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FG SHIFTS GROUND

By NBF News
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Removal of fuel subsidy may not take-off next January as hitherto proposed, the President hinted yesterday. President Goodluck Jonathan, while dropping the hint on the shifting of ground on the implementation date by the government, said it was necessary because of the plot by his critics to bring his government down. He said the critics had given him their consent only to turn around to oppose it.

The President had last September indicated government's plant to withdraw the subsidy beginning from next January when he submitted the 2012-2015 Medium Term Economic Framework (METF) to the National Assembly. But opening the three-day 17th National Economic Summit in Abuja yesterday, President Jonathan said the critics have now turned against the policy and made it a political issue because they want to score cheap political points even as he advised investors not to be discouraged by insecurity. He reminded them that every country has security challenges.

According to him, the opponents of fuel subsidy removal know it is a good policy, but they want it to fail in order to mire the government and make sure the government fails.

He said the government had to soft-pedal on the implementation date to ensure that all stakeholders were carried along through mass education and logical reasoning.

For him, if the fuel subsidy is not withdrawn, Nigeria will be importing fuel from neighbouring Ghana and Cameroon in the next 10 to 15 years, adding that the government had already deregulated the price of diesel.

The President said trucks and other big vehicles were now using diesel to power their engines, so that if petrol is deregulated, it will only affect the middle class, some of whom, he said, had up to four or five jeeps and not the masses.

On why the masses were not feeling the developmental impact of growth of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) which is now about 7.8 per cent, he said that such economic indices were for the big players in the economy. According to him, the government would focus on how to improve on the living standard of the people through job creation, provision of security and other facilities.

Jonathan said that what informed his decision of creating an economic team was the desire to improve on the people's standard of living, insisting that the private and public sectors must collaborate as the Federal Government alone cannot bring about the much desired economy transformation. On power, he explained that the government was very careful in the handling of the privatisation process to ensure transparency.

'We must carry out due diligence on any company that is interested in the Nigerian power sector', he assured, adding that the government is opening up the sector to investors so that the big players can generate their own electricity with the available gas while the government would cater for the power supply of the small and medium scale players.

The summit was organized in conjunction with the National Planning Commission. He expressed happiness that the Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG) initiated the conference which provided an opportunity for the public and the private sector to rub minds on the critical issues in the economy.

The theme of the conference: 'Attracting Foreign Direct Investment through Global Partnership', he said, was apt in view of the policy direction of the government.

In this direction, he directed Ministries, Department and Agencies (MDAs) to initiate ideas directed towards rapid transformation of the economy. Wooing investors, the President stated that Nigeria was not the only country in the world where there are security challenges, reminding them that even in some advanced countries, there are also security lapses.

He commended the security agencies for curtailing the dreaded Boko Haram.'It is not as if we are not doing anything. It is a temporary setback and we will soon get over it', he said.

He urged investors not to see this a reason to look elsewhere, as Nigeria would not continue to be a dumping ground for all manner of imported goods.

'Investors should look at the Nigerian economy and see where to invest. Terrorism is new in Nigeria. We are applying the relevant measures to curtail it, 'he assured. According to him, the efforts of government to turn around the economy are yielding fruits, adding that it is even better for foreign investors to tap into Nigeria 's vast economic opportunities now before it is too late.'Recently, I gathered that some investors are warming up to leave Nigeria with their investments, but I want to assure you here that the government is investing so much in the power sector. It is also doing its best in overhauling the nation's security system. By the time it is done, believe me, most of the investors that left the country and those who are willing to leave now, may find it late to come back'', he warned.

On the controversial Sovereign Wealth Fund (SWF), the President said the arguments were not necessary moreso that the country belongs to everyone not just the Federal Government. According to him, having gone ahead to dialogue with the governors, the issue had been resolved amicably. In his remarks, the president, Dangote Group, Alhaji Aliko Dangote, said there were many benefits for investing in the economy, saying that apart form the ready market provided by the 150 million Nigeria's population, the potential investors would also benefit from the 140 million ECOWAS market in addition to favourable export incentives provided by the Federal Government.

'Many foreigners come here to sign contract agreements without execution. This must stop. I am of the opinion that government needs to come up with relevant laws to punish offenders for violating the terms of such agreements'', he said.

As a successful businessman in Nigeria , he said, he prefers to do more business in the country than elsewhere because of the various opportunities that abound in the country's business environment.

He, however, advised the government to encourage foreign investors to go into new business areas like those of petro-chemicals, agriculture and the mineral sub-sectors.''I want to use this opportunity to call on our local and foreign investors to go into so many untapped areas such as petro-chemicals, minerals and agriculture. These are not yet fully tapped'', he stated. Earlier in his opening address, the NESG Chairman, Mr. Folusho Philip, explained that beside the challenges the nation is facing, the economy is being rated high.