President Muhammadu Buhari has made a pledge to lift 100m people out of poverty. What, if anything, has he done in his first four years to lay the groundwork for this?
In order to understand exactly what this president has done over the last four years, you have to go back to see, from the educated eye, what was the story of this country four years ago.
This country was on the verge of collapse. The election of 2015 has led those in government to believe that unless they work hard in a very desperate manner, they will not come back to government.
And eventually, that was what actually happened. But the previous government left the country completely bankrupt, literally bankrupt.
Now, every economic indicator at that time – we made private calculations – showed negative growth.
Some of us were wondering how even the best minds could bring this country from negative position to zero position.
The devastation that had happened was so enormous that we were wondering, if Jonathan had won the election, we were wondering what kind of country we would be in.
We were wondering how Buhari would get this country going judging from the PDP wastefulness. If you remember, all the state governments at that time were in a worse position, despite the Paris Club loans.
They didn’t really recover from that devastation. Now, fortunately for Buhari, we had quite a number of astute economists around him and they really got to work.
And we from outside, we were really marveling at them. They did a good job. This country eventually came to zero position, in other words, the growth came to zero instead of negative.
And from there, it made it again to 1.5 per cent. Now, we wished that they kept quiet until the growth reached 2.5 to 3 per cent.
At that time, the gain of 1.9 per cent was unstable, so it went back again to zero before it moved up. That was what he grappled with when he came to power.
Fortunately for him, oil prices went up and from zero position, he was able to chart his future work. That was when he really started building up this economy.
Before that time, it was really patch work. But now, after two years, remember it was also the time he was sick for seven months.
But after the second year, he moved up. All that had happened in that time, his achievements should actually be measured by the last two years of his administration.
Now, what did he do? First of all, he brought sanity into the ministry of finance. Revenue increased and then they identified quite a number of areas, growth points, which could instigate growth.
We are talking now about 2.5, eventually I think we hit before the end of this year, at least 3 per cent growth.
That would be a very healthy growth. All areas of the economy have come to life, particularly agriculture. It was a very impressive achievement.
In terms of commerce, it has also recovered. The only area which has not fully recovered is industry. And that is where he should work in in the first year of his second term in order to get people employed.
Once you get agriculture and industry expanding, then you get people employed in large numbers.
That is what he has estimated will give him opportunity to lift 100 million people out of poverty. Those who are lamenting poverty in Nigeria are telling the truth.
The only area which has not fully recovered is industry. And that is where he should work in in the first year of his second term in order to get people employed
Is this really achievable with the government showing little capacity to diversify the economy and raise the much needed revenue?
Yes. So far, I can say we have not reached a critical point in regard to the borrowing pattern. So there is still a leeway to borrow more and invest more.
And also, the investors confidence, if nothing has happened as we are now going smoothly; the outside world has confidence in the ability of this president to take control of his government properly.
Because of that, his personality alone will make the difference in the groundwork.
Now, the only area in which I am worried about is that we may negotiate loans in a kind of untidy pattern and we will find ourselves over-borrowing indiscriminately.
But if we borrow at this rate, we will put everything, particularly transportation, communications and power in order.
Now, the only area in which I am worried about is that we may negotiate loans in a kind of untidy pattern and we will find ourselves over-borrowing indiscriminately
The majority of Nigerians living in extreme poverty are in Northern Nigeria. And roughly 90 per cent of the north is uneducated and show little interest in acquiring any kind of skills. How do you lift these people out of poverty?
I disagree with what you have just said. If you compare what is happening now or the statistics now, with what happened, say about 20 years ago, Northern Nigeria has really moved up.
It has definitely moved up. We have more universities, more secondary schools and technical colleges are all coming up.
You say 90 per cent of the people are uneducated. They are not exactly illiterates. And that percentage which you have mentioned is too extreme.
Even if they don’t have western education in the way you see it, they have oriental education and their heads are clear.
So they have a lot of experience in agriculture and trade.
That is a good cushion for them. So, if you just say uneducated, I feel uncomfortable because they are not really illiterates.
They also have the advantage of numbers. If agriculture can really take hold with the people, that is where they will make the difference.
I believe, even at this stage, the growth of agriculture is now between 3 to 4 per cent as opposed to the natural average of 2.5 per cent.
So, agriculture is moving rapidly. I believe that Northern Nigeria has disadvantages, but they can be tackled, especially in textile; that is where we are really advantaged.
The textiles industries in Kano, Kaduna and some other parts of the north can be revamped in a serious manner, not just mentioning it glibly. With that, we can get people in the north out of the woods.
The fact that he refused to sign it is a big blow to them, particularly the foreign traders. And I support him. Let it be reviewed
The Social Intervention Programmes of this government were initiated as part of conditions of the Swiss Government to repatriate stolen funds. The World Bank has also encouraged the programmes, providing its own support. But what impact have the programmes had in reducing poverty levels?
That is a very interesting question.
When you collect stolen money, the first problem you are going to encounter is that before the money can come into their kitty, you must first of all keep it as an exhibit against those who have stolen the money.
You do not just go to court and say you have stolen so and so. You must give good evidence. And before they get the money released, it will take quiet sometime.
And I was very pleased that the president himself said this money is going to be kept in a special account.
Now, it depends on what he does with the money in the future. Some people are saying let us distribute this to the Nigerian people.
Let us do this and that and all these kind of shoddy things.
If you can really invest it properly, in an honest manner, which I believe he would, then we can move on.
But not just to distribute it as social handouts, no. Invest in power sector, transportation and health. That is what will make a difference.
The president is reported to have directed the Central Bank of Nigeria to blacklist firms importing palm oil and 42 other items to protect local industry. Is this a clear indication the president will not be signing the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement?
That continental agreement which everybody was rushing to sign, Buhari is quiet right in not signing it. Look at the content of that agreement.
It was mainly brought about in order to make it easy for foreigners – particularly, the Chinese and to some extent, Americans – to have easy market.
It’s not for Africans themselves to benefit.
Every paragraph in that agreement is anti-Nigeria. Buhari wanted a give-and-take agreement, which will benefit both the Africans and the foreigners.
At the moment, it is very much against us, making us receivers of foreign goods. I support him fully for that.
Even if he refuses to sign it, I will not blame him. It is not worth it, unless the whole agreement is reviewed.
Mind you, Nigerian market is second to none in the whole of the African continent. That is why they are really worried of the Nigerian market.
The fact that he refused to sign it is a big blow to them, particularly the foreign traders. And I support him. Let it be reviewed.
CBN has no business becoming another development bank. It did so in the 60s and 70s, up to the early 80s
Why has the CBN taken up the role of a development bank sourcing and pouring money into several sectors. What effect will that have on the ability of the bank to make independent decisions on monetary policy?
That is something that has surprised me because the CBN has taken us back to the situation which existed in the 70s, which I thought we had got rid of.
CBN has no business becoming another development bank. It did so in the 60s and 70s, up to the early 80s.
I was very glad that they created quite a number of development banks, all the small scale industries, Bank of Agriculture and Bank of Industry.
Honestly, I don’t know what the Central Bank is doing there.
That is a question I find not easy to answer. But all the same, CBN has taken quite a number of steps to put money, mostly in small scale trading, small scale industry and so on.
I wish they can transfer all these to develop banks which are existing in this country and leave central bank alone to take care of monetary policy, not become another development bank. I don’t support the idea at all.