For Nigeria to survive the falling global oil prices, government must diversify the economy, the World Bank Vice President and Treasurer, Ms. Arunma Otteh has said.
She said Nigeria ranks 152 out of 188 in the Human Development Index and ranks below the average for sub-saharan Africa.
Otteh, who was head of Nigeria’s Securities and Exchange Commission, SEC, spoke in Lagos while delivering the inaugural Philip Asiodu Lecture Series, with the theme: “The proper role of oil in the context of accelerating growth and development in Nigeria”.
The lecture was organised in honour of Mr. Asiodu, a former diplomat and Minister of Petroleum.
The World Bank VP noted that life expectancy in Nigeria is 53; eight years lower than in Ghana and 21 years lower than in Brazil.
On corruption, she made reference to the Transparency International’s 2015 report, which placed Nigeria on 136 out of 168 most corrupt countries. This, she said, affects the flow of foreign direct investment (FDI).
“Nigeria rapid GDP growth over the past decade has not translated into strong human development and competitiveness compared to the rest of the world even when compared to many of its Sub-Saharan African peers”, she said.
According to Otteh, Nigeria can no longer depend only on revenue from oil, which now sells for as low as $26 per barrel, and which accounts for 95 per cent of the country’s foreign exchange.
“Given the level of price uncertainty and Nigeria’s dependence on oil, it is all the more important to diversify away from oil”, she said.
The former SEC boss also stressed the need for reforms in the oil industry, especially through amendment of laws governing the sector, some of which she said date back to the 1950s.
Calling for the passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill, she said: “A legal framework is extremely important because weaknesses in the sector have other consequences”.
Otteh said the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) should be listed in the stock market as this will lead to more transparency in the management of petroleum resources and prevent “discretionary spending” and lack of accountability
“Abundant availability of oil is one of Nigeria’s comparative advantages and diversifying its economy away from oil should not be construed as not taking advantage of efficient linkages between oil and related industries”, she said.
Otteh also expressed optimism that conceptualizing sound development plans, effectively implementing and monitoring them, backed by a vision that should be regularly re-evaluated, will take Nigeria to the next level.
“Nigeria’s future must be captured in a comprehensive development plan. Nigeria must do more to improve on the wellbeing of its citizens”, she said.