Let me give due credit for the idea of this piece. President Muhammadu Buhari had said recently that elites in the country were not giving due accolades to his administration in terms of where it met the country, what it grapples with, and where it has been able to take the nation to, thus far.
The position of Mr. President was widely published by the traditional and digital media, and it became an object of debate. In the middle of it all, I received a phone call from Prince Nduka Obaigbena, Chairman of Arise Television and Publisher of Thisday Newspapers.
“Mr President says the elite have not given due credit to the administration. That means there are achievements that are not reported, underreported, or not celebrated at all. Come to Arise Television, and talk about it.”
It was a good opportunity. What else was my duty, if not to inform and educate the country (and beyond) on the work my principal was doing for the country? So, to Arise Television I went, on The Morning Show, anchored by cerebral journalist and my immediate predecessor in the office I currently occupy, Dr. Reuben Abati.
The sparring session (that’s the way I see it) went well. Abati and his co-hosts came from different angles, trying to take me out with that sucker punch that would send me kissing the canvass. I floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee (apologies Muhammed Ali). At the end of it all, I believe we had a good show, with no side worsted.
So, what are the unheralded achievements of the Buhari Administration? What are the landmarks and milestones given scant attention by the elite, if even recognized at all?
Nigeria has challenges today. Very severe ones. Security is key in any country, if there would be progress and development. But here we are, battling insurgency, banditry, kidnappings, wanton killings, armed robbery, ethnic insularity leading to murder and mayhem, and other vicious criminalities. All these can only make a people sad and dolorous. But is that all there is to Nigeria of today?
The Buhari government is battling insecurity with all it has at its disposal. Naturally, the populace will want faster results, but some things are never by a sudden flight. You don’t just snap your fingers, and the problems disappear. And in the middle of it all, you must still continue to work, and make the time count for country and the people.
So, despite it all, what are some of the unreported or underreported achievements?
Annual budgets and how they perform have always been issues in the country. How timeously has the financial projections been delivered, and what has been the level of performance? These are germane to any economy.
The year 2020 was a remarkable one in the annals of mankind. A novel virus came, which you can’t see, smell or touch, but it succeeded in sending the world into a tailspin. There were national lockdowns round the globe, lives were lost in their numbers, economies suffered, and despondency was the order of the day.
But it was also the year Nigeria had resolved to return its budget cycle to January to December. It was achieved, and despite the fact that fallen oil prices compelled a review, the budget at the end of the day achieved 97.7 per cent performance. Holy Moses! It never happened before. In normal years, without a gripping pandemic, and the need to balance between lives and livelihoods, our budgets never attained such records. You often talk of 50 or 60 per cent performance, at the best. There were years in the past, when we even had 30 per cent performance. But under Buhari, in a year of collapsed oil prices, and income at about a quarter of what we used to earn, here was 97.7 per cent performance. Jumping Jehoshaphat! There must be more fiscal discipline in this government than Nigerians are crediting it for.
But did the news hug the headlines? Did it become the talking point of talk shows on radio and television? For where? No herdsmen were involved, so it was not going to be sweet to discuss. It was going to make the government of the day look good, so the elite was not interested. That was how that budget feat went uncelebrated, unheralded. Shout yourself hoarse announcing it, those who should run with it were uninterested. They would rather talk of yet unfulfilled promises in the areas of security, economy and anti-corruption.
We have always had stiff antagonism between states and the Federal Government. They were always like Tom and Jerry, with each striving to outdo and undermine the other. Till Buhari came.
At the advent of the administration in 2015, at least 27 states could not pay salaries. President Buhari did not ask them to stew in their juice, but rather made deft footworks, which bailed the states out of their predicament. Succor came for the people. Did it hug the headlines? No. Because herdsmen were not involved.
It used to be that Federal Government never gave states their dues in terms of refunds for projects executed. But not under Buhari. At the last count, about 700 billion naira had been paid to states as refund for road projects. The largest chunk of N78 billion went to Rivers, a state governed by the opposition party, and who’s governor rarely has good things to say about government at the centre. Also approved and paid were Paris Club refunds in excess of five billion dollars, owed by previous administrations. Uncelebrated, unheralded.
We have always talked about the need to have modular refineries in the country, to ensure that glitches in the supply of petroleum products were eliminated. For years, licenses were given, but there was only one such refinery working in the country. Till Buhari came, and recalibrated the oil industry. Today, many modular refineries are in the works, almost completed. Late last year, the Waltersmith refinery was commissioned by the President himself, and has gone into operation. But not a whimper from the traditional and social media. Why? No herdsman was involved. No interest.
Infrastructure. Ah, infrastructure. This is where Buhari would leave his largest footprints. Roads. Bridges. Rail. Airports. AKK gas pipeline. All to be delivered before the administration exits in 2023. Second Bridge over River Niger, built with mouth for 16 years under the administration of another political party, is now about 50% completed. Lagos-Ibadan Expressway racing towards completion. Abuja-Kaduna-Kano Expressway being reconstructed. Apapa-Oshodi-Oworonshoki Expressway being reconstructed.for the first time in 40 years. Bonny-Bodo Bridge and road finally underway, more than four decades after it was conceived. Rail projects round the country. Abuja-Kaduna, Warri-Itakpe already in operation, Lagos-Ibadan to be commissioned anytime soon, Ibadan to Kano under works, Kano to Maradi flagged off last week. Brand new airports in Abuja, Port Harcourt, Lagos, Kano. Enugu has been rehabilitated.
Headquarters of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) completed after decades of lack of will, the local content skyscraper dots the Bayelsa State skyline, the Nnamdi Azikiwe mausoleum completed in Anambra State after 22 years, all by Buhari. No plaudits. No accolades. All they talk about are things not done. No thanksgiving to God for small mercies, which are the real mercies. It all reminds me of the line from China Achebe, in Things Fall Apart, about a man and his consort: “If I hold her hands, she says; don’t touch. If I hold her foot, she says; don’t touch. But when I hold her waist beads, she pretends not to know.”
Why is President Buhari touching our waist beads, and some Nigerians, particularly the elite, are pretending not to know?
In areas where we had opacities, there is now transparency. The first audited financial report of the NNPC is now done in more than 40 years. The Open Treasury Portal now publishes Federal Government expenditure online. Corruption is being robustly fought. There is public sector reform in many areas. Our waist beads are being touched, but we are pretending not to know. Wetin?
Let’s look at private investments in the country. Such things never thrive, unless government provides the enabling environment. Now see what we have, under Buhari:
*Dangote Refinery. The largest single-train crude oil refinery in the world.
*Lekki Deep Sea Port. A brand new port to serve as alternative to Apapa port.
*Dangote Fertilizer and Petrochemical plant.
*Segilola Gold Project in Osun State, described as “Nigeria’s most advanced gold exploration and production project.”
*Nigeria’s first ever gold refineries under construction in Ogun State and FCT.
*Olam’s $150million investment in poultry feed mills, hatchery and breeder farms in Kaduna and Kwara states, commissioned in 2017.
*GB Foods 20 billion naira tomato paste factory in Kebbi.
*$250 million brewery by International Breweries Plc, commissioned 2018 in Sagamu, Ogun State, said to be the biggest in West Africa.
*Indorama Fertilizer Plant Train 2, nearing completion in Port Harcourt.
*NLNG Train 7, which will expand the company’s production capacity by more than 30%
*Agric investment hits six-year high.
And many more…
President Buhari is surely touching the waist beads of Nigerians. We should no longer pretend not to know.
Adesina is Special Adviser to President Buhari on Media and Publicity.