President Goodluck Jonathan posts an impressive report card despite challenges as Nigeria marks 54th independence anniversary
For the fourth consecutive year, Nigeria marked her independence anniversary inside the forecourt of the Presidential Villa, Abuja, with a ceremonial change of guards which saw the 177 battalion of the Nigerian Army take over guard duties for the Villa and Federal Capital Territory for the next one year. The event was witnessed by government dignitaries, statesmen and members of the diplomatic corps. Since 2010 when bomb blasts close to the Eagle Square killed 12 people and injured several others and cast gloom over Nigeria’s 50th anniversary, Nigeria has been marking the event inside the Presidential Villa for security reasons.
This year’s event, like the three previous years, was marked with sober reflection but unlike others, it had an undertone of muted confidence and increasing hope that Boko Haram was in recession. This is the consequence of the strategic victories that the armed forces scored against the insurgents just a week to the nation’s 54th anniversary. The Boko Haram commander who had been impersonating the late Abubakar Shekau, leader of the group, was finally killed by the military, which also captured hundreds of the insurgents. Some of the insurgents, seeing the writing on the wall, are surrendering daily to the army.
But President Goodluck Jonathan played down the recent success at the battle front; rather, he rallied all Nigerians behind the government and armed forces to end insurgency in the North-east: “I urge every Nigerian to put aside political, sectional or other parochial considerations and support wholeheartedly the efforts of the government and the military in checking this evil.”
Jonathan, however, reported progress on the issue of National Conference. Last year at the 53rd anniversary, he set up the committee that worked out the modalities for the conference. Last Wednesday, the President told Nigerians that the conference had come and gone. The report has been submitted and the government is currently working out the implementation strategy. He said he had set up a ministerial committee headed by the Attorney General of the Federation to work out the modalities for implementing the report. “Every promise I make, God willing, I will see to its fulfilment. I assure you, we shall implement the report,” he assured, saying that a major lesson from the conference was that with sustained dialogue, Nigerians can achieve consensus on national issues.
Jonathan also reported progress in other strategic sectors: building democracy infrastructure to guarantee free and fair elections; power sector reforms; the implementation of the Nigerian Content Act in the oil and gas sector which has ensured massive growth in indigenous participation in the provision of goods and services to the upstream sector from 10 per cent to 60 per cent in the last four years; and the rebasing of the country’s economy which has raised the Gross Domestic Product, GDP, to $510 billion and placed Nigeria as the 26th largest economy in the world. This has made the country’s target of becoming one of the 20 biggest global economies by 2020 a probability.
On job creation, the President said the government has launched the Nigerian Industrial Revolution Plan, NIRP, and the National Enterprise Development Programme, NEDEP, aimed at fast-tracking inclusive growth, job creation, enterprise development and industrialisation. Likewise, the government has also launched a special support programme for micro, small and medium enterprises with an initial intervention fund of N220 billion. This is in addition to the Presidential Job Creation Board inaugurated recently with the charge to create three million jobs annually. Put together, 2.5 million jobs were said to have been created over the past two years.
Other achievements, according to President Jonathan, include: local manufacturing of automobiles; commencement of the new mortgage re-finance programme with the establishment of the Nigerian Mortgage Re-finance Company, which is expected to create additional housing units across the country with a huge job creation opportunity.
On agriculture, Jonathan also reported ‘notable’ success. Nigeria has reduced extreme hunger by more than half. Food and Agriculture Organisation, FAO, has formally presented Nigeria with an award for achieving the Millennium Development Goal, MDG, on Hunger two years ahead of the 2015 target date set for the MDGs. Consequently, national food import bill has declined from N1.1 trillion ($6.9 billion) in 2009 to N684.7 billion ($4.35 billion) by December 2013.
On education, 14 new federal universities have been established. And to encourage persons of exceptional abilities, government has introduced a Presidential Scholarship Scheme based strictly on merit. The President also reported milestones in the development of critical infrastructure.
One of the highlights of the 54th anniversary was the conferment of national honours on 305 Nigerians on Monday, September 29 at the International Conference Centre, Abuja. Four of the awardees stood out for their grassroots appeal and inspiration to Nigerians “to strive to do the best in whatever endeavour you are in, that would recommend you for the recognition of your nation. It really does not matter what you do,” said the President. Ime Usuah is a taxi driver who returned N18 million a passenger forgot in his taxi. “This is how it should be,” enthused Jonathan.
Corporal Solomon Dauda, a traffic policeman in Abuja also got national honour for doing his job “with great dexterity, glee and happiness. As a traffic officer, he delights in entertaining commuters by graceful gyrations and gesticulations as he efficiently directs traffic. CPL Solomon Dauda carries on his job with evident pride and dignity,” acknowledged Jonathan.
Michael Isaac Onuh, a steward at the Presidential Villa, has served nine Nigerian presidents since President Shehu Shagari. He was honoured for his dedication to duty. It is quite a feat for a steward to have survived nine heads of state and nine first ladies. Usuah, Dauda and Onuh will not have to worry about house rent again in their lives as the minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Bala Mohammed, was directed by the President to provide each with a flat.
Pa Michael Akinkunmi designed the Nigerian flag which replaced the Union Jack in 1960. For him, recognition came almost too late as he was placed on the salary of a special assistant, SA, to the President for life. It is doubtful where the President got the powers to give Pa Akinkunmi the job of SA to the President for life as the 1999 Constitution did not envisage a life appointment. Section 151 gives the President power to appoint special advisers and SAs but subsection (3) provides that: “Any appointment made pursuant to the provisions of this section shall be at the pleasure of the President and shall cease when the President ceases to hold office.”
Below are the relevant sections of the Constitution and it is clear that Special Advisers, Special Assistants and all presidential aides cease to exist after the tenure of the one who appoints them. Or do we have a Life Presidency agenda at hand?
Section 151 (1) states: The President may appoint any person as a Special Adviser to assist him in the performance of his functions.
(2) The number of such Advisers and their remuneration and allowances shall be as prescribed by law or by resolution of the National Assembly.
(3) Any appointment made pursuant to the provisions of this section shall be at the pleasure of the President and shall cease when the President ceases to hold office.
- A person appointed as Special Adviser under section 151 of this Constitution shall not begin to perform the functions of his office until he has declared his assets and liabilities as prescribed in this Constitution and has subsequently taken and subscribed the Oath of Allegiance and oath of office prescribed in the Seventh Schedule to this Constitution
That notwithstanding, Nigeria is hopeful of the future. “As we look forward to another year in our national life, I am more than confident that our tomorrow will be better than our yesterday and today…we must stand together in love and unity, as one people under God,” affirmed President Jonathan.
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