President Muhammadu Buhari Wednesday initiated a 10-year objective for Nigeria to eliminate at least 100 million of its people out of poverty.
The president, in his inaugural speech for a second term in office delivered in Abuja, declared his administration would thenceforth start to lay the foundations for achieving the poverty salvation goal by allowing leadership with a sense of hope.
He had admitted the inaugural speech till yesterday, after his formal swearing-in for a second term in office on May 29, to give colour to the maiden celebration of June 12 as the nation’s Democracy Day.
Yesterday’s celebration was witnessed by many dignitaries, including foreign heads of government and the diplomatic corps.
However, as it was the case on May 29, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, one of his successors, Dr Goodluck Jonathan, former Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar and former military president Ibrahim Babangida, were absent.
A former military leader, General Yakubu Gowon, who attended the swearing-in on May 29, was also absent at yesterday’s event where Buhari also renamed the Abuja National Stadium after the late business mogul and winner of June 12, 1993, presidential election, Chief M.K.O Abiola.
A report by Brookings Institution, an American research group based in Washington DC, and released in June 2018, had named Nigeria as the nation with the highest number of extremely poor people in the world.
By its projections, Nigeria has 87 million out of its 200 million population living in abject poverty as against the former poverty headquarters of the world, India, which with its 1.324 billion people has 73 million living in extreme poverty.
According to the report, the number of Nigerians in extreme poverty increases by six people every minute.
But an upbeat Buhari said Nigeria could reverse the situation just as China, India and Indonesia did by lifting millions of their people out of poverty.
He also expressed optimism that the economy should be in a good shape with the target of 2.7 per cent gross domestic product (GDP) growth this year and current foreign reserves of $45 billion.
These, he added, would be enough for the country to fund import commitments for over nine months.
He said: “In face of these challenges, our government elected by the people in 2015 and re-elected in March, has been mapping out policies, measures and laws to maintain our unity and at the same time lift the bulk of our people out of poverty and onto the road to prosperity.
“This task is by no means unattainable. China has done it. India has done it. Indonesia has done it. Nigeria can do it. These are all countries characterised by huge burdens of population. China and Indonesia succeeded under authoritarian regimes. India succeeded in a democratic setting. We can do it.
“With leadership and a sense of purpose, we can lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty in 10 years. Following the 60 per cent drop in oil prices between 2015 and 2016, through monetary and fiscal measures, we stimulated economic growth, curbed inflation and shored up our external reserves.
“We now have witnessed eight quarters of positive growth in the economy and our GDP is expected to grow by 2.7 per cent this year. Furthermore, our external reserves have risen to $45 billion enough to finance over nine months of current import commitments.”
The president also spoke on the decision of his administration to recognise June 12 as Democracy Day.
He said he did it to honour Abiola and his running mate, Alhaji Babagana Kingibe, as well as the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi, who was at the forefront of the battle for the actualisation of Abiola’s mandate, to ensure the healing of past wounds and reconciliation.
“As we all know, correcting injustice is a pre-requisite for peace and unity. As part of the process of healing and reconciliation, I approved the recognition of June 12 as Democracy Day and invested the late Chief M.K.O. Abiola and Babagana Kingibe with National Honours, as I did with the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi. The purpose was to partially atone for the previous damage done in annulling the presidential election of that year.
“Today, I propose the re-naming of the Abuja National Stadium. Henceforth it will be called Moshood Abiola National Stadium,” he added.
He urged Nigerians to cooperate with his administration to build a new nation.
He told the gathering that he would assemble a team of cabinet members that would drive the country’s agenda for transformation.
He also said his optimism about Nigeria’s greatness remained unshakeable, emphasising that he would assemble a team that in the next four years would actualise his administration’s vision to reform tertiary institutions, develop technology, open modern roads and bridges, arteries of transportation and accelerate healthcare and engage medical personnel.
“Despite the challenges over the last four years, my optimism about Nigeria’s future is unshaken and Nigeria’s role in the world as an emerging economic force is without a doubt.
“Over the next four years, we are committed to assembling a strong team of Nigerians, and allies, to implement our transformative plans and proposals,” he said.
The president who itemised various challenges confronting the nation and promised to address them in his drive for Nigeria’s progress.
He advocated the need for the collaboration of all parts of the country, saying there must be an aggressive nationwide development as against perception that development must be concentrated in Abuja alone.
He also pledged that the next four years would be dedicated to improving the living standards of the people, tackling emerging challenges, resettling the displaced communities and addressing insecurity in all parts of the country.
He added that the government was laying the foundation for the transformation of Nigeria as well as the delivering of citizens from abject poverty.
“For the next four years, we will remain committed to improving the lives of people by consolidating efforts to address these key issues as well as emerging challenges of climate change, resettling displaced communities and dealing decisively with the new flashes of insecurity across the country, and the impacts on food scarcity and regional stability.
“We are not daunted by the enormity of the tasks ahead. Instead, we are revived by this new mandate to work collaboratively with state and local governments, legislators, the diplomatic corps and all Nigerians to rebuild and reposition our country as the heartbeat and reference point for our continent,” he said.
Buhari also unfolded plans to integrate rural communities into what he described as the “national grid” by expanding the scope of small-scale loans to farmers and proprietors of small-scale businesses and simultaneously expanding available facilities to boost local production.
He said: “First, we will take steps to integrate rural economies to the national economic ‘grid’ by extending access to small-scale credits and inputs to rural farmers, credit to rural micro-businesses and opening up many critical feeder roads.
“Secondly, for small-scale enterprises in towns and cities, we shall expand facilities currently available so that we continue to encourage and support domestic production of basic goods and reduce our reliance on imported goods as I will outline later.”
Against this background, he tasked governors to get ready for the development of their areas by soliciting for investments and equally promoting various developmental projects.
“I therefore implore all state governments, especially those with large rural economies, to aggressively solicit investments in your states. Invest in developing human capital, reducing bureaucracy and corruption, hosting and attending investment summits and improving the ease of doing business,” he added.
The president recalled the United Nations projection of 411 million population for Nigeria in 2050, noting that by the projection, Nigeria’s population would only be lower than that of China and India.
He said the major priority of the new administration is “to consolidate on the achievements of the last four years, correct the flaws and address challenges facing the country.”
“The principal thrust of this new administration is to consolidate on the achievements of the last four years, correct the lapses inevitable in all human endeavours and tackle the new challenges the country is faced with and chart a bold plan for transforming Nigeria,” he added.
While advocating the need for Nigerians to live in peace and harmony, the president blamed the violence confronting the nation on sponsorships and incitements by ethnic, political and religious leaders.
Describing yesterday’s transition as a commemoration of the longest period of unbroken democracy and the fifth peaceful transfer of power from one democratically-elected government to another in Nigeria, the president said throughout his first term, he upheld the independence of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
He also claimed that aside making all resources INEC needed available to the commission, there was a consensus among stakeholders that aside skirmishes in some parts of the country, the 2019 elections were free, fair and peaceful.
“Throughout the last four years, I respected the independence of INEC. I ensured that INEC got all the resources it needed for independent and impartial management of elections in the country.
“All interested parties are agreed that the recent elections, which except for pockets of unrest, were free, fair and peaceful,” he said.
On insecurity, Buhari, read the riot act to trouble makers, warning that those who seek to derail the focus of government would face the law.
“Fellow Nigerians, this government will not tolerate actions by any individual or groups of individuals who seek to attack our way of life or those who seek to corruptly enrich themselves at the expense of the rest of us. We will crack down on those who incite ordinary innocent people to violence and unrest.
“We will ensure that such actions are met with the strong arm of the law. Nation building takes time. But we must take solace in the knowledge that this country, our country, has everything we require to make Nigeria prosper,” he said.
Buhari also recalled how prior to his ascension in 2015, Boko Haram insurgency was prevalent in the North-east and spread to the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
However, he said the worst was not over as Nigeria was faced with new security threats such as kidnapping and banditry.
“The great difference between 2015 and today is that we are meeting these challenges with much greater support to the security forces in terms of money, equipment and improved local intelligence. We are meeting these challenges with superior strategy, firepower and resolve.”
However, the event was not without drama as former Governors Abiola Ajimobi (Oyo), Rauf Aregbesola (Osun) and Olusegun Osoba(Ogun), were denied entry to the VIP stand of the Eagle Square where Buhari, visiting presidents, diplomats and serving governors were seated.
The children of Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo were initially denied entry where they waited for sometimes before being referred to a seating position outside the VIP stand.
Despite repeated entreaties to security operatives, the former governors were referred to the popular stand and told that they were not allowed into the VIP section.
Buhari inspected a guard of honour and was later driven round the square amid cheers from supporters.
The occasion was marked by military parades and displays while cultural dance groups took turns to entertain the audience.
The ceremony was graced by some world leaders including the presidents of Ghana, Burkina Faso, Rwanda, Czech Republic and Congo.
Also in attendance were leaders of Namibia, Chad and Angola. Other leaders who sent representations were French president, Peoples Republic of Korea, Cameroun.