From Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
President Muhammadu Buhari has said the call for restructuring Nigeria is proper but regretted that it’s been hijacked by secessionists.
He said: “Recent calls on re-structuring, quite proper in a legitimate debate, has let in highly irresponsible groups to call for dismemberment of the country. We can not and we will not allow such advocacy.
“As a young Army Officer, I took part from the beginning to the end in our tragic civil war costing about 2m lives, resulting in fearful destruction and untold suffering. Those who are agitating for a re-run were not born by 1967 and have no idea of the horrendous consequences of the civil conflict which we went through.
He also reassured Nigerians that the All Progressive Congress (APC) Campaign rallying cry to restore security, re-balance the economy and fight corruption was not all rhetoric.
This is even as he described the era when oil prices was an average of $100 per barrel and oil production stood at about 2.1 million barrels a day, as a great piece of luck that was squandered and the country’s social and physical infrastructure neglected.
The president also promised that his administration intends to accelerate progress and intensify its resolve to fix the country’s challenges and problems.
In his Independence Day broadcast to mark the nation’s 57th anniversary, he said despite the trials and tribulations the country has gone through, October 1st remains a special date for all Nigerians as it marks the day when “we attained one of the most precious of human desires — freedom.”
Buhari noted that while 1999 – 2015, remains a period the country returned to democratic rule, it was also the period the country squandered resources when prices of oil sold at an average of $100 per barrel and production peaked at about 2.1 million barrels a day.
According to him, “We were left with no savings and huge infrastructure deficit.”
Mr. President stressed that the country must “first be secured. The economy must be re-balanced so that we do not depend on oil alone. We must fight corruption which is Nigeria’s number one enemy. Our Administration is tackling these tasks in earnest.”
He said it was gratifying in the past two years, Nigeria has recorded appreciable gains in political freedom.
“A political party at the centre losing elections of state governor, National Assembly seat and even State Assemblies to the opposition parties is new to Nigeria. Added to these are complete freedom to associate, to hold and disseminate opinions. Such developments clearly attest to the country’s growing political development. But like all freedoms, this is open to abuse.”
Back to the restructuring issue, he said: “I am very disappointed that responsible leaders of these communities do not warn their hot-headed youths what the country went through. Those who were there should tell those who were not there, the consequences of such folly.
“At all events, proper dialogue and any desired constitutional changes should take place in a rational manner, at the National and State Assemblies. These are the proper and legal fora for national debate, not some lop-sided, un-democratic body with pre-determined set of objectives.”
The president while commending the Niger Delta leadership for restoring peace in the region, promised to address genuine grievances in that region soon.
“Government is keeping up the momentum of dialogue with stakeholders in the Niger Delta to keep the peace. We intend to address genuine grievances of the communities.
“Government is grateful to the responsible leadership of those communities and will pursue lasting peace in the Niger Delta.”
Buhari commended the military leadership in the country for working very hard to crush the activities of Boko Haram, and also the country’s neigbhours for their support in the fight against terrorism.
“On security, Nigerians must be grateful to our gallant Armed Forces for rolling back the frontiers of Boko Haram’s terrorism, defeating them and reducing them to cowardly attacks on soft and vulnerable targets.
“Nigeria is grateful to its neighbours and the international community for the collective efforts to defeat this world-wide menace of terrorism.
“Not even the most organized and most equipped police and security forces in the world can escape the menace of modern day terrorism, as we have seen in recent years in Europe and other parts of the world.
“But we are not letting up. Our Armed Forces in an effort to enhance the operational capability of troops of OPERATION LAFIYA DOLE have established Mobile Strike Teams in the North East. These will ensure the final push to wipe out the remnants of Boko Haram.
“In addition, through targeted air strikes most of the leadership and identified logistics bases and routes of the insurgents have been neutralized. The Armed Forces have established a Naval presence in the Lake Chad Basin as part of the coordinated military efforts to curtail the movements or re-emergence of the sect in the area.”
President Buhari also reiterated his administration’s commitment to ensure the release of the remaining Chibok girls still in capacity of Boko Haram.
“Government is working round the clock to ensure release of the remaining Chibok girls, as well as other persons in Boko Haram captivity. Government will continue to support the Armed Forces and other security agencies to fight not only terrorism, but kidnapping, armed robberies, herdsmen/farmers violence and to ensure peace, stability and security in our country.”
The President also reeled out his administration’s efforts towards recovering the nation’s economy.
Buhari said: “With respect to the economy, the government has remained pro-active in its diversification policy. The Federal Government’s agricultural Anchor Borrowers Programme, which I launched in November 2015, has been an outstanding success with:
N43.92 billion released through the CBN and 13 participating institutions; 200,000 small holder farmers from 29 states of the federation benefitting, 233,000 hectares of farmland cultivating eight commodities, namely Rice, Wheat, Maize, Cotton, soya-beans, Poultry, Cassava and Groundnuts, in addition to fish farming.
“These initiatives have been undertaken in close collaboration with the states. I wish to commend the efforts of the Governors of Kebbi, Lagos, Ebonyi and Jigawa States for their support to the rice and fertilizer revolutions.
“Equally commendable are contributions of the Governors of Ondo, Edo, Delta, Imo, Cross River, Benue, Ogun, Kaduna and Plateau States for their support for the Presidential initiative for palm oil, rubber, cashew, cassava, potatoes and others crops.
“With the abundance of rainfall last year and this year, agriculture has enjoyed Divine intervention.”
He said his administration has since December 2016, “produced over 7 million 50Kg bags of fertilizer. Eleven blending plants with a capacity of 2.1 million metric tons have been reactivated. We have saved $150 million in foreign exchange and N60 billion in subsidy. Fertilizer prices have dropped from N13,000 per 50Kg bag to N5,500.
“Furthermore, a new presidential initiative is starting with each state of the Federation creating a minimum of 10,000 jobs for unemployed youths, again with the aid of CBN’s development finance initiatives.”
President Buhari admitted that power has remained a huge problem for his administration but expressed optimism that his administration will attain 10,000 Megawatts by 2020.
According to him, “Power remains a huge problem. As of September 12th, production of power reached an all — time high of 7,001 Megawatts. Government is increasing its investment, clearing up the operational and financial log jam bedeviling the industry. We hope to reach 10,000 Megawatts by 2020.
“Key priorities include better energy mix through solar and Hydro technologies. I am glad to say that after many years of limbo, Mambilla Power Project has taken off.
“Elsewhere in the economy the special window created for manufacturers, investors and exporters, foreign exchange requirements has proved very effective. Since April, about $7 billion has come through this window alone. The main effect of these policies is improved confidence in the economy and better investment sentiments.
“The country has recorded 7 consecutive months of lower inflation, Naira rate is beginning to stabilize, appreciating from N525 per $1 in February this year to N360 today. Broad-based economic growth is leading us out of recession.”
The president also spoke on efforts made to bail out states and help them pay salaries. He said his administration has released a total sum of N1.642 trillion between 2015 and 2017.
He said, “in order to stabilize the polity, the Federal Government gave additional support to states in the form of: State Excess Crude Account loans, Budget Support Facility, Stabilization Fund Release to state and local government as follows: N200 billion in 2015, N441 billion in 2016, N1 trillion in 2017. Altogether totaling N1.642 trillion.
“This was done to enable states to pay outstanding salaries, pensions and small business suppliers who had been all but crippled over the years.”
The president also spoke on his administration’s current N500 billion Special Intervention Programme through; Home Grown School Feeding Programme, N-Power Job creation to provide loans to small-scale traders and artisans, Conditional Cash Transfer, Family Homes Fund and Social Housing Scheme.
On corruption, President Buhari admitted that its not been an easy task but assured that is one war its willing to see to its logical conclusion.
“We are fully aware that fighting corruption was never going to be a straightforward task. We expected corrupt elements to use any weapon to fight back, mainly judicial obstruction and political diversion. But we are determined to eradicate corruption from our body politic.
In this fight, the Government has: Empowered teams of prosecutors, Assembled detailed databases, Accelerated the recovery of stolen funds.
“The Administration’s new institutional reforms include: Enforcing Treasury Single Account, Whistle-Blowers Policy, Integrated Payroll Personnel and Information System.
“We have signed multi-lateral cooperation agreements on criminal matters with friendly countries. There are signs of increasing cooperation from the Judiciary. Recently the Chief Justice of the Federation directed Heads of all our Courts of first instance and Appeal to accelerate hearings of corruption cases and dismiss any judicial officers found to have been compromised.
“Justice Salami has just been appointed to chair the Judiciary’s anti-graft committee. Government expects a lot from this Committee.
“I commend the National Assembly for refocusing on its oversight committees. They should, in addition, ensure swift passage of enabling corruption laws. But fighting corruption is a bottom to top operation. I call on all Nigerians to combat corruption at every turn. By not asking for and refusing to accept a bribe, by reporting unethical practices or by blowing a whistle, together we can beat corruption. The government for its part will work for accountability at all levels – Federal, State and Local Governments. CHANGE will then be real.
“As we enter the second half of our term of office, we intend to accelerate progress and intensify our resolve to fix the country’s challenges and problems.”