The presidency has again stressed that the current economic devastation facing the nation should not be blamed on the Buhari administration’s Change Agenda, but is caused by the Boko Haram insurgency, corruption and the lack of planning by the past administrations.
In a statement issued in Abuja yesterday by the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr. Garba Shehu assured Nigerians of the new measures put in place by the presidency to roll back poverty.
The presidency firmly rejected the insinuations that poverty and lack are products of the change mantra. Dismissing it as an erroneous and misplaced opposition criticism.
President Buhari said in the statement that he understands the pain and cries of the citizens and he is spending sleepless nights over how he can make life better for everyone.
Contrary to assertions by a faction of the opposition Conference of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP), Shehu said the president’s energy and focus were on changing the life of Nigerians, with a view to making it better than he met it.
According to the statement,
“Change is a process. Change does not happen overnight. Change can be inconvenient. Change sometimes comes with pain. Over the past year, the government has been working night and day to deliver on its promise of change to Nigerians, and the painful process is still ongoing.”
The Presidency said as life gradually returns to normal in the country and the North-east in particular, agriculture will resume and traders from neighboring African countries will once again feel safe to do business with Nigeria, creating yet another boost for our economy.
He stated that it was only when the people appreciated where the country was coming from that they would grasp the full meaning and essence of what the ongoing journey entailed.
Shehu estimated that three North-east states of Nigeria alone had so far lost about N3 trillion ($9 billion) to the Boko Haram insurgency. He also quoted the previous administration as saying the federal government’s losses amounted to about $18 billion.
He said in addition to the thousands of lives lost to the insurgency, thousands had also lost their means of livelihood. The North-east region of Nigeria is a mostly agrarian society, which means Nigeria has lost billions of naira in agricultural produce.
The president’s aide said it would have been a miracle for Nigeria’s economy to not feel the effects. Among Buhari’s directive measures are; for the release of 10,000 tonnes of grains from the national strategic grains reserves for national distribution to counter food price increases and the intolerably high exploitation of common people by the trader-class.
Buhari has also directed the Minister of Agriculture to ensure that all the able-bodied men and women in internally displaced persons (IDP) camps be assisted to return to farming immediately.
According to Shehu, at the time the Buhari government came to power, about N600 billion was owed to fuel marketers in subsidy payments. Strategic fuel reserves were depleted and local refineries were not functioning. One of the president’s first steps was to pay off the marketers, leaving an outstanding of about N150 billion which was captured in the 2016 budget. He mentioned that the Port Harcourt and Kaduna refineries are being brought back to life, and in a matter of time, Nigeria will resume refining its own fuel rather than depending on imports.
As part of the permanent solution of recurring cycle of petroleum products shortages, government is working on a plan to ensure that some of the newly-licenced independent refineries start coming on stream from 2018. Shehu said the government would also turn its attention to the sabotage of the oil and gas infrastructure that had taken so much away from the generation and distribution of electricity.
Other ongoing plans for change include those for social investment. For example, one million poor and vulnerable Nigerians will soon receive monthly payments of N5000 to allow them live decently. This programme is designed to recognize the need for ordinary, poor Nigerians to also benefit from the resources of the country.
President Buhari believes that the resources of our country should be spent also on the vast majority of our people who are poor and vulnerable, and not squandered by government officials or the elite.
This social investment plan is already provided for in the 2016 budget. The World Bank has begun conducting a social register on poor and vulnerable people in Nigeria, by going to the four poorest local government areas and then the four poorest communities in those poorest local government areas.
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About 7 to 8 states have been completed already. Now the presidency is working with the World Bank and the Bill Gates Foundation on how to identify the people to be paid the N5,000 and how they will be paid.
In addition to all these, 500,000 unemployed graduates will be directly employed as volunteer teachers but paid by the federal government to teach in their communities while they search for better jobs in their areas of expertise. 370,000 unemployed youths will also be trained in skills acquisition and paid while doing so.
Another programme, also included in the 2016 budget and also targeted at the poor, is the provision of soft loans to one million traders, market men, artisans, etc. These are not the kind of loans that require collaterals that the people can’t afford or provide. No. The loans will come through the Bank of Industry, but this has also been included in the budget.
While describing Nigerians as a people renowned for inner strength and ability to triumph, Shehu said these are just the darkest days before the dawn, adding that the change Nigerians voted has indeed begun.