* Economy forecast to grow 6.75 pct this year - stats bureau
* Poverty, insecurity worsening despite enviable growth
* Inflation expected to ease to average 9.7 pct in 2013
By Joe Brock
ABUJA, Feb 18 Nigeria's economy is expected to
grow at a speedy 6.75 percent this year, driven by progress in
agriculture, banking and oil, while high inflation rates should
ease slightly, data showed on Monday.
Both will add to the reuptation of Africa's top oil producer
as a growing investment destination with a huge consumer market
of 160 million peopple. Demand for its sovereign debt, for
example, has soared since JP Morgan added it to its emerging
bond index last year.
The kidnapping by gunmen of a Briton, an Italian, a Greek
and four Lebanese workers in Bauchi state on Sunday, however,
underlined that there are risks to investment outlook.
The National Bureau of Statistics forecast this year's
growth to be slightly faster than in 2012, 6.75 percent compared
with 6.61 percent.
It said gross domestic product should expand by an average
of 7.2 percent next year, 6.9 percent in 2015 and 6.6 percent in
2016, adding that the projections assumed no change to monetary
policy, stable fuel prices and a stable external environment.
Social strains, epitomised by the weekend's kidnapping, may
undermine some investor sentiment, however. It was the worst
case of foreigners being abducted in the north since an
insurgency by Islamists intensified nearly two years ago.
There is also a longer history of kidnapping and oil theft
in the southern oil region.
And despite solid growth, the gap between rich and poor is
widening, contributing to unrest and violence. Unemployment is
23 percent, while youth unemployment is double that and most
people live on less than $2-a-day.
WORKING ON GROWTH
Government pledges to improve infrastructure and support
job-creating areas such as agriculture will be key to the
economy and stability but reforms have been slow over the last
two years, hampered by vested interests and corruption.
Investors have been pleased with the stability brought to
monetary policy and the macro-economy in recent months but they
remain wary of the government's tendency to squander its oil
windfall on reckless spending and corruption.
Foreign exchange reserves are at more than a 3-year high and
the stock index is up around 18 percent this year
as investors show faith in local debt markets and the oil,
banking and telecommunication sectors.
Plans later this year to rebase Nigeria's GDP, which have
been repeatedly delayed in the past, could push it close to the
size of South Africa, the continent's top economy.
The statistics office said consumer inflation
eased to 9 percent year-on-year in January from 12 percent in
December, dropping within the central bank's single-digit target
The bank's governor said last week that he was in no hurry
to cut interest rates even if inflation fell.
Food price inflation, the biggest contributor
to the headline index, eased to 10.1 percent in January from
10.2 percent, NBS statistics showed.