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On Monday December 17, 2018, President Muhammadu Buhari, who is seeking re-election for a second term of office, will be marking his 76th birthday and, in his own words, “still going strong.”
His age is no longer an issue in this campaign because by the will of God, not by any design, his main challenger is equally in the same age bracket. This election in February next year then comes down to what each candidate will offer.
There are many reasons why President Buhari deserves to be re-elected. I shall speak to a dozen of them here:
He is the best ever President we got so far and here are my reasons: In his character, President Buhari is a well-behaved man. He is globally recognised as an honest leader, working very hard to cure a wounded nation by righting past wrongs. He leads from the front, that is, leading by example. He is self-confident and has a calm demeanour. In carrying out his duties, he is never impulsive; he does his duty with self-assurance and confidence.
A typical example was his handling of the theft of 105 girls from a school boarding house by the Boko Haram terrorists in Dapchi, Yobe state. Amidst sobbing, lamentation and sorrow, he stood there before the principal, distraught parents and students to give assurances, in a sharp and unbroken voice that “your girls will be brought back” (and so were they, with the exception of Leah Sharibu who, God willing will equally return).
He likes to attack problems from their roots. Few of our leaders are endowed with as much patience. He doesn’t lose his calm and composure and knows when to fight and when not to fight. When there broke a huge uproar over the assertion before the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby and Her Majesty the Queen of England by the former UK Prime Minister David Cameron, that Nigeria was “fantastically corrupt”, President Buhari’s calm demeanour was on display. When an apology was offered, all he said was “I want no apologies. What would I do with apology? Return our stolen money.” With that, he grabbed, not only the moral high ground but the international news headlines as well.
When the President is confronted with a rankling criticism as had happened many times, he never loses his calm. He delivered a joke in response that blighted what would have been frightening episodes. One great asset he has, is his good sense of humour especially while tackling criticism or attack on his person. Many have derisively called him “Baba Go-slow”, in a clear misunderstanding of his calm demeanour, which is not a sign of inactivity but an underlying ability to think hard without losing one’s cool.
Unlike one or two of our past leaders, he has no aura of being a messiah or a saviour. President Buhari would never be seen in public breaking the code of dignity by, either slapping someone or seizing a horsewhip from a policeman to flog an audience member.
On the many occasions I have reflected on how hard my job is, I try to think of the President. One needs to put oneself into his shoes, carrying the responsibility of more than 200 million people on his shoulders, yet he is a man who maintains a steady, level headed approach towards solving problems; he remains calm and focused on his goals.
With Muhammadu Buhari as President, Nigeria is in very safe hands; he knows what is good for the country and its people.
When he won in 2015, one of his main pledges was fighting terrorism, criminality and banditry. He met the tragic situation of perpetual fighting between farmers and herders in the Middle-Belt, spreading southwards, up to the coastal states. He sought the help of state governors for a solution but they offered very little, if any. They were and are still divided over the issue. He pushed the police, the army and other security agencies very hard for the solution. Today, and notwithstanding the visible hands of politicians in it, he has brought the entire situation in the Middle Belt under control. He has ended the fighting which would have brought Nigeria to destruction.
A further reason for the President’s re-election is the success he has recorded fighting terrorism. If numbers count, bombings and killings have drastically been reduced under the Buhari administration.
Specifically in the North-East, the Nigerian Armed Forces have scaled up their act pushing the Boko Haram terrorists to the very fringes of the Lake Chad and with the on-going revitalisation of the Multi-National Joint Task Force, MNJTF, the ability of the terrorists to launch attacks and retreat into neighbouring territories is being addressed.
Arising from the successes achieved, the El-Kanemi Warriors Football Club has returned to their home base in Maiduguri. Emirs of Askira, Uba and other towns have returned to their palaces. Public secondary schools have resumed in 2016, two years after closure. All roads leading to and out of Maiduguri have been reopened.
Sambisa forest has been retaken; Arik Air and other airlines now operate scheduled flights to Maiduguri. The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) said 2017 marked the most peaceful Christmas. Of the many who were taken against their will by Boko Haram, about 20,000 terrorists have been released, including 106 Chibok girls, 105 of the Dapchi school girls, Police women and University lecturers.
Under the Buhari administration, three Air bus helicopters and another three Dauphin helicopters were provided for the Air Force; 18 new aircraft acquired and 13 previously unserviceable planes reactivated. In addition, 12 Super Tucano aircraft are also on order from the United States.
The administration has set up a Naval outpost in the Lake Chad and established the 8 Task Force Division in Monguno to further strengthen the 7 Division and the Operation Lafiya Dole in the North East.
Another reason for his re-election in his undeterred commitment to rid Nigeria of systemic corruption. Grand Corruption, by which leaders will ask the Central Bank to bring out money to be shared across the table has by now been abolished.
The new whistle-blowing policy has so far yielded N13.8 billion from tax evaders and N7.8b, USD378 million, £27,800 recovered from public officials.
The increased oversight of ministries, departments and agencies has been addressing the issue of poor remittance by the MDAs; the Presidential Initiative on continuous Audit has flushed out 54,000 fraudulent payroll entries with savings of N200 billion.
The administration has expanded the coverage of the Treasury Single Account, TSA which implementation now stands at 92 per cent. By this, the administration has a comprehensive overview of cash flows across the entire government. It has ensured the deployment of the Bank Verification Number (BVN) system to verify the basis of payments to beneficiaries and vendors and has created the Assets Tracking Managing Project to allocate, identity, assess and evaluate all the measurable and un-measurable assets on real time basis. A central Asset Register to keep a record of all government assets is now in one place, the Ministry of Finance.
In 2016, the President enlisted Nigeria into Open Government Partnership and a National Plan of Action (2017 -19) is already in place. This aims to deepen and mainstream transparency mechanisms and citizen’s engagement in the management of public resources.
In addition, the creation of Efficiency Unit to spearhead the efficient use of government resources and ensure reduction in recurrent expenditure has brought about savings of about N34 billion from travel and transport in 2016, and N10 billion in 2017.
In the oil and gas sectors, NNPC has been publishing its performance chart monthly and the administration made a saving of USD 1.7 billion by negotiating down accumulated cash call arrears in its joint ventures.
Without any controversy, President Buhari is deservedly christened as the champion of infrastructure. This administration has demonstrated a single-minded commitment to upgrading Nigeria’s transport, power, housing and health infrastructure.
Two major rail projects have been completed and commissioned: Abuja metro light rail and the Abuja-Kaduna rail. Lagos-Ibadan is due early next year. Lagos-Kano has been signed and Lagos-Calabar and Port Harcourt-Maiduguri are being negotiated. About 500 roads are being constructed and hundreds of kilometres of roads are being rehabilitated.The second Niger Bridge is under construction, Abuja-Kaduna-Zaria-Kano expressway is being constructed while Lagos-Ibadan as well as the East-West road, Lagos-Port Harcourt expressways are being expedited. Federal spending on works has grown from N18.1 billion in 2015 to N394 billion in 2018. The Abuja Airport runway was reconstructed within a six week period. Several water projects long abandoned have been completed and more than 70 ecological fund projects have been awarded and completed.
Power sector has witnessed a phenomenal growth within this period. Generation capacity has increased to 7,000MW; transmission capacity is now up 8,000MW and distribution 5,222MW from 2,690MW.
Under President Buhari, 30 per cent of the budget allocation is for capital spending, an unprecedented allocation of N2.7 trillion was made for infrastructure in 2016 and 2017 fiscal year.
Obviously, there is so much the nation can gain from the President’s long term thinking when it comes to the diversification of the economy. He has promoted agriculture, solid minerals and manufacturing to the point that the economy is increasing its resilience even as it grows and consolidates.
His policies have brought down inflation by about half of what it used to be three years back; external reserves have grown and exports in 2017 were about 70 per cent more than what they were in 2016. Agriculture grew by 180 per cent last year; raw materials export by over 100 per cent and there was 27 per cent growth in manufactured goods. Six million new tax payers were added to the tax base. Ease of doing business report has moved Nigeria up by 14 places; tax revenue in 2018 is projected at N2.529 trillion, that is 42 per cent increase over the 2017 figure.
Under the Presidential Fertilizer Initiative, 16 moribund and under-performing blending plants have been revitalised, producing 12.7 million bags of NPK Fertilizer in 2017.
Landmark initiatives in the promotion of the economy include the stabilisation of the currency, the Naira making for a predictable exchange rate; the merger of the official and unofficial rates in the markets, helping in the stabilisation of the microeconomic environment; the achievement of agriculture and national food security and driving industrialisation through the Small and Medium Enterprises in line with the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan, ERGP. This administration invented and is implementing the biggest ever social investment programme on the continent, feeding 10 million children in school and engaging 500,000 graduates, now going up to one million, in nation building.
As a compassionate leader and administrator, President Buhari approved N54 billion for the payment of 33 per cent of outstanding pensions arrears and claims, with some of these going back to 2010 when the minimum wage was increased to N18,000. Under this scheme, 3,542 pensioners in the liquidated Delta Steel Company have been placed on pension; 9,216 of NITEL pensioners are now pay rolled; Retired Biafran Police officers dismissed by the Federal Government in 1971 have been paid; those of the New Nigerian Newspapers and many others have received gratuities and are now placed on pension.
The compassionate side of the President has equally given so much to state governments in distress. This was to enable them meet salary and pensions obligations. Most, if not all have received Budget Support Facility, Paris Club refunds, Infrastructure Loans, Loan Restructuring Facilities with the Central Bank and other commercial banks, and a reduction in their monthly debt service burden.
In just under four years, President Buhari has shown clearly that he can steer Nigeria above politics, religion and ethnicity. He has delivered on all promises: security, economy, corruption and infrastructure. We have a strong leader with a mass appeal who is seeking a renewal of his mandate in accordance with the Constitution. He is one of the most influential leaders in today’s world, considering how he brought OPEC and non OPEC Oil producers to cut their losses and bring up fallen oil prices. He is leading the continent in the war against corruption. President Buhari is a gift, not only to Nigeria but to Africa and the world. He deserves a second term to consolidate on-going achievement.
Garba Shehu is the Senior Special Assistant to President on Media & Publicity.