This Day (Lagos)

3 May 2014

Nigeria: Okonjo-Iweala - Freeing Abducted Schoolgirls, FG's Biggest Priority

PDP charges Nigerians to unite against terrorism

Ndubuisi Francis in Abuja Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala friday in Abuja stated that in spite of Nigeria's desire to host the World Economic Forum on Africa (WEF) slated for, Abuja next week, government's biggest priority was how to free about 200 girls abducted from their school in Chibok, Borno State recently by terrorists.

Her statement came on the same day the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) charged Nigerians to jettison all parochial interests and join forces with government by exposing terrorist elements, stating that the ordinary citizen has remained victims of insurgent activities in the country.

Fielding questions from journalists at the sidelines of a special dialogue on "Nigeria's GDP Rebasing: Facts, Fiction, Challenges and Benefits", organised by the Kukah Centre in collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Finance on the fate of Nigeria's hosting of the global event, the minister, in an emotion-laden voice, said: "It's not easy. The news we heard so far, people are asking questions, but it is quite encouraging.

"Let's keep our fingers crossed. I think when we hear some of the security measures that the president is going to announce; it will calm the nerves of those who are proposing to come.

We also did send out a press advisory. But you know, we should focus now on what we need to do to bring the girls back. And also focus more on the families of those who lost people in the bomb blasts in Nyanya.

"These are more important. It is not that the WEF is not important. Of course, it is important. We want the WEF to hold. So much time, efforts and resources have been invested in the preparations.

But getting the abducted girls home is much more important. I can't imagine what the mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters and entire families of these girls are going through. It's unimaginable, hearth-breaking.

The military has been given the marching orders by President Jonathan and I believe they are working hard to rescue them. Their safety is the number one priority," she said.

Meanwhile, organisers of the World Economic Forum on Africa (WEFA) 2014 have confirmed that the event slated for between May 7 and 9 in Abuja will go ahead as planned next week, following assurances by President Goodluck Ebele on the robustness of the security arrangements that are being put in place for the meeting.

The organisers, in a statement made available to THISDAY said the 24th World Economic Forum on Africa comes at a crucial time for the continent.

With the theme, Forging Inclusive Growth, Creating Jobs, it will bring together over 1,000 leaders from across politics, business and civil society, including Premier Li Keqiang of China and 11 African heads of state and government.

As the foremost gathering on the continent, the 24th World Economic Forum on Africa will bring together regional and global leaders to discuss innovative structural reforms and investments that can sustain the continent's growth while creating jobs and prosperity for all its citizens.

Nigeria, sub-Saharan Africa's largest economy and most populous nation - with over 160 million inhabitants - already plays a crucial role in advancing the continent's growth.

Africa's remarkable growth trajectory is projected to remain above 5 per cent in 2014 with West Africa the fastest growing sub-region, representing the continent's largest business opportunity.

In her opening remarks at the dialogue on Nigeria's rebased GDP, the minister said she was saddened by the evil demonstrated by the wanton killing of innocent people in Nyanya and other parts of the country, calling for a united effort against 'this kind of evil".

The minister expressed regret that in spite of global endorsement of the recently rebased GDP, which catapulted Nigeria to the prime spot as Africa's biggest economy, some critics were bent on discrediting the unassailable fact that the economy is growing.

Okonjo-Iweala admonished Nigerians not to politicise the exercise as no amount of politicisation can diminish the facts emerging from the rebased GDP, acknowledging that while some of the implications flowing from the figures were good, some others were not too palatable.

The Finance Minister stated that one of the positive implications was the exposure on the level of diversification of the economy, which, she said, was much more than what was thought.

She stated that with the rebased GDP, it had become clear that the government was pursuing the right policies with some kind of fine-tuning required in some areas, adding that the structure of the economy was in sync with the global norm that evolve with the services sector.

The minister observed that the rebased GDP had also established the fact that Nigeria's debt-to-GDP ratio was about 11 per cent, which is lower than the 19 per cent projection, noting that contrary to the position of critics, the lower ratio would not be an incentive for government to go on borrowing spree.

Although the nation has been recording positive economic growth, she admitted that the quality of growth had not been good enough since it was evenly spread, pointing out that inequality and poverty were drawbacks, which were being addressed through various channels.

She also noted that the methodology used in gauging poverty was different from other countries, adding that Nigeria exceeded the 2500 calories recommended by the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) in measuring poverty.

This, she observed, had made the country appear to be worse off in the poverty index among other countries, admonishing that the methodology issue should be sorted out, "although it was not created by the current leadership of the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS)."

The minister said the clearest way to tackle poverty and inequality was to create more jobs and social protection mechanism.

Chairman of the dialogue, Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah, pointed out that with the rebased GDP and the emergence of Nigeria as the biggest economy in Africa, the nation's dream of joining the league of the 20 world's largest economies had become more real than imagined.

He called on Nigerians to separate politics from the survival of the nation, noting that Nigerians should learn to celebrate positive things about their country.

The PDP in a statement through its National Publicity Secretary, Olisa Metuh said Nigerians must realise that regular citizens have generally become targets, irrespective of religious and ethnic differences and must therefore join hands with government in the fight against terrorism.

"Nigerians must realise that it is no longer about the President or the government, neither is it about government officials. All Nigerians are under attack. Ordinary people and regular citizens have remained general targets of these enemies of our country.

"Hundred of innocent Nigerians, Muslims and Christians alike have had their lives brutally ended by the wicked acts of these terrorists. Our people, businessmen and women, professionals, including security men, doctors and nurses, lawyers, artisans, market women, civil servants, farmers, school children, clerics, artistes, old men and women and bread winners pursuing legitimate endeavours have been brutalized and slaughtered.

"Those behind these devilish acts seek mainly to intimidate, cow, frighten and destroy us, thereby imposing a regime of terror, anarchy and chaos.

They seek to decimate us as a people, destroy our common heritage and bring our nation to its knees, but they will surely fail. They cannot intimidate us, we shall not be cowed, we refuse to be frightened and we will not be destroyed.

Let them know that our common resolve to live as one people under God remains irrevocable", the party stated. Calling on the citizens to unite as one people against insurgency, the party said, "to win this battle, all citizens must come together and present a common front against terrorism, irrespective of our religious, political and ethnic differences.

We must refuse to be slaughtered by our enemies; we must show bravery, go beyond shedding tears at each carnage and forcefully support our government and our security men and women by exposing terrorist elements and their backers among us.

That is the only way to put the enemy under check and ensure that the blood of the slain was not shed in vain". Stating that it will never compromise its belief in Nigerians and the Nigerian project, the PDP urged the people not to be forlorn adding that a brighter future awaits the nation in no distant time.

"As a party entrusted with the sacred mandate of leadership, the PDP will never compromise or jettison its belief and commitment to the national interest.

We remain steadfast in our belief in Nigerians and the Nigerian project. We reiterate that working together, our nation will come out of these challenges, a stronger, more united and more peaceful nation where all will live in peace and unity irrespective of ethnic, religious and political differences," the statement said.

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