The President of the World Bank Group, Jim Yong Kim, said Thursday that the bank had concentrated on the northern region of Nigeria because President Muhammadu Buhari “specifically” requested that it did so.
Kim and the Managing Director, International Monetary Fund (IMF), Christine Lagarde, who spoke at separate press conferences in Washington DC, United States, also advised Buhari to invest in initiatives that would enhance economic growth.
Kim said, “You know, in my very first meeting with President Buhari he said specifically that he would like us to shift our focus to the northern region of Nigeria and we’ve done that. Now, it has been very difficult. The work there has been very difficult.
“I think Nigeria, of course, has suffered from the dropping oil prices. I think things are just now getting better. But the conversation we need to have with Nigeria, I think, is in many ways related to the theme that I brought to the table just this past week, which is investment in human capital. The percentage of the Gross Domestic Product that Nigeria spends on healthcare is less than one percent.”
He added, “Despite that, there is so much turbulence in the northern part of the country, and there is the hit that was taken from the drop in the oil prices. Nigeria has to think ahead and invest in its people. Investing in the things that will allow Nigeria to be a thriving, rapidly growing economy in the future is what the country has to focus on right now.”
Kim also said, “Focusing on the northern part of Nigeria, we hope that as commodity prices stabilise and oil prices come back up, the economy will grow a bit more. But very, very much important is the need to focus on what the drivers of growth in the future will be.”
On the bank’s broader plan for Africa, he said they would invest in human capital in other parts of Africa to prepare the continent for the next phase of growth.
In her remarks, Lagarde said Sub-Saharan African countries, including Nigeria’s, had posted sub-optimal growth in recent times.
The growth figures, she said, were far too minimal considering the huge demographic potential of Nigeria and other countries in the region.
As a result, she said the IMF would be engaging ministers of finance and central bank governors from the region attending the annual World Bank and IMF meetings on how they could best boost and stabilise economic growth.
Lagarde said, “The Sub-Saharan Africa is one region of the world where growth is suboptimal. Those countries grow at an average growth of 2.5 per cent. That is too low for the demographic expansion of the region”.
The revelation by the World Bank chief will only further solidify the belief by many that President Buhari overwhelmingly favours the North in his government.
He will be severely criticized for this move that will be read as maybe one of the surest and most direct proof yet of his plan to prioritize and accelerate development in the Northern region of the country.
Many will be quick to recall the president’s comments in the United States last year where he drew a distinction between the regions of Nigeria on account of percentages of votes given him the presidential election, stating that those who gave him only 5% could not expect same treatment as those who gave him 97% of his vote tally, to widespread impassioned reactions.