Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala moved to reassure foreign investors on Wednesday that her budget was on course, oil earnings were steady and military spending would be increased to tackle an insurgency by Islamic fighters.
In Rwanda, on the margins of the African Development Bank (AfDB) annual meeting, she said the budget would be signed soon by President Goodluck Jonathan.
There are concerns that public spending could balloon ahead of February’s election and to patch up the Nigerian military’s increasingly threadbare hardware. About 25,000 troops are thought to be deployed in the northeast where Boko Haram guerrillas are staging attacks against civilian and security targets with alarming frequency and are holding more than 200 schoolgirls hostage.
“Actually, this is the first time I can remember when we had such a tight budget at this point before an election," Ms Okonjo-Iweala told the group of about 20 fund managers and other foreign investment experts from the US and Europe.
“It’s not perfect but we do our best. Stay with us and watch and if anything changes, I’ll tell you,” she said.
The government’s excess crude account, a buffer fund to stabilise oil revenue and reinforce central bank reserves, stood at 3.6bn and would reach $5bn by the end of the year, she said.
Average crude oil production was budgeted to remain at last year’s level of 2.3 million to 2.4 million barrels per day.
“We are expecting to do the same as last year,” she said when challenged over the production level.
Nigeria overtook SA as the continent’s biggest economy this year after a “rebasing” exercise to measure its gross domestic product.
A score of African countries urgently need to conduct the same review, AfDB chief economist Mtuli Ncube said on Monday. The bank’s annual meeting opened yesterday and continues today.
Okonjo-Iweala said she had received strong messages of support in Kigali about Nigeria’s travails with Boko Haram. “The feedback has been very supportive.”
Jonathan’s government has come under heavy fire, particularly domestically, about its handling of the four-year insurgency in which thousands have been killed. The anger has built up since the girls were kidnapped in Chibok in mid-April.
“I think the government did its best. Maybe we didn’t communicate about what we were doing. If people don’t know what you are doing they assume you are doing nothing,” the finance minister said. “We have asked for additional military spending of $381m for the (2014) budget,” she said.
“No military agrees that it has enough,” she said when asked if the increase would make a decisive difference. Nigeria’s oncemighty armed forces have declined in numbers, quality and material, military experts agree.