INTERVIEW with Umaru Yar'Ardua, President… on a mission incredible [The Guardian]

1 Comment » June 6th, 2009 posted by // Categories: Nigeriawatch



 

GUARDIAN

May 2009

Umaru Yar’Ardua: President… on a mission incredible

It was a coup of sorts when President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua agreed to speak in an interview with The Guardian. It would be the President’s first major newspaper interview since he took office almost two years ago. We had hoped for a short session, given his renowned shyness from such an exercise. But a big surprise it turned out to be when Yar’Adua sat down and spoke for more than three hours.

Looking sharp in a white simple dress, the interview, slated for 2.30 p.m. did not start until well after 4 p.m. But once the session began, there was no stopping him and his passion for Nigeria was palpable in every word.

The President enjoys talking. About Nigeria. His faith in his seven-point agenda was so deep the boundless excitement he exudes when explaining it was infectious. Like the teacher that he was, he wanted every point understood beyond his explanation. Facts and figure reeled off his memory. The result was an almost endless answer to some questions. His voice, though gentle, had a bell-like jingle to it that seemed to emphasise his authority on the subject of discussion.

Comfortable in his skin, Yar’Adua’s sense of humour was touching.

“You’re looking good, Mr. President” elicited the response: “Thanks. But I know I am also looking trim.” And before the hearty laughter that followed ended, he quipped: “Well, it is not possible for a President of Nigeria to look chubby in the face of the enormous challenges before the nation.”

He claims he enjoys the job, comforted by the knowledge that “Nigeria has all it takes to be great” and energised by the readiness of Nigerians to make the country great.

But can he truly be the leader of that march? Does he have what it takes to lead that journey to greatness?

The Guardian team of Editor/Deputy Editor in Chief, Debo Adesina, Chairman, Editorial Board, Reuben Abati and Abuja Bureau Chief Martins Oloja engaged Yar’Adua on these and many more last Friday. Excerpts.

NIGERIANS really want to hear from you and we hope that you will use this medium to speak frankly and candidly. In a few weeks, you will be two years in office and we must be frank with ourselves that the impression out there is still one of things yet to pick up and a pace still far behind what is expected. We know all the slogans: The Seven-Point Agenda, Vision 20-2020 and so on. But what exactly is going on? Where is Nigeria going? What are you out to achieve and what exactly should Nigerians expect?

Yar’Adua: Well, you see, there is no correlation between the pace and perception; the perception of the pace of our progress is sometimes different from the reality. Progress is a function of a combination of factors which include resources, capacity and planning …Now one of the things we have done is to identify the enablers that will ensure that Nigeria becomes one of the modern economies within a specific time frame. That is why we have Vision 20-2020, which everybody knows about, I hope. Then, the enablers: what are those things that must be done and must be done correctly? So we identified that the economy has to grow by double digit over a period of over a decade and above, which will enable this country to have a modernised economy to fall within the region of 20 developed economies of the world. Unless we are able to achieve that we will not be able to accomplish this objective. And what are those things that we must do? What we have identified first is the kind of system we are operating: the economic system. So we have adopted the free market economy whereby we try to get the enabling environment in place for the private sector to be at the driving seat with regards to production. Now, with slight modification, given the experience of today, which shows that leaving the economy completely to the private sector has its own inherent dangers, which is mostly responsible for what is happening in the world today due to the failure of the regulations or supervision. That is why we have identified seven (7) critical areas that are the enablers: that is infrastructure; we mean critical infrastructure as the most important, without which we cannot achieve any goals. Transport and power infrastructures are critical here. Without power and energy we cannot build a modern economy. You cannot make the economy to grow the kind of growth that is required and that is why power is the highest priority of this administration. The second one is transport infrastructure such as road, railway, waterways, ports and airports. These infrastructure are critical. As at today, inadequate infrastructure accounts for 20% of inflation in the country. You can see the kind of problem that we have in terms of transport infrastructure alone. We just have to be able to move goods and people. Then food security and agriculture is what generates a lot of jobs for the people because the bottom-line is that wealth creation has to do with job creation. The bottom-line in terms of whatever we do is this: we want to grow the economy so that people will have jobs. So, agriculture and land reform come in here. Land administration because, I always said that one of the things that we failed to do in this country is to bring land to play its part in the development of the national economy as a capital asset. And this is why land reform and modernisation of the land administration form part of the 7- Point Agenda because it will have a great impact on the modernisation of the national economy. We feel people should take initiative and get empowered. Nigerians all over the country own lands, farmlands. You go to rural areas, people have lands and houses where they are domiciled both in urban and rural areas. But because the land administration system does not allow these lands to come to the people as assets, as wealth, they cannot use these as exchange for capital to invest. That is why we have included this land reform as a critical issue on the agenda. Now to the Niger Delta: Niger Delta is where we have resources such as crude oil and gas and petrol chemicals as backbones for some of the needs of a modern economy, mostly power and energy. Crude oil and gas are the enablers for power and energy and the crisis in the delta region and insecurity in particular is affecting production and forming an impediment to investment. I have a firm belief that throughout the continent, the Niger region has the greatest potentials for wealth creation than any other region in Africa. If you have peace in the area and you have infrastructure that will enable development to come to Niger Delta, within one and half decade, it will be the petrochemical hub of the African continent. If we lose the opportunity, there are other areas: Angola for example, before the end of the civil war in Angola, Africa South of Sahara, we were about the only one. But now there is peace in Angola. The civil war is over after over 20 years of fighting a war and now they are settling down and if we are not careful, investment that should naturally flow from all parts the world into the Niger Delta will now go to Angola. That is why we have to take this issue of Niger Delta very seriously as part of the 7-point agenda. Generally no investor, domestic and foreign, will want to invest in an environment where their investment is not secure. So security has thus been made part of the 7-point agenda. So, these are the steps, the enablers that this nation must adopt for us achieve a double digit growth rate. Besides, we are carrying out reforms in various sectors. The public sector reform within the civil service to build capacity is related to the seventh one I have not mentioned: Human Capital. Of course, no matter the kind of environment; when you put these enablers on ground, you must have the manpower – educated and skilled manpower – to operate within those sectors, especially education and health that determine quality of human capital. We have a large population, which is an advantage. It will be a disadvantage if the potential and capacity is not developed. But when the capacity and potential is developed, this huge population becomes a great advantage. Now the reforms of the macro-economic system are going on. What we are doing with regards to implementing the seven point agenda is trying to bring in the private sector to come into infrastructure development. At the end of the campaigns, I set up a small committee to work out roughly what we will require in terms of infrastructure development and we require an investment of about $10 billion annually for the next ten years to ensure the development of infrastructure in this country to support the kind of economy we want to grow. And government cannot do that alone because for now, government resources are just inadequate. So, we decided that one of the things we need to do is to bring in the private sector into the infrastructure development. Once we do that the roads, the railways. Already effort has begun with ports and waterways and airports as well as in power. If we get the private sector to come and invest in these sectors, the money released from these areas will now go to fund the social sector such as education and health to enable us have enough resources to produce human capacity that we require while the infrastructure that is put in place will now help resources coming not only from government but from the private sector. And that is why we have decided to embark on the reform of the petroleum sector to make the NNPC a National Oil Company to go and compete with other oil companies like Shell, Aramco of Saudi Arabia and Agip so that we separate production and distribution from regulation and ownership. From the beginning, we have decided that once the National Assembly pass the reform bill, we will allocate some blocks to the national oil company to give it an asset base like other oil companies, where it can use its reserve to get credit so that government will be relieved from funding Joint Ventures from the cash calls annually. These calls will go into infrastructure and human development. This way, the current Joint Ventures we have, we will incorporate them so that each Joint Venture will become incorporated. Government will surrender some of its shares to Nigerians who want to invest in the oil and gas sector so that each Joint Venture is an incorporated company with the NNPC as a national oil company. Nigerians who buy interest will float these shares in the Stock Exchange so that the shares can be quoted. It will now run as an incorporated joint venture and will not depend on government at all for finances. So these are the critical

major changes taking place to ensure that we achieve the target of a double-digit growth rate. Even with the recession, we still recorded 6 per cent growth rate by December of last year. I think the figure for the first quarter of this year is also hovering around that figure. So this is the overall strategic plan that we have. And to do this, we need to plan for each sector. And I will tell you the progress that we have made. We take the power sector. I have explained it and other officials have explained that as at today, we have so far managed to sustain our production of electricity to between 2,700 megawatts and 3,000 megawatts. When I say we have managed to sustain, when you know the problem afflicting the power sector you will know that so far this is not an easy achievement. Most of the generating and transmitting and distribution facilities need total rehabilitation as some of them have not been rehabilitated for the past 40 years. For some, the routine Turn-Around Maintenance has not been carried out over time. So, you find the generating plants, the turbines now have short lifespan because of the way they are maintained. Some are at the end of their life-spans. We also have the problem of gas which we are trying our best to tackle now. We have tried to maintain these 2,700 to 3,000 megawatts. Sometimes, we experience system shut-down due to pipeline vandalisation by people who steal condensate, which sometimes results in production cut down to 1,200 or sometime 1,000 megawatts and it takes two to three days or even sometimes four to five weeks before repair can be effected. Now this is the situation as at today. We have a plan to generate 6,000 megawatts by December this year and also to generate 10,000 megawatts by the end of 2011. Not only to generate this but to ensure that the power generated is transmitted and distributed. These plans we have begun to implement simultaneously by doing all the rehabilitation that we need to do; the critical transmission lines that we need to repair because the transmission lines that we have; the integrity of transmission and distribution lines has been very poor. Over the years; just like generation itself, there has not been major maintenance. So we are doing that now in the programme. Besides, we are constructing new transmission lines to ensure that we achieve the plan of transmitting the 6,000 megawatts and by 2011 the transmission of 10,000 megawatts. These two programmes we have begun to implement with PHCN programme and NIPP programme. What we are doing now is supervising the projects that are on-going making sure that everything is okay. Even with all the problems associated with it, we are tackling them and I am confident, fully confident, that this target will be met. And I have asked the minister and the power committee to work out the period and pace we need to generate not less than 25,000 megawatts by the target period of 2020. I have no doubt in my mind that once we achieve the 10,000 megawatts by 2011, by 2015 we will have another generation of about the same amount. So they are working on another plan covering 2015 and 2020. This is the situation report. Gas projects, Joint Venture projects are going on now. All the time the Cash-calls since the independence, the attention of government has been on the production of crude petroleum every year until this year, 2009. For the first time, we voted $1.5 billion as cash call for the Gas Joint Venture project to produce gas for domestic use. And the projects that have been designed to meet the 6000 megawatts and 10,000 megawatts in the power sector and other domestic needs of gas, the industrial sector especially the Lagos and Port Harcourt axis and Kano…the gas pipeline that transfers gas to all these places is on the drawing board. But for now where we have the gas is up to Ajaokuta, Obajana Cement, Lagos and Port Harcourt and around Benin. We need this gas for power and for industry. We have this programme that we have begun to implement. The Joint Venture Programme has begun. The NNPC is working with oil majors, Shell and Chevron and Agip, to set up more gas processing plants and to set up an extraction plant in Oteregu to drive the gas, which gives us problem now. The specification is the problem. It is wet. It is not as dry as it ought to be. After some time, they had to stop to dismantle the pipes and remove parts that are condemned, otherwise it will corrode. The memorandum for the award of the contract for the extraction plant is ready and I think the plan we have the gas in all right.

On the state of emergency for power:

And this emergency I said I want to declare, I want to look at everything. I think by the end of May, I will be ready by the grace of God to declare the emergency in the sector. Emergency is really to allow government to use any national resource and to set aside any agreement entered into to ensure that the target for the production, distribution and transmission of power targets are achieved. For instance, once the emergency is declared, it will allow government to take any gas from anywhere. For instance now also, some of the transmission lines for which contracts have been awarded by NIPP during the last administration have not begun, not because of lack of payment but because in most cases people in the areas are asking for compensation for the right of way to erect the towers for the high voltage transmission lines. The cost of compensation alone is sometimes more than the cost of erecting the transmission lines. But once the emergency is declared, it will involve government going ahead with construction of the transmission lines even if the issue of compensation has not been settled. Such issues can be settled at any other time. So, we don’t have to waste time. For now, we can’t do much by law until we pay the compensation. But once the emergency is declared, it can be done. We can go ahead and dismantle some structures. These are some of the problems militating against the progress and this power issue is so important to this nation that nothing should be allowed to stand in its way. This is what we have put in place in the power sector.

On Road infrastructure

On the road transport infrastructure, now we have succeeded in giving the first concession, the Lagos – Ibadan Express way. Now we have the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC) in place. Besides this, we are working on the concessioning of two other major highways – Benin-Ore-Sagamu and Kano-Kaduna-Abuja. Negotiations and other things are going on. We will soon advertise according to the public procurement regulations and we hope that before the end of this year, concession of the two roads would have been completed. But for now we want to concentrate on three major roads. God willing, we will continue on the policy of infrastructure concessioning in the road sector. For now, we will concession some parts of our roads that are commercially viable. For roads that are not commercially viable, we are working on programmes to see how best to tackle them. When we came in 2007, we met contracts that were already awarded for 631 highways that were worth N931 billion, almost one trillion naira. So we had to step back and look at the entire situation. When we matched these contractual commitments with the income of government that is going into the sector and we asked our officials in the ministry to work out the timelines for the completion of these projects, their report made us to have a rethink. Some had been abandoned, some had started and for almost all of them advance payments had been made…and almost 50 per cent of them had been abandoned at various stages, so we had to stop and re-organise and re-plan them because it will take 13 years to complete those projects assuming we commit all the funds in the sector into the projects alone. We met with some of the contractors … we selected some of the most critical ones and I think I have the list of the 13 which have been completed. I have the list of the 13 which I will give you if you want. Some of the roads are federal roads while some are state and rural roads because so many things happened in the process. All federal roads are gazetted. You find that most often numerous requests are accommodated without budgetary provision. Sometimes, when the President goes on state tours, people ask him to do some things and some of these requests are accommodated without budgetary provisions. And when the budget gets to the National Assembly, they also add new roads from their own constituencies, which are not federal roads. So we have classified all these and I have directed officials to return all these non-federal roads, state and local government roads to the states regardless of the stages they are in because we can’t handle them. We have to match our resources with these extra-budgetary commitments. We then negotiated with the contractors to either terminate the construction of those roads (they have already stopped work in any case because they have not been paid) or negotiate with those responsible, be it local government or state. So this is the exercise that has been going on. As a result, we have those that have been completed, we have others, too: those ones need not to be re-awarded. We have others that we have classified as of economic importance to the nation. They are on-going and we are managing to service them. There are others that we just awarded last month. There are 21 zonal roads, which we have identified as some of the most important roads, of economic importance…some require rehabilitation, others need reconstruction, which will be awarded within one or weeks. And this will form part of our road programme up to the year 2011 apart from this concessioning that we are doing. It is not about new road programmes. It does not help. It only creates confusion. What we need to do is to get back to a situation where when you award a contract, it is serviced to completion. So this is the situation with the road infrastructure.

On railways

On the railways, when I came, also I met Railway Modernisation Programme which contract was awarded to a Chinese company to construct a double track standard gauge for Lagos-Kano at the cost of $8.3 billion dollars. $250 million dollars had been paid, I think, in May from the excess crude account. One thing about this contract is that there was no financial plan. It was based on a concessionary loan of $2 billion to be provided by the Chinese government. When the Chinese President visited Nigeria during the South-South’s Summit 2.5 billion dollars was promised: 500 million dollars from the government itself at a concessionary rate and 2 billion dollars from the Chinese Exim Bank also on concessionary rate. And I think the previous government decided that of the $2 billion, one billion dollars will be for this project and another one billion dollars to the Mambilla and Zungeru power projects. It was decided that the $500 million from the Chinese Government would be put in space technology. Earlier, this government signed an agreement with the IMF as part of debt relief measures, not to take any loans that were not concessionary in nature. These loans were to be given in exchange for four blocks of crude oil with proven reserves. When I visited China and we discussed, I was told this 500 million dollars was given on concessionary rate from the Chinese government but the $2 billion dollars was given at commercial rate from the Chinese Exim Bank. That was not what I understood was the agreement. It was to be on concessionary basis and one billion was to be used for the railway project in exchange also for four oil blocks …Now that never happened. Now that situation was unacceptable to me and we are not going to take it because we will not go back to the previous situation before the debt relief. We will not take loans that are not concessionary in nature but we are still working on the project.

What we have decided to do in this administration is that instead of abandoning the existing single track, we will rehabilitate it, get it to work. We are working on a Railway Development Programme. The Council has already approved the contract. Now we will have 25 locomotives running between Lagos and Kano by December this year or January next year. The 25 locomotives have already been ordered and General Electric has begun manufacturing. And we are also working on a PPP Model with General Electric, Nigeria Railway Corporation, African Development Bank to have next year another 75 locomotives so that by the end of 2010 or early 2011, we will have 100 locomotives running across Lagos – Kano rail line and we have given out the contract for the rehabilitation of all the portions that require rehabilitation. The rehabilitation of the stop stations and the signals is on-going so that by the end of this year, this will be completed. Now, we are doing the same programme with the Port Harcourt-Maiduguri rail line next year against January 2011 and also the following year when we are doing this we are working on the Kano- Lagos for the PPP to have a 100 locomotives running. Also in 2011 against 2012, we will have the same 100 locomotives running from Port Harcourt to Maiduguri. So, we are now trying to renegotiate with the Chinese on Lagos – Kano standard gauge. I have directed that we renegotiate with them to have a single track standard gauge from Lagos to Kano. We are looking within the region of three billion dollars. We need to put the railway back on track and really need to modernise the railway to realise the Vision 20:2020. If by the end of this year we are able to reach agreement, when we continue, we will have the double track but one standard gauge modern railway and one narrow gauge modern railway running. We will duplicate another one on North-East axis. We are rehabilitating all the tracks to the ports. We are doing another one to Onne, Port Harcourt to Calabar so that all our ports will be linked to the rail. The central line is almost nearing completion and the standard modern railway from Ajaokuta to Warri is also going to be completed this year. So this is the railway sector we are working on.

On inland waterways

On the issue of the inland waterways, the contract has been signed for the dredging of the Niger and the construction of about seven inland ports. Right now all the contractors are ready. They are waiting for the level of the water to rise and I think this dredging will be completed this year because everything is on course.

On aviation

Our programme for the aviation sector is to ensure that the entire Nigerian airspace must be safe by 2011.And that the four airports in Ikeja, Kano, Port Harcourt and Abuja we are going to turn them into modern international airports. Our programme will be on total air safety and we are going to ensure that all our international airports reach international airport standards by 2011. A lot of discussions are going on but we are bringing in the private sector for the Abuja airport. Right now we are discussing with Lufthansa to make Abuja the operational hub for West and Central Africa. We have had several technical meetings both in Frankfurt and here in Abuja. They will work on runway, workshop, hangar for aircraft maintenance and also have a PPP arrangement for the school of Aviation in terms of training and capacity building. Concerning Port Harcourt and Kano, we are talking to operators for PPP arrangement and in Lagos, we already have a partnership agreement with Bicourteny and we are going to look at the agreement and modify it. These are the programmes we have going in terms of transport infrastructure.

On security

Another aspect of the 7-point agenda. A committee was set up under a former Inspector-General of Police, MD Yusufu, and the committee has submitted its report on the reform of the Nigeria Police. Government has received the White Paper and it has been reviewed by the Federal Executive Council and we have discussed with other stakeholders especially the governors in the Council of States and those decisions, which were taken by the Council of States we have begun to implement. For example, the most important one is the creation of a Fund, which the federal, the state, the local governments will contribute to for the training of Policemen, upgrading and rehabilitation of training and police institutions because we have identified the building of capacity as the most important factor. They need training and retraining; equipment, communication and then logistics. We have set up a committee chaired by the vice president so that by the end of the year, we have a programme for four years that this Fund will be used to implement. Not just the fund, we must have a detailed programme of what to do otherwise, it will just be frittered away. The MD Yusufu Committee said we will require about N300 billion annually which all the arms of government cannot afford. We have another committee to determine the optimal amount that all the tiers of government can afford annually. This amount we have agreed will be taken from the Federation Account into a Fund and the Fund will have a committee not only of government officials but also representatives of labour, civil society organisations and the police to oversee the administration of the Fund. The implementation of that plan which will begin January 2010 will build serious capacity and aim to reform the Nigeria Police Force to carry out its responsibility for effective policing, maintenance of peace but also carry out some of the recommendations that were accepted like withdrawing police personnel from all those who are not entitled to having it . Because one of the findings of the committee was that about 100,000 policemen and women of the 400,000 we have in Nigeria are engaged in guard duties, guarding government officials, retired government officials, banks, factories and even private individuals. So it was decided that all those should not be there. Even retired government officials like governors will not get but only those that are recognised by regulation should remain. This is being implemented. I think so far; we have been able to retrieve 12,500 men according to the last report I got.. The other thing is that in the budget this year, we have identified six cities we will face critically in peace building and they are: Lagos, Port Harcourt, Ibadan, Kano, Kaduna, and Maiduguri and we have voted N50 billion in the budget through the Police Affairs Ministry. By the end of this year, crime in these cities will go down by not less than 40%. So, we are using this as pilot to see what strategies we will use to reduce significantly the level of crime; if it works then we will extend the model to other Nigerian cities gradually. So these are some of the things that we are doing.

The Niger Delta

On the issue of the Niger Delta, it has been protracted. We are doing everything possible to deal with the challenge there. We have reached a stage where we had to create the Ministry of Niger Delta so that we can channel more funds into the region. I told some people that this is the third time in the history of this country when a ministry has been specifically created to address a certain national issue. The first was the Ministry of Lagos Affairs for the development of the then federal capital area and the other one is the ministry of Federal Capital Territory. In terms of development and infrastructure, I believe the measures we have taken both in terms of government intervention and the creation of the ministry I believe will address the major problems mitigating against development of the region. On the issue of security, we have reached a stage whereby we have brought the task force there under one command. We are changing the term of engagement of the task force. I am calling next week or thereabouts the National Defence Council meeting and the National Security Council meeting. Both of them are to discuss and approve measures and strategies for peace in the Niger Delta. We have set up a committee under the Minister of Interior, General Godwin Abbe to work out term of the amnesty we announced. These two councils, especially the National Security Council, will determine the period the amnesty will cover. After that, the task force will get the mandate to ensure it stops militancy in the Niger Delta. The task force will be given a specific timeline and for the first time we are not going to allow the task force to be a permanent feature in the Niger Delta states. So we will give a time limit and say within this time, which will be determined by the National Security Council; after the amnesty period is over, the Task force will get out of the area. These are some of our security plans and I am confident that they are going to work. I think really this is what Nigeria needs and you will be surprised what will happen there in terms of economic activities. Now a lot of divestment has taken place and this has resulted in cost of property and land in Lagos because a lot of people are moving out of Port Harcourt to settle in Lagos. Only last year, Julius Berger moved out of the place, from construction sites because they were brutally attacked and all efforts to get the company back failed because they couldn’t guarantee the safety of their workers. In fact, that was why the council had to re-award the contract to another firm.

On land reforms

Land reform as you can see that the land reform committee is now in place with clear term of reference. Clearly, we have the best minds in land administration in Nigeria on the committee. A bill is being drafted for the committee to become a commission because it has to be a permanent feature of our polity – the land reform commission. This will ensure modernisation of our land administration.

On education

For instance, take the Education Trust Fund which used to disburse everything in the education sector: from primary school, secondary school, polytechnics, universities, scholarships, trainings… all these, we have now said, okay, you concentrate totally and fully on higher education. And even on that higher education, you take one university from each geopolitical zone, bring the facilities up to the minimum acceptable international standard. And we set up the assistance to maintain that standard, to generate the fund for those institutions either the polytechnics or the universities to maintain that standard and then we move to other ones. The same thing we are doing in the health system. We are concentrating on primary health-care. We said all contracts awards from building the clinics, purchase of drugs, we should get out. We should help with the policy, help build capacity, supervise and make sure that those policies are implemented by the state governments. And we concentrate on the tertiary sector. Right now, we have said that the special project fund should concentrate on three teaching hospitals: the University of Ibadan Teaching Hospital, Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital, University of Nigeria, Enugu Campus Teaching Hospital. To bring these teaching hospitals up to the minimum acceptable international standard so that any research hospital, any university hospital you see abroad, you can compare these three teaching hospitals with those teaching hospitals. We believe by doing this, it may take us say, three or four years to accomplish, we may not use this year to complete this. It may take two years, it may take three years. But won’t move out until we finish this because if we finish these ones, these hospitals themselves will carry along other hospitals and then we can move to other teaching hospitals. So, these are the strategies we are working on. Briefly, these are the thrusts of the administration’s vision, the plans we have, how we have made these plans, what programmes we have evolved to implement, and what stage of implementation we are today. These are meant to give you some insight into why meticulous planning and implementation can look like a slow pace.

Now, there is also 2015, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the issues there are human development issues. You have touched on two of them: health and education. The verdict is that Nigeria is far behind on the MDGs. What are the specific short-term measures you are adopting to make sure that by 2015 when assessment will be done, there will be some things Nigerians will point to particularly in education where the public sector education system has collapsed. Two, you talked about the global financial meltdown and in spite of that, the economy is growing at six percent even in the first quarter of this year. So, how do we address this crisis when there is no real productivity in the economy. I mean, the government has adopted monetary policies, devaluing the naira and all that but Nigeria is till a dumping ground. All the banned items are on the streets of Nigeria and that frustrates production. Even palm oil, government only recently allowed one hundred percent importation of palm oil. Furniture items have been banned but they are on the streets of Nigeria. So, there is a contradiction in terms of this long term issue and the focus on the monetary policy.

 

Well, let us start with the first one: the issue of the Millennium Development Goals. Last week, I was at a quarterly meeting where we received the MDG quarterly report. If you cast your mind back, at the end of that meeting, we said Nigeria cannot meet the MDG target by 2015, on the issue of child maternal mortality and morbidity and on the issue of poverty and hunger. On these three issues, we said we cannot meet the target by 2015. Even from their report, I included for them the Universal Primary Education because for us, now it is Universal Basic Education because there are policies in the basic education from basic one to nine. Really, there are these four of the eight MDG goals which are unlikely that we meet. At the investment level we are making today in these areas, it is unlikely that we meet them by 2015. But there are others, by the level of investment and efforts we are making today, we are likely to meet those goals by 2015. So what I have asked the Senior Special Assistant on the MDGs and other officials to do is to look at what we need to do between now and 2015 to ensure that we increase the pace of investment in these areas and to determine what additional time do we need to realistically be able to say that we will be able to achieve these human development goals. So this is what we are doing now: they are working it out now. We are aware of that and we are being frank to this nation that this is the position and that we have asked officials to look at these two issues. What we need to do is to raise the level of investment in these four areas between now and 2015 and at what time would we be able to say that we have made progress and achieve these goals. Is it by 2018, 2020, at what point? I told them that by the next meeting which will be in three months time, these are the issues we will be deliberating on.

On the issues of economic melt-down, what we have seen is the function of corruption which is one of the factors that have to be tackled in this country to achieve these goals and this is one of the things. I hope it will work. I have set up a presidential task force on customs reforms. It has been inaugurated. I have asked the customs board to set it up and I have approved it because by the Act establishing the customs board, it has powers to do that-to set up a task force to ensure the implementation of the customs reforms within the next two years. The customs reform is not only to be able to clear our goods within 48 hours target, but also to bring down the issue of smuggling to allow the national domestic economy to grow. Right now, the level is that the economy cannot tolerate the kind of activities that are taking place including smuggling. I think that they have approved that we are on course on a proposal to set up a committee under the former United Nations Secretary, Mr. Koffi Annan to work out and see how to make a case because take the textiles for instance, we have identified, even though we are working on the N70 billion textile reform, we found out that one of the major problems facing the textile and garment industry in the country is counterfeiting from China, counterfeiting Nigerian textile and smuggling them into the country on a massive scale and this will require the intervention of the Chinese government. That is why we are setting up this committee and that is why I am of the opinion that I should take it up in the next ECOWAS meeting. So smuggling is one of the key and most challenging aspects of the customs reform. It is having a devastating effect on the nation’s economy. Now, on the fact that the economy is growing by six per cent per annum in spite of the melt-down: for the entire West African sub-region, the manufacturing sector, if you note, it has had little effect on the growth rate. Of course, you know that the manufacturing sector was down before the financial melt-down in this country. The largest manufacturing industry in this country is the textile and the textile industry has been down since the last six years, even more. So, almost 80 per cent of the industries in Kano, in the last five, six, seven years have been closed down. A lot of the industries had been closed down before the melt-down. That is one of the factors why in effect the manufacturing sector really contributes less than five per cent to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in this country. It is the agricultural sector that contributes about 60 per cent to the GDP. In agriculture, last year, we had a very good harvest. We have made a very serious progress in this sector in this country and we are taking measures, for instance, dedicating the natural resources fund for the next four years to agriculture for research and state governments for production. We are set, however, to go to the Central Bank to get N200 billion for the development of large-scale commercial farming. We have done one thing which has never been done before and which now is helping agriculture. Last year, we subsidised fertiliser and I think that it is about 500,000 metric tonnes. 650,000 was actually planned but I think that about 500,000 metric tonnes was distributed and subsidised to farmers and the state governments added another 25 percent, making it 50 per cent subsidy for fertiliser. The quantity of fertiliser last year, the ones that were successfully distributed on time before the rains was more than that of the last four years put together. So, we had a vote and we have guaranteed a minimum price for all agricultural projects and this guarantee of minimum price has kept the price to the farmers at competitive levels. Farmers get their products very cheaply. Government from this year guaranteed minimum price. The gross in agriculture is really good. It contributes 60 per cent to GDP and about twenty per cent is contributed by the oil and gas and you have the other sectors, financial sector and the service sectors. The manufacturing sector contributes about four (4) per cent. That is why the manufacturing is just coming into the country: there is no much impact on the GDP.

Don’t you still think that some of the things you have mentioned: looking into the customs, trying to jump-start the textile industry, those are still scattered, gun-shot measures towards re-stimulating manufacturing? I do agree that it may not have contributed as much as agriculture to the GDP but in terms of employment which is the major crisis in Nigeria today, we will never be able to have a country which will employ its citizens without a manufacturing and production base. Even the agriculture sector, no value is being added to the products hence we cannot export as much as we should to earn forex. What are you doing in terms of getting things done in the real sector?

This is what we are saying: that one of the critical factors in this is power. This is why we are taking the power issue as the most critical point of the seven-point agenda because the critical factors that causes this close-down is the cost of energy in production. This affects productivity and also you have the cost of transportation because the transportation infrastructure is inadequate like I have said to you, today, it accounts for 20 per cent of inflation. These two issues must be sorted out for manufacturing and production to begin.

In May last year, you said one of the problems in the power sector is that the gas which should be used at the power stations had been committed to foreign interest for a number of years. Now, you said that by May, when you declare emergency in the power sector one of the things you would do is to set aside the existing agreement. Will this include the commitment of gas to foreign interest?

I said that when the emergency is declared, that any national resource, belonging to anybody, that will be required to meet the target of production will be used. You understand! That if for instance we need, let’s say I billion cubic feet of gas to generate 6000 mega watts, then all efforts we are making by October, amounts to 800 million cubic feet, the balance of or the remaining 200 million cubic feet will be taken from them: that is as a result of the emergency. So, that is one aspect that we are hoping would help us achieve the 6000 mega watts. When we achieve it, will help greatly and definitely by the end of 2011, if we have 10,000 mega watts generation and it is successfully transmitted and distributed, then definitely, this will help production in the industries because it will help to bring down the cost of energy this year, next year till 2011 we will subsidise the power. That is why the MYTO should be in place and by that time, we are hoping that we will be able to gradually remove the subsidy because I am certain, even without subsidy, once the power is available, steady and uninterrupted, it will bring down the cost of energy in production greatly. So, these are the two things: transportation infrastructure and the power infrastructure. Actually for production in industry, you must have these two.

Are you assuring Nigerians that December this year, this 6000 mega watts is a done deal?

That is why I am taking this measure. Because if not to assure Nigerians, I would not contemplate taking this drastic measure. So, I am aware that these measures are drastic but I am taking them in the interest of the nation to override every other personal interest.

One of the critical areas you just identified, which has so far affected development, is corruption. The perception out there is that this administration is not so committed to fighting corruption like the administration before it. The issue of Siemens came and we had the list and they mentioned past government officials who were involved and your government did not do anything. And during the period, a major bank in Nigeria was said to have been involved in money laundering in the United States and the bank was fined $15 million (USD). Nothing happened to the bank. Now, the Halliburton issue is generating a lot of interest to the extent that the administration’s explanation about $150 million that is said to be in a Swiss bank is incredible. What are you doing about corruption and how can Nigerians be assured that your administration is committed to fighting corruption in Nigeria?

In the case of the bank…? It has not come to me…

(An aide explained the matter was in the past)

Okay, because it (the bank issue) has not come to my attention.

Anyway, I think that it will be wrong to say that the government is not committed to fighting corruption. Because in the case of Halliburton, we have written to the Federal Attorney General of the United States to provide all the necessary evidence, the court papers, documents, on the basis of the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty and we are waiting for them to supply the documents or others. There are a lot of speculations surrounding this case… And I think that the most critical step we have taken, which I think the people should take note of, is this issue of having written to the Federal Attorney General of the US as provided by the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty and we cannot take action on speculations. I am not aware that any document as regards anybody anywhere has come to us in this case. The case broke out in the United States of America and we have also set up a committee under the IG to investigate locally any substance of evidence regarding anybody relating to this case. But the most important thing is that, once we have a response from the US authorities, we will take action and I promise this nation that once we have a response, those names that would be mentioned in the response will be made public and we will take actions and direct that the names should be forwarded to the EFCC and those officials and former officials involved will be arrested and prosecuted.

Siemens was blacklisted because of the corruption involving Nigerian officials but your administration lifted the blacklisting and even awarded them more contracts.

The Siemens issue, yes it is true but I must give you some information. When we went for the African Union-European Union Summit in Portugal, the Chancellor of Germany discussed specifically spoke to me on Siemens and assured me that the German government had taken all the steps required and that it had made the company itself-Siemens – to undergo such restructuring and changes. The German government pleaded for the sake of our relationship that we lift the blacklisting because the company now had a totally new management and that the German government was giving the Nigerian government assurance and guarantee that what has happened will never happen again. We accepted this request in the interest of Nigerian-German relationship. We acceded to the request of the German Chancellor because some times, there are things which involve relations between nations ,to maintain good relationship among countries especially at a time when we are engaged in negotiating the Nigerian-German energy partnership. I did not want us to jeopardise that opportunity and that is so far all we have been doing to get investment in the energy sector. The partnership we have been negotiating indeed is the first one that will provide a concrete result because that is the first partnership that we have discussed that has reached concrete agreement for investment in gas production to the tune of about $1.6 billion dollars. Then we have reached a conclusion and they have agreed that part of the partnership will go completely for the domestic gas use. That it is in the second phase of the investment where they will invest about $7.5 billion that will be the liquefied natural gas. I think these were worthy considerations.

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One Response to “INTERVIEW with Umaru Yar'Ardua, President… on a mission incredible [The Guardian]”

  1. josegiles says:

    Mr. President why are the banking,and loan company not making loans as you promised they would do for the american people we are all hurting and not getting any help. Time for them to answer to you for not helping us the little people that keep them in business, maybe we should boycott their business. Check http://obamamortgage2009.blogspot.com/2009/03/obamas-mortgage-modification-do-you.html#comments

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