World Bank Country Director in Nigeria, Dr. Rachid Benmassoud, yesterday said that the global institution was ready to partner with Nigeria in the areas of agriculture and mining in order to generate alternative sources that would not only be needed to service its foreign loans but also fund public infrastructure.

Benmassoud stated this in Abuja while briefing members of the Senate Committee on Local and Foreign Debts on state of the nation’s financial cooperation with the World Bank.

He assured Nigerians that the global financial institution was perfecting strategies to support government at all levels in the country, to explore other sources of revenues, following the current dwindling oil revenue in the international market.

He promised to communicate the debt profile of Nigeria, to the committee at a later date but noted that the country’s indebtedness, compared to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product, GDP was very small compared to those of other African countries.

Benmassoud pledged that the global institution was ready to partner with Nigeria in the areas of agriculture and mining in order to generate alternative sources that would not only be needed to service its foreign loans but also fund public infrastructure. He also said the World Bank would support the country in the areas of security, unemployment and efforts to bring governance closer to the people.

He said, “Unemployment is inimical to growth and development. Human development can guarantee and drive development. We are,  therefore, assisting the country to create a competitive domestic market because it will drive the much needed growth.

“That is why necessary environment should be created by the government by facilitating access to financing, and make investment climate that is conducive because the private sector, whether local or foreign should be part of the solution.

“The government should ensure transparency in its spending, because accountability is very important to enhance confidence that would support any effort aimed at getting the support of the people”.

He described agriculture as the best way to reach the poor hence a number of activities is needed to bridge the gap in the allocation of resources to states from the federation account.

Benmassoud said the states needed information about what they can do to diversify the economy towards the agricultural sector from the reliance on oil and gas so that they can have an higher productivity.

He said government should therefore ensure construction of access roads and market to make the system work.

He said, “The Fadama projects initiated by the World Bank could be expanded and improved upon because they are for small scale farmers. Agriculture has to be a commercial business because it has to provide alternative sources of funding for government programmes since there is a decline in the oil and gas revenue.

“I was stunned when I learnt that Nigeria which used to be a food exporting country is now importing about $3billion food annually. The nation has the capacity to produce locally, foods that are being imported into the country.

“It is not only about food production but also packaging to the various markets. Nigeria cannot be really competitive in terms of agricultural production without having a solid research Centre for Agricultural technology. This is extremely important to be in the forefront of improving certain crops through research”, Benmassoud said.

He explained that plans are underway to support Nigeria in the power sector and hinted that the  World Bank, through its sister agency, International Financing Corporation  had developed two projects on solar power energy that would be of immense assistance to the energy need of African countries.

On solid minerals, Benmassoud stressed the need for the federal government to make it a formal sector so that small scale miners would be accommodated and given access to financing, and other incentives.

“There should be series of consultation with the miners and to make the incentives available for them. We need to create an investment climate for the investors in the sector because we have a large mining deposit in the country. World Bank can play it role through knowledge sharing”, he stressed.

Chairman of the committee, Senator Shehu Sani, stressed the need for the judicious use of loans borrowed by government at all levels in order not to subject the people to unnecessary liabilities.

He said, “I want to call on the Federal Government to discourage state government from borrowing under Development Policy Operation. We want to see future borrowings tied to specific projects for accountability and transparency”.

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