You recently spoke at the symposium about the best way to fund and sustain anti-corruption efforts in Nigeria. What are the main initiatives taken by the government to tackle corruption in the country?
The war against corruption is one of the three focal areas we identified immediately during the campaigns. The other two are securing the country and reviving the economy, particularly with respect to job creation. We have done our level best to keep our promises. We have tackled insecurity head-on and the successes are evident. We also have all hands on deck to retune the economy and have no doubt that the efforts will yield positive results. In terms of our initiatives to fight corruption, there is the imperative of personal example. If we want to wage the war successfully, we must strive to be aboveboard ourselves. If we are corrupt personally, whatever rhetoric we talk about corruption will sound hollow. We strive to be as transparent as possible in our dealings. Again, we have ensured that every proven case of corruption is prosecuted, no matter who is involved. There are no sacred cows. Anyone who has questions to answer must answer them. Equally, in prosecuting a successful corruption war, the anti-graft agencies must have free hands. And that is what we have done. We do not remotely guide them in any way or breathe down their necks. Rather, we empower them to discharge their duties, and we maintain a critical distance. The anti-corruption war is crucial to us. There will be no let up. It is a promise we made, which we are fulfilling, and which we must fulfill to the letter.
The World Bank's Ease of Doing Business index places Nigeria in 169th place out of 189 countries. What is the federal government's strategy to rise to the top 100 before 2020?
We ensure that we make doing business in Nigeria as easy as possible. Bureaucratic bottlenecks are being dismantled, red tape is being taken out of the way, and results are being achieved faster. If we compare Nigeria's standings in the Ease of Doing Business a year ago with where we are today, the difference is clear. And things will get much better.
What will be main strategies of the government to diversify the economy? What sectors are of highest priority?
We are determined to diversify the Nigerian economy away from oil. Unfortunately, we have turned ourselves into a single-product economy by depending on oil alone, so when oil prices crashed in 2015, we also crashed along with it. But we have refused to stay down. We have identified viable alternatives for our economy. One is agriculture. We are blessed with vast tracts of arable land around the country and can grow all that we need to eat, attain food sufficiency, and also begin to export. For instance, we spend about USD2 billion to import rice yearly. However, we can also grow rice in many parts of the country. The Central Bank of Nigeria has arranged funds for rice farmers, and in another year or two, we may stop importing the product completely. That will free foreign exchange for other developmental projects. Farmers are also being helped to cultivate other products such as maize, sorghum, millet, cassava, and many others. Another area of diversification is mine and steel development. Nigeria is blessed with rich mineral deposits, which have been fallow over the decades. Now, we are determined to tap them for the benefit of our people. We are laying a foundation that will bring handsome revenues into the coffers of government in years to come. We are also paying attention to manufacturing and will develop tourism. Every area that can shore up our income will be attended to. It does not mean we will abandon oil, however. God has blessed us with oil, but we will no longer depend on it solely, since we have so much other potential.
What role does the government play to facilitate foreign direct investment in the country? How can you ensure that those investments translate into maximum benefits for Nigerians?
We facilitate FDI through our programs and policies. Investors will not come into a situation ridden with corrupt practices. So, we are fighting corruption to a standstill. They will also not come into an insecure environment. We battle insecurity across the country. We cannot manage a country until we have effectively secured it. We also are working on the Ease of Doing Business, so that more foreign direct investment can come in. We also offer tax holidays and other kinds of incentives.
What role does the National Economic Council (NEC) play in the socioeconomic development of the country?
The National Economic Council articulates our economic policy and direction, and also keeps an eye on it. We met a troubled economy when we came in 2015. In fact, the foundation for recession had been laid. But we are working sure-footedly to lay a new foundation for the Nigerian economy. We will get there.
What legacy would this administration like to leave in the country?
The legacy I want to leave is that of a country where corruption is reduced to the barest minimum, if not completely eradicated. I want to bequeath a country that Nigerians are proud of, safe, secure, and prosperous.