* Says: ‘Recession Won’t Last’
* N720Bn Released For Capital Projects
* Only Dialogue Can Address Niger-Delta Issues – Albert Horsfall
President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday warned the Niger Delta militants to stop destroying Nigeria’s oil assets, saying no group can successfully challenge the authority of the federal government.
President Buhari said this in his address to mark the 56th Independence anniversary of the country. The president, however, said the federal government was engaging with responsible leadership in the Niger Delta region to find lasting solutions to genuine grievances of the area.
He, however, warned that his administration would not allow “a tiny minority of thugs to cripple the country’s economy.”
He also identified insecurity, corruption, unemployment and the alarming level of poverty as the nation’s problems, but, however, said that progress had been made on security.
The president said Nigerians should thank the military and other security agencies for rescuing large areas of the country captured by insurgents.
“Residents of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states, as well as several neighbouring states now go about their daily businesses in relative safety. People can go to mosques, churches, market places in reasonable safety. Security is a top to bottom concern and responsibility,” he said.
Buhari bemoaned pockets of clashes between herdsmen and farmers, cattle rustling and kidnapping in the country, but vowed that his administration would fight and defeat them.
He also condemned the activities of Niger Delta militants, saying: “This administration will not allow these mindless groups to hold the country to ransom.
“What sense is there to damage a gas line, as a result of which many towns in the country, including theirs, are put in darkness? What logic is there to blow up an export pipeline and deny services to your own people?”
“No group can unlawfully challenge the authority of the federal government and succeed.”
He said his administration was fully sympathetic to the plight of the good people of Niger Delta and was in touch with various state governments and leadership of the region.
“It is known that the clean-up of Ogoniland has started. Infrastructural projects financed by the federal government, and the post amnesty programme financing will continue. We have continued to dialogue with all groups and leaders of thought in the region to bring lasting peace.”
He also said the federal government would go ahead with projects that utilize alternate technologies such as hydro, wind and solar, to contribute to energy mix.
The president also said he believed that the current recession in the country was a temporary problem that would not last forever.
“I believe that this recession will not last.
“Temporary problems should not blind or divert us from the corrective course this government has charted for our nation. We have identified the country’s salient problems and we are working hard at lasting solutions.
“To re-cap what I have been saying since the inception of this administration, our problems are security, corruption and the economy, especially unemployment and the alarming level of poverty,” he said.
He said he was aware of the fact that the current economic crisis in the country was uppermost in the minds of Nigerians.
The president also noted that he knew how difficult things were and how rough business was at the moment in the country.
He said: “The recession, for many individuals and families, is real. For some, it means not being able to pay school fees, for others, it’s not being able to afford the high cost of food (rice and millet) or the high cost of local or international travel, and for many of our young people, the recession means joblessness, sometimes after graduating from the university or polytechnic.”
The president also stated: “All my adult life I have always earned salaries, so I know what it means when your salary is simply not enough. In every part of our nation, people are making incredible sacrifices.”
Commending Nigerians for their patience, steadfastness and perseverance, President Buhari said: “You know that I am trying to do the right things for our country.”
He explained that he ran for the office four times to make the point that Nigeria could be with honesty and transparency, and that the stealing of the nation’s resources could be stopped so that the resources could be used to provide jobs for the youth, security, infrastructure for commerce, education and health care.
“I ran for office because I know that good government is the only way to ensure prosperity and abundance for all. I remain resolutely committed to this objective,” Buhari added.
He noted that the third plank in his administration’s drive to change Nigeria was re-structuring the economy, explaining that, “Economies are cyclical. All countries face ups and downs.”
Buhari, who restated that the nation’s recession had been caused by a critical shortage of foreign exchange, said: “Oil price dropped from an average of $100 per barrel over the last decade, to an average of $40 per barrel this year and last.
“Worse still, the damage perpetrated by Niger Delta thugs on pipelines reduced Nigeria’s production to below 1million barrels per day against the normal 2.2 million barrels. Consequently, the naira is at its weakest, but the situation will stabilise.
“But this is only temporary. Historically, about half of our dollar export earnings go to importation of petroleum and food products. Nothing was saved for the rainy days during the periods of prosperity.”
President Buhari said the country was currently reaping “the whirlwinds of corruption, recklessness and impunity.”
He described corruption as a cancer that must be fought with all the weapons at his administration’s disposal because “it corrodes the very fabric of government and destroys the society.”
He said the anti-corruption fight was key to restoring the moral health of Nigeria and freeing the country’s enormous resources for urgent socio-economic development.
The president assured that in fighting corruption, his government would adhere strictly to the rule of law, appealing to the judiciary again to join the fight.
He said the Ministry of Agriculture and the Central Bank of Nigeria had been mobilised to encourage local production of rice, maize, sorghum, millet and soya beans, with a view to achieving domestic self-sufficiency in these staples by 2018.
He said: “Already, farmers in 13, out of 36 states are receiving credit support through the Central Bank of Nigeria’s Anchor Borrowers Programme. This year, Kebbi State alone is expected to produce 1million tonnes of locally grown rice, thanks to a favourable harvest. As part of the 13 states, Lagos and Ogun are also starting this programme. Rice alone, for example, costs Nigeria $2 billion to import.
“The country should be self-sufficient in basic staples by 2019. Foreign exchange thus saved can go to industrial revival requirements for retooling, essential raw materials and spare parts. It is in recognition of the need to re-invigorate agriculture in our rural communities that we are introducing the LIFE programme.
“Government recognises that irrigation is key to modern agriculture: that is why the Ministries of Agriculture and Water Resources are embarking on a huge programme of development of lakes, earth dams and water harvesting schemes throughout the country to ensure that we are no longer dependent on rain-fed agriculture for our food requirements.
“In addition, government is introducing a water resources bill, encompassing the National Water Resources Policy and National Irrigation and Drainage Policy to improve the management of water and irrigation development in the country. We are reviving all the 12 River Basin Authorities, namely; Anambra – Imo, Benin – Owena, Chad Basin, Cross River, Hadejia – Jama’are, Lower Benue, Lower Niger, Niger Delta, Ogun – Osun, Sokoto – Rima, Upper Benue and Upper Niger. The intention is eventually to fully commercialise them to better support crop production, aquaculture and accelerated rural development.”
He reiterated his commitment to reviving Lake Chad and improving the hydrology and ecology of the basin, saying, “This will tune in with efforts to rehabilitate the 30million people affected by the Boko Haram insurgency in the Lake Chad basin countries.”
Buhari said the second plank in his government’s economic revival strategy was centred on the Ministry of Power, Works and Housing. The ministry, he said, would lead and oversee the provision of critical infrastructure of power, road transport network and housing development.
He said power generation had steadily risen since his administration came on board from 3,324mw in June 2015, rising to a peak of 5,074 mw in February 2016, which he said was happening for the first time in the nation’s history.
The president, however, regretted that the renewed militancy and destruction of gas pipelines caused acute shortage of gas and constant drop in electricity output available on the grid.
He said: “From June 2015 to September 2016 there has been big improvement in transmission capacity. There were only two system collapses between June and December 2015. But due to vandalism by Niger Delta militants, the overall system suffered 16 system collapses between March and July 2016.”
“In this respect, the Mambilla hydro project, after many years of delay, is taking off this year. Contract negotiations are nearing completion with Chinese firms for technical and financial commitments. The project is to be jointly financed by Nigeria and the Chinese-Export-Import Bank. In addition, 14 solar power projects have had their power purchase agreements concluded. The plan to produce 1,200 megawatts of solar electricity for the country would be realised on schedule.
“The Rural Electrification Agency’s projects needing completion are provided for in the 2016 budget. Bringing electricity to rural areas will help farmers, small scale and cottage industries to integrate with the national economy.”
Buhari disclosed that N720.5 billion had so far been released for capital projects this year, saying the construction and rehabilitation of roads had taken off.
“The sum of N12bn was allocated to this sector in the 2015 budget, but it was not enough to even pay interest on outstanding claims. Notwithstanding the budgetary constraints, the current budget allocated N240bn for highway projects against N12bn in 2015,” he said.
“On railways, we have provided our counterpart funding to China for the building of our standard gauge Lagos-Kano railway. Meanwhile, General Electric is investing $2.2billion in a concession to revamp, provide rolling stock, and manage the existing lines, including the Port Harcourt-Maiduguri line. The Lagos-Calabar railway will also be on stream soon,” he added.
He further stated that his administration had initiated the national housing programme, saying: “In 2014, N400m was voted for housing. In 2015, there was nothing. Our first budget this year is devoting N35.6bn. Much of the house building will be private sector-led, but government is initiating a pilot housing scheme of 2,838 units, uniformly spread across the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
The president expressed delight that abroad, Nigeria’s standing had changed beyond belief in the last 18 months.
“We are no longer a pariah state. Wherever I go, I have been received with un-accustomed hospitality. Investors from all over the world are falling over themselves to come and do business in Nigeria. This government intends to make business environment morefriendly because we cannot develop ourselves alone.
“All countries, no matter how advanced, welcome foreign investments to their economy. This is the essence of globalisation, and no country in the 21st century can be an island. Our reforms are, therefore, designed to prepare Nigeria for the 21st century,” the president stated.