Nigeria’s economy is looking up – President Buhari

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Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari is not a man of many words. He never was. In his first coming as the country’s leader (then military Head of State), he was known to be even more taciturn. However, what President Buhari missed due to his taciturnity, he made up for, big time, with sheer focused action.

Three years into his second coming as Nigeria’s democratically elected President, Buhari feels comfortable enough to say that the country’s economy is “looking up”. The background to this statement is the unfortunate recession the economy fell into in the second quarter of 2016, which thankfully, is now history.

In this rare interview with The African Economy, President Buhari enumerates his administration’s achievements, many already in public consciousness: the quick recovery after the administration’s timely intervention in the economy via his government’s economic blueprint — the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan; the unprecedented high allocation to capital expenditure — relative to current spending — in the budgets; ongoing big-ticket projects such as standard gauge railways and massive road rehabilitation and construction, without neglecting the priority interventions in agriculture and the globally acclaimed anti-corruption crusade. Adding the administration’s giant strides in degrading the notorious Boko Haram terrorists, the picture of a focused government becomes even clearer.

As the country coasts down to the next general elections in 2019, President Buhari has tossed his hat into the arena for another shot at the Presidential seat. The atmosphere is charged with sparks of political bickering as old gladiators and new entrants fire salvos into the political space.

In the coming days and months, President Buhari says he is resolved to keep his attention on his promise to changing Nigeria for the better. Excerpts:

President Buhari22How would you describe the challenge of governing Africa’s most populous and vibrant nation?
Governance at any level is serious business, be it in the homestead, an organization, town, city, not to talk of a vibrant, big country like Nigeria. But it is a job one has asked for, and must take seriously. I ran for the presidency four times before clinching it. I was prepared for it not least because I had cognate experience. I had served as governor, oil minister, head of state, Chairman, Petroleum Trust Fund, and here I am once again as head of government. I believe I have what it takes to cope with the challenges.

In less than a year, Nigeria seems to have turned the table on all negative economic indices — inflation is falling, external reserves is growing, the naira has stabilized. What is the magic?
It is quite gladdening that Nigeria was able to exit recession so quickly. No leader would be happy to see his people grappling with the consequences of economic downturn, especially when the country is so richly blessed by God.

We made the mistake of turning our country into a mono economy. Oil was the only mainstay we had, and to make matters worse, we did not make the best of high oil prices while it lasted. We did not improve power, railways, health care, education, and infrastructure. Worse, we made no savings. Everything was just frittered away.

So, when the rainy days came in the form of oil prices crash in the international market, we had no shelter. Income from oil plummeted to as low as a third of the boom time receipts. The result was the recession.

We could have done what we used to do in time past, bemoan our fate, and just fold our arms in passive resignation. But we did not. We rolled up our sleeves, and went to work. We invested massively in agriculture, focused on mining, and gave manufacturing some incentives. We launched the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP), we hope will enable us to achieve minimum 7% growth by 2020. We kept our focus, husbanded and utilized funds judiciously, and gradually, the economy started to respond, till it eventually came out of recession. Rebounding oil prices equally helped.

We encouraged Nigerians to go back to the land, they did. We are lucky to have had two successive good rainy seasons, and here we are.
We have cut importation of rice by about 90%, and are almost self-sufficient in the production and supply of other grains. Our neighbours, even come to buy our grains. The economy is looking up. All these have come through hardwork, focus, transparency and accountability.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has predicted a 2.1 per cent growth rate for the Nigerian economy, this year. Any comments?
The International Monetary Fund and World Bank initially projected 1.8% growth in 2018, but later reviewed it upwards when they noted the robust performance of the economy. Inflation rate was put at 13.4 for the year, but by the end of the first quarter, it had dropped to 12.48 having been on the downward trend in the past 15 consecutive months. Nigeria may well surpass all projections on her economy for 2018. I salute the economic management team under the supervision of the Vice President and thank all Nigerians for their patience and support.

Infrastructural development is a top priority of your government. With the current financing challenges amidst huge infrastructural deficit, how do you hope to meet your targets?
Our focus is to build an infrastructural base for Nigeria. Despite the billions of dollars we made from oil, particularly in the 16 years of the previous administrations’ rule, some roads have not been rebuilt in 20 years, and farmers are now growing yams on them. No rail, no power, no health care, no development in education. But we will get all these done, despite financing challenges. How? You may ask. Prudence. Transparency. Accountability. Everything that comes into the coffers will be spent for the good of the people. The days of freebies, when those in government served themselves, rather than the people, are gone.


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July 2018