Revamping Nigeria's economy under President Obasanjo (1999-2002)

Jan 03, 2003 01:00 AM

When people criticise the Obasanjo administration for non-performance, what they fail to realise is that they are indirectly saying things are not being done in the way and manner they used to be done by previous administrations. The cry that there is not enough money in circulation nor that they do not know where the money being realised from the huge oil windfall is going is an indirect admission of a failing of past administrations -- which includes the Shagari government of which Dr Alex Ekwueme was the Vice President - in seeing the need to diversify the Nigerian economy and move it away from the mono cultural plane.
The truth which most critics know but which they refuse to acknowledge is that the investments in the gas sector, the profits of which would begin to flow back in two to three years time, would almost double the present earnings from crude oil. The records are there for those who care to see them -- but because this is politics, people choose to be economical with the truth.

The reality of the matter, and one which has brought Nigeria to the very brink where it is just attempting to level with -- before starting up -- is that past administrations, from 1979 to 1999 were used to creating an atmosphere of false prosperity for the people of this country. And when General Ibrahim Babangida came to town with his Structural Adjustment Programme, SAP, he merely took Nigerians on a round trip of deceit by buckling under the pressures from friends and powerful lobbyists, thereby inflicting utmost pain on the populace and turning what should have been a positive endeavour into a nightmare by upturning what should have been gains because of petty considerations.
Today, the Obasanjo administration has exceeded the fifth train target of the LNG, LNG, project by landing the sixth train. This administration has also set machinery in motion for the establishment of another LNG project which would rival the present NLNG. When Nigeria embark on its LNG project in the very late seventies, Indonesia was also about beginning hers.

By 1999 when Obasanjo came in, Nigeria was just on its mid-projection train and Obasanjo took it over, met the target and even exceeded it. It is embarking on a completely new LNG project in just three and a half years, whereas Indonesia was already on her fourth or fifth project of same. The question to ask is, what did the government in which Dr Ekwueme served as its number two man do for four years to the LNG project, what the Buhari, Babangida, Abacha and Abdulsalami administrations -- which had military powers to just issue directives -- do to bring sanity to the project in the cumulative 20 years of governance? Today, it is convenient to propose blank economic proposals as being better than the present efforts of the Obasanjo administration.
The about $ 5 bn (more than half a trillion naira) cassava deal between Nigeria and some Asian countries is readily ignored by those who claim Obasanjo's frequent trips abroad has not yielded anything; or the investment both in the oil and non oil sectors of the economy in their hundreds of millions of dollars ?

By the time President Obasanjo assumed office in 1999, he already had a blue print on how to revolutionise the commercial sector of the country's economy. The man saddled with the responsibility of translating this dream into reality is Engineer Mustapha Bello, from Niger state.
Many people at that time raised eyebrows as to whether or not Engr. Bello's choice as minister in charge of the commerce ministry would stand the test of time. But today, the man has drastically transformed the commerce ministry to the extent that tongues are now wagging as to whether it would not be advisable to send him to another ministry where he can also apply his magic wand in turning such ministry around for better.

While presenting his "scorecard" to Nigerians at a media summit in Abuja recently, Engr. Bello enumerated a catalogue of achievements made by his ministry in the last three years and they are monumental. According to the minister, as soon as he assumed office in June 1999, "he took into account the major objectives of Nigeria's policy which included the achievement of economic development through the promotion of oil and non-oil exports, especially the diversification of manufactured exports, the protection of existing domestic industries and the reduction of the economy's dependence on imports." This review served as the major impetus that gingered the minister into further actions that culminated in the substantial achievements he recorded in the last three years.
Such achievements include direct investment in all major sectors into the economy as well as help in the deregulation and privatisation of some units of the public sector and the realignment of policy objectives in the agricultural sector. It also informed the ministry's action plan that covered projects aimed at enhancing export development and promotion, those aimed at strengthening the domestic institutional and regulatory framework, information and communication technologies and computerisation of the ministry and its parastatals and staff welfare and human resources development.

As a result of the groundwork put in place, Nigeria was able to successfully host the 4th OAU/AEC conference of African ministers of trade in Abuja last year while the nation's leadership role displayed during the 4th WTO ministerial conference in Doha, Qatar, represented the tangible benefits accruing from the country's initiative in this regard. It is on record that Nigeria's role in the Qatar conference earned the country a lot of commendation across the globe including that from Mr John Major, ex-British Prime Minister.
The ministry through its export-oriented parastatals, the Nigerian Export Promotion Council (NEPC) and the Nigerian Export Processing Zones Authority (NEPZA) have been vigorously pursuing and enhancing export development and promotion in the last three years. While the NEPC is involved with the administration of export incentives, product and market development, trade transformation and trade missions, the NEPZA handles the implementation of the country's free zones programme.

President Obasanjo commissioned that of Calabar in November 2001. The zone has a capacity for between 80-100 industrial firms with 53 medium to large scale investors fully licensed and are operating in the zone with a total net worth about 50 mm $ and an employment figure of 2000 persons. To further boost and encourage more investors in the area, the Cross River state' government has granted an additional 63 hectares of land contiguous to the zone for further development.
The Kano free trade zone has also got a boost under the Obasanjo regime as a sum of N 640 mm was released last year for the perimeter fence wall of the 200-hectare zone. The master plan design has been completed and the Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, laid its foundation stone in May this year.

Apart from Calabar and Kano, other free zones have been carved out. They include those of Jigawa state at Maigatari; Borno state at Banki; and Akwa Ibom state which will accommodate an export refinery and power plant. Other states like Oyo, Lagos, Delta and Ogun are being considered for same. It is however noteworthy to mention here that the Lekki EPZ Lagos will soon host two companies wishing to produce methanol and polymer there.
The methanol project intends to commence production of 2.5 mm tons of A.A. technical grade per annum with an investment portfolio of $ 650 mm, in Naira terms, this translates into about N 80 bn. The polymer plant will inject about $ 1.3 bn (some N 140 bn) into the economy for the production of 400,000 tons of ethylene and propylene each.
To date, the Onne Oil and gas free zone is accommodating 70 world-class companies and efforts are in top gear to connect the zone with the Nigerian Telecommunications Limited, NITEL, so that communication between the zone and the outside world can be enhanced.

According to Engr. Bello, the NEPC has been very responsive in the last three years as it attended to over 20,000 export enquiries at its Abuja head office and its zonal branches in Akure, Benin, Enugu, Kano, Lagos, Jos, Minna, Port Harcourt and Yola. In the area of product development, NEPC carried out studies and surveys on Nigerian handicrafts, horticulture, leather products and gum Arabic.
The minister also disclosed that the council sponsored the participation of Nigerian manufacturing exporters in international trade fairs and solo exhibitions in Japan, Egypt, South Africa, United Kingdom, United States of America, Cuba, Senegal, Germany, Sudan, Kuwait and Indonesia thus making it possible for made-in-Nigeria goods now acceptable in markets across the globe.

It is equally heart-warming to note that owing to the law of reciprocity, numerous trade delegations have visited Nigeria from Argentina, Ethiopia, Vietnam, Singapore, Taiwan, Pakistan, Libya, Cuba, Senegal, Sao Tame and Principe, Iran, Bangladesh and South Africa.
Equally interesting is the fact that Nigeria today enjoys both Bilateral Trade Agreement (BTA) and Memoranda of Understanding (MoU) with such countries as South Africa, Cuba, Vietnam, Tunisia, Canada, Indonesia, United States of America, Iran, Egypt, Algeria, Niger and Democratic Republic of Congo.

Source: Vanguard/All Africa Global Media
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