Perhaps, President Muhammadu Buhari’s message of hope at the dawn of the New Year is all that’s needed to forget the regrets of 2019, writes Olawale Olaleye
Needless to say both the economic and the political predictions for the New Year didn’t look good for the country. Coming from a year that was largely burdened by unfavourable policies, higher inflation, increasing debt profile, unabated insecurity and general unsavoury political atmosphere, even the ordinary observer could not have been wrong with his layman interpretations of the situation.
But in some of the suggestions put forward by some of the observers, toping the chart was the need to uphold the rule of law as the foundation of every democratic culture, strictly observing the nation’s ethnic differences and according them their rightful place in the scheme of things as well as the need for swift response of the leadership to issues of national interest.
Unknown to many, President Muhammadu Buhari had a better New Year gift in the form of message of hope for the people. Whether or not this hope could be translated into reality is not the debate here. But for once, the president delivered a speech with a potential to change perception and turn things around. The closest Buhari has had to this was his inaugural speech as president on May 29, 2015.
“Today”, he said, “marks a new decade. It is a time of hope, optimism and fresh possibilities. We look forward as a nation to the 2020s as the opportunity to build on the foundations we have laid together on security, diversification of our economy and taking on the curse of corruption.
“These are the pledges on which I have been twice elected President and remain the framework for a stable, sustainable and more prosperous future. Elections are the cornerstone of our democracy. I salute the commitment of the millions, who voted in peace last February and of those leaders who contested for office vigorously but fairly, submitting to the authority of the electorate, the Independent National Electoral Commission and judicial process.”
He, however, didn’t waste too much time before delivering the first thrust of his message. “I understand very well the frustrations our system has in the past triggered. I will be standing down in 2023 and will not be available in any future elections. But I am determined to help strengthen the electoral process both in Nigeria and across the region, where several ECOWAS members go to the polls this year.
“As Commander-in-Chief, my primary concern is the security of the nation and the safety of our citizens. When I assumed office in May 2015, my first task was to rally our neighbours so that we could confront Boko Haram on a coordinated regional basis. Chaos is not a neighbour any of us hope for.”
The president said there was the need for a democratic government that could guarantee peace and security to realise the full potential of the ingenious, entrepreneurial and hard-working people of the country.
“As we have sat down to celebrate with friends and family over this holiday season, for the first time in a generation, our food plates have not all been filled with imports of products we know can easily be produced here at home. The revolution in agriculture is already a reality in all corners of the country. New agreements with Morocco, Russia and others will help us access on attractive terms the inputs we need to accelerate the transformation in farming that is taking place.
“Already, we are making key infrastructure investments to enhance our ease of doing business. On transportation, we are making significant progress on key roads such as the Second Niger Bridge, Lagos – Ibadan Expressway and the Abuja – Kano highway. 2020 will also see tangible progress on the Lagos to Kano Rail line.
“Through Executive Order 007, we are also using alternative funding programmes in collaboration with private sector partners to fix strategic roads such as the Apapa-Oworonshoki Express way. Abuja and Port Harcourt have new international airport terminals, as will Kano and Lagos in 2020. When completed, all these projects will positively impact business operations in the country.
“Power has been a problem for a generation. We know we need to pick up the pace of progress. We have solutions to help separate parts of the value chain to work better together. In the past few months, we have engaged extensively with stakeholders to develop a series of comprehensive solutions to improve the reliability and availability of electricity across the country.”
Projecting into the New Year, Buhari said the next 12 months would witness the gradual implementation of these actions, after which Nigerians could expect to see significant improvement in electricity service supply reliability and delivery. Also, he said there were plans to increase domestic gas consumption.
“In 2020, we will also realise increased value from oil and gas, delivering a more competitive, attractive and profitable industry, operating on commercial principles and free from political interference…The Amendment of the Deep Offshore Act in October signaled our intention to create a modern, forward-looking industry in Nigeria.
“I am confident that in 2020, we will be able to present a radical programme of reform for oil and gas that will excite investors, improve governance and strengthen protections for host communities and the environment.”
Against these and more, Buhari inferred that, “I am able to report that the journey has already begun with the passage and signing into law of the 2020 Appropriation Act. As the new decade dawns, we are ready to hit the ground running.
“Our policies are working and the results will continue to show themselves more clearly by the day. Nigeria is the most tremendous, can-do market, offering extraordinary opportunities and returns. Investors can look forward with confidence not only to an increasing momentum of change but also to specific incentives, including our new visa-on-arrival policy.”
Reiterating his commitment to tackling corruption, he posited that, “As we create an environment that allows initiative, enterprise and hard work to thrive, it is more important than ever to call out those who find the rule of law an inconvenience, or independent regulation an irritation.
“We are doing our part here in Nigeria. We will continue to press our partners abroad to help with the supply side of corruption and have received some encouragement. We expect more funds stolen in the past to be returned to us and they will be ploughed back into development with all due transparency.”
It wasn’t any complicated a speech and directly addressed the issues in the simplest of ways with a seeming resolve to genuinely change the old ways. Interestingly, these old ways are peculiar to the Buhari administration, whose old habits do not seem prepared to die.
However, if it is able to follow through these promises and not a speech delivered only for the occasion, the possibility of a significant turnaround in some of the critical areas of the nation’s politics and economy is very plausible. It is no doubt a message of hope, but whether or not, it could be delivered to the letter is what is yet to be seen, as time ticks…