IN DEFENSE OF PRESIDENT BUHARI:
IS THIS THE CHANGE WE VOTED FOR? YES, IT IS!
By Garba Shehu
THE LAST COUPLE of weeks have witnessed the heaviest public criticism of the Muhammadu Buhari administration since he came to power after inflicting a heavy defeat on the Peoples Democratic Party and their candidate Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan. Much of it has been on account of the unresolved social and economic problems facing the country.
Unfair criticism of the Buhari administration especially on account of escalating prices of foodstuff and the liberalization of the currency exchange needs to be challenged before it overshadows the commendable job the President has done in fighting terrorism as part of overall effort to secure the country, reducing corruption and yes, arresting the economic slide before it sinks the the nation.
The Hausa have a saying: "Ba zomo na kashe ba, rataya a ka bani," meaning literally "I killed no rabbit, I am helping to carry the prey."
Wherever they go these days, in London, Dubai, Beijing, Washington, New York or Tokyo, Nigerians get the good feeling of being asked the question, how is President Muhammadu Buhari?
It is a proud moment for many citizens that the country is being perceived differently now that it has a different kind of leader creating a positive buss abroad, the kind of sentiment that can lead to foreign investments when properly capitalized upon.
The lavish praise the President gets abroad and the wide public support he enjoys among the lower segment of the local population is, by contrast, given a short shrift in the local press, mainstream and online. At its lowest point, this unambiguous media rebuke has created a wave of sympathy for anyone with a view that runs counter to the President's.
Boko Haram terrorist leader, Shekau or the pipeline vandal from the Delta region is more likely to get newspaper front pages today than the Minister of Labour, Senator Chris Ngige or the Finance Minister Kemi Adeosun talking about jobs creation in the economy.
I don't say that media criticism is not reflective of the feeling of the citizens.
President Buhari has himself on numerous occasions admitted that the change mantra has brought with it pain and suffering which he likened to the pains of labor. It is a passing phase.
When they ask the question, is this the change we voted for, the critic forgets how far we have come from the scam-tainted years of the PDP rule.
How many people have given a thought to the possibility of Nigeria doing something that the combined strength of Europe and America have failed to do?
There are many today who take for granted the declared victory over the Boko Haram terrorists, forgetting the reign of the bomber who made it almost impossible for regular attendance in Churches and Mosques in many of our cities, including the Federal Capital City, Abuja.
Victory over Boko Haram has brought peace not only to Nigeria but to the countries in the Lake Chad region.
The world leaders are still at work trying to contain the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, ISIS, which threat sadly continues to become more potent.
Everyone living in Nigeria knows that there is a major movement against corruption as part of the ongoing change. This war has forced the return to the treasury of billions of Naira and millions of Dollars stolen by past officials.
On account of this war, government suspects that the biggest trigger of the opposition to the change agenda is the army of the corrupt. With the enormous resources at their disposal; money that is unearned, these forces are ready to throw in everything to gag the Buhari administration.
When he assumed office, President Buhari said he understood the outcry of Nigerians and was determined to right those wrongs. I will remind you of his inaugural speech where he said: "At home we face enormous challenges. Insecurity, pervasive corruption, the hitherto unending and seemingly impossible fuel and power shortages are the immediate concerns. We are going to tackle them head on. Nigerians will not regret that they have entrusted national responsibility to us. We must not succumb to hopelessness and defeatism. We can fix our problems."(Emphasis added).
He has said times without number that his government is dedicated to the poor. As can be seen from the 2016 budget, this is a government that is determined to hugely empower the disadvantaged groups- the poor, the jobless, the widows and the orphaned children including those of the North-East.
As a listening government, the President was prepared to open the door to additional food imports but given the processes involved, the turn around in any such import of commodities would have taken a long time as to coincide with the harvest of home grown grains and cereals now in progress. The market would have been deluged and the local grower given the short end of the stick.
Calls on Hausa radio by a rabble-rousing section of the opposition for the "reopening of borders" to "allow food come in" are redundant and mischievous because all the county's borders remain open till date.
Following the budget, the administration has begun rolling out several social welfare programs. The direct cash transfer to the poorest of the poor, the school feeding and the recruitment/skills training of about one million jobless citizens are such an example.
In addition to hard work, all leaders need luck on their side to create what is sometimes seen as economic miracles. As leader, President Buhari never had the luxury of high oil prices as did his predecessors in office.
When he first emerged as the military Head of State, General Muhammadu Buhari saw oil price, the mainstay of the nation's economy sank to as low eight Dollars a barrel.
He rolled up his sleeves, worked on diversification strategy of the economy only to be eased out of power just as they began to take hold. Thereafter, his successors abandoned these efforts.
On his second coming, this time as a democratically elected leader, the collapse of oil prices has challenged President Buhari to quicken efforts towards the diversification of the economy with emphasis given to agriculture and solid minerals mining. Every crisis, it is said, is an opportunity. Not so in Nigeria. This is a county that inherited massive technological inventions from Biafra, yet failed to take it forward. We must not lose this opportunity to diversify the economy and our foreign earnings presented by the present oil crisis.
As the country hopes for a bumper harvest this year, government is taking steps to ensure that no farmer will sell at a loss or fail to find markets for their harvests. Grain silos are being readied nationwide to receive excess produce for warehousing to ensure food security, avert market glut and price collapse. By this, government will ensure a minimum guaranteed price.
In dealing with challenges of the economy, the administration is devoting attention to ridding the country of its notoriety as a difficult place of doing business.
The government has been making quiet but significant progress in this area, thanks to the leadership given by the National Economic Council under the Vice President and the combined efforts of the Ministries of Trade and Investment, Finance, Interior, Foreign Affairs, Budget and Planning and the Customs under new leadership.
Everyone in this sector is doing everything in their power to boost up Nigeria.
President Muhammadu Buhari's infrastructure initiatives will see country making progress with intractable projects such as the Second Niger bridge, the East-West expressway, the green field Lagos-Abuja expressway and important national railway projects, Lagos-Calabar and Lagos-Kano which had been on the drawing boards for as long as anyone can remember.
These projects will be counted among the accomplishments of the administration alongside the 4,000 MW Mambila power plant which the President has declared a national priority. Government has also taken several bold steps to boost renewable energy. It has opened the door for a new conversation on the environment with decisive steps towards the clean-up the Ogoniland in the Niger Delta.
The currency liberalization and the deregulation of the petroleum products sale will make President Buhari one of the best presidents till date. The removal of subsidies on the petrol products has saved the government more than two trillion Naira annual expenditure in this respect.
President Buhari's foreign trips have brought many things to the country. He has energized our foreign policy. Beyond the enormous goodwill reaped from "resetting" age-old but damaged relations with neighbors and distant partners and friends, the President has attracted foreign development assistance and direct investments (FDI). It is generally accepted that good foreign relations bring foreign direct investment. So much is currently being done one year into the administration. This is in spite of the world economy being sluggish and recession-stricken.
It bears repeating that President is a different kind of leader, who just happens to be a victim of the tyranny of high expectations. He has brought positive intention, commitment, honesty and personal integrity into governance. This is why the country's poor hold him so dear; this is why the world is in love with him.
His knack for prudent spending and effective management of resources is in the belief that this country can only prosper when there is transparency, reduced corruption and a drastic cut in bureaucratic red tape.
His decision to have a small cabinet, reducing government ministries from 46 to 24 has the effect of relieving the treasury of the burden of salaries, allowances and miscellaneous expenses now being counted in billions of Naira.
President Buhari should be credited for the the unblemished record of his ministers. This is a government that has stayed above scandal for a year.
If all of these are not desirable changes, to be appreciated and adored, it is hard to know or determine what some of our critics want.
These reforms certainly represent major milestones in change which have led to a decline of corruption at the top.
As to the question of these leading to a resurgent economy, it all means that in a democracy everything takes times. The President needs our support with understanding and patience. No matter how hasty a president wants to bring changes, there is no magic wand in that office to make everything change from bad to good or make all of us prosperous with a wave of the hand. This change is on course. It requires patience.
The change is working for the nation and sooner than later, the testimony shall be given.
Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity