Interview: President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan

How would you evaluate the progress of the implementation of the Transformation Agenda?

GOODLUCK EBELE JONATHAN: The Transformation Agenda should be regarded in our country’s wider democratic context. Since the restoration of democratic rule 13 years ago, our governments have carried out far-reaching reforms in various sectors of the economy to serve as building blocks for sustainable development. In recent times, the economic reforms implemented by my administration have led to an increase in our oil production, up to 2.6m barrels per day. The implementation of the local content policy in the oil and gas sector is also helping to improve indigenous capacity. Moreover, investments are being encouraged in the power sector with a view to stabilising the supply of electricity. This is in addition to renewing our transmission and distribution capacity to ensure adequate power supply to all parts of the country. Our administration has also resolved to make Nigeria a major player in the international gas market through the implementation of the Nigerian Gas Master Plan. We have designed a framework for the expansion of gas infrastructure to boost commercial exploitation of gas for domestic consumption and export. We are also witnessing a sustained increase in non-oil GDP growth, particularly through agricultural production. Our country has continued to receive favourable ratings from international credit agencies due to the success of our economic reform programmes. Nigeria’s exit from the Paris Club has freed more resources that now can be used to invest in human capital and economic development. We will continue to expand the frontiers of reforms to consolidate on the successes recorded by our predecessors.

In what ways can linkages between Nigeria’s public and private sectors be strengthened to foster sustainable and inclusive growth?

JONATHAN: Our historical over-reliance on oil revenue has hampered the growth of the non-oil sectors of our economy. My administration is committed to reversing this trend by implementing targeted interventions to boost non-oil and real sector productivity. For instance, under the Agricultural Transformation Action Plan, efforts are under way to improve the productivity, yield and competitiveness of key agricultural commodities with significant export potential. This will create jobs while conserving billions of dollars in foreign exchange that would have otherwise been spent on imports.

Our proposed interventions are multifaceted and range from revitalising key segments of the manufacturing sector; increasing capacity utilisation and developing manufacturing clusters for leather, textiles and food processing; and promoting housing and construction through the development of a viable mortgage system. Some of these interventions are borne out of our recent engagements with the private sector, especially through the work of the job creation committee and the 2011 presidential summit on job creation. As we move to realise the commitments we made during that summit, we are soliciting private sector input for our job creation strategies. Our goal is to maximise the short-term, medium-term and long-term impact on poverty reduction and wealth creation.

Furthermore, our approach to funding the development of critical infrastructure in Nigeria is to involve the private sector, which has the capital and implementation capacity to successfully deliver specific infrastructure projects. Ultimately, to achieve sustainable and inclusive real sector growth, we must be resolute in our commitment to effectively enhance our domestic investment climate, and empower our industries and businesses to create jobs and wealth.

How can Nigeria buffer itself against exogenous shocks, particularly in the commodity markets?

JONATHAN: The global economy is facing uncertain times, as developed and developing nations alike strive to recover from the ongoing global economic upheaval. Several nations are grappling with the grim realities of a protracted crisis. Prospects for global economic growth remain unbalanced. We have tried to be proactive in response to these issues, and we are adopting and implementing more prudent macroeconomic and fiscal policies over the medium term.

While Nigeria achieved economic growth of 6.17% in the first quarter of 2012, we recognise the need to strengthen our buffers to deal with a volatile global economic climate. We are steadily building up our excess crude account and our foreign reserves. We are also on the verge of launching a sovereign wealth fund.

There are proposals to phase out petroleum subsidies in a deliberate and responsible way that will harness revenue for capital stock formation, leverage on private sector investments to help bridge the infrastructural gap, and create incentives for investment in refineries and the petrochemical industries.

Our external trade and tariff policies are also to be carefully reviewed. There is no denying the need to promote our domestic industries and protect them from unfair trade practices. We must also adopt a more responsive tariff policy that recognises the limitations of an over-extensive prohibition list. In this regard, we need to arrive at more effective trade and tariff policies that facilitate the growth of local businesses.

What can be done to encourage gender equality?

JONATHAN: Across Africa we are faced with the need to remove all barriers that limit women from realising their dreams. Our women must be protected against all forms of discrimination and be given equal opportunities and access to education, politics and the economy. If Africa is to move forward and be competitive in the 21st century, then gender equality must be a major component of our national policies.

Thus, I believe that the most sustainable way to support womanhood and guarantee peace is through empowerment. In my cabinet of 42 ministers, 13 are women. The coordinating minister of the economy, who also doubles as the finance minister, is a woman.

For the first time in our country, a woman occupies the position of minister of petroleum resources.

We have also admitted women into our prestigious Nigerian Defence Academy to prepare women as full combatants in the army, navy and air force, and in July 2012, I appointed the first female chief justice in Nigeria. Our expectation is that these women will encourage other women and inspire the younger generation.

My administration will remain resolute in the implementation of its policy on effective representation of women in all aspects of government. Our commitment to electoral reforms and justice has ushered in an era when women can deploy their numerical strength to ensure that their preferred candidates win elections at all levels. This has been made possible in every instance by our administration’s commitment to the electoral principle of one person, one vote.

What can be done to improve the security situation?

JONATHAN: We recognise that we face several challenges including terrorism and other crimes that undermine our national security. In the recent past we have experienced militancy in the oil-producing areas and other ethnic-based militant groups in the south-west and south-east, as well as kidnapping and cybercrime that affect our national security. Terrorism, which has become a global phenomenon, is now unfortunately a direct experience in this country.

This development is one that I will continue to decisively deal with and we need the collaboration and support of all Nigerians. Whenever a country is challenged, the people have an obligation to bond together. We must work together under a new social and political contract, to safeguard our nation.

As a government, it is our responsibility to lay a firm foundation for our people to prosper. Through legislation, executive action and timely dispensation of justice, we create the infrastructure, policy environment and sense of justice that form the bedrock of inclusive economic growth. This, in turn, will bolster stability.