•Insists subsidy removal is good on paper, but has huge human consequences
•Reveals N152bn, $386m, £1.1m, €157,000, and others recovered in 2021
•Alleges IPOB lobbying US Congress with millions of dollars, must be declared terrorists
•Declares EU’s trade policies rigged against Nigeria, and other African countries
•On blasphemy, the president insists no one has the right to break the law
Emmanuel Addeh and Kingsley Nwezeh in Abuja with agency report
President Muhammadu Buhari, yesterday, defended the policies being implemented by the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mr. Godwin Emefiele, saying rather than follow textbook solutions developed in the more advanced climes, which may not be suitable for Nigeria, the apex bank’s head has rightly resorted to “unorthodox” measures in trying to resolve the country’s economic challenges.
In his written responses to Bloomberg’s interview questions, Buhari said the accusations against Emefiele by detractors, including being labelled as “political”, had more to do with the methods he was deploying to try to revamp the Nigerian economy, rather than the substance of the allegations.
The president maintained that every country should have the right to choose its economic model and policies, insisting that the CBN chief is facing criticisms because he is not following traditional methods, which have failed in the past.
Buhari stated, “But there is a subtext to the accusations. Because the governor follows a model outside of the economic orthodoxy, he is labelled political. But the orthodoxy has proved wrong time and again.
“Instead, the governor is following an alternative economic model that puts people at the heart of policy. Nigeria should be free to choose its development model and how to construct our economy, so it functions for Nigerians.”
Responding to a question on the independence of the office of the CBN governor, given Emefiele’s alleged interest in the just-concluded presidential primaries of the All Progressives Congress (APC), the president said if there were infractions, the board of the apex bank was better placed to sanction the governor.
He said, “The CBN governor is appointed by the president. But this appointment is subject to confirmation by the Nigerian Senate. Ultimately, it will be for the CBN’s Board of Directors to determine whether a CBN governor’s actions have fallen foul of the laws in place to ensure he can most effectively carry out his duties.”
A critical factor in the federal government’s efforts to boost local food production, the CBN has provided loans to farmers and restricted access to foreign exchange for importers of dozens of products, actions for which it has received flaks.
But Buhari insisted that food price inflation in the country could have been worse if Emefiele had not initiated organised programmes to boost domestic production, stressing that even at that, Nigeria still does not grow enough domestically.
He pointed out that initiatives, such as the Anchor Borrower’s Programme, boosted rice production to nine million metric tonnes in 2021, from around 5.4 million metric tonnes in 2015.
“Even in the years of drought, rice production outstripped pre-2015 levels. Imports have fallen to near zero. We are making progress,” he declared.
On why he had continued to retain subsidies on petrol, the president noted that even most Western countries were currently implementing fuel subsidies.
“Why would we remove ours now? What is good for the goose is good for the gander!” he stressed.
According to him, while the removal of subsidies may look good on paper, the impact on Nigerians would be largely negative and unbearable.
“What our Western allies are learning the hard way is what looks good on paper and the human consequences are two different things,” the president maintained.
Buhari added that while his government had put in motion plans to remove fuel subsidy late last year, after further consultation with stakeholders, and as events unfolded this year, such a move became increasingly untenable.
While internal production for refined products would help mitigate the effect of subsidy removal, the president projected that capacity would increase markedly later this year and next, as private players and modular refineries come on board.
Buhari posited that he was winning the war against corruption, starting with the Whistleblowing Policy enacted in his first year in office, revealing that hundreds of millions in stolen funds have been returned to Nigeria.
He stated that the monies had now been deployed as social and welfare funds distributed directly to the poorest during the COVID-19 pandemic and the provision of long-delayed infrastructure, such as roads, bridges, rail, and power.
He explained, “As an illustration, monetary recoveries (January-December) 2021 show that more than N152 billion has been recovered. Dollar recoveries for the year amount to over $386 million; GBP more than 1.1 million; Euro, about 157,000; Saudi Riyals about 1.7 million, some more in digital and other currencies.”
In the past, Buhari had said international partners refused to return funds they held for decades to previous Nigerian administrations in the certainty they would simply be re-stolen.
“They changed their approach with us because they knew my administration could be trusted,” he said.
Buhari said that his successor would inherit a far more resilient economy, thanks to investments in infrastructure and policies that he said had bolstered local production.
On security, the president reiterated that the military had recovered all territories previously held by Boko Haram, repeating his often-held position that terrorists no longer hold any territory in Nigeria while their leaders are now deceased.
Buhari said, “In 2015, Boko Haram held territory the size of Belgium within the borders of Nigeria. Today they are close to extinct as a military force. A Nigerian Air Force airstrike eliminated the leader of ISWAP in March.”
He stated that jets acquired from the US and intelligence shared by the British were not provided to previous administrations. He said these stood as a testament to new trust re-built between Nigeria and its Western allies.
The Nigerian leader urged its international partners to take additional steps costing them nothing, by proscribing the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) and designating them as a terrorist organisation.
“Their leadership enjoys safe haven in the West, broadcasting hate speech into Nigeria from London, spending millions lobbying members of the US Congress, and freely using international financial networks to arm agitators on the ground. This must stop,” the president stated.
He added, “My administration is the only in Nigeria’s history to implement a solution to decades-long herder-farmer conflicts, exacerbated by desertification and demographic growth. The National Livestock Transformation Plan, putting ranching at its core, is the only way to deplete the competition for resources at the core of the clashes.
“Governors from some individual states have sought to play politics where ranches have been established, but where they have been disputes have dramatically reduced.”
He further opined that international trade remained rigged against food security in Africa, explaining that while the European Union’s policies are all rhetoric of open trade, their common agricultural policy undermines Africa’s self-sufficiency and grows poverty.
On the rising spate of religion-related killings, especially regarding the question of alleged blasphemy, the president declared that no one has any right to break the law and urged Christians and Muslims to respect each other’s differences.