BusinessDay

Five takeaways from Finance Minister’s interview with Channels

Nigeria’s Minister of finance, budget and national planning, Zainab Ahmed recently had an interview with Channels TV where she talked about the plans of the President Buhari-led administration and the impact it would have on Africa’s most populous nation even after the present government leaves office.

According to her, the plans of the Federal Government are sustainable and would remain relevant in the near future because they seek to strengthen the diversification of the economy which is every administration’s goal.

“The Federal Government seeks to provide a strong foundation for a concentric diversified economy thereby deepening the diversification,” the minister said during the interview.

The broad objective of the plan, according to her, includes building the country’s critical major infrastructures like; roads, water, power and social development infrastructures such as schools and hospitals.

“They also have a plan to build a solid framework that is designed to enhance the capacities of the country’s security agencies and also ensure good governance, transparency, and accountability,” Ahmed explained.

She also stated that they provided in the plan, the process to have a vibrant education and a health sector to support the human capital development of the citizens. So those are the major broad objectives of the plan.

Increase agric export

During the interview, the minister stated that Nigeria has the opportunity to export as much agricultural product as possible within Africa because of the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (ACFTA) that opens up the continent as a whole single market. Being the biggest market in Africa, the minister said Nigeria intends to take advantage of the ACFTA.

She also stated that Nigeria would be known for the export of agricultural produce. She explained that the government intends to concentrate on improving agricultural production to improve productivity, to not only feed but also create jobs to create wealth in terms of small-medium enterprises.

That, according to her, is beyond subsistence agriculture and is important because Nigeria needs to move to agro-business, strengthen the market end of the agricultural values, and have commodity markets so that the goods produced are treatable based on international standards.

Reprivatize Ajaokuta asset

According to the minister, the Federal government has made plans to reprivatize the assets in Ajaokuta that were previously franchised to some parties.

She stated that some very significant advances have been made in terms of negotiations with the parties that the asset was previously franchised to and cancelled at the wrong time.

She further explained that there has been an international negotiation that has been completed. “The settlement of those negotiations is being discussed, so they can pay them off so that the Federal Government can get back the asset and either re-privatize it or find the best way to put it to use.”

During the interview with channels Tv, the minister said smuggling is responsible for the rising cost of rice in the country. To solve this issue, she said there “there’s a joint patrol team that is working with the Nigerian customs police which includes the DSS, alongside several of the security agencies to tackle the issue.”

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According to her, the Government is subsidizing, encouraging, supporting the production of fertilizer, working towards bringing and researching institutions that develop quality input, to be able to reduce the high cost of production which leads to the increase in the prices of the locally produced rice.

Transport subsidy

The Federal Government is looking to provide some palliative for a large number of the population in terms of transport subsidy for a short period like six months or nine months or a maximum of 12 months, the minister of finance said. This plan, according to her is to help reduce the effect of the removal of fuel subsidy on Nigerians.

“They plan that the transport subsidy will be given directly to individuals, however, the constraint for them is the issue of registration; the national identity registration process is ongoing and they want to make sure that this subsidy goes into the hands of the right people,” she said, adding that the government want to be able to make transfers to people using their BVNs, account number, and national identity number. The subsidy removal should commence from July, the earliest by the beginning of the year.

Rail connection

The President has a directive to link the whole country with rail lines at least within triangular access using the funds borrowed by the Government, Ahmed said during a recent interview with Channels TV.

According to her, it will include the Lagos-Ibadan-kano rail land that is ongoing, the Port-Harcourt to Maiduguri which cuts across about six or eight states, and the coaster rail from Port-Harcourt to Lagos.

The Government also intends to use these funds borrowed to work on major roads. These roads include the Abuja, Kaduna, Kano road, the second Niger bridge, the east-west road, the Lagos-Ibadan Road and other major roads in each state which are being worked on, handled by the Federal Ministry of works, she said.

The loans, according to the minister, would also be used for power projects for the deployment of transmission lines to link up to expand the national grid, loans for major dam and water irrigation projects that are also necessary for the advancement of agricultural production.

Performing assets

The minister of finance stated that the sale of Nigeria’s national assets is not just to raise revenue but to turn them into performing assets.

She made it known that some national assets are already being sold but the major reason is largely to transform those investments into performing assets.

According to her, there was no point in having an asset invested in, which is not performing. Ahmed said she believes it is “better to sell the asset to a private sector company that can run the business better, which in turn makes the economy better.”

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