In his New Year message to Nigerians, President Muhammadu Buhari promised to focus on three key areas: security, economy and anti-corruption agenda. He also promised to implement the five demands of the EndSARS protesters. The President had made these promises before. We, therefore, hope that he will walk the talk this time and ensure that the identified problematic areas are tackled headlong.
On security, the Federal Government had once boasted that the Boko Haram insurgency had been technically defeated. However, a cursory look at the security situation in the country indicates otherwise. In Borno State, it was estimated that there were over 2,800 attacks last year. The most heart-rending attack was the brutal slaughter of over 70 farm workers at Zabarmari village in Jere Local Government Area of the state. Between 2018 and 2019, the number of deaths attributed to Boko Haram increased by 25 per cent.
The spate of insecurity, especially in northern Nigeria, is such that the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar, lamented recently that the North was the worst place to be in Nigeria because bandits went round in the villages, households and markets with their AK47 rifles openly displayed without any challenge. Last December, some bandits invaded Government Science Secondary School in Kankara, Katsina State, and abducted over 300 schoolboys. Luckily, the boys were rescued after six days in captivity. This state of affairs has given rise to calls by some prominent Nigerians to change the service chiefs and rejig the security architecture.
The service chiefs should realise that the President has given them enough latitude to improve. They must buckle up or be shown the way out as security of life and property is the primary responsibility of government. Good enough, the President recognises the fact that his government has to move rapidly to a more “proactive and pre-emptive posture to ensure that these sorts of traumatic incidents do not become a norm.”
It is also gladdening to note that Buhari promised “re-energising and reorganising the security apparatus and personnel of the armed forces and the police with a view to enhance their capacity to engage, push back and dismantle the operations of both internal and external extremist and criminal groups waging war against our communities in some parts of the country.”
On economy, Nigerians were badly hit. In a space of four years, Nigeria suffered two recessions as inflation hits the rooftops. Prices of essential commodities skyrocketed beyond the reach of many Nigerians. Sadly, the country harbours the poorest people in the world. The African Development Bank had estimated that over 80 per cent of Nigerians live below the United Nations threshold of $2 per day. The Brookings Institution, a non-profit public policy organisation in the United States, says extreme poverty in Nigeria grows by six people every minute. This is the highest number in the world. In the 2020 Global Hunger Index, Nigeria was ranked 98 out of 107 countries surveyed. This means that we are only better than nine countries.
Unemployment is rising and has constituted a serious danger to the country. In Q3 of 2017, the rate of unemployment in the country was 18.8 per cent. In the same period in 2018, it rose to 23.1 per cent. And currently, it is 27.1 per cent. Among young people (15 – 34 years), unemployment rate rose to 34.9 per cent from 29.7 per cent it was in Q3 2018. From the way things are going, it may likely get worse.
We believe that the government will improve the lot of Nigerians in 2021. But the journey is not likely to be easy. There is need to drastically tackle the challenges facing the economy by stimulating economic growth. Government must truly diversify the economy with emphasis on agriculture, manufacturing, job creation and youth employment. It should get the economy out of recession using the best fiscal and micro measures as well as reducing the cost of governance.
It is good that the President expressed the commitment of his government to actively engage with the creative energies of the youths. It is also commendable that the government would partner with the legislature to develop an enabling environment to turn the passions of the youth into ideas that could be supported and groomed to create vast opportunities in fintech, agriculture, business process start-ups and the entertainment industry.
Although the President admitted that his administration had recorded substantial gains so far in the war against graft, he revealed that the government was committed to eradicating corruption through collaboration with other arms of government. But despite the claims on anti-corruption fight, Nigeria has continued to score low in Transparency International’s corruption perception index. In the 2019 index, for instance, Nigeria was ranked 146th out of 180 countries.
Undoubtedly, these are trying times for Nigeria. For the nation to move forward, the government must go beyond the rhetoric. It must rein in rising insecurity, poor economy and corruption. We hope to see a better Nigeria in 2021. For this to happen, the President needs to show sincerity of purpose and serious commitment to tackle the nation’s socio-economic challenges.