Despite the doom and gloom that characterised 2020, including the crash in crude oil prices and the COVID-19 pandemic, which brought the socio-economic and political structures of Nigeria to their knees, the Nigerian government still made several efforts to beat the odds. Amidst various criticisms and antagonism, the President Muhammadu Buhari-led federal government took several steps to ensure the wellbeing of the country and its citizens.
DEMONSTRATING RESILIENCE AND RESOURCEFULNESS, THE GOVERNMENT TOOK CRITICAL DECISIONS, AND IMPLEMENTED DARING POLICIES DESPITE THE UNCERTAIN CLOUDS OCCASIONED BY THE CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC AND A SECOND RECESSION IN ROW. THISDAY, HOWEVER, CONSIDERS SOME OF THE CRITICAL DECISIONS, POLICY IMPLEMENTATION, AND ACHIEVEMENTS OF THE BUHARI REGIME IN THE YEAR THAT JUST ENDED.
The most successful of the government rail projects, according to some quarters, is the Lagos-Ibadan SGR, a section of which was recently opened. Nigeria has a history of abandoned rail projects after spending billions of dollars. The Itakpe-Warri rail was abandoned for almost 25 years until the Buhari administration completed it.
Three other major rail projects inherited from the previous administrations have been completed and commissioned. They include the Abuja Metro Rail, the Abuja-Kaduna Rail, and the 327km Itakpe-Ajaokuta-Warri Rail, started in 1987 and completed in 2020. There is a fourth rail project, the Lagos-Ibadan rail, started in 2017, and was expected to be completed in 2020. The track laying for the main component of the project was completed in March 2020.
On January 23, 2020, the World Health urged all countries to be prepared for the containment, including active surveillance, early detection, isolation and case management, contact tracing and preventing the spread of COVID-19, and to share full data with WHO. By January 30, 2020, the WHO declared COVID-19 as a pandemic.
In the face of the pandemic, the government said it would require $330 million to procure medical equipment, personal protective equipment, and medicines for COVID-19 control. Committing to investing some of this amount, financial commitments were also made by private, bilateral, and multilateral institutions to raise the remaining funds.
The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation pledged $30 million for the government’s COVID-19 efforts. The European Union contributed €50 million to the fund. The IMF approved $3.4 billion of emergency support to Nigeria to tackle the economic impact of the pandemic.
In addition, in order to alleviate the macroeconomic situation triggered by the sudden fall in oil prices, the Nigerian government borrowed $4.34 billion from the domestic stock market to finance its budget with further plans to borrow another $2.5 billion from the World Bank and $1 billion from the African Development Bank.
The CACOVID Response
The private sector in Nigeria, after being called upon by the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Godwin Emefiele, established the Coalition Against COVID-19 (CACOVID), launched on March 26, 2020, to help the government fight the pandemic. CACOVID has raised over N39 billion, used for the purchase of food relief materials and to provide medical facilities and equipment in different regions of the country, including building and fully equipping 39 isolation centres across the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory.
Nigeria Declared Polio-free
On August 25, 2020, it was a great sigh of relief and fulfillment when the WHO and UNICEF congratulated Nigeria on being declared free of the wild poliovirus. The announcement was the culmination of selfless and concerted efforts of many health workers, policymakers, and the political will of the Nigerian government.
Achieving the milestone is not the end of the collective efforts though – all children under five years must continue to be vaccinated against vaccine-preventable diseases, the UN organisations urged.
“This is critical to significantly reduce avoidable mortality in Nigerian children under 5 years old, keep polio permanently out of Nigeria, and ensure better health and well being for future generations,” they said in a joint statement.
The UN agencies also commended Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) partners in Nigeria who helped reach this achievement: Rotary International; the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC); Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI); as well as Nigerian traditional and religious leaders and volunteer community mobilisers – the latter, the foot soldiers who fought to free the children of Nigeria from the wild poliovirus.
“It is a momentous achievement that calls for celebration,” said Peter Hawkins, UNICEF Representative in Nigeria. “This historic achievement not only signifies the end of the wild poliovirus across the entire African continent, but is also a significant springboard towards attaining global polio eradication.”
He added, “This is not the time for Nigeria to take its foot off the accelerator. This is the time for Nigeria to strengthen its primary health care system, and give routine immunisation a vital boost.”
A Resilient Economy
Nigeria has made notable progress even within the challenging environment of increased poverty associated with growing insecurity and the economic downturn as the government embarked on reforms starting with unification of its multiple exchange rates, the introduction of a market-based pricing mechanism for gasoline, eliminating subsidies, and adjusting electricity tariffs.
These measures allowed the government to cut non-essential expenditures and redirect resources towards the COVID-19 response both at the federal and the state levels, as well as improved debt transparency and accountability of its oil and gas sector.
Notable efforts were made to increase accountability in the public sector, with 35 states publishing their annual budgets in 2020 and 15 states now operate a single treasury account. With the uncertainty of the long-term economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, a new economic analysis said the speed, quality, and sustainability of Nigeria’s economic recovery will be determined by the effectiveness of its government’s response.
Relief for Teachers
The federal government on October 5, 2020, approved a special salary scale for Nigerian teachers as well as increased years of service from 35 to 40 as the world marked World Teachers’ Day. For many years, teachers have agitated for an increase in their retirement age, welfare, and salaries. But last year, the Buhari administration made the dream come true.
SARS Ban, Proposed Police Reforms
Following directives by President Muhammadu Buhari on the dissolution of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad as an immediate response to yearnings of Nigerians in the face of the #ENDSARS protests that drew global attention, the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, convened a meeting with stakeholders, agreeing to meet the demands, which included halting the use of force against protesters and unconditional release of arrested citizens.
Thereafter, public hearings began to dispense justice to those who had suffered under the jackboot of corrupt and brutal policemen. This, of course, precipitated a renewed call for police reform, which is now in the offing.
A Unity Against Rape
After unrelenting naming and shaming of alleged rapists, protests after protests, state governors across Nigeria’s 36 states agreed to declare a state of emergency on rape and other gender-based violence against women and children. The governors renewed their commitment to ensuring that sexual offenders were brought to book.
To that extent, many states domesticated relevant gender-based protection laws on the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act, the Child Rights Act and the updated Penal Code to increase protection for women and children and ensure speedy investigation and prosecution of perpetrators in addition to creating a sex offenders’ register in each state to name and shame.
Kankara Boys’ Release
Nigerians were reminded of the ugly 2014 Chibok kidnapping of over 200 schoolgirls in Borno State, when gunmen (said to be Boko Haram insurgents) stormed a school in Katsina (Buhari’s home state) and ferried over 300 boys into a forest on December 11, 2020.
They were students of Government Science Secondary School, Kankara, Katsina State. The world watched with bated breath, thinking ‘not again!’ To cut a long story short, the boys were brought back – all of them. Thanks to the Buhari administration.
NNPC’s Moments of Glory
Despite the ravaging pandemic in 2020 and instability in the international oil market, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) recorded a number of achievements.
Under Mallam Mele Kyari, the corporation’s 19th group managing director, the NNPC appears to be taking its place in the comity of state-run oil companies globally.
The $2.8 billion AKK Pipeline Project
On June 30, 2020, President Muhammadu Buhari inaugurated the $2.8 billion Abuja-Kaduna-Kano (AKK) Gas Pipeline Project, which apart from transporting gas from the south to the north of the country has the capacity to generate 3,600 megawatts of electricity and result in the injection of 2.2bscf/d of gas into the domestic market.
The project added to the Escravos to Lagos Pipeline System – 2 (ELPS-2) and the Obiafu to Obrikom (OB3) pipeline, fundamental to Nigeria’s desire for quick industrialisation. With a completion period of two years, the AKK is expected to enhance power generation and ensure supply to gas-based industries. It will also ensure the revival of moribund industries along transit towns in Kogi, Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Niger, Kaduna, and Kano.
The EPC contract for the 614-kilometre AKK gas pipeline project was awarded to Messrs Oilserv Plc/China First Highway Engineering Company (Oilserv/CFHEC Consortium) for the first segment covering 303 kilometres, with work already on-going.
FID, NLNG Train 7 EPC Contract
Last year also witnessed the take-off of the Engineering, Procurement, and Construction (EPC) contract for Train 7, part of the country’s major gas expansion plan. NLNG, a consortium between NNPC, Eni, Total, and Royal Dutch Shell, had earlier signed its Final Investment decision (FID) on the Train 7 processing unit in late 2019.
The project, expected to boost Nigeria’s liquefied natural gas (LNG) output by about 35 per cent, that is roughly 8 million metric tonnes, was awarded to a consortium, including Italy’s Saipem, Japan’s Chiyoda, and Daewoo of South Korea.
That critical milestone was achieved in the heat of the Covid-19 pandemic, with the five-year project, worth an initial $4 billion expected to create more than 12,000 direct jobs at the peak of construction.
Ologbo, Edo Gas Plant
The Integrated Gas Handling Facility (IGHF) and Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) processing and dispensing plants in Ologbo, Edo State, which is expected to generate $200 million in annual revenue into the country’s coffers, was commissioned last December.
While the lean gas can generate at least 267 megawatts of power per day and also ensure feedstock to gas-based industries, the over 200 million standard cubic feet per day project, moved Nigeria a step closer to its dream of full utilisation of its abundant gas potential.
Built and operated by the NNPC through its upstream subsidiary, the Nigerian Petroleum Development Company (NPDC), the integrated project is capable of supplying 20 per cent of the current LPG demand in the country.
It will unleash 240,000 metric tonnes of commercial-grade liquefied petroleum gas and propane and about 205 million standard cubic feet per day of lean gas to the domestic market.
Release of 2018, 2019 AFS: First in 43 Years
For the first time since its incorporation in 1977, the NNPC publicly published its Audited Financial Statements (AFS) and said it recorded a 99.7 per cent reduction in its loss profile from N803 billion in 2018 to N1.7 billion in 2019.
General administrative expenses also witnessed a 22 per cent dip from N894bn in 2018 to N696bn in 2019, with the majority of the subsidiaries posting improved performance.
They included the NPDC, which recorded N479bn profit in 2019 compared to N179bn in 2018 representing 167 per cent increase; the Integrated Data Services Limited (IDSL) recorded N23bn profit in 2019 compared to N154m in 2018, representing 14966 per cent increase.
Also, the Petroleum Products Marketing Company (PPMC) recorded N14.2bn profit in 2019 compared to N9.3bn in 2018 representing 52 per cent increase.
Though the refineries maintained the same level of losses as in 2018, the corporation said it would reduce significantly when the 2020 statement is released due to its cost optimisation drive.
CBN’s N300bn COVID-19 Facility
The N50 billion CBN COVID-19 Targeted Facility, which was gradually raised to about N300 billion was one of the key targeted interventions by the apex bank in 2020. It was floated to douse the impact of the pandemic on vulnerable households and small businesses.
The funds, which is being administered by NIRSAL Microfinance Bank has provided invaluable support to Nigerians, whose livelihoods had been negatively impacted by the lockdown and restrictions of movement hitherto implemented by the federal government to limit the spread of COVID-19.
Analysts have commended the initiative, which according to them helped in no small measure in stimulating economic activities as well as boosting purchasing power, which among other things, helped to manage the socioeconomic crisis, which had confronted the country.
The Anchor Borrowers’ Initiative
The CBN Anchor Borrowers Programme (ABP) was launched in 2015 by the apex bank as an audacious initiative to reposition agriculture by creating a linkage between anchor companies involved in the processing and Smallholder Farmers (SHFs) of the key agricultural commodities.
The impact of the virus saw to the ramping up of the programme in 2020. The primary objective was to boost cheap finance to farmer groups and associations to enable them have access to inputs to improve local food production amidst efforts to diversify the economy.
The revolution in local rice production has been one of the most celebrated agriculture interventions embarked upon by the bank.
Up till date, the CBN had funded SHFs under the ABP to the tune of over N374 billion across the cassava, maize, cotton and rice value chain from 2016.
Re-opening of Borders
Nigeria’s borders reopening on December 16, 2020, after about 15 months of closure no doubt came as huge sigh of relief to many Nigerians, who had linked the current the economic hardship to the continued closure. The federal government had in August 2019 shut the country’s land borders on an effort to check increasing activities of smugglers as well as protect the local industries.
However, the situation had also led to rising prices of food and other commodities due to supply gaps. Rising inflation became a major source of concern. On the other hand, the closure provided a rare opportunity for both the agricultural and manufacturing sectors to thrive during the temporary closure of borders.
But, analysts believed the gains of border closure far outweighed the disadvantages as key sectors of the economy were resuscitated.
The Minister of Trade and Investment, Chief Adeniyi Adebayo, pointed out that the closure did not only give security agencies the opportunity to assess prevalent challenges on smuggling at the borders, but also stopped the smuggling of petroleum products out of the country.
Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mr. Godwin Emefiele, also argued that the recent border closure had yielded positive results for the economy particularly, agriculture.
Recently, the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) further testified that the recent border closure and security drills at the borders helped to boost daily collections from N5 billion to the current N9 billion.
Pension Transfer Window
The National Pensions Commission (PenCom) in 2020 commenced the implementation of the Retirement Savings Account (RSA) transfer window under the Contributory Pension Scheme (CPS).
The transfer window allows RSA holders to transfer their accounts from one Pension Fund Administrator (PFA) to another within a year, in line with Section 13 of the Pension Reform Act of 2014.
Prior to the launch, PenCom had successfully developed the RSA application, which is an electronic platform to enable seamless account transfer.
The transfer window option means that retirement account holders can port from one PFA to the other even if he or she does not give any reason for the action. The development is expected to translate into increased competition in the PFA space, as account holders will move to operators that give them the best returns on investment.
Ratification of AFCTA
The ratification of Nigeria’s membership of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) by the Federal Executive Council (FEC), on Wednesday, November 11, 2020, cleared the way for the Nigeria economy to participate in the continents expanded market of 1.3 billion.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Mr. Lai Mohammed, had said that the council ratified Nigeria’s membership of AfCFTA in compliance with the instruction asking parties to the agreement to ratify their memberships latest by December 5, 2020. He recalled that Nigeria signed the agreement on July 7, 2019, in Niamey, Niger Republic, adding that by the ratification of its membership, Nigeria had beaten the ratification deadline.
Director General of the Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association (NECA), Mr. Timothy Olawale, said the ratification of AfCFTA agreement by the federal government was a welcome development that would enable the economy to launch into the benefits in the newly formed market of 55 nations and an aggregate GDP of up to $6.7trillion PPP.
Also, the Director General of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), Dr. Muda Yusuf, said the AfCFTA would serve as an avenue for Nigerian industries to penetrate new markets and establish strong cross-border supply chains with other African countries.
The January-December Budget Cycle
The restoration of January to December budget implementation cycle 2020, which has been jettisoned for about 20 years, was achieved by President Muhammadu Buhari with the signing of the 2020 Appropriation Bill in December 2019.
The Director General of the Nigerian Association of Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA), Ambassador Ayo Olukanni, described the restoration of the January to Decenber budget cycle as a reflection and signal from the Presidency that things would be done as at when due and at the right moment in the Nigerian economy.
Finance Bill 2019/2020
Another positive development in the Nigerian economy was the signing into law of the 2019 and 2020 Finance bills on January 13, 2020, and December 2020 respectively by President Muhammadu Buhari.
The implementation of the 2019 Finance Act provided the economy with a document that contained the fiscal policy of the government and enabled the Federal Inland Revenue Services (FIRS) to collect N4.1 trillion tax revenues between January and October 2020.
Buhari stated that the Finance Act was specially designed to support the implementation of the 2020 national budget and to create an enabling environment for businesses.
A New VISA Policy
Year 2020 also witnessed significant immigration reforms that was approved by President Buhari on January 31, which enabled the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) to expand the categories of visas it issued to foreign citizens intending to visit Nigeria from six to 79 classes under the 2020 Visa Policy.
The reform also included the Visa-on-Arrival (VoA) policy that allows a foreign citizen on a short visit to have his visa processed and issued at the airport.
The visa expansion would enable Nigeria to resolve the age-long issue of wrong classifications and validity of visas granted foreigners coming to Nigeria and reposition the nation’s immigration practice to serve the current needs on integration.
The new visa policy would also accommodate education visa for those desiring to study in Nigeria.
The Airspace Safety
In February 2020, the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) commissioned its newly installed Category 3 Instrument Landing System (ILS) at Runway 18 Right of the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, following the installation of the same system on Runway 22 at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja in November the previous year.
An instrument landing system (ILS) is a system that works by sending radio waves downrange from the runway end and aircraft intercepts it using the radio waves to guide them onto the runway. It is a radio navigation system, which provides aircraft with horizontal and vertical guidance just before and during landing and, at certain fixed points that indicates the distance to the reference point of landing.
The agency also installed Doppler Very High Frequency Omni-Directional Radio Range (DVOR) in Lagos and in April 2020 and carried out successful flight calibration on Runway 18 Left in Lagos.
Category 3 ILS enables pilots to land at zero visibility, which means that pilots can land safely during harmattan haze and cloudy weather occasioned by heavy rains. So, this ended the delays due to Harmattan dust and low visibility at Lagos and Abuja airports.
In the same year, the agency installed Doppler VOR (very high ominidirectional radio range) in Kano to improve communications at the Kano Area Control Centre, which caters for the whole airspace in the northern part of the country and beyond.
Stripe Acquires Paystack
Stripe, an American financial services and software company last year acquired Nigeria’s start-up, Paystack in a deal estimated to be about $200 million. The US-based company had explained that the African internet economy was expanding quickly, with online commerce in the region growing at 21 per cent year-over-year, which was said to be 75 per cent faster than the global average.
Therefore, in order to help increase Africa’s online Gross Domestic Product (GDP), Stripe entered into an agreement to acquire Paystack, the Lagos-based technology company that makes it easy for organisations of all sizes to collect payments from around the world.