Thursday, 20 December 2018

We’ve made progress on all fronts, Buhari tells Nigerians

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Global and local challenges nothwithstanding, Nigeria has made progress on many fronts, President Muhammadu Buhari said yesterday.

Against the backdrop of insinuations of non-performance and negative narratives on economic development, the President insisted that, through perseverance, his administration lifted the economy from recession waters. The economy, he noted, has enjoyed six quarters of growth after its recovery from recession.

The President spoke at the presentation of the N8.83 trillion 2019 Appropriation to the joint session of the National Assembly in Abuja yesterday.

He was hacked by some lawmakers who he advised to “behave” because the world was “watching us”. But Buhari remained cool and calm as he read his speech.

He said that contrary to the allegation of bias by the opposition in the allocation and implementation of infrastructural projects, no part of the country was neglected in the distribution of capital projects.

“We have done more work with less resources in agriculture, infrastructure and social investments.  We have built better understanding between the Federal Government and the states on non-partisan lines, in particular, intervening several times to support states to meet their obligations, including the payment of salaries and pensions.

“Sustained development is difficult, if not impossible, in an atmosphere of insecurity and poor governance.  We have therefore made strenuous and successful efforts to overcome the insurgency in the Northeast and to resolve inter-communal misunderstandings elsewhere.

“The last three and a half years have been challenging, both at home and abroad. Commodity prices, both oil and non-oil, have been volatile.  Global trends, be it security, trade or politics, have also been unpredictable. Here in Nigeria, we have had to cope with disruptions in oil production and exports, security challenges and devastating floods.

Weathering the storm

“Through hard work, and by the special grace of God, we have weathered these storms and made progress on many fronts which is why we have cause to be optimistic about the future.

“The economy has recovered from recession and we have had six quarters of growth since then.

“The Federal Government and the National Economic Council (NEC) have been working in a unified and patriotic manner to tackle the underlying causes of tension between pastoralists and sedentary farmers. These conflicts have a long-standing history caused mainly by competition for increasingly scarce resources occasioned by rising population and erratic weather conditions – a product of climate change.”

Buhari praised members of the Armed Forces and Security Services “for their courage, sacrifice and patriotism in protecting our collective safety and security”.

“The Federal Government has also sustained its efforts to fight grand corruption and improve public financial management, and its efforts to improve public financial management through the comprehensive implementation of the Treasury Single Account (TSA), the Government Integrated Financial Management Information System (GIFIS) and the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS),” he said, adding:

“You will also recall that as part of our commitment to improved governance, we joined the Open Government Partnership (OPG) in 2016 with the aim of enhancing public service delivery, promoting business opportunity, enhancing government efficiencies, preventing corruption and building trust in government.

“We remain committed to these, and other institutional reforms that will enhance transparency and accountability in public service delivery.”

Economic gains

The President listed “several successes in economic management”.  Real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth stood at 1.81 per cent in the third quarter of 2018 compared to 1.17 per cent in the third quarter of 2017.

“We have had a sustained accretion to foreign exchange reserves from a low of $28.57 billion in May 2015 to $42.92 billion by mid-December 2018.  This has contributed to exchange rate stability and will provide a buffer against any unanticipated external shocks. Inflation has also declined from a peak of 18.72 per cent in January 2017 to 11.28 per cent in November this year,” he said.

Buhari said: “In the area of trade, Nigeria has moved from a deficit to surplus in our trade balance. As at the third quarter of 2018, the trade balance was a surplus of N681.27 billion representing a significant improvement from the deficit of N290.1 billion in 2016.

“This reflects the rebound in crude oil exports, increased non-oil exports and a reduction in the importation of food and items that can be produced locally.

“Foreign capital inflows, including direct and portfolio investments, also responded to improved economic management. Capital importation to Nigeria in the third quarter of 2018 stood at $2.86 billion, which is a 56.7 percent increase compared to the corresponding period in 2016.

“Trading is a significant contributor to our economic development but we must continue to focus on strengthening actual production. From farmers to miners to processors to digital entrepreneurs to players in the entertainment industry, all hands must be on deck to ensure the country succeeds.”

According to him, “crude oil production continues to increase steadily towards budgetary targets and will receive a further boost when the 200,000 barrels per day Egina oil field starts operations”.

Agric value chain

“In agriculture, we are seeing increased investment across the entire value chain from agricultural inputs to farming and ultimately, food processing,” Buhari said, adding:

“Barely three years ago, Nigeria was spending $5 million dollars a day on rice importation. Today rice imports have virtually stopped. Indeed, we are on course to achieve food security in major staple foods in the not too distant future.

He spoke of “a lot of progress” in “infrastructure development”, stressing: “Our approach was a logical one. We simply prioritised the completion of critical on-going projects over the introduction of new ones.”

“For example, in the Ministry of Water Resources, we identified 116 abandoned or uncompleted projects relating to irrigation, dams, drainage and water supply.

“To date, we have completed and/or commissioned a number of these projects, including: Central Ogbia Regional Water Project, Bayelsa State; Northern Ishan Regional Water Supply Project, Edo State; Sabke Water Supply Project, Katsina State; Takum Water Supply Project, Taraba State; Ogwashi – Uku Dam, Delta State; Shagari Irrigation Project, Sokoto State; Galma Dam, Kaduna State; Mangu Water Supply Project, Plateau State; and Federal University of Agriculture, Makurdi Water Supply Project, Benue State.

“In the railway sector, we completed and commissioned the Abuja-Kaduna Rail Line and the Abuja Metro-Rail Project. Similarly, the previously abandoned Itakpe-Ajaokuta-Warri Rail Line is undergoing test runs and will soon be commissioned.

“We are also on track for the Lagos – Kano rail line as significant progress has been made on the Lagos to Ibadan segment of the project.

“We remain committed to rebuilding and expanding our road network.  In 2018, an additional 1,531 kilometers of roads have been constructed and 1,008 kilometers rehabilitated across the country.

Priority projects

“Priority projects, such as the Abuja – Kaduna – Kano highway, as well as the Second Niger Bridge are well underway through the Presidential Infrastructure Development Fund.

“In every state today, there is a major federal road project going on. For instance, in the Northcentral, long neglected roads like the Ilorin-Jebba Road, a stretch of 93 km that took a number of days to travel has been completed to provide a critical link between the North and South of Nigeria over a few hours.

“We have awarded the dualisation of this road to expand it all the way to Mokwa, as we have done to the Abuja – Keffi-Lafia -Makurdi roads where work recently commenced.  Similarly, work has resumed on the Suleja – Minna road after years of inactivity.”

Buhari listed projects in the Southsouth. He said: “We have recently completed the 60 km section of Alesi to Ugep in Cross River State, and awarded the 72km section from Odukpani Junction to Ugep which will reduce a journey that used to take 3 days a few years back, to 3 hours.

“Work has also commenced on the Calabar – Itu – Odukpani Road that links Akwa-Ibom to Cross River State, as we have started work on the long-neglected Bodo – Bonny Bridge to connect these long separated communities.”

Federal Presence in regions

“In the Southeast, a critical section of Umunya linking Awka to Onitsha, a stretch of 18 kilometers, is being constructed now and one side of it should be ready for use before June 2019. Roads like Arochukwu – Ohafia – Bende are also receiving our attention.

“In the Southwest, long neglected and abandoned roads like the Badagry Expressway have been awarded for construction along with the Apapa – Tin Can Island, Mile 2 – Oworonshoki road to ease the congestion currently being experienced in Lagos, while interstate roads linking Ogun through Ikorodu to Sagamu, and Ipaja to Otta and Abeokuta are being repaired with payment to contractors.

“In the Northwest, we have completed the Sokoto to Tambuwal – Jega Road comprising 135km out of the entire Sokoto to Yauri stretch and sections of Kaduna Eastern bypass and Kano Western bypass are also progressing.

“In the Northeast, we have started work on the long-neglected Mayo – Belwa – Jada Road, and the Gombe – Numan – Jalingo Road and recently awarded the reconstruction of bridges damaged by insurgency.

“In addition, thanks to the N100 billion Sukuk Bond raised in Nigeria, work is on-going in 25 road projects. They incllude: construction of the Oju/Loko-Oweto bridge over River Benue; dualisation of section of Abuja-Abaji-Lokoja Road; dualisation of section of Suleja-Minna Road; dualisation of section of Lokoja-Benin Road (Obajana – Okene); dualisation of section of Kano – Maiduguri Road linking Kano-Jigawa-Bauchi-Yobe; dualisation of section of Kano-Katsina Road; dualisation of section of Kano Western By-Pass; construction of Kaduna Eastern By-Pass; rehabilitation of outstanding section of Onitsha-Enugu Expressway; rehabilitation of Enugu-Port Harcourt Road and the dualisation of a section of Yenegoa Road junction.

“In power, we are working on over 90 transmission projects across the country; major power transmission stations like Mayo Belwa in Adamawa, Ejigbo and Odogunyan in Lagos, Apo in Abuja, Ikot – Ekpene Switching Station Akwa Ibom, Maiduguri in Borno, Damaturu in Yobe have been completed to support electricity transmission.

“For effective delivery to critical areas, we decided that we had to decentralize power supply leveraging off-grid solutions especially solar based systems.  We are pushing more “willing- buyer willing –seller” arrangements. Already, this has brought more reliable off-grid power to markets and economic clusters around the country.

“The projects being implemented right now include the Ariaria Market in Aba, the Sabon Gari Market in Kano, the Sura Shopping Complex in Lagos, to mention a few. Our hope is to roll out such programmes to 300 such economic clusters across the country.

“In addition to economic clusters, we are also looking at rolling out similar off grid solutions to universities and medical centers across the country.

“As we develop our infrastructure and power sector, we have not lost sight of the adverse impact climate change has to our economy, food and national security agenda. “The recent floods, farmer-herdsmen conflict and aggressive desertification are all effects of climate change. We have seen our forests, lakes, arable land and grazing areas gradually disappear over the decades.

“As a government, we took a long term view on tackling the effects of climate change which must be contained and ultimately reversed. We have stepped up our afforestation efforts. In the past two years, we have planted over 2.3 million seedlings in 21 states.

“We also successfully launched the Green Bond which will focus on developing environmentally friendly projects and other green programmes across the country. Nigeria is also actively participating in international efforts to tackle climate change.

Stakeholders’

partnership

“Furthermore, working with key stakeholders, including the National Assembly, state governments and the private sector, we intensified our drive to remove obstacles, reduce processes and lower costs of doing business.

“The fact that over the past three years, Nigeria has gained 24 places in the World Bank Ease of Doing Business rankings is a clear indication that we are moving in the right direction.

“We are confident that improvements arising from on-going work will result in another quantum leap in the 2019 rankings.  The states have also keyed into efforts to improve the business environment, and the sub-national Doing Business Report for Nigeria showed that 32 out of 36 states recorded overall improvement”.

Buhari spoke of efforts made in human capital development through some initiatives to boost the economy through entrepreneurial empowerment

According to him, in line with the commitment of the government to creating a fairer and more inclusive society, efforts were made specifically through the N-Power scheme, 500,000 graduates have been employed to date.

Others, he said,  include: the National Home-Grown School Feeding programme under which 9,300,892 pupils are being fed in 49, 837 schools in 24 states. The programme empowers  96,972 cooks. There is also the Government Enterprise and Empowerment Programme under which 1,378,804 loans have been disbursed to small businesses and farmers in all states including the FCT.

The Presidentr went on: “These are interest-free loans that will be paid back; and 297,973 households in 26 states across the country are benefiting from the Conditional Cash Transfer Programme.”

It was not all kudos. Buhari identified an area of concern, despite “the improved performance of the economy since we started implementing our Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP)”. “That has to do with our unsatisfactory revenue performance, adding:

“Although we have sustained efforts at boosting tax revenues, our progress has been constrained by the relatively low level of growth, having just emerged from recession. This has restrained our tax revenue drive.

“Furthermore, the volatility in oil prices, and disruptions in oil production, delayed our plans to recover past due oil licence and royalty charges as well as restructuring of the Joint Venture Oil Assets.

“As we have returned to the path of growth, I have directed that action on all our revenue initiatives be expedited.

“I have already issued a number of Presidential directives on the disposal of recovered assets, deployment of the National Trade Window as well as the immediate recovery of past-due oil royalties, including by crude seizures, if necessary.

Those who have been asking about the whereabouts of recovered assets got a reply. The President said:

“On asset recovery, in order to put to use for the benefit of all Nigerians monies and assets stolen from the public treasury, we have since the 2016 Budget created a revenue line in the budget for stolen and recovered funds.

“Thus every government project today benefits in one way or the other from recovered looted funds. I have also directed all the relevant authorities to liquidate all recovered, unencumbered assets, such as landed properties, buildings  and vehicles, so that these funds can be available to help in the funding of the budget, particularly the important infrastructure projects.











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