Vice President Yemi Osinbajo during a media chat at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland said 2019 is not a priority for him now as the government is still busy working. JONATHAN NDA- ISAIAH presents the excerpts
Last week, the Niger Delta Avengers said they would resume attacks within days. Has there been any contact with the government and the Avengers?
Let me say that we are in constant consultations with all of the groups in the Niger Delta, but more importantly, we are working on all of the issues that we agreed with PANDEF. We are engaged with the groups; we have opened the Maritime University, we are working hard on the Modular Refineries which we hope will be a replacement for some of the illegal refineries and also create opportunities in the Niger Delta. We are in constant consultations, there are many groups in the Niger Delta, including the Niger Delta Avengers, and we are in constant consultations.
You have been in several bilateral meetings. What has been the major highlight(s) for Nigeria to take home?
I think the major thing is collaboration, which is really where everybody is at. The world has become a much more interconnected place. There is really little that is being done in Nigeria that doesn’t have some kind of either regional or global impact in the world. A lot of what we are talking about is collaboration; economic collaboration, collaboration against terrorism and all manners of extremist behaviours. That is what I am taking away.
There have been talks about collaborations in the past, have you secured any concrete cooperation in this regard?
You don’t sign agreements here; all you can do is what I have said. Talk about what can be done, in what areas we can cooperate, what are the best and easiest ways of working together. You can’t wait to sign conventions; the world is moving far too quickly, the issues are so dynamic.
The US has said it would welcome a weaker dollar, what would be Nigeria’s response to that?
We are naturally concerned about currency issues everywhere, but a weaker dollar does not necessarily hurt us (Nigeria). We are concerned most about ensuring our exports are cheaper. Our concern is how to make ourselves competitive with our foreign exchange. So we have to deal with our own currency issues, ensure our currency is stable and adequate to meet with the challenges posed to us at this time. We are more concerned about sorting ourselves out and remaining competitive.
What is the government’s position on allowing the Naira to flow freely?
The issue for us is in ensuring that the currency is stable. What the NAFEX (Nigerian Autonomous Foreign Exchange) window does is, more or less, to provide an opportunity for the Naira to have its real value against the dollar. In some senses, we are there. What works today is some sort of intervention; you can’t just open up and say, let things go the way they want. You just mentioned that the US would like to see a weaker dollar, so obviously there is intervention somewhere. We want the market to dictate as much as possible, but where we find that there may be complications, we are ready to intervene.
The security situation in Nigeria is a huge concern, isn’t this a deterrent for global investors?
Global investors are coming. As a matter of fact, we are doing much better than ever before. If you look at the difference between Q1 of 2017 and now, there is a lift from $908million to $4.1 billion. There is no deterrent. I think that global investors understand that there are security challenges everywhere and that so long as you are able to provide enough grounds for people to believe that, by and large, there is safety. Look at what is going on elsewhere in the world, security is a challenge everywhere. The duty of government is to ensure that security is maintained as robustly as possible.
Sometimes by the very nature of security concerns, if something is happening in the Delta or up North somewhere, it really does provide a challenge for security agencies, but it is an opportunity to beef up security. We are recruiting policemen, we are even trying to build up the army and recruit more people into the army. For instance, if you look at what happened during the clashes in Southern Kaduna, we had to locate a military formation there. We may have to do that in several other places, locating military formations where we find communal violence. Security is dynamic; you have to keep working at it.
Someone mentioned that Nigeria is politically and economically stable, do you agree with that?
I think so. The economy is certainly in much more better state than it was two years ago and even four years ago. Our reserves are at $40 billion, the highest it has been in four years. Our capital market is set to be the best performing in the world. We have moved up 24 places in the ease of doing business, agriculture is up by over 3 per cent. We are becoming a net producer of rice, 7 million to 11 million tonnes of paddy which has never happened before. We will be self-sufficient in rice production. Investments are also coming in, so economically; I would say that we are doing very well. The critical thing is that the man on the streets must feel the impact, which sometimes takes a while, because when you are talking about growth, there must be jobs, but growth doesn’t immediately translate to jobs.
What we are trying to do is to establish a system of governance that first of all, emphasises prudence in financial spending, which is what we had in mind to do with the TSA and with the general controls in spending. So we are earning 60 per cent less than what was earned in 2014, but we are spending N1.3 trillion on capital expenditure, the highest in the history of the country, with 60 per cent less revenue.
What is important to bear in mind, is that we have changed the model of government in Nigeria substantially. We place emphasis on good governance especially financial prudence, which is very crucial. That is something in the past few years we haven’t seen. That is why we are able to work with 60 less revenue, that has improved. We are doing better in terms of managing our finances, and in terms of doing much more with far less.
When you say it will take a while for Nigerians to feel the impact, what is the timeline you are referring to?
I think we are seeing the progress day by day. For example, look at investments; when an investment comes in, it doesn’t immediately translate to jobs until a few months. When you look at youth unemployment, for the first time in the history of this country, we have employed 200,000 graduates, there is no administration that has done that. We are also giving them devices for their training, so that each of them would have a device that they can use in training, in code writing and computing. They can be better prepared for private employment, entrepreneurship in whatever they want to do. 200,000 young people by a government through one specific programme, and we are doing 300,000 more this year, so we are hoping to employ 500,000 graduates. There is unemployment all over the world, especially over Sub-Saharan Africa, but we are addressing it aggressively.
President Trump will be here (at the World Economic Forum in Davos). What is your response to his alleged comments (about some African countries) and is that likely to affect the relationship between the US and Nigeria?
At the diplomatic level, there have been interactions, the ambassador was invited by our Foreign Affairs Minister and I’m sure you are familiar with the conversation. The most important thing is that the overall interests of our countries are greater than anything else. We need each other, Africa needs America and America needs Africa in several strategic ways. We must continue to maintain our relationship. I’m also told that Mr. Trump said that he did not make those statements and we should accept that.
In 2019, do you intend to run with President Muhammadu Buhari?
I’m absolutely focused at this time on doing the job that we have been elected to do. That is my concern for now.
In terms of growth, some of the growth you have referred to are based on higher oil prices, where do you see the oil price going? What concrete steps are being taken with regards to non-oil revenue?
I’m sure you are familiar with some of the figures; non-oil revenues have gone up by 40 per cent; mining and agriculture are critical areas for us. Agriculture, in particular, is a major area of focus and that is one of the greatest contributors to GDP growth at this point. We intend to do more especially in the area of agro-allied businesses and manufacturing, and that remains for us, a very critical aspect of the economy which we are working on. If you look at our Economy Recovery Growth Plan, and some of the very specific implementation objectives of that plan – our ease of doing business is focused on creating an environment where the non-oil sector can really expand and prosper in ways which will benefit jobs and growth. The major concern is how to improve agriculture and do much more in mining, which is also an area of growth and manufacturing.
Special Economic Zones (SEZ) are one of the things we have come here to discuss; we had a special session on it. What we are also trying to do is in the garment manufacturing. We want to become the hub in garment manufacturing in Africa. One of our SEZs is devoted to garment manufacturing and we are going about this by talking directly to the anchor investors, asking them what it will take, and what they want to ensure that it works. We are providing in those SEZs, adequate power and the infrastructure required. We also have the whole incentive regime. So with the SEZs, we have garment manufacturing, which is one example, and we create real opportunities and exponential growth in jobs.
What are you taking away from the meeting with Bill Gates?
The meeting focused on two areas; one is with the work being done in collaboration with Dangote Foundation and the Federal Government on Polio immunisation and also on agricultural transformation. Those are two major areas, as well as financial inclusion. We found out that financial inclusion is crucial in the work we are doing, especially with our conditional cash transfers, we were hoping to reach a million people. We are finding it difficult to reach people in certain areas because there are no money agents or banks functioning in those areas. The work we are doing with Bill Gates and the Central Bank of Nigeria is on issuing guidelines on the mobile telephony aspect of financial inclusion. We now want a situation where you are able to do much more with mobile phones with respect to financial inclusion. That will help a great deal because we would be able to reach the farthest reaches of our country and bring more people into the regulated financial space so that more people can benefit from credit, funds and payments made by government and individual payments. This has to be by 2018.
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