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We’ll bequeath a stable Nigeria —President Buhari

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What does one whose tour of duty on a gargantuan project as intimidating as Africa’s politico-economic ‘giant’ do as he winds down?

Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari, scheduled to leave office mid next year, after two consecutive, challenging four-year terms is doing what any responsible, patriotic leader would do. He is working to leave a country that remains united in spite of the built-up ethno-political tensions exacerbated by the pervading “elections fever” in the air, as well as lingering economic woes, partly the fallout of such exogenous factors as the COVID-19 pandemic, climate-change induced flooding and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“We’ll bequeath a stable Nigeria”, he says, as he goes about putting finishing touches to the astounding number of economy-building initiatives in Project Nigeria.

The following are excerpts of an exclusive interview with Mr. President.

Even in the thicket of socio-economic headwinds, the Nigerian leader continues to demonstrate a steely resolve to make good his promise to set the country on a bold new trajectory of altruistic service with integrity. Early in the election season, President Buhari made an assuring but audacious pledge to allow the upcoming elections go on, unfettered by any threat or undue interference from any quarters.

So far, his promise seems to be holding. Excerpts:

When you assumed office in May 2015, you pledged to resolutely fight insecurity, wage war against corruption and rejuvenate the Nigerian economy. To what extent would you say you have fulfilled your promises to Nigerians?

We have done a lot in terms of implementing our security, economy and anti-corruption agenda. We have been methodical in our approach to fighting corruption. Through the whistle-blowing policy enacted in my first year in office, hundreds of millions in stolen funds have been returned within Nigeria. Corruption is now less hidden as Nigerians feel empowered to report it without fear and those who expose official corruption get rewarded. Working with our international partners, hundreds of millions of various currencies have been returned from abroad – primarily from the United Kingdom, United States, Ireland and Switzerland. Those partners refused to return these monies held for decades to previous administrations in the certainty they would simply be re-stolen. They changed their approach with us because they knew our administration could be trusted.

In security, you would recall that in 2015 when we assumed office, the situation was deplorable. At that time, the insurgents controlled territories within the Nigerian borders. I directed that the battle should be taken to them and in a short while, they were flushed. Today, terrorists no longer hold any territory in Nigeria. The leader of ISWAP was eliminated by a Nigerian Air Force airstrike in March.

We have invested in our security forces, including the $1 billion military deal with the U.S. for the acquisition of A-29 Super Tucano aircraft.

Our economic revival strategy has also yielded tangible results. A wide range of economic measures we initiated have put the country on the path of steady economic recovery and growth. This is why despite the prevailing economic challenges, particularly the COVID-19 pandemic, the Russian invasion of Ukraine and their debilitating effects on economies globally, the Nigerian economy has continued to improve significantly in many areas.

From the outset, you made agriculture the key to your administration’s economic diversification strategy. Do you think your government has achieved the desired results in this direction, especially in terms of achieving food sufficiency?
Yes. Agriculture is key to our economic diversification strategy. In the past, there was more focus on the oil sector with little attention on agriculture, especially by the youths. We believe that a country like Nigeria with a population of more than 200 million should be able to feed itself. We have a lot of able-bodied young people willing to work and agriculture is the answer. I am glad that our efforts on growing the non-oil export, particularly agriculture, have started to yield positive results. For instance, in the past few years, our revenue from cocoa and sesame seed has increased by $79.4 million and $153 million respectively.

A good example of a reduction of forex spent on imported commodities is local rice production. Until our assumption of office, many people did not believe that Nigeria can survive without the importation of rice. But here we are.

We are gradually achieving food sufficiency. Our Anchor Borrower’s Programme (ABP) has impacted positively on the value chain of various crops, particularly rice. This programme has improved national output to about 9.5 million metric tonnes in quality rice from around 5.4 million metric tonnes in 2015. It has saved the country huge amount of forex which would have been expended on the importation of rice.

Aside the feat recorded in the ABP, we are promoting the policy of “growing what we eat” and “eating what we grow”, which has become part of our food security initiatives.

You demonstrated courage and candour when in a historic move you signed into law the Petroleum Industry Bill, now the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA) in August 2021. How will this impact positively on the Nigerian petroleum sector?
The Petroleum Industry Act is one of the most outstanding achievements of this administration, and I am very proud of that. I believe overall, it has impacted on not only the petroleum sector, but also the Nigerian economy.

The Act defines the legal, governance, regulatory and fiscal framework for the Nigerian Petroleum Industry and also the development of host communities.

Before we came into office, this issue was ongoing for 20 years. Considering the importance of such a law, we had to muster the political will to ensure the Petroleum Industry Bill was passed into law to meet the expectations of transforming the Nigerian oil and gas industry into one of the most efficient in the world. Its effects are beginning to manifest.

The first is the transition of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) into the Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC) Limited. With this development, the NNPC Limited will start declaring profits from its operations like any other limited liability company. It will pay company income tax, and reward shareholders by paying them dividends. The new NNPC Limited would have no recourse to government budgetary allocation again and this would evidently impact on the downstream sector, especially the issue of subsidy which has been an enormous burden on the government’s expenditures.

The PIA will equally boost the harnessing, processing and use of the country’s abundant natural gas endowment for cooking, as autogas, thermal power generation, fertiliser production and more foreign exchange earnings for the country.
Some of the provisions in the PIA are capable of enhancing peace and security in the oil-bearing areas of the country. The three per cent of the operational budgets of oil companies amounting to a minimum of $500 million annually that will go to host communities to finance their development projects is a recipe for happiness and progress in the hitherto restive Niger Delta. And gas flaring in Nigeria is scheduled to cease by 2030, for the good of the environment.

Honestly, the overall impact of the Act will change the economic fundamentals of this country for good.

How are you using the National Development Plan 2021 – 2025 to consolidate on your administration’s economic recovery efforts?

The National Development Plan (NDP) 2021-2055 succeeds the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) 2017-2020, which elapsed in December 2020.

The vision of the NDP 2021-2025 is consistent with the pursuit of socio-economic transformation of our country as envisioned in the Nigeria Agenda 2050, which is our long-term perspective plan to reposition Nigeria as one of the leading nations of the 21st century. The Plan also builds on the achievements and lessons learned during the implementation of the ERGP.

The NDP is a medium-term blueprint designed to unlock the country’s potential in all sectors of the economy for a sustainable, holistic and inclusive national development. The policy is very unique; it was developed with inputs from the Private Sector, Sub-national Government, and Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) and facilitated by the Federal Government. We were deliberate about this for inclusiveness, participation and citizen engagement to ensure no one is left behind.

The Plan is guided by four strategic objectives, namely: establishing a strong foundation for a concentric diversified economy; investing in critical physical, financial, science and innovation infrastructure; building a solid framework and enhancing capacities to strengthen security and ensuring good governance; and enabling a vibrant, educated and healthy populace.

During the Plan period, the government will focus on sectors with great potential to generate jobs for our people and with multiplier effects on other sectors. We will continue to invest in critical infrastructure such as power and alternative energy, rail, roads, and housing, ensure macroeconomic stability, enhance the business and investment environment, and improve the living conditions of Nigerians.

By 2025, with the effective implementation of the Plan, we would achieve an average economic growth of 4.6 percent.
Cumulatively, we would have lifted 35 million people out of poverty and created 21 million full-time jobs. The NDP 2021-2025 would have also raised revenue-to- GDP ratio to 15 percent as well as improve health and education of the population.
That is why I enjoin all Nigerians and our development partners to fully take ownership of this Plan and participate actively in its implementation to realize the Nigeria of our dream.

Your administration has completed so many landmark projects while many are still under construction. Which do you consider most outstanding, and why?
No one infrastructural project is more outstanding than the others; they are all strategic in their unique ways. They are all dear to my heart because I know that our investments in infrastructure will further open up our communities to economic activities.

The priority we accorded to huge infrastructural development across Nigeria has been yielding remarkable results. Just as we have completed many projects, others are ongoing. This administration’s infrastructural footprints are in roads, bridges, rails, power and the aviation sectors. In terms of road infrastructure, the Second Niger Bridge, which was paid lip service by successive administrations, is completed. The Lagos-Ibadan Expressway will also soon be completed. We are equally completing the Abuja-Kaduna Expressway, the Enugu-Port Harcourt Expressway, and the Apapa-Oshodi-Oworonshoki Expressway. The Bonny-Bodo Bridge and road in Rivers State is being completed, more than four decades after it was conceived. The Bodo road and bridge will, for the first time, link Bonny Island and the site of the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas.

We have invested significantly to restore our national railways, for example the Lagos-Ibadan Standard Gauge Rail; the Abuja-Kaduna Standard Gauge Rail; and the Itakpe-Warri Standard Gauge Rail.

In the aviation sector, we have completed new airport terminals at Lagos, Abuja, Kano and Port Harcourt, and reconstructed the Abuja Airport Runway in its first overhaul since its construction in the early 1980s.

We are also transforming Nigeria’s challenging power sector, through various interventions such as the Siemens Power Programme, with the German government under which over US$2 billion will be invested in the Transmission Grid.

What should the next administration do to sustain your drive for better infrastructure?
Infrastructure deficit is not only an issue of major concern in Nigeria, but also in Africa. It is said that the continent needs to invest about $50 billion per annum in the next 20 years to achieve the growth needed to play in the international economy. I realize that without good infrastructure, no real development can take place; not even the much-heralded Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), which is expected to grow intra- African trade. I believe that our government has set a great development template for the next administration to follow. Our successors must pick up the baton and continue the race by committing resources and political will as we did. We have made it easier for them by investing heavily in the most important ones that had defied several governments before ours, such as the rail projects and the Second Niger Bridge which will enhance access to the Eastern part of the country, and thereby deepen internal trade.

You have for the umpteenth time restated your resolve to bequeath free, fair and credible elections to Nigeria. How free and fair do you expect the forthcoming 2023 general elections to be?
As President, I have set the goal that one of the enduring legacies I would like to leave is to entrench a process of free, fair, transparent and credible elections through which Nigerians elect leaders of their choice. You can already see a demonstration of that in places where elections were held since we came to office.

People have won elections, which have been adjudged to be free and fair, irrespective of parties. I remain committed and determined to ensure that the new President and other leaders who will emerge victorious in the 2023 elections are elected through a peaceful and transparent process. We must all work together to ensure this transition is done in a peaceful manner. I am hopeful that we can achieve this. Recently, I signed the new Electoral Act which continues to receive applause from across party lines. The signs so far are positive. A few months ago, all registered political parties conducted primaries to select their candidates for the 2023 general elections.

These primaries were peaceful and orderly. Those who won were magnanimous in their victories. Those who lost were gracious in defeat. And those aggrieved opted to seek judicial justice as opposed to jungle justice.

I followed the party primaries closely from the state level to the Presidential level. I was very impressed to see across all the political parties that, most candidates ran issues-based campaigns. The language and tone throughout were on the whole measured and controlled. This augurs well for the future. These clearly show the level of maturity our democracy has achieved in the last 23 years.

We have invested heavily to strengthen our framework for free and fair elections. I am therefore hopeful that we will have credible elections and I will feel fulfilled if we can achieve this.

You have been an advocate of a multilateral approach to the issue of climate change. What are your expectations from the international community?
Climate change is a global challenge, thus requiring multilateral solutions-regionally, continentally and globally. Indeed, unilateralism and the promotion of national interests competing with the common cause in the face of an existential threat has been our recurring experience in recent times. We need to move away from that. I have dwelt on the issue of climate change, especially as it fuels conflicts and complicates food security.

Climate change reduces opportunity and prosperity which, in Africa, Latin America and some parts of Asia also contribute to transnational organized crimes.

As part of Nigeria’s efforts at achieving our Global Net-zero aspiration, the current administration last year adopted a National Climate Change Strategy that aims to deliver climate change mitigation in a sustainable manner.
The measures we took at the national level also require climate justice. Africa and other developing nations produce only a small proportion of greenhouse gas emissions, compared to industrial economies. Yet, we are the hardest hit by the consequences of climate change as we see in the sustained droughts and floods of unprecedented severity in recent times.

These and other climate-related occurrences are now sadly becoming widely commonplace in the developing world. We are, in effect, literally paying the price for policies that others pursue. This needs to change. At the Cop 26 in Glasgow last year, I did say that Nigeria was not asking for permission to make the same mistakes that others have made in creating the climate emergency.

Fortunately, we now know what we can do to mitigate the effects of the climate crisis and the related energy challenge. As a first step, we must all work together.

Next, we need to commit to releasing the financing and the technology to create a stable and affordable framework for energy transition.

Development Financial Institutions must prioritize de-risking energy projects to improve access of renewable projects to credit facilities. There should be no countries “left behind” in this equation.

Rocketing energy costs worldwide are, in part, the product of conflict and supply disruptions to Europe and the Americas. Yet, we are all paying the price.

How would you appraise the regional efforts to save Lake Chad and restore sustainable livelihoods within the region and checkmate desertification and drought?
Lake Chad is very dear to the hearts of leaders in the region because it is a source of livelihood to over 45 million people living in the Basin. It is one of the oldest

Lakes in Africa, shared by Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, Niger and Nigeria. The people living in the Basin depend on the Lake Chad for agriculture, fisheries and livestock for their economic well-being.

The Lake Chad region was formerly an “oasis in the desert”, a hub of economic activities and food security. The farmers, fishermen, herdsmen and traders were happy because business was booming. The happiness and contentment contributed to the stability of the sub-region.

Unfortunately, today, that is all history. The “oasis in the desert” is just a desert now, due to the drying up of the Lake Chad. This has resulted in dire consequences for our people as food security has deteriorated, with millions of people in the sub-region facing the threat of famine and half a million children suffering from severe malnutrition. Our youths are joining terrorist groups because of lack of jobs and difficult economic conditions. This has resulted in serious instability in the sub-region. The negative effects of the shrinkage of Lake Chad are indeed enormous.

In the past few years, I have been working with the Presidents and Heads of Government of the Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC) and we have devised measures to save the shrinkage of the Lake and restore sustainable livelihoods within the region.

We are also implementing all LCBC programme aimed at safeguarding the ecosystem of the Basin and the development of our people. In February 2018, we held an International Conference on Lake Chad in Abuja where recommendations were made on how to garner political and global support for the restoration of the Lake for the benefit of all member countries of the LCBC. Our desire to restore the sub-region to its former glory is very real as evident in my numerous appeals to the international community for support towards the Lake’s revival. We still eagerly need this support. I believe that with the renewed vigour of leaders of the region and international collaboration, we shall succeed in rescuing Lake Chad from desertification and drought as a necessary step in restoring happiness and peace in the region.

You appealed for debt cancellation for developing countries at last United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). Do you expect a favourable response considering the worsening global economic situation?
I really do. The current gale of global economic headwinds are actually effects of the trio of COVID-19 pandemic, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the ongoing climate-change related flooding disasters, which have mostly ravaged developing countries. These misfortunes have done havoc to poor countries, and further damaging their fragile economies. As everyone knows, the real culprits and cause of these globally are the rich, developed countries who are also the creditors I appealed to. They themselves know that as development partners, they must help debt-distressed countries to find the fiscal space they need to grow and integrate into the wider global economy. Certainly, unsustainable sovereign debts pose a big risk for global financial stability in general and economic growth in developing countries in particular.

Finally, how would you like to be remembered as your administration gradually winds down?
I would like to be remembered simply as a patriotic Nigerian who met a vandalized Nigeria, and reset the buttons on almost all areas of national life – political, social, economic, local and international image. I would love to be remembered as a humble citizen whose administration put the country on the path of food self-sufficiency. I would also want to be remembered as a sincere leader whose administration cleaned up the political space, especially in the area of elections.
Above all, I would love to be remembered as a man of integrity who offered honest leadership and in spite of all distractions, laid a good foundation for Nigeria. My ultimate goal is to bequeath a strong, stable, united, peaceful and prosperous country to our people.

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