Good morning gentlemen, and welcome to this press conference, our first this year. In fact, it was meant to be the last for 2020, but it has now become the first for 2021. As you are aware, this press conference was scheduled for Tuesday, Dec. 29th 2020. However, we had to postpone it in order for me not to breach the Covid-19 protocols.
Many of you may not be aware that I represented Mr. President at the inauguration of His Excellency, President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré of Burkina Faso, in Ouagadougou on Monday, Dec. 28, 2020. I returned to Nigeria the same day, but had to observe the mandatory 7-day quarantine, which expired yesterday, Sunday Jan. 3rd 2021. My sincere apologies to you, gentlemen, for the postponement, especially coming at such a short notice.
2. Now that we are here, let me wish you all a Happy New Year. The year 2020 was a very challenging one for our country. Covid-19 and EndSars – with their impact on the nation’s economy – and of course heightened security challenges combined to make the year such a tough one. But I make bold to say that the federal government rose stoutly –with courage and determination – to tackle the challenges, and has continued to do so.
3. The Federal Government immediately kickstarted a massive onslaught against the novel coronavirus, Covid-19, as soon as it was imported into the country in February 2020, mobilizing all sectors and segments of the country for a multi-sectoral approach to interrupt the transmission of the virus, curtail mortality, expand health infrastructure, build the capacity of health workers and mount an aggressive public sensitization and community mobilization against the spread of the virus. To achieve these targets, President Muhammadu Buhari inaugurated a Presidential Task Force on Covid-19 under the chairmanship of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation to drive the multi-sectoral approach to contain the virus. Nigeria has so far availed itself creditably in the fight against Covid-19 through the deployment of resources, mobilization and training of manpower and expansion of health infrastructure, particularly our testing capacity for Covid-19. From just two National Reference Laboratory for the testing of Covid-19, we now have over 100 laboratories, public and private, across all the states of the federation.
4. Treatment centres were also built, in collaboration with the states and the private sector (CACOVID), across the country to isolate and treat cases of Covid-19, while the federal government, through the Sustainable Production Pillar of the PTF, has been encouraging local manufacturing companies to embark on the production of consumables such as face masks, ventilators, hand sanitizers and face shields. To mitigate the impact of Covid-19 on the economy across all levels, the federal government unveiled the Economic Sustainability Plan to support families, small and medium enterprises and the manufacturing sector, among others. A major highlight of the Economic Sustainability Plan is the provision of solar power to 5 million Nigerian households in the next 12 months. This alone will produce 250,000 jobs and impact up to 25 million beneficiaries through the installation. Various other interventions were made through the Government Enterprise and Empowerment Program, as well as the Trader and Market Moni loans. For the very vulnerable, significant steps taken include the expansion of the National Social Register to 3.6 million beneficiaries across the 36 states; support provided to 8,827,129 households through the 70,000 Metric Tons food grains released from the Strategic Reserve; and support to 1,289,405 vulnerable households that benefited from the Conditional Cash Transfers across 34 States. The Central Bank of Nigeria also announced a number of measures to cushion the impact of the pandemic. These include:
– A 1-year extension of a moratorium on principal repayments for CBN intervention facilities;
– The reduction of the interest rate on intervention loans from 9 percent to 5 percent
– Strengthening of the Loan to Deposit ratio policy (i.e. stepped up enforcement of directive to extend more credit to the private sector)
– Creation of N50 billion target credit facility for affected households and small and medium enterprises
– Granting of regulatory forbearance to banks to restructure terms of facilities in affected sectors
– Additional N100 billion intervention fund in healthcare loans to pharmaceutical companies and healthcare practitioners intending to expand/build capacity
– Identification of few key local pharmaceutical companies that will be granted funding facilities to support the procurement of raw materials and equipment required to boost local drug production.
– N1 trillion in loans to boost local manufacturing and production across critical sectors.
– Provision of credit assistance for the health industry to meet the potential increase in demand for health services and products “by facilitating borrowing conditions for pharmaceutical companies, hospitals and practitioners”.
– The Central Bank pledged to pump N1.1 trillion into critical sectors of the economy.
– Commencement of a three-month repayment moratorium for all TraderMoni, MarketMoni and FarmerMoni loans
– Similar moratorium to be given to all Federal Government-funded loans issued by the Bank of Industry, Bank of Agriculture and the Nigeria Export-Import Bank.
Of course, we also have the 774,000 Special Public Works (SPW) jobs (1,000 jobs per each Local Government) which is now scheduled to commence this January. The programme is designed for artisans to do public works for three months at N20,000 per person per month. There is also the N75 Billion Nigeria Youth Investment Fund (NYIF), which is targeted at interested young Nigerians between the ages of 18 and 35 years. The aim of the scheme is to financially empower Nigeria youth to generate at least 500,000 jobs between 2020 and 2023. Please note that all these programmes, with the youth as major beneficiaries, were put in place long before Endsars.
5. With the resurgence of the Covid-19 pandemic, Mr. President has extended the mandate of the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on Covid-19 until the end of March 2021, bearing in mind the new surge in the number of cases and the bid for vaccines. This is further evidence of the Administration’s untiring efforts to tame the pandemic and protect Nigerians.
6. Just as the first wave of Covid-19 pandemic was rounding off, the country witnessed the EndSARS protest by the youth, who were calling for an end to police brutality and the disbandment of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). The protest started peacefully but soon degenerated into violence after it was hijacked by hoodlums. The five demands of the EndSars protesters were:
i) Immediate release of all arrested protesters.
ii) Justice for all deceased victims of police brutality and appropriate compensation for their families.
iii) Setting up an independent body to oversee the investigation and prosecution of all reports of police misconduct within 10 days.
iv) In line with the new Police Act, psychological evaluation and retraining (to be confirmed by an independent body) of all disbanded SARS officers before they can be redeployed.
v) Increase police salary so that they are adequately compensated for protecting the lives and property of citizens.
The government responded comprehensively to the demands thus:
On 11 Oct: The Inspector-General of Police announced the immediate disbandment of SARS across the 36 State Police Commands and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
On Oct. 12th: President Muhamadu Buhari addressed the nation, stating:
”The disbanding of SARS is only the first step in our commitment to extensive police reforms in order to ensure that the primary duty of the police and other law enforcement agencies remains the protection of lives and livelihood of our people. We will also ensure that all those responsible for misconduct or wrongful acts are brought to justice.
On Oct. 13th: The IGP ordered all defunct SARS personnel to report at the Force Headquarters, Abuja, for debriefing as well as psychological and medical examination. The officers were to undergo this process as a prelude to further training and reorientation before being redeployed into mainstream policing duties. The medical examination was carried out by the new Police Counselling and Support Unit (PCSU).
On the same day, Oct. 13th: The presidential panel on the reform of SARS formally accepted the five-point demand of the EndSARS protesters.
On Oct. 15th: The National Economic Council (NEC) directed the immediate establishment of State-based Judicial Panels of Inquiry across the country to receive and investigate complaints of police brutality or related extra-judicial killings, with a view to delivering justice for all victims of the dissolved SARS and other police units. The panel will include representatives of Youths, Students, Civil Society Organizations and would be chaired by a respected retired State High Court Judge. The panels have six months to complete its assignment.
Other decisions by NEC on the Demands:
– State Governors and the FCT Minister should take charge of interface and contact with the protesters in their respective domains.
– State Governors should immediately establish State-based Special Security and Human Rights Committees to be chaired by the Governors in their States, and to supervise the newly-formed police tactical units and all other security agencies located in the States. This will ensure the protection of citizens’ human rights. Members will also include Representatives of Youths and Civil Society, as well as the head of police tactical units in each of the States.
– Establishment, by the Special Committee on Security and Human Rights, of a Human Rights Public Complaints Team of between 2 to 3 persons to receive complaints on an ongoing basis. That team would be established by the Special Committee on Security and Human Rights.
– State Governors to immediately establish a Victims Fund to enable the payment of monetary compensation to deserving victims.
Finally, on the Federal Government’s response, the National Salaries, Income and Wages Commission was directed to expedite action on the finalization of the new salary structure of members of the Nigeria Police Force.
7. Despite meeting the demands, the protest continued and the demands kept expanding, until the protest was hijacked, leading to unprecedented violence characterized by killings, maiming, arson, looting etc. For the record, six soldiers and 37 policemen were killed all over the country during the crisis. Also, 196 policemen were injured; 164 police vehicles were destroyed and 134 police stations burnt down. Also, the violence left 57 civilians dead, 269 private/corporate facilities burnt/looted/vandalized, 243 government facilities burnt/vandalized and 81 government warehouses looted. The violence was unprecedented in scale and scope, and the impact has been damaging to the economy.
8. Nigeria recorded positive economic developments in 2020, but these seem to have been overshadowed by the country’s economic recession. As you are all aware, Nigeria officially entered recession at the end of the third quarter (Q3), after the country’s Gross Domestic Product declined for the second consecutive quarter in 2020 (Q2 and Q3). That’s in line with the traditional definition of recession. The main reason for this is the Covid-19 pandemic. Nigeria is not alone. Dozens of countries, including economic giants like the US, UK and Canada, have entered recession, of course due to the global pandemic. Others include Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Mexico, Netherlands, Norway, Romania, Russia and Spain.
9. But, like I said earlier, Nigeria’s economic recession has masked a lot of positive economic developments: According to the National Bureau of Statistics, the decline of -3.62% in Q3 is much smaller than the -6.10% recorded in Q2. The economic conditions are actually improving, with 17 activities recording positive real growth in the third quarter, compared to 13 in Q2. Also, 36 of 46 economic activities did better in the third quarter of 2020 than in the second quarter of the same year. The -3.62% contraction recorded in the third quarter of 2020 was better than the -6.01% earlier forecast by the National Bureau of Statistics, and outperformed several domestic and international forecasts. Please note that before COVID-19, the Nigerian economy had been experiencing sustained growth, which was improving every quarter, until the second quarter of 2020, when the impact of COVID-19 started to be felt. Just as the year 2020 was rounding off, the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE) was named the best-performing stock market among the 93 equity indexes being tracked by Bloomberg across the world. The all-share index, which opened at 38,800.01, moved up by 310.16 points to close at 39,110.17 – crossing the 39,000 mark, while the market capitalization rose by N167 billion to close at N20.446 trillion. Returns are currently at 45.7 percent; the best annual return since 2013.
OIL SECTOR WORST HIT
10. The oil sector was largely responsible for the slowdown in economic activity in the third quarter of 2020, as it recorded a sharp contraction of -13.89% in the third quarter of 2020 year-on-year, the largest decline in that sector in 14 quarters. The reason is not far-fetched. The slowdown in global economic growth and oil demand due to Covid-19 pandemic, as well as Nigeria’s obligations to meet OPEC cuts, were principally responsible for the slowdown in the performance of the oil sector.
11. Though the non-oil sector also contracted in the third quarter of 2020, the decline in the sector by -2.51% year-on-year in the third quarter of 2020 was significantly better when compared to the contraction of -6.05% year-on-year recorded in the second quarter of 2020.
12. Overall, there is good news: The latest recession in Nigeria will be short-lived, and Nigeria will return to positive growth soon, unlike the 2016 recession which lasted five quarters. This is because of several complementary fiscal, real sector and monetary interventions proactively introduced by the government to forestall a far worse decline of the economy and alleviate the negative consequences of the pandemic.
13. Gentlemen, let me say straight away that Nigeria is fending off attacks on many fronts, not just from terrorists and bandits, but also from some human rights organizations and the International Criminal Court (ICC) which seem to have colluded to exacerbate the challenges facing the country in the area of security. While our security agencies continue to battle these bandits and terrorists, the ICC and some international human rights organizations, especially Amnesty International, have constituted themselves to another ‘fighting force’ against Nigeria, constantly harassing our security forces and threatening them with investigation and possible prosecution over alleged crimes against humanity and war crimes. Unfortunately, a section of the local media has been parroting these organizations without weighing the impact of their constant threats on the security of the nation.
14. The federal government frowns at this unbridled attempt to demoralize our security men and women as they confront the onslaught from bandits and terrorists. Nigeria did not join the ICC so it can become a pawn on the court’s chessboard. It beggars belief to see that a nation that is fighting an existential war against bandits and terrorists is constantly being held down by an international body which it willingly joined. Nigeria is a sovereign state and will not surrender its sovereignty to any organization. ICC, Amnesty International and their cohorts should desist from threatening our troops and putting the security of our country in jeopardy. Enough is enough. It is sad that these organizations mostly rely on fake news and disinformation to reach their conclusions, as witnessed during the Endsars protest when CNN – an otherwise respected global news network – went to town with fake news of a massacre. As it turned out, it was a massacre without bodies. As you are aware, we called CNN out and also petitioned the network. Though they acknowledged receipt of our petition, we have yet to hear from them on what actions they intend to take to prevent a recurrence of the fake news they peddled about Nigeria. I can assure you, gentlemen, that the matter is far from over.
15. Gentlemen, despite the antics of those who have constituted themselves to another ‘fighting force’ against our country, we have indeed made tremendous progress in tackling bandits and the terrorists of Boko Haram. Recently, some jaundiced analysts and their lapdogs have sought to portray Nigeria as a failing state, on the strength of its security challenges. But these analysts are dead wrong. Nigeria is not and cannot be a failing or failed state. Of course, you would remember that for the past two decades or so, some pseudo-analysts have been predicting the country’s implosion. That has not happened, hence they have found a new tag line: failing or failed state! It’s all a ruse aimed at depicting Nigeria as being in a constant state of anarchy, just so they can achieve their nefarious objectives for the country.
16. If Nigeria was not a ‘failing’ state when a large slice of its territory equivalent to the size of Belgium was under the occupation of Boko Haram, which collected taxes, installed and deposed emirs, is it now that no territory is under the terrorists that Nigeria will be a failing state? If Nigeria was not a failed state when bombs were raining on towns and cities in Kano, Kaduna, Plateau, Borno, Yobe, FCT and other states, is it now that such bombings have stopped that Nigeria will be described as a ‘failing’ state? If Nigeria was not a ‘failing’ state in those years that Christian and Muslim worshippers had to be screened to even enter their places of worship, is it now that the siege on places of worship has ceased that Nigeria will be described as a ‘failing’ state?
17. It is sad that we have forgotten where we were in terms of the state of insecurity just a few years back. Let me mention some instances that will put things in a better perspective. Thanks to our security agencies, we have just celebrated another Christmas and New Year without a rain of bombs. Few would remember that in 2010, 2011 and 2012, Christmas eve or Christmas Day attacks left hundreds dead or injured. What about the attack on the UN Complex in Abuja in August 2011; the bombing of media houses in Abuja and Kaduna in April 2012 and the killing of about 40 students in Mubi, Adamawa State, in October 2012?
Have we forgotten that over 80 towns and villages were attacked and razed, with casualties, by Boko Haram in Borno State alone? Have we forgotten the constant attacks on military and security formations like Giwa Barracks (Maiduguri), Mohammed Kur Barracks (Bama), Monguno Barracks (Monguno), Airforce Base (Maiduguri), New Prison (Maiduguri) and numerous police stations? The fact that these attacks and bombings have stopped is a testimony to the progress we have made in tackling terrorism which, by the way, is not like conventional warfare. The stoppage of the attacks didn’t happen by accident. It is therefore mischievous for anyone to discountenance the progress we have made in tackling insecurity, in building and upgrading infrastructure and in diversifying the economy, among others. The federal government rejects this characterization of Nigeria as a ‘failing’ state, which is a combination of the wishful thinking of naysayers and the evil machinations of those who don’t wish Nigeria well.
18. Gentlemen, the federal government has sustained the fight against terrorists, bandits, kidnappers and other criminal elements across the country especially in the North East and the North West Regions. The recent swift response and rescue of the 344 kidnapped Kankara schools boys in Katsina State from bandits attest to this. The President has continued to provide all the necessary platforms on land, air and sea to support the fight against criminals and terrorists in the country.
AGRICULTURE, INFRASTRUCTURE AND POWER
19. Amid the challenges of insecurity, which the Administration is tackling headlong, Nigeria has continued to make steady progress in many areas, including infrastructural development, agriculture and power. In agriculture, the federal government, within the period under review, inaugurated “The Green Imperative,’’ which is a 10-year agricultural programme amounting to $1.2 billion targeting the creation of five million jobs and injection of $10 billion into the economy. The Green Imperative is a Nigeria-Brazil bilateral agriculture development that will be implemented over a period of five to 10 years and the funding will come from the Development Bank of Brazil (BNDES) and Deutsche Bank, The Initiative will lead to the reactivation of six motor assembly plants in the six geopolitical zones of the country for assembling tractors and other implements, with importation of the Completely Knocked Down (CKD) parts of about 5,000 tractors and numerous implements for local assembly annually for a period of 10 years. Also, through the Anchor Borrowers programme, more than N200 billion has been made available since the inception of the scheme in 2015 to support over 1.5 million farmers in the production of rice, wheat, cassava, poultry, soya beans, groundnut, maize, cotton and fish. Thanks to this scheme, Nigeria is now on the verge of attaining self-sufficiency in rice production. In the area of power, following an agreement with German company Siemens in July 2019 to boost power supply in Nigeria, the stage is set for the perennial power problem to become a thing of the past. Under the three-phase agreement, Nigerians will enjoy 7,000 megawatts of reliable power supply by the end of 2021 (phase 1), 11,000 megawatts by the end of 2023 (phase 2) and 25,000 megawatts in the third phase.
20. In the area of infrastructure, the President this year virtually inaugurated the 326-kilometre Itakpe-Ajaokuta-Warri rail line, which has suffered a setback in the last 30 years. It is expected that close to one million passengers and 3.5 million tons of freight will be conveyed along the rail line annually. Passenger service has also commenced on the Lagos-Ibadan railway, ahead of the project’s inauguration in January 2021. The Lagos-Ibadan rail line is a double-track standard gauge rail, the first of its kind in West Africa, and the first leg of the Lagos to Kano rail line. Block by block, President Buhari is reviving and modernizing the country’s rail sector for a better conveyance of passengers and goods and in order to give the nation’s economy a shot in the arm. The Loko-Oweto Bridge over River Benue is now 97% completed. The 1.8-kilometre bridge links the northern and southern part of the country across the River Benue, achieving a drastic cut in travel time. And the federal government is constructing or renovating 37 bridges across the country, including the Third Mainland Bridge in Lagos, the Second Niger Bridge, the Ikom Bridge in Cross River, the Murtala Mohammed Bridge in Koton Karfe, Kogi State, the Tatabu Bridge linking Niger and Kwara States, the Isaac Boro Bridge in Port Harcourt and the Tamburawa Bridge in Kano State. The federal government also completed and inaugurated the Akanu Ibiam International Airport in Enugu for scheduled flights. The rehabilitation of the runway and other associated work were executed in line with ICAO standard.
21. As you are all aware, gentlemen, four land borders have now been reopened on the directive of Mr. President. The borders are those in Seme, Illela, Maigatari, and Mfun. The opening is the culmination of a border drill, code-named ”EXERCISE SWIFT RESPONSE”, that was launched on August 20th 2019 as part of efforts to secure the land and maritime borders in the South South, South West, North Central and North West zones from smuggling and irregular migration, as well as boost national economy and strengthen border security The Exercise is being coordinated by the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA), and comprises the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS), the Armed Forces of Nigeria as well as the Nigeria Police force (NPF) and other security and intelligence agencies. I can report to you, gentlemen, that over a year into the Exercise, it is a huge success, having saved resources and enhanced national security. The importation of drugs and proliferation of small arms, which usually fuel violent extremism and terrorism in the country, have been significantly curtailed. For instance, 95 per cent of illicit drugs and weapons that are being used for acts of terrorism and kidnapping in the country comes in through our porous borders. However, since the border drill started, this importation has been drastically reduced. The agricultural sector has also received a boost from the drill, with rice production now nearing the level of self sufficiency for the country and poultry production at a high level. As at 17 December 2020, 1,375 irregular migrants have been arrested while seizures so far include; 157,511-50kg bags of parboiled foreign rice; 10,447 bags of NPK fertilizer used for making explosives and 18,630 Jerrycans of vegetable oil. The total monetary value of the seized items is about ₦12,362,574,090.50. I commend our security operatives for displaying a high level of professionalism and unflinching commitment to this national assignment.
22. Gentlemen, the year 2020 has been a challenging year, undoubtedly one of the most challenging years for the country. A global pandemic that triggered an economic recession, a heightened security challenge and an unnecessary violence that stemmed from what started as a peaceful protest are just some of the challenges. It is to the credit of the Buhari Administration that it tackled these challenges headlong. Thanks to the several complementary fiscal, real sector and monetary interventions proactively introduced by the government to forestall a far worse decline of the economy and alleviate the negative consequences of the pandemic, the current recession will not last long, and Nigeria will soon return to positive growth. Nigeria will witness an improved security in 2021, as Mr. President has continued to provide the armed forces and other security agencies with whatever they require to function better, both in terms of platforms, logistics and capacity development. And, as Mr. President said in his new year broadcast, the security apparatus and personnel of the armed forces and the police are to be re-energized and reorganized, with a view to enhancing their capacity to engage, push back and dismantle the operations of both internal and external extremist and criminal groups waging war against our communities in some parts of the country.
The good news is that a number of the platforms we have been expecting to pep up the battle against terrorists and bandits are due to arrive in the new year. While at this, please permit me to salute all our security personnel for their sacrifice, dedication to duty and patriotism. The nation is in their debt for their service. Let me also take this opportunity to condemn the constant infantile press releases by the unserious, unimaginative and drab opposition, which misconstrues opposition as constantly shooting down anything the government of the day does or bad mouthing whatever Mr. President does or says. There is more to opposition than predictable and bring-it-down-at-all-cost media interventions. They messed up in government, and they are messing up even more in opposition. No lessons learnt either way.
23. Finally, let me say this: Doomsday predictions about Nigeria will not come to pass. Nigeria will not become a failed state, but will rise to become a more respected member of the comity of nations.
We thank all Nigerians for their support and wish them a happy new year. And to you here, thank you for honoring our invitation and,once again, best wishes for a better year in 2021