By Michael Stephens
Exactly three years ago, President Muhammadu Buhari proclaimed June 12 as Democracy Day. It was his third year in office as President of Nigeria and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. It was unparalleled and quite historic. None of his predecessors had done anything like that before. But he took the decision and stood by it with a presidential seal of approval.
The man at the centre of the day itself, Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola, had been consigned to the ashes of history except brief remembrances by human rights activists. With the presidential declaration, MKO had his stolen mandate returned, had been resurrected from the dead. Not only that, PMB also conferred the nation’s highest award Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR) on Abiola. Even though he had died 20 years before, Buhari saw it fit to honour him with an award conferred compulsorily on all Nigerian heads of state and presidents. It was novel.
From north to south and west to east, everyone hailed the president. He was everyone’s darling. It was as if he had come to right an ancient wrong.
Three years down the line, the same man is now being accused of everything from sponsoring killer herdsmen to insecurity in the country and much else. What suddenly happened? Why this turnaround by a phalanx of Nigerians from professors to politicians, legal luminaries and even ordinary John citizens?
To answer those questions, it is needful to turn to one of the most penetrating demonstrations of public perception by famous Florentine artist, thinker, philosopher and scientist, Michaelangelo.
The all-rounder Italian painter once drew a large circle on a board. Nearly all of the circumference was in black hue and a tiny white right in the centre, at the core. The iconoclastic artist then asked those around what they could see. Nearly all of them declared they could only see the black colour. True, Michaelangelo told his audience. That is because people so soon forget the good people do – represented by the white colour in the middle and concentrate on what they imagine to be bad – represented by the black.
Today, six years of PMB’s administration, some Nigerians do not see anything good in this government. It is all negative evaluations and condemnations, just like the Florentine painter proved.
If anything, Michaelangelo’s example holds true today in Nigeria, especially how Nigerians are now reacting to PMB’s government. True, there is rising insecurity in the country. More than any other Nigerian and deeply concerned as any other by the increase in cases of kidnapping and insurgency, PMB is aware as he made clear in his Democracy Day broadcast.
“When you elected me as your President in 2015,” he began, “you did so knowing that I will put an end to the growing insecurity, especially the insurgency in the North East, but the unintended consequences of our scattering them in the North East pushed them further in-country which is what we are now facing and dealing with. Unfortunately, like in most conflict situations, some Nigerian criminals are taking undue advantage of a difficult situation and profiteering therefrom with the misguided belief that adherence to the democratic norms handicaps this Administration from frontally and decisively tackling them.”
Is the president to blame for spontaneous attacks by either herdsmen, kidnappers, the criminally minded or even secessionists clamouring for a state of their own? Certainly not. But as the Commander-in-Chief, the onus is on him to provide security for every Nigerian. Has he done so? Yes.
Continuing in the broadcast, PMB stated that “we will always be going through improvement processes in our desire to reach the goal of a mature democracy, a strong, evolved and integrated nation state to be reckoned with globally.
“In the last two years we have witnessed and overcome a good number of testy challenges that would have destroyed other nations especially relating to our collective security,” insisting that “the indefatigable CAN DO Spirit of the Nigerian has sustained us and would keep pushing us to put these challenges behind us.
“Unfortunately some of these challenges came in the shape of violent outrages leading to the loss of lives of many of our dear compatriots and the destruction of some of our infrastructure, including those devoted to improving our democratic processes.”
What cynics can’t deny, and what some of his detractors are conveniently forgetting is progressive transformation of the power sector: generation, transmission and distribution of electricity to most parts of the country. How did he do it?
Government to government negotiation that his administration started soon after he came to power. It is on record PMB sent a delegation to Germany which had audience with the German government under Angela Merkel. What was the trip all about? To negotiate with Siemens AG of Germany to help solve Nigeria’s power conundrum. In other words, “to upgrade and modernize Nigeria’s electricity grid.”
Contractual agreement for this project was signed last February, following the 2020 approval for the payment of FGN’s counterpart funding for that phase.
Moreover, the Federal Government under Buhari has put in place some radical electrification projects. One, there is the Energizing Education Programme, for instance. It is all about “taking clean and reliable energy (solar and gas) to federal universities and teaching hospitals across the country.” At the moment, four institutions of higher learning have benefitted from this project. They are Bayero University, Kano, FUNAI (Ebonyi), Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University, Bauchi and FUPRE Delta state. It will be repeated in other schools.
The same project has also been completed in some major markets, namely, Sabon-Gari Market in Kano, Ariaria Market in Aba, and Sura Shopping Complex in Lagos.
One of the major complaints of consumers of electricity for years has been the issue of estimated bills, that is, PHCN sometimes bills consumers for services not provided. Nothing could be more galling. All that will be history with the National Mass Metering Programme. Already, consumers have benefitted immensely from that as they have their own prepaid meters. The programme was launched in August 2020 with the Central Bank of Nigeria providing N60 billion for the first phase targeting I million installations. More than 500, 000 meters have been delivered to the Discos and over 280, 000 already installed.
Two, Solar Power Naija was launched in April 2021 to deliver 5 million off-grid solar connections to Nigerian households. The program is expected to generate an additional N7 billion increase in tax revenues per annum and $10 million in annual import substitution. In May 2021, the Rural Electrification Agency announced the planned deployment of solar-powered grids to 200 Primary Health Centres (PHC) and 104 Unity Schools nationwide.
Three, Nigeria Electrification Project (NEP) has provided grants for the deployment of 200,000 Solar Home Systems, impacting one million Nigerians. The NEP is also delivering mini-grids across the country. What all these indicates for electricity consumers in Nigeria is constant power supply by boosting the national grid and looking to other sources of power supply.
There has been a tremendous leap in infrastructural development though skeptics may think and say otherwise. But the records are there. The first is a presidential approval for the establishment of InfraCo Plc, a world class infrastructure development vehicle, wholly focused on Nigeria with a combined debt and equity take-off capital of N15 trillion to be managed by an independent infrastructure manager. Not only that, he also established, in the same year, the Presidential Infrastructure Development Fund (PIDF) with more than $1 billion.
If you ask most Nigerians how often they see Chinese men around, they will tell you most of the time and in most parts of the country, whether in Lagos, Ibadan, Kaduna, Port Harcourt. True, they are everywhere, laying rail tracks and providing the modern trains that will run on them. The 156 km Lagos – Ibadan Standard Rail Gauge is completed.
Thirty three years after construction began in the 327km Itakpe – Warri Standard Gauge Rail, it has now been commissioned and functioning today. What about Abuja Light Rail that was completed three years after PMB was elected president? And then, there is the construction of Kano – Maradi SGR. At the moment, negotiations are ongoing on Ibadan – Kano SGR, not to mention revamping of Port Harcourt – Maiduguri Narrow Gauge Rail.
What this means is that with these rail lines crisscrossing the country, human traffic and freighting of goods will be much easier and faster.
Tied closely to the rail projects are also roads. Some major road projects are to benefit from the Presidential Infrastructure Development Fund (PIDF) with over a billion dollars already invested in three flagship projects: Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, Second Niger Bridge, Abuja-Kaduna-Zaria-Kano Expressway.
Meanwhile, the president long ago issued Executive Order 7 to mobilize private investment into the development of key roads and bridges like Bodo-Bonny in Rivers and Apapa-Oshodi-Oworonshoki-Ojota in Lagos.
That is not all. There is also a Highway Development and Management Initiative (HDMI), a public-private partnership program to mobilise, in its first Phase, over a Trillion Naira in private investment into the development and maintenance of 12 Roads, amounting to 1,963km in length, with more than 360 billion Naira worth of Sukuk Bonds raised since 2017 for dozens of critical road projects across all six geopolitical zones.
Despite security challenges in the North East and the Middle Belt, agricultural produce still come from vast swathes of land in the troubled regions, thanks to Anchor Borrowers Programme launched in 2015. Since then, more than 3.1 million small holder farmers of more than 21 different commodities have benefitted from loans. Through that, the farmers have cultivated 3.8 million hectares of land cropping cassava, cotton, groundnut, maize, poultry, rice and soy beans. There is also fish farming.
Need we talk about the fertilizer initiative launched by the Federal Government under PMB? Without sounding boastful or chest-thumping, millions of farmers now have access to locally produced fertilizers in partnership with AfDB, IFAD and BOI under the Special-Agro Industrial Processing Zones. Soon to commence this year, the SAIPZ are spread across seven states: Cross River, Imo, Kaduna, Kano, Kwara, Ogun and Oyo states.
To be self-reliant, a nation has to be able to feed its citizens. That perhaps accounts for why Buhari’s Administration is focusing on agriculture more than ever before. In that light, the Federal Government has gone into partnership with Brazil through the Green Imperative, an Agricultural Mechanization Programme. Already, the National Assembly has thumbed up for a loan for that wherein 632 privately-operated primary production (mechanization) service centres and 142 Agro processing service centres will function across the 774 local government areas.
From sports to youth development and poverty alleviation, the swift response to COVID-19 outbreak last year, PMB has made tremendous leaps in moving the country forward though his critics may think otherwise.
There are leaders who are not goaded into making careless utterances however much the public pressure to respond to burning national issues. Having faced the toughest of battles in the frontlines, military leaders turned civilian presidents oftentimes maintain dignified silences in the face of public outcry for comments on national issues.
Onetime American president Dwight David Eisenhower is a famous example. People like that prefer to work assiduously like a computer and quietly like a Hoover. The fact that PMB does not bow to public clamour does not mean he is not deeply concerned about the state of the nation or what to do to get it moving.
Anyone with a discerning mind who listened to his broadcast on Democracy Day would have noticed his mien that Saturday morning. It wasn’t the visage of a president unconcerned with the challenges Nigeria is currently facing.
Only a concerned Commander-in-Chief would have said this about the state of insecurity in a country he leads: “I want to render my sincere and heart-felt condolences to the families and friends of our gallant service men and women who lost their lives in the line of duty and as a sacrifice to keep Nigeria safe.
“I extend the same condolence to the families and friends of our country men, women and children who were unfortunate victims of such senseless arsons, kidnappings and murders.
“I also share the pains of families and direct victims of ransom-seeking, kidnaped victims who went through unimaginable trauma in the course of their forced imprisonment.
“Let me assure my fellow citizens that every incident, however minor gives me great worry and concern and I immediately order security agencies to swiftly but safely rescue victims and bring perpetrators to justice.”
In PMB, Nigeria is lucky. And those of us who know his value count our blessings day by day. We will keep faith with him all the way.
*Michael Stephens, a commentator on public affairs, writes from Lagos