Being the text of the press conference addressed by the minister of information and culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, in Lagos on Saturday, 4th November 2017
Good afternoon gentlemen and thank you for, once again, honouring our invitation. This is the second time we are meeting in about one and a half months. Recall that when we met on Sept. 17th 2017, at this same venue, we promised that the next meeting won’t be long. Today, we are living true to our promise.
2. Our last meeting dwelt exclusively on the menace of IPOB. Today, it is about the economy! As you are very much aware, this administration’s contract with Nigerians sits on a tripod: The fight against corruption, Tackling insecurity and reviving the economy. Even our worst critics acknowledge the progress we have made in fighting corruption and tackling insecurity. But one area in which they have consistently criticised us is the economy. Right from the inception of this Administration, we chose the path of seeking a lasting solution to the economic crisis plaguing the nation instead of engaging in a quick fix that may attract accolades but will not endure. We chose to be painstaking instead of engaging in palliatives.
3. Gentlemen, I am happy to inform you today that we are winning! Our well thought-out policy, encapsulated in the Administration’s Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP), launched on April 5th 2017, is working and the results are beginning to show. In September, we exited recession and returned to the path of growth, after five consecutive quarters of contraction. As we said then, taking Nigeria out of recession did not happen by accident. It was the culmination of months of hard work by the Administration and fidelity to its well-articulated economic policies.
4. To show that taking Nigeria out of recession was not a fluke, less than two months later, precisely 31st Oct. 2017, Nigerians got another good news: The country has moved up 24 places, to 145th, in the World Bank’s ‘Doing Business’ report. Not only that, for the first time the country is recognized as one of the top 10 most improved economies in the world. This is phenomenal. More importantly, it is the direct result of a well-articulated policy by this Administration.
5. Dr. Jumoke Oduwole, the Secretary to the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council (PEBEC) and the Coordinator of the Enabling Business Environment Secretariat (EBES), which implements the PEBEC’s reform agenda, will give details of how Nigeria achieved that feat and what remains to be done to ensure even a better result in the months ahead.
6. But let me say this: Shortly after its establishment by President Muhammadu Buhari in 2016, PEBEC, which is chaired by the Vice President, took a significant step towards making it easier for Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) to do business in Nigeria. How did it do to that, you may ask? PEBEC approved a 60-Day National Action Plan on the Ease of Doing Business with clear deliverables and timelines for the Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) responsible for implementing each line item in the Plan.
7. Remember that MSMEs, which account for almost half of Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), play a key role in the Nigerian economy and employ over 80 percent of the country’s labour force. Therefore, we look up to these enterprises to provide the endless possibilities for Nigeria’s economic growth. We know for sure that if the MSMEs blossom, Nigeria’s economy will thrive. This is what PEBEC set out to do, and the result is what you are seeing. Lest I forget, we even surpassed our target. We had hoped to move up 20 places. We beat that by four more to move up 24 places. And as Dr. Oduwole will soon tell you, the best is yet to come. In the words of Vice President Osinbajo, ”improving the business environment is at the heart of the Buhari Administration’s reform agenda. We are reinforcing our economic turnaround by implementing the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) so businesses operating in Nigeria can thrive and be competitive globally.”
8. The good news in the area of the economy continues. As part of the Administration’s efforts to improve Nigeria’s tax to GDP ratio, which currently sits at a paltry 6% – one of the lowest in the world – the Administration has launched what is called the Nigerian Voluntary Asset and Income Declaration Scheme, or VAIDS. This provides a time-bound opportunity for taxpayers to regularize their tax status relating to previous tax periods and pay any taxes due. In exchange for fully and honestly declaring previously undisclosed assets and income, taxpayers will benefit from forgiveness of overdue interest and penalties, and the assurance of not facing criminal prosecution for tax offences or tax investigations. As of 31st Oct. 2017, VAIDS has raked in over 200 million Naira and 55 million US dollars.
9. Then, of course, there are the usual indices: For 8th consecutive months, headline inflation has been falling; the foreign exchange reserves are up to $34billion, from $24 billion a year ago; oil production is at nearly 2 million barrels per day, a significant improvement from 2016 when it was mostly below a million; the value of the Naira in the parallel market has appreciated significantly in recent times against the US dollar, and that at about 1.8 billion dollars, the capital inflows in the second quarter of 2017 were almost double the $908 million in the first quarter.
10. Gentlemen, we can go on and on in reeling out the good news. But the bottom line is that as things continue to improve, Nigerians will begin to feel the impact in their daily lives. With the ongoing massive infrastructural development, especially in roads, railways and power, Nigerians will begin to get a new lease on life. Food prices will tumble. Businesses will thrive. More jobs will be created.
11. This Administration will not relent in its determined effort to usher in a new dawn for Nigeria. We are winning the battle to revive the economy. We are fighting corruption like never before. We are tackling insecurity with a renewed vigour. While the naysayers, who are obviously in the minority, persist in their pastime of acting as a distraction, discerning and well-meaning Nigerians will continue to appreciate and encourage the good work of our Administration.
12. Let me round off this address by once again commending Nigerians for their perseverance. Reviving the economy was never going to be an easy task. It was bound to bring some hardship to our people in the short term. Through it all, the good people of Nigeria have borne the pains with equanimity, based on their unshakable trust in the sincerity, capability and commitment of President Buhari. Now, the soothing balm is here. As the results of the government’s fidelity to its well-articulated economic policies trickle in, one thing is sure: This time around, it will be long-lasting.
13. I thank you all for your kind attention. I will now hand over the microphone to Dr. Oduwole, who will dwell more on the Ease of Doing Business issue.