By Muhammad Ajah:
I have read several articles, comments and reactions from some Nigerians who perpendicularly thrust a belief that President Muhammadu Buhari is the problem of Nigeria. This is far away from the truth. Though a very insignificant number of people, I want to make some clarifications on the postulations upon which some of them hinge their arguments. Summarily, their claim is based on the problems facing Nigeria which they attribute to him. These problems are Boko Haram, unemployment, herdsmen-farmers conflicts, armed robbery, recession, general insecurity and inequality/injustice in the sharing federal political positions.
I have compassion for Buhari because, like hungry hunters, the Nigerian enemies have continued to hunt him from all angles, trying to confuse, disorganize, frighten, cage or even kill him. Let them have sleepless nights and plot. Let them toil. But their toils will be in vain. I do not need remind these slapdash hunters that their days are numbered. Justice will catch up with them when God will expose them to Nigerians and the world. What exact is Buhari’s crime? Is it because he has maintained integrity and honesty in governance? Or he has refused the callous misuse and distribution of the nation’s commonwealth amongst the already rich and influential? Or because all indices of financial recklessness or leakages in federal resource management are being blocked? Or simply, he has refused to bribe his way about to appease government functionaries?
Let us take the Nigeria’s problems one by one. On insecurity, apart from the orchestrated killings across the country, issues like armed robbery, kidnappings and political thuggery are being fought to a standstill. Nigeria is out of recession, though the effect is gradually being felt by the citizens. Inequality and alleged injustice in the sharing of political positions are being gradually addressed. Buhari’s achievements, to be frank, supersede all that have been achieved in the long democratic life of Nigeria. No government can build a nation whose foundation is corruption. The developing African countries like Ghana had to cleanse the country of corrupt-ridden citizens.
On Boko Haram, the world knows that this menace precedes Buhari regime. It is a known fact that the political offshoot of the dreadful group was created and empowered before 2015. Reports had it how the military played politics with the group at the height of their deadly attacks on innocent citizens in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe. It started to extend to Kano and the surroundings. Before Buhari, there was hardly any single free day for citizens of these states. It was a full-blown war and people ran from place to place in search of cover. The international community knew the levity with which the Nigerian government treated the matter, so the military alliance formed more than once was of no effect. Even Nigeria’s neighbours were full of laughter of the nation’s substance. They saw a country trading with the lives of its citizens for unclear reasons.
Unfortunately, the huge amounts of money appropriated to equip the military to curtail this menace were eaten up by politicians. The lives of Internally Displaced Persons were sordid. Funds that were meant for their welfare were eaten up by politicians through bogus contracts or direct personal aggrandizement. With the recent development, it can only be described as the highest level of hypocrisy, to compare the achievements by the Buhari government on the matter. Sambisa Forest which was a haven for the Boko Haram has been ransacked. Accurate weapons have been procured. The BH which used to have direct fight with the military before dare not attempt that again. They now attack soft targets where unarmed civilians and weak stay. The government has been economical in describing its success in the war. The simple expression the government uses is that Boko Haram has been degraded. But if compared with the past, it can be said that the group has been defeated, though not yet annihilated.
To protect lives and properties of the citizenry against criminal elements, the government has successfully executed military operations across the country such as Operation Lafiya Dole and Operation Last Hold for Boko Haram in the Northeast, Operation Whirl Stroke for the menace of armed herdsmen, cattle rustlers, communal militias, kidnappers and other bandits in Benue, Nasarawa, Taraba and Zamfara states, Exercise Crocodile Smile I and II to tackle the menace of militancy in the Niger Delta, Exercise Obangame, a multinational operation aimed at securing and protecting the Gulf of Guinea, Operation Awatse, a joint operation between the Military and the Police in the Southwest Nigeria, and Exercise Python Dance I and II to tackle kidnappers and militancy in the Southeast. Arrests have been made of Boko Haram terrorists, leaders of the Ansaru terrorist group, leaders of an ISIS affiliate group active in North Central Nigeria, notorious kidnappers and murders, Badoo ritualists’ gang and major masterminds of the Offa robbery.
On unemployment, I cannot remember any government under democracy that has reduced unemployment rate in Nigeria like the incumbent. According to Trading Economics poll, employment rate in Nigeria decreased to 81.20 percent in the third quarter of 2017 from 83.80 percent in the second quarter of 2017. Employment rate in Nigeria averaged 87.89 percent from 2014 until 2017, reaching an all time high of 93.60 percent in the fourth quarter of 2014 and a record low of 81.20 percent in the third quarter of 2017. The country’s unemployment rate stood at 18.8%, as Spectator Index had tweeted. It was the twelfth consecutive rise since the last quarter of 2014. To note in this regard is the fact that Nigeria experienced a slowdown in economic growth from 2014 and entered into a recession in 2016, only exiting it in the second quarter of 2017.
On herdsmen, it is clear that that the opposition is merely capitalizing on the political creation to diminish Buhari’s popularity, especially against his bid to continue leading Nigeria beyond 2019. Like many senior citizens have noted, Nigeria’s Ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary to Argentina, Peru, Chile and Paraguay, Jonah Mkpuruka, sees the herdsmen killers as the handwork of the opposition parties in their quest to take over power in 2019. He alleged that the opposition elements adopted the strategy to discredit President Buhari in order to pave the way for their “comeback” to the presidency in 2019. “The killings you are hearing, they are being sponsored by desperate people who are not satisfied with the loot they have made; they want to come back. They are not comfortable with the anti-corruption programme of the President. They want to make sure they boot him out at all cost. But I want to tell you that he is returning to put this country on the right path,” the ambassador declared.
Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, fingers two factors in the killings across Nigeria: ethnic and political. He noted in one of his remarks on the menace. “I think this is just a campaign of ethnic cleansing for the purpose of occupation of land. That is one. Two, our feelings are that some really desperate politicians are sponsoring these mercenaries in order to create chaos in advance of the next election because they are desperate to stay in power and continue to enjoy immunity”. According to him, the country requires tough people in the federal government to deal with the situation. The killings should not have gone protracted the way it did. Those behind it should be identified and apprehended to confront justice. “I think it’s time for all of us to come together and really probe this tumour and stop pretending that this is simply ringworm when we are actually dealing with cancer in this society”, he maintained.
In a statement recently released by the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, areas of tremendous improvements in the Buhari’s administration include economic indices, rising investment in agriculture and infrastructure and ongoing efforts to improve security across Nigeria especially in the north-central region of the country. Others are the several measures taken to promote transparency and accountability in government finances, as well as the growth being experienced in Nigeria’s economy. The nation’s economic growth is back and consolidating. Buhari’s medium-term economic plan was launched in April 2017, a course for the next four years (2017–2020). The plan aims to stabilize the macroeconomic environment, achieve agriculture and food security, ensure energy efficiency especially in power and petroleum products, improve transportation infrastructure and drive industrialization, primarily through SMEs. The government has aligned its monetary, fiscal and trade policies, issued bonds in the international capital market, issued new securities in the domestic market and it has received awards from external institutions for its excellent performances.
Buhari has paid outstanding pension arrears and claims, supported state governments like never before, through the Paris Club refunds, infrastructure loans and loan restructuring for facilities with commercial banks. In 2015, the DMO restructured Commercial Bank loans with a total value of N575.516 billion for 23 states to reduce the debt service burden on them. In exchange for their loans to State Governments, the banks were issued 20-year FGN Bonds at a yield of 14.83% per annum. The Restructuring Exercise benefited the states through reduction in their monthly debt service burden from between 55% to 97% for various states; interest rate savings for them ranging from 3% to 9% per annum; longer repayment period for the loans now converted into Bonds; and freeing up of needed cash to run the machinery of government.
The administration has launched a series of funding and capacity development initiatives designed to support micro, small and medium enterprises. Since 2017, three Executive Orders have been issued in this regard that are positively impacting on Nigeria’s business environment. They are Executive Order on improving efficiency in the business environment, Executive Order on promoting local procurement by government agencies and Executive Order on planning and execution of projects, promotion of Nigerian content in contracts and science, engineering and technology.
Unlike before, Buhari released N1.219 trillion for capital expenditure in the 2016 budget and N1.476 trillion so far in the 2017 budget, making a total of N2.7 trillion (about US$9 billion) in two years. This investment has enabled the resumption of work on several stalled projects — road, rail and power projects — across the country. Savings are made as Nigeria’s external reserves have doubled since October 2016, from US$24 billion to US$48 billion. The Nigerian Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA) has seen inflows of US$1.15 billion under the Buhari administration. Despite these reserves, the infrastructure across the six geopolitical zones is on a very high scale. The power sector is steadily improving. N42.2 billion was disbursed in UBE matching grants to 26 states and the FCT, N851.5 million special education grant to 23 states and private providers of special education were disbursed and N2.2 billion teachers professional development fund to 33 states and the FCT was successfully executed.
Furthermore, N15.183 billion in interest-free loans ranging from N50,000 to N350,000 has been disbursed to more than 300,000 market women, traders, artisans, farmers across all 36 states under the Government Enterprise and Empowerment Programme (GEEP) while the Home Grown School Feeding Programme (HGSFP) has benefited over 8million pupils in 45,394 public primary schools across 24 states. Over 80,000 direct jobs have since been created from the feeding programme; over 3 million pupils have been de-wormed. And about 297,973 families benefiting from the Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) Scheme, which pays N5,000 monthly to the poorest and most vulnerable households in the country.
Buhari’s ‘New Vision for the Niger Delta’ brings together a robust set of promises, solutions, targets and initiatives aimed at ensuring that the people of the Niger Delta benefit maximally from the region’s oil wealth. The new vision offers a detailed response to the 16-point Demand Agenda submitted to President Buhari by the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) in November 2016. On anti-corruption and transparency, the difference is clear. A lot of fiscal reforms have been initiated. There are the new whistle-blowing policy, increased oversight of MDAs, the Presidential Initiative on Continuous Audit (PICA), expansion of TSA coverage, deployment of BVN for payroll and social investment programmes, creation of asset tracking and management project, replacement of old cash-based accounting system with an accruals-based system, enlistment into open government partnership (OGP), creation of efficiency unit (EU) to spearhead the efficient use of government resources and ensure reduction in recurrent expenditure.
Under oil and gas reforms, NNPC began publishing its monthly performance since August 2015 in newspapers and various new media platforms and most importantly on the NNPC website to improve transparency and probity. The controversial Offshore Processing Arrangement (OPA) has been cancelled and replaced with a ‘Direct Sales and Direct Purchase (DSDP) scheme with reputable offshore refineries. The justice reforms have led to the establishment of Presidential Advisory Committee against Corruption (PACAC), domestic legislation and international agreements, new Prison Data Management System as well as Sexual and Gender-Based Violence Response Teams.
Still unlike before, Nigeria has maintained peace with her neighbours: Cameroun, Benin Republic, Niger, Chad and others. Buhari’s April 2016 official visit to China has unlocked billions of dollars in infrastructure funding, primarily for road and rail projects. It also yielded a Currency Swap Agreement between the Peoples Bank of China and the Central Bank of Nigeria. President Trump’s government is supplying 12 Super Tucano Aircraft to Nigeria, as well as repatriating recovered looted monies and assets stashed in the US by corrupt Nigerians. Nigeria has commenced the implementation of Automatic Exchange of Tax Information (AETI) protocol with the United Kingdom. This Protocol will provide the Nigerian Government with data on bank accounts, property and trusts held in the UK by Nigerian nationals and will support the Voluntary Assets and Income Declaration Scheme (VAIDS) by allowing Nigerian tax authorities to check the accuracy of declarations received regarding overseas assets and income. The Presidential Fertilizer Initiative, a partnership with the Government of Morocco, will supply phosphate, as well as technical assistance to revitalize 14 blending plants across Nigeria. US$322 million in looted Abacha funds repatriated from Switzerland to Nigeria are being warehoused in a special account of the Central Bank of Nigeria for disbursement as part of the Buhari’s Social Investment Programme interventions. And Nigeria has signed and ratified an Extradition Treaty with the United Arab Emirates that allows extradition of Nigerians who flee to the UAE after committing crimes in Nigeria.
I recall the Igbo highlife legend, Oliver De Coque, who said: “E too Dike na nke omele, Omekwa ozo.” This means that when the king (leader or chief) is praised for what he has done, he is stimulated to do more. Nigerians have it as a duty to thank and praised Buhari for doing his best for far for the country. They should justify their gratitude to him by supporting him to continue beyond 2019 to complete his exceptional vision and mission for Nigeria. No one for now can discharge this harculean task better for Nigeria save he who has displayed the good leadership qualities so much envied by the opposition.
Muhammad Ajah is an advocate of humanity, peace and good governance in Abuja. E-mail email@example.com.