FEDERAL Government has again painted a gory picture of the national economy, as it disclosed that the earnings from the oil sector has shrunk by 60 per cent.
Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, made the disclosure while speaking at the opening ceremony of the 12th All Nigeria Editors’ Conference (ANEC 2016), held in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital, on Thursday.
This was as he disclosed that the country, with a population of over 170 million, could only boast of just $26 billion in foreign reserves.
He, however, said hope was not lost, as he said the Muhammadu Buhari-led administration had laid emphasis on agriculture as one of the major sectors to revive the ailing national economy.
He said Nigeria’s economy was hard hit by the fall in the price of crude oil because the country failed to save for the rainy day, coupled with the fact that the country did not invest in infrastructure
“Nigeria has nothing to rely on to cushion the effects of the lost earnings. Many other oil-producing countries and fellow Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) members are faring better because they saved for the rainy day.
“Saudi Arabia, with about one-fifth of Nigeria’s population, has in foreign reserves about $600 billion (which is 23 times what Nigeria has in foreign reserves).
“United Arab Emirates (UAE), with less than 10 million people, has $75 billion in foreign reserves. Qatar, with 2.4 million people, has $36 billion in foreign reserves. Even Angola, with just 24 million people, has about $25 billion in foreign reserves.
“Here in Nigeria, with oil selling consistently for over $100 a barrel for many years, we simply failed to save for the rainy day, with the result that a country with a population of over 170 million today, has just $26 billion in foreign reserves.
“To compound this, the fall in the price of crude is having a ripple effect— the scarcity of forex, which has resulted from the oil price crash, means that industries are struggling to get forex to import raw materials and machinery. With falling imports, the Customs Service, which is another source of revenue, is collecting less duties.
“Taxation is also affected, as industries with no forex to import can neither employ more people nor produce more goods. Then, Nigeria has had to fight an existential battle to root out Boko Haram in the North-East,” he said.
The Information Minister, however, commended Nigeria Guild of Editors (NGE) for choosing “Economic diversification: Agriculture as option for a prosperous Nigeria” as the theme for the conference and urged media practitioners to be champions of change.
“As you are all very much aware, agriculture is one of the sectors we have identified in our economic diversification programme, aimed at moving the country away from a mono-product, oil-based economy, under our change mantra,” he said.
Also speaking at the event, the host governor, Chief Nyesom Wike, said the focus of the theme of the conference suggested that the media executives had considered the imperatives of diversifying Nigeria’s economy for socio-economic prosperity through agriculture.
“I commended the organisers for choosing this topic because every Nigerian stands that Nigeria’s future is bleak for as long as it remains a mono-product economy. I agree with those who hold the view that Nigeria’s economy is already diversified,” he said.
In his own speech, former Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan of Delta State, said he believed the media would always set agenda for the society, adding that “today, you have chosen another topic that is very close to my heart– agriculture.
“There is nobody in the country that does not believe agriculture is the main area for diversification. When we started our ‘Delta Beyond Oil’, there were criticisms, but today, many have come to see that there should be Nigeria beyond oil.