Let me start by thanking, most sincerely, the organizers of this event for giving me the opportunity to speak on this very important topic. This is undoubtedly one of the best platforms anyone can ask for, considering the pedigree of the members of the association and the high rating of the NIPSS itself.
I have described the topic on which I am going to speak as very important because the Change Agenda formed the core of our campaign during the last general elections and, without mincing words, it was the key reason that Nigerians voted massively for us. Being tired of the status quo which many believed was the very antithesis of sustainable growth and development, as well as peace and security, Nigerians made history with their votes, electing the opposition into power at the centre, for the first time in our history
More than nine months on, how have we fared? How has the journey been so far? Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, I am happy to inform you, at this august gathering, that this Administration has availed itself creditably. As you would recall, we campaigned on the core issues of tackling corruption, ensuring the security of lives and property and, of course, the economy, which encompasses creation of job, diversification of the economy away from oil, etc. I will take the issues one after the other.
Security of Lives and Property:
Distinguished Alumni, this is no doubt the most important issue for any government, because the very reason for the existence of any government is to ensure the security of lives and property. Though our country has faced the challenges of ethno-religious violence, armed robbery, cattle rustling, kidnapping for ransom, militancy and violent agitations, the most daunting security challenge that we have faced in the past 7 to 8 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 massively degraded and it is gradually moving away from the front pages. 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 armed troops. Today, our gallant troops are on top of the insurgency and, in the words of the Chief of Army Staff, Gen. Tukur Buratai, they are now engaged in mop-up operations. The fact that the main highway linking Maiduguri to other states has now been opened is the clearest indication yet that things are gradually coming back to normal.
I saw, first hand, the high morale of our gallant men and women in uniform when I travelled to some liberated areas in Borno last December. Travelling the 89 kilometres from Maiduguri to Bama, through Konduga and Kaure, all I saw were battle ready soldiers in very high spirits.
But make no mistake about it: No insurgency ends overnight. 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. 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 Fight Against Corruption:
Next to insecurity is the issue of corruption. 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 dollars 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.
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, just like this Administration has largely succeeded in fighting insurgency, we have also squarely taken on corruption, and I can tell you that we are winning. The situation is serious and no government can fight the battle alone. That explains why we have launched a nationwide sensitization 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 sensitization 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 1.34 trillion Naira in Nigeria, an amount that is more than a quarter of the 2015 national budget!
Using World Bank Rates and Costs, we said even if just one third of the stolen funds could be recovered, it will provide us with 635.18 kilometres of dual carriage way, which is equivalent to six Lagos-Ibadan Expressway. We said the money would have built 36 ultra modern hospitals, that is one ultra modern hospital per state; built 183 schools; educated 3,974 children from primary to tertiary level at 25.24 million per child; and built 20,062 units of 2-bedroom houses. We also said the money that was allegedly stolen represented the total earnings of four African nations! What we are doing basically is counting the cost of corruption.
Then there is the issue of the 2.1 billion-dollar arms deal, in which funds meant to procure arms and ammunition for our soldiers to fight Boko Haram were shared out by a few people for political purposes. One thing is remarkable in all of this: No one who has been named to have shared in the money has denied it. All they have done is to give very ridiculous reasons why they were given the money. One said he collected 4.3 billion Naira to pray against Boko Haram; Another said he received 2.1 billion naira for publicity, One said he got 13 billion Naira to pay for the Maritime University land while another said he collected 100 million Naira so that his party can support the PDP. For effect, the fellow who collected 100 million Naira vowed that he will not return the loot!
Ladies and gentlemen, based on these revelations, should we now fold our hands and allow these people to go away with public funds? Is anyone thinking about the innocent soldiers who lost their lives just because they did not get the necessary weapons to fight the terrorists? What about the families left behind by these soldiers who were sent to their early graves because of the misappropriation of these funds? What about those who lost their means of livelihood after the terrorists overran their towns and villages? What of the millions of Nigerians, especially women and children, who are now living in IDP camps? Is it not clear that the cruel fate that has befallen these unfortunate people is a direct result of the misuse of the funds meant to fight the terrorists?
The way out is for all of us to be part of the war. It is not Buhari’s war. It is not APC’s war. It is Nigeria’s war of survival, and defeat will only sentence all of us, and our generations yet unborn, into perpetual penury. In particular, we solicit your support, as elites and opinion leaders, for this war of survival. You are accomplished in your various endeavours. You are highly respected in the society. You have a voice. I appeal to you not to sit on the fence, but to lend your strong voice to the battle against corruption.
Let me add here that for those who have accused this Administration of not respecting the Rule of Law in its anti-graft battle, the Rule of Law is not and cannot be a shield against prosecution for corruption. The mere fact that those accused of corruption have been taken to court shows that the Administration respects the Rule of Law. And for those who have complained that certain people have been rearrested after they were granted bail, I will refer them to Friday’s ruling by
Justice Peter Affen, who said his earlier order prohibiting the EFCC from rearresting Dasuki did not constitute immunity from “further prosecution.” Justice Affen ruled that since it was clear that the ex-NSA was not re-arrested by the EFCC but by the Department of State Service, the EFCC could not be said to have violated the said order granting him bail.
Our nation’s economy, or whatever is left of it, poses a great challenge! For one, we have lost a sizeable chunk of our earnings to the massive crash in the price of oil. Think about this: If you lose 70 per cent of your monthly salary, your life can never be the same again. Oil has crashed from over 100 dollars to about 30 dollars a barrel now. For a mono-product economy, this is nothing short of disaster. But the Administration has decided to turn this disaster to a blessing by working assiduously to diversify our economy away from oil. Agriculture, Solid Minerals, Culture and Tourism are some of the sectors we are currently working to rejuvenate so they can earn huge revenues for the country and create jobs. While these efforts are on, the Administration has decided to plug all financial loopholes through the Treasury Singles Account (TSA), into which over two trillion Naira has accrued so far. Funds that ordinarly would have gone into private pockets are now finding their way into the public treasury, to be used for the benefit of all. Also, thanks to the measures introduced by this Administration to plug all loopholes, we have discovered 23,000 ghost workers who have now been expunged from the system.
As I have always said, it does not matter if a barrel of oil sells for 5 dollars, if we are prudent with what we earn, we can still meet most of our needs.
Of course you are all familiar with the Administration’s budget for 2016, which is now before the National Assembly. In an unprecedented act, we have set aside 500 billion Naira for massive social intervention, fund that can be assessed by artisans, market women, unemployed graduates and others. The essence of this is to lift millions, not thousands, out of poverty. Of course there is also the plan to engage 500,000 unemployed graduates as teachers, and complete all ongoing infrastructural projects. As soon as the budget, in which capital expenditure has been increased to 30 per cent, is passed, Nigerians will begin to positively feel the impact of the Administration’s efforts.
The President’s Foreign Trips
Since assuming office, President Buhari has taken it upon himself to restore the nation’s lost credibility, reassure investors that they can do business with our country and also rally global support for the war against corruption and insurgency. This he has done through a series of shuttle diplomacy, for which many have criticized him. As we all know, President Buhari is neither frivolous nor flamboyant, and he is not one to engage in unproductive ventures. His foreign trips since assuming office are critical to the implementation of his administration key policies of
enhancing security, jump-starting the economy, creating jobs and fighting corruption.
Let’s take the President’s most recent trips to Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The President used the visits to strongly push for oil price stability, within the context of ongoing efforts by OPEC to achieve greater oil price stability. He also met with Saudi and Qatari businessmen to invite them to support his Administration’s efforts to revamp the economy by taking advantage of the great investment opportunities currently available in Nigeria’s mining, agriculture, power supply, infrastructure, transportation, communications and other sectors. The President also met with heads of international financial organisations and multilateral associations and signed Bilateral Air Services Agreement (BASA) with Qatar to pave way for direct flights between major cities of both countries. These are lofty efforts and cannot, in any way, be described as frivolous.
As I said earlier, the President travelled to Benin, Cameroon, Chad and Niger, as well as to Germany, the US, France and the UN to seek support for the war against insurgency, trips that have now yielded positive results. No one can describe these trips as frivolous.
The President has also travelled to South Africa to attend the regular summit of the African Union as well as the China-Africa Forum; to Ghana as part of efforts to foster better relations with a brotherly country; to India for the India-Africa summit that provided the opportunity to explore ways of enhancing Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs) from Indian investors; and to Iran to attend the forum of Gas Exporting Countries, a veritable platform for discussing how to better harness Nigeria’s abundant gas resources for industrial/domestic consumption and export, at a time of dwindling oil prices.
The President was also in Malta to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, from where he travelled to Paris for the UN Conference on Climate Change, a global topical issue. President Buhari is well respected on the global stage for his high integrity, his transparency, his patriotism and his purposeful leadership. It is important to leverage this respect in such a way that Nigeria can become a major player, either in the realms of economy or global diplomacy. President Buhari is not frivolous and therefore cannot and will not embark on frivolous trips
Ladies and gentlemen, as far as our Change Agenda is concerned, the journey so far has been good, and it will definitely get better as we progress. We have advanced well on this journey because we have set forth at dawn. We have faced and tackled, with sincerity and courage, both anticipated and unanticipated challenges. Our major security nightmare, Boko Haram, is fast giving way to a sweet dream, while we have not shied away from taking on other security challenges. We are winning the war against corruption, even as corruption fights back fast and furious. We are committed to diversifying our economy away from oil, while plugging all financial leakages. Our President is working night and day to make our country a respected member of the comity of nations, once again.
We thank Nigerians for their support and perseverance. We urge our citizens not to succumb to the antics of the naysayers, those who have so benefitted from the chaos and corruption of the past that they will not subscribe to change. Our Change Agenda is alive, and the journey so far has been good. I thank you all for listening