In assessing his one year in office, President Buhari says his biggest shock was the realization that Nigeria had over the years squandered all its precious foreign exchange on the importation of food items and other frivolous items, including tooth picks.
Speaking to editors and newspaper executives in a brief interview to mark the administration’s first year in office, President Buhari said he discovered too late that Nigeria was over dependent on a mono-economy, with most of it imports on food items.
According to Buhari, till 2013, Nigeria was earning on the average over $100 per barrel from oil but by fabulous coincidence, it went down to about $30 per barrel when his administration came in. There was no money to import food. For him it was the biggest shock.
He said in the course of its history Nigeria became an oil economy and therefore left agriculture and solid minerals and everyone went to the city to look for oil money.
President Buhari also expressed his doubts about the trustworthiness of some of his cabinet members in delivering their services and requested the verdict of the citizens as regards possible replacement of some of his Ministers.
When asked if Nigerians should expect possible changes in his cabinet, he replied:
“I am waiting for the newspapers to tell me the performance of my ministers and whether I should make changes.”
The President explained why his administration took off rather slowly in his first year in office. He blamed the pace on the lack of proper transition as each ministry heads under the former President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration protested his idea of a handing over note at the last minute.
He said that the last minute change in plans resulted in the slow pace as he had to take briefings from two ministries a day in order to make up for the lost time.
On naira devaluation, Buhari explained reasons for his opposition to it. He recalled when he was military Head of State in 1984-85, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund [IMF] experts advised him to devalue the naira and remove subsidy on petrol and flour. He said even though they pressed him hard, he did neither of the two.
This was because countries that benefitted from currency devaluation were developed countries that produced more products after devaluation and were able to export more because their goods became more competitive.
“When I was removed [as military Head of State] in 1985 the dollar was one naira fifty kobo. Now naira is 350 to the dollar. Tell me the benefits we derived from that. How many factories were built in those years? Economists are not able to explain this to me. I am still waiting for economists to tell me why we should continue to devalue the naira. However, I don’t rule the country alone, so we must accommodate the economists.”
Buhari also said contrary to what observers think, he believes in privatisation of state owned firms, because it is much more efficient.
He however said NNPC’s four oil refineries must be revitalized before they can be sold because he will not agree to sell them as scrap. They must be repaired first so we can negotiate with the buyers from a position of strength.