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Atiku copied Buhari’s economic blueprint

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Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed has said that the economic blueprint recently unveiled by Peoples Democratic Party’s presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar was a “crude attempt at copying all that the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari has done’’.

Alhaji Lai Mohammed who expressed shock that an opposition party that has on several occasions criticized Buhari’s policies is allegedly adopting it for its campaign, averred that the blueprint is a poor version of the present government’s economic strides.

TEXT OF THE PRESS CONFERENCE ADDRESSED BY THE HON MINISTER OF INFORMATION AND CULTURE, ALHAJI LAI MOHAMMED, AT THE NATIONAL PRESS CENTRE IN
ABUJA ON THURSDAY, SEPT. 22ND 2022

Good morning gentlemen

Last week, the presidential candidate of the main opposition Peoples
Democratic Party (PDP), former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, spoke on his Economic Blueprint at an event in Lagos. Let me say, straightaway, that the so-called blueprint is a crude attempt at copying all that the Administration of President Muhammadu Buhari has done, especially in the areas of job creation, infrastructure financing, relationship with the private sector, rejuvenation of the power sector, poverty reduction, debt management and the overall management of the economy.

I will give details in the course of this press conference.

2. But it is more shocking that an opposition that has condemned all
that this Administration has done would turn around to weave its
so-called Economic Blueprint around the same things that are currently being done by the same Administration. This press conference, therefore, is aimed at exposing the hypocrisy inherent in an opposition that condemns an Administration while also showcasing a blueprint that is nothing but a poor version of what’s on ground.

3. Let’s start with infrastructure. The former Vice President said,
in his Economic Blueprint, that ‘rebuilding infrastructure and
reducing infrastructure deficit will enhance the carrying capacity of
the economy and unleash growth and wealth creation’. No one
understands this better than this Administration. Even our worst
critics will agree that our record on infrastructure development is
next to none in the history of this country. Across the country, we
have constructed 8,352.94 kilometres of roads, rehabilitated 7,936.05
kilometres of roads, constructed 299 bridges, maintained 312 bridges
and created 302,039 jobs in the process. We have also delivered houses in 34 states of the Federation under the first phase of the National Housing Project. We were able to achieve these through a combination of budget increase and innovative infrastructure financing methods.

Whereas we met a budget of N18.132 billion for the roads component of the Federal Ministry of Works when we assumed office in 2015, the
budget for the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing increased
exponentially to N260.082 billion in 2016; N274.252 billion in 2017,
N356.773 billion in 2018, N223.255 billion in 2019, N227.963 billion
in 2020 and N241.864 billion in 2021. Therefore, for anyone using this as a campaign stunt, without acknowledging what we have done so far, is cheap and disingenuous.

4. The former Vice President also promised to ‘break the jinx’ in
infrastructure financing. Really? We state, unequivocally, that the
worst jinx in infrastructure financing was the PDP Administration from 1999 to 2015. Indeed, the Buhari Administration has long broken that jinx, leveraging on such innovative schemes as the Presidential Infrastructure Development Fund (which is being used to finance the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, 2nd Niger Bridge and the
Abuja-Kaduna-Zaria-Kano road), Sukuk (which has delivered a total of 1,881 kilometres of roads between 2017 and 2020) and the Road Infrastructure Tax Credit Scheme (for the construction and rehabilitation of Lokoja-Obajana-Kabba-Ilorin road, reconstruction of Apapa Wharf road, construction of Apapa-Oworonsoki-Ojota
road and the Bonny-Bodo road with bridge). The NNPC-funded part of the Road Infrastructure Tax Credit Scheme has also delivered nine roads in North-Central, three in North-East, two in North-West, two in South-East, three in South-South and two in South-West for a total of 1,804 kilometres of roads.

5. In the area of power, ex-Vice President Atiku said ‘investments in
additional generation capacity are futile without consideration for
the complementary transmission and distribution infrastructure to
wheel the additional energy’. He then promised to propose legislation
to, among others, give states the power to generate, transmit and
distribute electricity. It is apparent that Alhaji Atiku has either
not heard of the Siemens partnership with the Federal Government under the Presidential Power Initiative, the most ambitious project yet in the efforts to improve the seemingly-intractable power sector on which the PDP frittered over 16 billion dollars to procure nothing but darkness. The Nigeria-Siemens partnership was consummated with the signing of the Implementation Agreement on July 22nd 2019.

The three-phase project will deliver 7,000MW in the first phase, 11,000MW in the second phase and 25,000MW in the third phase. This will positively impact job creation, boost investor confidence, accelerate economic growth and reduce cost of doing business. For those who may be in doubt, let me say that this project is a game changer. As you may have read, electricity equipment ordered under the project have started arriving in the country. When they are installed, there will be a major improvement in the supply of electricity across then country. It is also amazing that His Excellency the former VP has not heard or read that the Senate has passed the electricity bill 2022 that would allow states to generate and distribute power as well as solve the sector’s challenges.

6. Alhaji Atiku also spoke on poverty reduction, which he said would
be the ‘centrepiece of our economic development agenda’. Could it be
that His Excellency has not heard about our National Social Investment Programme (NSIP), the unprecedented programme that is directly and indirectly impacting the lives of poor Nigerians and creating jobs, especially for the youths, through four clusters, namely: the N-Power Programme, the Government Enterprise and Empowerment Programme (GEEP), the National Home-Grown School Feeding System (NHGSFP) and the Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) Programme. From 2016 to date, the NSIP, which has received commendation from many international agencies, has empowered 1 million youths while an additional 500,000 are undergoing various training under the N-Power programme; enrolled 1,632,480 households in the Conditional Cash Transfer Programme and
gave productive cash grants of N150,000 each to 4,234 people. The NSIP has also stimulated unprecedented enrolments in public primary schools through the National Home-Grown School Feeding Programme that is feeding 9.8 million children, while there are 2,424,253 beneficiaries of the GEEP loans under TraderMoni, MarketMoni and FarmerMoni, in addition to a total of 1,142,783 individuals who have registered to benefit from GEEP 2.0 under the three loan products. These programmes represent a practical demonstration of the progressive achievement of the President’s target of lifting 100 million Nigerians out of poverty by 2030.

7. The former Vice President told his audience that if elected, his
Administration would ‘establish a strong partnership (with the private sector) in investing in infrastructure, creating jobs, income and in the fight against poverty’. Let’s inform His Excellency that the
Buhari Administration’s ”warm handshake” with the private sector has delivered and is delivering an unprecedented number of projects,
including the 650,000bpd Dangote Refinery, Dangote Fertilizer plant,
Lekki Deep Sea Port, BUA Cement, the 5,000bpd Waltersmith Modular Refinery in Imo State; the 2,500bpd Duport Modular Refinery/Energy Park in Edo State; the 2,000bpd Atlantic Modular Refinery in Bayelsa State; the 12,000bpd Azikel Modular Refinery also in Bayelsa; the five LPG Bottling plants and six LPG depots in 10 northern states and Abuja, the 48,000 L/D base oil production plant in Rivers and the 10,000 Metric Tonnes Per Day methanol production plant in Bayelsa, just to mention a few. These refineries and other projects are the result of a ”warm handshake” between the Nigerian Content Development and Monitoring Board and private sector actors. The private sector is also involved in the ongoing infrastructure development through the Road Infrastructure Tax
Credit Scheme, which I mentioned earlier.

8. Shockingly, the former Vice President seems to know little or
nothing about the Buhari Administration’s unprecedented efforts to
make fertilizer available at affordable prices to Nigerian farmers,
and how global developments have negatively impacted on the price of fertilizer today, when he said ‘farmers now pay 200% more for a bag of fertilizer – if they see it – than they did in 2020’. This is an
unfortunate statement that reflected the total lack of understanding
of the issues at stake. The Presidential Fertilizer Initiative (PFI),
which was flagged-off in Dec 2016 by President Muhammed Buhari, aimed to support the domestic blending of NPK 20:10:10 fertilizer in order to reduce the challenges of the Nigerian farmers. The PFI delivered on key outcomes, including over 30 million bags of 50kg NPK 20:10:10 equivalent during the project period and price reduction on fertilizer from over N10,000 to under N5,500. Over its 5-year run, the programme succeeded in increasing the number of blending plants from only 4 to 72 through the rejuvenation of 68 moribund blending plants, creating hundreds of thousands of indirect jobs and thousands of direct jobs in the process. But a number of factors, which are beyond this Administration, led to the current situation in which the cost of fertilizer rose to between 110 and 150% (That’s between N15,000 for NPK 20:10:10 and N23,000 for NPK 15:15:15). These factors include a three-fold increase in the cost of natural gas, a primary feedstock in fertilizer production, post-COVID-19 shutdowns of key raw materials manufacturing plants,
sanctions imposed on Belarus and Russia, occasioned by the war between Russia and Ukraine, and the impact of significant domestic inflation on global and in-country logistics and transportation of fertilizer raw materials. It is also pertinent to recall that President Buhari had negotiated a fixed price for Phosphate at $290/MT and a fixed discount of $15/MT for Potash from the government of Morocco and Russia, respectively. The Presidential Fertilizer Initiative purchased raw materials at these prices for four years, between 2017 and 2020. From 2021 however, upon the restructuring of PFI, raw material purchases were undertaken at globally-traded prices. Phosphate prices increased 32% from $290/MT in 2017 to $1,255.0/MT in 2022, Potash prices rose by 364% moving from $256.0/MT in 2017 to $1,187.5/MT in 2022, while Urea prices rose by 246% from about $300/MT in 2018 to $1,037.5/MT in 2022. Under this development, no magic can keep the price of fertilizer at what it was before the astronomical increase in the cost of production.

9. In his presentation, the former Vice President said ‘Nigeria under
the APC-led government has consistently run on budget deficits since
it came to power in 2015’, and that these ‘budget deficits are often
above the 3% threshold permissible under the Fiscal Responsibility
Law’. This is a misrepresentation of the facts. The truth is that
Nigeria has been running on budget deficits since 2009 (not since
2015), even when oil prices were over US$100 per barrel. You will
recall that oil prices fell significantly from mid-2014, resulting in
the country’s economic recession in 2016. The urgency to recover from the recession through an expansionary fiscal policy resulted in the continued budget deficits. However, in the last three years, the
deficit level exceeded the 3% threshold stipulated in the Fiscal
Responsibility Act 2007. Again, this is understandable because shortly after the Nigerian economy recovered from recession, it was hit by the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. What His Excellency failed to tell his audience is that the Fiscal Responsibility Act, Section 12(2), allows for the budget deficit to exceed the 3% threshold if, in the opinion of the President, there is a clear and present threat to
national security or the sovereignty of the Federal Republic of
Nigeria. Gentlemen, you will agree that the Covid-19 pandemic
triggered an existential threat in all economies of the world, Nigeria
inclusive. Though Nigeria quickly recovered from the economic
recession, it is now facing the effects of the Russia-Ukraine war, the lingering impact of COVID-19, and elevated inflation in most economies, prompting monetary tightening, with the adverse effects on capital inflow to emerging markets economies.

10. While Nigeria may be facing economic challenges, the former Vice President’s pronouncement that the future of the country’s economy is ‘bleak’ is sheer scaremongering. The country’s economic outlook is not bleak. Instead, the economy has been resilient, having recovered from two recessions within five years – in 2016 and 2020.

The Nigerian economy sustained its recovery from the 2020 recession for the 7th consecutive quarter, growing by 3.54% in real terms in Q2 2022, from 3.11% in Q1 2022. Many sectors recorded positive economic growth, reflecting the effective implementation of policy measures prescribed in the Economic Sustainability Plan (ESP), Annual Budgets, Finance Acts and National Development Plan (NDP).

11. On debt, the former Vice President said ‘we will review the
country’s debt strategy by focusing on concessional and
semi-concessional sources with lower interest rates and relatively
long-term maturity.’ Again, that is already being done by this
Administration. In order to manage debt service cost and reduce
refinancing risk, the thrust of the strategy is that this
Administration will maximize concessional borrowing from multilateral and bilateral sources. In addition, new borrowing in the domestic and international capital markets would be for long tenors. Concessional borrowings are, in any case, long-term loans. To confirm the commitment to the above strategy and their implementation, over 58% of the External Debt Stock as at March 31, 2022 was from multilateral and bilateral sources while short term domestic debt was less than 22% of the Total Domestic Debt Stock as at the same date.

In any case, the Lagos-Ibadan, the Abuja-Kaduna and the Warri-Itakpe standard gauge rail lines were constructed with concessional loans, just like the ongoing rehabilitation of the Port-Harcourt-Maiduguri narrow gauge line. Same applies to the new airport terminals in Abuja, Lagos, Kano, Enugu and Port Harcourt. So, the former Vice President has not said anything new.

12. And on security, all that the leader of a party that frittered the
money meant for the purchase of weapons and platforms for the military on frivolous activities could say is ‘we will take tough and difficult decisions on security matters without fear or favour.’ Really? While they lost confidence in our military and opted instead for mercenaries, President Buhari, who has never wavered in his belief in the capability of our fighting forces, steadily and surely re-equipped the military, which today is decimating the bandits and terrorists that had held sway in some parts of the country, thus restoring security.

13. Gentlemen, let me say that I am not really very surprised that His
Excellency the former Vice President only reeled out, in his so-called
Economic Blueprint, what we have been doing in the past seven years
plus in infrastructure development, infrastructure financing, poverty
reduction, power reform, job creation, relationship with the private
sector, debt management and the overall management of the economy. That’s what you get from someone who leaves the country after losing an election, only to parachute into town when another election is due.

14. It is a measure of how much this Administration has achieved in
all sectors that the best the opposition could do is to seek to copy
what the Administration has been doing. Yet, the opposition – in its
desperation to get power – has continued to deny and derogate the
Administration’s achievements. For the record, there is nothing we
have said today on the achievements of this Administration that we
haven’t said before. No amount of deceit, misrepresentation,
scaremongering, distortion of facts or derogation can subtract from
the visible achievements of the Buhari Administration.

15. An Administration that engaged in massive infrastructure
development despite paucity of resources, an Administration that
introduced the most expansive and effective poverty reduction and job
creation policy in the history of this country, an Administration that
re-equipped the military to tackle daunting security challenges
instead of resorting to the use of mercenaries, an Administration that is moving the nation from darkness to light by embarking on the
most-ambitious electricity project yet, an Administration that is
partnering with the private sector to tackle the challenges facing the
nation, and an Administration that borrowed to rebuild rather than for consumption should not be denigrated by an opposition that lacks originality, and an opposition that is aping a government it derides.

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