By KAYODE OJO
ONE of the elements of President Goodluck Jonathan’s New Year message to Nigerians was the expected reeling out of achievements recorded by his administration in the past year. Indeed, in keeping with his pet mantra tagged: “National Transformation Agenda,” the President mentioned the word “transformation” not less than four times in his speech. This raises the question: Is the Transformation Agenda really working?
To be clear, this is not an attempt to lampoon the President just for the heck of it, or just because it is fashionable to do so. This is a dispassionate effort to assess the Transformation Agenda on the basis of the available facts vis-à-vis the stated objectives of the initiative by which the success or failure of the Jonathan administration must necessarily be appraised.
In 2011, when Jonathan launched the Transformation Agenda, it was described as a summary of how the Federal Government plans to deliver projects, programmes and key priority policies from 2011 to 2015. In his January 1, 2014 speech, the president said, “We have diligently carried forward the purposeful and focused implementation of our agenda for national transformation in priority areas such as power, the rehabilitation and expansion of national infrastructure, agriculture development, education and employment generation.”
In assessing this claim, it is pertinent to look at some of the key sectors that Jonathan himself mentioned. Beginning with the power sector, even critics of the President have conceded that despite the setting-out challenges of the policy, the unbundling and privatisation of Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) is in the interest of all Nigerians. This is because virtually all major problems of our country arise directly from economic hardships resulting from poor or inadequate infrastructure.
Therefore, the privatisation of the power sector by the Jonathan-led Federal Government is a major leap in the quest to create the right infrastructure base and enabling environment for Nigerians to shape their own economic destinies. Nigerians are expected to be able to engage in income yielding ventures that were hitherto hampered by lack of power or erratic supply of electricity.
In the all important education sector, 2013 was, unfortunately, blighted by the prolonged strike embarked upon by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU). In this regard, one can only hope that now that the Federal Government has met all the demands of ASUU, the sector can be rejuvenated to produce forward-thinking graduates who will bring about positive and innovative changes in the country.
Another key sector of the Transformation Agenda mentioned by the President in his speech is employment generation. The fact on the ground, as shown in a presentation by the Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, at a recent interactive session with the private sector, is that the Federal Government created 1.6 million jobs in the year 2013.
While detractors of the administration may argue that this number is not enough to absorb the many unemployed Nigerians who are seeking jobs, it has to be said that it is still far better than the employment embargo that was the order of past administrations. And, to be fair, the government is not resting on its oars.
Jonathan even acknowledged the jobs challenge in his speech. He said, “We are keenly aware that in spite of the estimated 1.6 million new jobs created across the country in the past 12 months as a result of our actions and policies, more jobs are still needed to support our growing population. Our economic priorities will be stability and equitable growth, building on the diverse sectors of our economy.”
The President also announced that in 2013, the government commenced implementation of the National Industrial Revolution Plan (NIRP) aimed at industrialising Nigeria and diversifying the nation’s economy into sectors such as agro-processing, light manufacturing, and petrochemicals.
Given the benefit of historical economic hindsight, one can attest that policies in this mould are the bedrock of all industrialised nations. No nation has ever become industrialised without deliberate and actionable plans; and, the proof that the NIRP is an achievable plan can be seen in the fact that, for the first time in her history, Nigeria is exporting rather than importing cement.
As the President remarked in his New Year message, “I am pleased to note that as a result of our backward integration policies, Nigeria has moved from a country that produced 2 million metric tonnes of cement in 2002, to a country that now has a capacity of 28.5 million metric tonnes. For the first time in our history, we have moved from being a net importer of cement to a net exporter.”
Moreover, the President further revealed that Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) into Nigeria has remained robust. He said, “For the second year running, the UN Conference on Trade and Development has named Nigeria as the number one destination for investments in Africa.”
From the foregoing, therefore, even though there is room for improvement, it is clear that when assessed on available facts, and not emotion or disparaging speculation, Jonathan’s Transformation Agenda is truly working for the over all good of Nigeria and all Nigerians.