Nigerian President, Muhammadu Buhari has asked fellow Citizens to join hands with him to fix the nation. In his Democracy Day speech yesterday, President Buhari lamented that despite the years of plenty in which crude oil sold for more than $100 per barrel, economic and security deteriorated in the country.
He said, “It is one year today since our administration came into office. It has been a year of triumph, consolidation, pains and achievements. By age, instinct and experience, my preference is to look forward, to prepare for the challenges that lie ahead and rededicate the administration to the task of fixing Nigeria.
“But I believe we can also learn from the obstacles we have overcome and the progress we made thus far, to help strengthen the plans that we have in place to put Nigeria back on the path of progress.”
President Buhari also reaffirmed his belief in democracy as the form of government that best assures the active participation and actually benefits the people.
He said that despite the many years of hardship and disappointment, Nigerians had proved to be inherently good, industrious, tolerant, patient and generous.
“The past years have witnessed huge flows of oil revenues. From 2010, average oil prices were $100 per barrel, but economic and security conditions were deteriorating.
“We campaigned and won the election on the platform of restoring security, tackling corruption and restructuring the economy,” he noted.
The president noted that, on his assumption of office, the oil price had collapsed to as low as $30 per barrel, which was aggravated by his discovery that nothing had been saved for the rainy day.
“Oil prices have been declining since 2014 but due to the neglect of the past, the country was not equipped to halt the economy from declining. The infrastructure, notably rail, power, roads, were in a decrepit state. All the four refineries were in a state of disrepair, the pipelines and depots neglected,” he added.
The situation, he further stated, was worsened by huge accumulated debts owed to contractors and suppliers, with 27 states unable to pay workers’ salaries for months.
The president also recalled that in the North-East, Boko Haram had captured 14 local government areas, driven the local authorities out, and hoisted their flags.
He said: “Elsewhere, insecurity was palpable; corruption and impunity were the order of the day. In short, we inherited a state near collapse.
“Our problems as a government are like that of a farmer who in a good season harvests ten bags of produce. The proceeds enable him to get by for the rest of the year. However, this year, he could only manage three bags from his farm. He must now think of other ways to make ends meet.”
Speaking on the strategies his administration had adopted to counter the slide in public governance, he said: “We reinforced and galvanized our armed forces with new leadership and resources. We marshalled our neighbours in a joint task force to tackle and defeat Boko Haram.”
He also insisted that the EFCC was given the freedom to pursue corrupt officials and the judiciary was alerted on what Nigerians expect of them in the fight against corruption.
“On the economy, in particular foreign exchange and fuel shortages, our plan is to save foreign exchange by fast-tracking the repair of the refineries and producing most of our fuel requirements at home.
“And by growing more food in Nigeria, mainly rice, wheat and sugar, we will save billions of dollars in foreign exchange and drastically reduce our food import bill.”
On possible devaluation of the naira, he said, “We resolved to keep the Naira steady as, in the past, devaluation had done dreadful harm to the Nigerian economy.
“Furthermore, I supported the monetary authority’s decision to ensure alignment between monetary policy and fiscal policy. We shall keep a close look on how the recent measures affect the Naira and the economy.
“But we cannot get away from the fact that a strong currency is predicated on a strong economy, and a strong economy pre-supposes an industrial productive base and a steady export market. The measures we must take may lead to hardships. The problems Nigerians have faced over the last year have been many and varied. But the real challenge for this government has been reconstructing the spine of the Nigerian state.”
President Buhari further revealed that the last 12 months had been spent collaborating with all arms of government to revive the nation’s institutions so that they are more efficient and purposeful, adding that his administration had stopped leakages in the system in order to cut the cost of governance.
According to him, “An important first step has been to get our housekeeping right. So we have reduced the extravagant spending of the past. We started boldly with the treasury single account, stopping the leakages in public expenditure
“We then identified 43,000 ghost workers through the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS). That represents pay packets totalling N4.2 billion stolen every month. In addition, we will save N23 billion per annum from official travelling and sitting allowances alone.”
Speaking on the budget, he said the budgeting system had been restructured and made more transparent and effective.
“I am glad to tell you now we not only have a budget, but, more importantly, we have a budget process that is more transparent, more inclusive and more closely tied to our development priorities than in the recent past. Thirty per cent of the expenditure in this budget is devoted to capital items.”
On the hardship faced by Nigerians due to the fuel price increase, he said: “In respect of the economy, I would like to directly address you on the very painful but inevitable decisions we had to make in the last few weeks, specifically on the pump price of fuel and the more flexible exchange rate policy announced by the central bank.
“It is even more painful for me that a major producer of crude oil with four refineries that once exported refined products is today having to import all of its domestic needs. This is what corruption and mismanagement has done to us and that is why we must fight these ills,” he asserted.
Buhari stated that this step – to remove fuel subsidy – was taken only after protracted consideration of its pros and cons, after it was comprehensive investigation revealed that the former pricing mechanism was unsustainable.
On the recovery of looted funds, he said, “We are also engaged in making recoveries of stolen assets, some of which are in different jurisdictions.
“The processes of recovery can be tedious and time-consuming, but today I can confirm that, thus far, significant amounts of assets have been recovered.”
The president did not, however, name the looters as he had promised earlier but he said that the full details of the recovered looted funds would be released by the ministry of information.
“A considerable portion of these are at different stages of recovery. Full details of the status and categories of the assets will now be published by the Ministry of Information and updated periodically.
“When forfeiture formalities are completed, these monies will be credited to the treasury and be openly and transparently used in funding developmental projects and the public will be informed.”
On the Niger Delta, he said “we are committed to implementing the United Nations Environment Programme report and are advancing clean-up operations.
“I believe the way forward is to take a sustainable approach to address the issues that affect the delta communities. Re-engineering the amnesty programmes is an example of this.”
President Buhari maintained that the recent spate of attacks by militants disrupting oil and power installations will not distract his administration from engaging leaders in the region in addressing Niger Delta problems.
He warned that if the militants and vandals think they are trying to test his administration’s resolve, they are mistaken.
“We shall apprehend the perpetrators and their sponsors and bring them to justice,” he declared.
“We are fully aware that those vested interests who have held Nigeria back for so long will not give up without a fight. They will sow divisions, sponsor vile press criticisms at home and abroad, incite the public in an effort to create chaos rather than relinquish the vice-like grip they have held on Nigeria.”
He further explained that the policy measures and actions taken so far are not to be seen as some experiment in governance, adding that the economic misfortune the country is experiencing in the form of very low oil prices had provided it with an opportunity to restructure its economy and diversify its economic base.
“We are in the process of promoting agriculture, livestock production, exploiting our solid mineral resources and expanding our industrial and manufacturing base. That way, we will import less and make the social investments necessary to allow us to produce a large and skilled workforce,” he explained.
According to him, the Central Bank of Nigeria will offer more fiscal incentives for businesses that manufacture products that are internationally competitive.
“We remain committed to reforming the regulatory framework, for investors by improving the ease of doing business in Nigeria,” he said.
“Meanwhile, the first steps along the path of self-sufficiency in rice, wheat and sugar – big users of our scarce foreign exchange – have been taken. The Labour Intensive Farming Enterprise will boost the economy and ensure inclusive growth in long neglected communities.”
He said special intervention funds through the Bank of Agriculture will provide targeted support.
“Concerns remain about rising cost of foods such as maize, rice, millet, beans and garri. Farmers tell me that they are worried about the cost of fertilizers, pesticides and the absence of extension services,” the president noted, adding that the federal and state governments were on the same page in tackling these hurdles in the effort to increase food production and, ultimately, food security.”
President Buhari also expressed his appreciation for the increasing role that women are playing in revitalizing the agricultural sector.
“Modern farming is still hard and heavy work and I salute our Nigerian women in sharing this burden. In this respect I am very pleased to announce that the government will shortly be launching the national women’s empowerment fund, which I have approved, to provide N1.6 billion in micro-finance loans to women across the nation to assist in rehabilitating the economies of rural communities, particularly those impacted by the insurgency and conflict.”
On solid minerals, he said, “The minister has produced a roadmap where we will work closely with the World Bank and major international investors to ensure through best practices and due diligence that we choose the right partners.
“Illegal mining remains a problem and we have set up a special security team to protect our assets. Special measures will be in place to protect miners in their work environment.”
The president insisted that his government has plans to alleviate the suffering of the poor.
“For too long, ours has been a society that neglects the poor and victimizes the weak. A society that promotes profit and growth over development and freedom. A society that fails to recognize that, to quote the distinguished economist Amartya Sen “poverty is not just lack of money. It is not having the capability to realise one’s full potential as a human being.
“So, today, I am happy to formally launch, by far the most ambitious social protection programme in our history, a programme that both seeks to start the process of lifting many from poverty, while at the same time creating the opportunity for people to fend for themselves.
“In this regard, N500 billion has been appropriated in the 2016 budget for social intervention programmes in five key areas. We are committed to providing job creation opportunities for 500,000 teachers and 100,000 artisans across the nation. 5.5 million children are to be provided with nutritious meals through our school feeding programme to improve learning outcomes, as well as enrolment and completion rates.”
“The conditional cash transfer scheme will provide financial support for up to one million vulnerable beneficiaries, and complement the enterprise programme – which will target up to one million market women; 460,000 artisans, and 200, 000 agricultural workers, nationwide.
“Finally, through the education grant scheme, we will encourage students studying sciences, technology, engineering and maths, and lay a foundation for human capital development for the next generation,” he stated.
President Buhari paid a special tribute to gallant men and women of the armed forces “who are in harm’s way so that the rest of us can live and go about our business in safety. Their work is almost done. The nation owes them a debt of gratitude.
“Abroad, we want to assure our neighbours, friends and development partners that Nigeria is firmly committed to democratic principles.
“We are ready partners in combating terrorism, cybercrimes, control of communicable diseases and protection of the environment. Following on the Paris Agreement, COP 21, we are fully committed to halting and reversing desertification.”
He assured that his administration will intensify efforts to tackle erosion, ocean surge, flooding and oil spillage which he referred to earlier by implementing the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report.
He thanked the international community, the Gates Foundation, the United Nations agencies, particularly UNICEF, ICRC, and the World Food Programme for their good work.
“Fellow citizens let me end on a happy note. To the delight of all, two of the abducted Chibok girls have regained their freedom. During the last one year, not a single day passed without my agonizing about these girls.
“Our efforts have centred on negotiations to free them safely from their mindless captors. We are still pursuing that course. Their safety is of paramount concern to me and, I am sure, to most Nigerians. I am very worried about the conditions those still captured might be in.
“Today I re-affirm our commitment to rescuing our girls. We will never stop until we bring them home safely. As I said before, no girl should be put through the brutality of forced marriage and every Nigerian girl has the right to an education and a life choice.
“I thank you and appeal to you to continue supporting the government’s efforts to fix Nigeria,” he concluded.
Meanwhile, the minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, yesterday explained why President Muhammadu Buhari didn’t not release the list of corrupt persons as he had earlier promised.
Mr. Mohammed said the list would be released on Wednesday this week.
Mr. Buhari had on May 14 in London promised to provide specific details of stolen asset by former public officials.
“So far, what has come out, what has been recovered in whatever currency from each ministries, departments and individuals, I intend on the 29th to speak on this because all Nigerians are getting from the mass media because of the number of people arrested either by the EFCC, DSS. But we want to make a comprehensive report on the 29th,” Mr. Buhari had said.