FULL TEXT OF THE PRESIDENT’S SPEECH YESTERDAY, DEMOCRACY DAY; 29TH MAY, 2012
1. One year ago, I was privileged to stand before you, to take the oath of office as President of our dear country, the third to serve you as President since the return to democratic rule in 1999. Today, I remember that day and the processes leading to it with profound gratitude to God Almighty and to all Nigerians who have worked very hard to enrich our journey from military dictatorship to inclusive democratic governance.
2. For the past 13 years, we have remained a stable democracy. We have together demonstrated that the government of the people is an ideal that the people of Nigeria cherish. We have our differences as individuals and as politicians, but we have shown great faith in democracy and its institutions. We have refused to be limited by our differences. Despite reservations about some of our institutions, we have refused to submit to despair. This achievement is a testament to the courage and optimism of the Nigerian people.
3. As we celebrate this year’s Democracy Day, I pay tribute to all the men and women who have made our democratic experience meaningful: the ordinary people who resisted military rule, and have remained resolute in their embrace of democracy; the army of Nigerian voters who, at every election season, troop out in large numbers to exercise their right of franchise; the change agents in civil society who have remained ever watchful and vigilant.
4. I pay special tribute also to all patriots who are the pillars of our collective journey, most especially, our armed forces who have steadfastly subordinated themselves to civil authority in the past 13 years. They have continued to demonstrate a great sense of professionalism. They have discharged their duties to the nation with honour and valour. In a sub-region that has witnessed instances of political instability, authored by restless soldiers, the Nigerian Armed Forces have remained professional in their support of democracy.
5. When General Abdusalami Abubakar handed over the baton of authority to President Olusegun Obasanjo, in 1999, it was a turning point for Nigeria. We did not arrive at that turning point by accident. Many Nigerians laid down their lives for the transition to democracy to occur. Some were jailed. Media houses were attacked and shut down. But the people’s resolve was firm and unshakeable. This is what we remember. This is what we celebrate. On this day, I recall especially the martyrdom of Chief M. K. O. Abiola, whose presumed victory in the 1993 Presidential election, and death, while in custody, proved to be the catalyst for the people’s pro-democracy uprising. The greatest tribute that we can pay to him, and other departed heroes of Nigeria’s democracy, is to ensure that we continue to sustain and consolidate our democratic institutions and processes, and keep Hope alive.
6. Let us individually and collectively, continue to keep the spirit of this day alive. No task is more important. We must continue to do well as a people and as a democracy. We must remember where we are coming from, so we can appreciate how far we have travelled.
7. When I assumed office as Acting President, in 2010, on account of the health challenges suffered by late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, there was so much anxiety in the land. The tone of public debate was febrile. Some persons sought to use the situation in the country to sow the seeds of discord. My primary task at that time was to do all that was humanly possible to ensure stability within the polity. With the support and commitment of patriotic Nigerians from all walks of life, and the grace of the Almighty God, we were able to do so.
8. On May 6, 2010, following President Yar’Adua’s death, I assumed office as substantive President. I subsequently presented myself as a candidate for the 2011 Presidential elections, with a promise that under my watch, the elections would be free, fair and credible. We kept faith with that promise. On May 29, 2011, I was sworn in as President, the fifth elected leader of Nigeria since independence. The success of the 2011 elections and the international acclaim that it generated was due to your patriotic zeal and commitment. I will like to seize this opportunity to thank all patriotic Nigerians who stood by us, and have remained unwavering in their support. These Nigerians understand one thing: that we all have a duty to protect and promote our country, and that this country belongs to all of us. Electoral contest is about values. We must not lose sight of those values that strengthen us as a people. As long as I am President, I will do my utmost to continue to work hard in pursuit of the common good.
9. There are challenges, yes, but we are working hard to address those challenges. And, by God’s grace, we will succeed. My confidence is bolstered by the results which we have achieved in different sectors within the last twelve months.
10. Our democracy is stable. Its foundation is strong and firm. Its future is bright. Last year, I had spoken about the policy of “one man one vote, one woman, one vote, one youth, one vote”. I am glad to see that the Nigerian people in all elections have continued to respect the principle of fair play. Since this administration came into office, we have gone to great lengths to strengthen our democratic institutions, particularly the Independent National Electoral Commission. There are still persons who believe that elections should be violent and unhealthy, but they are in the minority. They will not derail our democracy because the majority of Nigerians will not allow them to do so.
11. Following the spate of violence, in some parts of the country, after the 2011 elections, our administration set up a committee on post-election violence to among other things, investigate the causes and nature of electoral violence and make appropriate recommendations. We will be guided by the White Paper, on that committee’s report, in dealing more firmly with electoral violence and fraud. This will include the establishment of Electoral Offences Tribunals to deal speedily with established cases of electoral violence. We cannot afford to treat the success we have recorded with our democratic experience with levity. Electoral reform is central to our administration’s transformation agenda. I urge all political parties to embrace this reform.
12. Our successful elections, last year, opened new vistas for Nigeria’s foreign policy. More than ever before, Nigeria’s achievements have generated a lot of international goodwill and recognition. We have continued to build on this by further showing leadership in the sub-region and the African continent. Under my watch as Chairman of the sub-regional body, ECOWAS, and subsequently, Nigeria was in the forefront of the efforts to ensure democratic stability in Niger, Mali, Guinea Bissau, and particularly at a critical moment in Cote d’Ivoire. Our foreign policy process has proven to be dynamic and pro-active. Nigeria’s place is secure among many friends in the comity of nations. We are building on that friendship to open up opportunities for foreign investments in the Nigerian economy and to provide necessary support for the vibrant community of Nigerians in the Diaspora.
13. We will continue to work hard, to turn domestic successes into a source of motivation for greater achievements in the international arena. We are fully aware that it is only when our people are happy and confident that they would be in a good position to walk tall in relating with others.
14. Today, I want to talk about what we are doing and what we have done. I want to reassure you that we are making progress. But we can also do a lot more. We must. And we will.
15. Our economic outlook is positive. When I assumed office last year, there were still fears about the impact of the global economic recession, and implications for investments. Many Nigerians were worried about the growing rate of unemployment. In order to set Nigeria on a sound and sustainable path toward economic growth, this administration unveiled a set of priority policies, programmes, and projects encapsulated in the Transformation Agenda. These programmes and policies are aimed at consolidating our budget, fostering job creation, engendering private sector-led inclusive growth, and creating an enabling environment for businesses to thrive for the ultimate betterment of the lives of Nigerians.
16. Today, progress has been made. The country’s credit rating is positive, in contrast with many nations being downgraded. In 2011, our economy grew by 7.45%. As at mid-May 2012, our foreign exchange reserves had risen to $37.02 billion, the highest level in 21 months. We have stabilized and improved our fiscal regime. We brought the fiscal deficit down to 2. 85% of GDP from 2.9% in 2011. We reduced recurrent expenditures from 74% to 71% and reduced domestic borrowing from N852 billion in 2011 to N744 billion in 2012. We cut out over N100 billion of non-essential expenditure and increased our internally generated revenue from N200 billion to N467 billion.
17. For the first time in over a decade, we now have a draft Trade Policy which provides a multi-dimensional framework to boost our trade regime and facilitate the inflow of investments. We have generated over N6. 6 trillion worth of investment commitments. The total value of our trade is also much higher than the value estimated the previous year due to deliberate government policies. To facilitate the ease of doing business in Nigeria, we have a policy in place to make visa procurement easier for foreign investors, with safeguards to prevent abuse.
18. The goal of our administration is to ensure that every Nigerian can find gainful employment. Given my dissatisfaction with the prevailing unemployment situation in the country, our administration has embarked on an ambitious strategy of creating jobs and job-creators through the launch of several initiatives mainly targeted at the youths and women.
19. In October 2011, we launched the Youth Enterprise with Innovation in Nigeria Programme, designed to encourage entrepreneurship and provide grants for small and medium scale enterprises. Over 1, 200 Nigerian youths have benefitted from this initiative. We have also launched the Public Works Women and Youth Empowerment Programme, which is designed to employ 370, 000 youths per annum, with 30% of the jobs specially reserved for women. Let me make it clear here that our YouWIN programme is designed to nurture and mentor young entrepreneurs to become major players, employers and wealth creators in business.
20. We are gradually reducing the footprints of government in business activities through privatization, liberalization and deregulation based on our recognition that the private sector should be the engine of growth in our economy. To ensure that the private sector is well positioned for this task, our administration has embarked on key structural reforms in the Power Sector and at the Ports.
21. To improve reliable power supply, our administration is judiciously implementing the Power Sector Roadmap, which is at an advanced stage, to fully privatize power generation and distribution while reducing the cost of electricity to rural households and the urban poor.
22. The commitment of this Administration to the provision of regular and uninterrupted power supply remains strong and unwavering. We all agree that adequate and regular power supply will be the significant trigger to enhance this nation’s productive capacity and accelerate growth. It is for this reason that I remain optimistic that the reforms we have initiated, the decisions we have taken so far and the plans we intend to faithfully prosecute will yield the desired results.
23. To underline this commitment, three weeks ago, I convened a special session on Power and gave specific instructions on the fast tracking of gas production and delivery to ensure improved availability of power. I also directed that the power sector reforms must continue on schedule and that privatization of the sector must be completed according to plan.
24. Our approach is two-pronged: First, is the immediate repair of power plants, as well as transmission and distribution infrastructure in the short term. The second is the building of institutions and the provision of enablers to attract investors. We have revived and are accelerating the completion of the National Integrated Power Projects. We are also building about 4000km of transmission lines and hundreds of substations. We have completed the design for the construction of both Mambilla and Zungeru Hydro power plants which will add about 3, 000 MW to the national grid.
25. By mid 2010, the national power output was about 2, 800 MW. By the end of 2011, we reached a peak of more than 4, 000 MW. A National Gas Emergency Plan has also been launched to redress the problem of gas supply which arose essentially due to poor planning.
26. For long-term power availability, we have strengthened a number of key institutions such as the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission, the Bulk Trader, the National Power Training Institute of Nigeria, and others. We are also working with the World Bank to provide guarantees for gas and power providers. The signing of MOUs with World Leaders in power equipment – General Electric of USA and Siemens of Germany as well as US and China Exim Banks for financial investment, is a clear indication of the level of confidence which the world investment community has in our power sector road map.
27. In addition, the privatisation programme has attracted expression of interest from 131 companies across the globe. Our decision to bring in the private sector is clearly intended to achieve our target of generating and distributing sufficient and reliable power within the shortest time possible. With the measures we have put in place, we will surely achieve success in transforming the power sector.
28. We have also focused our efforts on Ports and Customs reforms to ensure efficiency in the handling of ports and port-related businesses. Our administration has streamlined bureaucratic activities at the Ports by reducing the number of agencies from 14 to 7. We have also reduced the time for the clearance of goods from about a month, to seven days, with the long-term objective of ensuring that cargoes are cleared within 48 hours in line with international best practice. In the meantime, our ports, for the first time, now open for business for 24 hours.
29. In the Oil and Gas Sector, our Administration has charted a new course that will ensure enduring transparency and accountability. We are re-drafting the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) to ensure it meets the aspirations of all Stakeholders given the current realities and future expectations in the global energy landscape. Work on the PIB will be concluded in June 2012 and formally submitted to the National Assembly. Additionally, Special Task Forces dealing with Governance and Control, Petroleum Revenue and National refineries are finalizing their work to ensure probity across the oil and gas sector, and self-sufficiency in refined petroleum products.
30. In the Downstream Sector, the Nigerian Content Development Act, since inception in 2010, has boosted the local production of line pipes, in-country fabrication tonnage and engineering support services. As a result, retained in-country spend has grown from approximately US $1bn to a current estimate of US$4bn, and over US$3 billion Foreign Direct Investment has been brought in for upgrading and building new yards, altogether generating over 120,000 direct and indirect jobs.
31. Capacity utilization of existing domestic refineries has greatly improved from 30 to 60 percent. We have commenced the phased plan to return the refineries to 90 percent capacity utilization with the expected completion of the rehabilitation of Port Harcourt refinery by the end of 2012, to be followed by Warri and Kaduna refineries in 2013.
32. In the Upstream Sector, the April 2012 commissioning of the Usan Deep Offshore Field has increased crude oil production capacity by 180 thousand barrels per day. Also, Government continues to support the National Oil Company, NPDC, by assigning 55% equity in 8 divested blocks which has resulted in increase in reserves from 350 million barrels to 2.1 billion barrels and 160, 000 barrels of production. We have also made significant progress in gas infrastructure development, investing close to US$1bn for the construction of some 1000 km of pipelines, gas supply growth and stimulation of gas industrialization. Between now and the third quarter of 2013, Final Investment Decisions (FIDs) will be made on gas-based industries, such as the petrochemicals and fertilizer plants at Koko, the Central Processing Units (CPF) in Obiafu/Obrikom, and the gas growth projects. Also, the sum of N11 billion is provided in the 2012 Budget for Hydro-Carbon exploration in the Lake Chad Basin.
33. The Gas Revolution initiative will fully support and s