By Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
Minister of Finance Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed, on Wednesday said President Muhammadu Buhari will soon receive a report of a presidential committee to advise on the reopening of the nation’s borders.
Nigeria, the largest economy and the most prosperous of the 15-member Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), last year August closed its land borders on account of the proliferation of illegal importation of drugs, small arms and agricultural products into Nigeria from neighbouring West African countries.
Ahmed was responding to a question on when Nigerian borders closed since August last year will be reopened at the end of the Federal Executive Council meeting presided.
According to her, the committee, which was set up by President Buhari to advised him on the next line of action on the border closure development, had done an assessment of the gains of the closure and would present its report to the President, who will disclose the next line of action.
“Mr President has set up a committee that I chair, alongside the Minister of Foreign Affairs and other ministers, including Interior, Customs, Immigration, the security services, to review and advise him on the issue of border closure.
“The committee has just completed its work and we’ll be submitting our report, I’ve signed my copy, I gave everybody to sign between today and tomorrow so that we submit the report to Mr President”, she said.
Ahmed, who was silent on the day of submission and also date of the reopening, had at a recent roundtable discussion at the 26th Nigerian Economic Summit (NES #26), gave assurance that the borders would be reopened soon.
She had told the audience at the NES #26 that: “We have made an assessment. The president set up a committee and we have made an assessment and all the members of the committee agreed and are recommending to the president that it is time to reopen the borders. The objective has been met in the sense that we have been able, over these couple of months, to work together with our partners in a tripartite committee and do a joint border patrol together and reinforced the sanctity of the commitments that we made to each other. So, each side has learnt its lesions. Nigeria has been affecting our partners in terms of businesses that we have in Nigeria as well. So, we will be expecting that the borders will be reopened very soon. The date will be decided by Mr President.”
On plans to save the economy from recession, the Minister said the administration hopes to use the Economic Sustainability Plan (ESP) to retrieve the economy from the current situation.
She said the current recession was anticipated and that government had designed the ESP to help fast-track exit from the anticipated economic woe, assuring that the plan so far is still very much on track and that the economy is expected to come out of recession in the first quarter of 2021.
“The steps that were taken was a vigorous implementation of the Economic Sustainability Plan. You will recall that the ESP was designed to be a 12 months plan, to act as a bridge between the ERGP and its successor plan, but also it was designed specifically to help us quickly exit recession, which we had projected was going to happen.
“So the ESP implementation is really on course, it’s focused and also the implementation of the 2020 Budget is really on course and is very focused. We have been able to release a large volume of capital funding into ministries, departments and agencies, enabling a lot of public works going on simultaneously all over the country.
“So how we will maintain this is to make sure we continue to implement the ESP as it is planned. It will help us exit recession, it will help us reset back on the path of growth and on a road that is sustainable”, she said.
Asked if there were plans to withdraw and rework the 2021 Budget in view of the the recent announcement of the contraction of the economy, Ahmed said “we are not planning to retrieve the budget or to reverse the budget beyond the work of appropriation that the National Assembly is currently doing in consultation with us”.
On concerns in some quarters over payment of federal workers’ salaries, the Minister said “there’s no issue with federal workers’ salary. We have paid salaries for November and we shall pay salaries for December so there’s no issue at all with federal workers’ salary.
“If you hear about any issue, it is for agencies whose budgets funding on the GIFMIS (Government Integrated Financial Management and Information System) system was exhausted and we are about to make an adjustment to them.
“When we were doing the 2020 Budget, we made estimates of the consequential adjustment that is required as a result of the minimum wage and we had sent the budget before a decision and approval was taken on the consequential adjustment, so it is anticipated that some agencies might run short and we made a block provision in the service-wide vote of the budget.
“So when we have such a situation, what we simply do is remove fund from the service-wide vote to the agency so that they pay their budget, so there’s no problem of payment of salaries at all”, she explained.