President Muhammadu Buhari has expressed concern at the poor state of the economy, telling governors to tighten their belts in preparation for harder times ahead.
The president’s statement has, however, drawn the flak of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) which said it was an admission of failure and a negation of his campaign promise to fix the ailing economy.
Chairman of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum and Zamfara State governor, Abdulaziz Yari, revealed this after a meeting between the president and governors yesterday at the presidential villa, Abuja.
He said: “Mr President, as usual, responded by telling us that the economy is in a bad shape and we have to come together and think and rethink on the way forward.
“So, Mr President talked to us in the manner that we have a task ahead of us; so, we should tighten our belts and see how we can put Nigeria’s economy in the right direction and how we can address the nation’s infrastructural decay.
“So, all of us as leaders, especially those that are coming to the National Assembly and those coming back as governors and the president who will be re-elected, by God grace, we should not think that things are going to be easy; they are going to be harder than before. This was the message of Mr President.’’
Governor Yari said they used the opportunity of the meeting to appreciate the president for facilitating the release of the Paris Club funds to them without any discrimination.
“You will recall, for those that have been around since 2015, so many issues were raised in budget support, bailout fund, Paris, London Club refund and infrastructure development funds,” he said, explaining that paying salaries was a big challenge to most states at the inception of this administration.
“When Mr. President came on board, 27 states out of 36 could not pay salaries – some for 13, 12, 8, 5 months respectively. In our first encounter with him, he told us that we have no business being in power if we cannot do the basic, that is, pay workers. So, he asked that we discuss how we can support those states that cannot pay salaries so that workers will be paid.
“Those in the position then came up with the idea of bailing out the states so that they can pay the arrears. But paying the arrears was not enough because the performance of the economy at that time could not sustain the current salaries. That was how he paid the London-Paris Club (refund) in batches until we exited last month. The payment of London-Paris Club (refund) has been lingering for the past 12 years.
“So, we came here today to thank Mr. President because in bailing out states he did not discriminate along party lines unlike in those days when you could only get audience with Mr. President if you had long legs.”
Earlier, at the Extended National Economic Council (NEC) meeting, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo called on state governors and other stakeholders to refrain from playing politics with issues of human capital development and to focus on getting the job done.
“As a government, we are fully aware of the issues and we are committed to transforming them. There is no denying that debilitating levels of poverty existed in spite of huge earnings in the past. We are doing exactly what countries like India and Brazil did in similar situation, for instance, kick-starting the Social Investment Programme (SIP).
“Since the meeting in March, we have made significant progress, adding more than two million people to the programme, feeding over nine million school children everyday, et al. We must ensure that what we are investing in must produce tangible results,” he said, adding that the federal government must collaborate with state government on issues of human capital development.
“It should not be a platform for blame games. Concerted collaboration is required now so we don’t repeat the mistakes of the past. Constant communication with the people is equally important because the resources belong to them,” Osinbajo stated.
On his part, the chairman of Nigerian Governor’s Forum said governors had been working very hard to make Nigeria’s economy work in a more transparent manner, adding that they remain accountable to the people.
“We have tried to make sure that every cent is well spent,” he said.
According to him, the concerns raised on human capital development could only be addressed with the availability of funds.
He said, “I can assure you that the governors are committed but we have to work harder in the area of revenue generation to address all these competing demands.”
Yari queried why VAT had remained stagnant at five percent for the past 25 years, insisting that a political decision has to be taken to increase it in the new year.
In his contribution, the World Bank Nigeria country director, Rachid Benmessaoud, asserted for the world to do well, Nigeria has to do well on human capital development because the world relies on Nigeria’s human capital.
He added that the quality of education improves young persons’ opportunity to earn a living and help the economy, urging the government to work on improving human capital development.
Weighing in on the topic, the country director, UK’s Department for International Development, DFID, Debbie Palmer, said Nigeria is ranked near the bottom of the World Bank’s Human Capital Index (152 out of 157 countries globally), describing it as a rude wake up call for everyone in Nigeria and for everyone who cares about Nigeria.
“Nigeria will be the third largest nation in the world by 2050. We need well nourished, healthy, educated and skilled people who can go out and get jobs.
“The projected population growth could be a big boost to Nigeria’s economic fortunes with more people of working age driving economic progress. But for this to happen we urgently need increased investment in service delivery to avoid an undernourished, unhealthy and unemployed nation.”
The Association of National Accountants of Nigeria (ANAN), represented by Alhaji Shehu Ladan, listed quality education, special agencies for skills, entrepreneurial support, vocational training, improved infrastructure and improved health care sector as factors that will improve the country’s human capital development.
It’s An Admission Of Failure – PDP
Meanwhile, responding to the president’s warning that hard times lie ahead for Nigerians, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) yesterday said President Buhari’s admission to state governors that he had failed to fix the economy in negation of his 2015 campaign promises confirmed his lack of capacity.
The party said by asking Nigerians to tighten their belts, President Buhari had admitted that the economy had terribly worsened on his watch and that he had no solution to the country’s economic woes.
According to a statement by PDP’s national publicity secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, “Mr President, by this statement, has admitted that he is tired and that the task of running a competitive economy such as ours is way above his capacity.
“If President Buhari had heeded wise counsel from Nigerians and the international community to hands off critical sectors of our economy and allow competent hands to manage them, our economy would not have gone into a biting recession, for which he is now asking Nigerians to tighten their belts.
“Nigerians must hold President Buhari directly responsible for the official flops, harsh economic policies and humongous corruption in his regime, which led to the collapse of our once robust economy, turned our nation to the poverty capital of the world with the worst form of hunger and starvation to the extent compatriots now consider suicide mission and slavery as options.”
The party regretted that Mr. President wants Nigerians to tighten their belts at a time he and officials are living large.
“Our party holds that Nigerians across the board have made enough sacrifices in accommodating the incompetent, insensitive and corrupt Buhari administration and must not be forced to carry this burden beyond May 29, 2019,” the party added.
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