Setting: It is 7am and the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria stands at a green-white-green decked Eagle Square and the sun gently rising and breaking through the majestic blue and white rolling clouds of the Abuja sky salutes him with her rays.
It is with pride and a deep sense of awe that I stand before you on a day reserved for celebrating Nigeria’s independence. Fifty-two years ago, the Union Jack was lowered and our flag was raised high, lifted by years of struggle for self-determination and carrying our dreams and aspirations for building a powerful nation of self-sufficient people.
The pride I feel comes from knowing firsthand the majesty that was, is and could be Nigeria and the awe from realizing that we still have a long way to go to make our country as great as it should be. And I am humbled by the work that is before my team and me. Today, 29 months after I was first sworn in as president, in May 2010, I make a solemn pledge to you: that going forward, from this day, things will change drastically in my administration.
While this administration deserves commendation for some success in various areas, especially within the agricultural sector, and marginal gains have been made towards privatizing electricity and avoiding some of the mistakes which plagued past privatisations; in the context of where we are as a nation I choose today, to say little about what has been achieved and more about what needs to be done.
Contempt for the rule of law is one of two main reasons we are where we are today and I see this clearly with our security situation. A few Nigerians who get away with murder, theft and all types of crime are not prosecuted and caused to pay for their crimes, and, slowly and unconsciously, we have built a nation where those who do the wrong thing believe they can get away with anything. Sadly, this includes those within and outside the formal structures of power. While we strengthen and reposition our security agencies for greater efficiency and continue to reduce the incidence of security breaches, the NSA and the attorney-general are finalizing plans to fast-track the prosecution of those suspected to be responsible for the violence in some of our cities. We are also working to prosecute members of the security services who are implicated in extra-judicial killings of Nigerians and, within two weeks, we will have compliant desks under the authority of the Nigerian Human Rights Commission in each of the most critically affected towns such as Maidugiru and Damaturu to record incidents. This will curtail excesses on both sides and begin to bring a measure of accountability which we need.
Our lack of a database of Nigerians linked to an identity card is a serious security problem which also affects our ability to transact business with confidence. Working with the governors of the states which are most affected by the activities of Jamā’atu Ahlis Sunnah Lādda’awatih wal-Jihad, the National Identity Management Commission, Immigration, the NCC and the Federal Road Safety Corps have started mining and collating common data which will be the first stage in properly identifying the citizens of these states. This will eventually feed into a system to improve our birth and, death records and in a few years, we will improve the credibility of our voter register and our elections.
Corruption remains one of the most critical challenges we face as a nation and fighting it is a priority. We have put an end to several decades of endemic corruption associated with fertilizer, tractor procurement and distribution. And slowly we are exposing decades of scam in the management of pensions and fuel subsidy. While we are pleased that, in its latest report, Transparency International noted that Nigeria is the second most improved country in the effort to curb corruption, we know there is still a lot more to be done particularly with the use and allocation of public funds by those in government. The amount of money spent maintaining government is unjustifiable considering the global economic climate. While I want to praise those responsible for our GDP growth rate (7.1%), I acknowledge that the inequality rate is growing astronomically and we have to do more to free up funds for capital expenditure. I have given orders that all but two of the presidential planes should be put up for sale and the proceeds will be used to bolster the budget for transportation. Along with this, I have given an order that, effective today, no government official, regardless of office will be entitled to travel first-class with public funds. I call upon civil society to support this directive by monitoring and publishing details and those found flouting this directive will be dismissed. As we speak, the civil service rules are being revised – while it is critical to ensure that civil servants are protected from politics and that we have the continuity and stability necessary to support political appointees who come and go, the Civil service has become a hiding place for mediocre and selfish individuals who actively work against the development of this nation and, sadly, the rules compel us to keep them. This cannot continue – there must be a balance. The old must make way for the new, the obstacles must be removed and the faithful and hardworking rewarded. Zero tolerance for corruption can be built into our culture from the top to the bottom but only when we take drastic steps.
To successfully diversify from oil and gas, we need to improve our power supply and create a more enabling business environment. It is true that, on paper, the commitment of over N6.8 trillion in local and foreign direct investment (FDI) and our ranking as No. 1 host economy for FDI in Africa looks good, but this does not eclipse the fact that there are no jobs and government remains the largest employer of labour. We need to change this. Spending on infrastructure will improve our business environment and create jobs and skills, and this is where the bulk of our 2013 budget will go. I have been in negotiations with the National Assembly and feel confident to report that there will be marked decrease in the cost of the legislature on our coffers especially since the presidency is prepared to undertake some drastic cutting as well. The proposal for the 2013 federal budget which will be submitted to the National Assembly covers these developments. I urge our 36 governors to consider doing something similar for the benefit of Nigerians and ask Nigerians to take advantage of the ongoing constitution review process to design a framework for governance which will take us where we want to go.
It is a source of disquiet that, for close to 10 years, we have been talking about oil sector reform and are still no closer. I am aware that the version of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) currently before the National Assembly is not as good as we deserve. I have asked that the NASS to return it and it will be revised by a panel of experts from across the world – borrowing from Venezuela, Norway etc — without any more input from the Ministry of Petroleum and the international oil companies. The team will have until December 31, 2012 to submit a draft which will be presented to NASS.
My silence on Bakassi, the floods, the plight of our Muslim sisters attempting Hajj in Saudi Arabia and many other issues does not mean they are not important. They are. Very much so and members of this administration are giving these issues their full attention and I am briefed on every issue. Let me assure Nigerians that I am committed- the land is huge, it is green and it is blessed. I confess that despite my being one in a long line of accidental presidents in Nigeria, I do want to leave a better legacy. Sometimes we will disagree on the best way to achieve things, but please trust me and judge me by my actions and the actions of those around me. We need the commitment of every Nigerian to make this country greater than it is today and leave a solid foundation for future generations to build upon. We need to take the road less travelled and do things differently – this takes courage and determination but I intend to serve Nigeria with all my strength. So help me God.
God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.