By Garba Shehu
The administration of President Muhammadu Buhari completed 19 months in office at the end of December. Except for this period being the end of a year and the beginning of another one, it is not a milestone of spectacular importance.
It is, nonetheless, another opportunity to reiterate the Buhari success story, a period in which so much changed. This is even as the beneficiaries of the old order seem even more determined to dislodge that narrative of success.
Here, we are in a country in which an essayist with excellent online credentials writes a syndicated weekly column in which he attacks our minister of Finance, Ms Kemi ADeosun who keeps a clean sheet, not for the work she did for the country but for having graduated from a U.K Polytechnic. But pray, would you rather have as your money keeper an Ivory Leaguer, even though clean by himself/herself that allows a free-for-all looting under his/her watch, or one that is a product of a polytechnic but keeps you money safe?
President Buhari swore to his oath of office on May 29th, 2015 on a promise to tackle insecurity and corruption; to arrest the decline of the economy with a pledge to create jobs and diversify the monocultural economy. These three big, bold ideas warranted the CHANGE in 2015 and the President never loses sight of them.
The most important of the challenges faced by the administration in 2016 were mainly caused by weak revenues.
Oil lost more than 60 percent of its value in the world market and output was severely curtailed by pipeline bombings in the Niger Delta, reducing production by, sometime as much as 50 percent.
Budget for the year 2016 was caught in a serious of disputes between the executive and the Legislative arms of the government following the uncovering of a huge scam through which the allocations to the various ministries were padded with sums that the executive did not ask for.
When the budget was eventually passed and signed, cash backing for capital projects approved for the year came only in the second half of the year. This notwithstanding, the Government pumped an unprecedented N800 billion into the economy for the financing capital projects to lift the country out of recession.
To everyone’s great relief, security in the country improved significantly but that too came with a number of challenges. Vast areas of the country in the Northeast were freed from Boko Haram terrorists and that opened up the humanitarian situation for the world to see: Two million people displaced from their communities faced imminent hunger. On record, we had eradicated the Polio disease, just awaiting certification. With the discovery of new, even though a few cases, Nigeria which was the second of three countries still in the Polio black book suddenly realised that there was more work to do.
The country has been celebrating the “defeat of the Boko Haram” which was officially proclaimed by the office of the Chief of Defense Staff. President Buhari has expressed his pride on the Army’s bravery. But Nigeria won this war on the back of a leadership that is strong and decisive; a President that believes that it is important to end terror for peace, which is a prerequisite for development, to be established.
Given his strong will to win the war, he explored all the ways and means available to the government to ensure that weapons procurement and supplies did not suffer a breakdown. He released the two newest helicopters in the Presidential fleet to the Airforce to strengthen their capacity for air combat and asked the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC to release theirs to the military as well. The Nigerian Airforce must be given credit for the successful conversion of the civilian aircraft to military uses at home here in Nigeria without any foreign technical assistance.
The problem of cattle rustling was prevalent in the North Central and Northwestern States in the first half of the year. There has been a noticeable slump in these activities in the last six months. As can be seen, relative peace has returned to Benue, Plateau, Enugu in the Southeast although Zamfara and Kaduna States still remain flashpoints.
With recent measures put in place by the Police and the Military, as well as the peacemaking efforts by the governments of both states, it is hoped that this too will fade.
For the first time in many years, Christmas and New Year came and passed without a noticeable escalation of armed robbery and kidnapping in the southeast and all over Nigeria. There was a seamless supply of petroleum products throughout the country. Similarly, road accidents were minimal following intensive exercises by the Federal Road Safety Commission.
Equally important for the country’s security is the ongoing direct and indirect discussions between the Government and the oil producing communities in the Niger Delta. There is still more to accomplish in this regard but the decision of the federal government to resume the Amnesty Program and the involvement of community leaders in the region towards disarmament of the militants continue to be of help. The President is determined to see that whatever promises were contained in that agreement are carried out to the latter.
The Buhari administration has been successful in averting public uprising in states following the issuance of bailout funds to attack the problem of unpaid salaries. Salary payments are important to the economy of the states and without this, it is hard to see such economies will keep moving.
In the year 2016, the success of important economic policy decisions of the government began to manifest through the diversification and inclusiveness of the people in the economy.
There is huge boom in the rural economy mainly following good rains in the year and the government’s increasing role in quality control through extension services. It is equally important in this regard that there are willing off takers of farm products.
Agriculture failed to thrive in the past in the country because farmers were left to the vicissitudes of the market. One of the policies of the Central Bank to manage scarce foreign exchange include the restriction of currency supplies to important sectors that assist manufacturing and jobs creation. It is a systematic move to curb the importation of unnecessary goods, to serve as a boost to local production.
Anyone paying attention to the agricultural activity going on in some states in the list of rice growers Ebonyi, Kebbi, Jigawa knows that economic diversification is taking a serious root.
Businessday reported that there was a record 48,000 new millionaires last year in Kebbi State alone. This diversification is greatly being aided by forward-looking companies that are backward-integrating. The brewers and other manufacturers of consumables such Dangote, Nestle and Unilever are aiding the economic transformation by changing many of their formulations to integrate local content.
As part of the goal of promoting home made goods, all cars and trucks bought by government as approved by the Federal Executive Council in 2016 were supplied by local vehicle assembly plants.
The Power Sector which is yet another priority for the administration has made significant advances. But for the pipeline vandalism that has deprived many of the plants of gas, the country’s output would have moved up to 6,400 MW.
Government is also showing the seriousness of a responsible consumer by making a huge provision in the 2017 budget for the settlement of debts owed to power distribution companies.
The Minister has been doing a lot towards diversification of power sources, talking about an energy mix that incorporates biomass, solar and increased water sources. A lot of ground has been covered towards the realization of the Mambila, 4,000 MW power plant. The highest funds allocation in 2016 went to the roads construction sector because government wanted contractors to return to site and recall staff they had laid off.
Roads and bridges such as Lagos-Ibadan and the East-West expressways which have perennially existed as uncompleted projects are being brought up to completion levels as a matter of priority. The 2nd Niger bridge which has been used to fool the people in the past is beginning to see action. Ghost contracts such as the Kano-Katsina dual carriage way are having life breathed into them.
In the war against corruption, new heights have been reached with the announcement of the whistle blower protection policy. The President has also ordered that the limelight be shone on leaders around him that have been accused of corruption.
The biggest takeaways in the last twelve months are introduction of the whistleblower program which, by the way has received so much welcome from Nigerians that the website hosted by the Ministry of Finance crashed in few days of its announcement. A finder’s fee of between one to five percent is being offered for whistle blowing that leads to assets and funds recovery. As you go around Abuja, you are likely to come across government ministries or departments moving out of rented accommodations, settling into buildings seized by the EFCC. The albatross of the war against corruption has been the slow Legal-judicial process. Some of the pending cases go back to the Obasanjo era. That’s a decade ago. This is something about which the President is limited in what he can do by the constitution. He will, in that regard, continue to respect the doctrine of the separation of powers as enshrined in our laws.
The programme of social investment, our own version of the social security kicked off after delays occasioned by weak revenues that characterized 2016. The administration has started the payment of N5, 000 monthly stipends to the poorest and the most vulnerable in the country through the Conditional Cash Transfer.
The administration is already implementing Micro-Credit Scheme borrowing for about 1.2m.
All those that completed documentation among the two hundred thousand graduates listed of the intended 500,000 N-Power jobs have now started receiving their N30,000 monthly stipends.
On the International front, the president continues to focus on issues of security, economic collaboration and trade.
He has spent a lot of quality time reaching out to regional blocks on the continent, with ECOWAS states, East Africa, North Africa and the South of the continent as well.
He has done very well with China, European Union countries, the U.K and the US.
In dealing with the EU, particularly France, Italy and Germany, a lot has been achieved on the issues of security and immigration. Italy and Germany are training our police and immigration officials. They are also giving skills training to our citizens who entered their countries illegally before their deportation. That way, they can have work to do here on their return. Without France, it is difficult to see how Nigeria surrounded by Francophone countries can achieve anything. President Buhari continues to improve his personal and official relationships with French leaders. U.S banks and lending institutions are giving money to Nigerian banks and other businesses entities. There is also a growing relationship with U.S.-based IT companies as witnessed by the visits by the CEO of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg and the founder of Microsoft, Bill Gates.
With China, the administration looked at the past and the present to build and strengthen existing relationships. As a consequence, Zungeru power plant will soon be delivered. After a careful scrutiny of the fine prints, the costs of Chinese rail and airport projects in Nigeria have come down.
In the year 2016, the President in his foreign policy looked beyond our traditional partners to undertake visits to Saudi Arabia, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, UAE as well as Iran. With Morocco, we just came out of very successful bilateral negotiations that will lead to the establishment of the dream pipeline to transport gas from Niger Delta to European outlets. There will be the manufacture, here in Nigeria through this agreement, of one million tons of fertilizer by the next planting season and four million tons per annum three years ahead when Dangote starts his own fertilizer plant in collaboration with the Moroccans.
We are signing bilateral agreements leading to the creation of frameworks for friendship and improved ties around the world.
In a country of high oil revenues, citizens had developed brutally ostentatious life styles and consumption patterns. Assumptions were made by all of us that we could afford foreign brands from school uniform, rice and tissue paper. The fall of oil revenues means that we have to look inwards and diversify. This is proving to be very helpful.
The government’s tough attitude towards corruption means that there are no sacred cows in the fight against corruption. Savings are being made from renegotiated contracts and continuous auditing of the payroll. The whistleblower program in effect means that government has handed the baton of the war against corruption to the citizens. It is exciting seeing how enthusiastically the public has responded. This will change many things in the country.
Government is succeeding in its primary duty of protecting life and property as can be seen from the noticeable slump of Boko Haram terrorism and the gradual return of normalcy to states in the North central zone.
The New Year 2017 has been described as the year in which the major policies of the APC administration will show results in full. President Buhari who is not a man of many words will speak through his actions. No one who messes with the President’s 2017 budget can stand his fury. It is a warning he has given. Let’s watch as the year unfolds.
*Shehu is President Muhammadu Buhari’s Senior Special Assistant on Media & Publicity