•Vows to punish economic saboteurs
•Promises to reward performing revenue agencies, punish non-performers, work with N’Assembly to pass PIB
•Trump, Atiku, Lawan, others say Nigeria destined for greater heights
Deji Elumoye, Omololu Ogunmade, Chuks Okocha, Adedayo Akinwale in Abuja and Obinna Chima, Chinedu Eze, Eromosele Abiodun in Lagos
Amid recent criticisms of the federal government over alleged disregard for the rule of law, President Muhammadu Buhari this morning talked tough, vowing to deal decisively with any expression of fundamental rights that undermines national security.
However, he promised to uphold the constitutional rights of citizens to freedom of expression and association provided that such expression does not infringe on the rights of other citizens or threaten national security.
“Whilst we uphold the Constitutional rights of our people to freedom of expression and association, where the purported exercise of these rights infringes on the rights of other citizens or threatens to undermine our National Security, we will take firm and decisive action,” the president said in a nationwide broadcast this morning in commemoration of today’s 59th independence anniversary of Nigeria.
Buhari, who also disclosed that his administration was focusing on cyber-crime, abuse of technology and propagation of hate speech, advised citizens to express their grievances and frustrations with a sense of restraint and tolerance.
He also said whereas airing of grievances bordering on religion and politics in a healthy manner would be tolerated, lessons of the past must never be lost in people’s consciousness.
He noted that wherever the seed of discord and hate is sown, destruction is usually the consequence as he expressed optimism that most Nigerians would embrace the path of peace, prosperity and unity.
“In this regard, I reiterate my call for all to exercise restraint, tolerance and mutual respect in airing their grievances and frustrations. Whilst the ongoing national discourse on various political and religious issues is healthy and welcome, we must not forget the lessons of our past – lessons that are most relevant on a day such as this,” he said.
Buhari also talked tough on corruption, vowing to punish saboteurs especially in relation to the recent award of $9.6 billion judgment against Nigeria in favour of an Irish firm, Process and Industrial Developments Limited (P&ID).
He said the award, made by a London arbitration tribunal and registered for enforcement by a British commercial court over alleged breach of contract between Nigeria and the firm was a clear demonstration of the greed of few corrupt and unpatriotic Nigerians.
According to him, new policies are being put in place by his administration while the government is also collaborating with the National Assembly to evolve legal frameworks that will ensure that unpatriotic elements do not go unpunished.
He appealed to states to put in place machinery that would promote transparency. He also implored Nigerians to join the fight against corruption.
Buhari said in accordance with Nigeria’s partnership with foreign friends to fight tax evasion, smuggling, terrorism and illicit financial flows, the Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Act had been signed to serve a domestic legal framework to secure international assistance in criminal matters.
Against this background, he said the Ministry of Justice was working with the United States Department of Justice to repatriate a recently discovered $300 million stolen and laundered in the US by the late General Sani Abacha.
Buhari also said in his administration’s bid to foster macro-economic and economic diversification, the Ministry of Finance was merged with the Ministry of Budget and National Planning with a special mandate aimed at enhancing the management of domestic and global fiscal risks as well as increasing and deployment of revenues to fund the annual Appropriation Bill.
Against this background, he threatened that revenue-generating agencies would henceforth be dutifully scrutinised with the provision of performance management framework aimed at rewarding productive agencies while those who fail to meet set targets would be duly punished.
He said he had recently constituted the Economic Advisory Council (EAC) to advise him on sustainable macroeconomic, fiscal and monetary policies with a view to putting the economy on track, promising that harsh economic policies would also be reviewed wherever necessary.
The president also said as a lesson from the previous administrations, oil outputs would be well managed, saved and invested in non-oil sectors.
“With this, our revenue-generating and reporting agencies will come under much greater scrutiny, going forward, as the new performance management framework will reward exceptional revenue performance, while severe consequences will attend failures to achieve agreed revenue targets,” he said.
He promised to accelerate the implementation of 2019 capital expenditure, disclosing that Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning had consequently been instructed to release N600 billion in the next three months.
He also said in line with the administration’s move to promote infrastructure development through public private partnerships, incentives of over N205 billion are being offered to the private sector for the construction of N205 billion in 11 states adding that revenue generation in the oil sector would be optimised.
He also promised that the government would work with the National Assembly to pass the Petroleum Industry Bill and simultaneously fight illegal oil bunkering and smuggling of refined products.
“Implementation of the 2019 Capital Budget, which was only approved in June 2019, will be accelerated to ensure that critical priority projects are completed or substantially addressed. The Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning has been directed to release N600 billion for Capital Expenditure in the next 3 months,” he said.
The president recalled that the federal government recently signed an agreement with a German company, Siemens, for the purpose of modernising the national grid in three phases with the plan to generate 11 gigawatts by 2023, and 25 gigawatts later.
He also spoke on other infrastructure being put in place by the government, including the construction of the second Niger bridge, Lagos-Ibadan expressway and the N500 billion Special Intervention Programme.
He disclosed that it was in a bid to institutionalise the social investment programme that the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development was recently created, adding that Nigeria’s population growth as one of the highest in the world, is a notable challenge, adding: “It is our collective responsibility to ensure that we provide adequate resources to meet the basic needs of our teeming youth.”
On security, he said the capacity of security agencies to defend the country’s territory was being enhanced by the provision of equipment.
He described October 1 independence anniversary as an opportunity to thank God for His mercies for Nigeria and also reflect on the sacrifices made by the country’s founding fathers.
Trump, Atiku, Lawan, Others Say Nigeria Destined for Greater Heights
Meanwhile, President Donald Trump of the United States, Senate President, Dr. Ahmad Lawan and other leaders have expressed optimism that the nation is destined for greater heights despite the current challenges facing it.
Also, stakeholders in the economy have decried the country’s wasted opportunities and called for economic reform to reposition the country.
In his congratulatory message, Trump said the United States, as an ally of Nigeria in the global battle against terrorism, wants to see Boko Haram and Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) driven out of the region.
He said: “Nigeria is among our strongest partners in Africa. We share common goals of expanding trade and growing our economic relationship. We are allies in the global battle against terrorism and we want to see Boko Haram and ISIS-West Africa driven out of the region and other insurgencies like them dismantled.”
He said the US welcomed efforts by the Buhari administration to diversify opportunities for talented, creative, and hardworking people to the benefit of both countries, Africa and the world.
According to him, following the meeting between the two countries’ vice presidents last year, Nigeria and the US are also building on the long-standing history of cooperation.
“I wish the people of Nigeria continued success as you mark another year of independence. On behalf of the American people, I extend our warmest greetings and congratulate you on the 59th anniversary of Nigeria’s independence,” Trump said.
Other leaders who are hopeful of a better Nigeria in the future include Senate President Ahmad Lawan; Deputy Senate President, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege; former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, former Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, as well as the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Lawan, in his goodwill message, described the current challenges facing the nation as a stepping stone to greatness.
He said: “The thrust of my goodwill message is to admonish my fellow compatriots to continue to have faith that Nigeria will be great and remain the indissoluble entity envisioned by our founding fathers.”
Lawan’s deputy called on Nigerians to imbibe the spirit of oneness, saying Nigerians should keep praying for the continued peace and unity of the country.
Omo-Agege stressed the need for oneness and accommodation, saying that with determination, the country would surmount its present challenges and emerge stronger.
Atiku urged Nigerians not to despair as there was hope for the country.
He said, in a statement, that despite the gloom, the future of Nigeria was bright.
He said rather than calling for prayers today, “I am calling on all Nigerians to believe in Nigeria’s betterment, to work for Nigeria’s betterment and to insist that no one in Nigeria, no matter how highly placed, shall be bigger than the laws of our land.”
Ekweremadu reiterated the need for decentralised policing, including state police, with valves against abuse to enable the country to overcome its security challenges.
He also called on “leaders at all levels of governance to rededicate themselves to an egalitarian society marked by justice for all, including an equitable distribution of opportunities and amenities as a sure way of securing peace and unity among our citizens across the nation.”
APC, in its goodwill message, urged Nigerians to be wary of those who hide under religion, politics, tribe and sundry groupings to turn Nigerians against one another, saying the country is better together.
The party’s National Publicity Secretary, Mallam Lanre Issa-Onilu, hailed the founding fathers, who fought for the independence of the country and also members of the Armed Forces, many of whom have paid the supreme sacrifice to defend Nigeria’s territorial integrity and keep the country united.
He added that in spite of the inherited and the current challenges, the Buhari administration has made commendable strides on so many fronts, most significantly the fight against graft, diversifying and revamping the economy, curbing insurgency and emerging crimes.
He also said the federal government was strengthening the country’s democratic institutions.
“Finally, we admonish well-meaning Nigerians to engage only in acts that would heal our fault lines by promoting ethnic and religious tolerance and peaceful coexistence, which would engender Nigeria’s growth and development,” the ruling party said.
The opposition PDP saluted the courage of Nigerians on the occasion of the nation’s independence anniversary of the country.
The party in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan, commended the citizens for their resilience in standing up for the unity and survival of the nation despite the daunting challenges.
It urged Nigerians to keep hope alive and not surrender to despondency in the face of the excesses, impunity and recklessness of retrogressive forces in high places seeking to undermine the national cohesion, freedom of the citizens as guaranteed by the constitution as well as emasculate the will and aspiration of Nigerians as a people.
The party said the October 1 date remains an undying signpost of the freedom and unity of Nigeria as a nation, stating that it reminds Nigerians of the roots of the national cohesiveness; the sacrifices of the heroes and the determination to live harmoniously and succeed as one people, in all spheres of human endeavours; a national distinctiveness for which “we are known and respected all over the world.”
It, however, noted that it was depressing that after 59 years of independence and efforts by patriotic Nigerians in nurturing democratic practice and tenets, the last four years had experienced a complete retrogression to primordial division, impunity, constitutional and human rights violations, assault on institutions of democracy, disobedience to court orders, electoral malpractices and governance by a cabal.
The PDP, however, expressed optimism that the nation will eventually come out of the woods and urged Nigerians “to use the occasion of the independence anniversary to rekindle their commitment towards the unity, stability and development of the fatherland.”
Stakeholders Call for Economic Reforms, Bemoan Challenges
Stakeholders in the economy sector, however, expressed dismay that the Nigerian economy in the past 59 years had continued to underperform, compared with other countries that gained independence the same year.
The Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) called on the federal government to launch comprehensive reforms that would transform and position the Nigerian economy on the path of sustainable growth.
Speaking in separate interviews with THISDAY, the CEOs called for a complete overhaul of Nigeria’s economic strategy.
Chief Executive Officer, Financial Derivatives Company Limited, Mr. Bismarck Rewane, described Nigeria as, a young old man at 59.
“There is not much to celebrate right now. Consumer Goods Index down. So, it is time for sober reflection because we are one year short of 60. Definitely, there is not much to celebrate,” he added.
Speaking on the way forward, Rewane said: “Our way forward is dependent on what we have decided to do. Let me put it this way, the fiscal adjustment is not as important as the mental adjustment and the mental adjustment is that we have to accept the reality of our status for us to move forward. Something has to change for the better,” he said.
National President, National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents (NCMDLCA), Mr Lucky Amiwero, described the Nigerian economy as still in its infancy
According to him, “The Nigerian economy in the last 59 years has been going back and forth, there were improvements at some point and after a while it started going back.
“Some reforms were done in 2006. But if you look at the economy now, we have lost jobs; there is no power. If you compare what we have here and the sub- region, it is quite disappointing. What grows the economy is energy and we lack it.”
In his assessment of the performance of the aviation sector in the past 59 years, the President/CEO of Top Brass Aviation Limited, Roland Iyayi, said there was not much to cheer, noting that Nigeria is yet to have robust airlines with high capacity.
He attributed the poor growth of the sector to government policies and stiff regulation by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA).
He said Nigeria was not where it was supposed to be as far as the aviation industry was concerned.
According to him, the country has the potential to have a thriving aviation industry in Africa.
However, in his contribution, the Chief Operating Officer of Aero Contractors, Captain Ado Sanusi, said Nigeria recorded some achievements in the aviation industry in the last 59 years of Nigeria’s independence.
But he said the country could have achieved more considering its natural resources, its population and its skilled manpower.
He regretted that Nigeria does not have strong airlines, does not have national carrier as well as big airlines with maintenance hangar, which are available in other countries.
On his part, the CEO of Maxifund Securities Limited, Mr. Okechukwu Unegbu, described the present position of the Nigerian economy as unfortunate.
According to him, government’s decision over the years to neglect social investment seriously affected the country’s growth.
He added that corruption was a major factor that has continued to hurt the growth of the Nigerian economy.
In its independence message, the LCCI called on the federal government to launch comprehensive reforms that would transform and position the Nigerian economy on the path of sustainable growth.
A statement by the LCCI to mark the country’s 59th Independent Anniversary, which was titled “The Nigerian Economy at 59,” urged the government to embark on urgent reforms on its fiscal policy, the oil and gas sector, infrastructure finance and the foreign exchange management amongst others.
It said reforms in the oil sector would reduce the bleeding effect of the current state of the sector on the economy, boost investment in the sector, increase revenue and create many more quality jobs in the economy.
The statement, which was signed by the Director General of LCCI, Mr. Muda Yusuf, called for reforms in the foreign exchange management that would be focused on streamlining of the foreign exchange management to reduce the cost of stabilising the exchange rate, boosting supply of the foreign exchange into the economy as well as prioritising the unification of the multiple exchange rates by eliminating the multiple windows in the foreign exchange market.
The chamber also called for the evolvement of urgent strategic responses to the looming fiscal viability and solvency crises at all levels of government in Nigeria.
“Acute revenue challenges are becoming an increasingly disturbing scenario at all levels of government. We need to urgently deal with the escalating cost of governance, fiscal leakages and revenue optimisation issues,” LCCI said.Our attention is increasingly being focused on cyber-crimes and the abuse of technology through hate speech and other divisive material being propagated on social media.
Whilst we uphold the Constitutional rights of our people to freedom of expression and association, where the purported exercise of these rights infringes on the rights of other citizens or threatens to undermine our National Security, we will take firm and decisive action.
In this regard, I reiterate my call for all to exercise restraint, tolerance and mutual respect in airing their grievances and frustrations. Whilst the ongoing national discourse on various political and religious issues is healthy and welcome, we must not forget the lessons of our past – lessons that are most relevant on a day such as this.
The path of hatred and distrust only leads to hostility and destruction. I believe that the vast majority of Nigerians would rather tread the path of peace and prosperity, as we continue to uphold and cherish our unity.