President Muhammadu Buhari used his October 1, 2019, address to tackle issues affecting the country, enunciate policies, re-emphasise others and ventilate his feelings and his government’s plans on various matters. On security, for instance, he spoke of the Nigeria Police Trust Fund (Establishment) Act, which he said would serve as a framework to support the Police with increased resources. The country’s current insecurity is such that every public-spirited Nigerian should have no hesitation to contribute and ensure that the Police would have no reason to say that they are under-funded.
We hope that the 10,000 new recruits should make a difference. But no effort should be spared to restore the sense of security of Nigerians wherever they find themselves. We think it is not enough for the President to assent the Trust Fund Act, he should champion it to get Nigerians involved in contributing to their own security.
An aspect of President Buhari’s speech, which troubled many Nigerians was what looked like an undisguised attack on free speech masked by the pretence to protect national security. Many Nigerians do not need to read between the lines to understand when freedom of speech is under threat, just as they know the difference between democratic freedom and autocracy, openness and the police state, the rule of law and due process. Nigerians think this is a democratic dispensation where threats and intimidation have no place, no matter how it is disguised with oblique references and insinuations to “hate speech.”
The President also spoke at length on the economy, and it was slightly disappointing that he still bemoaned the economy he inherited, as if he hasn’t been president for over four years. He did not disclose how he would steer the country out of its present dependence on oil, which he said contributed only eight per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) but yielded 70 per cent of government revenue and 90 per cent of foreign exchange. Four years after a national call for economic diversification, there is no observable change, even in agriculture. There has been so much talk about rice growing. Yet with the closure of the Seme border for a fortnight or so, the price of rice rose in Lagos by more than 25 per cent, indicating that the so-called increased production has not reached a critical mass, to have a significant effect on the local price of rice. The price of rice is a good barometer to gauge food inflation.
With a projected GDP growth of a paltry 2.6 per cent this year, the President’s Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) seems incapable of moving the economy into a pace to restore hope in a country with huge population growth and youth unemployment. A significant manufacturing sector cannot emerge with the current electricity supply, and it is no surprise that some organisations have relocated to Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire or anywhere else. The country spent N1.74 trillion for capital projects in 2018. In 2019, only N600billion is the outlay whereas the expectation is that capital expenditure is actually our investment in the future and should rise steadily to guarantee economic development. A significant expansion on agriculture must involve measures to encourage all-year farming as different from the current seasonal farming.
It would, indeed, be a big relief to Nigerians if the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), which has been in the National Assembly for more than a decade, is finally passed. The President should use his good offices and his excellent relationship with the National Assembly’s leadership to get it done once and for all. The Presidential Power Initiative to modernise the national grid in partnership with the German Government and Siemens should be pursued with vigour. Paucity of electricity is keeping the country down.
We applaud the president for setting up the Economic Advisory Council. Given the caliber of the individuals in the Council, we have no doubt they would give the President honest advice, which would help the nation accelerate its growth and eventually move out of the poverty trap. The projects covered by the Presidential Infrastructure Development Fund, like the Mambilla Power Project, the 2nd Niger Bridge, the Abuja-Kano Expressway, should be monitored closely.
We observe with dismay that no mention was made of the Ajaokuta Steel Complex, which will aid the nation’s industrial development. The Social Investment Programmes—the school feeding, the N-Power, the traders’ loan, the cash transfer schemes – should be constantly reviewed. These schemes, by their nature, lend themselves easily to corruption.
Nigeria will cheer any effort to reduce corruption and the Buhari administration deserves commendation for implementing the Single Treasury Account (TSA), the Whistle-Blowers Initiative and the Integrated Payroll Personnel and Information System (IPPIS). Sadly, these systems are not synchronised across the three tiers of government. Reports of abuse by individuals on the payrolls of the federal, state and local governments are widespread. To curb the menace, we enjoin Nigerians to support the war against corruption.