President Muhammadu Buhari, in this interview published in the current edition of African Economy, races through a slew of social, political and economic issues in Nigeria. Excerpts:
The war on corruption is so dear to your heart. But critics claim that it is fraught with double standards. What are the efforts to ensure the anti-corruption war does not wane?
Right from campaign times, we identified three priorities to tackle. We pledged to secure the country by fighting insecurity, fight corruption, and to revive the economy, so that Nigerians, particularly youths, would get jobs.
We have been committed to these three focal areas. But to answer your question directly, people would always talk and criticize, particularly when things rub them down the wrong way. We are tackling corruption without compromise, and without treating anybody as sacred cow. Our consciences are clear that we don’t have double standards, and we will continue the battle without let or hindrance. Those who criticise can continue, while we keep on with the war against corruption without looking back.
Although your government has waged relentless battle against Boko Haram and subdued the insurgents, the challenge has persisted. Why?
You say the challenge has persisted, but can you honestly say it is with the same intensity as it was when we assumed power in May, 2015? That was a time when the insurgents controlled not less than 14 local governments, out of the 774 local governments in the country. They took battles to towns, cities, police and military formations, and the like. But today, they have been degraded so much that they strike only in the fringes, and do cowardly suicide bombing attacks, using young girls. The menace is no longer what it used to be, when they struck at will in different parts of the country. They were in North West, North east, North central, and even used to strike in Abuja and Kogi. Today, they are largely restricted to the fringes of Borno State. Those who live where Boko Haram used to be so endemic are the ones who can tell you of the difference this administration has made in their lives.
After five consecutive quarters of negative growth, Nigeria’s economy finally exited recession in the third quarter of this year with the National Bureau of Statistics announcing a modest 0.55 percent growth. What strategy have you adopted to reposition the economy for sustainable development?
It is on record that the Nigerian economy had begun to slow down since 2014, and went into recession in 2016. Before we came, oil prices were as high as $100 per barrel, and even between $110 and $120 per barrel. But we had no savings, no infrastructure; nothing to show for this fortune. The money was just frittered away. Then, shortly after we got into office, oil prices crashed to $39, and even dropped to as low as $27 per barrel at a time. Oil was the mainstay of our economy. We didn’t prepare for the rainy day, so when the rain came, it beat us heavily.
The economy went into recession, because it had been unfortunately primed to do so many years earlier. But we rolled up our sleeves, tackled recession, and we are back to the path of growth. We will strive to sustain it, and place the economy on the route of sustainable growth. We are diversifying the economy through agriculture, mines and steel development, manufacturing, and many other ways. We are ensuring that Nigeria will no longer be a mono-product economy, and in no distant time, the people would begin to feel the impact of the exit from recession. Like I said when the news came of Nigeria exiting recession, we would not consider the job as done, until the living condition of the average Nigerian improves. Statistics are good, indicating that the economy has returned to the path of growth, but beyond statistics, the people must feel it.
We would not relapse into recession again, because we would not do the profligate things that were done in the past. We will continue to keep an eye on economic growth, fight corruption and free funds for development. We have the Economic Reconstruction and Growth Plan (ERGP), which I launched in April, 2017. It is meant to reposition our economy on a sustainable basis, and we will keep at the work.
Mr President, many foreign investors would like to know the main investment opportunities in Nigeria?
There are opportunities for foreign investors in many sectors of the Nigerian economy —agriculture, mines and steel development, manufacturing, services and so on. We have introduced the Ease of Doing Business Action Plan. We have liberalised visa policies, and we are constantly andconsistently dismantling anything that can hinder business people and investors in the country. Nigeria is a very attractive investment destination, and by the time our efforts on infrastructure yield positive results, we will see more successes.
Nigeria’s external reserves have grown, thanks to rising global oil prices. What are you doing to ensure that they don’t get depleted as happened in the previous dispensation?
With prudent management of the economy, we trust that the reserves would continue to appreciate. Our watchword is prudence. We will curtail unnecessary importation, eat what we can produce locally, and curb all wastes.
How would you like Nigerians to remember your government?
I will love this administration to be remembered as one that met a vandalised Nigeria, and reset the buttons on almost all areas of national life — political, social, economic, local and international image. We are doing our best, and we will continue to do so. God is kind to us, giving us good rains and rich harvest for two consecutive years, and very soon, we would not have cause to import grains. We would be remembered as the government that put Nigeria on the path of food self-sufficiency. We would feed ourselves and export food, as well. The economy will be diversified and would be resilient to crash in oil prices in the international market.
I also want this government to be remembered as one that cleaned up the political space, especially in the area of elections. We would bequeath clean electioneering to the country, secure our land within and without, and give Nigerians a pride of place locally and internationally. We will do our best, offer honest leadership, and surely God will crown the efforts.