In 2014, before the election that saw the first change of power in Nigeria by peaceful democratic means in our history, the then government rebased our country’s GDP. Now, by internationally recognised metrics, we possess the largest economy in Africa. While this should be a source of pride for Nigerians, it goes no way to addressing the deep structural challenges our economy faces; nor does it put more money in the pockets or more food on the table of millions of our citizens who go without, every day. To achieve dynamic and sustainable economic growth, and to eradicate poverty, we need as a nation to undertake serious economic reforms. Some will be painful, but all are necessary.
I am determined that if my government stands for anything it is the complete breaking of the cycle of gross corruption and theft that has caused investors to look first anywhere but Nigeria when considering business opportunities in Africa. In visits, starting with Britain, America, Germany and France, I have sought and received the support of their governments to locate and then return missing billions siphoned out of Nigeria by leaders of previous administrations. Colossal estimates have been bandied about on the amounts spirited out of Nigeria. Whatever can be repatriated of the stolen money must be re-invested in our economy. That process has now begun, and my administration will not rest until the funds are returned, and those who removed them are brought to justice.
This return of our people’s money will be combined with a diversification of our economy, and particularly a manufacturing base that has been allowed to wither in recent years. Our oil sector, the largest in Africa, has failed to reach its full potential because past governments failed to maintain our capacity to process and refine raw materials. This is similarly the case for other extractive sectors. In collaboration with international partners and our own leading businesses we are working to ensure this is addressed expeditiously.
Given the fall in oil and commodities prices, we will also seek to rebalance the economy in other areas. Nigeria’s fight against Boko Haram and (once it is defeated) our long-term security require a local military manufacturing base. We are already in serious discussions with partners to build capacity that can supply locally developed equipment for our armed forces that will, in time, lower our levels of imports of such equipment and improve our balance-of-payments position.
Broader and deeper transformation in the manufacturing sector is of course possible, and essential, but will not flourish without greater investment in electricity supply. Nigeria, like much of Africa, remains underpowered, and we are working on a strategy to boost our own electricity production, leveraging, in the first instance, internally available natural gas, water and wind resources.
It has also been seen in other parts of the world, from eastern Europe to Asia, that the diversification and opening up of competition within a nation’s internal market leads to growth and job creation. Nigeria, again like much of Africa, remains too state-dependent. In certain strategic areas state intervention is necessary, even in the most advanced economies. But we are determined to attract local and international investors by market reform and improving the environment for business.
We can see in Lagos, Nigeria’s most economically advanced region, that competition lowers prices for consumers in everything from the retail sector to the supply of public services, and creates jobs. We will take that blueprint and, underpinned by infrastructure investment, we can grow supply and opportunity in products and services.
The good and the greatness
I know that millions of people in Nigeria are waiting to see signs of economic recovery and most importantly, the chance for a job and the better life and self-respect that employment and a career can bring. I wish my administration could deliver this for each and every Nigerian overnight. But no government anywhere in the world has ever been able to achieve such transformation instantaneously. We look to examples such as Singapore, which has managed to achieve economic greatness despite having few natural resources beyond the ingenuity of its own people. It is possible for Nigeria, with its surfeit of natural resources, to achieve the same.
Yet we also note that most nations that have achieved rapid economic growth in recent decades have one thing in common: they first addressed their breakdown in governance, cracked down on corruption and demonstrated to their own people and the world that to invest in that country is safe. That is where we also must begin.
Delivering on that promise to the people and to the world is already under way. It is the only way we will reach the economic greatness Nigerians deserve.