President Muhammadu Buhari on Monday said he was pleased with the progress being witnessed in all sectors of the economy.
He expressed gladness that things were looking up after two years of what he called serious hard work.
According to a statement by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina, the President spoke while receiving briefing from the Minister of Budget and National Planning, Senator Udo Udoma, the Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, and Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Mr. Godwin Emefiele
The statement read, “For almost two hours, President Muhammadu Buhari on Monday received briefing from the Minister of Budget and National Planning, Senator Udoma Udo Udoma, the Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, and Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mr. Godwin Emefiele, after which a delighted President declared that he was pleased with the progress being made on different fronts."
“The ministers and CBN governor updated the President on the improving state of the economy, implementation of the 2017 Budget, preparation for the 2018 Budget, revenue strategies, combined cost reduction, and debt management."
“Also discussed were monetary policy strategies and their economic impact, among others.
“President Buhari, while reminding the ministers and CBN governor that reviving the economy was one of the major planks on which the campaign of his party, the All Progressives Congress, was based, expressed gladness that things were looking up after two years of serious work."
“Urging them to keep at it, the President noted that the main aim of government was to bring succor to Nigerians across all walks of life.”
But at a different forum on Monday, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, lamented that Nigeria’s economy had been destroyed by reckless and excessive importation.
According to him, the high rate of food importation into the country was responsible for the current economic challenges.
He stated this in a keynote address delivered at the first Cocoa Summit held in Abuja on Monday with the theme, “Cocoa, a Strategic Commodity for National Development.”
Ogbeh, who represented President Muhammadu Buhari at the event, spoke in his capacity first as a minister before he read the President’s address.
Speaking as a minister, he said that the time had come to reposition the cocoa industry to become a major foreign exchange earner for the country.
About $22bn is spent annually by Nigerians on imported foods.
“Consuming this cocoa at home is more valuable than exporting them when the world market decides how much to pay us," he said.
“The cocoa industry in the world is averagely about $80bn per annum and the amount that is reaching the farmers is just around $5bn. So we labor, they process it overseas, make all the profit, and we go over there to buy chocolates."
“Let’s get a little more nationalistic in our approach to development. We import too much, we have destroyed this economy by excessive and without apologies, reckless importation.”
Presenting the address of Buhari, the minister said the cocoa industry had suffered neglect as a result of the country’s over-reliance on crude oil revenue.
For instance, before now, the minister said cocoa was the second largest foreign exchange earner for Nigeria after crude oil, generating over two million jobs directly and indirectly along its value chain.
Sadly, he said the over-reliance on crude oil had led to a decline in the country’s annual production from 420,000 metric tonnes in the 1960s to 192,000 metric tonnes in 2015.
The consequence of this, he noted, was that Nigeria had dropped from the fourth position in global cocoa production to the seventh position.
He explained that the summit would be used to address the current drop in cocoa production so as to put the country back to its prime position.
“There is no doubt that this summit will serve as a veritable tool for key stakeholders in the cocoa sub-sector to interact in a frank and pragmatic manner to discuss the systemic, institutional, and regulatory obstacles to the development of the sector," Mr. Ogbeh said.
“It is my expectation that this summit would proffer simple, practical, and result-oriented solutions that will boost the consumption, marketing, and growth of the subsector and ensure that Nigeria reclaims its position among cocoa producing nations of the world.”
Ogbeh said while the Federal Government understood the need for domestic producers to operate and compete favorably with their counterparts from other countries, efforts were being made to improve the country’s business environment for both local and foreign investors.
He added that the Federal Government was also putting in place measures to encourage domestic consumption as well as boost non-oil exports.
Ogbeh said the country was long overdue to make the shift from being primarily an exporter of commodities and raw materials to becoming an industrial economy.
In his address at the event, the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Dr. Okechukwu Enelamah, said that the ministry would work assiduously to improve the cocoa value chain to stimulate industrialization.
He said the summit would provide local and foreign investors an opportunity to form strategic alliances that would enable them to key into the agenda of government for the sector.
But the former President of the Association of National Accountants of Nigeria, Dr. Sam Nzekwe, stated that the recent fall of the naira against the United States dollar does not speak well of the Nigerian economy, despite claims by President Buhari.
He argued that the country still had a rough road to go when it comes to economic recovery, adding that the economy must be diversified if Nigeria must make significant progress, particularly in foreign exchange earnings.
“I don’t know from what point of view he (Buhari) is talking, but my stand is based on what I’ve read today (Monday) in the newspapers that forex supply has decreased, and as a result of that the naira is now exchanged at N370 per dollar. Before now, it has been said that the gradual improvement we noticed in the economy was due to forex availability," he said.
“But this does not mean that the economy was diversified in order to get forex from other sources apart from crude oil. So the drop in forex supply may not be healthy for the economy at this time because people cannot get it again as it used to be some weeks ago.”
“On the issue of the budget, nobody can tell its actual percentage performance as we speak and this is because we don’t have the data. These are areas we should be looking at, what is the level of performance of the budget before we can adequately draw conclusions on the economy?" Mr. Nzekwe added.
“Again, I really don’t know from what angle the government is looking at when it says the economy is picking up, but from what we are seeing, I will say we still have a rough road to go.”
Also, the Labour Party has said the President is wrong to say the economy is doing better now.
It said the President was probably assessing his health, which the opposition party said was improving.
The National Chairman of the party, Alhaji Abdulkadir Salam, told one of our correspondents that the state of the economy was bad and that the President did not get it right.
"The President was probably speaking about his own health, which he thinks has improved, and not the Nigerian economy. The President is not in a position to say that the economy has improved. When last did he go out of the Villa and when last did he interact with the common man?" Mr. Salam said.
“I’m sure he was not talking about the economy where the cost of living has skyrocketed, unemployment has reached unbearable level while inflation is also beyond what we can bear.
“So, help us tell him that he is wrong. He is not sure of the economy. He was speaking about his health and n0t the economy we are all seeing now,” he lamented.
Meanwhile, a former President of the Nigerian Economic Society, Prof. Olu Ajakaiye, in an interview with The PUNCH, said the country was recovering from the recession.
“There is a sense in which what the President said is true. If you look at the National Bureau of Statistics data, you will see that the country is recovering from the recession. Nigerians can now take the supply of gas and petrol for granted. The challenge we had with Forex appears to have been handled," he said.
“On the fiscal side, there is a considerable amount of borrowing going on but one thing is that they have been trying to borrow low-interest loans from foreign sources. This will ensure that the cost of borrowing does not escalate and that the private sector is not crowded out. The danger, however, is in the medium to long term. Interest rates in those countries can rise."
“The outstanding challenge is unemployment, but they have been trying to address that through social investments that are directed at reviving the economy and the efforts are bearing fruits. However, what the ordinary man on the street is looking for is a job.”