The former CBN Governor and Emir of Kano HRH Sanusi Lamido Sanusi gave a lengthy speech at the at the 15th meeting of the Joint Planning Board and National Council on Development Planning.


The speech was delivered from a paper entitled “Nigeria In Search Of New Growth model” and was also Published on Nairametrics.

From an article of over 10,000 words, we decided to summarize key highlights of the speech.

On focussing less on commodities

You can’t have improving terms of trade when you are exporting commodities over short periods of a cycle. But, we know as far back as the 1950s, from the Latin American structure economics, that over the long term, any economy that specialises in exporting primary products and importing manufactures would end up having terms of trade shifting against it. You can have a temporary boost, but If you don’t use that boost to have a structural adjustment that would make for prudent management of the economy, you would be courting trouble.

Non-commodity Africa will be the fastest growing part of the world, even higher than emerging Asia, whereas commodities Africa (countries like Nigeria and Angola) are among the lowest growing parts of the world, at the rate of Europe and Latin America. And we can’t explain why.

On debt driven growth

Between 2002 and 2008, the levels of debt to GDP (gross domestic product) in African countries and what they became after the Paris Club, HIPC debt reliefs and so on. Nigeria was at 50 per cent debt to GDP and came down to literally 5 per cent or so.

This happened across all Africa in the form of debt forgiveness, debt relief, debt restructuring and so on. What this did was that it freed up government balance sheets and in that decade of Africa rising, the countries went back on a borrowing binge.

Nigeria kept borrowing, not externally, but internally. I think our external debt was just about $ 8 billion on the balance sheet. But, the Naira indebtedness of the Nigerian government, we were spending over 30 per cent (maybe 40 per cent now) of every Naira earned just servicing debts.

That’s what you have. Nobody was noticing it. We have written off the debts, and then we kept building it up bit by bit. And when you look at where that debt was going into, you will see why, or part of the answer to the problem we are having.

So, we have these two pillars – rising commodities prices, and we monetise oil revenue, we will be able spend money. We were able to borrow because the balance sheets could accommodate more debts.

Where did all these debts go? Did it go to roads, power, refineries, or infrastructure? No. The new borrowings were simply recycled into much higher recurrent expenditures. What that did was that it helped sustain a consumption boom. And GDP was growing, largely driven by consumption spending.

On allocating forex to the Manufacturing sector

Let me ask you Commissioner, you are a manufacturer, you are able to secure $ 10 million from the Central Bank to import raw materials and produce goods, you spend N2 billion to get $ 10 million, and somebody says to you: “Listen, I will pay you N3 billion for this $ 10 million, so that you make a profit of 50 per cent for just doing nothing. Just buy the dollars and sell.”

Your option is to buy raw materials, establish a letter of credit, import raw materials, maintain generators, buy diesel, pay labour, produce your goods, take the risk you may not sell at a profit, transport it, or to make a profit margin of 10 per cent over a 120 term period, what would be your choice?

On CBN’s demand management

But, we did not call it recession. We called it demand management. People were using words they did not understand. You want to manage demand? Fine. You will manage demand for industrial raw materials, you are also managing industrial output. You manage demand into inputs to services and manage down service outputs. The result we have was the result that we were always going to get with sets of policies we put in place. And we don’t realise that we made those mistakes. I am glad it seems we have. But, we need to just come out and come clean. That is the best way. We have taken a few wrong steps. It was all done in good faith. We genuinely wanted help the poor people, that’s why we made those mistakes. Now, we are retracing our steps. Now we begin to talk.

On taxing non oil revenue

Our non-oil revenue is not rising fast enough. We talk about taxation, but there is a limit to how much you can tax a man who is not able to eat. And also, there is a limit to how much you can continue borrowing  in Naira. You know, we play with these numbers. When I was in the Central Bank, we say: “Oh! You know, our debt to GDP ratio was 25%, therefore it is nothing to worry about. It is not up to 70%. Your debt to GDP ratio is 20%, and you spend 30% of your revenue servicing debt. What does that tell you?

70% of your GDP does not generate government revenue. Agriculture is about 35%. How much tax does it pay? Wholesale and retail trade, how much tax does it pay?  You have a GDP where the tax is coming from the oil sector and telecom’s. That’s your government revenue base. And those sectors constitute maybe 30% of GDP. So, for all intents and purposes, gentlemen, if your debt to GDP ratio is  30%, and only 30% of your GDP is generating revenue, you are at 100%, until you broaden your tax base.

On Nigerian Judiciary threatening investments

Now, power companies are here trying to invest, negotiating. And what did we hear? One day some judge in a court sits down and says reverse the tariffs. I am here talking to someone in New York who cannot understand that a government can issue a power privatization plan; that investors can come in; that there is a regulator for power; that they looked at the numbers, looked at the cost of power, looked at what is cost recovery, agree on a tariff, announce that tariff, they bring in their money to invest on the basis of that and a court in the same country says this is illegal.

On Lagos as the most important state

Lagos has done very well. If I have money to invest, I will invest it in Lagos, because it is attracting investment. Lagos has realized a long time ago that the government cannot fund all it needs. And I just love what Lagos has done. The Lagos story is a story of what Nigeria can do with itself – transparency, consistency, regulations – and people can be rich. There is no problem if people can be rich while growing an economy. Nobody minds. But, in Nigeria people become rich when people are dying. Let’s take the Lagos story, and that’s why today Lagos state is 30% Nigerian non-oil GDP, and Lagos can do without oil.

Lagos can do without the rest of this country. So, we must not let Lagos go.

This country is better off with Lagos than with the Niger Delta. Let’s not make that mistake. We should be together as a country. Every part of the country is important. But, let us not be so obsessed by a resource, because we have had the commodity driven model, and we are blind to the potentials of an alternative model.

On Perception management 

These things don’t just work on fundamentals. I was in the Central Bank, the markets works on the basis of confidence and perception. There was a time speculators started hitting the market when I was with the Central Bank. The Kenyan Shilling got hit and got divided by 25%. Ghana got hit by 30%. South Africa got hit and they started heading towards Nigeria.  And I called an emergency monetary policy committee meeting jerked up the monetary policy rate (MPR) by 200 basis points, jacked up CRR (cash reserve ratio) by 400 basis points and declared that I will defend the currency. I didn’t have the money to defend the currency, but everybody believed me and they left me alone. The market works based on confidence. By the time you have taken over one bank, fire one bank MD, they will believe you when you make a threat. I made many threats as governor of the Central Bank that I never carried out. If banks messed up, I will say, I will remove you, and because I have removed bank MDs, they will say sorry sir. They fell in line. So, if you are going on a flexible exchange rate, have the nerves. You have produced a fantastic document, stick to it. You can’t be any worse than you were. You are in a recession anyway, so you are trying something different. So, try it and try it properly.

On why CBN is right to increase interests rates

Real interest rates: Again, Central Bank has raised it and people have been attacking the Central Bank for raising the rates. Why? It’s not just about inflation. It is about stabilizing the currency, because the truth is that where we are today, the only way we are going to reverse this recession is to increase liquidity in the foreign exchange markets and reduce the gap between the official rate and the parallel market rate.And this is what I think the Central Bank needs to keep doing.

A flexible exchange rate regime and a positive real interest rate will combine to bridge that gap. Bring in the dollars that we need to finance imports, and those imports of raw materials are the things that will increase production, and that production is what will lead to growth.

ON TSA and Banks

On the treasury single account (TSA), they should just realize the difference between the dollars balance sheets and the Naira balance sheets, because I have seen this whole thing about banks being banned from foreign exchange markets for dollar TSA. The Naira balance sheets of banks is highly diversified. The government deposits may be 20% of deposits. Banks are financial intermediaries. They engage in what is called maturity transformation. They borrow money short term and loan for long term on their Naira balance sheets. They have this money coming every day – current accounts, savings and deposits. If you tell them to pay off government deposits, they pay off and send marketers out and raise money.

On the dollar balance sheets, Nigeria only raise dollar on oil sales. The IOCs (international oil companies) have their money in international banks. NNPC is the only provider of dollar money, and they have lent out that money. If you apply the same rules on the Naira balance sheet and dollar balance sheets, without looking at concentration risk, you bring the banks down. They have lent out these dollars. Look at the maturity of their assets. Give them time to pay back these dollars. For them to pay back these dollars, they have to find dollars elsewhere. Where are they going to find? Who is the other exporter, apart from oil. What do we export in Nigeria?

And that is the point. So, they need to be very careful. So long as you know where the money is, give them the time to sort out their assets and pay back. Don’t precipitate a banking crisis and this idea of banning banks from foreign exchange market.

In the history of this country, and Dr. Shamsudeen Usman knows that, very few banks have ever survived after being  banned from foreign exchange markets, because banks has lent money to customers who depend on import to produce. If banks can’t buy dollars for those customers, they can’t produce. They can’t pay back their debts. You build up non-performing loans. So, let us think through the consequences of some of these decisions that we take. But, apart from that, I am extremely supportive. I think the Central Bank is doing the right thing, and I think we should encourage them. I think the government should be given credit to say we are going to retrace our steps.

On Trade with China

I wrote an article in the Financial Times in London in which I criticized China’s relationship with Africa. It was very controversial. I don’t know if you read it. But, if you google it, you will see it. Now, look at this. These are our trade with China. We are all importing from China. Those that export to China are exporting oil or solid minerals. China’s interest in Africa is not our development. America’s interest in Africa is not our development. Europe interest in Africa is not our developments. China’s interest is China’s developments. Likewise America and Europe. Please our government! Our interest should be Nigeria’s development.

If the Chinese are going to come back and set up textile factories in Nigeria and buy cotton from our farmers and employ Nigerian workers  and produce these textiles and sell to us, they are welcome. If they are going to produce textiles in Shanghai. Subsidize them. Bring them here.  Bribe our Customs Officers. Come to our markets and destroy our industries, we have to say no sir!

If China is lending us money, and we are going to pay back that money to import equipment from China, we should please check that those equipment are properly and transparently priced; that we cannot get them cheaper from another part of the world; and that they are of high quality. This idea that am lending you $ 1billion to buy rice mills from me, which you can get at half the price elsewhere, you have already paid interest  of 100%. If you don’t know it, the price is not a cheap loan.

Finally, on what needs to be done

So, set excess rate to intensify inflows, eliminate subsidies, that has been done. Now, address failures in the power sector value chain, starting with the DISCOs, digitize state, land registries, prioritise public spending towards investment and protect infant industries.

Anybody who tells you not to protect your industries is deceiving you. Create a level playing field between the infant industries and the big ones. I am not saying go and protect everything, but they must be a way of ensuring through power, infrastructure, industrial plasters, research and technology, technical and vocational education and through appropriate trade and  tariff policies that critical policies are incubated before they are allowed to go out on the streets.