President Muhammadu Buhari has defended his administration’s resort to taking foreign loans, saying that the purpose is to make Nigeria attractive to investors.
The President argued that the country needed to fix infrastructure like roads, rail lines and electricity to make it welcoming to foreign investors.
Buhari spoke in Abuja on Tuesday at a virtual meeting with the Presidential Economic Advisory Council headed by Prof Ayo Salami.
“We have so many challenges with infrastructure. We just have to take loans to do roads, rail and power, so that investors will find us attractive and come here to put their money”, he told the session, which had the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed, and the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Godwin Emefiele, in attendance.
Nigeria’s total debts now stand in the region of N13trn, collectively owed by the Federal Government and the 36 states.
But, on Tuesday, the President argued that the country had yet to spend enough on infrastructure and must continue to seek loans to build them, particularly existing ones that had collapsed.
For instance, he said the lack of infrastructure had robbed Nigeria of its rightful position as the hub for air cargo transportation and trans-shipment of goods in the West African sub-region.
Speaking on the economy specifically, Buhari said the crash in the oil prices forced the country to cut down on crude production, which also meant less money in the treasury.
The President added, “We have to accept that decision; otherwise they (Middle-East producers) can flood the market and make the product unviable.
“So we have cooperated with what we get. With oil, we are in a difficult situation. The politics of oil is that the less you produce, the less you earn.”
On the contribution of the agricultural sector, he told the session, “For us to bounce back to productivity, especially in agriculture, the unemployed with many of them uneducated had to be persuaded to go into agriculture.
“If we hadn’t gone back to the lands we would have been in trouble by now. That is why we virtually stopped the importation of food thereby saving jobs and foreign exchange.”
On the ravaging COVID -19 pandemic, Buhari spoke of how it had affected government operations in the past months.
He noted, “COVID has reduced us to the same level as developed countries.
“We are lucky we went back to the land. We eat what we produce. We are doing our best to secure the country and provide infrastructure for investment to be viable in the country.”
Salami, while speaking earlier, submitted the EAC’s recommendations on poverty reduction and stimulation of non-debt investment inflows to the President.
He said the submission was in compliance with the decision taken at the last meeting of the council with him.
The State House noted that, “the council recommended steps for the effective implementation of government’s plan to lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty, as well as measures to curb poverty disparity in Nigeria.
“The council promised to set out a full policy paper that would, in the first instance, stop more Nigerians from falling into poverty and thereafter, further plans on reducing the poverty headcount in the country.
“The PEAC also outlined a number of measures aimed at aggressively increasing the country’s non-debt investment inflow, including measures to improve investor perception of the country and the proposed establishment of a 5 billion – 10 billion dollars investment and growth fund to invest in.
“The PEAC used the opportunity of the meeting to express support and solidarity with the administration on its recent policies.”
The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr Garba Shehu, quoting the EAC further, wrote, “It listed the implementation of reforms encapsulated in the Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA) 2020 recently signed into law, the reforms in the energy sector, bringing electricity and fuel prices in line with the market, and the decision of the Central Bank of Nigeria to merge the exchange rate of the naira versus other foreign currencies.”