By Ignatius Arinze
For the first time since he took over the reins of government in May 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari has confounded his most ardent critics with the quality, content and energy employed in delivering a nationwide address.
PMB’s 2018 New Year address, for want of a better description, was businesslike and practical. He said the right things, telling skeptical and stressed up Nigerians the goodies he lined up for the nation in the New Year and expressing his determination to deliver on the dividends. The speech shows a man who is in charge or who has decided to confound his critics by doing more than they expect him to do.
The speech was a masterpiece and all Nigerians of goodwill should commend the dedication and commitment of the President’s media team ably led by the Information and Culture Minister, Lai Mohammed, and which includes Malam Garba Shehu and Mr. Femi Adesina. One expects that from now on, these three gentlemen will be accorded the respect they deserve by some people who, no matter what, will always criticize the Buhari administration.
When PMB said, Change begins with me, and urged all Nigerians to embrace change and endeavor to make themselves the beacon of change, the President meant business. In the New Year speech which has rekindled hope in many Nigerians, PMB has shown that he, indeed, is the leader of Change and that in 2018, Nigerians should, while doing their individual bits, look up to him for leadership and the change he would like all of them to see.
Indeed, PMB has a human side, probably so far hidden from Nigerians by the enormity of the problems he met in office when he took over from the corrupt and inept former Goodluck Jonathan government. Is it then a surprise that after the documentary widely shown on television on the Presidents human side by the hardworking media team of the President, the speech of January 1st, 2018, has shown the President’s human and development-centered side?
The 2018 address began with the President acknowledging and apologizing to Nigerians for the fuel scarcity that nearly marred the Christmas and New Year festivities. He promised that the fuel problem would be dealt with decisively and that the NNPC has been given marching others to ensure an immediate end to the scarcity. Truly, within a few hours after the New Year address, the effort of the NNPC on the fuel shortage, had climaxed in the disappearance of the queues at most filling stations in Abuja and its environs with focus shifting to the states.
The body of the speech is devoted, as the President stated, to addressing the huge deficit in national infrastructure in the area of roads, railway and power projects across the country. By this display of concern, President Buhari has shown that he is a man who is concerned about national economic development, progress and prosperity. No nation can develop its economy, provide jobs and services for its teeming population and revitalize moribund or closed down industries in the absence of significantly well-developed road, railway and power facilities that ensure that electricity is provided for both domestic and industrial use, and in adequate volume.
National economic activities grow and people all across a big country like Nigeria would benefit only if there is available and affordable means of transporting people, goods and services to end-users across the country. This is the logic of the attention being paid to nationwide road and railway infrastructure construction. The importance of electricity generation and distribution cannot be over-emphasized and it is one area where previous governments have abysmally failed. So far, in the area of electricity, under PMB’s watch, generation has improved up to 7,000 megawatts but distribution remains the problem as during transmission, valuable quantities of power are lost. Happily, the government knows this and PMB has vowed that it would be addressed.
It is also gratifying to note that despite its laudable progress in power generation, the Buhari administration has earmarked more power generation projects for completion in many parts of the country to boost the supply of electricity. The flagship of these power projects is the Mambilla power project on which work has commenced under Chinese contractors. Analysts are of the view that if the many power projects are delivered as promised, by 2019, the PMB government might deliver close to 10,000 megawatts of electricity, the first of such feat by any administration. The power projects are spread to all parts of the country namely, Afam in River State, Katsina, Zungeru in Niger State and Mambilla in the North east region in Taraba State.
As revealed by the President in his address, the issue of transmission which has been responsible for poor power supply to many parts of the country will be a thing of the past as the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) can now distribute all the 7,000MW that can be generated. TCN and the Niger Delta Holding Company have added 1,950MVA of 330 down to 132KV transformer capacity of 10 transmission stations and 2,930MVA of 132 down to 33KV transformer capacity of 42 sub-stations including Ikot Ekpene, Aba, Alagbon, Ajah, Ejigbo, Funtua and Zaria.
Like in the power sector, in the road and railway transport sectors, the administration has been fair in the distribution of the projects. There is no part of the country that has no rail or road project. This means that if the government is able to deliver, it would be easy for businesspeople and goods as well as the average Nigerian, to easily connect every part of the country.
According to PMB, the massive public works involved in these projects should be able to reflate the economy and deal a big blow to the monster of unemployment currently ravaging the country. Undoubtedly, several thousand if not millions of Nigerians would be put back to work after the massive job losses of the recession period. The President once again reiterated the point that the focus of his administration’s policies is to stabilize the economy to make it resilient and non-susceptible to the collapse and recession of previous years.
The honest man that he is, the President acknowledged the clamour in many quarters for a restructuring of the country. Rather than tow the populist line for political gain, he told Nigerians that restructuring is not the problem with the country but the process of governance adding that whatever structure is agreed on or is in place must continuously face adjustments and tinkering based on prevailing circumstances. He said further, ‘We Nigerians can be very impatient and want to improve our conditions faster than may be possible considering our resources and capabilities’.
On politics and politicking, especially the coming political campaigns that will prepare the ground for the 2019 elections, President Buhari enjoined Nigerians to ensure that political discourse is conducted with civility, decorum and in a constitutional manner. He said ‘we all have a collective responsibility to strengthen our democracy and entrench the rule of law. We should draw encouragement from the series of bye-elections conducted by INEC last year which were generally violence-free and their outcomes adjudged to be free and fair’.
However, one item of interest to many Nigerians who want better performance from PMB but which was lacking in the address, is the matter of cabinet reshuffle to shake the Federal Executive Council for better performance. Well, as has been the case, PMB would have his reason for silence on the issue.
Arinze writes from Abuja.