By Kede Aihie
Co-ordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo- Iweala had an interactive session with Nigerians in the Diaspora at the Savoy Hotel in Central London. The session was organised by Nigeria’s Debt Management Office, under the leadership of the Director-General, Dr. Abraham Nwankwo.
She said the dialogue was a follow up on President Jonathan’s meeting with Nigerians in the United States and the desire of Nigerians in the Diaspora to support economic development in Nigeria.
Dr Okonjo-Iweala assured the audience that the Boko Haram challenges were being dealt with adequately by President Jonathan, whilst not also ruling out search for dialogue, but cautioned that the demands of Boko Haram were unreasonable.
On the Ebola, she gave an update, based on information from the Minister of Health Professor Onyeabuchi Chukwu and that the total confirmed case of Ebola in Nigeria was 17, 5 deaths in Lagos and 1 in Port Harcourt. 7 successfully treated, discharged and declared free of Ebola. She commended President Jonathan for declaring an emergency on Ebola, a decision which some people had reservations, but that Mr President took the right decision.
“I would like to commend the Nigerian health care professionals who have put their lives on the line to prevent the spread of Ebola in Nigeria.“Their spirit and determination are embodied in the heroic self-sacrifice of two women, Dr. Stella Adadevoh and Nurse Ejelonu, who put the wellbeing of all Nigerians ahead of their own when they treated Nigeria’s first case of Ebola and worked to prevent its spread.
According to the Minister, Nigeria’s economy has been robust, but that she would like to see a reduction on domestic debt. She also stated that the debt service to revenue is currently at 20% and that debt to GDP is 2%.
She further stated about 65% of registered tax payers not making payment. Dr Okonjo Iweala assured the audience that the new CBN governor has not changed the policy of his predecessor and that interest rate was in single digit, she also mentioned that MPC proceedings were published in National newspapers unlike in the UK and the US.
She said the exchange rate was stable, foreign reserves have gone up to about $40 billion and that the Sovereign Wealth Fund was doing well. The Euro bond floated at 7% is now at 4%, the 5 year bond which is 5.37% is 3.78%.
Dr Okonjo Iweala said ‘Nigerians should remember that it was not always like this’. She also said that oil revenues were tight and that there was no room for complacency, informing the gathering about the Ghanaian oil platform that was supplying crude oil to the international in excess of its production capacity.
She said that Federal Government is tackling unemployment through several reform programmes like the sector power and that with the co-operation of Diezani Alison-Madueke, Minister of Petroleum Resources, there had been improved gas supply to the power generation companies, debt owed to supplier also being settled and that power should be stable in two to three years.
On infrastructure, she said more than 32 roads are being on PPP basis, including 2nd Niger bridge, Katsina-Daura road, with over 200 communities connected by rail. Construction of international terminals in Abuja, Lagos, Enugu, Port Harcourt, Kano ongoing and nearing completion
Regarding, others sectors, she also said that a lot of progress has been made as there are ‘now over 129 million mobile phone subscribers.$6billion currently is invested on infrastructure yearly, but that $16 was actually required’.
The minister said the housing sector drives the economy in the UK and the US, but this has never been exploited in Nigeria. According to Dr Okonjo – Iweala the Federal Government has set up Nigeria Mortgage Refinance Company to develop the housing sector as it is a vital sector of the economy.