The Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has declared that she is not about to resign her appointment as demanded by some governors, saying, "I dey kampe" (Pidgin English for "I am fine").
Her statement was in reaction to the call by the Chibuike Amaechi-led faction of the Nigeria Governors' Forum (NGF) Tuesday, asking her to resign her appointment if she could not run the economy and adhere strictly to the 2013 Appropriation Act.
But the minister was not alone in her response to the NGF, as the Plateau State Governor, Jonah Jang, who leads the other faction of the governors' forum, and his Delta State counterpart, Emmanuel Uduaghan, made a spirited defence of her stewardship and blamed the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) for the revenue shortfall in the 2013 budget.
Okonjo-Iweala said despite some challenges, the Nigerian economy remained strong, noting that a demonstration of confidence in the economy was amply underscored by pending applications by nine states of the federation to float bonds.
Giving an overview of the economy at a press conference in Abuja yesterday, the minister said the economy is doing reasonably well. "It's not perfect but it's doing reasonably well. And why do I say that? I said that because actual realities on the ground prove that," she said.
The minister pointed out that all over the world, no one floats bonds in a wobbling or non-performing economy, adding that the applications from nine states were strong signals that the Nigerian economy is strong, in spite of some challenges.
"There's no place where you float bonds if the economy is not working. The floating of bonds by the states is a demonstration of the confidence they have in the economy," the minister said.
According to her, the federal government had created a yield curve, which has made it attractive for both corporate and private entities to borrow, pointing out that the fact that the country is facing a revenue shortfall does not diminish the empirical statistics on the ground.
On the implementation of the 2013 budget, Okonjo-Iweala said N850 billion had so far been released to the ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) with 76 per cent utilisation achieved.
According to her, the practice of releasing capital votes without cash backing was being dropped by the administration, adding that while N400 billion was released in the first quarter, N200 billion in the second quarter, and N250 billion in the third quarter, N210 billion of the third quarter realese has been cash-backed.
The outstanding N40 billion, she said, would be cash-backed after the Federation Account Allocation Committee (FAAC) meeting this month.
She said 2014 would experience a leaner budget, as it would be carefully drawn, taking into cognisance the discovery of oil in several countries of the world in order not to subject the economy to unnecessary stress.
She said in the next three months, the issue of shortfall in oil production would be a thing of the past.
On the outstanding N75 billion owed the three tiers of government from the Federation Account, the minister said efforts were being made to pay the amount to the federal, states and local governments. The minister said the country was lucky to have built buffers through the Excess Crude Account (ECA) from which it has drawn to make up for the revenue shortfall. According to her, the nation has the resources to manage its economy, which the federal government has been managing in the best possible way.
"We have foreign reserves of $46 billion, of which the Excess Crude Account is $5 billion. Inflation remains at single digit at less than 9 per cent, which is what we have been targeting. Our exchange rate is relatively stable also.
"It is a relatively stable exchange rate and it has been maintained by the Central Bank at N155-N160/$. GDP growth is still better than 6 per cent. We had a GDP growth of 6.5 per cent in the first quarter of this year. In the second quarter, we grew at the rate of 6.18 per cent. We are still one of the fastest growing economies worldwide and in Africa as well.
"Fiscal deficit is about 1.58 per cent of GDP. We are maintaining the prudent management of the economy. This is why all the validations from outside have indicated that our macroeconomic fundamentals are strong," the minister said.
On the revenue shortfall, the minister stated that the federal budget was being implemented, adding: "We have witnessed some occasional revenue shortfalls, and that is what it has been. But I always tell people, you have to look at the economy as a whole.
"We all know that from time to time, because of the shortfall in oil production and shortfall in revenue, due to the fact that we are growing more of our own food, we are not importing as much, that's why customs revenue is coming down. You know when these things happen, it is good news. But from time to time, we have fluctuations and we have been able to manage it."
Okonjo-Iweala reaffirmed that while efforts were being made to address the oil production shortfall occasioned by theft, the decline in revenue from imports was indeed occasioned by a deliberate policy for a drastic cut in food imports and increased local production.
This measure, she said, was to the eternal benefit of the country and its citizenry, adding that in the long run, the nation would be the better for it.
Giving specific efforts on job creation, the minister said it is an area where President Goodluck Jonathan has insisted and focused on. "In agriculture, where we are seeing strong results, over 2.5 million seasonal and full time jobs have been created. When I say seasonal, for example, in rice 450,000 of the jobs created were seasonal.
"But overall, 2.5 million jobs have been created-seasonal and permanent, and in nine commodity chains comprising cassava, sorghum, oil palm, cotton, cocoa, dry season and rainy season rice.
"In addition, we are creating jobs for our skilled and unskilled people in this very important area of the economy. Output is also increasing. All of you are aware of the 1.1 million metric tonnes of rice that were produced in the northern part of the country during the dry season. And some of this production have been helping to moderate food prices," she said.
The minister however acknowledged that the country still had a lot to do to create more jobs in agriculture and other sectors, "We're well on our way to achieving results."
In the area of manufacturing, the minister pointed to upcoming investments and expansions by investors.
"Very soon, the Indorama Company is making an investment of $1.2 billion in petrochemicals, particularly fertiliser, in Port Harcourt. Procter & Gamble of the United States of America is building a new factory and investing $250 million in Ibadan," she said.
She added that a Ugandan investor was also investing over $200 million in a plant to manufacture glass through sand in Port Harcourt, while a $200 million cold steel rolling factory in Ilorin, Kwara State, which will employ over 1,900 people, is under construction.
Okonjo-Iweala said Nigerians were witnesses to the recent signing of agreements running into billions of dollars that will be invested by the Dangote Group, pointing out that all these would create jobs.
She stated that the Community Services Programme under the Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Programme (SURE-P) had so far created 178,000 jobs, while the Graduate Internship Scheme (GIS) had placed over 2,000 graduates and continuing, just as YouWin had created 19,000 jobs. In the aviation sector, the minister said the federal government is remodelling the 22 airports with 11 already completed while five new terminals are on the verge of being constructed in five airports across the country . "I think this issue of jobs is one that we are monitoring through the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) and we will be giving you updates from time to time on what is happening there," she said.
On the privatisation of the power sector, the minister said: "The privatisation of the power sector is now coming to fruition, and over $2 billion has been received by the federal government from the companies that bought both the Gencos and Discos.
"This will help the government to take care of the PHCN workers' needs. The federal government has already paid N45 billion to take care of the emoluments of the workers. Part of the $2 billion realised will be used to take care of the rest of their needs. This is a very good example of an open privatisation exercise that has been done."
She also gave an update on the subsidy regime: "In 2011, there was a huge public outcry. But this administration has worked hard to clean up the process of subsidy payments.
"The result of the improvement we made when we fired the old auditors and put new ones in place was that we put in place different checks and balances. As a result, last year, we brought subsidy payment down to about N950 billion, and we expect that this year, we will pay about N971 billion.
"To go from N2.2 trillion, to N950 billion to about N971 billion, I think it is a huge achievement in terms of what we have tried to do on this issue of oil subsidy payments. "We have cleaned up the system. We expect that tomorrow (today), we will make out another batch of payments to oil marketers because they are due for payment, and we will be publishing that as we normally do."
On infrastructure, the minister listed some of the dual carriage ways that are being constructed as the Kano-Maiduguri, Enugu-Port Harcourt, Benin-Ore, and Abuja-Lokoja, among others.
She pointed out that in addition to these roads, at least, one road had been completed in each of the geopolitical zones, while many more are on the verge of being completed, including the Oyo-Ibadan road, as well as sections of the Onitsha-Owerri road.
Okonjo-Iweala spoke on the Lagos-Kano railway line that has also helped in linking communities, stating, "Goods, agriculture produce and passengers can now move a little better in the economy, unlike in the past."
Asked to react to the demand by some governors for her to resign if she could not manage the economy, the minister asked rhetorically: "Do I look like someone who is about to resign? I dey kampe."
She concluded by saying she did not want to comment on political issues, adding that she was unwavering in her commitment to serve her fatherland.
In his reaction to his colleagues' call for Okonjo-Iweala's resignation, Uduaghan decried attempts by the Amaechi-led NGF to blame her for the prevailing challenges in the country.
Instead, Uduaghan, who spoke in Lagos, said the blame for whatever economic challenges the country is experiencing should be directed at NNPC for refusing to accurately account for the monies in its trust, despite the rise in the price of crude oil. Also speaking on the crisis trailing the re-election bid of President Goodluck Jonathan, the governor said it was inconceivable that Jonathan would have problems from his region, noting that such a situation was not acceptable.
Continuing on the economy, Uduaghan said the call for the resignation of the finance minister was misplaced, saying, "Rather, we should blame agencies like the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) that refused to provide the required money to run the economy.
"It's not about the woman and focusing on the woman is not right. If there is a challenge with what is coming in, there will be challenge with expectations. So NNPC should be challenged. Let NNPC tell us what is happening to the money."
The Delta Governor, who also expressed concern at the state of things, noted that whilst the price of crude oil per barrel was pegged at $79 by government in its budget, it has since sold for more than $100 per barrel, even as oil theft has reduced significantly.
Therefore, NNPC, he said, should explain what has led the country to the present mess.
"While one is not holding brief for anybody, it is imperative to put things in proper perspective so that an innocent fellow would not be crucified wrongly or sacrificed unnecessarily," he said.
Although he admitted that the unavailability of funds has hampered states' ability to pay wages, Uduaghan said: "In Delta State, our internally generated revenue can pay salaries," adding, "That is why we rolled out a policy tagged 'Delta Beyond Oil'."
Uduaghan was optimistic that an end to the crisis in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was in sight since all the parties involved in the crisis have been participating in the reconciliation processes. He commended the president for sustaining the reconciliation process and advised that all utterances about the crisis should be reconciliatory and aimed at achieving peace.
Similarly, the Jang faction condemned the call for Okonjo-Iweala's resignation and questioned the authority under which it was made.
In a statement released yesterday in Abuja by the media office of the forum, Jang questioned the authority under which the call was made by Ameachi, as only 13 governors were present at the meeting chaired by the Rivers State governor.
According to Jang, the number of governors that attended the meeting of Tuesday did not make up a majority and so could not have spoken on behalf of all the governors. Jang further disassociated himself and the other governors from the statement, wondering if Ameachi lived in the same country where both local and international experts have all heaped praises on Okonjo-Iweala for the job she is doing with the ever-growing Nigerian economy.
On the call for the dissolution of the Economic Management Team, the Plateau State governor noted that the content of the communiqué read by Ameachi was further evidence that the Rivers governor and his group have now constituted themselves to an opposition group to the presidency and Nigerians, which he noted was not the reason they were elected as governors and also negates the aims and objectives of the NGF. "Show me any of them that has a perfect state. Instead of facing the reason they were elected as governors, they have now become the mouthpiece for opposition politicians in search of statements that will make front page news, even if it is foolish.
"Thankfully, Nigerians are smarter and see through this mischief," Jang stated. But another governor with the Amaechi faction of the NGF said whatever arguments were advanced in favour of Okonjo-Iweala did not suffice because NNPC is part of the economy and since she is the Coordinating Minister for the Economy, she must accept responsibility for the inadequacies of the government agency.
He explained that with the price of the budget benchmark of $79 per barrel and a significant reduction in oil theft, the nation deserves an explanation as to why government has not been able to meet its obligations, fearing that if the situation degenerates further, a serious crisis awaits the economy.