Vanguard (Lagos)

28 February 2013

Nigeria: 'Nigeria's Economy Is Strong', FG Replies Clinton

Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, has replied critics of the Nigerian economy, saying the economy is buoyant and strong.

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

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

Mr. Clinton had, weekend, expressed disappointment that his inclusion of Nigeria a few years ago among 10 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.

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

In the statement entitled Federal Ministry of Finance Clarifications on the State of the Economy, the Excess Crude Account and Related Issues, signed by Okonjo-Iweala and pasted on Facebook and Twitter, the Finance Minister 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."

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.

Ezekwesili alleging that the administration of President Goodluck 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 Ezekwesili's names, Okonjo-Iweala said her statement was borne out of "a number of comment" that had appeared in the Nigerian media.

She wrote: "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."

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.

"Facts, figures"

To back up the claims, the minister highlighted improvements on the nation's economic indices, saying "Inflation is now down to single-digit at 9.0 percent in January 2013, compared with 12.6 percent in January 2012.

"The exchange rate has been relatively stable, and the fiscal deficit at just less than 2 percent of GDP is on a downward trajectory, and below our threshold of 3 percent of GDP."

According to her, national debt is at a sustainable level at about 19.4 percent of GDP. Overall, GDP growth2012 was 6.5 percent, and projected at 6.75 percent for 2013, compared with the projected global growth of 3.5 percent.

She said: "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."

But...

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

She said: "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 highlighted the need to create more jobs 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 percent between 2003 and 2010.

Okonjo-Iweala said: "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."

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