Dr. Michael S. Akpan heads the Department of Economics at Bingham University, Keffi, Nasarawa State. In this interview with Ferdinand Beshel, the former development banker turned academic bares his mind on the change Nigeria needs at this epochal juncture of her existence, among other salient issues. Excerpt:
The 2015 general elections have come and gone. What is your take on the victory of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the loss of the Presidency by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP?
It is not good that one political party rule longer than necessary. Change is unavoidable and it appeared that Nigerians were fed up with the ousted ruling party, so they voted against it.
Evidently, the APC captured the hearts of Nigerians with its ‘Change’ mantra. As an economist, what kind of change do you want President Muhammadu Buhari to carry out in the country?
Change has to start with the attitudes of Nigerians working for what they want. I want the kind of change that will change the attitudes of Nigerians, from leadership through followership. We must plan for development, working to get results. The dependency syndrome in the Nigerian system must stop. States are not working for their revenue because they have access to cheap and free money. It is the states that should feed the centre; they should not so much depend on oil and the centre. The centre should not exert supreme influence on the states. Our population explosion should be practically regulated and controlled, in order not to overstretch our lean resources. The average Nigerian home should not consist of more than four members.
Your book “The IMF, World Bank and Nigeria’s Economic Reforms” makes interesting reading. Of what relevance are the IMF and similar global institutions to the change we seek in this country today? Should Nigeria still hobnob with the IMF, World Bank and the likes?
The IMF and World Bank are very relevant to the change we seek in the country. These global financial institution might be unpopular with the masses but this is largely out of ignorance, which government must manage for successful policy implementation. The image problem that institutions like the IMF and World Bank have among the masses stem from our leaders’ lack of the managerial maturity and capacity for IMF loans and grants.
The IMF and the World Bank don’t go to leaders and nations. Leaders and nations go to the IMF and the World Bank. Before you take these loans or grants, the IMF and World Bank give advice from the beginning. They tell you that you must have as many means at your disposal to your aims. They will ask you not to take on more development projects that you cannot finance, taking one bite at a time, subject to availability of funds. The inability of the developing economies of the needy countries to bring about the desired results by way of pragmatic implementation is entirely their own fault.
Walter Rodney wrote the famous book titled “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. Is Europe or the West still responsible for the state of affairs in Africa today?
Europe or the West have given us a lot that should have served to our benefits. But have we made use of the opportunities? Let us seek to apply the knowledge acquired in diversified ways. How can Africa develop when African leaders don’t understand the concept of the margin, taking one bite at a time? We set more aims and goals than we can attain.
President Buhari is yet to name his cabinet. Who should make the President’s team in terms of the expertise needed to mover the country forward?
He should look for people that are knowledgeable about the Nigerian economy. The team members must understand that certain sacrifices have to be made. His team must understand that economic reforms should be indigenization driven with openness to external or outside investment. We need to work on our innovative resourcefulness to create jobs, develop and export goods and services.
The value of what you put into the system determines what you get. No country is completely self-reliant. But make the best use of what you have as your comparative advantage, minimising production cost without comprising values.
If offered the opportunity to be in the cabinet, in what capacity would you like to serve?
I would like to be President Buhari’s chief economic adviser. In choosing his cabinet, President Buhari must look for those willing to render selfless service to the country. He must set up a strong economic team. My academic and professional background equips me with the capacity to serve on his economic team.
In reference to your Ph.D Dissertation entitled “Economic Reforms and Economic performance: Analysis of Nigerians Economic Growth and Balance of payments (1982-2007), what is wrong with our reform system that we don’t seem to push as faster as we should and sustainably too?
Reforms are very difficult to implement in the democratic system because of permeating unguided freedom. What we are getting wrong with our reforms in the implementation the Nigerian reform implementation is a stop-go approach.
Sir, the Nigerian economy is import-dependent. How can we change this anomaly?
Our missing link is that we lack the patience to think, thus, we lack ideas. Today, we bear the burden of our inadequacies and inefficiency because of our inactivity. We have not set our priorities right as a people. Is it that we cannot produce those things we import here? Not at all. Inefficiency in electricity supply alone is responsible for about 90% of our inability to produce needed goods in the county. So, one of the things we have to do in order to reduce importation in the country is to fix our infrastructure.
In one of your books, you wrote that opportunities are for those who are ready. Who are those that are not ready?
Those that are not ready are those who cannot identify opportunities and use them. They will place unnecessary demands without engaging the abundant opportunities.
You were a gubernatorial aspirant in Akwa Ibom during the last election. Tell a bit about that.
When I made up my mind to contest under PDP, I made up my mind to contest and win. I had a team on ground. I was the only aspirant who declared his ambition openly at a press conference, addressed and took questions from the press in my country home at Eket.
My policy thrust was a developmental exploration of the comparative advantages of Akwa Ibom State, pursuing an industrialisation drive and initiative for new products and ventures, with educational policies that are value driven-building men and women in their areas of strength and capacity for input.