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PMB Presidency: Another Year Down The Line

As President Muhammadu Buhari clocks one year in his second term in office and five years in his overall tenure of eight years today, JONATHAN NDA-ISAIAH x-rays the highs and lows of his presidency in the past one year.



On February 19, 2019, President Buhari, with 15.2million votes, defeated his close challenger, Atiku Abubakar, of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) who polled 11.3million to win his re-election. Atiku challenged Buhari’s victory up to the Supreme Court, praying the judiciary to upturn the victory in his favour. But in October last year, the apex court unanimously dismissed Atiku’s appeal, describing it as lacking in merit. With this pronouncement by the highest court in the land, the coast became clear for Buhari to advance his policies for the next four years to a logical conclusion.
In his first term, the president hinged his campaign on the tripod of fighting insecurity, reviving the nation’s economy and fighting corruption. In his bid for a second term last year, President Buhari tagged his campaign mantra “Next Level”, with a promise to take 100million Nigerians out of poverty as well as steer the country to a next level of development.
Unlike his first term when it took him almost six months to announce a cabinet, President Buhari named his ministers in less than two months for his second term in office. There is no gainsaying that he has been steering the ship of governance meticulously in the last one year to restore the country’s pride of place in the comity of nations.
Economy And The COVID-19 Pandemic
Last year, President Buhari submitted the 2020 budget to the National Assembly in record time. The annual fiscal document was passed by the National Assembly and signed by the president in December 2019, all in a bid to return the country to the January-December budgetary cycle.
But the COVID-19 pandemic and the crash of crude oil prices in the international market struck the nation’s economy negatively, compelling the government to review the 2020 budget. Nigeria is currently caught in the global economic downturn which, according to the World Bank and other international forecast, has made it inevitable that the country would soon slide into a recession.
To combat the fight against the ravaging pandemic which has so far claimed over 300,000 lives worldwide, President Buhari constituted the Presidential Task Force of COVID-19 led by the secretary to the government of the federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha. To curb the spread of the virus, the president in March announced a lockdown of Lagos, Ogun and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). Twice he extended the lockdown and later announced guidelines for easing of the lockdown. The PTF has been leading from the front by sensitising Nigerians on the dangers of the disease and liaising with state governors to ensure strict adherence to the guidelines.
Presidential spokesman, Mr. Femi Adesina, also listed measures that President Buhari had taken and would further take to make life better for Nigerians during the COVID-19 and post COVID-19 economy
According to him, an economic team, headed by the minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning had been set up to examine the impact of COVID-19 on the economy, while an Economic Sustainability Committee headed by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo is to define a post-COVID-19 economy for Nigeria.
He also announced that a task force had been set up on free movement of farm produce headed by the minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Sabo Nanono.  Adesina said that plans were afoot to tackle the weak health systems and infrastructure through the establishment of standard laboratories, intensive care units, and isolation centres in all states of the federation. The idea, he added, was to recalibrate the health infrastructure for the good of the people, and in readiness for future emergencies.
The presidential spokesman continued: “Long-term measures, emphasis will be placed on integrating local content in proven researches in cure, and production of materials in the heath sector. A Fiscal Sustainability Plan to complement the suite of monetary and banking interventions recently announced by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).
“A mass agricultural programme is to be put in place; major rural road construction programme; mass housing programme; large-scale installation of residential solar systems, utilising mainly local materials and expansion of the Social Investment Programme (SIP).
“The 2020-2022 Medium Term Expenditure Framework and the Budget 2020 assumptions and targets have already been revised. Time-sensitive expenditures are to be prioritised over less critical spending. Extant financial controls are to be strengthened to detect, eliminate and sanction instances of waste, funds misappropriation and corruption,” he said.
Similarly, the minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Hajiya Zainab Ahmed, while announcing recently that recession was inevitable in Nigeria, said that the government had put structures in place to enable the country get out of recession quickly.
She said: “In the best case, which is the case we are working on, it could be a contraction of –4.4 per cent if there is no fiscal stimulus. But with the fiscal stimulus plan that we are working on, this contraction can be mitigated and we might end up with a negative –0.59 per cent. The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) has made an assessment, so it is the NBS assessment that Nigeria will go into a recession measuring at an average of -4.4 per cent.
“But with the work that the Economic Sustainability Committee is doing, bringing stimulus packages, we believe that we can reduce the impact of that recession. And if we applied all that have been proposed and we are able to implement it, we may end up with a recession that is -0.4 per cent.
“In any case, we will go into recession but what we are trying to do is to make sure that it is shallow so that we will quickly come out of it in 2021,” she said.
Death In Aso Rock
In April, the president lost his chief of staff (CoS), Mallam Abba Kyari, to COVID-19 complications. The late Kyari was a confidant to the president. In an emotion laden tribute, Buhari said that Kyari, who died on April 17, 2020, at the age of 67 from complications caused by coronavirus, was a true Nigerian patriot. Describing him as a “loyal friend and compatriot for the last 42 years” and later his chief of staff, the president said that Kyari never wavered in his commitment to the betterment of every one.
Unexpectedly, President Buhari, shortly before the commencement of the inaugural virtual Federal Executive Council (FEC) on May 13, 2020 named Professor Ibrahim Gambari as his new chief of staff.
The president has received kudos for his choice of Gambari as his new gatekeeper. Gambari, from Ilorin, Kwara State, was minister of external affairs under Buhari as a military head of state between 1983 and 1985.
Fighting Insecurity
While the military has substantially degraded the activities of Boko Haram and killer herdsmen, bandits and kidnappers have held the nation by the jugular. Bandits wreaked havoc in the Northwest and some parts of the North Central zone leaving behind a trail of deaths and destructions.
In a swift response, Buhari authorised the deployment of air power to support troops and policemen deployed in the “difficult terrain,” to counter the menace of the attackers operating in the forest area bordering Kaduna, Niger and Zamfara States. In line with this directive, according to the presidential aide, the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) set up refuelling facilities at Minna, the Niger State capital, to support the air operations.
Also recently, the president authorised the commencement of a major military operation to sweep bandits and kidnappers out of Katsina State. Presidential spokesman, Garba Shehu, said a major proactive operation by Special Forces, “which details are being kept secret, is now in progress to replace the reactive strikes against insurgent camps.”
Shehu further explained that the Ministry of Defence had concluded plans for the commencement of “Operation Accord,” a major military exercise aimed at flushing out insurgents from the contiguous states of Kaduna, Niger, Katsina, Zamfara, Sokoto and parts of Kebbi State.
Beyond this announcement, Shehu said that no other details concerning the mode, scope, timings, and other essentials would be revealed so as not to compromise its success.
“It is, however, important to outline the fact that all the states of the federation are equal and important before the president.  None has suffered any discrimination up to this point, and none will be made to suffer any such discrimination in dealing with security and all other matters on account of their political differences with the government at the centre,” he said.
Border Closure
In a move akin to a man who saw tomorrow, President Buhari In August last year, ordered the closure of Nigeria’s land border with Benin Republic, preventing the import of goods. According to him, the move was part of efforts to tackle smuggling and associated corruption, and also to spur the domestic agricultural industry.
On why he took the decision, Buhari said: “Our major problem is security; the inflow of weapons, ammunition and drugs. We have witnessed a decline in banditry using such weapons since the partial closure of the border.  Also, our farmers are now able to sell their rice since we stopped the inflow of foreign rice, usually dumped in the country.’’
The president in another forum said that Nigeria’s domestic fuel consumption had dropped by more than 30 per cent since the closure of the borders, thus suggesting that about a third of reported fuel consumption by Nigeria was being smuggled to neighbouring countries where petrol price is much higher.
Buhari said that his administration’s directive on the border closure was meant to curb smuggling, especially rice, and that so far, the closure had saved the country huge sums on import bills. He said that his administration was betting on same measures to rekindle the country’s agricultural rebirth.
Since then, experts have hailed the president’s move to close the borders. But for that singular action, with the COVID-19 pandemic, Nigeria would have suffered greatly in terms of food production and sufficiency. The early closure of the borders has boosted significantly food production in the country and has empowered local farmers.