The commemoration of the first anniversary of the Muhammadu Buhari administration kicked off monday in Lagos with a town hall meeting that had six ministers in attendance.
Moderated by the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the ministers used the occasion to review the key programmes of the administration within the context of the current plight and expectations of Nigerians.
Other ministers present at the town hall meeting, which is the first in a series of others that would be held across the six geopolitical zones of the country, were the Ministers of Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola; Foreign Affairs, Mr. Geoffrey Onyema; Transportation, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi; Industry, Trade and Investment, Mr. Okechukwu Enelamah; and the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu.
Aside from using the occasion to give the scorecards of their respective ministries, the ministers also used the event that was attended by Nigerians from all walks of life to plead for patience with the government.
Speaking on the essence of the interactive gathering, Mohammed said the event was not a fix-it measure but was an opportunity for Nigerians to air their views on the process of governance and created an opportunity for those in authority to meet the populace directly.
He also informed his audience that the federal government has domiciled over N2 trillion in the Treasury Single Account (TSA) since the enforcement of the policy, reported the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN).
“This administration decided to plug all financial loopholes through the Treasury Single Account (TSA), into which over N2 trillion has accrued so far.
“Funds that ordinarily would have gone into private pockets are now finding their way into the public treasury, to be used for the benefit of all.
“Also, about 36,000 ghost workers have been discovered and weeded out, saving the government millions of naira,” the minister said.
According to him, the 2016 budget will different from others as capital expenditure was increased by this administration to 30 per cent.
He said: “Beyond that, there are six social intervention areas that will directly touch the lives of millions of citizens and lift them out of poverty.”
Mohammed noted that 500,000 graduates would be employed and trained as teachers, added that 370,000 non-graduates (artisans, technicians) would be trained and employed, while one million people (farmers, market women, etc.) would be granted loans to set up small businesses.
He also noted that there would be conditional cash transfers to the most vulnerable people; a school feeding programme targeting 4.5 million school children; as well as ursaries/scholarships for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) students.
He urged all Nigerians to rise and be part of the war against corruption, stating: “All of us must be part of the war. It is not Buhari’s war. It is not APC’s war. It is Nigeria’s war of survival and defeat will only sentence all of us and our generations yet unborn into perpetual penury.
“Our nation’s economy or whatever is left of it, poses a great challenge. For one, we have lost a sizeable chunk of our earnings to the massive crash in the price of oil.
“Think about this, if you lose 70 per cent of your monthly salary, your life can never be the same again.”
He noted that at its worst, oil crashed from over 100 dollars to about 30 dollars a barrel.
“It (oil) has recently inched up to about 40 dollars per barrel but that is still very low, compared to a high of over 100 dollars per barrel. For a mono-product economy, this is nothing short of disaster,” the minister said.
In his remarks, Fashola blamed the inability of the federal government to fix bad roads across the country on the non-passage of the 2016 budget, noting that the delay in signing the budget was affecting plans to repair dilapidated roads across the country.
“There is a plan to deal with the road challenge, but unfortunately as I speak, there is no budget. Those of us that are tuned to public service will understand that budget is the article of faith; without appropriation, you can’t spend money,” Fashola said.
The minister also said the 5,000MW of electricity currently being generated was inadequate to address the nation’s power problems, adding however that the problems could be surmounted.
According to him, Nigeria does not generating sufficient power to go round its 170 million people, but promised that efforts were being made by Buhari’s administration to deliver sustainable power.
“I will summarise the power issue simply in one word: there is insufficient power; 5,000MW for 170 million people is just not enough. The solution is delivering more power on an incremental and sustained basis,” he said.
“As far as roads are concerned, especially for road workers, road transporters and the unions, it is ultimately an index of doing business. The cost of transportation affects how cheaply or expensive food reaches the table; how efficiently services are delivered,” he added.
“If you just throw back a little bit, this country earned $100 per barrel of crude oil for a decade; other countries earned that kind of money. Are we as competitive as they were, or as they have become? Clearly, we have not spent our money wisely. Otherwise, we shouldn’t have broken roads; otherwise, we should have more power,” Fashola explained.
Fashola argued that the country cannot continue to solve a 66-year old problem with old methods.
On housing, the minister said standardising housing in the country was a way of starting the country’s industrialisation.
“Housing is perhaps my toughest challenge right now but we are close to delivering a standardised model,” he added.
“As far as housing is concerned, that is my most difficult responsibility. But there is a template I have experienced, with which to move from. There have been some interesting housing initiatives in the past, by Lateef Jakande, by Shagari, by Gemade, who is now a senator, but have they been sustained?
“Clearly we have had starts and stops, because there are no housing models that we can say, ‘This is the Nigerian home’. We are trying to develop models that address cultural issues, because it is one thing building houses and it is another thing to get people to live and own them,” Fashola explained.
“We are here because we care; we believe this job can be done; we believe the right to know is very important in a democracy,” Fashola added.
Kachikwu, in an elaborate assessment, highlighted the efforts of the present administration to end the perennial scarcity of petrol.
Kachikwu said the Buhari-led government had reduced a lot of excesses within the oil and gas sector with losses at the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) dropping significantly between August 2015 and January 2016.
According to him, the country was close to ending the era of subsidy payments, while making sure the refineries would commence production shortly.
Kachikwu appealed to Nigerians to be patient and hopeful, stressing that a lot was being done to address the current challenges in the oil industry.
He however raised the alarm that some of those efforts were being sabotaged by private interests, and appealed to Nigerians to be instruments of change and to continue to support the Buhari-led administration.
Before he ended his presentation, Kachikwu proceed to administer an oath of loyalty to change. He asked everyone at the town hall meeting stand up and repeat after him:
“I am a Nigerian. There is a reason why God made me a Nigerian. I have a stake in this country. I have the skills and determination, the focus and belief in my capacity, to be the best in what I do, and to help this country change and make progress. Today! This day! This moment! I commence to be an instrument of change and to work hard with my brothers and sisters to move this country forward. So help me God. Thank you.”
In his speech, Enelamah said without infrastructure, no country would be industrialised, stressing that that the country needed to create long-term institutions to sustain the march towards industrialisation.
He said the federal government has commenced the reactivation of Nigeria Industrial Revolution Plan (NIRP) initiated by Goodluck Jonathan administration, in order to reposition industries in the country.
He also stressed that Buhari had given the ministers the mandate to deliver on the follow up on the trip by the president to China early this month.
According to him, diplomatic relations between Nigeria and China started in 1971, adding that China is Nigeria’s biggest trading partner with over $15 billion in trade.
Enelamah, who restated that Nigeria attracted $6 billion in new investments from the Chinese trip, added that it takes only one committed generation to rebuild and make a country and people prosperous.
“While we were there, the president met with all the key citizens, starting from the president to the premier and some of the other key people in China.
“Why this trip is important is that the president was able to go with a number of governors, ministers and several businesses; over 200 Nigerian businesses actually came on this trip.
“The Nigerian government also acknowledges that there’s much Nigeria can learn from China. For example, we view with admiration, what China has accomplished by lifting hundreds of millions of its people out of poverty over the cause of just one generation.
“It has been said that it takes only one committed generation to rebuild a country, why can’t it be this generation? China has done it; Nigeria can do it,” Enelemah said.
Amaechi, in his remarks at the town hall meeting, warned that Nigerians should expect pain and demolition as he seeks to bring development the transport sector.
Amaechi reminded those present that the reason they voted for “change” was because of the extreme difficult they had experienced and the only solution was to change the government and bring in a new set of government officials to ensure that you and they could eat.
He told the audience that although the change desired by Nigerians could not possibly happen in just one year, they would soon start to see an improvement in the transportation sector, as a lot of work was going on in the background.
He blamed past administrations for failing to construct rail lines, saying: “The only place they tried a bit was with the one from Kaduna to Abuja, which is yet to be completed and we are working extremely hard to ensure that between June and July, we will commercialise that rail line and it will start services.
“That will reduce the challenges of production to convey goods and services between Kaduna and Abuja.”
On the Lagos-Kano rail line, he said: “Imagine that work starts on that rail line now, how many jobs will we create?
“And I can assure you that by God’s grace, before the end of the year, we will commence work on the Lagos-Kano rail line.”
Amaechi also pledged to work with the private sector to complete the Itakpe-Warri rail line, which has been under construction for 32 years.
“There’s a rail line most Nigerians can’t remember easily, the Itakpe-Warri rail line. For 32 years now, Nigeria has been struggling to construct it. The ministry has decided to concession it out now,” he said.
“We have distanced the federal government from the project and we are negotiating with a Chinese company that intends to take that rail line with theAjaokuta steel plant. They will carry it on from Itakpe down to Abuja and down to Warri seaport.”
All these developments, he said, would be accompanied by pain for the people.
“Know that this is development, because when we come, don’t forget there will be pain,” he said.
“There will be demolition of houses. If we don’t demolish, then there will be no rail lines.
“You don’t expect that I will come from Ibadan to Tin Can and I will not touch some houses. I am just saying this, so that when we begin to approach you to negotiate for you to shift the house a bit, just allow the rail line pass through,” he said.
On aviation, he mentioned a few airports where new terminals were under construction. “As you hit us, we hit the contractors,” he added.
“Aviation is not only about creating terminals, aviation is the ability to leave Lagos and get to Abuja safely. Before, communication was not easy. But now, you can ask the pilots, they communicate easily and freely; this means we have things under control.”
On maritime, he said: “Maritime is very challenging; too many interest groups are found in the maritime sector.
“The president has kindly agreed for me to undetake a performance audit. We want to understand what is going on in the maritime sector: why are we not making the kind of money we can make in maritime sector?
“Why is the maritime sector not funding the economy like other parts of the world? All this we will be able to answer when the performance audit is completed.”
Also, Onyema, the foreign affairs minister, defended the numerous overseas trips embarked upon by Buhari, saying they were carefully selected in line with certain priorities and the development objectives of the country.
He said the president was not embarking on the trips just for the fun of it, insisting that some of them were already yielding results.
“When the president assumed office, the problem at that time was how to get the confidence of neighbouring countries to support the war on terror.
“So what the President did was to travel to Chad, Cameroun and other neighbouring countries to seek a joint coalition, and now we can all see the results the country is recording against Boko Haram,” he said.
The minister also said some of the president’s trips to certain Western countries were at the invitation of these nations because they were impressed with Buhari’s credentials and goodwill.
Onyema listed the United States, the United Kingdom and France as some of the countries whose leaders invited Buhari, based on his goodwill.
Onyeama also said the president’s recent trip to China was to attract the much-needed investments in agriculture, solid minerals, and other important sectors of the economy.