Times are hard for many Nigerians, but this is a temporary situation that the country will soon overcome, President Muhammadu Buhari said yesterday in a speech to mark Nigeria’s 56th independence anniversary. In the speech broadcast live nationwide, Buhari outlined economic, political, and security measures his government was pursuing to get the country out of the current difficulties.
The federal government had in July admitted, after initially hesitating, that the country was in recession, with the National Bureau of Statistics reporting that key fundamentals, including Gross Domestic Product, inflation, and unemployment were even worse than the rates projected for the year. The recession has been blamed on a huge fall in the prices of crude oil, which accounts for nearly 90 per cent of the country export.
But Buhari said his government had identified the issues behind the crisis and was implementing appropriate programmes to address them.
“I know that uppermost in your minds today is the economic crisis. The recession for many individuals and families is real,” he stated, adding, “I know how difficult things are, and how rough business is. All my adult life I have always earned a salary and I know what it is like when your salary simply is not enough. In every part of our nation people are making incredible sacrifices.”
ThisDay quotes the president as saying “I believe that this recession will not last.
“Temporary problems should not blind or divert us from the corrective course this government has charted for our nation. We have identified the country’s salient problems and we are working hard at lasting solutions.”
The president reiterated his belief that the country’s “problems are security, corruption and the economy, especially unemployment and the alarming level of poverty.” He said his administration had mapped out measures aimed at beating the menace of the problems.
On security, Buhari said the Boko Haram terrorist sect had been defeated since last December and the group was “only resorting to cowardly attacks on soft targets, killing innocent men, women and children.”
The insurgents had occupied vast swathes of territory in the border areas of Borno, Adamawa, and Yobe states, in the North-east. But they have been largely driven out, making for the return of normal life in some of the areas. “Credit for this remarkable turn-round should go to our armed forces, the police, various sponsored and private vigilante groups, the local traditional leaders. security is a top to bottom concern and responsibility,” the president stated.
He bemoaned the activities of resurgent militant groups in the Niger Delta, who have been launching attacks on the oil infrastructure in the region. The attacks have dealt a devastating blow to the country’s oil production, forcing it down from two million barrels per day to about one million barrels currently.
According to him, “Besides Boko Haram, we are confronting other long-running security issues, namely herdsmen vs farmers, cattle rustling, kidnappings. This Administration is firmly resolved to tackle these challenges and to defeat them.
“A new insurgency has reared up its head in the shape of blowing up gas and oil pipelines by groups of Niger Delta Militants. This Administration will not allow these mindless groups to hold the country to ransom.
“What sense is there to damage a gas line as a result of which many towns in the country including their own town or village is put in darkness as a result? What logic is there in blowing up an export pipeline and as a result income to your state and local governments and consequently their ability to provide services to your own people is reduced?”
The president disclosed that his government had “continued to dialogue with all groups and leaders of thought in the region to bring lasting peace.” But he warned, “No group can unlawfully challenge the authority of the federal government and succeed.
“Our administration is fully sympathetic to the plight of the good people of Niger Delta and we are in touch with the state governments and leaderships of the region. It is known that the clean-up of the Ogoniland has started. Infrastructural projects financed by the federal government and post-amnesty programme financing will continue.”
He said the administration remained committed to the fight against corruption, stressing, “Fighting corruption is key, not only to restoring the moral health of the nation, but also to freeing our enormous resources for urgent socio-economic development.”
Buhari restated his call on the judiciary to aid the war on corruption. “In fighting corruption, however, the government would adhere strictly by the rule of law. Not for the first time I am appealing to the judiciary to join the fight against corruption.”
On the economy, the president said the government would repair the four national refineries to produce most of the fuel needed in the country and reduce the huge financial expenditure on imported fuel.
Agriculture is a key component of the government’s economic revival strategy, the president said, explaining that the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and the Central Bank of Nigeria had been “mobilised to encourage local production of rice, maize, sorghum, millet and soya beans.”
“Our target is to achieve domestic self-sufficiency in these staples by 2018.” He added, “The country should be self-sufficient in basic staples by 2019.”
The president announced a plan to revamp the river basin authorities across the country. “Government is introducing Water Resources Bill encompassing the National Water Resources Policy and National Irrigation and Drainage Policy to improve management of water and irrigation development in the country. We are reviving all the 12 River Basin Authorities,” he said. “The intention is eventually to fully commercialise them to better support crop production, aqua-culture and accelerated rural development.” The river basin authorities are the Anambra – Imo, Benin – Owena, Chad Basin, Cross River, Hadejia – Jama’are, Lower Benue, Lower Niger, Niger Delta, Ogun – Osun, Sokoto – Rima, Upper Benue, and Upper Niger.
The president said, “This administration is committed to the revival of Lake Chad and improvement of the hydrology and ecology of the basin. This will tune in with efforts to rehabilitate the 30 million people affected by the Boko Haram insurgency in the Lake Chad basin countries.”
Besides agriculture, the president said another crucial aspect of his economic revival strategy was the provision of the critical infrastructure of power, roads, and housing to, among other benefits, create wealth and employment as well as reduce poverty.
On power, Buhari said the government was investing in alternative power sources. It is also engaging stakeholders in the Niger Delta to try to discourage the attacks on the oil and gas facilities, which have severely affected gas supply to the national power plants and caused disruptions in electricity supply, he said.
“Government is going ahead with projects utilising alternate technologies such as hydro, wind, and solar to contribute to our energy mix. In this respect, the Mambilla Hydro project, after many years of delay is taking off this year. Contract negotiations are nearing completion with Chinese firms for technical and financial commitments,” he stated. “The project is to be jointly financed by Nigeria and the Chinese-Export-Import Bank. In addition, 14 solar power projects have had their power purchase agreements concluded. Hence the plan to produce 1, 200 megawatts of solar electricity for the country would be realised on schedule.”
The president said N720.5 billion had so far been released for capital projects this budget year by the federal government. He said the Federal Ministry of Power, Works and Housing had received N197.5 billion, explaining that work has resumed on Calabar – Itu Road, Lokoja – Benin Road, Benin – Shagamu Express way, Lagos – Ibadan Dual carriageway, Onitsha – Enugu Expressway, Enugu – Port Harcourt Dual carriageway, Hadejia – Nguru Road, Kano – Katsina Road, Kano – Maiduguri Road, Azare – Potiskum Road, Azare – Sharuri Road, Ilorin – Jebba – Mokwa – Birnin Gwari Road, and Oju/Lokoja – Oweto Bridge over River Benue.
“On railways, we have provided our counterpart funding to China for the building of our standard gauge Lagos -Kano railway. Meanwhile, General Electric is investing two point two billion USD in a concession to revamp, provide rolling stock, and manage the existing lines, including the Port Harcourt-Maiduguri Line. The Lagos-Calabar railway will also be on stream soon,” Buhari said.
On housing, he said the government would deliver 2,838 housing units, uniformly spread across the 36 states and FCT, within the next six months. The houses, which will be wholly built with local materials, aims to also help to resuscitate the building materials manufacturing sector, he said.
“The programmes I have outlined will revive the economy, restore the value of the naira and drive hunger from our land,” Buhari stated.