President Muhammadu Buhari urged the World Bank to prioritise its developmental programmes across the northern parts of Nigeria, the bank’s President Jim Yong Kim said on Thursday.
At a press briefing on the sidelines of the ongoing World Bank-IMF annual meetings in Washington, D.C., Mr. Kim said his organisation has largely complied with Mr. Buhari’s request, but also experienced some challenges in the process.
“In my very first meeting with President Buhari he said specifically that he would like us to shift our focus to the northern regions of Nigeria and we’ve done that,” said Mr. Kim, who has led the World Bank since 2012.
“Now, it has been very difficult. The work there has been very, very difficult,” he added.
Mr. Kim was responding to a Nigerian reporter’s question on how the bank has supported Nigeria’s northeast, plagued by the Boko Haram insurgency.
A transcript of Mr. Kim’s press briefing was published by the World Bank on Thursday.
However, the details of Mr. Buhari’s first meeting referenced by Mr. Kim could not be immediately retrieved. But the comments could bolster Mr. Buhari’s critics, who accuse the president of being sectional.
In 2015, Mr. Buhari was ridiculed for telling a live audience during a visit to Washington that the regions that overwhelmingly voted for him should expect more from his government than the one that did not.
“The constituents, for example, gave me 97% [of the vote] cannot in all honesty be treated on some issues with constituencies that gave me 5%,” Mr. Buhari said when he was asked about his administration’s policy of inclusiveness at the United States Institute of Peace July 22, 2015.
“I think these are political reality,” he added.
Ayo Akanji, a media consultant for the Buhari administration, said the president’s request to Mr. Kim was centered on canvassing the bank’s support for Boko Haram victims and other humanitarian issues in the region, and not asking the bank to ramp up its developmental policies in the north at the expense of the south.
“The northeast has been badly hit by Boko Haram and more than two million displaced,” Mr. Akanji added. “That’s why President Buhari has been going everywhere abroad to seek support to rebuild a region that has been totally ravaged.”
“The president could not have asked the World Bank to abandon the southern parts of the country,” Mr. Akanji added. “He only saw an urgency in the need for displaced farmers to return to farm and displaced kids to return to school.”
At his press briefing, Mr. Kim said a rebound of crude oil prices would help improve the economic situation in the north, but urged Mr. Buhari to focus more on other areas that are more critical to sustainable development, like health and education.
“So, yes focus on the north, hope that as commodity prices stabilise, oil prices come back up and the economy will grow a bit more but very, very much focus on what the drivers of growth in the future will be,” Mr. Kim said.