By Ismaila Chafe
Former President Goodluck Jonathan handed over an economy ravaged by years of mismanagement and corruption, presidency said on Monday.
Malam Garba Shehu, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, said in a statement in Abuja that the ex-president engaged in most “monumental and tragic economic mismanagement recorded in our national history’’.
The presidential aide was reacting to statements credited to former President Goodluck Jonathan and Sen. Ahmed Makarfi, the Caretaker Chairman of the party, to the effect that “under the previous administration, there was money but now things are very hard’’.
“The oil sector boomed under his tenure, with oil prices as high as 120 dollars and peace in the Nigeria Delta. Nigeria earned unprecedented dollar revenues. Sadly, that is where the story turns sour.
“There is nothing to show for the revenues earned; no major capital project was completed, neither power generation, road development, rail nor agriculture benefited from the windfall earnings.
“Rather, the administration presided over the diversion of oil revenues on such a massive scale that even without the protection now accorded to Whistle blowers, the then Central Bank Governor blew not only a whistle but a trumpet.
“He was hurriedly shown the door.’’
Shehu added that the acquisition by public officers and their cohorts, of private jets, luxury yachts and the accumulation of expensive property portfolios world-wide continued unabated.
“Indeed the President once celebrated having the largest number of private jets, whilst our youths languished without jobs, our fields stood idle and our factories began the layoff of workers.
“Government simply reticulated oil revenue through personal spending by corrupt leaders, wasteful expenses and salaries.
“This was done rather than investing in what would grow the economy. Economies grow due to capital investment in assets like seaports, airports, power plants, railways, roads and housing.”
The presidential aide further lamented that Nigeria could not record a single major infrastructural project in the last 10 years, saying that “in short the money was mismanaged.
“Such was the looting that even the goose that was laying the golden egg was being systematically starved.
“The direct contractual costs of oil produced in the form of cash calls, remained unpaid.’’
He, however, maintained that the President Buhari’s administration was left with the task of facing serious economic challenges from the oil majors, which included the demand for six billion dollars owed by Nigeria for oil that had already been sold or stolen.
He also highlighted that at the inception of the current administration, 21 states were unable to meet their salary bills and the spectre of workers arrears had commenced.
He said that the PDP solution was to “raid the Ecological Fund and selectively grant two billion dollars each to the PDP States.’’
He further stated that it was only aggressive borrowing by the Ministry of Finance, under Dr Okonjo- Iweala, that prevented Federal Government from also owing salaries.
“The economic wisdom of borrowing to pay recurrent bills is a questionable one, particularly as those paid would have included over 45,000 that have subsequently been removed by the Buhari led administration as ghost workers.
“It also included the lavish costs of chartering private jets, first class travel and other wasteful acts that have been eliminated under this administration.
“To compound the problem, the government was borrowing heavily and owed contractors and international oil companies.’’
The presidential aide noted that when President Buhari took over mantle of leadership on May 29, 2015, he inherited an accumulated debt back to the level it was before the Paris Club Debt Forgiveness.
He said all the factors were building up to “Nigeria heading for a major crisis if the price of oil fell. Nigeria did not have fiscal buffers to withstand an oil shock.
“The oil shock should and could have been foreseen. When Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, ISIS crisis started, it was clear that the United States of America wanted to cut off funds to terror groups by crashing the price of oil.
“When America granted permission for exploration of oil on land (Shale), the warning signs were evident, but these were ignored by Nigeria’s economic managers.
“In summary Nigeria earned a lot of money when oil prices were high but there is nothing to show for it. Now oil prices have fallen; we are suffering”.
The presidential spokesman revealed that the Buhari administration had since commenced doing things differently to find lasting solutions to the nation’s socio-economic problems.
According to him, the government has embarked on anti-corruption crusade, sanitising the huge salary bill by eliminating payroll fraud and reducing wasteful expenses like first class travel and private jets.
He said the government was also encouraging states to reform their spending and build savings or investments.
Shehu disclosed that the government had also increased spending on capital projects, especially on infrastructure needed to make Nigerian businesses competitive and create jobs.
He said that government had blocked the leakages that allowed its revenues to be siphoned into private hands while focusing on key sectors ( apart from oil) that could create jobs and or generate revenue such as agriculture, solid minerals and manufacturing.
According to him, if these things have been done when the oil price was as high as 120 dollars per barrel, Nigeria will not be in the current predicament.
“We would not be suffering now if we had no cash reserves but we had power, or a rail system, or good roads, or good housing. But we don’t have money and we don’t have the projects either.
“Now that the oil has fallen below those levels, it is very difficult to do what is needed but they must be done to save Nigeria. There is no other way if we want to be honest.
“If PDP were still in power, they would have continued deceiving people, by borrowing to fund, stealing and wastage and the problem would have simply been postponed for future generations to face.’’
On former President Jonathan’s specific boasts that dollar under him was N180 compared to today, Shehu said: “With such a line of argument, it is clear why we are where we are.
“With oil prices as high as 120 dollars, the average inflow of dollars each month was high, making it easy to support cheap dollars.
“However, with oil price plummeting as low as 28 dollars, the fundamental laws of supply and demand dictated that the currency would need to adjust, since oil was the sole export.
“It is instructive to note that virtually every major oil exporter has witnessed currency adjustments with the fall in oil price.
“The Buhari administration has taken a long term strategic view of supporting a stable naira on both the supply and demand sides.’’
He noted that President Buhari had driven import substitution to reduce demand for dollars to buy things the nation could produce, thereby creating thousands of rural jobs in rice and other staples.
The presidential aide maintained that there was a credible plan to diversity the nation’s revenue sources away from oil, with focus on export crops as well as solid minerals, with the release of 100 million dollars fund to develop solid mineral extraction.
He said that President Buhari had a positive and prosperous vision for Nigeria.
According to him, the president is determined to create a nation in which the natural talent and hard work of the people is being supported by an enabling environment of infrastructure development and policy reforms that will develop a firm future for the nation.
“Nigerians are looking forward and the PDP’s lurking in the economic rear view mirror only underscores the resolve of Nigerians, that as far as the economy is concerned, it is `never again’.’’(NAN)