Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala told Reuters that although
the impact of the five-year Boko Haram insurgency had cut half a
percentage point off Nigeria's GDP last year, she believed it could
be contained and insisted the country was not facing a wider
conflict as it heads for elections next year.
"There is no war ... there is an insurgency," Okonjo-Iweala said in
an interview conducted on Sunday in her car in Abuja as she headed
to the airport to fly to New York.
"We are not in a Colombia situation," she added, rejecting
comparisons with the Latin American energy producer which has
battled for decades with a major left-wing insurgency that often
affected large swathes of its national territory.
Okonjo-Iweala said Boko Haram, who have raided schools, churches,
government offices and security posts in their fight to carve out an
Islamist enclave, mostly affected around 5 percent of the nation's
territory, the northeast states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa.
But she acknowledged Boko Haram had shown it could strike further
south. A bombing at a bus station this month killed at least 75
people on the outskirts of the capital Abuja, which is hosting a
World Economic Forum on Africa next week.
"The WEF is still going on," Okonjo-Iweala said. To host the
"African Davos", which has previously been held in cities such as
Cape Town and Addis Ababa, Nigeria was mounting the largest security
operation it had ever staged for an international summit, deploying
6,000 soldiers and police.
President Goodluck Jonathan's government had increased spending to
tackle the Boko Haram threat, including more army recruitment, the
minister said, without giving specific figures.
Okonjo-Iweala said it included a program for the northeast aimed at
lifting the area out of poverty and underdevelopment.
"We recognize that this is an inclusion problem ... the fact that
the human development indicators in that part of the country are
among the lowest," she said. The government was working to obtain
backing from donors for the program.
INVESTORS "NOT TURNED OFF"
Boko Haram's attacks have stopped farmers from growing crops.
Several thousand people were killed in the insurgency last year and
at that rate it could hurt Nigeria's GDP in 2014, which is estimated
to grow by nearly 7 percent.
"We think we can absorb it, but of course, if like last year, it
continues, then we have to make an estimate of the impact,"
She added that investors looking more closely at Nigeria since a GDP
rebasing last month made it the continent's largest economy ahead of
South Africa did not appear to be turned off by the security
"Nobody who is making an investment has so far said they will not
make one, that we know of," she said.
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A mass abduction of teenage schoolgirls from a northeastern school
by suspected Boko Haram gunmen this month has outraged Nigerians and
raised fears that the insurrection, coupled with persistent
inter-communal violence in the Middle Belt, could strain Nigeria's
unity, created in colonial times from an amalgam of ethnicities and
Okonjo-Iweala said Boko Haram was receiving "cross-border" backing
from supporters in Cameroon, Niger and Chad.
"We need to look at the source of this financing," she said, adding
Jonathan was working to obtain regional cooperation to remove Boko
Haram's support from jihadi groups in the Sahel.
"DEMOCRACY IN RAW FORM"
Okonjo-Iweala could not rule out that domestic political forces were
also stoking the Boko Haram insurgency ahead of elections in
February, when Jonathan, a Christian southerner, may stand for a
second term. Northern critics say this would break an unwritten rule
of presidents alternating from north and south to preserve Nigeria's
sensitive, Muslim-Christian divide.
"We tend to notice when the electoral cycle comes in, all these
things heat up," Okonjo-Iweala said.
But she said Nigeria had halted insurgencies before, such attacks
against oil facilities by Niger Delta militants in the past decade,
and that Boko Haram did not pose the same threat as the Biafran War
that split the country from 1967-1970.
"What we are going through now is democracy in raw form, because
people are fighting for power and they will use anything to get
there ... and to win the election," she said.
She hoped politicians would heed the president's appeal for unity
made on Thursday when he met the 36 state governors.
"Everybody has now come together and said this is ridiculous, crazy,
unacceptable, for our children to go to school and be sleeping in
their bed at night and for some people to come and abduct them,"
Okonjo-Iweala said, referring to the schoolgirls' abduction in which
dozens are still missing.
"Nigeria as a nation will overcome this," she said.
(Editing by Tim Cocks and Giles Elgood)
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