EMOTIONS ran high, Monday, as foremost Economist, Mr Henry Boyo, lamented the country's huge debt profile estimated at N6.6 trillion, fearing that it might take about three generations to pay the debt.
Speaking at a roundtable dialogue to mark the first anniversary of Occupy Nigeria protest with the theme: "Nigeria's fiscal and monetary crisis: The way forward," in Lagos, Boyo said: "It will take the Federal Government a little over 70 years to be able to repay its official debt which presently stands at N6.6 trillion."
Boyo, who disagreed with officials of the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, over inflation rate, management of excess liquidity and other monetary policies affecting the economy, accused the CBN of not taking necessary steps to galvanise the economy.
He spoke as the apex bank countered that it was doing all within its power to regulate the economy.
Boyo listed high interest rates, depreciating naira, high rate of smuggling and capital flight, low capacity utilization, low employment and inadequate power as factors responsible for the dwindling state of the economy.
He said: "We have a total of N6.6 trillion as debt and you must know that they will be paid by our generations yet unborn. No economy can grow with these factors. All these factors I have mentioned are triggered by poor framework and responsible for the state of our economy. The CBN is also not doing anything to galvanise the economy."
Inflation will be reduced --CBN
Officials from the CBN led by its Director of Research, Mr Charles Mordi; Director of Financial Market, Mr Emma Ukeje and Director of Communications, Mr Ugochukwu Okorafo, in their defence, said the apex bank had been in the forefront of ensuring that the inflation rate in the country was reduced to its barest minimum.
Mordi said the apex bank recognised that inflation could be damaging to the economy, adding: "CBN has shown initiative to reduce it to the barest minimum. What people don't understand is that you don't suddenly reduce inflation from 12 per cent to, say, two, three per cent. Reducing inflation takes a gradual process.
"What people should know is that you do not just move from a high inflation regime to a low inflation regime, it is a gradual process. Bringing down interest rate cannot be done overnight."
Responding to Boyo's presentation, Mordi said the CBN was not in disagreement over the issue of achieving a single digit interest and inflation rate regime in the country.
He stated that as a result of the desire to see that objectivity comes to pass, the CBN has introduced several intervention packages in various sectors.
He, however, said it would be difficult to achieve single digit inflation and interest rates and also have a strong naira, adding that interest rate is a function of demand and supply.
He maintained that attaining a single digit interest rate and inflation rate at the same time having strong naira was a wide dream, saying that one has to be used to balance the remaining two.
He said: "We have always insisted that a low interest rate regime is desirable; that is why we are working hard to ensure that loans are given to agricultural sector at single digit interest rate.
"CBN was the first to recognize that high inflation rate was damaging to any economy. That was why in 2007 we recommended to the Federal Government to dollarize the state governments' allocation, but this met with opposition from the Attorney General who said that it was unconstitutional.
"For developed economies, two to three per cent inflation rate is the norm, but for an emerging economy which Nigeria is one, this is not the norm."
Blame FG for dwindling economy - Sobowale
On his part, Dr Dele Sobowale, who spoke on Nigeria's fiscal crisis, blamed the Federal Government of being responsible for the dwindling fortunes of the economy, saying: "The economy of Nigeria will get nowhere until we muscle the big thieves."
Faulting the method the three tiers of government share monthly allocation revenue, he said "there is no country in the world where all three tiers of government share money, especially their monthly allocation. When there was true federalism, each region developed at its own pace and remit certain percentage of its revenue at the centre. We must understand that fiscal policy remains the bedrock of any economy."
We dare FG to increase fuel price--Bakare
Earlier in his welcome address, convener of the Save Nigeria Group, Pastor Tunde Bakare, dared the Federal Government to increase the pump price of fuel, saying the Occupy Nigeria protest on the increase of fuel still haunts government.
Bakare said the protest, held in January 2012, had shown that Nigerians would no longer be taken for granted.
His words: "In the period after the protests, many have asked the question: What did we gain from standing under the sun for days listening to address after address and singing song after song? Quite a lot, actually. First, we were able to shed the toga of docility that encouraged the rulers of Nigeria to assume they could act on every whim and go scot-free.
"They had concluded that Nigerians live from hand to mouth each day and, as such, would be too distracted by the hunger pangs of subsistence living to engage in a protracted battle to crush oppression. That myth was shattered forever at Ojota, as it took illegal military occupation to stop the protests from continuing the following week.
"We are currenttly challenging that violation of the right to peaceful assembly guaranteed by our Constitution at the Federal High Court. In addition, the government has not had the courage to officially raise the pump price post-Occupy Nigeria because the ghost of the protest still haunts them."
Protest exposed 'underbelly of corruption'
He said though the protest did not lead to uprising in the country, it succeeded in exposing the "underbelly of corruption as did the Farouk Lawan and Ribadu committees which were off-shoots. Occupy Nigeria has given us enough literature on the big business of corruption that has turned a country with one of the largest oil deposits in the world to one that depends on expensive and low quality imported petroleum products for its domestic consumption."
He said: "Our movement did not bring about change on the scale of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya et al. The subsidy thieves are still kings with all the perks of office, and corruption in the industry continues unabated as our people now pay more than the official pump price in many filling stations. In spite of all these, we must not despise the compact that was laid and upon which we must continue to stand.
"Nigeria cannot make progress for as long as we disregard the rule of law, promote inequity and lock political institutions that allow the people to elect their representatives and reject them if need be. We have another prime opportunity to rededicate ourselves to the noble goal of saving Nigeria, changing Nigeria, and making Nigeria great in our lifetime."