A Mixed Grill at 59

President Buhari says Nigeria is on course while Nigerians express mixed feelings as the nation marks 59th anniversary.

Nigeria marked her 59th independence anniversary with low-keyed ceremonial change of guards at the Presidential Villa, Abuja. After the national broadcast at 7.am, the ceremonial change of guards took place at the courtyard of the Presidential Villa. Since the 2010 bomb blast close to the Eagle Square during the independence celebration, Nigeria has not celebrated her birthday at the Eagle Square for security and economic reasons. 

In his independence broadcast, President Muhammadu Buhari said it was a time for the country to reflect and remember the sacrifices of the founding fathers of the nation and rededicate themselves to the goals of nationhood.

He said the change agenda of his government was on course and is maintaining national security, restoring sustainable inclusive economic growth and development, and fighting corruption. He harped on unity and urged Nigerians to buy into the change agenda by living exemplary lives. 

He gave an account of his stewardship. Security ranked most. He reported that the government has ‘combatted’ Boko Haram but this time did not give the percentage of victory, probably because previous claims of ‘decimating’ the insurgents could not be sustained by subsequent upsurge in Boko Haram attacks. He said the capacity of the armed forces has been enhanced and the capacity of the Police is also being reinforced by an on-going recruitment of 10, 000 constables into the Police Force. These measures he hopes would help combat kidnapping, violent crimes, and armed robbery. The President said the government is increasingly ‘focusing’ on cybercrime, abuse of technology through hate speech. He called for restraint, tolerance, and mutual respect.

On the economy, he reported growth. He said the economy is being diversified away from oil dependency through the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan, investing on critical infrastructure, private sector participation, checking oil theft and power sector reforms. The government is also working on food security, better management of the economy and the Ministry for Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development. The government has also created the Ministry for Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management, and Social Development to cater to the vulnerable groups. For the future, he pledged to invest in education, health, water and sanitation, and food security.

On corruption, he said the government would continue to plug the holes by enforcing the Treasury Single Account policy, the Whistle-blowers’ Initiative, expand the coverage of the Integrated Payroll Personnel and Information System, as well as the Government Integrated Management Information System which have, saved billions of Naira over the last four years and deterred the theft and mismanagement of public funds in public service.

Similarly, the government would reinforce good governance and transparency by strengthening the anti-corruption agencies and integrity institutions. The government is also collaborating with relevant stakeholders to combat tax evasion and widen the tax net to earn more revenue to fund development. The National Assembly would make enabling laws to institutionalize the anti-corruption war in the criminal justice system.

The President expressed optimism in the future of the country and called on Nigerians to unite. “Nigeria will emerge from our present challenges stronger and more resilient than ever – but only if all of us join hands to entrench good governance, foster inclusive economic development, and defend and protect our nation from all those who would wish us ill.”

Nigerians saw the state of the country at 59 as a mixed grill. While some said the change agenda of the government was on course; some felt that the country was degenerating. They lamented worsening insecurity, increasing poverty, poor infrastructure, galloping unemployment and ‘coded corruption,’ under Buhari.

The Muslim Rights Concern, MURIC, said the government is truly on course. “We adjudge the Buhari administration as the best in post-independence Nigeria. Everyone agrees that corruption is the bane of Nigeria’s development. All other factors are peripheral but corruption is tangential. This implies that Nigeria will overcome all its challenges once corruption has been reduced to its barest minimum,” said the group in a statement signed by Professor Ishaq Akintola, its director.

However, they regretted that corruption is fighting back. “Unfortunately corrupt elements in society have also been fighting tooth and nail to frustrate his efforts. These include, but are not limited to, rapaciously greedy civil servants, a superfluously voracious business class and avariciously gluttonous politicians.”

According to them, Nigeria is currently witnessing the “most massive infrastructural development ever experienced since independence,” prudent management of resources, recovery of looted funds and plugging financial leakages. 

In his message to Nigerians to mark the anniversary, Atiku Abukar, presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in the 2019 election, insisted that all is not well with Nigeria. In a message he personally signed, the former vice president said “Allis not well when judges are persecuted for enforcing the constitutionally guaranteed fundamental human rights of Nigerian citizens. All is not well when Nigeria is now officially the world headquarters for extreme poverty and out of school children, yet the cost of maintaining those in government continues to grow, while the needs of the governed are not being met. And certainly, all is not well when the media cannot freely express itself without the fear that those who wield the big stick would use it on them for saying things as they are.”

He urged Nigerians to be active citizens and uphold the ideals of democracy. “So, rather than just call for prayers today, I am calling on all Nigerians to believe in Nigeria’s betterment, to work for Nigeria’s betterment, and to insist that no one in Nigeria, no matter how highly placed, shall be bigger than the laws of our land.”

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