*Insists terrorists largely degraded
*Tasks officers on rescue of abducted train passengers
Amid divergent opinions held about the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari in the last seven years, he has personally defended his actions and inactions since assuming power in 2015, saying the country is far better off than he met it on assumption of office.
The President, during an exclusive interview session anchored by Bloomberg, a foreign media organisation, took time to defend his policies as a government. Buhari is currently in the last lap of his administration which comes to an end in May 2023.
In his estimation, indices on corruption, insecurity and economic rejuvenation which formed crux of the administration agenda upon assuming office has been shored up.
He said, “We are leaving Nigeria in a far better place than we found it. Corruption is less hidden for Nigerians feel empowered to report it without fear, while money is returned; terrorists no longer hold any territory in Nigeria, and their leaders are deceased; and vast infrastructure development sets the country on course for sustainable and equitable growth.
“In 2015, Boko Haram held territory the size of Belgium within the borders of Nigeria. Today they are close to extinct as a military force. The leader of ISWAP was eliminated by a Nigerian Air Force airstrike in March.
The jets acquired from the US and intelligence shared by British were not provided to previous administrations and stand as testament to renewed trust re-built between Nigeria and our traditional western allies under my government”.
Commenting on the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and the impact it may have had in his administration and what led to its proscription, Buhari said his administration will go down history to have implemented a solution to decades-long herder-farmer conflicts, exacerbated by desertification and demographic growth.
According to him, the National Livestock Transformation Plan, which promoted ranching as a means to deplete the competition for resources ended the clashes.
“We urge those same international partners to take additional steps costing them nothing, by proscribing another group – IPOB – as a terrorist organisation. Their leadership enjoys safe haven in the West, broadcasting hate speech into Nigeria from London, spending millions lobbying members of the US Congress, and freely using international financial networks to arm agitators on the ground,” he said.
Governors from some individual states have sought to play politics where ranches have been established; but where they have been disputes have dramatically reduced”.
On the economic front, Buhari boasted that his policy formulation has boosted domestic production.
“For years we have been criticised by the likes of the FT, The Economist, and others for supposedly mistaken attempts to de-globalise and re-localize food production and boost manufacturing.
Now with the war in Ukraine breaking global food supply chains “Davos Man” is in retreat as the energy crisis makes countries everywhere think again about energy independence and security.
“We have spent our two terms investing heavily in national road, rail, and transport infrastructure set to unleash growth, connect communities, and lessen inequality. This is structural transformation.
It may not show on standard economic metrics now, but the results will be apparent in good time”.
Again on anti-corruption, Buhari said humongous amounts of money fleeced from the country have been recovered.
He highlighted how the whistleblower policy turned out to be efficient in exposing corrupt minded persons and their stolen loot.
“Starting with our Whistleblowing Policy enacted in my first year in office hundreds of millions in stolen funds have been returned within Nigeria. Working with our international partners, hundreds of millions of various currencies have been returned from abroad – primarily from the UK, US, and Switzerland – and used as social and welfare funds distributed directly to the poorest during the COVID pandemic and the provision of long-delayed infrastructure-roads, bridges, rail, and power.
“As an illustration, monetary recoveries (January-December) 2021 show that more N152 billion has been recovered.
Dollar recoveries for the year amount to over USD 386 million; GBP, more than 1.1 million; Euro, about 157,000; Saudi Riyals about 1.7 million some more in digital and other currencies.
“Those partners refused to return these monies held for decades to previous Nigerian administrations in the certainty they would simply be re-stolen. They changed their approach with us because they knew my administration could be trusted”.
Responding to claims that food inflation rose by double digits since 2015, despite the government’s efforts to boost agricultural production, Buhari said one can only imagine what food inflation would be today had his government not initiated organized programmes to boost domestic production. He, however, lamented that we still do not grow enough domestically.
“Initiatives such as the Nigeria Anchor Borrower’s programme, helping farmers compete against artificially lowered imports has boosted rice production to 9 million metric tonnes in 2021 from around 5.4 million metric tonnes in 2015.
Even in the years of drought, rice production outstripped pre-2015 levels. Imports have fallen to near zero. We are making progress,” he said.
On the near collapse of the energy sector with the national grid always crumbling like a pack of card, Buhari reacted saying “first, we need more input.
Our legislative framework has been a drag. The landmark PIA will bolster input, raise capital, and bring transparency to the system. “
On grid modernization, there are hundreds of ongoing projects and initiatives attracting funding from investors.
Take my Presidential Power Initiative (PPI), a government- to-government initiative between the governments of Nigeria and Germany, with Siemens AG, to upgrade the electricity grid with a $2 billion investment.
“Once signed into law the constitutional amendment bill – recently voted through parliament – will allow state governments to generate and transmit their own electricity, further facilitating investor participation in our market and enabling states and local businesses to transmit excess supply to the grid.
“We are also decentralizing the national grid through renewable driven mini-grids. The $550 million Nigeria Electrification Project has deployed more than 20,000 Standalone Solar Systems (SHS), as well as Solar Hybrid minigrids in over 250 locations”.
On calls by the IMF and World Bank and many leading economists, urging the removal of fuel subsidy and to unify the exchange rate, the president said “most western countries are today implementing fuel subsidies.
Why would we remove ours now? What is good for the goose is good for the gander!” He said what the western allies are learning the hard way is what looks good on paper and the human consequences are two different things.
According to him, “My government set in motion plans to remove the subsidy late last year.
After further consultation with stakeholders, and as events unfolded this year, such a move became increasingly untenable.” He explained that boosting internal production for refined products shall also help.
“Capacity is due to step up markedly later this year and next, as private players and modular refineries (Dangote Refinery, BUA Group Refinery, Waltersmith Refinery) come on board”, he said.
On the exchange rate, Buhari said it is still susceptible to external shocks that can suddenly and severely affect Nigerian citizens.
“As we step up domestic production – both in fuel (enabled by PIA) and food (agricultural policies) – the inflationary threat shall diminish, and we can move toward unification,” he noted.
On the sharp rise in borrowing since 2015 which has left the country now spending almost all of its revenue servicing debt, again the president explained that a narrow focus on debt misses the point.
“What it fills is Nigeria’s longstanding infrastructure deficit by constructing a foundation for sustainable growth – spreading opportunity to ensure no part of the country is left behind, which has led to insecurity in the past.”
Speaking on infrastructure developments, he said his has been the most ambitious since Nigeria’s independence, where over 800 federal roads are being constructed or undergoing rehabilitation and 650km of rail line have been laid, helping alleviate food inflation pressures, given most food is produced in the north.
According to him, “Had the infrastructure gap not been filled it will only grow, become more costly to repair what little we have while lacking more on infrastructure on which to build growth, negatively impacting progress towards UN Sustainable Development Goals.”
Reacting to Nigeria being one of the lowest tax-to-revenues ratios in the world. Buhari said though we have the largest economy in Africa, it is true that translating that wealth into revenue generation is challenging.
He said, “We raised VAT in 2020, and the IMF wanted us to raise it further, but this is a complex issue that cannot be addressed by tax hikes alone.
Around 80% of Nigerians work in the so-called informal economy – a situation exacerbated by the pandemic. It is difficult to tax the informally employed, and no country has yet found an adequate solution.
“Still, we are striving to find one, including the roll out of a national ID card which has grown from 7 million in 2015 to between 90-100 million today – including a tax code and, at the same time combined with access to various government services.
“In 2016, I launched the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council (PEBEC), making Nigeria an easier place to start and grow a business. PEBEC’s policies, as with our national ID card rollout help integrate the informal sector”, President Buhari said.
GMB Orders Rescue Of Remaining Abducted Train Passengers
Meanwhile, President Muhammadu Buhari has ordered security operatives to rescue the remaining passengers abducted in the ill-fated train attack along Abuja-Kaduna route.
The president specifically directed the security personnel to deploy kinetic and non-kinetic means to ensure the rescue of the victims.
Garba Shehu, Buhari’s media aide, noted this in a statement he circulated to State House correspondents on Tuesday.
But sources within the presidency said the directive from the president may not be unconnected with the embarrassing nature the abduction of the passengers was turning into.
The victim families had thwarted moves by the Federal Government to reopen the train route, even though repair works had been completed.
Terrorists believed to be bandits had laid siege on the train which was coming from Abuja and heading to Kaduna about four months ago, killing eight persons in the process, injuring a dozen others and abducting over 50 passengers.
While eleven of the passengers were released to their families few days ago, with many still held under captivity, it was learnt that it was a bargain chip for the release of some family members of the terrorists.
Buhari’s latest directive to get the remaining abductees freed may not also be unconnected with the dire situation of those still in captivity, with some said to have been bitten by snakes and others falling ill due to excruciating conditions inside the forest.
What Buhari meant by kinetic and non-kinetic means is that the security personnel must use arms or strategic means to release the abductees.
Buhari’s directive stated, “As the government continues to review the issue of the kidnapped railway passengers and making all efforts to trace and bring back the 51 or more still being held in custody, President Muhammadu Buhari has directed increased efforts – kinetic and non-kinetic to bring the case to a closure”.
Shehu said upon the president’s approval, the government is continuing on the two-lane approach, kinetic and non-kinetic to secure the passengers’ safe release. He confirmed that the kidnappers made a demand for the release of their own children and upon the settlement of that issue, they let go eleven of the victims, even though more were expected.
“The setback notwithstanding, the government is not leaving any stone unturned in the efforts to bring all of the hostages back.
“The defence, security and intelligence agencies have given assurances to intensify operational engagements geared towards securing the rescue of all hostages and restoring peace to all parts of the country.
Government is also mindful of efforts of some patriotic and influential persons and institutions that are helping in securing the safe release of the hostages.
“President Buhari welcomes the return of the recently released passengers back to their families and loved ones, while expressing his solemn commitment to the families of those still in captivity, assuring that there will be no let-up until they are reunited with their families in the shortest time possible.
“The president’s clear directive on the issue is that the hostages must be brought home alive.
The country’s military and security agencies are aware of their duty to the nation and are determined to give effect to the president’s charge with increased urgency,” the statement added.