The vice president, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, has said that prudent management of national resources and providing for the people properly are better ideas for Nigeria’s development than the clamour for geographical restructuring of the country.
Osinbajo who stated this while addressing a cross-section of Nigerians at a town hall meeting in Minnesota, USA said he had all along been a proponent of fiscal federalism, that is, the need for states to be stronger, for states to more or less determine their fortunes.
“The problem with our country is not a matter of restructuring and we must not allow ourselves to be drawn into the argument that our problems stem from some geographical restructuring. It is about managing resources properly and providing for the people properly, that is what it is all about.
“I served for eight years as attorney general in Lagos State and one of the chief issues that we fought for in Lagos state was what you call fiscal federalism. We felt that there was a need for the states to be stronger, for states to more or less determine their fortunes.
“So, for example, we went to court to contest the idea that every state should control, to a certain extent, its own resources (the so-called resource control debate). We were in court at that time up to the Supreme Court and the court ruled that oil-producing states should continue to get 13% derivation.
“While we were at the Supreme Court only the oil-producing states and Lagos were interested in resource control, everybody else was not interested in resource control for obvious reasons. Now, that is the way the argument has always gone, those who have the resources want to take all of it, while those who do not have want to share from others.”
“My view is that we must create the environment that allows for people to realise themselves economically because that truly is what the challenge is with our country,” he said.
The vice president also said the federal government had put in place an economic structure that is able to function properly despite previous challenges, particularly corruption that led to a slowdown in the economy.
On the impact of corruption on the economy and the solution adopted by the federal government, Osinbajo said: “Unless we are able to deal with the fundamental questions especially around corruption, our economic circumstance will keep going one step forward, two steps backwards.
“When you talk about corruption in Nigeria, the truth is stranger than fiction. It is the kind of thing that would cripple an economy anywhere because you simply don’t have the resources for the graft and the greed of the numbers of people who want to steal the resources.
“All that we have been able to deal with is grand corruption. When we started the treasury single account, the whole point was to aggregate all of the funds of government that were in private banks. So we put all of the money in the central bank so that we could at least see the movement of money and by doing so, we were able to save 50 per cent of the corruption that was going on then.”
He assured Nigerians in the US that the government could be trusted, noting that “we can say for sure that the President is not going to sign off money and just bring it out to share.”
Thereafter, he reeled out Nigeria’s earnings from oil between 1990 and 2014 saying not much had been achieved in terms of infrastructure development despite the huge oil revenues realized by the country.
“Under the Ibrahim Babangida/ Sani Abacha administration (1990 – 1998) Nigeria realisd $199.8 billion; under the Obasanjo / Yar’Adua government (1999 – 2009), the country got $401.1 billion; and during the Jonathan administration (2010 – 2014), Nigeria got $381.9 billion from oil revenues.”
“The question that we must all ask is that what exactly happened to resources? The question that I asked is that where is the infrastructure.
“One of the critical things that we must bear in mind and see is that this government despite earning $94 billion, up until 2017, we are spending more on infrastructure and capital than any previous government, so we are spending N1.5 trillion on capital, that is the highest we have spent since 1990,” he said.
On how the federal government was utilizing the looted funds allegedly recovered from politicians, Osinbajo said the “government is committed to a transparent use of the funds in providing infrastructure.
“What we are doing with the proceeds of corruption is by making it a line in the budget so that it can be accounted for properly; it is not a special fund somewhere that is just being used in any way, but as a single line in the budget for infrastructure which is our major spend.”
In the area of agriculture, Prof. Osinbajo said, the target was to attain self-sufficiency in the production of rice, tomato etc.
“We are doing a lot of work in agriculture. Take rice, for instance, we are doing a lot in rice production and we have increased local production such that we are no longer spending $5 million daily on rice import.
“Today, we are doing 11 million metric tons of paddy rice and are now importing only 2 per cent of what we used to import.”
On Nigeria’s rise on the World Bank’s ease of doing business index, the vice president said though the challenges are daunting, the government was committed to going beyond the 24 places it moved up to in the last rankings.
He added that reforming Nigeria’s port system was top on the agenda of government as efforts were underway to improve the turnaround time for cargo clearance at the ports.
“If you look at the port issue, for example, we must be able to clear our port system; people must be able to import and export their goods in hours not weeks and months.
“So, we have to work our port system and one of the things we have been able to do is what we call the National Trading Platform or the single window. We are getting to the point where we are going to launch the national trading platform where the whole port system is integrated into one.”
On improving the health budget at both the state and federal levels, Osinbajo said the focus “is on trying to do National Health Insurance because funding health care through budgeting has proved to be practically impossible.”
“We simply do not have the resources, the states and Federal Government cannot do enough. So, the National Health Insurance is a very basic part of it and we are currently working now with the World Bank and with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to establish a proper National Health Insurance Scheme,” he added.