Buhari rejects restructuring, denounces ethnicity, religion in politics

*Fuel scarcity during Yuletide collective blackmail
As the 2019 general elections draw nearer, President Muhammadu Buhari on Monday stressed the need for politicians to avoid exploiting ethnicity and religion by linking them with politics.

In a New Year message to the nation, the President said linking ethnicity with religion and religion with politics must be avoided at all costs if the citizens are to live in peace and harmony.

“In this respect, the rest of Nigeria could learn from the South Western States who have successfully internalized religion, ethnicity and politics. Political discourse should be conducted with civility, decorum and in a constitutional manner.

“We all have a collective responsibility to strengthen our democracy and entrench the rule of law. We should draw encouragement from the series of bye-elections conducted by INEC last year which were generally violence free and their outcomes adjudged to be free and fair,” he said.

The President also spoke on the excruciating fuel scarcity during the festive period, saying the development was a “collective blackmail of all Nigerians.

“Unfortunately, I am saddened to acknowledge that for many this Christmas and New Year holidays have been anything but merry and happy. Instead of showing love, companionship and charity, some of our compatriots chose this period to inflict severe hardship on us all by creating unnecessary fuel scarcity across the country.

The consequence was that not many could travel and the few who did had to pay exorbitant transport fares.

“This is unacceptable given that NNPC had taken measures to ensure availability at all depots. I am determined to get to the root of this collective blackmail of all Nigerians and ensure that whichever groups are behind this manipulated hardship will be prevented from doing so again.

“Such unpatriotism will not divert the Administration from the course we have set ourselves. Our government’s watch word and policy thrust is change. We must change our way of doing things or we will stagnate and be left behind in the race to lift our people out of poverty and into prosperity,” he said.

On the economy, the President said diversification efforts of the federal government have resulted in improved output particularly in agriculture and solid minerals sectors, adding that the relative exchange rate stability has improved manufacturing sector performance.

“We have got to get used to discipline and direction in economic management. The days of business as usual are numbered,” he said.

On the persistent all’s for the country to be restructured, the President said restructuring is not the solution to the country’s problems.

“In respect of political developments, I have kept a close watch on the on-going debate about “Restructuring”. No human law or edifice is perfect. Whatever structure we develop must periodically be perfected according to changing circumstances and the country’s socio-economic developments.

“We Nigerians can be very impatient and want to improve our conditions faster than may be possible considering our resources and capabilities. When all the aggregates of nationwide opinions are considered, my firm view is that our problems are more to do with process than structure.

“We tried the Parliamentary system: we jettisoned it. Now there are shrill cries for a return to the Parliamentary structure. In older democracies these systems took centuries to evolve so we cannot expect a copied system to fit neatly our purposes. We must give a long period of trial and improvement before the system we have adopted is anywhere near fit for purpose.

“However, there is a strong case for a closer look at the cost of government and for the public services long used to extravagance, waste and corruption to change for the better. I assure you that government is ever receptive to ideas which will improve governance and contribute to the country’s peace and stability.”

The President also spoke on the present administration’s efforts to address the country’s huge infrastructural deficit, stressing that government would make significant in-roads in advancing road, rail and power projects across the country.

He said: “With regards to Railways, we have set ourselves ambitious targets. Already in construction stage is the Lagos-Kano Standard Gauge Railway.

“The line should reach Ibadan from Lagos by the end of 2019 and will carry two million passengers per year and five million tons of cargo will be transported every year giving a substantial boost to the country’s economy.

“Construction of the Kano – Kaduna segment is expected to commence this year and reach Kaduna by the end of 2019. By the end of 2021 the two ends will be joined so that we will have standard gauge railway across the main North-South trading route.

The Abuja – Kaduna route will be boosted by additional rolling stock next Thursday and will be able to handle one million commuters annually.

“At the same time I have approved and negotiations will be concluded in the first part of this year for the Port Harcourt to Maiduguri line covering Aba, Owerri, Umuahia, Enugu, Awka, Abakaliki, Makurdi, Lafia, Jos, Bauchi, Gombe, Yola and Damaturu.  The Abuja to Itakpe line will go through Baro and terminate in Warri with construction of a new seaport at Warri. Negotiations are also advanced for the construction of other railway lines, firstly from Kano to Maradi in Niger Republic passing through Kazaure, Daura, Katsina, Jibia to Maradi.

“Secondly, Lagos to Calabar the “Coastal Rail”  through Ore, Benin, Agbor, Asaba, Onitsha, Sapele, Ughelli, Warri, Yenagoa, Otuoke, Port Harcourt, Aba, Uyo and Calabar.  In the next few years, all these Nigerian cities will be linked by functional modern rail systems, giving enormous boost to the social and economic life of our people.”

He said the Abuja Capital Light Rail project has reached 98 per cent completion, and that “only test runs remain before start of operations.”

He said the Abuja train service would stimulate economic activities in the Federal Capital Territory and provide residents with an efficient and safe transportation system.

On road projects, the President said the management of Federal Road Maintenance Agency (FERMA) has been charged with a 12 week rapid intervention in road repairs to cover all the geo-political zones, specially the repairs and maintenance of 44 roads within zones.

He said 25 major highways would be funded under the N100b SUKUK facility and that each of the six geo-political zones would benefit by an equal amount of N16.67 billion.

The President expressed concerns over power supply in the country, saying that even though more Nigerians across the country are experiencing improved power supply to their homes and businesses, power remains a concern to the present administration.

He said the Payment Assurance Guarantee Scheme which started in January 2016 has enabled the Nigerian Bulk Electricity Trader to raise N701 billion to assure Generation Companies of at least 80 per cent payment for any power delivered to the national grid.

“Consequently, generation has now reached 7,000MW. On December 8, 2017 the country achieved 5,155MW of power delivered to consumers, the highest level ever recorded. Several moribund projects have been revived.  Repairs of Afam Power Station added 110MW in 2017 and another 240MW will be added this year through a private investment partnership,” he said.