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Obasanjo: I Don't Enjoy Junketing Around

Posted by From Josephine Lohor in Abuja and Abimbola Akosile on 2005/07/11 | Views: 280 |

Obasanjo: I Don't Enjoy Junketing Around


President Olusegun Oba-sanjo yesterday said he does not enjoy the numerous travels he has to make around the world but that the demands of office and the need to seek international help for the success of his administration were the motivation for the trips.

*Plans dialogue with N/Assembly over debt payment

President Olusegun Oba-sanjo yesterday said he does not enjoy the numerous travels he has to make around the world but that the demands of office and the need to seek international help for the success of his administration were the motivation for the trips.

Responding to questions on the monthly programme 'The President Sepaks' on the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) Obasanjo said he would have preferred to stay on his farm in Ota, Ogun State to moving from one world capital city to the other.

"I have said it several times on this programme that I don't enjoy travelling about, going last Sunday (July 2) to Libya, chairing a meeting there, Monday, Tuesday, finishing about 6p.m on Tuesday and when some of my colleagues were still resting in Libya, I went to London and talked with them at the British parliament. The following day, I went to the Commonwealth where I was told that London is being bombed left, right and centre," he said.

He added that one of the dividends of the trips was the 60 per cent debt relief extended to Nigeria by the Paris Club of creditors.
The president noted that since 1999 when he was elected he had decided he must get the Western nations to change their minds on Nigeria's debt burden and the need to invest in the nation's economy.

He said his trips were all geared at persuading world leaders to also support the administration's reform programmes and policies to put the country's economy in good shape for facing the challenges of the future.

According to him, "Some of the people complaining if they are heading this government, they would have given up. Five years ago, we were told to forget about debt relief. At the AU (African Union) meeting (held in Libya), the issue was discussed.”

Obasanjo said the experience had not been all rosy for himself and Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who was sitting next to him during the programme.
“If we believe in something we should trust God and work hard. The Minister of Finance did not tell all the tales of woes. Even one year ago, nobody could contemplate debt relief. But we worked hard and we were single-minded, because that was also a problem. Nigerians are sceptical and cynical, that we are junketing around," he said.

"The Wednesday that Paris Club met, the Finance Minister complained about the way they were talking to her, and I told her she has to bear and let us have hope. Debt relief is part of democracy dividends. I intimated leaders of the world on the need for us to have debt relief. Some were sympathetic, and others were un-sympathetic to the point of being hostile.

"In my first four years, I found that with both those who were sympathetic and those hostile, nothing happened. In the second term, I decided that I needed someone who will be able to speak the language of men and women who make things happen, so that there will be a follow up to what I do at the high political level. That is the reason why Ngozi (Okonjo-Iweala) agreed to join us. We did not relent, we kept going," he said.

Reacting to question on the conditions attached to the debt relief to Nigeria, he said, "I managed to convince the World Bank, but the word conditionalities had become offensive to many of us. Let us bite the bullet, even if we encounter difficulties. These days and age, you cannot hide, we kept them informed through periodic reports. There is no condition like sending our children to Siberia. We were encouraged to keep doing those things that show we are on the right track, even if we have debt relief already".

He promised that the extra money generated through oil sales and the relief process would be reflected in the annual budget and spent on capacity building, education, infrastructure such as roads and water, adding that the nation was yet to fully diversify its economy.

"We have not diversified. I will want 70 percent dependence on oil by year 2007. Until our revenue is less than 50percent dependent on one commodity, our security is not assured", he said.

Obasanjo said he would soon initiate dialogue with the National Assembly over the payment of the remaining 40 per cent foreign debt owed to the Paris Club.
The President said it would be in the best interest of Nigeria if it pays the debt, in order to remove itself from the shackles that the debt burden has become over the years.

He said he agreed with the view expressed by Alhaji Aminu Bello Masari, Speaker of the House of Representatives, who also featured on the programme that “it is in our own interest that we pay it and forget it. Which is the best and rational thing to do.”

"This is not a good thing. You are virtually enslaved or you are almost a slave to your creditor. Like they say in my part of the world, ‘there is no nyanga in being a debtor’.

“It has become a weapon of control, dangling the thing over our heads. When you want to say something, they say heh, the debt. So, let us pay this thing off and be as free as we just possibly can”, he added.

Giving a breakdown of the debt relief deal, Okonjo-Iweala said, “First we will pay $6 billion arears that we are owing. The remaining amount is going to come in what we call a buy-back. We want to exit from the Paris Club, so they are going to give us a little bit of discount on the remaining debt that we have and $6 billion would be left and then we will pay that as well.

“We will do this in two stages. The first stage is that at the time that we sign the memorandum they will forgive part of the debt and we will pay them the arrears. Then in the next stage, we will complete the transaction with the buy-back and at that time we will pay the remaining $6 billion”, she added.

Okonjo-Iweala also stated “I think that now, with the reserve, we should be able to come up with the resources to pay. If we leave the $12 billion now, at the rate of interest, they will reschedule it over the years at 5.35 per cent, by the time we pay back $12 billion, it will become $20 billion”.
Obasanjo who said there was indeed need for a legislation to check careless borrowing, said he hopes “that Nigerians themselves, which ever government in power will realise that these mistakes that we made before, we shall never make again. And it will be by policy, maybe by legislation and by transparency”.

Speaker Masari, on his part stated that “we have been thinking about that. Partly, the parliament has a role to play. We have to look at the provisions of the constitution, how we can bring the States in line.

“Because the biggest problem is how do you control states from borrowing from outside? I think the parliament at the State level has a role to play and we believe that based on the existing conditions, certainly there is need for legislation in order to provide guidance for the future leaders of this country”.

The Finance Minister also stated that “Nigerians have to support a bill like the Fiscal Responsibility Bill that will guarantee transparency in budgetting and in the way that we do business”.

Other areas he said his administration has decided to focus on include agriculture, solid minerals, manufacturing, and power. "If agriculture is doing well, we will have food security and also manufacturing will get a boost. We are also going into the area of solid minerals. Every State has minerals. Tourism is also developing especially in Cross Rivers State. In five years time, that state will be making more money from tourism than from federal allocation," he added.

On railway system and its pensioners, Obasanjo said, "Attention must be paid to the railway system. It is cheaper to move goods by rail and even water than by roads. We are looking at how we can get the private sector involved in the railway sector. On the pensioners, we have done a study and we will do what needs to be done. We want a railway system that will be able to sustain itself".

"The days are gone when we say government is building a cement factory. We need a conducive environment to make both local and foreign investors invest. Power is also important and we have an outline. By 2007, this country (currently producing 3,500 mega-watts) will be able to generate 10,000 megawatts.”


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Fay(Katy, Texas, US)says...

Actually translates to bravehearted.