President Goodluck Jonathan Monday took stock of what has been achieved within one year of his administration. His conclusion: Nigeria is making progress in spite of the numerous challenges confronting her.
A major highlight of his address to mark Democracy Day was the renaming of the University of Lagos after the late Bashorun MKO Abiola, the acclaimed winner of annulled June 12, 1993 election, who died in military custody while trying to claim the mandate.
The school will now be known as the Moshood Abiola University of Lagos, although students of the institution protested the name change immediately after the broadcast.
Jonathan identified the problems of the country as insecurity, unemployment, lack of will to develop the potentials which abound in the country, insatiable appetite for imported good "and the propensity of few of the elite class to resort to foul language and violence in their quest for power".
But he assured Nigeria that the country was being steered in the right direction.
He gave a sector-by-sector assessment of economy, promising that in no distant time, visible changes that will touch on the life of the average Nigerian would be felt.
The president said the credit rating of the country has been stable in the face of global downturns which has adversely affected other economies.
He said for the first time in Nigeria, the external reserves this month hit an all time high of $37.02 billion while commitments to foreign direct investment into the country have hit N6.6 trillion which described as an indication of the confidence that investors globally have in the economy.
“There are challenges, yes, but we are working hard to address those challenges. And, by God’s grace, we will succeed. My confidence is bolstered by the results which we have achieved in different sectors within the last twelve months. Our democracy is stable. Its foundation is strong and firm. Its future is bright.
“We need a lot more introspection, even as we look forward. We must take steps to heal the wounds of the past and work together, as a people with a shared destiny under one flag. We must strengthen our collective memory, draw strength from our history, and build bridges of unity to take our country to greater heights,” Jonathan charged.
He noted that his administration was strengthening agencies to fight corruption and had already moved to amend the laws to enable them discharge their functions with more effect, adding that checks instituted by his administration had led to saving N100 billion from wasteful spending while efforts are on to sustain the fight.
On the ports and business environment, Jonathan said that reform has led to reduction of agencies at the ports from 14 to seven while new measures have led to reduction in the time goods were cleared from months to seven days.
He added that the aim was to attain 48 hours clearing period which was the global standard. The ports, he saidd, now work 24 hours a day.
“I want to reassure all Nigerians that this administration remains committed to waging a sustained battle against the menace of corruption. In the last one year, we have taken specific steps to reduce opportunities and avenues for corruption, and to strengthen the capacity and integrity of our institutions. For example, our ports reform programme has reduced the number of agencies at the ports which hitherto frustrated the speedy clearance of goods at the ports.
We have also cleared the stretch of trailers and lorries blocking the Apapa Expressway. We have put an end to the fertilizer and tractor scam that once dominated the agricultural sector. Our review of the pension payment system has also blown the whistle on corrupt practices which are now being addressed.
“Within the last one year, we set up a committee to identify leakages and waste in the Ministries, Departments and Agencies. I am confident that the implementation of the recommendations of that committee will help to eliminate corruption channels within the system, and improve the efficiency of the public service. In January, we announced a policy of deregulation in the downstream sector, but this was misunderstood by naysayers and reduced narrowly to a fuel subsidy removal initiative, whereas the policy was designed to completely eliminate the grand corruption in the downstream sector, and create the necessary incentives for private sector investment.
“We have strengthened the leadership of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC). Both agencies are being re-positioned for more effective service delivery. We will continue to strengthen the law enforcement and anti-corruption agencies for optimal performance. We will also need the support of our courts. The courts have to do more,” he explained.
Jonathan who paid tributes to the Nigerian military for subjugating themselves to civil authority unlike in some smaller African countries which has now seen to an unbroken 13 years of civil rule and a further proof of the confidence in democracy in spite of the perceived differences.
In an apparent justification of the naming of University of Lagos after Abiola, he said: “When General Abdusalami Abubakar handed over the baton of authority to President Olusegun Obasanjo, in 1999, it was a turning point for Nigeria. We did not arrive at that turning point by accident.
Many Nigerians laid down their lives for the transition to democracy to occur. Some were jailed. Media houses were attacked and shut down. But the people’s resolve was firm and unshakable.
This is what we remember. This is what we celebrate. On this day, I recall especially the martyrdom of Chief M. K. O. Abiola, whose presumed victory in the 1993 Presidential election, and death, while in custody, proved to be the catalyst for the people’s pro-democracy uprising. The greatest tribute that we can pay to him, and other departed heroes of Nigeria’s democracy, is to ensure that we continue to sustain and consolidate our democratic institutions and processes, and keep Hope alive.”
He appealed to Nigerians to have faith in his leadership as he was committed to making the necessary changes that will turn the fortunes of Nigeria, pointing out that he promised Nigerians free and fair elections in 2011 and achieved it which had repositioned the country in the comity of nations and will likewise deliver on any of the promises he has made to the nation.
On the remaining leg of addressing electoral violence, he said his cabinet had taken decisions on the recommendations of the White paper on the matter and will soon expedite action on Electoral Offences Tribunal as a way to check the violence which attends elections.
On the security challenges, he said things took the nation by surprise but stated that he has built and will continue to improve the security infrastructure of the country so that the security agencies would be better able to deal with the situation, adding: “I want to reassure you that we are making progress. But we can also do a lot more. We must. And we will.”
He enumerated measures he is taking on the economic front, particularly reforms in the agricultural sector where he aims to make Nigeria not only self sufficient in food production but as net exporter of finished and processed agricultural good.
“Today, progress has been made. The country’s credit rating is positive, in contrast with many nations being downgraded. In 2011, our economy grew by 7.4 per cent. As at mid-May 2012, our foreign exchange reserves had risen to $37.02 billion, the highest level in 21 months. We have stabilized and improved our fiscal regime. We brought the fiscal deficit down to 2. 85 per cent of GDP from 2.9 per cent in 2011. We reduced recurrent expenditures from 74 per cent to 71% and reduced domestic borrowing from N852 billion in 2011 to N744 billion in 2012. We cut out over N100 billion of non-essential expenditure and increased our internally generated revenue from N200 billion to N467 billion.
“For the first time in over a decade, we now have a draft Trade Policy which provides a multi-dimensional framework to boost our trade regime and facilitate the inflow of investments. We have generated over N6.6 trillion worth of investment commitments. The total value of our trade is also much higher than the value estimated the previous year due to deliberate government policies. To facilitate the ease of doing business in Nigeria, we have a policy in place to make visa procurement easier for foreign investors, with safeguards to prevent abuse.
“The goal of our administration is to ensure that every Nigerian can find gainful employment. Given my dissatisfaction with the prevailing unemployment situation in the country, our administration has embarked on an ambitious strategy of creating jobs and job-creators through the launch of several initiatives mainly targeted at the youths and women.
“In October 2011, we launched the Youth Enterprise with Innovation in Nigeria Programme, designed to encourage entrepreneurship and provide grants for small and medium scale enterprises. Over 1,200 Nigerian youths have benefitted from this initiative.
We have also launched the Public Works Women and Youth Empowerment Programme, which is designed to employ 370, 000 youths per annum, with 30 per cent of the jobs specially reserved for women. Let me make it clear here that our YouWIN programme is designed to nurture and mentor young entrepreneurs to become major players, employers and wealth creators in business.
“We are gradually reducing the footprints of government in business activities through privatization, liberalization and deregulation based on our recognition that the private sector should be the engine of growth in our economy. To ensure that the private sector is well positioned for this task, our administration has embarked on key structural reforms in the Power Sector and at the Ports.
“To improve reliable power supply, our administration is judiciously implementing the Power Sector Roadmap, which is at an advanced stage, to fully privatize power generation and distribution while reducing the cost of electricity to rural households and the urban poor.
“The commitment of this Administration to the provision of regular and uninterrupted power supply remains strong and unwavering. We all agree that adequate and regular power supply will be the significant trigger to enhance this nation’s productive capacity and accelerate growth. It is for this reason that I remain optimistic that the reforms we have initiated, the decisions we have taken so far and the plans we intend to faithfully prosecute will yield the desired results,” he said.
While insisting on the privatisation of the power sector, he reasoned that it was right for them to repair all the power stations and the transmission lines before handing over to private investors through strict adherence to the privatisation policy of the regime.
“Our approach is two-pronged: First, is the immediate repair of power plants, as well as transmission and distribution infrastructure in the short term. The second is the building of institutions and the provision of enablers to attract investors. We have revived and are accelerating the completion of the National Integrated Power Projects. We are also building about 4000km of transmission lines and hundreds of substations.
We have completed the design for the construction of both Mambilla and Zungeru Hydro power plants which will add about 3, 000 MW to the national grid.
“By mid 2010, the national power output was about 2, 800 MW. By the end of 2011, we reached a peak of more than 4, 000 MW. A National Gas Emergency Plan has also been launched to redress the problem of gas supply which arose essentially due to poor planning.
“For long-term power availability, we have strengthened a number of key institutions such as the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission, the Bulk Trader, the National Power Training Institute of Nigeria, and others. We are also working with the World Bank to provide guarantees for gas and power providers. The signing of MOUs with World Leaders in power equipment – General Electric of USA and Siemens of Germany as well as US and China Exim Banks for financial investment, is a clear indication of the level of confidence which the world investment community has in our power sector road map.
“In the Oil and Gas Sector, our Administration has charted a new course that will ensure enduring transparency and accountability. We are re-drafting the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) to ensure it meets the aspirations of all Stakeholders given the current realities and future expectations in the global energy landscape. Work on the PIB will be concluded in June 2012 and formally submitted to the National Assembly. Additionally, Special Task Forces dealing with Governance and Control, Petroleum Revenue and National refineries are finalizing their work to ensure probity across the oil and gas sector, and self-sufficiency in refined petroleum products.
“In the Downstream Sector, the Nigerian Content Development Act, since inception in 2010, has boosted the local production of line pipes, in-country fabrication tonnage and engineering support services. As a result, retained in-country spend has grown from approximately US $1bn to a current estimate of US$4bn, and over US$3 billion Foreign Direct Investment has been brought in for upgrading and building new yards, altogether generating over 120,000 direct and indirect jobs,” he explained.
He said the policy of the agriculture was “directed at promoting local production, substituting for imported foods, and adding value to our locally produced crops. We are recording successes already. Government’s policy to ensure rice self-sufficiency by 2015 is already paying off. New rice mills are being established by the private sector to mill locally produced rice.
Ebony Agro Industries located in Ikwo Local Government Area of Ebonyi State has rolled out its high quality parboiled rice. In Kano, Umza rice mill has taken off and can hardly meet demand, while in Benue State Ashi rice has hit the market. Consumers are buying more of Abakaliki and Ofada rice too”.
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