President Muhammadu Buhari has ordered for the release of 10,000 tons 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.
He has also directed the minister of agriculture to ensure that all the able-bodied men and women in IDP camps be assisted to return to farming immediately.
This is coming as a reaction to calls for government measures to ease hardship associated with food inflation.
The Presidency however asserts that the devastation of the economy was caused by the Boko Haram insurgency, corruption and the lack of planning by the past administrations and one that should not be blamed on the Change Agenda of the Muhammadu Buhari administration.
The Presidency firmly rejects the insinuations that poverty and lack are products of the Change mantra. This should be dismissed as an erroneous and misplaced opposition criticism. The President understands the pain and the cries of the citizens of this country 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, the President’s energy and focus are on changing the life of Nigerians, with a view to making it better than he met it.
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.
This is work in progress. As life gradually returns to normal in much of the country and the northeast in particular, agriculture will resume and traders from neighbouring African countries will once again feel safe to do business with us–yet another boost for our economy.
But it Is only when we appreciate where we are coming that we will grasp the full meaning and essence of what the ongoing journey entails.
It is estimated, for instance, that three Northeast sates of Nigeria alone have so far lost about three trillion Naira (Nine billion US Dollars) to the Boko Haram insurgency. The previous administration at the center said federal government losses amounted to about USD18 billion.
It would have been a miracle for our country’s economy to not feel the effects of this. And, in addition to the thousands of lives lost to the insurgency, thousands have also lost their means of livelihood. The northeast region of Nigeria is a mostly agrarian society, which means Nigeria has lost billions of naira in agricultural produce. Many communities, which have had their yearly planting and harvesting cycle disrupted by Boko Haram attacks or occupation are still yet to return to their farms. In many of these communities, there has not been planting and consequent harvest for between two to five years.
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 150 billion Naira which is captured in the 2016 budget. The Port Harcourt and Kaduna refineries are being brought back to life. 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-licensed independent refineries start coming on stream from 2018.
Government is also turning its attention to the sabotage of the oil and gas infrastructure that has 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 N,5000 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 4 poorest local government areas and then the 4 poorest communities in those poorest local govt areas. About 7-8 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 N5000 and how they will be paid.
This is the first time that the federal government of this country will be spending this much on social welfare for poor, bearing in mind that the money will go directly to the beneficiaries.
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.
In addition to all these, 500,000 unemployed graduates will be directly employed as volunteer teachers but paid by the FG 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.
These are just some aspects of the change that Nigerians voted for, a change that is happening and which will soon be felt by Nigerians in every nook and cranny of our country. Nigerians are a people renowned for our inner strength and our ability to triumph. These are just the darkest days before the dawn. The change Nigerians voted has indeed begun.
.Shehu is the Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity to President Muhammadu Buhari.