President Muhammadu Buhari

Says national, state assemblies proper & legal fora for national debate Promises to address genuine grievances Seizes occasion to render stewardship, describes Anchor Borrowers Programme as outstanding success

Omololu Ogunmade in Abuja

President Muhammadu Buhari has said recent calls for restructuring provided avenue for “highly irresponsible groups to call for dismemberment of the country.” He said his government could not and would not allow such advocacy.

In a national broadcast on Sunday morning to commemorate Nigeria’s 57th independence anniversary, President Buhari noted that calls for restructuring were quite proper in a legitimate debate.

He, however, said “proper dialogue and any desired constitutional changes should take place in a rational manner, at the National and State Assemblies.”

He said, “These are the proper and legal fora for National debate, not some lopsided, undemocratic body with pre-determined set of objectives.”

The president’s independence anniversary broadcast came on the heels of the agitation of South-east based youth dominated secessionist group, Independent People of Biafra (IPOB), which was recently checkmated by the deployment of troops to the South-east and its proscription by government.

Recalling sad memories of the civil war between 1967 and 1970, the President said, “As a young Army Officer, I took part from the beginning to the end in our tragic civil war costing about 2 million 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 expressed disappointment in South-east leaders over their perceived failure to dissuade their young men from persistent agitation for secession, but praised their South-south counterparts for providing what he described as responsible leadership in their region.

“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,” the president said.

He said the government was keeping faith with its pursuit of peace in the Niger Delta through dialogue with stakeholders, assuring that genuine grievances in the region would be addressed.

The president said, “Government is grateful to the responsible leadership of those communities and will pursue lasting peace in the Niger Delta.”

Seizing the occasion to render stewardship, the President said, “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.”

Buhari said another demonstration of the country’s political freedom under his administration was exemplified in the ruling party losing governorship, National Assembly and State Houses of Assembly polls to opposition parties.”

He also described people’s freedom to associate without any threat as a further show of prevalent political freedom which he described as a mark of political development.

On security, Buhari who said the government was working assiduously to ensure the release of the last set of Chibok girls, disclosed that the military in its commitment to operational efficiency had established mobile strike teams in the North-east to serve as the platform for final conquest of Boko Haram.

While thanking the armed forces for decimating Boko Haram’s strength in the North-east, Buhari thanked neighbouring countries and the international community for their collaboration with Nigeria in the fight against terrorism.

Furthermore, he said the military had succeeded in establishing naval presence in the Lake Chad Basin in pursuit of co-ordinated efforts to avert the re-launch of Boko Haram activities in the North-east.

“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 organised 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 neutralised. 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.

“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,” he added.

On economy, Buhari who said his government would accelerate moves to tackle the country’s challenges in this second half of his administration, also said the government would be alive to its effort to diversify the economy especially with what he described as the outstanding success of “anchor borrowers programme” launched in 2015.

He listed the success of the programme to include: N43.92 billion released through Central Bank Nigeria (CBN) and 13 participating institutions; 200,000 small holder farmers from 29 states of the federation and 233,000 hectares of farmlands for the cultivation of rice, wheat, maize, cotton, soya beans, poultry, among others.

He said with respect to the economy, government had remained pro-active in its diversification policy. The president further said the government had since December last year produced 7 million of 50 kilogrammes of fertiliser with 11 plants while 2.1 million metric tonnes had been reactivated and $150 million saved in foreign exchange adding that another N60 billion had been saved in subsidy.

He said the move had resulted in the fall of the price of fertiliser from hitherto N13,000 to N5,500 adding that a presidential initiative to ensure the creation of 10,000 jobs by each state had begun.

Admitting that power supply has remained a huge problem in the country, Buhari however, said power generation attained 7,001 megawatts capacity on September 12 adding that with increasing investment in the power sector, Nigeria hopes to achieve 10,000 megawatts of power supply in 2020.

The president said an investment avenue created for manufacturers, investors and exporters by the government had yielded $7 billion since its creation in April and consequently improved investors’ confidence while inflation rate has continued to drop and exchange rate appreciating from N525/$ in February to N360/$ at the moment.

He commended some state governments for supporting presidential agricultural initiative to boost the cultivation of rice, palm oil, rubber, cashew, cassava, potatoes and others crops.

“Since December last year, this Administration has produced over 7 million 50Kg bags of fertiliser. 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. Fertiliser 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.

“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.

In an effort to stabilise the polity, he said the government had provided financial support to the tune of N1.642 trillion to the states to enable them pay salary arrears and pensions.”

On the fight against corruption, the president said corrupt elements had been attempting to frustrate the fight, using what he described as “judicial obstruction and political diversion.”

Nevertheless, he said to achieve optimal result, the government had empowered a team of prosecutors, assembled detailed databases and accelerated the recovery of stolen funds as he listed the administration’s institutional reforms to include: enforcing Treasury Single Account, Whistle-Blowers Policy and Integrated Payroll Personnel and Information System.

Buhari also listed further hopes of improving anti-graft war to include the signing of multi-lateral agreements with some countries as well as improved cooperation of the judiciary with federal government in the war against corruption.

He commended the National Assembly for refocusing its oversight committees as he called on Nigerians to join the war against corruption by refusing to accept bribe, reporting unethical practices and blowing the whistle.

“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 on 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,” he submitted.