President Muhammadu Buhari on Sunday said he will use his age, instinct and experience in fixing Nigeria, as his administration looks forward, rather than backward, in finding the best way out of the economic challenges confronting the country.
He made this known in his Democracy Day speech to commemorate his one year in office.
The President said although the problems facing the nation were due to the mismanagement of past administrations, the world, including Nigeria, faces three major problems of a 70 percent drop in oil prices, slowdown in global growth and normalisation of monetary policy by the United State Federal Reserve.
Speaking on the achievement of his administration vis-à-vis the three campaign promises of tackling insecurity, corruption and fixing the economy, the President said progress was made in the first two areas.
“Huge debts owed to contractors and suppliers had accumulated. Twenty-seven states could not pay salaries for months. In the North-east, Boko Haram had captured 14 local governments, driven the local authorities out, hoisted their flags. Elsewhere, insecurity was palpable; corruption and impunity were the order of the day. In short, we inherited a state near collapse.
“We reinforced and galvanized our armed forces with new leadership and resources. We marshaled our neighbours in a joint task force to tackle and defeat Boko Haram. By the end of December 2015, all but pockets and remnants had been routed by our gallant armed forces. Our immediate focus is for a gradual and safe return of internally displaced persons in safety and dignity and for the resumption of normalcy in the lives of people living in these areas.
“EFCC was given the freedom to pursue corrupt officials and the judiciary was alerted on what Nigerians expect of them in the fight against corruption,” he noted, adding that the Ministry of Information will publish and periodically update information on the state of recoveries made from corrupt persons.
While admitting that there are genuine concerns about the state of the economy, the President enumerated measures taken and those to be taken to aid its recovery.
Government’s plan, he said, is to save as much foreign exchange as possible by first, fixing the refineries and ensuring that the country refines most of the fuel requirements and, second, growing most of our food products here to discourage importation.
He also pointed out that 43,000 ghost workers were identified using the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System, saving the government N4.2 billion monthly, while the implementation of the treasury single account has helped in blocking leakages.
Also, the President announced a N23 billion reduction in official travelling and sitting allowances per annum through the efficiency unit. He added that plans are underway to further reduce the number of government ministries, departments and agencies, all geared toward having a leaner government for effective service delivery.
The President further said: “As well as making savings, we have changed the way public money is spent. In all my years as a public servant, I have never come across the practice of padding budgets. I am glad to tell you now we not only have a budget, but, more importantly, we have a budget process that is more transparent, more inclusive and more closely tied to our development priorities than in the recent past. 30% of the expenditure in this budget is devoted to capital items.”
He also spoke about job creation and how the government intends to take people out of poverty, especially through the budgetary N500 billion social intervention fund.
“We are committed to providing job creation opportunities for five hundred thousand teachers and one hundred thousand artisans across the nation. 5.5 million children are to be provided with nutritious meals through our school feeding programme to improve learning outcomes, as well as enrolment and completion rates.
“The conditional cash transfer scheme will provide financial support for up to one million vulnerable beneficiaries, and complement the enterprise programme – which will target up to one million market women; four hundred and sixty thousand artisans; and two hundred thousand agricultural workers, nationwide. Finally, through the education grant scheme, we will encourage students studying sciences, technology, engineering and maths, and lay a foundation for human capital development for the next generation,” he noted.
President Buhari also announced a N1.6 loan scheme for women, especially in rural areas affected by insurgency and conflicts.
The government, the he explained, is not deterred by renewed attacks by militants in the Niger Delta and assured that those behind the attacks, particularly the sponsors, will be arrested and prosecuted.
“If the militants and vandals are testing our resolve, they are much mistaken. We shall apprehend the perpetrators and their sponsors and bring them to justice.
“The policy measures and actions taken so far are not to be seen as some experiment in governance. We are fully aware that those vested interests who have held Nigeria back for so long will not give up without a fight. They will sow divisions, sponsor vile press criticisms at home and abroad, incite the public in an effort to create chaos rather than relinquish the vice-like grip they have held on Nigeria,” he noted.
The President ended with the release of two of the abducted Chibok school girls, reiterating government’s resolve to secure the release of the rest.
“During the last one year, not a single day passed without my agonizing about these girls. Our efforts have centred around negotiations to free them safely from their mindless captors. We are still pursuing that course. Their safety is of paramount concern to me and I am sure to most Nigerians. I am very worried about the conditions those still captured might be in.
“Today I re-affirm our commitment to rescuing our girls. We will never stop until we bring them home safely. As I said before, no girl should be put through the brutality of forced marriage and every Nigerian girl has the right to an education and a life choice,” he concluded.