Nigeria’s Democracy Day speech: Fact-checking sovereign savings, rice imports & infrastructure spend

In celebration of Democracy Day on 29 May, the country’s acting president reassured Nigerians that promised change is on the way. He also listed several achievements, of which we checked out 3.

With President Muhammadu Buhari away on indefinite medical leave, acting-president Yemi Osinbajo gave Nigeria’s 2017 Democracy Day speech.

The annual speech on 29 May is regarded as the country’s informal state of the nation address. (Note: A parliamentary bill to compel presidents to periodically address Nigerians on the state of the nation was vetoed by former President Goodluck Jonathan.)

In his speech, Osinbajo gave an account of the government’s efforts over the past 2 years in delivering on promises made to Nigerians.

“We also know that this journey will of necessity take time,” he told Nigerians in a national broadcast. “But we will not succumb to the temptation to take short-cuts that ultimately complicate the journey. We did not find ourselves in crises overnight, and we simply do not expect overnight solutions to our challenges.”

We zeroed in on 3 claims Osinbajo made about an increase in sovereign savings, a drop in rice imports and the size of infrastructure spend.

Claim

“We have in the last 2 years added US$500 million to our sovereign wealth fund.”

Verdict

unproven

The acting president said efforts by the All Progressive Congress-led government in curbing corruption and plugging leakages have saved the country billions of naira to save for a rainy day.

“We have taken very seriously our promise to save and invest for the future, even against the backdrop of our revenue challenges, and we have in the last two years added US$500 million to our sovereign wealth fund,” he said in the broadcast.

Nigeria’s sovereign wealth fund was set up in 2012 to save and manage excess money Nigeria makes from the selling crude oil. It is managed by the Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority and comprises 3 separate funds: the Nigeria infrastructure fund (40%), future generations fund (40%) and the stabilisation fund (20%).

At the end of 2015, the fund’s balance was N214 billion. The 2016 financial statement – released in April 2017 – shows that the fund’s balance had more than doubled to N420 billion (roughly US$1.37 billion using the current Central Bank exchange rate of N305.4/$).

Part of the increase was due to an allocation of US$250 million (about N76.3 billion) by the present administration, which reflected in February 2016.

In February 2017, another US$250 million was reportedly added to the fund. However, an insider claimed it was drawn from the excess crude account, another government savings fund. (Note: The excess crude account was created in 2004 to help fund subsequent budget deficits and shield the country’s economy from external shocks.)

We asked the office of the acting president for proof of the payments but Laolu Akande, Osinbajo’s media liaison, is yet to get back to us.

Claim

“I am delighted to note that since 2015 our imports of rice have dropped by 90%.”

Verdict

incorrect

Nigeria consumes more rice than any African country and is one of the biggest producers and importers of the grain on the continent, according to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organisation.

In 2015, the Nigerian government introduced a borrowing programme to stimulate local rice production while reducing the country’s food import bills. To help achieve this, the Central Bank of Nigeria imposed import restrictions on rice.

Still, none of the 3 international databases Africa Check consulted showed that the programme or import restrictions had an effect of significantly lowering rice imports.

The 2016 Rice Market Monitor of the Food and Agriculture Organisation states that rice imports increased from 2.2 million tonnes in 2015 to an estimated 2.5 million tonnes of rice in 2016.

Data from the International Grain Council reveals that rice imports in 2016 were estimated to be the same as in 2015, at 2.1 million tonnes.

In its 2017 Global Agricultural Information Network report, the United States department of agriculture’s statistics show that imports dropped slightly between 2015 and 2016: from 2.1 million tonnes of the grain to 2 million tonnes. (Note: This department’s reporting year runs from October to September.)

Our queries to the department of agriculture for data to support the acting president’s claim went unanswered.

Claim

“In the 2016 budget, we spent N1.2 trillion on infrastructure projects.”

Verdict

unproven

To stimulate economic recovery, the acting president said the Nigerian government would continue to spend on infrastructure, claiming that the large spend in 2016 marked “another milestone in the history of this country”.

In May, the Federal Ministry of Finance published a media releases detailing how the 2016 infrastructure budget was spent.

Sector Spend
Power, works & housing N307,411,749,682
Defence and security N171,900,597,013
Transport & aviation N143,121,925,241
Total N622,434,271,936

This adds up to half of the funds budgeted for infrastructure, with spending on agriculture, water resources, education and health projects taking the total to 62%.

Due to the late passage of the 2016 budget, two-thirds of it is yet to be spent (N4 trillion of N6.06 trillion), Moses Tule, the director of monetary policy at the Central Bank of Nigeria said in an interview in May 2017.

In Nigeria, there is a clear difference between what was budgeted for something, what was eventually spent on it and if it was achieved, Adetokunbo Mumuni, the executive director of the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, a non-governmental organisation that focuses on anti-corruption, economic and social rights, told Africa Check.

“The next question for the acting president is to give a breakdown of what infrastructure has that money been spent on so that we can now do a follow up as to where those infrastructure [projects] are. It is not sufficient that such claim be made.”

 

Additional reading

Buhari & APC’s campaign promises: Appraising 9 pledges 2 years on

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