Nigeria better today, presidency insists

President Muhammadu Buhari (left); Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffery Onyeama; Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Hajiya Zainab Ahmed and Senior Special Assistant, Media and Publicity to the President, Garba Shehu during a virtual UN meeting on COVID-19 at the State House, Abuja… yesterday. PHOTO: PHILIP OJISUA

• Marks first year of Buhari’s second term
• Unveils ‘factsheet’ to highlight achievements

The presidency yesterday insisted Nigeria is better today than it was when President Muhammadu Buhari took over the reins of government on May 29, 2015.

The declaration came as Buhari marks the fifth year of his administration and specifically the end of the first year of his second term in office today.

Accordingly, the presidency released a “fifth anniversary factsheet” detailing its achievements nationwide.

“The government swept into office on the wings of change, and that change has been wrought in nearly all phases of national life. Where the lofty goals are yet to be attained, it is work in progress, and eyes are firmly fixed on the ball. No distraction,” said Special Adviser on Media and Publicity Femi Adesina.

The spokesman said further: “The three umbrella areas on which government based its interventionist agenda are: security, reviving the economy (with particular emphasis on job creation, especially for youths), and fighting corruption. In these three areas, where we are today cannot be compared with where we used to be.

“By May 2015, insecurity had badly fractured the fabric of the nation. No one could wager that the country would survive the next month, not to talk of another year. Bombs went off like firecrackers. Insurgents ran riot round the country. Other forms of crime and criminality held sway. Life was nasty, brutish and short. Over five years, the battle has been taken to insurgents and criminals. And they are being extinguished by the day, and very close to complete extirpation.

“The economy, long dependent on a mono product – petroleum, is being retooled, refocused, with diversification as a task that must be accomplished. Agriculture has been given a fillip, manufacturing has got a shot in the arm, and solid minerals are contributing a large chunk to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The country is very close to food security, with rice, beans, maize, millet, and all sorts of grain no longer imported. We now eat what we grow.

“On the war against corruption, no quarter is asked, and none is given. Commit the crime, do the term. No retreat, no surrender. Facts speak for themselves. And that is what we present at this auspicious season of the fifth anniversary of the Buhari administration. Facts are stubborn things, no matter how anybody tries to deny, distort or deride them.”

On the factsheet, which began with the economy, the presidency highlighted its strides in the agricultural sector. It noted: “The Anchor Borrowers Programme (ABP) of the Central Bank of Nigeria, launched by President Muhammadu Buhari on November 17, 2015, made available more than N200 billion in funding to more than 1.5 million smallholder farmers of 16 different commodities (rice, wheat, maize, cotton, cassava, poultry, soy beans, groundnut, fish), cultivating over 1.4 million hectares of farmland; the ABP substantially raised local production of rice, doubling the production of paddy as well as milled rice between 2015 and 2019; between 2016 and 2019, more than 10 new rice mills came on-stream in Nigeria.

Many of the existing mills expanded their capacity and several new ones are under construction; more than a billion dollars of private sector investments in the production of rice, wheat, sugar, poultry, animal feed, fertilizers, etc., since 2015; Federal Executive Council approval (2020) for a National Agriculture Mechanisation Programme, ‘the Green Imperative’, in partnership with the Government of Brazil and multilateral financing institutions.

The Presidential Fertilizer Initiative: launched in January 2017, as a government-to-government agreement with the Kingdom of Morocco; more than a million metric tonnes of fertilizer produced since 2017. This translated to distribution of more than 18 million 50kg bags of NPK fertilizer in the first three years of the PFI); 22 blending plants resuscitated (combined installed capacity of more than 2.5m MT); price reduction from 9,000-11,000 per bag, to 5,500; FX savings of $150m annually through the substitution of imported components with locally manufactured ones; subsidy savings of N50 billion annually.

On making business work, the presidency highlighted its support for micro, small and medium enterprises. It said the administration launched a series of funding and capacity development initiatives designed to support MSMEs: the new Development Bank of Nigeria (DBN) finally took off, with initial funding of US$1.3 billion (N396.5 billion); to provide medium and long-term loans to MSMEs; since 2017, the DBN disbursed a total of N100 billion through the bank’s 27 Participating Financial Institutions (PFIs) impacting more than 100,000 MSMEs; 52 per cent of loans disbursed in 2019 were to youths and women-owned businesses; Bank of Industry disbursed more than N400 billion in loans to large, medium, small and micro enterprises since 2016; it also established a N5 billion Fund for Artisanal Miners, as part of the Federal Ministry of Mines and Solid Minerals Development’s Programme to boost mining activities in Nigeria, as well as a $20 million fund to support young technology entrepreneurs in Nigeria; the MSME Clinics, which bring relevant government agencies together with small businesses operating in various cities across the country, to enable the agencies to provide direct support to these businesses.

The interactions allow the agencies better understand the issues facing small businesses, and provide a platform for speedy resolution; the Ease of Doing Business Reform Programme (see below); the Government Enterprise and Empowerment component (GEEP) of the Social Intervention Programme (SIP).

On ease of doing business reform successes, the presidency listed: the work of the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council (inaugurated by President Buhari in August 2016) and the Enabling Business Environment Secretariat (EBES) have resulted in Nigeria moving up 39 places on the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business rankings since 2016. In the last three years Nigeria has twice been adjudged one of 10 Most Improved Economies in the Rankings; the Nigerian Investment Promotion Council (NIPC) in 2017 completed a long-overdue revision of the list of activities that can benefit from Nigeria’s Pioneer Status Incentive, which grants beneficiary companies a three to five-year tax holiday. The revision, done more than 10 years after the last one, has modernised the list, expanding the tax holiday incentives to qualifying companies in e-commerce, software development, animation, music, film and TV; NIPC published a compendium of all investment incentives in Nigeria, making it easier for existing and potential investors to have equal access to the information.

Some of the specific ease of doing business reform achievements are as follows: assent by President Buhari to the Finance Bill, 2019. The Finance Act, 2019 is the first time Nigeria is accompanying the passage of a budget with complementary fiscal and business environment reforms legislation. The 2020 budget is also the first time in 12 years that a federal budget has been restored to the January-December cycle; creation of a National Collateral Registry (NCR). The Central Bank of Nigeria established a NCR or Movable Assets Registry in May 2016. The NCR allows small businesses to get access to loans using movable assets – machinery, livestock, inventory – as collateral. As at the end of June 2018, the NCR online portal had registered 630 financial institutions. Between inception in 2016 and April 2020, these financial institutions had recorded a total of 65,370 moveable assets on the portal, belonging to 165,456 borrowers, and valued at N1.26 trillion; automation of business name reservation, submission of registration documents, payment of registration fees, generation of Tax Identification Numbers (TIN), and filing of federal Taxes; implementation of functioning Visa-on-Arrival system for Business Visitors and AU nationals.

On pensions, the presidency noted: in January 2019, President Buhari launched Nigeria’s Micro Pension Scheme, which allows self-employed persons and persons working in organisations with less than three employees to save for the provision of pension at retirement or incapacitation; the Buhari administration is prioritising the payment of pension arrears owed staff of current and privatised/defunct federal agencies; N54 billion released to settle outstanding 33 per cent pension arrears (the 33 per cent pension arrears date back to 2010 when the minimum wage was increased to N18,000); Delta Steel Company (liquidated in 2005): 3,542 pensioners have now been placed on the payroll, ending a 13-year wait for their entitlements; at NITEL, 9,216 pensioners were payrolled after more than a decade of neglect; on retired Biafran police officers (dismissed by the Federal Government in 1971, after the Civil War ended, and pardoned by President Obasanjo in 2000), President Buhari approved the payment of the pensions, unpaid since their pardon in 2000. N571.56 million was paid to a total of 174 beneficiaries in October 2017; on Nigeria Airways, President Buhari approved the release of N24 billion in September 2018, for the settlement of 50 per cent of workers disengaged when the airline was liquidated in 2003/4; on recoveries, the Pension Transitional Arrangement Directorate (PTAD) has recovered cash and non-cash assets totaling N16 billion previously trapped in various insurance companies and underwriters managing the pension funds of federal parastatals and universities.

On tax, the presidency listed: launch of a new Tax Identification Number (TIN) Registration System in 2019. It said for the first time Nigeria has a consolidated, unified database of all taxpayers (individual and corporate), across all states; this new system, it said, is the product of increased collaboration between FIRS and States’ Inland Revenue Services (through improved sharing of information, and integration of databases, among others); the new TIN registration system leverages on existing taxpayer data available from databases of multiple organisations like Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), banks through Bank Verification Number (BVN), National Identity Card Management Commission (NIMC) and others; the improved collaboration between FIRS and the various SIRS’, it said, has resulted in an increase in Nigeria’s “Tax Net” (number of paying and non-paying individuals and companies in the Tax Database) from 13 million as at December 2015 to 35 million at the end of 2018, and a projected 45 million by the end of 2019.

The presidency also noted its achievements on security: Nigeria’s law enforcement agencies significantly scaled up their footprint across the country – Operation Whirl Stroke in the North Central, Operation Ex-Swift Response in border areas, several new Forward Operating Bases, Quick Response Wings, Commando Training Schools, and so on, and deployments of Special Forces. The Buhari administration rolled out the most significant response to Nigeria’s multifaceted security challenges, since 1999.

Increased Investments in arms and weapons; government-to-government military deals with the governments of the U.S, China, Russia, Pakistan, and so on helped eliminate expensive and opaque middlemen. In April 2020, a first batch of 17 military vehicles (VT-4 main battle tanks, ST-1 wheeled tank destroyers, self-propelled howitzers etc.) arrived from China, for the fight against Boko Haram.

Nigerian Air Force acquired 22 brand new aircraft since President Buhari assumed office in 2015, and is expecting another 16 (including the 12 Super Tucano currently on order from the United States Government, and due for delivery starting 2021). The NAF is also locally re-activating several previously unserviceable planes.

President Buhari resuscitated the Ministry of Police Affairs in 2019, to oversee the development and implementation of strategies to enhance internal security in Nigeria; President Buhari approved the recruitment of 10,000 new police officers annually; he signed into law, in 2019, the Bill establishing the Police Trust Fund, which will significantly improve funding for the Nigeria Police Force; Nigeria Police Force launched a new National Command and Control Centre in Abuja in 2019; President Buhari approved and implemented new salary packages for the military and police.

Establishment of Operation Whirl Stroke in May 2018, to curtail violence in Benue, Taraba and Nasarawa States. OPWS recorded remarkable success in tackling armed herders, cultists, kidnappers and bandits in its sphere of operation, and brought tension levels down from the escalated levels seen in 2017/2018.

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