27 February 2013

Nigeria: Okonjo-Iweala Replies Clinton, Ezekwesili, Others, Says Nigeria's Economy Strong

Photo: allAfrica.com
Lagos central business district.

Nigeria's Finance Minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has replied to critics of the Nigerian economy saying the economy is buoyant and strong.

Ms. Okonjo-Iweala, in a message put on social media on Wednesday, dismissed reports of the poor performance of the economy and the management of the excess crude revenue.

Her statement comes few days after former American President, Bill Clinton, indicted the Federal Government for not using the huge revenue realised from crude oil exports, effectively, to positively impact on the lives of Nigerians.

Mr. Clinton had at the weekend expressed disappointment that his inclusion of Nigeria a few years ago among ten countries that were well positioned to emerge as the world's greatest economies has been proved wrong with the visible lack of progress in recent times, despite the huge resources at its disposal.

But, Ms. Okonjo-Iweala said such views were misleading, as the economy was healthy, with other indices, including inflation and foreign reserves, were showing positive levels of performances.

In the statement titled 'Federal Ministry of Finance Clarifications on the State of the Economy, the excess crude account and related issues', signed by the finance minister and pasted on facebook and twitter, Ms. Okonjo-Iweala said "it is essential that Nigerians understand the exact position of the economy, and the integrity of these important government accounts".

"This note aims to provide some facts for Nigerians on these issues, to clarify the exact position, and finally to put these concerns to rest", she added.

Apart from Mr. Clinton, some former public officials, including a Minister of Education under former President Olusegun Obasanjo, Oby Ezekwesili, have criticised Nigeria's management of the Excess Crude Account with Ms. Ezekwesili alleging that the administration of Mr. Jonathan, and that of his late predecessor, Umaru Yar'Adua, mismanaged the funds left in the account by the Olusegun Obasanjo administration.

While not mentioning Mr. Clinton or Ms. Ezekwesili's names, Ms. Okonjo-Iweala said her statement was borne out of "a number of comments..." that had appeared in the Nigerian media.

"In recent times, a number of comments and articles have appeared in the media, which have tended to talk down the performance of the Nigerian economy and question the accuracy and transparency of the Excess Crude Account and the External Reserves of the country," she said.

According to her, the specific issues that have been raised in recent times include the health and prospects of the Nigerian economy, the composition of the external reserves, and purported discrepancies in account balances reported by the Ministry of Finance and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).

To back up the claims, the minister highlighted improvements on the nation's economic indices.

"Inflation is now down to single-digit at 9.0% in January 2013, compared with 12.6% in January 2012. The exchange rate has been relatively stable, and the fiscal deficit at just under 2% of GDP is on a downward trajectory, and below our threshold of 3% of GDP," she said.

According to her, national debt is at a sustainable level at about 19.4 per cent of GDP. Overall, GDP growth for 2012 was 6.5 per cent, and projected at 6.75 per cent for 2013, compared with the projected global growth of 3.5 per cent.

"The above facts have been independently noted and validated by international ratings agencies (such as Fitch, Standard & Poor's and Moody's) who have upgraded the country's economic outlook, even as other countries are being downgraded," she said.

Ms. Okonjo-Iweala said the Ministry admits the socio-economic challenges the nation faces despite these seemingly impressive indices.

"We know we still have a long way to go but let us keep working to correct what is wrong and stop focusing on the denigration of what is being done right," she said.

She highlighted the need create more jobs for to curb unemployment and that poverty needs to decrease at a faster pace, as "we do not want excessive inequality to be a feature of our economic growth".

According to her, the recent poverty statistics released by National Bureau of Statistics show a slight decline in poverty levels of about 2% between 2003 and 2010.

"This needs to be further accelerated. The cost of governance also needs to be reduced, and the government is taking steps in this direction.

"In conclusion, the Federal Ministry of Finance wishes to stress that the outlook for the Nigerian economy remains good, despite the current global economic uncertainty," she said.

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