Below is the full, unedited text of Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari’s written responses to questions posed by Bloomberg News:
You campaigned for office with a pledge to fight corruption, secure the country and fix the economy. How would you rate your performance in fulfilling those pledges during your eight years in office?
- We will leave Nigeria much better than we found it – Buhari
- 48m Nigerians still practice open defecation – Minister
Corruption is less hidden for Nigerians feel empowered to report it without fear, while money is returned; terrorists no longer hold any territory in Nigeria, and their leaders are deceased; and vast infrastructure development sets the country on course for sustainable and equitable growth.
In 2015, Boko Haram held territory the size of Belgium within the borders of Nigeria. Today they are close to extinction as a military force. The leader of ISWAP was eliminated in March. The jets acquired from the US and intelligence shared by the British were not provided to previous administrations and stand as testament to renewed trust between Nigeria and our traditional western allies under my government.
We urge those same international partners to take additional steps costing them nothing, by proscribing another group—IPOB – as a terrorist organisation. Their leadership enjoys safe haven in the West, broadcasting hate speech into Nigeria from London, spending millions lobbying members of the US Congress, and freely using international financial networks to arm agitators on the ground. This must stop.
My administration is the only in Nigeria’s history to implement a solution to decades-long herder-farmer conflicts, exacerbated by desertification and demographic growth. The National Livestock Transformation Plan, putting ranching at its core, is the only way to deplete the competition for resources at the core of the clashes. Governors from some individual states have sought to play politics where ranches have been established; but where there have been disputes have dramatically reduced.
How prescient our policies for boosting domestic production have become!
For years we have been criticised by the likes of the FT, the Economist, and others for supposedly mistaken attempts to de-globalise and re-localise food production and boost manufacturing. Now with the war in Ukraine breaking global food supply chains, “Davos Man” is in retreat as the energy crisis makes countries everywhere think again about energy independence and security.
We have spent our two terms investing heavily in national road, rail, and transport infrastructure set to unleash growth, connect communities, and lessen inequality. This is structural transformation. It may not show on standard economic metrics now, but the results will be apparent in good time.
Starting with our Whistleblowing Policy enacted in my first year in office, hundreds of millions in stolen funds have been returned within Nigeria.
Working with our international partners, hundreds of millions of various currencies have been returned from abroad—primarily from the UK, US, and Switzerland—and used as social and welfare funds distributed directly to the poorest during the COVID-19 pandemic and the provision of long-delayed infrastructure-roads, bridges, rail, and power.
As an illustration, monetary recoveries (January-December) 2021 show that more N152 billion has been recovered. Dollar recoveries for the year amount to over USD 386 million; GBP, more than 1.1 million; Euro, about 157,000; Saudi Riyals about 1.7 million some more in Digital and other currencies.
Those partners refused to return these monies held for decades to previous Nigerian administrations in the certainty they would simply be re-stolen. They changed their approach with us because they knew my administration could be trusted.
Food inflation has risen by double digits since 2015, despite the government’s efforts to boost agricultural production. Why has your administration battled to counter pricing pressures? What will it take for Nigeria to achieve food security? How concerned are you about food shortages in Nigeria and the broader region, given the drought that it is currently experiencing?
We can only imagine what food inflation would be today had we not initiated programmes to boost domestic production. And still, we do not grow enough domestically.
Initiatives such as the Nigeria Anchor Borrower’s programme; helping farmers compete against artificially lowered imports has boosted rice production to nine million metric tons in 2021 from around 5.4 million metric tons in 2015. Even in the years of drought, rice production outstripped pre-2015 levels. Imports have fallen to near zero. We are making progress.
Against these advances, international trade remains rigged against food security in Africa. The EU’s policies in particular (see: It’s time for a new economic deal between the EU and Africa) are all rhetoric of open trade – yet their Common Agricultural Policy subsidy programmes and export of those subsidised goods create dependence, undermine Africa’s self-sufficiency, and cause food poverty and starvation.
If only out of enlightened self-interest, the West – and particularly Europe – must step up. The moral if not economic case for doing so is unarguable. Do nothing, and more migrants from across the Sahel will attempt dangerous journeys to reach Europe.
Nigeria continues to confront electricity shortages, and your government has faced calls to modernise the grid, or make the sector economical for stakeholders up and down the chain. Do you think you have done enough to address the nation’s energy shortfall? What else needs to be done?
First, we need more input. Our legislative framework has been a drag. The landmark PIA (see later answers) will bolster input, raise capital, and bring transparency to the system.
On grid modernisation, there are hundreds of ongoing projects and initiatives attracting funding from investors. Take my Presidential Power Initiative (PPI), a government-to-government initiative between the governments of Nigeria and Germany, with Siemens AG, to upgrade the electricity grid with a $2 billion investment.
Once signed into law, the constitutional amendment bill—recently voted through parliament—will allow state governments to generate and transmit their own electricity, further facilitating investor participation in our market and enabling states and local businesses to transmit excess supply to the grid.
We are also decentralising the national grid through renewable driven mini-grids. The $550 million Nigeria Electrification Project has deployed more than 20,000 Standalone Solar Systems (SHS), as well as Solar Hybrid mini-grids in over 250 locations.
The IMF and World Bank and many leading economists have urged you for years to remove the fuel subsidy and to unify the exchange rate. Why have you not heeded such calls?
Most western countries are today implementing fuel subsidies. Why would we remove ours now? What is good for the goose is good for the gander!
What our western allies are learning the hard way is what looks good on paper and the human consequences are two different things. My government set in motion plans to remove the subsidy late last year. After further consultation with stakeholders, and as events unfolded this year, such a move became increasingly untenable. Boosting internal production for refined products shall also help. Capacity is due to step up markedly later this year and next, as private players and modular refineries (Dangote Refinery, BUA Group Refinery, Waltersmith Refinery) come on board.
The exchange rate is still susceptible to external shocks that can suddenly and severely affect Nigerian citizens. As we step up domestic production – both in fuel (enabled by PIA) and food (agricultural policies) – the inflationary threat shall diminish, and we can move towards unification.
The sharp rise in borrowing since 2015 has left the country now spending almost all of its revenue servicing debt. What will that level of debt servicing costs mean for the country going forward? Do you think you have done enough to try and bring debt under control?
A narrow focus on debt misses the point. What it fills is Nigeria’s longstanding infrastructure deficit by constructing a foundation for sustainable growth—spreading opportunity to ensure no part of the country is left behind, which has led to insecurity in the past.
Our infrastructure developments have been the most ambitious since Nigeria’s independence. Over 800 federal roads are being constructed or undergoing rehabilitation and 650km of rail line have been laid, helping alleviate food inflation pressures, given most food is produced in the North.
Had the infrastructure gap not been filled, it would only grow, becoming more costly to repair what little we have while lacking more on infrastructure on which to build growth, negatively impacting progress towards UN Sustainable Development Goals.
Concluded on www.dailytrust.com