President Muhammadu Buhari, yesterday, met with governors of the 36 states of the federation in the Presidential Villa, where he told the state chief executives that the economy of the country was in a bad shape, urging them to redouble efforts in addressing infrastructural deficiencies in their respective states.
The governors met the President after an earlier extended session of the National Economic Council (NEC), presided over by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo at the old Banquet Hall in the State House, Abuja.
Chairman of the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF) and Zamfara State Governor, Abdulaziz Yari, who briefed State House Correspondents at the end of the meeting, said Buhari, during their closed-door session, expressed the need for Nigerians to tighten their belts.
He said: “Mr. President as usual, responded by telling us that the economy is in a bad shape and we have to come together and think and rethink on the way forward.
“Mr. President talked to us in the manner that we have a task ahead of us. So, we should tighten our belts and see how we can put Nigerian economy in the right direction and how we can address the nation’s infrastructural decay.
“All of us as leaders, especially those that are coming to the National Assembly and those coming back as governors and the President who will be re-elected, by God’s grace, we should not think that things are going to be easy; they are going to be harder than before. This was the message of Mr. President,” he said.
Yari stated that they used the opportunity of the meeting to appreciate the President for facilitating the release of the Paris Club refunds to them without any discrimination.
“You will recall for those that have been around since 2015, so many issues were raised in budget support, bailout funds, Paris-London Club refund and infrastructure development funds.
“When Mr. President came on board, 27 states out of 36 could not pay salaries some for 13, 12, 8, 5 months, respectively. During our first encounter with him, he told us that we have no business of being in power if we cannot do the basic, which is pay workers. So, he asked that we discussed how we could support those states that cannot pay salaries so that workers will be paid.
“Those in the position then came up with the idea of bailing out the states, so that they could pay the arrears. But paying the arrears was not enough, because the performance of the economy at that time could not sustain the current salaries, that was how he paid the London Paris Club in batches until we exited last month, the payment of London Paris Club has been lingering for the past 12 years.
“We came here today to thank Mr. President because in bailing out states, he did not discriminate along party lines, unlike in those days when you can only get audience with Mr. President if you have long legs. So, we appreciate what he has done and we prayed for him that he will succeed to return for a second term.”
Earlier at the NEC meeting, Osinbajo called on state governors and other stakeholders to refrain from playing politics with issues of human capital development and focus on getting the job done.
He said: “As a government, we are fully aware of the issues and we are committed to transforming them. There is no denying that debilitating levels of poverty existed in spite of huge earnings in the past. We are doing exactly what countries like India and Brazil did in similar situations, for instance, kick-starting the Social Investment Programme (SIP).
“Since the meeting in March, we have made significant progress, adding more than two million people to the Programme, feeding over nine million school children everyday et al. We must ensure that what we are investing in must produce tangible results.
“The Federal Government must together with states collaborate on the issue of human capital development, it should not be a platform for blame games. Concerted collaboration is required now so we don’t repeat the mistakes of the past. Constant communication with the people is equally important because the resources belong to them.”
Yari had said that governors have been working very hard to make Nigeria’s economy work in a more transparent manner and remain accountable to the people, adding: “We have tried to make sure that every cent is spent.”
According to him, the concerns raised on human capital development could only be addressed with the availability of funds, saying: “I can assure you that the governors are committed but we have to work harder in the area of revenue generation to address all these competing demands.”
The governor queried why VAT had remained stagnant at 5 per cent for the past 25 years, insisting that a political decision has to be taken to increase it in the new year.
The World Bank Nigeria Country Director, Rachid Benmessaoud, said on human capital development, for the world to do well, Nigeria has to do well because the world relies on Nigeria’s human capital.
He added that the quality of education improves young person’s opportunity to earn a living and help the economy, urging the government to work on improving human capital development.
The Country Director, DFID, Debbie Palmer, said Nigeria is ranked near the bottom of the World Bank’s Human Capital Index (152 out of 157 countries globally), describing it as a rude wakeup call for everyone in Nigeria and for everyone who cares about Nigeria.
“Nigeria will be the third largest Nation in the world by 2050. We need well-nourished, healthy, educated and skilled people who can go out and get jobs.
“The projected population growth could be a big boost to Nigeria’s economic fortunes with more people of working age driving economic progress. But for this to happen, we urgently need increased investment in service delivery to avoid an undernourished, unhealthy and unemployed nation.
USAID Country Director, Stephen Haykin, said the US government would continue to honour the partnership in the areas of education and health as well as with the private sector.
Ms. Zouera Youssoufou, who is the Managing Director and CEO of Dangote Foundation, also commended the government for its commitment to ensuring improvement in human capital development.