SETTING THE STANDARD

Nigeria 2017 | DIPLOMACY | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Muhammadu Buhari, President of Nigeria, on fighting corruption, leading by example, and tapping into diverse sources of natural and human capital.

Muhammadu Buhari
BIOGRAPHY
Muhammadu Buhari became President of Nigeria on May 29, 2015. He joined the Nigerian army in 1961 and was Head of State from December 1983 to August 1985. During this time in office, his government worked to re-balance public finances and strengthen the country’s economy. While at the rank of Colonel Buhari gained a master’s in strategic studies from the United States Army War College (USAWC) in 1980, before becoming General Commanding Officer in August 1980. As the candidate for the All Progressives Party, Buhari won the 2015 presidential election on a platform of anti-corruption and improved security.

You recently spoke at the symposium “The best way to fund and sustain anti-corruption efforts in Nigeria." What are the main initiatives being taken by the government to tackle corruption in the country?

War against corruption is one of the three focal areas we immediately identified during the campaign. The other two are securing the country and reviving the economy, particularly with respect to job creation. We have done our 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 these 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 ranking 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 mono-product economy by depending on it 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 begin to export. For instance, we spend about USD2 billion each year on importing rice. 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 altogether. That will free up foreign exchange for other developmental projects. Farmers are also being helped to cultivate other products such as maize, sorghum, millet, and cassava, among many others. Another area of diversification is mine and steel development. Nigeria is blessed with rich mineral deposits, which have been fallow for decades. Now we are determined to tap into them for the benefit of our people. We are laying a foundation that will bring handsome revenues into the government's coffers in the years to come. We are also paying attention to manufacturing and will develop tourism. Indeed, every area that can shore up our income will be attended to. This 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 many other potential areas to grow in.

What role does the government play in facilitating FDI in the country? How can you ensure that these investments translate into maximum benefits for Nigerians?

We facilitate FDI through our programs and policies. Investors will not come into a climate ridden with corruption. We are fighting corruption to a standstill. They will also not come into an insecure environment, which is why the country must battle insecurity. We cannot manage a country until we have effectively secured it. We also are working on the ease of doing business, so that more FDI 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 NEC articulates our economic policy and direction and keeps an eye on it. We had a troubled economy when we came in 2015; the foundation for recession had already 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?

I want to leave 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.