Senator Yusuf Abubakar Yusuf, Vice chairman, Senate Committee on Science and Technology, representing Taraba Central, has warned that the only solution to the incessant clash between herdsmen and farmers lies in the sincerity of the leaders in tackling the problem. In this interaction with IGNATIUS OKOROCHA, the lawmaker speaks on the Executive and legislature impasse, instability of the Naira at the forex market among other issues.
What is the way out of the constant clash between herdsmen and farming communities in the country?
Number one is sincerity of the leadership. When I say leadership, I am not just talking about national, state and local government levels. It also cuts across stakeholders, parents, teachers and others. Let us be very sincere to ourselves. Who is a herdsman? Herdsmen are not only the people they believe have cows. There are so many people who are in this crisis - who want to manipulate religion, ethnicity, manipulate for the betterment of the so called ‘cabal’. So, for me, if our leaders can be sincere within and outside government the problem can be solved. Herdsman may not be only a Fulani man. There are some non-Fulanis who have cows. They are also herdsmen. So, it is a serious matter. Where will a herdsman take his animal to if he is prevented from taking it to where they can have good pasture; what do you want him to do? Probably, the American ambassador is saying that ranching may be one of the ways to solve the problem as we go along. So, it is not going to be an easy thing; it is going to be a tough one but with all our will and ability and sincerity I think we are going to solve the problem.
Recently, Senator Emmanuel Bwacha raised a motion on the infiltration of Boko Haram members into some villages in Taraba State and called for a beef-up of security, what has changed since then?
Well, we have relative peace but what the motion was trying to say was that if they were trying to put much pressure on the insurgency in Borno State, there is a possibility that the Boko Haram people or other insurgents may infiltrate into Taraba and may find some areas conducive. Yes we cannot run away from that but the issue is a security matter. We discussed the report last week when it was presented in the Senate. But you see, we have Sambisa Forest and other forests within the borders of the state. These people can come from the Cameroun into the forest. So, the panacea here is for us to begin to develop the forests. There should be a road into the forests so that we can have people going in and coming out and traversing the road; even the military can have military parade there.
Are you concerned about the deepening acrimony between the Executive and the Senate, and what does the trend portends for Nigeria?
This is democracy and in democracy you have the possibility of people of different opinions trying to understand one another, trying to work with one another and trying to have a very good representation for one another. So, it is a learning process and we are trying to learn one another and do things better. But I believe that the more the Executive and the Legislature consult closely together the more we understand ourselves and the more we can do things better in this country.
Some Nigerians are accusing the Senate of trying to overstep its bounds in its current crises with Ibrahim Magu of EFCC, Hameed Ali of Nigeria Customs Service and Engr. Babachir Lawal, who is the Secretary to the Government of the Federation. What is your take on this?
Well, there are serious issues surrounding all these. Let me start with the Customs. I don’t know if it is a constitutional requirement but it is the wisdom of the Senate that he should appear in uniform. But if the constitution says that he shouldn’t, then there is no reason why he should, and if it is a constitutional requirement then why is he not wearing his uniform. So, all these issues are issues that show that we are trying to understand one another. There is no point we begin to flex muscles here and there. On the issue of Magu, a letter came from DSS, challenging the integrity of Magu. But in spite of that, the President resubmitted his name. So, I don’t know whether the problem is with the Senate or the problem lies somewhere but what we are trying to do is to try and understand ourselves. The National Assembly can only make law but cannot execute; the Executive cannot make law, it can only execute. Where there some disagreement, any of the parties can go to Supreme Court for interpretation of the law.
In case the President presents Magu’s name for the third time to the Senate for confirmation, what do think that Senate should do?
I don’t know what the Senate will do but if in the wisdom of Mr. President he submits it again, maybe he will submit it with more reasons for the Senate to look into. During Obasanjo’s time I think that there was a minister that his name was resubmitted four times; so it is not going to be a new thing. So, if in the wisdom of Mr. President he says that he has new and better information and asks the Senate to look into it again, I am sure that the Senate will not say no.
What is the panacea to stabilizing the Naira?
Let’s get the current value of our export because we are not getting the correct value of our export. Our main export products are crude oil and gas. Are we getting the correct value for our crude oil and gas? If we get the correct value and the correct value is reflected in our domestic economy, of course the Naira will appreciate. Until this fundamental factor is addressed, we will not be able to get our correct value for our Naira. Secondly, you know that our demand to buy foreign exchange to buy foreign goods is high because our taste for foreign goods is so high. And the earlier we Nigerians begin to look inward the better, and not to be looking up and saying this one is foreign, this one is beautiful and we end up spending a lot of money to import all these things even vehicles, textiles, cosmetics and all manner of items for our domestic use. It so much drains our foreign exchange and we can do without them.
Naira appears to be appreciating in relation to the dollar. But this is not as a result of improvement in the volume of production and export. Therefore, this is stage-managed. What is the implication of this development in the long run?
You see, in this country today I can say that about 15% to 20% of the transaction is what is used to gauge the value of the Naira. That is why the Central Bank opened a window where small people can go and buy small dollars because all along, they will say that Bureau De Change is the one that is gauging while the transaction of Bureau De Change 20 percent of the total transactions. So, why wouldn’t 80 percent transactions gauge the value of he Naira rather than just only 20 percent. So, it is misnomer and I think that the CBN is trying to address the issue by ensuring that every bank has a foreign exchange window where the sell to little holdings. So Bureau De Change cannot be our correct gauge because there are some big time buyers of foreign exchange. So, if the big time buyers are paying lower than what the small holdings are paying in the Bureau De change, then you know that the market is lopsided.
In the midst of the economic challenges in the country, there is still a lot of capital flight going on in the country. In what ways is the parliament particularly the Senate helping to stop capital flight and attract foreign direct investment to the country?
Well, foreign direct investment is based on the risks associated in the economy and also confidence that we Nigerians have in our economy. Where are our local investors? I remember what Dangote said - if you are comfortable to invest in your country, no investor from outside will come and invest, they can only come and speculate. There is a difference between speculation and investment. What we have are speculation, and that is why they come one moment and another moment they pulling out their money. So, foreign direct investment is a function of confidence we Nigerians have in our economy and the confidence people outside will have. Again, if you want to have confidence, go to the basis; are we saving in this country? We are not; we are just living from hand to mouth. That is why I am happy that Mr. President is constituting a 29-man panel to look into the possibility of adjusting our minimum wage. We need to see how we can generate so much savings into our domestic economy so that our banks can be comfortable; they will have long term funds to invest. It is in that way that we give confidence to investors that are coming and even partners who will partner with them.
The interest rate benchmark is on the high side in this country and business men are seriously complaining that it is affecting businesses. What is your take on this?
From the way things are going I don’t think the CBN is going to change anything. Although inflation has dropped by one percent, I don’t think that will give enough indication that the benchmark should be increased or reduced. If we increase it, we are going to clock in because the monetary policy has virtually reached its limit. What we are going to look into is the fiscal side: our taxes, our expenditure and so many other things. I don’t think the benchmark will change. The little feelers that I have, I don’t think it will change. It is too early to guess that since inflation has fallen by one percent, it will fall more; let’s wait and see, and that will be my advice to monetary authorities.