For one who instinctively joined the army to escape family pressures to take a wife and start a family over six decades ago, Nigeria’s outgoing president, Muhammadu Buhari, has had a fairy tale of a life. Not only did he rise to the pinnacle of his chosen military career as a general, President Buhari is one of only two leaders who have had the privilege of ruling Nigeria twice in their lives. Like General Olusegun Obasango before him, President Buhari enjoyed two full terms of eight years during his second service journey to father-land.
Although, many Nigerians may have reasons to x-ray the Buhari Administration variedly, no one can deny the Nigerian leader the right to rate his leadership in his own lenses.
How have you coped with the spate of exogenous, negative headwinds which made economic management difficult for your government?
It has not been easy, but we have been able to weather the storm through hard work, focus, and introducing interventionist measures. We prepared the 2023 Budget amidst a very challenging world economy weakened by the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, high inflation, high crude oil prices resulting in a huge cost of PMS Subsidy and negative spill-over effects of the Russia-Ukraine war.
Many economies around the world are currently contending with fiscal instability, slow growth, food crisis, and high-interest rates. Like many other countries, our economy faces headwinds from low revenues, high inflation, exchange rate depreciation and insecurity.
Our interventionist and reflationary measures have been very effective and impactful. Nigeria’s real Gross Domestic Product grew by 3.54 per cent in the second quarter of 2022, marking the seventh consecutive quarter of growth.
We must, however, continue to work towards achieving much higher levels of growth, especially given our high population growth rate, so that the average Nigerian can truly feel the impact of planned economic growth.
We are currently implementing several skills development and work opportunity programmes to enhance the employability of our youths and tackle the troubling level of youth unemployment.
Your administration prides itself on fidelity to, and impressive implementation of budgets. Are you satisfied with the results?
It is quite clear that we have taken the budgeting process and cycle more seriously than any other administration in Nigeria’s recent history. Implementation of the 2022 budget, for instance, commenced on the first day of that year. It was, however, necessary to forward an amended budget proposal based on a benchmark oil price of 73 US Dollars per barrel, oil production of 1.60 million barrels per day, and an exchange rate of 410.15 Naira to US Dollar.
The 2023-2025 Medium Term Expenditure Framework and Fiscal Strategy Paper sets out the parameters for the 2023 Budget: oil price benchmark of 70 US Dollars per barrel; daily oil production estimate of 1.69 million barrels (inclusive of condensates of 300,000 to 400,000 barrels per day); exchange rate of 435.57 Naira per US Dollar; and projected GDP growth rate of 3.75 percent and 17.16 percent inflation rate.
Despite the hectic schedule we have had with the elections, we have tried to keep within the budget as the year rolls on.
This administration remains resolutely committed to our goals of improving the living standard of our people and effective delivery of public services. Although no single government can solve all the problems of a country during its own tenure, I have no doubt you share our aspiration that the 2023 transition budget is designed to address critical issues and lay a solid foundation for the incoming administration.
Can you give us a brief highlight on the priority areas of the budget, which you obviously will not be superintending to its end?
The 2023 Budget is the eighth and final budget of this administration. It reflects the serious challenges currently facing our country, key reforms necessary to address them, and imperatives to achieve higher, more inclusive, diversified and sustainable growth.
The expenditure policy of the government in 2023 is designed to achieve the strategic objectives of the National Development Plan 2021 to 2025, including macroeconomic stability; human development; food security; improved business environment; energy sufficiency; improving transport infrastructure; and promoting industrialization focusing on Small and Medium-Scale Enterprises.
Against the backdrop of the challenging global and domestic economic environment, we must strengthen our macroeconomic environment and address subsisting challenges as a country. The 2023 Appropriation, thus, is a Budget of Fiscal Sustainability and Transition. Our principal objective in 2023 is to maintain financial viability and ensure a smooth transition to the incoming administration.
The Federal Government proposed a 20.51 trillion Naira expenditure for 2023, and we project our total fiscal operations to result in a deficit of 10.78 trillion Naira, which is 4.78 percent of estimated GDP. While this is slightly beyond the three percent threshold set by the Fiscal Responsibility Act 2007, we need to surpass the threshold to address the security issues the country is facing.
We plan to finance the deficit mainly by new borrowings totaling 8.80 trillion Naira, 206.18 billion Naira from Privatization Proceeds and 1.77 trillion Naira draw-downs on bilateral and multilateral loans secured for specific development projects and programmes.
Over time, we have resorted to borrowing to finance our fiscal gaps. However, this is illogical, given we have been using loans to finance critical development projects and programmes aimed at further improving our economic environment and enhancing the delivery of public services to our people. As you are aware, we have witnessed two economic recessions within the period of this administration. A direct result of this is the significant decline in our revenue generating capacity.
In both cases, we had to spend our way out of recession, resulting in higher public debt and debt service. It is unlikely that our recovery from each of the two recessions would have been as fast without the sustained government expenditure funded by debt. So, we are borrowing responsibly, because our economy is robust enough to bear the burden.
In a recent Open Budget Survey, Nigeria ranked as the third best or most improved country in the world, matching the global average score in budget transparency and exceeding the global average in public participation.
How can you justify much of the borrowings and huge government spending?
It is common knowledge that Nigeria requires a huge outlay of resources to close the current infrastructure gaps and boost its economic performance. Over the past few years, this administration has implemented several priority projects. Our focus has been on the completion of key road and rail projects, and the effective implementation of power sector projects. We have also focused on the provision of clean water;
construction of irrigation infrastructure and dams across the country. We have equally executed critical health projects such as upgrading Primary Health Care Centres across the six geopolitical zones. Regarding the power sector in particular, we have advanced the implementation of a number of power generation, transmission, and distribution projects as well as off-grid solutions. All these are aimed at achieving the objective of maximizing the supply of power by 2025.
In government’s determination to ramp up grid electricity supply to at least 7,000 megawatts by 2024, we procured purpose-built critical power equipment under the Presidential Power Initiative with the German company, Siemens as we promised. These projects will have multiplier effects on the economy.
Under the Road Infrastructure Tax Credit Scheme, we have undertaken the construction and rehabilitation of about two thousand kilometres of roads and bridges, nationwide, which are being financed by the grant of tax credits to investing private companies.
As I mentioned earlier, we have made appreciable progress in the rehabilitation and reconstruction of key road networks like the Lagos – Ibadan Expressway, Abuja-Kaduna-Kano Expressway and East-West Road in the Niger Delta. Work has also reached completion stage on the Apapa – Oworonsoki Expressway, Loko-Oweto Bridge and the Second Niger Bridge. We hope to commission some of these projects before the end of our tenure. Furthermore, we awarded several contracts to rehabilitate, reconstruct and construct major arterial roads to reduce the hardship to commuters and increase economic activity.
Surely, you couldn’t have achieved all this without concern for good governance. How would you appraise your administration’s commitment to good governance?
One significant challenge this administration met at inception was the inability of successive governments to institutionalize reforms to ensure their sustainability. We inherited an archaic set of corporate, banking and capital market laws; draft but un-enacted bills to reform the critical petroleum sector; an unimplemented Oronsaye White Paper to reform our civil service, amongst others.
We were consequently devoted to our pursuit of Good Governance and Fighting Corruption Reforms at the outset of this government. To leave the future administration with a better legacy than the one we encountered, we concentrated on the largely ignored field of legal reform.
I am happy to report that the revenue collection and expenditure management reforms we are implementing are yielding positive results, with recent significant improvements in non-oil revenue performance. However, while we were implementing revenue administration reforms, we also worked diligently to improve collection efficiency.
Regarding personnel costs, we have extended the coverage of the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS) to all ministries, departments and agencies(MDAs) to automate personnel records and the process by which salaries are paid and eliminate the incidence of ghost workers. The system is currently being reviewed to enhance its functionality and applicability to MDAs in the different sectors of the economy.
We cannot help but keep hammering on Nigeria’s security situation, given its direct relevance and impact on the polity and economy. It is perhaps the number one priority of your entire service to the nation. Is that correct?
You are very correct. There can be no country or economy without security.
As our security agencies continue to make the country proud, we must keep assisting our patriotic forces by providing much-needed community intelligence. It is our collective responsibility to ensure that Nigeria remains safe and peaceful for us all. Therefore, we have a duty and obligation to support our troops and intelligence agencies by being alert and reporting anything suspicious.
I am glad that the fight against insurgency in the North-East region has continually recorded very clear wins in the past few years. The Federal Government and the Borno State government have started the journey of returning Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) to their ancestral homes earlier taken by the insurgents. Also, over 82,000 insurgents with their families have surrendered to the Nigerian military. A number of surrendered insurgents are currently being processed by the rehabilitation programme code-named Operation Safe Corridor. The fight against banditry, kidnapping and other crimes in the North-West and other regions is gaining momentum and showing very clear results, one of which is the resumption of Train Service along the Kaduna to Abuja corridor.
The government remains firmly committed to the security of lives, properties and investments across the country. Accordingly, defence and internal security have continued to be accorded top priority. We have sustained efforts to properly equip and motivate our valiant personnel in the armed forces, police and paramilitary units.
This administration has significantly curtailed insecurity, especially banditry and kidnapping. We redoubled our efforts to ensure we leave a legacy of a peaceful, prosperous and secured nation.
Considering the current challenging situation in our country, we must continue to cooperate and collaborate to ensure fiscal sustainability, macroeconomic stability and smooth transition to the incoming administration.
Still on security, what have you done to improve the Police Force which over time has had taken the brunt of the dislocations in the polity as reflected in the unfortunate Endsars eruptions?
In the aftermath of the EndSars, our administration took heed and instituted the ongoing Police Reform programme based on a new Presidential Vision for Policing in Nigeria. This new vision is framed in a clear road map that transcends the tenure of this administration and it is predicated on six principles: Building Trust and Legitimacy; Leadership, Accountability and Oversight; Technology and digital media; Community Policing and Crime Reduction; Officers Training and Education; Funding, Officers’ Welfare, Wellness and Safety.
This reform programme is very much in its foundational phase but has recorded noteworthy successes in improving police welfare and their emoluments. Other gains have been the ongoing training of 500 police cadet trainers to enable a better training regimen for the 2022 first batch of the 10,000 new cadets with an additional 10,000 set for 2023. In support of these reforms, we have been providing new materials for the Nigeria Police to steadily improve on its constitutional responsibility of enforcing law and order, protecting lives and property, as well as street-level peace and security.
On the international scene, it is reckoned that the COVID-19 pandemic took the world by surprise and devastated many countries. What are the lessons learnt?
Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic ripped across national borders like a toxic whirlwind, leaving in its wake a legacy of pain and loss.
Happily, we also witnessed an incredible level of innovation and creativity from those who devised treatments and vaccines.
Partnerships and international cooperation underpinned these laudable achievements. We have also seen the bravery, care, and endurance of health professionals at every corner of the globe.
I am happy to note that in Nigeria, our healthcare agencies were able to form effective local management and engaged international partnerships with multinational initiatives like COVAX and private groups such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. These efforts helped mitigate the impact of the pandemic and we were mercifully spared the images of overwhelmed hospitals, overworked healthcare personnel and high mortality which sadly we saw elsewhere.
With COVID-19, we saw very clearly how states tried to meet the challenge of a threat that could not be contained within national borders. The results were mixed; but at its best, cooperation among stakeholders was outstanding. It facilitated solutions that saved countless lives and eased the huge burden of human suffering.
The Russia – Ukraine War has been on for more than a year now. What is your view on how to resolve a conflict whose impact is disrupting global politico-economic balance and stability?
We are now more severely tested by these enduring and new global challenges, paramount among which are conflicts increasingly being driven by non-state actors, the proliferation of Small Arms and Light Weapons, terrorism, violent extremism, malignant use of technology, climate change, irregular migration, and disparities in opportunities for improved standards of living.
Despite the challenging international environment, the United Nations has proved that it can be strong when the will of its members is harnessed for positive collective action. The guiding principles of this extraordinary institution are the promotion of peace and security, development and human rights. Latest in a chain of events challenging these principles is the Ukraine conflict which has already created strains that are perhaps unprecedented for a generation.
Such a conflict will have adverse consequences for us all, hindering our capacity to work together to resolve conflicts elsewhere, especially in Africa, the Middle-East and Asia. Indeed, the ongoing war in Ukraine is making it more difficult to tackle the perennial issues that feature each year in the deliberations of the United Nations, such as nuclear disarmament, the right of the Rohingya refugees to return to their homes in Myanmar, and the Palestinians’ legitimate aspirations for statehood and reduction of inequalities within and amongst nations.
The danger of escalation of the war in Ukraine further justifies Nigeria’s resolute calls for a nuclear-free world and a universal Arms Trade Treaty, which are also necessary measures to prevent global human disasters. In this regard, we must find quick means to reach consensus on the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty with related commitments by nuclear weapon states.
As you wind up your administration’s tenure in service of your country, what are your memories of Nigeria’s democracy?
The peaceful outcome of the 2023 general elections will go down on record as one of the proudest achievements of my administration in addition to our neutrality in the conduct of the elections. Free and fair elections are the only principles that give credibility to our democracy, because the subversion of the will of the people undermines democracy itself.
The elections were so transparent that even members of my own party were unseated. At no point did I interfere with the process in order to give unfair advantage to anyone. I’m proud that I created a level playing field for all contestants regardless of party affiliation in order to produce a fair outcome for all.
The election was Africa’s largest democratic exercise. In a region that has undergone backsliding and military coups in recent years, this election demonstrates democracy’s continued relevance and capability to deliver for the people it serves.
Within Nigeria, the results reveal democracy’s ripening in our country. Never has the electoral map shifted so drastically in one cycle. In the presidential elections, states in all regions across the nation changed colour. Some amongst you may have noticed my home state amongst them. The winning candidate did not carry his own home state either. That happens during a competitive election. Votes and those that cast them cannot be taken for granted. Each must be earned. Competition is good for our democracy. There is no doubt the people’s decision has been rendered in the results we look at today.
That is not to say the exercise was without fault. For instance, there were technical problems with electronic transmission of the results. Of course, there will be areas that need work to bring further transparency and credibility to the voting procedure. However, none of the issues registered represent a challenge to the freeness and fairness of the elections.
But some politicians, especially within the opposition parties have faulted process of the elections, particularly the presidential polls. How would you react to this?
I know some politicians and candidates may not agree with my view. That too is fine. If some candidates believe they can prove the fraud they claim was committed against them, let them bring forward the evidence. If they cannot, then we must conclude that the election was the people’s will – no matter how hard that may be for the losers to accept. If they feel the need to challenge it, please take it to the courts, not to the streets.
However, to do the latter means they are not doing it in the interest of the people, but rather to inflame, to put people in harm’s way and all for personal, selfish gains.
We believe that after a degree of polarization that necessarily accompanies any election, it is now time to come together and act responsibly. I call on all candidates to remember the peace pledge they signed just days before the election.
Nigerians appreciate the stability of democracy. The outcome of the elections, in which over10 governors failed to make it to the Senate sent a clear message that ordinary Nigerians know the power of their votes and how to use it.
Nigerians cherish democracy. They have shown their love for it and will defend it against real or perceived threats. They will continue to vote one way or the other depending on their preferences. I have been counting the years. Democracy, especially Nigeria’s democracy, has evolved for good, otherwise, how would it have been possible for someone from a small town in the extreme of the country like me come to rule such a large, multi-ethnic country like Nigeria for eight years? My hometown, Daura, is about eight kilometres to the Niger Republic.
What is your farewell message to your compatriots who entrusted the nation to you these past eight years? And what are your grand wishes and expectations, going forward?
I welcome and accept both accolades and criticisms in equal measure in the conviction that I did my best to serve our dear country Nigeria. Indeed, our legacy will speak for us. With the support of Nigerians, we recorded successes on security, economy, infrastructure, new oil frontier basins, landmark legal reforms as well as food sufficiency, among others. No government in our recent history has introduced policies to help economically marginalised and vulnerable groups in the country like the present administration.
I pray that the next President will also pick up the baton and continue the race to solidify on delivering key strategic priorities under our “SEA” – (Security, Economy and Anti-Corruption) Agenda and make Nigeria one of the leading countries of the world by the end of this century.
Finally, I can’t even wait to go home. I think this is a very good coincidence for me to say goodbye to my compatriots and thank them for tolerating me for almost eight years now.
Having been a governor, a minister and president, twice, I think God has given me an incredible opportunity to serve my country and its people. There is no doubt that I might have hurt some people. That’s inevitable, so I wish they would pardon me.
I call on every Nigerian to support the incoming government, so that Nigeria will continue to be the beacon of hope and prosperity on our continent and an example for other African countries to emulate.
I am looking forward to returning to my home town, to be as far away as I can from Abuja so that the in-coming President will have the time and the space to take decisions without my distracting him. The May 29th hand over date remains sacrosanct. God willing, nothing will stop it.