Nigeria president Muhammadu Buhari has said the clamour for restructuring gave some groups which he described as “highly irresponsible” the leeway to call for the nation’s breakup.
He vowed never to allow such happen under him.
Buhari made his position known in a national speech to mark the nation’s 57th independence anniversary on Sunday.
The president said under his watch, Nigeria had witnessed what he called political freedom that saw opposition parties winning elections at the state and National Assembly levels.
He said the growing political development, like all freedoms, was open to abuse, hence the recent development.
He noted that those agitating for a repeat of the nation’s civil war that claimed two million lives were not born by 1967 and had no idea of the consequences of the conflict.
Buhari said he was also disappointed in some community leaders who witnessed the war and still failed to warn their “hot-headed” youths of what the nation passed through.
He reiterated his position that any desired constitutional change should take place in a rational manner only at the national and state Houses of Assembly.
He said the assignment could not be left in the hands of “some lopsided, un-democratic body with a pre-determined set of objectives.”
The president said: “In the past two years, Nigeria has recorded appreciable gains in political freedom. A political party at the centre losing governorship elections, National Assembly seats and even state assemblies to opposition parties is new to Nigeria.
“Added to these is a complete freedom to associate, to hold and disseminate opinions. Such developments clearly attest to the country’s growing political development.
“Recent calls for restructuring, quite proper in a legitimate debate, has let in highly irresponsible groups to call for dismemberment of the country. We cannot and we will not allow such advocacy.
“As a young army officer, I took part from the beginning to the end of our tragic civil war costing about two million lives, resulting in fearful destruction and untold suffering. Those who are agitating for a rerun were not born by 1967 and have no idea of the horrendous consequences of the civil conflict which we went through.
“Government is keeping up the momentum of dialogue with stakeholders in the Niger Delta to keep the peace. We intend to address genuine grievances of the communities.
“Government is grateful to the responsible leadership of those communities and will pursue lasting peace in the Niger Delta.”
Buhari again said in spite of oil prices being an average of $100 per barrel and about 2.1 million barrels a day in the past years, the nation’s wealth was squandered and the country’s social and physical infrastructure neglected.
He added that Nigerians were left with no savings and huge infrastructure deficit.
“The APC government’s rallying cry to restore security, rebalance the economy and fight corruption was not all rhetoric.
“The country must first be secured. The economy must be rebalanced so that we do not depend on oil alone.
“We must fight corruption, which is Nigeria’s number one enemy. Our administration is tackling these tasks in earnest,” he said.
The president highlighted some of the achievements of his administration in the last two years in the areas of security, economy, and the fight against corruption.
He said as the nation entered the second half of his four-year term of office, he intended to accelerate progress and intensify his resolve to fix the country’s challenges and problems.
On security, he said Nigerians must be grateful to the nation’s Armed Forces for rolling back the frontiers of Boko Haram’s terrorism, defeating them and reducing them to “cowardly attacks on soft and vulnerable targets.”
He thanked the country’s neighbours and the international community for the collective efforts to defeat terrorism.
“Government is working round the clock to ensure the release of the remaining Chibok girls, as well as other persons in Boko Haram captivity. Government will continue to support the Armed Forces and other security agencies to fight not only terrorism, but kidnapping, armed robbery, herdsmen/farmers violence and to ensure peace, stability and security in our country,” he added.
On the economy, the president said his government has remained proactive in its diversification policy.
He said the federal government’s Anchor Borrowers Programme, launched in November 2015, has been an outstanding success with N43.92bn released through the CBN and 13 participating institutions.
He also said 200,000 smallholder farmers from 29 states of the federation were benefitting; with 233,000 hectares of farmland being used to cultivate eight commodities, namely, rice, wheat, maize, cotton, soya bean, poultry, cassava, groundnuts and fish farming.
These initiatives, he said, were undertaken in close collaboration with the states.
He commended the efforts of the governors of Kebbi, Lagos, Ebonyi and Jigawa states for their support to the rice and fertiliser revolutions.
He also commended the governors of Ondo, Edo, Delta, Imo, Cross River, Benue, Ogun, Kaduna and Plateau states for their support of the Presidential initiative for palm oil, rubber, cashew, cassava, potatoes and others crops.
Buhari added: “With the abundance of rainfall last year and this year, agriculture has enjoyed divine intervention.
“Since December last year, this administration has produced over seven million 50kg bags of fertiliser. Eleven blending plants with a capacity of 2.1 million metric tons have been reactivated. We have saved $150m in foreign exchange and N60bn in subsidy. Fertiliser prices have dropped from N13,000 to N5,500 per 50kg bag.
“Furthermore, a new presidential initiative is starting with each state of the federation creating a minimum of 10,000 jobs for unemployed youths, again with the aid of CBN’s development finance initiatives.
“Power remains a huge problem. As of September 12, production of power reached an all-time high of 7,001 megawatts. Government is increasing its investment, clearing up the operational and financial logjam bedevilling the industry. We hope to reach 10,000 megawatts by 2020.
“Key priorities include better energy mix through solar and hydro technologies. I am glad to say that after many years in limbo, the Mambilla Power Project has taken off.
“Elsewhere in the economy, the special window created for manufacturers, investors and exporters and foreign exchange requirements has proved very effective. Since April, about $7bn has come through this window alone. The main effect of these policies is improved confidence in the economy and better investment sentiments.
“The country has recorded seven consecutive months of lower inflation, naira rate is beginning to stabilise, appreciating from N525 per $1 in February this year to N360 today. Broad-based economic growth is leading us out of recession.
“Furthermore, in order to stabilise the polity, the Federal Government gave additional support to states in the form of State Excess Crude Account loans, Budget Support Facility, and Stabilisation Fund Release to state and local government as follows: N200bn in 2015; N441bn in 2016; and N1tn in 2017, totalling N1.642tn.
The president added that government’s current N500bn Special Intervention Programme was targeting groups through the Home-grown School Feeding Programme; N-Power job creation to provide loans to small-scale traders and artisans; Conditional Cash Transfer; Family Homes Fund and Social Housing Scheme.
On corruption, Buhari said he was aware that fighting corruption was never going to be a straightforward task.
He said his administration expected corrupt elements to use any weapon to fight back, mainly judicial obstruction and political diversion.
Notwithstanding, he reaffirmed his administration’s determination to eradicate corruption from the nation.
He said the government had empowered teams of prosecutors, assembled detailed databases, and accelerated the recovery of stolen funds.
Buhari listed new institutional reforms to include enforcement of Treasury Single Account, the Whistle-blower Policy, and the Integrated Payroll Personnel and Information System.
Saying there were signs of increasing cooperation from the judiciary in the fight against corruption, he called on the National Assembly to ensure swift passage of anti-corruption laws.
He added: “We have signed multilateral agreements on criminal matters with friendly countries. There are signs of increasing cooperation from the judiciary.
“Recently, the Chief Justice of the Federation directed heads of all our courts of first instance and Appeal to accelerate hearings of corruption cases and dismiss any judicial officers found to have been compromised.
“Justice Salami has just been appointed to chair the Judiciary’s anti-graft committee. Government expects a lot from this committee.
“I commend the National Assembly for refocusing on its oversight committees.
“They should, in addition, ensure swift passage of enabling corruption laws. But fighting corruption is a bottom to top operation.”