Alarmed by the dwindling fortunes of Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari, yesterday, brainstormed with his key ministers and financial experts from the public and private sectors, to find ways of fixing the troubled economy.
The President, who has repeatedly assured Nigerians of his resolve to turn around the economy, has come under immense pressure to take far-reaching measures to quicken the recovery of the economy.
The retreat, which was packaged by the Budget and National Planning Ministry, in conjunction with the Finance Ministry, is seen as one of the early steps to proffer solutions to the beleaguered economy and prioritise areas for the 2017 budget.
The retreat had as its theme: Building Inter-ministerial Synergy for Effective Planning and Budgeting in Nigeria. Declaring open the retreat, President Buhari said the nation required what he called ‘out-of-the-box’ thinking to get out of the economic doldrums. Buhari said: “The challenges we face in the current recession require ‘out-of-the-box’ thinking, to deploy strategies that involve engaging meaningfully with the private sector to raise the level of private sector investment in the economy as a whole.
“We are confident that the level of private investment will grow as we are determined to make it easier to do business in Nigeria by the reforms we are introducing under the auspices of the Presidential Committee on Ease of Doing Business.”
He stressed the determination of the government to explore possible ways of turning the current challenges into opportunities for the country, especially the nation’s vibrant youths on whose shoulders lie the future of the nation.
“This is why we have embarked on measures and actions that will open up the opportunities we have seen in the power, housing, agriculture, mining, trade and investment; Information Communication Technology, ICT, tourism, transport and other sectors.
“I wish to reassure the teeming youths that this government would remain steadfast in its effort to ensure greater progress and prosperity for you. While government is taking the lead in the task of repositioning our economy for change, we cannot achieve this completely by ourselves.
“We will need, and we ask for the support and cooperation of the private sector, domestic and foreign, state and local governments, the National Assembly and the Judiciary as well as all well-meaning Nigerians in this important task. We are confident that working together, we shall succeed,” Buhari assured.
Budget and National Planning Minister, Senator Udoma Udo Udoma, explained that the retreat was timely as it was deliberately arranged as part of government’s preparations for the 2017 budget, apparently to avoid the problems noticed in the previous budgets.
Udoma said: “We want to make sure that as a cabinet, we have synergy and we look at the priorities for the government for the 2017 budget and make sure that in the light of the current economic situation, the budget is well structured to take us back on the path of growth.”
The minister said with proper synergy between the ministers and their respective agencies, it would be possible for the cabinet to speak with one voice regarding the 2017 budget. Finance Minister, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, expressed government’s sympathy with Nigerians over the down turn in the economy but was quick to add that the administration was more serious in its intention and resolve to turn it around. Adeosun said it was obvious, from the beginning, that the nation would run into economic crisis due to plummeting revenue.
She said: “We sympathise with the people of Nigeria but what is more serious is our intentions, our resolve and plans to turn it around. We had said it before that we knew we were going to go into a very difficult period. “We have not anticipated the impact of the much awaited crisis, which of course is built on our revenue that is down significantly.
“We have a credible plan and that plan is based on the need to invest in our infrastructure and each of the experts spoke on that, saying clearly that it was the only solution for Nigeria to take us out of this situation and we are working on that.”
The retreat later broke into six syndicate groups, with ministers and permanent secretaries divided among the groups to examine the economy and suggest the way forward.
Papers presented at the retreat include: “Weaning the Nigerian economy out of oil dependence,” by Dr Obadiah Mailafia; “Fiscal and Trade Policy options to get the economy out of recession,” by Dr Ayo Teriba; “Monetary and Exchange Rate Policy options to get the economy out of recession,” by Mr. Bismarck Rewane and “How to grow output and productivity in the real sector,” by Mr. Bode Agusto.
According to documents from the Budget Ministry, the key expectations of the 2017 budget will focus on reviving the economy and will emphasise on actions to return the country to sustainable growth, keep a cap on recurrent expenditure and focus on capital expenditure, especially infrastructure.
According to the document, the ultimate target is the attainment of strong, inclusive growth.