Mr Ade Samuel, Deputy National President Arewa Youth Forum, AYF, in this interview, spoke on the state of the economy and other national issues, including the lingering face-off between the Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and the House of Representatives.
DO you think that recent attacks on the Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister for the Economy, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala are justified?
As humans, it is easier to forget the pleasant things we had enjoyed in the past, especially when faced with adversity. As government makes difficult changes on the way the economy is structured and people begin to feel uneasy, some people have begun to question the credibility of those managing the economy.
As the Finance Minister and the Coordinating Minister for the Economy, Okonjo-Iweala has come under attacks with some questioning her continued stay in office. I therefore believe that the attacks are baseless and unjustified.
Why do you say that the attacks are unjustified?
It will be worth the while to remind us of Okonjo-Iwealaâ€™s commitment, passion and determination to make sure that a sustainable economic structure is put in place.
First, when she was appointed Finance Minister in 2003, Nigeria was burdened with debts inherited from several military rule. Relying on the commitment of the then President Olusegun Obasanjo to get the debt extinguished, Okonjo-Iweala used her experience and connection in the international banking system to get the debts written and freed Nigeria from a debt burden that had crippled the development of infrastructures in the country.
To this end, she spearheaded negotiations with the Paris Club of Creditors in 2005 that led to the wiping out of US$30 billion of Nigeriaâ€™s external debt, including outright cancellation of US$18 billion.
Secondly, before she was appointed Finance Minister, allocations to states and local government areas were shrouded in secrecy.
Transparency is seen worldwide as one of the benchmarks of democratic rule. She introduced transparency into the allocation system and people now know how much their state governors and local governments have collected as allocations. This is still the case today.
Under her watch, the economy is said to have continued to grow but the common man hardly feel the effect of the growing economy.
Donâ€™t forget that when the world economy plummeted, Okonjo-Iweala assured Nigerians that the nationâ€™s economy would not be affected. She ensured that the economy was shielded from the volatility of the world economy. Why some big economies suffered major blows from which they are yet to recover, Nigeria economically remained stable.
During her two stints as Finance Minister, she worked to combat corruption, make Nigeriaâ€™s finances more transparent, and institute reforms to make the nationâ€™s economy more hospitable to foreign investment. The government unlinked its budget from the price of oil, its main export, to lessen perennial cash flow crises, and got oil companies to publish how much they pay the government.
She has continued to attack corruption and accelerate privatization and liberalization of the economy. She signed Nigeria up to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, a voluntary standard for petroleum and mining industries. She managed to reduce Nigeriaâ€™s inflation by half.
One of the major problems that the Minister of Finance has always had with either the House of Representatives has been her alleged inability to provide the statistics of the much touted economic growth. What is your take on that?
The improvement in federal highways has been confirmed by many Nigerians, who travelled over the Christmas and New Year holidays. Key highways which have witnessed significant progress include Kano-Maiduguri Road, the Abuja-Lokoja Road, the Apapa-Oshodi Road, the Onitsha-Enugu-Port-Harcourt Road and the Benin-Ore-Shagamu Road.
Preliminary work has commenced on Lagos-Ibadan Road and the Second Niger Bridge has been commissioned and the government had promised that it would be completed in four years. These are monumental achievements that no matter the propaganda the opposition mounts, they are promises kept and you can imagine the level of economic activity and jobs that would be created with these projects alone.
Another major project is the Railway Modernization Programme involving the construction of standard gauge lines is underway.
Standard gauge lines
The 1,124 km Western line linking Lagos and Kano is now functional while work on the Eastern line linking Port Harcourt to Maiduguri is about 36 percent complete. The Abuja-Kaduna Standard Gauge line has attained 68 percent completion, and the Itakpe-Ajaokuta-Warri Line which is presently 77 percent completed, will be completed next year. The annual passenger traffic on our railways has increased steadily: rising from one million in 2011 to five million in 2013.
You know that this administration inherited a lot of comatose infrastructure, but in the last three years progress had been made on construction of major roads.
In the aviation sector, about 22 airports across Nigeria are being remodeled and upgraded. In 2013, we completed the upgrade of 11 airport terminals and work on the remaining 11 terminals is in progress.
The Enugu Airport is now operational as an international airport with a new terminal under construction. We have also commenced work on the construction of three new international airport terminals. In Lagos, Kano, and Abuja, modern navigational and meteorological systems were installed at our airports to improve air safety.