President Muhammadu Buhari spoke yesterday on his reaction when he met an almost empty treasury on resumption of work. “I almost absconded,” he said during a parley with members of the Senior Executive Course 38 (2016) of the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS), Kuru, at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
He noted that daily oil production was 2.1 million barrels between 1999 and 2015, but there was virtually no savings despite the huge income during the period.
Infrastructure, Buhari said, was dilapidated.
The situation was worsened, he said, by low oil prices which tumbled from over $100 per barrel to below $30 per barrel under his tenure.
Digressing from his prepared speech, Buhari said: “For 16 years and eight consecutive years, governments of the other party and you know that there was unprecedented revenue realised, the oil projection which can be verified was 2.1 million barrels per day.
“1999 to 2015, the average cost of each Nigerian barrel of oil was $100 per barrel. When we came it fell to less $30 per barrel and it is now laying between 40 and 50.
“Actually, I felt like absconding because 27 out of 36 states in Nigeria cannot pay salaries and we know they have no other source than to depend on salaries.
“And I asked, ‘any savings?’ I was told there was no savings, and I asked what you have done on agriculture, power, rail, roads. Nothing, you know more than I do because you move around. I have not been moving around since after elections but you do, how many of the Trunk A roads are still good enough? How much power do we have, although there are some elements of sabotage?
“I was told the money was used to import food and fuel. I didn’t believe the answer and I still don’t believe it. Until now substantial numbers of people in the East eat gari and groundnut, in the West pounded yam, cassava, vegetables, in the North tuwo, which is made from any of the grains, millet, and sorghum.
“They eat it in the night and warm it in the morning and eat it and take fura danono in the afternoon. How many of those people can afford foreign food?”
“Then, they say I should check out the petroleum, the legislature dedicated 445,000 barrels per day for internal consumption and that is just 60 per cent of our requirements. I said ok, what of the 40 per cent? The marketers that are bringing it just present documents, papers are just stamped and monies are taken away.
“This is the type of things that the Nigerian elite are doing for our own country. When you go back, look at your colleagues and encourage them to be truly Nigerians.”
In his prepared speech, Buhari said that he was glad that the Course 38 participants took up the challenge he threw at the management of NIPSS last year to look at strengthening institutional mechanisms for poverty reduction and inclusive development in the 2016 Course.
He said he was happy the report was submitted to him.
“I have carefully noted the report, most especially its findings and policy recommendations. I recall with pleasure that when I was giving this task, six months after this administration came into office, the selection of the theme was not only apt but also timely.
“Today, poverty reduction and inclusive development have become pillars of this administration and very close to my heart,” the President added.
The President said he had looked forward to receiving the report because it touched on one of the fundamental problems confronting the nation.
“The report comes at a time when our economy is experiencing a downturn and all efforts are being made by this administration to get our country moving again.”
He insisted that the economic recession is not the making of his administration, but a consequence of bad management of the economy in the past couple of decades.
Buhari also maintained that recession is not limited to Nigeria, stressing that there are far worse cases than Nigeria’s.
He added: “Whatever the scale of the problem, the important thing is how one tackles it. Accordingly, this administration is committed to finding lasting solutions to our economic/structural imbalance.
“Let us have faith in our great nation that we will come out of this recession vibrant and strong. I am glad that the report presented today has given us reason to keep faith in our ability to overcome our challenges.
“There is no doubt that poverty for decades have been a major challenge to us as a nation despite the country’s enormous wealth. Several policies and programmes that have been implemented over the years, as rightly observed by the report, have not broken the cycle of poverty in Nigeria.”
The Acting Director-General of NIPSS, Jonathan Juma, said a lot can be done by the institute if more budgetary support is given to it.
Juma said: “The financial situation of the National Institute is precarious. The payments for utility services are in arrears and, worse still, we have to live with threats of litigation from numerous creditors. Operational vehicles in the institute’s fleet have aged and are a source of constant embarrassment.
“We have looked inward and appealed to the generosity of individuals and corporate Nigeria for support and we are glad that some have responded positively. However, a decisive presidential intervention for a sustainable funding of NIPSS is urgently required.”