President Muhammadu Buhari on Wednesday said that advocates of the devaluation of Naira would have to convince him how the policy would strengthen the country’s economy, before he would approve it.
The president, who was speaking during his maiden Presidential media chat in Abuja, said his administration’s priority at the moment was getting enough money to pursue infrastructural development projects and fighting insurgency to create the environment for secure investment.
“I will not support devaluation,” the president said. “I need to be convinced that devaluation of the Naira is what Nigeria needs. Devaluation against what currency? American Dollar? Or Pound sterling? Or Yen? Dutch Mark? Or French Franc?”
The president said his view was that only developed countries could afford to talk about currency devaluation at this time of global economic downturn, as they would be able to compete among themselves and make their goods and services cheap with their currency, while still keeping their people employed and factories open.
He said Nigeria, which is currently facing tough times with declining crude oil prices, cannot risk of devaluation of its national currency, considering that the country was importing virtually everything it needs, including textiles and took pick.
“Don’t forget we had to stop some items from being imported, from rice to tooth pick. If we are exporting textiles and vehicle spare parts, or if we can develop our industries, buy our goods and services and employ more people, then we can toy with it,” he said.
He said if the country could identify its productive industries and factories that are open, and know the essential raw materials, spare parts and machinery they need to function, then they could sit with the CBN to request available foreign exchange, while allowing those that want to import rice and tooth pick to look for hard currency to buy them.
“We don’t have any hard currency now for such. The hard currency we have is hardly enough for us to carry out projects we have already entered agreements and previous administrations could not pay the counterpart funding,” he said.
He said on assumption of office, his administration had identified agriculture and solid minerals as the sectors the government would get the quickest result, by directing the people to become productive.
Apart from education and security, he pointed out that next year’s budget was structured to give priority to agricultural development, by finding ways to acquire machinery, fertilizer and other in-puts to develop the sector and get people back to the farms to enable the country feed.
The president said many countries interested in investing in the solid minerals sector were already in the country, as they had found that there was virtually no state without solid minerals in commercial quantities.
“There are countries that know about it (solid minerals). They are already here and are prepared to come and invest. Our main problem is to secure this country so that people can come in and do business without being abducted or getting killed. We want to provide power and fight the insurgency.
“We understand our problems. We have taken into confidence those who are prepared to invest in our country in spite of our challenges. All we are doing through the budget is to articulate our position. We will certainty go out by the second quarter of next year, we will get the Chinese back to do what they had to do,” he said.
On foreign exchange restriction policy, the president said although the government was aware of the difficulties Nigerians abroad were facing, especially students studying in foreign universities, it would not be reviewed.
Rather he said the government was committed to assisting those already abroad as students to resolve their challenges, assuring that the Federal Ministry of Education, the Central Bank of Nigeria and Federal Ministry of Finance would have to come together to quickly see what could be done for them.
Describing the problem associated with the policy as a “very nasty situation”, the president said it was unfortunate, insisting his administration’s priority was to ensure security, in view of the fact that one cannot manage the country if one cannot secure it.
“We have to do what the industries want to keep the people employed, produce the goods that we need and do the infrastructure, get the power and build the roads,” he stated.
On payment of the N18, 000 minimum wage to workers, President Buhari assured that the federal government would not tamper with it, saying his only worry was with the states, which are having difficulties meeting their obligations as a result of bloated bureaucracy.