Nigerian opposition candidate seeks to privatise state oil firm
* Atiku Abubakar says he would remove petrol subsidy
* Candidate would identify government assets to sell off
* Presidential poll to be held on Feb. 16
* Abubakar plans to remove multiple exchange rates
(Adds details, quotes, bullet points)
By Alexis Akwagyiram and Chijioke Ohuocha
LAGOS, Jan 16 (Reuters) - Nigeria's main opposition
candidate for president said on Wednesday he would seek to
privatise the state oil company and other government assets if
elected next month, while removing a costly petrol subsidy, to
revive the economy.
Atiku Abubakar, a businessman who served as vice president
between 1999 and 2007, has promised to double the size of
Nigeria's economy to $900 billion by 2025.
He is the main challenger to President Muhammadu Buhari in
the Feb. 16 election. Nigeria's oil-dependent economy, which
vies with South Africa's to be the largest in Africa, has
performed below par since 2016, when it suffered its first
recession in 25 years.
The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation reported monthly
group revenues totalling 4.58 trillion naira ($14.9 billion) in
the 12 months to September 2018. Oil sales overall account for
around two-thirds of government income.
"I am committed to privatising NNPC. Even if they are going
to kill me, I'll do it," he told business leaders in the
commercial capital Lagos.
In a Reuters interview, Abubakar said his privatisation
plans would extend further than the oil sector. He said he would
direct the advisory National Council on Privatisation to draw up
a "very comprehensive policy as far as privatisation of
"As a policy, we want to have less government as far as
businesses are concerned. No sector is going to be exempted as
far as liberalisation and privatisation is concerned," he said.
He had previously stated in his manifesto that he intended to
break up NNPC.
With unemployment at 23.1 percent in the third quarter of
2018 and inflation at a seven-month high of 11.44 percent in
December, the economy has become a key election issue.
Abubakar's campaign has sought to focus on free-market
principles that saw him put in place a programme of
liberalisation in areas including the telecoms sector when he
was vice president.
The candidate, representing the main opposition People's
Democratic Party (PDP), said he would oversee the removal of
multiple exchange rates, of which Nigeria has at least three.
The central bank has implemented tight currency restrictions
since 2015 in the face of low oil prices that weakened the naira
and fuelled inflation. Buhari has repeatedly said he opposes
letting the naira float freely.
Investors fled in the wake of the currency controls. JP
Morgan removed Nigeria from its government bond index in late
"I will rather allow the currency to float so that we can
have a realistic single exchange rate that would be stable. That
will encourage foreign investors," Abubakar told Reuters.
The candidate added that he would scrap a petrol subsidy,
which successive governments have retained to keep official fuel
"I have always been an advocate of subsidy removal. It is a
policy I intend to continue until we completely eliminate that
subsidy," he said.
The subsidy has been a drain on government finances. A
previous effort to remove the subsidy by Buhari's predecessor,
Goodluck Jonathan, raised pump prices in 2012 and caused riots.
($1 = 306.8500 naira)
(Additional reporting by Paul Carsten; Writing by Alexis
Akwagyiram; editing by John Stonestreet)
First Published: 2019-01-16 13:15:08
Updated 2019-01-16 18:31:08
© 2019 Thomson Reuters. All rights reserved. Reuters content is the intellectual property of Thomson Reuters or its third party content providers. Any copying, republication or redistribution of Reuters content, including by framing or similar means, is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Thomson Reuters. Thomson Reuters shall not be liable for any errors or delays in content, or for any actions taken in reliance thereon. "Reuters" and the Reuters Logo are trademarks of Thomson Reuters and its affiliated companies.