Though last Monday’s town hall meeting in Lagos provided the federal government an opportunity to reassure Nigerians that it is is working to effect change, many remain sceptical, reports Shola Oyeyipo
It is less than 30 days to the completion of 365 days since the All Progressives Congress government took over the mantle of leadership and tongues are already wagging in various directions. Though the administration has shown the propensity to do things differently, not a few Nigerians are of the opinion that the government is yet to take off and quite a number of people are of the view that the ruthless in-fighting in the APC is an albatross to progress.
But in what was designed to acquaint Nigerians with the activities of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration, the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, along with five other ministers and other government functionaries kick-started a town hall meeting in Lagos last Monday. It is expected to go round the six geopolitical zones to discuss issues affecting Nigerian politics and reassure the people that the government is still on track.
Briefing the gathering on what the government had been able to achieve since assuming office on May 29 last year, Mohammed said the APC, which campaigned on three broad areas of tackling corruption, ensuring the security of lives and property, and reviving the economy, had made noticeable impacts. He said this was particularly in the area of tackling the Boko Haram insurgency that has killed thousands of Nigerians.
According to him, “Though our country has faced the challenges of ethno-religious violence, armed robbery, cattle rusting, kidnapping for ransom, militancy and violent agitations, the most daunting security challenge that we have faced in the past seven to eight years has been the Boko Haram insurgency. That explains why the president’s first trips outside the country, after he was sworn in, was to rally the support of our neighbours – Benin, Cameroon, Chad and Niger – for the efforts to tackle the insurgency.
“The president also rallied the support of the international community, starting with the G7, and then the US, France and the UN. Today, the president’s efforts have paid off. Boko Haram has been defeated. This is a rare feat. The insurgents have lost their capacity to carry out the kind of spectacular attacks for which they became infamous. This did not happen by accident. It was the result of purposeful, credible and courageous leadership being provided by President Muhammadu Buhari, who started off by ordering the relocation of the command and control centre of the battle against insurgency from Abuja to Maiduguri, rallied regional and global support for Nigeria’s efforts and boosted the morale and fighting capability of the armed troops.”
Mohammed, however, noted that the war against the outlawed group was still on-going and it must be sustained.
“No insurgency ends overnight,” he said. “Because it is not your usual conventional warfare, no agreement is signed to silence the guns. Therefore, there will still be pockets of cowardly attacks against vulnerable targets here and there. These are isolated and cowardly attacks targeting motor parks, worship centres, IDP camps, etc. This is not a surprise since the insurgents have been dispersed and many of them have simply melted into the population. But with a sustained anti-terror campaign, heightened intelligence gathering as well as the cooperation and vigilance of all citizens, even the attacks will fizzle out with time. The major challenge we face now is reconstruction, resettlement and rehabilitation that will see many of our people in the various IDP camps return home.”
The minister said though government was committed to stopping corruption in the country, it was untrue that the fight against corruption had been carried out without adequate attention to the economy. He stressed that without eradicating the culture of corruption nothing meaningful could happen in the economy.
Mohammed stated, “I have heard many commentators say that this administration is only fighting corruption without paying attention to the economy or any other thing. Of course, this is not true, but even if it is, it is patently justified. Why? Because unless we fight corruption to a standstill, nothing else we do will yield positive results. It was corruption that prolonged the war against Boko Haram and dispatched many soldiers and civilians to their early graves; it was corruption that ensured that while oil was selling for over $100 per barrel, we had nothing to show for the windfall; it is because of corruption that even though our budget has increased from less than a trillion in 1999 to over 6 trillion in 2016, poverty has grown almost at the same rate that the budget has increased; It was corruption that gave us darkness, instead of light, while we supposedly pumped millions of dollars into the power sector.”
He said the government had taken on corruption squarely and was winning the battle, explaining that there is need for Nigerians to join hands with the government to successfully prosecute the anticorruption war.
“The situation is serious and no government can fight the battle alone. That explains why we have launched a nationwide sensitisation campaign to make Nigerians to buy into the anti-graft war. In this campaign, our focus is not to vilify anyone, but to put a face to corruption instead of talking about it in the abstract.
“That was why, in launching the sensitisation campaign in January, we released what many have now called a bombshell: that between 2006 and 2013, just 55 people allegedly stole a total of N1.34 trillion in Nigeria, an amount that is more than a quarter of the 2015 national budget!,” he added.
According to Mohammed, the Nigerian economy poses a great challenge because the country has lost a considerable quantum of its earnings to the massive crash in the price of oil but the government is working round the clock to turn the misfortune to fortune.
“While these efforts are on, the administration has decided to plug all financial loopholes through the Treasury Singles Account into which over N2 trillion has accrued so far. Funds that ordinarily would have gone into private pockets are now finding their way into the public treasury, to be used for the benefit of all. Also, about 36,000 ghost workers have been discovered and weeded out, saving the government millions of naira,” he explained.
2016 Budget and Social Intervention
On the 2016 budget, the information minister said with capital expenditure increased to 30 per cent and the six social intervention areas included, the budget was prepared to directly touch the lives of millions of citizens and lift them out of poverty.
According to him, when the budget is fully implemented 500,000 graduates are to be employed and trained as teachers; 370,000 non-graduates (artisans, technicians) would be trained and employed; one million people (farmers, market women, etc) would be granted loans to set up small businesses; conditional cash transfer to the most vulnerable people will be fulfilled; school feeding targeting 4.5 million school children and bursaries/scholarships for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) students would be provided.
On his part, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, said Buhari had achieved very much for the country with his foreign trips. Onyeama noted that one major factor responsible for the trips was the challenge posed by the Boko Haram insurgency, particularly, regarding the need to form a coalition with other African countries since it has evolved into trans-border insecurity and the anti-corruption fight. He stressed that the president had to get the support of the international community because terrorism is a global phenomenon that requires concerted effort to tackle.
In the area of using the foreign trips to fight corruption, Onyeama said money stolen from the country’s vaults were often stashed away in foreign lands and Buhari needed to establish a working agreement with some of these countries to ensure that the money was returned to Nigeria and the characters involved were unravelled.
The minister said the effort had been yielding results, noting that the foreign trips have led to the coming of foreign investors.
His trade and investment counterpart, Okechukwu Enelemah, said as a way of creating an enabling environment that would boost the confidence of investors, the government is looking at other various indices that would involve collaboration with ministries of government and states. Enelemah said the government was planning to launch the Nigerian Industrial Revolution Plan, which would be carried out in collaboration with various organisations in the country.
The Minister of Works, Housing and Power, Babatunde Fashola, who is the immediate past governor of Lagos State governor, admitted that the housing sector was his most difficult responsibility due to lack of an existing housing model or plan to work with. But he assured the people that government was working on a veritable template. “Very soon we will get it in place. We are trying to develop a cultural model of housing that can be used to kick-start our industrial base for housing.”
On the dwindling power supply, which is a major concern among Nigerians, Fashola pleaded with the people for more time to get the sector in order. He said the current 5,000 megawatts was not enough for the country. He also disclosed that the administration had put necessary plans in place to address the challenges in road transportation.
“There is not enough power – 5, 000 megawatts for over 170 million people?” Fashola bemoaned. The former Lagos state governor, who made the first presentation, decried the citizens’ ways of measuring success in his ministry, saying, “Results are measured by how many roads have been completed. How much power do we have? How many houses have been provided?
“We hear you loud and clear and we are working backstage to ensure that everything comes out well.”
The Minister of Transport, Rotimi Amaechi, urged Nigerians to be patient with the government, reiterating that the government would soon deliver on the Lagos to Kano rail line, which he said will run through Lagos-Ibadan-Ilorin-Mina-Abuja-Kaduna-Kano. “Imagine the enormity of jobs this alone would create when it is completed,” he said.
On the proposed agreement with General Electric for a University of Transportation to be established in Nigeria that will produce graduates in railway, marine and other transport sector professions, the transport minister said, “These agreement with China will also include building of locomotives for the country here in Nigeria.” He, however, noted that when the project starts it would likely involve demolition of structures.
He added that the government was also trying to improve the aviation sector.
On the lingering fuel crisis, the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Ibe Kachikwu, assured that the government was working seriously on intelligence solutions in collaboration with the security agencies. He disclosed that as part of measures to resolve the problem of petrol scarcity, the government was planning to install trackers on all trucks lifting the products from the depots and also register the depots and filling stations they are meant to supply so that if they fail to offload the quantity required, there will be a record of the anomaly.
Kachikwu, who is also the Group Managing Director of Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, said over 30 per cent of petrol lifted from the depots was diverted to neighbouring countries like Chad and Cameroon. He said while about 400 petrol trucks were sent to Lagos last week, only about 250 offloaded their contents. He also reiterated that the federal government’s payment to petroleum marketers, which was over N1 trillion, had been reduced to zero.
“I appreciate your patience. We didn’t cause it but we are working towards solutions,” Kachikwu said concerning the petrol scarcity.
He disclosed that NNPC’s average loss, which was over N300 billion per month, had been reduced to N3 billion and said the Offshore Processing Agreement programme had made a savings of over $1 billion.
Some participants at the event urged the ministers to expedite actions on measures to alleviate the suffering of the citizens. They also appealed to Nigerians to give the government time to accomplish its laudable projects.
Former Minster of Works, Alhaji Femi Okunnu, called on Nigerians to give the administration up to two years to put its policies in order, stressing, “One year is too short.” In a similar vein, the chairman, Lagos State chapter of Christian Association of Nigeria, Apostle Alexander Bamgbola, said the Buhari administration must be wary of the way it handles religious affairs.
Obviously, the issues raised by Buhari’s men are reassuring, but for most Nigerians, the real assurance would come when the various programmes are successfully executed.