7% GDP GROWTH EXPECTED BY 2020

Nigeria 2018 | DIPLOMACY | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to His Excellency Muhammadu Buhari, President of Nigeria, on overcoming conflict, reviving the economy, and fighting corruption.

What are the most important reforms and policies implemented by the Nigerian Federal Government in 2017?

The year 2017 was one of great reforms for Nigeria. We promised the electorate before the 2015 elections that we would secure the country, fight corruption, and revive the economy. We are keeping faith with these promises. The war against insurgency and general insecurity proceeds robustly, and we are recording good progress. There is no basis for comparing what we met in the area of security in 2015, with what subsists today. God has helped us tremendously. The war against graft is also yielding good returns, with moneys recovered in billions of naira, and hundreds of millions of dollars. The intention is not to shame anybody, but to get back what has been looted from the public treasury. We have also implemented reforms that encourage probity and transparency in public accounts. The Treasury Single Account (TSA) is one. We have in the process saved trillions of naira that may have been misappropriated. The economy is key for us, in terms of reviving and diversifying it. For many decades, we had depended on oil as the mainstay of the economy. We became a mono-product economy. But the downside was that whenever there was crash in the prices of oil in the international market, we simply crashed with it. That is not good for any country. So, we have focused on agriculture, mines and steel development, manufacturing and many others, as alternative sources of income. And the returns are quite promising. At the end of this dispensation, Nigeria would no longer be called a “mono economy."

On the theme of alternative revenue streams, tax collection has also improved across a range of sources during your tenure. What has been the strategy behind these efficiency improvements, and do you have specific targets for the year ahead?

Yes, we have made scrupulous efforts to ensure that more people are brought into the tax net. Apart from the civil servants who are in the PAYE (Pay As You Earn) system, we found out that the number of Nigerians paying tax was negligible. A lot of high net-worth people were simply not paying. So, we came with VAIDS, which is Voluntary Assets and Income Declaration Scheme. The intention is to allow those who are outside the tax net to voluntarily give information about themselves, and then pay their taxes. It's a time-limited opportunity for people to regulate their tax status, and they will not face any penalty, or prosecution. But they must do it within the prescribed time. This will help the country to improve revenue through tax collection.

The APC's election was a historical one, being the first time an incumbent lost to an opposition candidate, and the drive for transparency was a pledge that resonated strongly with the electorate. What would you say has been the APC's biggest achievement in its fight against corruption?

I will not mention a particular case; the fact that there is an awareness in the country that corruption is evil, and would be punished, is in itself a big achievement. Days of impunity are gone. Days of paying lip service to fight against corruption are gone. And the fact that we have this awareness in the country is a big achievement. That is why a lot of Nigerians are involved in the whistleblowing policy. They identify with the crusade to stamp out corruption, knowing that if Nigeria does not kill corruption, corruption will kill Nigeria. It is heart-warming that it is not a war for the President alone, but the people have bought into it. That, for me, is a big achievement.

Reducing the economy's reliance on imports and strengthening the 'Made in Nigeria' brand has been one of your ambitions as President. Which sectors have embraced this the most, and in which ones would you welcome more FDIs to support local manufacturers?

The bid to look inwards, and patronize what we produce in Nigeria, cuts across many sectors. That was why we had about 41 items placed under import restriction by the Central Bank. We need to develop our own local capacities, and one of the sectors where this has been most pronounced is in Agriculture. We used to spend about five million dollars daily importing rice, but now, we have the Anchor Borrowers' Program of the Central Bank, which has encouraged a lot of people into farming. Many farmers have become wealthy, and Nigerians are consuming rice grown locally. Same with other food products. It's very encouraging, and a veritable way to diversify our economy away from sole dependence on petroleum. We will continue to focus on improving local capacities, and will also welcome foreign investments in diverse areas like agriculture, mines and steel development, manufacturing, and many others. It is a good time to invest in Nigeria, with very good returns.

How important is it for Nigeria to prioritise investing in its large young population and what are the ways the FG plans to do so?

We are a country with vibrant and robust youth population. But the sad thing is that due to many decades of poor leadership and ineffective utilization of resources, many of the youths have not been catered for. Many millions of them are either unemployed or under-employed. It is sad, and it formed a major plank of the campaign by my party, the All Progressives Congress (APC). We are trying to harness the boundless energy of our youths for national development. They are, therefore, at the heart of all our policies, be they on agriculture, solid minerals development, manufacturing, and so on and so forth. Whatever we do is meant to create job opportunities for youths, so that they may find self-realization, and fulfil their potential as future leaders.

Our TBY Analytics last year found that while Lagos and Abuja continue to drive economic growth, other centres such as Kano, Bayelsa, Kaduna, and Ibadan are also seeing increasing economic activity. What initiatives does the FG have to support decentralisation of the economy and see growth throughout the country?

Now, almost all parts of the country are involved in one thing or the other. Farming activities go on round the country, and God has blessed us with good rainfall in the past three farming seasons. Mineral resources are being discovered in different areas. Almost every part of the country has something to bring to the table, in the bid to reshape our economy.

What is your vision on the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) implementation, and how exactly does the FG plan to achieve the ERGP's goal of 7% GDP growth by 2020?

The ERGP is meant to build a sustainable foundation for the Nigerian economy. We envisage a 7% GDP growth by 2020, and that would set the country on the path of solid growth. We have enunciated policies that will enable us achieve the vision, and while oil would remain vital and important to us, it would not be our sole revenue earner. That is the intention of ERGP, and we will get there.

What measures are being adopted to weather the challenge of insufficient power supply and infrastructure, and how is Nigeria going to power its envisioned economic growth?

Power supply is something we are working on very hard, and we are gradually seeing results. In September 2017, we attained 7001 megawatts generation capacity, something unprecedented in the history of the country. Our target is to achieve a minimum of 10,000 megawatts by 2019. That would be a good foundation for national growth and development. It would also boost investors' confidence. We have all hands on deck, and we plan to deliver on our promises.

What message would you send to the international investor community about doing business in the country and to promote a positive image of Nigeria abroad?

Nigeria is a robust investment destination, and I am glad at the level of interest and enquiry we get whenever we go outside. At the 72nd session of the UN General Assembly in New York in September 2017, the forum for business people was fully subscribed to. The interest in Nigeria by foreigners was quite salutary. And many of such are being followed up. On our part, we have also introduced measures to improve the Ease of Doing Business, with obstacles removed from the path of potential investors. Nigeria yields good returns for those who bring their investments here.

What is the current administration's foreign policy mainly focusing on, and what is your ambition for Nigeria's position on the global diplomacy scene?

Our foreign policy focus is also tied to our areas of priority. We relate with those who will advance our quests to secure our country, help us fight corruption and repatriate stolen funds, and those who will make positive impact on our economy.

What is your outlook for 2018?

Our outlook for 2018 is a continuation of what we have started, and which have begun to yield results. We will consolidate on those things, for the benefit of our people.

 

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