Obasanjo backs sale of national assets

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Ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo

•Says govs ignored his advice to save

Samuel Awoyinfa and Ifeanyi Onuba

Former President Chief Olusegun Obasanjo said he
foresaw the current economic recession the
country is currently going through in 2014 and he
hinted of its consequences.

He also threw his weight behind the sales of some
public assets but also warned that it must not be
sold to cabals, adding that the number of shares
an individual or corporate entity should buy in
such public assets to be sold should be regulated.

He said this on Tuesday in his goodwill message
at the opening session of a two-day National
Council of Finance and Economic Development
conference held at the Green Legacy Resort,
Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library, Abeokuta.
It was held in conjunction with the Federal Ministry
of Finance.
The former President, who lamented the current
economic downturn in the country, said his
warning about the recession in 2014 was
contained in a lecture he delivered at the 80th
birthday ceremony of Justice Akanbi on 26th
November, 2014.
He brought a copy of the 2014 lecture to the event
and read part of it to the audience.
Obasanjo, however, proffered solutions to how the
country could get out of recession.
He urged the Federal Government to spend less
than the country was earning, fashion out ways to
earn more revenue and borrow.
“For me, we have brought it on ourselves, we don’t
have to wring our hands and say ‘where are we? In
a simple layman’s language, the situation is that
we are spending more than we are earning. We
have not been able to save, so that we can go and
take from what we have saved.
“If you are spending more than you are earning,
you will have to spend less, you earn more and
you borrow.
“For us, we are to do the three as quickly as
possible, we must borrow and we must go to the
people that will give us loan with reasonable
interest.
“You may do it with the World Bank or the
International Monetary Fund. I don’t say we must
not go to them. When I was in government, I never
say no to them, but don’t do their bidding. Out
there, there is money but people will not part with
their money unless you are doing the right thing.”
The former President said that Nigeria must
encourage production to earn more and increase
its revenue.
He noted that since the nation was not in control
of oil, it should therefore diversify on the things it
could control.
Obasanjo, who harped on the need to develop
agriculture, frowned on policies which tended to
turn the country into a dumping ground for other
countries’ products.
“I was shocked when the ban on importation of
toothpick which we imposed in 1977 was lifted
four years ago.
“How can a nation seeking to rank among the best
in the world continue like that?
“We must begin to do away with things that we
can do without.”
Obasanjo, who backed the call for the sale of
national assets to raise money, described such act
as natural.
The former President suggested that the
government should consider selling some shares
of the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation to
members of the public, but with a note of caution.
“I do not see why 48 per cent of the NNPC cannot
be privatised. “I think the problem is in the
coinage “selling of asset” as if we want to throw
out our inheritance.
“What we are actually doing by that is simply
reorganising.
“It should however be done transparently and let it
actually go public and not to cabals, their relations
and friends.
“This is always the fear of Nigerians when issues
like this arise.”
The former President expressed confidence in the
ability of the Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi
Adeosun, saying that “she is doing a marvelous
job in a difficult situation and that only time can
prove her right.”
The minister, who spoke earlier, noted that the
Federal Government had till date invested over
N700bn to stimulate growth in the economy.
The host governor, Senator Ibikunle Amosun, and
the Governor of Gombe State, Ibrahim Dankwambo,
promised to tell the other 34 state governors to
key into the outcomes of the conference which
continues today (Wednesday).
Speaking earlier at the opening session of the third
edition of the World Pension Summit (Africa
Special) in Abuja on Tuesday, Obasanjo had said
his advice to governors to save for the rainy days
when he was leading the country between 1999
and 2007 was ignored.
He added that if his suggestion had been
implemented back then, the country would have
fallen back on such savings at this time of
recession.
He warned that while the pension fund could
provide the needed funding for developmental
projects, caution must be taken in order not
jeopardise the objectives of the pension scheme.
Obasanjo, whose administration was instrumental
to the establishment of the CPS in 2004, said with
the fund rising to about N5.8tn, there would always
be the temptation to tamper with it for other
compelling needs such as infrastructural
development.

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