President Muhammadu Buhari has declared that his government's decision to shun the International Monetary Fund (IMF's) advice on the devaluation of the naira was in the country's best interest.
Buhari made the declaration in an interview aired by Al Jazeera yesterday, and monitored by LEADERSHIP Sunday.
The interview was conducted during the president's recent trip to Qatar.
Responding to a question on whether he was prepared to reconsider his position on the devaluation of the naira, he responded curtly, saying "no."
"I have explained that countries that play around with their currencies are countries that have enormous production capacity. Their infrastructure in terms of power, communication and security are virtually perfect. Nigeria virtually imports everything, from rice to toothpicks. Now if we don't have the money to import those things, what is the value of further devaluing the naira?" he elaborated.
Reminded that he was doing it against the advice of IMF, President Buhari said, "if it is against our national interest, why can't we go against the IMF advice?"
Speaking on the issue of import restriction, the president pointed out that Nigeria can only afford to live within its limits, saying, "if we don't have the money to back your naira for people to buy the dollar and import toothpicks, chocolate, rice...
We have pharmaceutical companies in Nigeria. We did what we called institutional strengthening by giving them money to import machineries and essential raw materials. We have already given instructions for the ministry to find out which industries need foreign exchange on quarterly basis to produce what is essential like pharmaceuticals but certainly not to import rice."
On insinuations that his refusal to devalue the naira had opened a vast new area of corruption in terms of the black market, in negation of the tenets of his presidency, he said, "I agree with you and we are going to check that. And we are going to apply sanctions on anybody that is giving hard currency, the dollar, officially by the Central bank to go and import essential raw materials for example for pharmaceuticals and then, because he can make a hundred naira more by going to parallel market to sell them, we will pursue them and we will punish them."
President Buhari said those who could afford their children's school fees abroad could continue to pay but the country could no longer afford to give them FOREX.
"Those who can afford it can still afford it. But Nigeria can't allocate foreign exchange for all those who have decided want to send their children abroad to study. We just can't afford it. So, it's a tough law. Well, that's the true situation we are in."
The president also declared in the interview that there are some persons in his administration working against his objectives and who are not "100 per cent loyal" to his government.
While responding to a question, he described the controversies surrounding the 2016 budget as unfortunate, saying those responsible for the embarrassment would not go unpunished.
When asked if he meant there were those sabotaging his government, he replied: "Certainly!"
The president pointed that those who want to be fair to his government would appreciate the efforts made in cutting the cost of governance.
"I will like people to assess Nigeria, especially this government on where we found ourselves. When we came in, we found out that there were 42 ministries and we found out that the economy could not take 42, so we reduced it to 24. We also removed 21 permanent secretaries," he said.
"People who want to be fair to us should sit and reflect, from the president to the ministers to the permanent secretaries were all taken over after eight successive governments of those who are now in the opposition.
"So, we cannot assume that all of them are 100 per cent loyal to this government."
Biafra agitators not guided by history
On the renewed Biafra agitation, Buhari maintained that Nigeria's unity is a priority for the country and that while peaceful pro-Biafran protests are welcome; demanding the separation of the Biafran territories is against the constitution.
Asked how he was planning to deal with Biafra issue, the answered that the Biafran agitators were not being guided by the history of such rebellion in the 1960s to 1970, where about two million lives were lost.
According to the President, "At least two millions Nigerians were killed in the Biafra war. And for somebody to wake up may be they weren't born. Looking for Biafra after two millions people were killed, they are joking with the security and Nigeria won't tolerate Biafra."
The declaration of the Independent Republic of Biafra in 1967 caused a civil war that resulted in the death of millions and the re-annexation of the republic to Nigeria in 1970.
No plans to quit OPEC
Despite the slump in international crude oil prices, which is affecting Nigeria negatively, President Buhari ruled out the possibility of the country quitting the international oil-producing cartel, the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries, (OPEC).
He said it was in the best interest of the country to remain within the cartel.
"We were unable to diversify our economy; hence we are much more disadvantaged by the lower oil prices. Nigeria will make the necessary sacrifice to remain in OPEC," he added.
Attempts to get confirmation from the presidential spokespersons on whether the president granted the said interview did not yield result yesterday but a Presidency source, who was in Doha, confirmed that the president, indeed, spoke with the television outfit.
"Yes, I can tell you that Oga (President) spoke to Aljazeera. It is a new interview, perhaps they are just broadcasting it now," the source, who is not authorised to speak on the matter, said.
The President also dismissed insinuations that the government was not winning the war against the terrorist sect, Boko Haram, insisting that he had not failed to keep his promise to rout the sect.
"I haven't failed. When we came in, boko haram was effectively in control of 14 local governments. Nigeria has 774 local governments. They hoist their flag and named themselves as certain caliphate."
With Agency Report