Captain Emmanuel Iheanacho, a maritime, oil and gas industry player is also a politician and former Minister of Interior. A man passionate about the nation’s industrial growth and creating a competitive economy, Iheanacho is also concerned about the level of youth’s unemployment. In this interview with PATRICK OKOHUE, he speaks about what the government can do to create a growth focus business environment and how the economy can grow through continuity in government policies.
What do you think are the challenges facing governments at all levels that they are unable to ensure sustainable development?
There are many things responsible for that. You have to use my Imo state as an example. We have major problem of unemployment and if youths are unemployed, then they are restive, so, I think those issues need to be dealt with in terms of policies that can be contemplated at the state administration level.
So how do you get youths to work? You can make policies that would attract manufacturing businesses down to the state through the provision of land, through the provision of the favourable tax environment, through the provision of fixed infrastructure.
If the state has the resources to prepare an area where there would be infrastructure, where there would be light as such like, then it would be easier for businesses to integrate and come home, certainly what we need is to be able to manufacture most of the things that we need and consume locally.
If we now achieve self satisfaction at the state level, then we can export some of them and out of state and that would continue to generate employment in manufacturing those things that we export. In a nutshell that is what we really need.
But what you have said, can it be replicated at the national level?
Absolutely, I used our state as an example. What I have said for Imo State can be done in every state if you focus on politics that would attract manufacturing capacity into an area and that would create a related opportunity for youths to acquire employment.
If they have employment, they have buying power. If they have buying power, they have satisfaction and so on and so forth. This is basically what it is. Development will not come on its own.
Somebody has to engineer it. Somebody has to develop a business plan for manufacturing certain things. Somebody has to develop a plan for finding resources, financing, somebody has to develop a plan for how to market those things. So these things really must be thought of very carefully, planned for and executed.
You are a player in the oil and gas and maritime sector. If you look at Apapa where you operate from, coming into Apapa these days, is not a joke, from whichever end and people have said it is because of the congestion in the ports. What can the government do to change the narrative?
The problem of congestion in Apapa is really worrying. If you really look at it critically, you will understand why it is there. A port has a finite capacity in terms of the volume of goods that can pass through it.
In terms of the type of goods that can be handled. The related interland and its associated infrastructure of roads, bridges and all of those things also have a finite capacity, so now if you develop port infrastructure and the associated road network and all those things bearing in mind a particular volume and if that volume grows overtime,
and if the type of cargoes also changes, say from general cargoes to containers, if you do not make provisions for all of these changes, then you have the type of problems that we have currently.
So the thing is that infrastructure around the port has not grown in relation to the growth in trade and the character of that trade, so one of the things that would do at this point in time is to have a good look at all the properties that clutter the entrance to the ports.
There are lot and lots of properties if you start from say Livepool Road Roundabout, going towards the port itself, you know, if you start from Apapa Police Station going to the port itself and carryout a proper review of all the properties around there, and the relevance of all those properties to the business of the ports, you will find out there are lots and lots of obsolete structures that can be acquired.
Government should really look at that possibility. Acquire those properties, demolish them, redevelop the port interland and so you would have sufficient volumes to contain the trucks and sufficient structures also to deal with the changed character that goes through the ports.
But everything must be done by someone who has foresight and who has an understanding of how this works because of input and output equation.
But some people have also suggested that developing the Calabar Port, Warri Port, and Port Harcourt Port and all of this areas to ensure that importers from that region don’t have to come to Lagos could be a solution, don’t you think so?
That’s not the way it should be done. Sometimes in the past, a decision was taken to change the structure of the ports and the market between which the port services were delivered.
And what happened at that time was that there was a decision taken to privatise some ports and also privatise terminals within the ports so that people would be at liberty to develop terminals to cater for the troop of certain types of goods.
If we had carried on that way, what would have happened would have been a situation where ports in a certain range would be competing with one another.
So, for instance, if there is congestion in Lagos as there is now, then the managers of the port in say Port Harcourt if Port Harcourt to say is an independent port, they would now be at liberty to specify the conditions and pricing for using their port.
And if you think that the price for using Lagos port for instance is ₦100.00 you say alright, we would accept ₦50.00, so the importer now will see how that would work out for him.
Is it better for me to go through Lagos, pay a ₦100.00 and then I’ll then spend so much time on the queue or is it better for me to go to Port Harcourt and pay lesser amount, and you then look at that savings that you have made and then it would determine.
So you would have used the market structure to reorder the way that goods arrive and depart from Nigerian ports, but unfortunately that privatisation exercise, commercialisation exercise which we embarked upon two years ago is no longer there.
Nobody is adhering to it because we have had successive changes in port administration, everybody does what they want, so people always fall back to the easiest way, so Port Harcourt we want it to continue to be administered from Lagos, Calabar,
it would be administered from Lagos or Warri will be administered from Lagos, so the benefits that would be realised through the enthronement of proper competitive practices between different port managements is lost.
Is it that government lack political will to do some of these things?
Somebody has to bring it to the attention of the government or maybe if they look in their archives and really send people to research the type of management that we have in the ports in the past.
Then they could design from such scrutiny exactly what has happened in the past and what is happening now. But if there is discontinuity between administrations, say this political party was there, oh everything that they’ve done is not correct, we would have the problem that we have here.
The way it is in Nigeria, you were in government at a time, are we running the system in a way to help the economy grow?
Well, everybody has ideas as to how they can create welfare, how to grow the economy. People don’t have the same ideas, so different administrations have different ideas, so I am thinking that the current administration has its own ideas as to how this economy will grow.
The only problem I have is that there seems to be quite a lot of hardship across the land. Businesses are really not thriving. It really would be very nice if we embarked on policies everybody can see clearly result in growth, in the economy, result in growth in the manufacturing capacity.
That is the only way that we will continue to grow. If we make a transition from a net consumer of goods that are imported to one that are absolutely manufactured here to create a self sufficiency and export that really would create prosperity overall.
There is something you were pointing out about the lack of proper transition from one government to the other?
I am not entirely sure about how that issue has to be addressed, because if you had a body you know maybe the council of states who are there and they are supposed to be above all administrations and so when a new government comes on board, they can sit the government down and say please whatever you do, don’t dump everything that these guys have done. Look at the good things and so on to add to it.
Take for example the situation that we in the power sector where successive administrations have spends billions and billions of dollars chasing what is now becoming like a fathom objective of having self sufficiency in the availability of power.
If successive governments did not dump what the other people had invested in, then you could say outright this power situation we need to spend so much going forward and we need not re-award the contract to somebody else, but to go back to the same person who was doing it.
Say this is where you are, sit down now, call the person from the last administration, this is how much you say you paid this guy and we’ll now know that you are acting based on the requirement for us to do the best for our country,
not a requirement for us to compete, to say oh this man is PDP, this man is APGA, this man is this. No. We put the requirement of our country first and above all else and above party loyalties.
Don’t you think that a situation where there is lack of independence in the arms of government that implement laws and policies and melt out punishment to those who are found wanting, that the lack of independence of certain bodies make it difficult for them to put their feets down that certain things must be done right?
You see when people talk and they emphasise the need for punishment, I think it’s really not the right thing to say. That’s my own way of talking about development in the country.
If people do things and do it wrong, if you have the opportunity, come and do it right. But don’t emphasise the requirement to go backwards and punish them. No there’s no need to punish them.
Do the right thing so that people can see for themselves the difference between what you have done and what that person has left undone.
So all I can say is that we just do not seem to emphasis for the requirement for us to be competitive, for individual resource persons to have capacity, because if we did, then issues around where one comes from, issues around federal character, all of those things will be relegated to the background.
All we have to do is get maximum benefits for all Nigerians for any penny that we spend on their behalf.
But why do you think this is difficult to do? To get things done properly because successive governments come, make promises, at the end of the day, perhaps when they were coming the intention was good, at the end of the day, we are back to where we were?
It is really a very sad situation to be in. You know when you look at neighbouring countries like Ghana, just down the road, just go to Ghana, come out of the airport,
you will see one small area and the amount of development that they have managed to build in that area, not only in terms of physical infrastructure, but in the way things are done, because in defined analysis, what you really want is to see processes that work.
So you see that the Ghanaians are absolutely making giant strides. Somebody really said something to me the other day that absolutely struck me.
I never ever thought about it and he says to me, have you ever seen a Ghanian minister or a Ghanian civil service person or a Ghanaian coming from Ghana to Nigeria to have a weekend? I was so surprised because actually it doesn’t happen.
The reason why it doesn’t happen is that Nigerians now like to go to Ghana, weekdays, weekends they can relax. There is no crime, there is no problem, everybody is making headway and then when you expect that they would have been coming to see us like we like to go to America, because the tendency is, in an area, people like to go to the most advanced places, but nobody comes here because people only come here if there is an opportunity to make mega dollars.
They come over here to come and enjoy. We have to address this issue. There are some basic requirements that we need to engender in our society, relaxed atmosphere, convivial atmosphere for people to enjoy, a reduction in poverty in our land,
because our people are absolutely wretched, poor, a conducive environment for businesses to grow, institutions, the growth of businesses that are already in existence, the growth of businesses that want to enter markets, we really need all of those things.
And perhaps these things revolve around creation of jobs?
Absolutely, you can’t go beyond it. We are wasting money on things that are not really very important. You know we should be paying a lot of attention to developing private sector capacity in the oil sector mostly.
We should be talking about deregulation in the petroleum products industry, because a lot hangs around deregulation, it’s because we have a system where billions and billions and trillions are being paid out in subsidy,
up until recently it was very apparent that money was being paid because private sector operators were in the industry and they were importing and buying and of cause incurring cost which have to be, but now you see we have a situation where I think the NNPC is doing most of that work. But it doesn’t mean that the subsidy is still not being paid.
The subsidy is being accrued so that it’s not appearing to you, because you don’t see money going, but in terms of resources that ought to reside in government’s hand that subsidy is absolutely eating it all up. So we really need to make those structural changes to our economy and I think the issue of deregulation must be tackled head on.
We cannot continue to pretend that by subsidising petroleum products that we are helping the masses. The masses don’t derive any benefit from it.
The person who derives the greatest benefits from subsidising the fuel is the person who drives into the filling station and fills up his tank and most of the time it’s a private sector person who owns his car or a bus owner who has a bus service.
The poor man is sitting inside and there is no mechanism that will compel the owner of the bus to transfer that subsidy to the poor man, because if you think that the owner of the bus will wake up one day and say oh I’ve just bought fuel cheap let me give you discount, no, he takes on top of whatever he has so the poor man continues to remain poor.
So we must recover that money and that money could very well go towards paying lots of programmes that would really impact the lives of poor people.
It really would be very nice if we embarked on policies everybody can see clearly result in growth, in the economy, result in growth in the manufacturing capacity. That is the only way that we will continue to grow. If we make a transition from a net consumer of goods that are imported to one that are absolutely manufactured here to create a self sufficiency and export that really would create prosperity overall.