INTERVIEW CONDUCTED WITH DR OLISA AGBAKOBA OF OAL
Is time to reflect and say where are we going? This is the appropriate time for the President-elect, General Muhammadu Buhari and the various Governors-Elect to set an agenda. Is one thing to have what you are going to do and is another thing to do it. The background for the Nigerian election was changed with the last election. People were tired of the old government. In the context of that change, expectations had been raised and these expectations had been raised in the context of President Jonathan’s statesman’s-like concession which trickled down into a lot of states. Election is no longer “War War ” as it happened during the regime of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo.
The people who have revoked the powers of PDP would expect a lot. My expectation in setting an agenda for the president-elect is to say that one of the things that brought him to power is his integrity and integrity in Buhari meant that we want to see a substantial decrease in corruption, public wastes, public inefficiencies in the context of dwindling public revenues, when the country is technically tight for money. My first expectation for the President-elect is to erect a new anti-corruption framework because the present one has failed; he is to x-ray the law and the institutions that support the anti-corruption efforts. To degrade them (the institutions), and bring in new ones. Nigeria is potentially losing 70k out of N1.00 public wastes, corruption and inefficiency. Buhari’s major challenge is to reverse that, so that there can be more money for development. The most important place where the president will show his integrity is to refuse the National Assembly paying themselves stupendous amount of money as remunerations. What the legislators get is 25 per cent of the entire nation’s budget. If General Buhari does not succeed on that, he would have challenges. The first test is to bring the salaries and emoluments of the National Assembly within the purview of the law set by the National Revenue, Fiscal and Mobilisation Commission. The National Assembly refused to follow it.
Nigerian legislators are the highest paid in the world. I did a comparison of 26 countries. The basic Take-Home of a member of the House of Representatives is N400 million per annum. In the Senate, is as much as N1 billion. So that is going to be a very strong message sent by Buhari to Nigerians that it is not business as usual. The law will be no respecter of persons. This will be a key plank of General Buhari’s electoral promise. The anti-corruption programme must reach out to the National Assembly. We need to see that the Federal Executive Council (FEC) should now revert to its real function of development agenda for Nigerians and not a contract-awarding body. If all these measures are put in place, we will be looking toward saving between 30 to 40 per cent of our national income which can be ploughed back into Education, Infrastructure, Housing, etc.
The second major agenda should be how can government raise new revenues in the context of dwindling resources? This can be done in many areas: First, the heartbeat of any economy is the financial services sector like banks. Banks only lend money to big men but banks should lend money to the average Nigerians. The lending policy of banks is something Buhari must correct. When lending is done on a consumer basis (consumer banking) 175 million Nigerians potentially can be borrowing. That is the only way banks can grow. This is the model banks follow abroad. They (banks) in abroad lend money to everybody across the board. There should be a change in the lending procedures but government should strengthen the loan recovery procedures. Banks only like to give secured credits.
Rather than have an economy of N5 trillion with a very strong and active financial services sector, we can easily go as high as N50 trillion easily. The business community would have a lot of business idea but to financial capacity. Development is driven by national guarantees. It is the government that provides the guarantees. There must be a National Guaranty Agency to support business development. It is the business development and its multiplier effects that drive jobs by creating new factories etc.
Nigeria has absolutely no satellite policy. It has a major international intelligence implication. This is a major challenge for the president-elect. He has to upscale our satellite resources both in terms of commercial and national security. The final challenge for President-elect is PLANNING. Without Planning, all these suggestions would not be achieved. He needs professionals, right pegs in the right hole in his cabinet.
On the legal tussle between the Seaports Terminal Operators Association of Nigeria (STOAN) and the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC) over non-refund of excess charges, the next line of action would be to bring an application in the court to hold the Terminal Operators in contempt of the High Court.
The maritime sector is an invisible sector; People do not understand that it is of huge importance. What we need to ask ourselves where we are? We are close to zero in harnessing our maritime resources due to lack of political will. The agenda for Buhari is to formulate an aggressive maritime policy that will bring benefits to Nigerians to appoint a Minister of Maritime Trade. Every coastal nation has this. Having done the appointment, he will identify in consultation with stakeholders what have we done well. Why is Cabotage, NIMASA, NPA, NIWA, Nigerian Shippers’ Council and others not really working? Why are all these agencies in the maritime sector not working? Why is Apapa, the seat of maritime in state of decay? Why is it that we have 200 miles and cannot have additional 150 miles? I drafted the Oceans Bill which was changed to Maritime Zones Ocean Bill. We did not claim the additional 150 miles because we are drunk on oil. Nigerian cannot see other sources of revenues. The Asians came here and took away all our rich maritime resources to go and sell and we are losing billions every year. Our sea trade is poor.
In Cabotage, I started shouting that foreign vessels in our waters were going to 10,000 and Nigerians do not have anything, how do we get jobs? Everybody is focused on oil If the maritime sector is properly harnessed, is a very strong source of alternative revenue.
The Ports and Harbour Bill has not been passed and without the bill, how can you talk about ocean and sea-going vessels or ports. The money we are losing from no law in managing our ports is incredible.
Benin Republic has a well-developed Ports and Harbour regime that gives them 30 to 40 per cent of their national incomes. Yet all the ocean-going vessels that call at Benin Republic are then transshipped to Nigeria. They do not like coming to Nigeria because of inefficiency; because services in Nigerian ports are slow; the Turn Around Time are long; and there is corruption; too many government agencies as well as strikes by dockworkers. Whereas, we (Nigeria) are the largest maritime nation in West, Central Africa. If the ports are working, they would generate 30 to 40 per cent of our income. If people know that they can ship their things easily, the port business will grow. We are giving our maritime business to 17 other countries in the West Central Africa. A very strong port administration is required to turn this paradox where all the goods that come into Nigeria do not come here first because they are smuggled in. Eighty per cent of the cars coming into Nigeria come through Cotonou and they are brought here but if they are brought directly, these would create jobs.
Every nation has a Coast Guard and Maritime Security Force including the Navy, the Maritime Safety Administration, the Government Inspector of Ships made up the backbone of maritime safety administration. Not when government agencies delegate their functions to private operators. We are unable to effectively man our waters. Why there won’t be piracy, armed robbery in our waters?
NEED TO PRODUCE MORE MARITIME LAWYERS
If the government is not efficient and the maritime sector is not efficient, no one will study maritime law. There would be maritime university and maritime vocational schools. Those who are interested in maritime laws would be there. I created the Institute of Maritime Law in the Lagos State University which was supported by NIMASA and the British Council but it died.