The real price of “change the change” campaign by Shehu Garba

The real price of “change the change” campaign by Shehu Garba

 

By Garba Shehu

On Tuesday, May 29, 2018, the Buhari/Osinbajo led government will clock three years in office. With elections less than a year ahead, this period of people-oriented governance has been a great success. The administration has fared very well in various policy fronts. There is a long list of achievements to flaunt.

The popular support for the administration, especially among the poor and disadvantaged is still holding up and is unlikely to significantly wane. In fact trends from our internal polling suggest that this should hold up, or even grow all the way to 2019, the reason being that the ordinary citizens concede it to the president that he is trying to do his best for the country. His concerns for the poor citizens and the nation are among his greatest assets. This is why he has led the country through difficult changes, such as the increase in the pump price of fuel and the landmark steps to stabilize the Naira, at grave risk to political capital, but measures that had become necessary for the benefit of the nation.

The distinguishing characteristic of the administration is its habit of not being bombastic. Look at the simple programme drawn up to celebrate the third anniversary: prayers in mosques on Friday and churches on Sunday; Democracy Day Lecture by Professor Attahiru Jega, erstwhile chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC in the morning of Monday, 28th and a banquet in the evening on Tuesday 29th, at which event the country is also expected to say farewell to the Super Eagles of Nigeria, one of the teams representing Africa in the 2018 World Cup tournament in Russia.

The most telling event of the day is expected to be the broadcast on radio and TV by the President at 7:00 in the morning.

To mark the occasion, some ministers and senior officials of government are expected to be on radio and TV for much of the day, parading what has been achieved by the government in the three years. While the claims will be verifiable, the opposition is expected to continue their political jibes much of it unfortunately, promoting hate and intolerance that does not fit with the traditions of modern democracy.

When they ran the government at the centre, the opposition PDP showed aptitude in only one thing: the toppling of elected state governments using the police and secret service under their control. A five-man legislature met at 6:00 am and “impeached” Governor Dariye in Plateau; 18 members out of 32 removed Governor Ladoja of Oyo from office; in Anambra, APGA’s Governor Obi was equally impeached at 5:00 a.m. by members who did not meet the two-thirds required by the constitution.

His offence was that he refused to inflate the state’s budget. The lawmakers had reportedly met with representatives of the President in Asaba , Delta State and then  accompanied to Awka by heavy security provided by the police Mobile Unit. The PDP President at that time had reportedly told Obi to forget re-election in 2007 if he did not join the PDP because he (the President) would not support a non-PDP member.

In Ekiti, Governor Fayose in his first term faced allegations of financial corruption and murder. Following the failure to heed the instruction of the presidency to impeach only Fayose and spare the deputy, Madam Olujimi, now a senator, the PDP President declared that there was a breakdown of law and order in the state and  declared a state of emergency. He appointed Brig-Gen. Adetunji Olurin (rtd) as the sole administrator of the state on October 19, 2006. In an earlier incident in Anambra, it took an insider collaboration to thwart the unseating of Governor Ngige by a powerful thug sponsored by the PDP administration. The parliament at the centre seized the law-making powers of the Rivers State House of Assembly as a way to save Governor Rotimi Amaechi, the then chairman of the Nigerian Governors Forum from impeachment by the PDP presidency. Thank God for Buhari, none of these absurdities has happened under his watch but the PDP is indicating their boredom with his meticulous observance of the constitution by calling for a return to the old order.

If not for “dry eyes,” as said in our common parlance, what is it that would push this party to write a letter to the United Nations, laying false claims to constitutionality and alleging that democracy is presently under threat?

But then, we all understand that by its tone, this is an angry opposition unhappy about the loss of privileges they desperately want to hang on to, privileges now abolished by the prudent, austere Buhari Administration. The former Minister of Finance, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, shocked the world by the revelation in her new book, titled, Fighting Corruption is Dangerous: The Story Behind the Headlines, that they paid N17 billion bribe to the National Assembly to get them pass the 2015 budget.

President Buhari’s first budget in 2016 was the first year of passing the budget without the bribery of legislators. He came to power to clean up the mess and has so far managed a cleaner government than all of the past administrations.

As we said in the first part of this article, the beneficiaries of the old order have since been complaining that they are being starved. Four more years of Buhari?

If by chance or accident you have a USD 16 billion question hanging on your neck, money large enough to construct the Lagos-Port Harcourt standard gauge railway and the massive Mambila power plant put together without borrowing a kobo, then you see a capacity in the change administration to end the shenanigans and get to the root of what happened with the money in that exercise, what do you do? Most people will say start running, scream it: that this change we voted for has gone too far. Foxy generals don’t wait to be caught.

It is the same thing with the narrative of suffering and hunger in the land, the blame which is unfairly being heaped on this administration. Understood in its proper meaning, it is just a way of saying that the country’s ghastly and complicated corruption industry, which provides inestimable amounts of disposable incomes to public servants and elected officials is being shut down. What government has done in the trade and investment sector, and in other processes of government are illustrative of this. Government has been streamlining systems as a result of which there is transparency and fewer rules. That’s what the ease of doing business is all about, measures that have brought a lot of international compliment to Nigeria and for which there is a Presidential Enabling Business Council. As a result of this work Nigeria moved 24 places on the World Bank ease of doing business rankings, and earned a place on the list of 10 most improved economies in 2017. A prospective investor unjustly denied visa to visit Nigeria by a consular officer in a Nigerian mission can today hop into a plane and obtain his/her visa on arrival. New businesses which took years upon years to register now have a maximum of a 48-hour waiting period to be certified.

“Change the Change,” cries will continue to ring from elected officials and the beneficiaries of the old order who enjoy grinding the ordinary citizens into the dust and denying them access to the basics of government. These are the real losers who are rooting for the reversal of the change.

The Buhari Administration has since 2017 issued five Executive Orders, all of them to enhance the ease of doing business, increase local content and forcing businesses to use trained Nigerians in place of foreign labour and skills. Tell me, will all those who procure and sell expatriate quotas; the ones who bring in substandard furniture and electrical goods; fake drugs and the others engaged in the dumping of goods that threaten local agriculture and industry, not be happy to change the change?

These Executive Orders are already having a positive impact on Nigeria’s business and manufacturing sectors. The “bad” thing about them however is that they have dealt a devastating blow to officialdom, not just one having to do with petty bribes but scams to the tune of billions of Naira that highlight a political-industry nexus which, if not checked, would continue to hold down the economy in an underdeveloped state.

In a country that traditionally plundered its resources and wasted its best opportunities, it is a remarkable departure that this administration continues to do more with fewer resources. Despite the fall in oil price on the global markets and the cut in local output due to sabotage unleashed on the nation’s oil assets, more than N1.2 trillion was released for capital expenditure in the 2016 budget, and 1.476 trillion, so far, in the 2017 budget, making a total of 2.7 trillion (about $9 billion) in two years. This investment has enabled the resumption of work on several stalled projects — road, rail and power projects — across the country. At the same time, savings continue to be recorded with:

Ø Nigeria’s External Reserves doubled from $24 billion in October 2016 to $48 billion at present

 

Ø The Sovereign Wealth Fund seeing inflows of US$500m in 2016 and 2017 (the first inflows since the original US$1bn that established the fund in 2012)

The Buhari Administration has demonstrated a single-minded commitment to upgrading and developing Nigeria’s transport, power and health infrastructure.

In May 2018 the Federal Government launched the Presidential Infrastructure Development Fund (PIDF), under the management of the Nigerian Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA). The PIDF is kicking off with seed funding of $650 million and will soon hit $1 billion.

Priority projects to be funded include the Lagos-Ibadan expressway, the East-West (Lagos-Port Harcourt) expressway, the new Abuja-Kaduna-Kano expressway, the Second Niger Bridge and the Mambila power project.

In March 2018, the NSIA invested US$10m to establish a world-class Cancer Treatment Centre at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), and $5m each in the Aminu Kano University Teaching Hospital and the Federal Medical Centre, Umuahia, to establish modern diagnostic centres. These centres will be completed before the end of 2018.

It is also noteworthy that in 2017, the Buhari administration invested N127 billion in the transport sector, N130 billion  in agriculture & water sector and N325 billion in power, works & housing sectors compared with the then Federal Government in 2014 that spent a paltry N14 billion   on transport, N34 billion on agriculture & water and N106 billion  on power, works & housing.

Road projects are on-going across every State of the country; many of these projects had been abandoned in recent years because of mounting debts owed by the Federal Government to contractors.

Our predecessors in office made a lot of political capital out of the fact that they are from Niger Delta and had the exclusive right to properly handle the affairs of the region. As it turned out, this was a big, big swindle as nothing came out of it. Money came; money went and passed through Niger Delta with nothing to show for it.

The Buhari administration’s ‘New Vision for the Niger Delta’ brings together a robust set of promises, solutions, targets and initiatives aimed at ensuring that the people of the Niger Delta benefit maximally from the region’s oil wealth.

The New Vision offers a detailed response to the 16-point Demand Agenda submitted to President Buhari by the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) in November 2016. Tangible results of the New Vision so far include:

Ø Take-off of the Nigerian Maritime University in Okerenkoko, Delta State. The University was granted approval in January 2018 by the National Universities Commission (NUC) to commence undergraduate degree programmes effective 2017/18 session, and academic activities on April 12, 2018

 

Ø In 2017, President Buhari had approved an increase in the take-off grant allocated to the Maritime University from N2 billion earlier announced, to N5 billion. Similarly, in November 2017, an additional N1 billion was approved by the President to support essential infrastructure works and staff recruitment in the University.

 

Ø $170m seed funding for the Ogoni Clean Up, in an Escrow Account established for that purpose. The Escrow Agreement Signing ceremony took place in April 2018.

 

Ø Approval by President Buhari for an additional N35 billion for the 2016 budget of the Presidential Amnesty Programme

 

Ø Approval for the establishment of Modular Refineries across the nine States of the Niger Delta – one such refinery has been commissioned and two others will be completed by the end of 2018

 

Ø Resumption of construction work on abandoned projects across the Niger Delta, including the all-important East-West Road.

 

On agriculture, even our worst critics will [reluctantly] accept that the agricultural revolution is real. A food importing nation spending more than one trillion Naira annually, in the past, on food imports is now proudly producing nearly all that is needed to take care of herself. The Anchor Borrowers Programme (ABP) of the Central Bank of Nigeria has substantially raised local production of rice, yielding from 2-3 tonnes per hectare to as high as 5 – 6 tonnes per hectare), and produced a model agricultural collaboration between Lagos and Kebbi States.

Between 2016 and 2018, eight new rice mills have come on-stream; and Nigeria’s paddy production and productivity has doubled compared to 2014 levels. Nigeria’s milled rice production has increased from 2.5MT to about 4MT, and rice exports from Thailand to Nigeria dropped from 1.23 million MT in 2014 to 23,192 MT as of November 2017.

The Presidential Fertilizer Initiative (which includes a partnership with the Government of Morocco, for the supply of phosphate), has resulted in the revitalization of 14 blending plants across the country, with a total installed capacity in excess of 2 million MT. The benefits include annual savings of US$200 million in foreign exchange, and N 60 billion annually in budgetary provisions for fertilizer subsidies. The Scheme has also made it possible for farmers to purchase fertilizer at prices between 30 to 100 per cent cheaper than previously bought.

Through agriculture, millions of our citizens, especially the unemployed youths are being brought into the growth trajectory.

 

EVER SEEN A LYING PASTOR?

“Pastor” Reno Omokri is forcing me to do what I don’t do. I don’t react to published criticisms. I have spent my entire career in the media and as one who criticizes others; you must be ready to take criticism.

This is about exposing a liar masquerading as a pastor. By the way, I have known and worked with exemplary pastors who are decent and from whom you learned more of the etiquette of truth telling.

Take for example Pastor Emeka Izeze and his brother, Pastor Ifeanyi, or his friend, Pastor Segun Babatope. And lately, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, the Vice President and Pastor Femi Adesina.

For those Reno tried to mislead, yes it is a fact that I worked in the media office of a PDP administration. Not for five years as the new-day pastor published but only for six months at which point it was announced on NTA news, to my surprise, that my letter of resignation had been accepted when I hadn’t written any. I learned of course that I was fired because the head of the country at that time, who believed that every published criticism was sponsored by an insider, read the weekly magazine, The News, and didn’t like what was written about him.

Another point the “Pastor” keeps making is that he was my colleague at that time. No, he wasn’t. His boss was. The Reno I knew was a Personal Assistant (PA) to a Principal Officer like me. He didn’t attend meetings and didn’t receive official briefings as we did but ran errands for his boss.

Not being a principal officer by status, he could not have had an office opposite my own. He may, however, have perched on a stool in one of those offices but I didn’t take particular notice of which one. He was, however, very personable at that time.

“Pastor” Reno lied by calling me an AGIP – meaning an unprincipled person ready to serve any government in power. The period he was referring to was one in which my boss ran into bad political weather and some of us around him were scapegoated. I was locked in DSS detention many times, my houses in Kano and Abuja broken into and valuables, including cash some of which were never returned were seized. I was going to court for two years and for the most part of which I didn’t have a passport. In the course of that trial, the judge presiding called back my lawyers, Niyi Akintola, SAN and Rickey Tarfa, SAN, after an adjournment to say that “I didn’t mean that he should be kept in DSS detention. I said he should be taken to Kuje Prison,” and that’s where I was kept. Under detention in the DSS I was stripped down to the pants and photographed head to toe. All that didn’t make one to capitulate.

When they lost to Muhammadu Buhari in the party primaries, the candidates in that race, Governor Rabi’u Musa Kwankwaso, Waziri Atiku Abubakar, Rochas Okorocha and Sam Nda-Isaiah surrendered their media assets to the winner who had the grace to ask me to lead the media team. When we won, he (then President-elect Buhari) invited me to serve as one of his two spokespersons and I pledged 100 per cent loyalty to him and that’s where I am. This cannot be AGIP by any standards.

Reno should stop lying, if only to help the pastoral calling to retain its good name. Otherwise he should quit the ministry.

 

Garba Shehu is Senior Special Assistant to the President (Media & Publicity)

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