By Garba Shehu
President Muhammadu Buhari marks the age of 79 on Friday 17, without the joy of being with the family and the country he governs, seeking to maximize bilateral benefits in critical areas of Nigeria’s safety, survival and economic development in a distant country, Turkey.
As President in the last six years, he has had several achievements to his credit. But there are also challenges that need to be met in the balance of 15 months before he leaves office upon the completion of two terms in office.
As with all the countries around the globe, the coronavirus pandemic has thrown the biggest challenge to the Buhari administration, for the obvious reason that it kept under attack, not only the health of citizens but the economy and environment.
For a country and a continent designated for a world record of positive cases and deaths, yet turning in the lowest in terms of numbers, the explanation our people give here is to say “Thank God,” and they move on.
Nothing wrong with thanking God for everything that happens or does not, for, without His grace, nothing can truly get done (or undone).
But the Almighty uses the instrumentality of humans to get some of these things done.
These last two years, President Buhari led a government that believes in science and in our doctors that put in place an effective mechanism to check the spread of the pandemic and we are where we are today because this dedicated team has responded in the most capable manner any country could ever do.
He gave the experts the latitude of freedom and resources to lead us out of the worst-case scenarios using especially well-thought-out non-pharmaceutical protections and these, in the face of the denial of fair access to vaccines to us by those who make them, have really done us wonders.
Although high figures for active cases, new cases and deaths are rising lately and a fourth wave is being feared in many quarters, the proven competence of our administrators, whose aptitude, agility and appropriate sense of timing have drawn commendation from no less a body than the United Nations gives us the reassuring solace that we will wade through the muddle by getting it right.
Increasing awareness about health and hygiene is helping the country fight the deadly coronavirus disease pandemic.
The campaign against open defecation is catching on in all the states and the only way for the momentum is up and up.
President Buhari was handed an economy in 2015 just on the verge of a recession. It was sluggish due to internal as well as external factors, all these compounded by the fall of oil prices occasioned by global recession.
The new administration surprised itself by pulling the economy out of recession in less than two years.
Just as this was being celebrated, the COVID-19 pandemic has added to the global economic woes, and there we were, back in recession just as did everyone.
Yet again, the careful handling and management helped us out of a second recession in six months, setting an unbeaten record on how not to suffer a recession.
The current and projected economic growth figures are quite encouraging and if government measures being worked out to curb the existing high food inflation work well as they should; unemployment figures which are officially at 34 percent are being forced downwards through growth, especially in agriculture which President Buhari saw as the silver lining from the very beginning, the economy will continue to recover at a faster rate than projected.
Today, the economy is back on the path of growth after two consecutive recessions and it is noteworthy that the administration’s priority sectors, especially ICT, agriculture and solid minerals continue to lead the growth of the now diversified economy.
Inflation has maintained a downward streak and external reserves have stayed on healthy levels throughout these periods.
Exports have grown and have remained in an upward trajectory in agriculture, raw materials, solid minerals and manufactured goods, setting a clear tone that we are ready for a leading role in the African Continental Free Trade Area (AFCTA), which is the largest world free trade organization.
Agriculture growth could be attributed to bumper harvests in rice and other agricultural communities which have been aggressively promoted by the lending schemes put in place by the Central Bank of Nigeria and other commercial banks, the revival of the fertilizer industry which has seen such production plants grow from only four in 2015 to nearly 40 at the moment, employing thousands directly and indirectly and saving the country USD 200 billion in import bills and more than N60 billion in government subsidies.
However, smuggling across the country’s vast land borders still remains a dark spot amidst the ray of hope for total national food security.
The APC government led by President Buhari has been challenged by the worrisome activities of bandits, now classified as terrorists and the incidents of attacks on communities especially that which pitches farmers against herders.
Both have had the combined effect of disturbing the nation’s social fabric.
The government has a two-pronged strategy in dealing with the clashes: one by addressing immediate security and then dealing with scarcity of land.
Additional police and military units have been deployed to the affected states to address the former. They have already had some noticeable successes against militia groups.
But the increased presence will also enable quicker response to distress calls to prevent attacks before they happen.
The National Livestock Transformation Plan remedies this through a phased transition from herding to ranching.
This shall allow both parties to recognise for themselves the solution, rather than having it thrust upon them.
Notably, a majority of the states-which control land- and the major farmer and herder associations have welcomed the initiative.
Boko Haram which is now reduced to a shell of its former self now holds no territory and not a single militant incident has been recorded for years in the Niger Delta.
Of course, there is still more to do, but the President’s determination is to end all the conflicts to keep citizens safe.
The main reason for the defeat of the PDP in 2015 was corruption.
The present administration at the centre led by President Muhammadu Buhari has so far presented a corrupt-free image of itself.
It has also succeeded in abolishing grand corruption at the top and as attested to by the former American President, Donald Trump, when the President visited him in 2016, the government has significantly brought down the level of corruption in the whole county.
It is, however not lost on anyone that corruption is fighting back.
In this country, politics is often considered as a synonym of corruption.
The previous government came under huge criticism for scandals like that discovered in arms procurements in the office of the National Security Adviser (NSA) which transformed itself into a major source of funding of the PDP; NNPC crude oil thefts, broadband spectrum licensing scandal, oil subsidy scam and so many others but the present government has not faced any such corruption charges.
Minister Diezani Allison-Maduekwe who has so far forfeited cash denominated variously to the Federal Government: USD 153 million, N23.4 billion, and USD 4m and USD 5m in separate counts; a former Director-General of Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) forfeited GBP 578,080, and the Ikoyi Apartment Owners from whom USD43.4m; N23m and GBP 27,800 respectively, were recovered are part of the success of the war against corruption waged by the government.
Also, the hidden owner of the N449.6 million cash, in Lagos, is still unable to step forward to say “it’s mine”; the ex-Naval Chiefs who have forfeited N1.8 billion; the Governors Forum which surrendered N1.4 billion and the major oil marketers, from whom the EFCC has so far seized N328.9 billion.
Banks in the country which equally joined the party while it lasted, gave back N27.7 billion they “ate,” the scion of the Akinjides, Jumokes and her N650 million as well as those scammers in INEC who coughed out N1 billion all tell a story of the success of the war against corruption under Buhari.
But perhaps the greatest game-changer in the war against corruption is the institution of those measures that seek to stop such incidents from happening.
These include the biggest tax revolution since independence, VAIDS, now being implemented, and which many rich citizens are made to pay outstanding taxes; the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS) that has saved the nation billions paid to ghost workers, the Treasury Single Account (TSA) and the Open Treasury Portal tell the citizens where their money is and how it is being spent.
There is also the Whistle Blower policy by which the government is able to recover stolen or concealed assets through information provided by citizens.
This has changed the moral tone of the business transactional space in the country. The whistleblower is entitled to between 2.5% to 5.0 % of the amount recovered.
The government’s moves on Ease of Doing Business have attracted international attention and investment and significantly improved the ranking of Nigeria as a place of doing business, in fact achieving a place in the World Bank’s top 10 reforming economies.
But this is how the World Bank saw Nigeria: “Overall, the 10 top improvers implemented the most regulatory reforms in the area of getting credit, starting a business, dealing with construction permits and paying taxes,’ the report said.
Someone said President Buhari should be named as infrastructure President.
Hear the President:
“Infrastructure is vital to economic development. As you are aware, this administration has given special attention to the infrastructural transformation of our country. This is in consonance with the CHANGE philosophy of the administration. Such projects and programmes form part of our contribution to national development, which are tangible for all to see.”
In the last six-and-half years, President Buhari has taken historic decisions which have changed the country, top among which was his signing into law, the Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA) amidst cheers by the Nigerian business community; the Climate Change law and the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA), all of which are now part of our laws.
PIA came after lengthy negotiations with the states, the whole of the oil industry, the oil-producing communities. By taking all of them on board, this success broke a twenty-year jinx.
Yet another jinx broken was the very recent decision for an out-of-court settlement of the dispute involving a businessman and the government of Nigeria that had prevented the take-off of the Mambila Hydro Electric Power Project, a development that may see it leave the drawing boards after nearly 50 years.
On the external front, President Buhari’s towering figure as an honest leader and an international statesman continues to generate a successful run in our foreign relations.
Security and political stability in West Africa have posed a tough challenge for the government of late. Little wonder that the riot act was read by the President at the ECOWAS Summit last weekend in Abuja, warning that constitutional amendments to elongate term tenure, increasingly becoming the norm in the sub-region will continue to fuel instability. It must stop.
In 2015, Presidential candidate Buhari stood on a platform to secure the country, improve the economy and fight corruption and won.
He did again in 2019 and the current challenges facing the country, though not new will only make him give his best for the country.
Politicians seeking political capital in the prevailing security situation in the country and the sections of the media making the problem appear as intractable so as to sell copies have a shock waiting for them because this one is a way President Buhari is determined to win before he leaves office in 2023.
What the President has achieved in the past six and a half years is for the nation and its people.
Sooner than later, the frustrations we face are challenges to be overcome and this period will one day be written as the golden period of Nigeria’s history.
Garba Shehu is Senior Special Assistant to the President, Media and Publicity