game, but for everybody to wake up and discharge their duties to the best of their abilities. We must be receptive to new ideas and initiatives otherwise we won’t be able to face the electorates in 2023 to vote for APC again for the 3rd time. If the President succeeds, APC has succeeded, if APC succeeds it means the country and the citizens will be better for it, therefore I prefer to support the Nigerian President to succeed so that I will also be proud to be a Nigerian anywhere and wherever I find myself.
TTP.ng- There are many who say that a number of State Governments are incapacitated owing to the kind of federalism that we practice, what’s your take on such clamours ?
TA: The Governors should not leave the responsibility of managing Nigeria to the President and the Federal Government alone, the constitution is very clear on the powers and responsibility of every tiers, arms and branches of government from Federal to states and the local governments, The residual list is very clear on what the states should do while the exclusive list is clear on the Federal role. The Governors are expending too much energy on what they can get from Abuja and spend less than 20% of their time in harnessing the energy and the resources back in their various states to accelerate the economic development of the various regions. This is not acceptable.
TTP.ng- Are you saying that the governors are wrong for clamoring for a better form of federalism?
TA: No, I have not said so, I am only stating that what have they sought to do with the little resources available to them. Until, these state governors learn to make the most of their resources we will continue to grope in circles.
TTP.ng-As a member of Incentive Based Initiative, what are your thoughts on UNICEF’s recent announcement that there are over 10.5 million Nigerian children that are out of school, and that 1 out of every 5 children out of school world-wide is a Nigerian kid. Is this not enough to declare a state of emergency in the primary education sector of this country?
TA: On our own at Incentive Based Initiative we have challenged UNICEF via a letter written to the Country Representative to substantiate this data with more facts and empirical evidence, we are challenging the Nigerian Governors Forum to establish a basis for computation of out of school data in the 36 states. As a country we cannot allow the international organizations to churn out basic data on a very important sector such as basic education and we accept it hook line and sinker, it does not show we have our own baseline mechanism for computations. We have therefore scheduled a stakeholder session to look at these issues in December to know where we stand as a country what are the next steps precisely and timelines.
TTP.ng- The finance minister recently announced that the nation’s debt stock was to clamber to 38.68 trillion Naira by December 2021, as an economist and policy expert, shouldn’t we be worried about such a scenario?
TA: On the issue of debt and debt sustainability, Borrow Right Africa Program is championing one single objective “Borrow well and account for it”. There is nothing wrong in borrowing as a country but you have to borrow and channel to a venture that can pay back. Looking at the data from Debt Management Office (DMO) as at June 2020, Nigeria is currently owing close to N$31.Trillion (about USD$85.9bn) the breakdown shows that total external debt stood at N11.36 trillion ($31.47) accounting for 36.65percent of the total debt stock, while domestic debt stood at N19.65trillion ($54.42billion). The debts are either from multilateral or bilateral institutions, out of this amount 52% is to Multilateral agencies such as the world bank, IMF and others while about 35% is to commercial e.g bonds such as Eurobonds and Diaspora bonds then the last category which is 12.54% is Bilateral (countries) such as France, China, Japan, India and Germany. 61% of the total multilateral debt is owed to the World Bank group while the balance 39% is from others such as African Development Bank Group (AfDB) and others.
The key questions are this? What are we borrowing for? Are they for projects we could actually fund ourselves? Or for projects that are sustainable and in the end pay back themselves such as infrastructure, toll roads, industries, commercial agriculture, renewable energy and trains. For us in Borrow Right Africa, we believe that Nigeria and other Africa countries should restructure their lending architecture more in favor of the private sector; the country should now guarantee loans to the private sector to invest in viable venture than the country itself borrowing. When you review the details of why we borrow in Africa you will realize we have a lot of work to do. Meanwhile our 2020 budget has showed that we could be servicing our debt with close to 25% of our expected revenue.
Meanwhile, I must commend Ethiopia and Morocco for realizing the need to promote private sector initiatives in their engagement with international lenders and partners of development, Nigeria should leverage on its negotiating capacity to tow the same path.