By Kayode Matthew & Victor Ahiuma-Young
LAGOSâ€”Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan yesterday took stock of governance in 2009 and apologised to Nigerians on the failure of government to fulfill some of its promises, especially the aborted target of 6,000 megawatts of electricity by the end of last year.
This coincided with the organised labour’s view that the nationâ€™s political leaders in the executive and legislative arms of government failed to put the interest and welfare ofÂ Nigerians above their narrow interests as politicians.
Dr. Jonathan, in his New Year message, reviewed the activities of government in 2009 and concluded that though the government recorded appreciable achievements, it encountered some challenges while the Nigerian Labour Congress, NLC,Â argued that the past year was very traumatic and unstable for Nigerians, especially workers.
According to the Vice-President, â€œin the course of 2009, government recorded far-reaching achievements in various areas of our national life through the implementation of the Seven-point Agenda. As this is not an occasion for stock-taking, various ministers have been directed to render details of their achievements in the days ahead. However, the year that has just passed, also threw up numerous challenges for our nation.
â€œFor instance, in many parts of the country, poverty remains a number one problem that must be confronted. True progress and development of the country can only begin when all our citizens, without exception, move out of a marginal existence.
This is a task that government is determined to accomplish. We must, therefore, redouble all effort to collectively work towards the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals, which set the appropriate benchmarks and milestones for bringing our entire population to acceptable levels of social and economic well-being.â€
Apologising for the inability of the government to improve on the power situation in the country, the Vice-President said, â€œat the inception of this administration, we promised to drastically improve access to electric power by the end of 2009.
This is because power is a basic necessity in a technologically-driven world. Our target, which was modest, was set at generating 6,000 megawatts of electricity by year-end.
â€˜â€™While I am happy today to report that we have achieved some substantial measure of success, I regret to mention that for a number of unforeseen and unavoidable reasons, this target could not be met. Millions of Nigerian are, therefore, still without power. For this, I render, on behalf of government, very sincere regrets.
â€œAs we enter this New Year, spirited efforts and resources will be mobilised to address the challenge of power supply and ensure higher generation as well as more effective transmission and distribution.
â€œI note with concern that Nigerians continue to suffer pain and stress at fuel queues. Be assured that this situation is quite disturbing to government. Far-reaching measures are, therefore, being taken to make this unfortunate trend a thing of the past.
On the economy, the Vice-President said; â€œI am happy to state that prudent macro-economic management and the relative stability which the world energy market experienced in recent times played no small part in aiding our ability to cope with the global financial meltdown.
However, the cracks within our financial system and the vulnerability which still confronts us in this sector became obvious, and government had to take painful but needed measures to bring sanity and rebuild confidence in the banking sector.
â€œThe logic of this process, which is still evolving, has inevitably created challenges, including liquidity crunches and staff-rationalisation. Let me assure all Nigerians that the National Economic Council and the Governmentâ€™s Economic Management Team are fully aware of these matters.
â€˜â€™Shortly, policy measures will be announced to ensure that the individuals who are directly affected by the fallouts of the reforms are spared undue hardship through job creation and economic stimulus programmes.
Also speaking on peace and security, the Vice-President argued that; â€œPeace and security are two of mankindâ€™s most treasured needs. The tide of insecurity which plagued the Niger Delta for years has thankfully been brought under appreciable control.
â€˜â€™Thanks to Mr. Presidentâ€™s bold amnesty programme, peace has now been restored, thereby creating wide opportunities for a robust programme of development for the area and stability for the national economy as a whole.
â€˜â€™We will now build on the successes recorded so far and commence concrete implementation of other phases of the programme, especially as they relate to youth empowerment as well as physical, social and economic development of the Niger Delta.
â€œDespite this robust achievement in the Niger Delta, we are aware that in the course of the past year, peace in some other parts of the country was shattered as a result of a number of other unpleasant experiences.
â€˜â€™Similarly cases of religious intolerance and violence, which resulted in unfortunate loss of lives and property also occurred, causing anxiety and apprehension among peace-loving Nigerians.
â€œAs if these were not enough, on Christmas day, we were presented with the most disturbing report that one of our own attempted to commit a most heinous terrorist act. Gladly, tragedy was averted, but this singular act, which is completely alien to our culture and way of life has no doubt inflicted deep wounds in our national psyche.
Following this unfortunate incident, even if isolated, our security services will be more vigilant and also work concertedly to guarantee the security of life and property throughout the country, especially at our ports of entry and exit.
â€œLet me restate as Mr. President has always insisted, Nigerians must be able to live in complete safety and security at all times. Towards this end, we will adopt a mix of proactive actions, including enhanced intelligence-gathering, effective preemptive crime detection and containment as well as result-oriented investigation and law enforcement.
Government will also encourage greater inter-service and inter-agency co-operation and technological optimization to match new challenges. Our overall response will be firm, effective and robust.
On electoral reforms, Jonathan said â€œthis year represents a watershed in our efforts to conduct peaceful and credible elections and the consolidation of our democracy. Let me reiterate Mr. Presidentâ€™s commitment that elections must not only be free and fair, but must be all-inclusive and conducted with the utmost transparency. Our elections must enjoy the indelible mark of credibility and acceptability both nationally and internationally.
Towards this end, we remain focused in the actualisation of the promise of working closely with the National Assembly to implement far-reaching electoral reforms to ensure that future electoral politics in Nigeria will witness a new lease of life.â€
He also challenged the public officers and the youths, saying, â€œalong the line of Mr. Presidentâ€™s â€œservant leadershipâ€ philosophy, the opportunity of public service by all must be seen and appreciated as a sacred and public trust. Public officers should therefore be prepared to give greater value and account of their stewardship.
â€˜â€™We will also continue with the ongoing reform within the Civil Service to better position it. We will deliver on Mr. Presidentâ€™s promise of good governance and no excuses will be tenable.
â€œWe also face the challenge of keeping our teeming youths gainfully occupied. This is at the core of Mr. Presidentâ€™s desires. Unlike in the past, Nigerian youths of today are well-educated, well-skilled and mentally well-disposed to playing pivotal roles in various aspects of our national life, particularly in the economy.
â€œBeyond policy pronouncement, priority attention would, therefore, be placed on training and retraining in the areas of entrepreneurial development, skill acquisition and provision of more financial incentives and packages to position our youth to better manage their own businesses.
â€œThe spotlight which we intend to place on youth employment_generation and business development is within the broader context of reinvigorating the overall productive sectors of the economy through deliberate policy measures to boost the private sector.
â€œToday, we enter year 2010, as a nation, as families and as individuals with a new hope and a new promise. As a united and strong Nigerian family, we must embrace the new season determined to make the most out of the opportunities that this year will offer, by translating into reality, our collective hopes and aspirations for a peaceful and prosperous Nigeria.
In his message, NLCâ€™s President, Mr. Abdulwaheed Omar, said it took the grace of God for NigeriansÂ to collectively survive the political, economic, religious and social turbulence of the past one year and posited that this year would be a very special one to workers and the masses to form a common platform that would promote genuine development through effective democracy and good governance.
The NLC President appreciated the need for a total restructuring of the downstream sector of the petroleum industry for effective operations, butÂ restated organised labourâ€™s strong opposition to any reform that would only translate to increases in the prices of petroleum products with its attendant spiral effects on the entire economy.
NLC condemned the ongoing mass sack in the banks and called for its reversal to avoid a major industrial unrest this year in the sector and demanded speedy conclusion of a review of the minimum wage as demanded by labour.
Also, the Congress reiterated its demand for the full implementation of the Justice Mohammed Uwais Electoral Reform Committee (ERC) report because it represented the general wish of Nigerians.
According to Omar: â€œOur political elites in both the executive and legislative arms of government have in the departing year failed to conclusively put the interest and welfare of the mass of Nigerian people above their narrow interests as politicians.
“The executive arm of government in all three tiers of governance has largely failed to impact positively on the lives of majority of our populace. A striking example of this has been the remarkable failure of budget implementation year in, year out. The last twelve months have been no exception.”
Question on deregulation
On the planned deregulation, NLC said: â€œWe must ask deep questions why these institutions are not working in this country. Many institutions _ in fact, our entire industrial sector; the banking sector, the textile and clothing sector, to mention just a few, are in a state of profound crisis not on account of state ownership.
â€˜â€™As organised Labour, we will continue to defend the well_thought_out Section 2 of our Constitution which makes it mandatory for the Nigerian State to participate fully in those sectors of our economy considered as key to national development.
â€˜â€™We call on the Federal Government to strengthen anti-corruption agencies to confront the endemic problem of corruption in the oil sector that has led to the existing unwholesomeness in that sector. While we are conscious of the fact that total restructuring of the downstream sector of the petroleum industry is needed for effective operations, we restate our unequivocal opposition to any reform that, like in the past, will only translate to increases in the prices of petroleum products with its attendant spiral effects on the entire economy.
â€˜â€™A challenge which all Nigerians must desire in 2010 is for government to fix once and for all the problems of the downstream of the oil industry so that we can have an end to arbitrary increases in prices, artificial or genuine scarcity of products and the sharp practices that have become endemic in the sector.â€
On the banking reform and ongoing mass sack in the sector, NLC said, â€œIt is clearly unacceptable that tax-payersâ€™ money can be used to bail out banks whose owners criminally- betrayed the trust of depositors through mind-boggling scams, and after acting to safeguard public interest (inclusive of jobs); the new banksâ€™ management and boards are seeking to add insult to injury through mindless retrenchment of bank workers.
â€˜â€™Across Europe and America, and other parts of the world, the main reasons for bailouts to banking and other institutions are to protect jobs and save the virtual roles they render to the economy. Ours cannot be different..
â€˜â€™The government and the CBN Governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, must make it abundantly clear to the boards and management of the banks that the retrenchment route is not an option. Those who have already started must reverse them without any delay. Any insistence on going the path of retrenchment and layoffs will lead to a harvest of industrial actions in the sector in 2010, which is not desirable for the good health of the economy. We must all work hard to head off that route.â€