No Robust Debates In National Assembly – Utase | Independent Newspaper Nigeria

Utase Joe Whyte Utase is a Cross River State-born public affairs analyst and business development expert, with special interest in Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs). He spoke to EJIKEME OMENAZU on crucial issues in the polity, including the much-talked about national minimum wage, insecurity, the hunger pervading the land, among other issues. Excerpt:

What is your view on the recent disclosure by the National Assembly that it plans to come out with a law approving 18 years as the minimum age for admission into universities?

There are better issues that re­quire urgent legislation in the na­tion other than admission age for students and candidates seeking admission into tertiary institu­tions in Nigeria. Why would they want to create more bottlenecks on the already complicated and tedious admission process? Some children are gifted and talented, why should such a child not be allowed to graduate early due to age barrier? Let them legislate on banditry, insecurity, immunity on elected officials as well as waste­ful government spending.

You have been operating in the ed­ucation section. What are the major challenges facing the education sector?

The major challenge facing education in Nigeria is poor pol­icy implementation! Also, the budget allocated to the sector is below standard and lacks proper implementation and execution. This trend should stop if there will be growth in the education sector.

Till date, we still have schools owned by federal, state and local governments that are serious­ly lacking adequate facilities, including manpower. All these should change for the sector to witness a turn-around.

As the issue of the National Mini­mum Wage has come to the front burner, what will you consider the ideal minimum wage for the coun­try?

My recommendation on the new minimum wage will be N500,000. This should be followed by products pricing and regula­tory committee board. There should be a committee monitor­ing and stopping the police who are extorting money from both drivers and traders. The issue of insecurity should be addressed purposefully. This is because without farmers being able to go to their farms, there will not be enough food production. The gov­ernment should also lift the ban on food stuff from neighbouring countries.

With the level of hunger and suf­fering in the land, the poor state of the economy as well as insecurity, how do you think the President Bola Tinubu administration could turn the situation around for a better Nigeria?

It is all about having the po­litical will. If President Bola Ahmed Tinubu is willing to nip these menaces of insecurity and scarcity in the bud, he should open borders for foodstuffs from neighbouring countries to come into the country. He should re­move the non-performing secu­rity chiefs. He should adopt state policing and ensure that the take home of the political class, in­cluding himself, is cut down for the next six months. He should also as a matter of urgency, cut trips as well as suspend all for­eign trips for all political leaders being sponsored by the govern­ment.

The Senate asked the president to introduce food purchasing assis­tance to check hunger and rising food prices. How feasible is this suggestion bearing in mind the level of corruption and other Nigerian fac­tors? What alternative suggestions will you make to check hunger and poverty in the land?

Our National Assembly mem­bers are only being political about issues of national interest. Let it be something that is of imme­diate benefits to them, they will say it and ensure that it’s imple­mented. Demanding purchasing assistance, in a country where nobody supervises nor monitors policies is a waste of time. The so-called distribution of grains, where are the grains? Why not fight insecurity and allow fam­ers return to the bush? Why not stop police from collecting and extorting money from drivers carrying consumables from one part of the country to another? Why not remove taxation on food stuff ? Why not open the land and sea borders for food from other neighbouring countries to come in? Why not subsidize food if not petroleum products? There is no country in the world that does not subsidise one thing or another for her citizens!

The Naira witnessed some appreci­ation recently. What are the factors responsible for the appreciation and how significant is the improvement? Do you think it is sustainable?

The Naira did not appreciate as a result of the Nigerian ef­fort, rather it was a global trend. As long as Nigeria remains a consuming nation, we cannot strengthen the naira against the dollar. Let us do more by making sure that we do more of export­ing than basically importing and consuming!

Do you think the new app report­edly developed by the Federal Government for citizens to monitor ministers’ performance will ensure accountability at the end of the day?

Well, you and I have been here when the Federal Government made NIN compulsory, saying that it was going to be used to check insecurity. Has it achieved the purpose? The BVN was es­tablished to checkmate money laundering, has it stopped any­thing? It is just another avenue to engage some of their loyal­ists. It’s not going to accomplish any purpose. Each minister has a mandate to deliver, and there’s a way of evaluating each min­istry through the quarterly re­port. Demand accountability from the people and leave the politicians alone. Ministerial appointments in Nigeria have been abused. Developing an app is mere rhetoric.

How do you see the domination of the nation’s politics by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC)?

It is no longer news that the Nigerian political space is pre­dominantly the All Progressives Congress (APC) or the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). But, in reality, it is not out of place to have a party in power dominat­ing a nation’s political space. But, the Nigerian electorates are left with no choice but to dance to the tune of the political gladiators, seeing that all politicians are the same and have similar interests. It beats my imagination to see the lawmakers who were elected un­der different political platforms uniting almost on every matter. No robust, heated argument in the plenary. The opportunity for effective representation of the party’s interest and chang­ing the narrative of ‘business as usual’ mindset is in no way visi­ble. They are just seen as oppor­tunists wanting to get their own share of the national cake.

Do you think it is possible for other political parties to overtake the two major political parties, the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)? If so, how?

It is possible, but I don’t think it will make a positive difference. The 16 years of the Peoples Dem­ocratic Party (PDP) have been worsened by the All Progressives Congress (APC). What is the as­surance that if another political party emerges tomorrow, Nige­rians will experience better gov­ernance? Look at the effort the governor of Abia State is putting up. If this is sustained, then oth­er states will like to imitate it by electing other political parties other than the two convention­al parties. Though, the All Pro­gressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) will always want to use the state security apparatus to subdue and oppress their opponents.

What is your view on the recent decision of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to hike interest rates? How do you think the decision will affect Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs)?

The Bola Ahmed Tinubu/APC-led administration, promised Nigerians ‘The Renewed Hope Agenda’. You cannot achieve that with the hike in bank interest rates. The CBN should ease the cost of doing business in Nigeria by reducing the interest rates as well as stop multiple taxations. The numerous unnecessary charges that the banks in Nige­ria are charging customers now­adays are becoming worrisome. The SMEs are finding it difficult to access loan facilities, and the little they have in banks is over taxed by the commercial banks under the watch of the CBN. This is not the way to go about this promised ‘Renewed Hope Agenda.

What is your advice to Nigerians on how to survive the current economic crunch?

Well, I may not be an econ­omist, but the reality remains that human needs are insatiable. Let us as Nigerians learn to cut down on unnecessary spending. Pay more attention to your im­mediate family and help a life at your disposal. This time calls for more critical thinking and sobri­ety. Engage in simple agricultur­al practices, such as planting in plastic containers and making of vegetable gardens, if you are privileged.

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