It gives me great pleasure, being here at this Summit with you all today, to deliberate on our vision for transforming Nigeria into a global economic power. I am specially honoured to warmly welcome His Excellency, President Lula Da Silva, an icon of development, under whose astute leadership, Brazil emerged a global economic power. His enormous wealth of experience and outstanding leadership qualities, will undoubtedly enrich this discussion. President Dilma Roussef’s visit to Nigeria last month, provided the opportunity for Brazil and Nigeria to reinforce the cordial and friendly relations between our people and countries, through several economic and cultural agreements.
Many in this audience are aware that soon after being sworn in as President in May 2011, following an election that was adjudged Nigeria’s freest and fairest, I unveiled a Transformation Agenda. This Agenda outlined plans, policies, and programmes, to promote job creation, engender private sector-led inclusive growth, and create a feasible enabling environment for enterprises to thrive. Our ultimate goal is to have everyone occupied in development and improve the standard of living of our citizens. Central to this Transformation Agenda, is the creation of a politically stable environment as the bedrock for economic and social progress. To this end, my administration is strengthening our democratic institutions, particularly electoral bodies, such as the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). We are certain that with consistent support that will enhance their independence, our electoral body will continue to conduct free and fair elections that give credibility to our democratic superstructure. The recently concluded governorship elections in Ondo and Edo states as well as last Saturday’s local council elections in the FCT, support our optimism and hope in our future.
Our economic transformation efforts are not without major security challenges. It is important for the business and international communities to recognise that these security challenges are part of a rising global phenomenon. Terrorist groups operating within the country are increasingly linked to other groups operating internationally. Regardless of origin and linkages, domestic and international, my administration is resolutely committed to finding sustainable solutions to this threat.
The first of our three pronged approach to addressing this menace comprises the strengthening of counter-terrorism cooperation with neighbouring countries. Now, more than ever before, international partners like the UK, USA, and France are giving requisite support, and this united approach is already producing notable results. No doubt, the key to an enduring solution to this scourge ultimately lies with concerted efforts at both the domestic, sub-continental and global levels.
Our second approach is openness to political dialogue. We believe, however, that this can only realistically progress when the groups and individuals involved in acts of terror relinquish their anonymity, and come forward in sincerity to make their objectives known to the Nigerian people.
Our third approach focuses on economic inclusion. This strategy targets the disadvantaged and unemployed in our society, especially in the North East, with economic opportunities in agriculture, entrepreneurial support, graduate employment and unskilled jobs programmes. We are also developing well-articulated social safety net programmes in the health sector, specifically targeting pregnant mothers and children. Under the Al-Majiri Education Programme, we are taking out-of-school children off the streets and into the classrooms.
Corruption and issues of good Governance are also being vigorously tackled on all fronts. Nigeria was one of the first signatories to the Inter-governmental Action Group against Money Laundering in West Africa (GIABA), and I recently signed the Anti-Money Laundering Act into law. The three tiers of government now meet regularly to review and appraise progress and strategy. The recent dismissal of three judges found to have compromised their offices is a unmistakable signal of zero tolerance for corruption in the judiciary. We have reformed the hitherto corrupt fertilizer distribution programme into an electronic-wallet scheme, which now reaches each farmer directly, guaranteeing greater efficient in the delivery of inputs, in line with global best practices. Our investigation into corrupt practices in the fuel subsidy scheme has led to the recovery of large sums of money, and prosecution of suspected culprits. Through the implementation of the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS), the problem of “ghost workers” in the public service has been significantly reduced and over 100 billion naira ($630 million) saved in past year alone. Let me reiterate here, clearly and unequivocally that my administration is firmly committed to the fight against corruption, and the recovery of ill gotten wealth. We shall never relent in this undertaking.
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, against the backdrop of strong headwinds from the global economy, there are significant improvements in our economic fundamentals as a result of our reform agenda. Nigeria’s economy grew by about 6.6 per cent during 2012 and according to independent forecasts, is set to grow at a similar pace in 2013. This is, by far, one of the fastest growth rates in the world at this point in time. We have further reduced our fiscal deficit in the 2013 budget to 1.81 percent of GDP, and cut domestic borrowing. We have rebalanced our spending in favour of capital expenditure. The rate of inflation also dropped to single-digit territory at the beginning of this year. This strong fiscal and monetary policy framework and their economic outcomes, have received strong endorsement globally. At a time many advanced and emerging markets are being downgraded, Fitch, Standard & Poor, and Moody’s upgraded our sovereign credit ratings. The inclusion of Nigeria’s sovereign bonds in the emerging market bond indices of JP Morgan and Barclays also testifies to the growing confidence of the international investment community in our economy.
To underpin these macroeconomic reforms, we are creating an enabling environment for the private sector to drive the infrastructure development sector of the economy. Our port reforms are aimed at ensuring efficiency in the handling of ports and related businesses. Our target is to achieve 48 hours clearance time for cargo. Such reforms are historically difficult, nevertheless, the current reduction of clearance time for problem-free cargo from 39 to 7 days is a good sign that we are making progress. We shall continue to work with all stakeholders to make our ports more competitive and attractive for business.
In the Power sector, though the engineers are still hard at work in the field, many individuals and businesses are already experiencing dividends of our reforms in power supply. The privatization of our electricity generation and distribution companies is in progress, with significant foreign investors’ participation. We have also established cost-reflective tariffs to ensure that investors enjoy an attractive rate of return and grow their businesses. Power will not be solved overnight, but we are at least assured that the most competent and painstaking solutions are being progressively applied, once and for all.
Our railroads and major airports are also being comprehensively renovated. The 1,126 km Lagos-Kano rail passenger and haulage service is now running smoothly, after rehabilitation by this administration. We are also working on the Port Harcourt—Maiduguri lines as well as the Ajaokuta—Warri lines. The construction of new standard gauge Kaduna – Abuja line is at an advanced stage, while the contract for the Lagos – Ibadan line has been awarded. Construction work is ongoing for the Lagos – Benin – Aba – Calabar rail. Major rehabilitation work is also ongoing in over eleven airports. The construction of five new terminals will commence soon with support from the Chinese.
Reinforced by our key international development agencies, we are reforming our overall business environment. Monthly monitoring and statistical reviews are now in place in accessing, the progress made in streamlining the ease of doing business in Nigeria. According to UNCTAD, as a result of this progress and our attractive large market, Nigeria became the largest destination for investment in Africa in 2011. I am convinced that once the Petroleum Industry Bill is passed and oil companies are certain of the framework guiding their operations, investments in Oil and Gas will accelerate, further augmenting our Foreign Direct Investment.
Another fundamental goal of our reform agenda is the diversification of our economy away from the oil sector into agriculture, housing, manufacturing, creative industries and other sectors that generate jobs and grow the economy. In the agricultural, significant changes are underway nationwide. Encouraged by our reforms, small, medium, and large scale farmers alike, are imbibing an increased business-minded reorientation in their outlook and practices. By applying a value chain approach, we have accelerated the production of local staples such as rice and cassava. Our goal of adding 20 million metric tonnes of food to the domestic food supply is very much on course. At the end of 2012, over 8 million metric tonnes was supplied.
In housing, we are setting up a Mortgage Refinance Company to help bridge the housing gap, and boost the number of mortgages to 200,000 within the next few years, from its current 20,000. In manufacturing, we are intensifying backward integration by giving incentives to investors in different value chains, especially those in which Nigeria has a competitive advantage, like sugar, textiles, and food processing.
In view of the high rate of unemployment in the country, particularly amongst our youths, we are focused on job creation. We established the Youth Enterprise with Innovation in Nigeria (YouWiN!) a programme to support talented young entrepreneurs in setting up or expanding their businesses, and in turn employing other Nigerians. By our estimate, this scheme will create at least 80,000 jobs over a period of 3 years. We are also creating about 370,000 jobs under the Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Programme.
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, the Transformation Agenda is about consolidating the present and providing our young people with a brighter future. It is about creating jobs, creating wealth, and ensuring a strong safety net for those being left behind. This is an onerous task that requires the support of all Nigerians. We have laid a solid foundation for our international partners to come in and fully support our efforts through investments. I can assure you that my administration is firmly committed to the full implementation of this agenda. The ongoing reforms would not only help us attain our long term development objectives as a nation but also engender a better and more fulfilled life for all Nigerians and in doing so, help build our international image.
I thank you and wish you all fruitful deliberations.
Opening Remarks By His Excellency President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, Gcfr, At The Economist Magazine’s Nigeria Summit On Tuesday, 18th March, 2013.