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*More jobs for youths in 2014
*To cut official travels, speed up National confab
*100 yrs of Amalgamation, time for sober reflection

BY CLIFFORD NDUJIHE & BEN AGANDE

ABUJA—PRESIDENT yesterday promised Nigerian youths more jobs this year and improved well-being for the citizenry through focused implementation of the Transformation Agenda.

In a six-page, 2896-word New Year message, the President, who restated that the amalgamation of the country exactly 100 years ago was not a mistake but a blessing, however, said that the centenary of the country’s nationhood was a moment  for sober reflection.

Enumerating the achievements of his administration last year, the president said he would this year “diligently carry 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, agricultural development, education and employment generation.”

Jonathan also called on Nigerians to place the higher interests of national unity, peace, stability and progress above all other considerations and work harder in their various fields to contribute more significantly to the attainment of our collective aspirations.

The message read:
Dear Compatriots,
I greet and felicitate with you all as we enter the year 2014 which promises to be a momentous one for our country for several reasons, including the fact that it is also the year of our great nation’s centenary celebrations. I join you all in giving thanks to God Almighty for guiding us and our beloved nation safely through all the challenges of the outgoing year to the beginning of 2014.

Exactly 100 years ago today, on January 1, 1914, the British Colonial authorities amalgamated what was then the separate Protectorates of Southern Nigeria and Northern Nigeria, giving birth to the single geopolitical entity known as Nigeria.  For us therefore, today is not just the beginning of a new year, but the end of a century of national existence and the beginning of another. It is a moment for sober reflection and for pride in all that is great about Nigeria.

Whatever challenges we may have faced, whatever storms we may have confronted and survived, Nigeria remains a truly blessed country, a country of gifted men and women who continue to distinguish themselves in all spheres of life, a country whose diversity remains a source of strength.  We pay tribute today, as always to our founding fathers and mothers, and all the heroes and heroines whose toil and sweat over the century made this country what it is today.

As I noted, a few days ago, the amalgamation of 1914 was certainly not a mistake but a blessing.  As we celebrate 100 years of nationhood, we must resolve to continue to work together as one, united people, to make our country even greater.

I assure you that our administration remains fully committed to the progressive development of our country and the consolidation of peace, unity and democratic governance in our fatherland. Despite several continuing domestic and global challenges, for us in Nigeria, the year 2013 witnessed many positive developments which we will strive to build upon in 2014.

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, agricultural development, education and employment generation.

You may recall that our 2013 Budget was on the theme, “Fiscal Consolidation with Inclusive Growth”, and I emphasized the need for us to “remain prudent with our fiscal resources and also ensure that the Nigerian economy keeps growing and creating jobs”. I am pleased to report that we have stayed focused on this goal.

Our national budget for 2014 which is now before the National Assembly is specifically targeted at job creation and inclusive growth. 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.

In 2013, we commenced implementation of the National Industrial Revolution Plan (NIRP) aimed at industrializing Nigeria and diversifying our economy into sectors such as agro-processing, light manufacturing, and petrochemicals. We have also negotiated a strong Common External Tariff (CET) agreement with our ECOWAS partners which would enable us to protect our strategic industries where necessary.

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.

Foreign direct investment into Nigeria has also been strong. In fact, for the second year running, the UN Conference on Trade and Development has named Nigeria as the number 1 destination for investments in Africa.

We are witnessing a revolution in the agricultural sector and the results are evident. We have tackled corruption in the input distribution system as many farmers now obtain their fertilizers and seeds directly through an e-wallet system. In 2013, 4.2 million farmers received subsidized inputs via this programme. This scheme has restored dignity to our farmers.

Last year we produced over 8 million metric tonnes of additional food; and this year, inflation fell to its lowest level since 2008 partly due to higher domestic food production. Our food import bill has also reduced from N1.1 trillion in 2011, to N648 billion in 2012, placing Nigeria firmly on the path to food self-sufficiency.

The sector is also supporting more jobs. Last year, we produced 1.1 million metric tonnes of dry season rice across 10 Northern states; and over 250,000 farmers and youths in these States are now profitably engaged in farming even during the dry season.

This Administration is also developing our water resources which are key for both our food production and job creation goals. In 2013, we completed the construction of nine dams which increased the volume of our water reservoirs by 422 million cubic metres.  Through our irrigation and drainage programme, we have increased the total irrigated area by over 31,000 hectares creating jobs for over 75,000 farming families while increasing production of over 400,000 metric tons of assorted irrigated food products.

Fellow Compatriots, I have always believed that the single greatest thing we can do to ensure all Nigerians realize their potential and play a full part in our nation’s future, is to invest in education. The education of our young people is a key priority for this Government. We take this responsibility very seriously and I urge all other stakeholders in the sector to recognize the national importance of their work, and to help advance the cause of education in our nation.

Between 2007 and 2013, we have almost tripled the allocation for education from N224 billion to N634 billion – and we will continue to vigorously support the sector. We have improved access to education in the country with the construction of 125 Almajiri schools, and the establishment of three additional Federal Universities in the North, bringing to twelve, the number of universities established by this administration.

In 2013, we rehabilitated 352 laboratories and constructed 72 new libraries in the Federal Unity Schools; and also rehabilitated laboratories of all the 51 Federal and State polytechnics across the country.

In the Health sector, we are building strong safety nets and improving access to primary health care under the Saving One Million Lives programme. In 2013, we recruited 11,300 frontline health workers who were deployed to under-served communities across the country. Over 400,000 lives have been saved through our various interventions. We have reached over 10,000 women and children with conditional cash transfer programmes across 8 States and the FCT and we intend to scale up this successful initiative.

Our national immunization coverage has exceeded 80%. And for the first time in the history of the country there has not been any transmission of the Type-3 Wild Polio virus for more than one year. We have also eradicated the guinea worm that previously affected the lives of over 800,000 Nigerians yearly. In tertiary health care, we upgraded medical facilities across the country. Two of our teaching hospitals – the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital in Enugu, and the University College Hospital in Ibadan – commenced open heart surgeries this year after the installation of new facilities.

Fellow Nigerians, I have dwelt on some of our administration’s achievements in 2013 to reassure you that we are working and results are being achieved on the ground. As we enter our Centennial year, there is still much work ahead. We are determined to sustain our strong macroeconomic fundamentals, to strengthen our domestic institutions, and to invest in priority sectors. These investments will create more jobs for our youth. Government will at the same time, continue to scale-up investments in safety nets and the MDGs to take care of the poor and the vulnerable so that they too can share in our growth and prosperity.
Goodluck-Jonathan
In 2014, we will continue to prioritize investments in key sectors such as  infrastructure development, power, roads, rail transportation and aviation. In the past year, the Federal Government completed the privatization of four power generation companies and 10 power distribution companies. We are also in the process of privatizing 10 power plants under the National Integrated Power Projects (NIPP).

We shall boost investments in transmission to ensure power generated is properly evacuated and distributed. In this regard, we have already mobilized an additional $1.5 billion for the upgrade of the transmission network in 2014 and beyond.  Government will also strengthen regulation of the sector, and closely monitor electricity delivery to increase this beyond 18 hours per day. We will complete the privatization of the NIPP projects, accelerate work on our gas pipeline infrastructure and also continue to invest in hydro-electric power and clean energy as we monitor the effects of climate change on our economy.

Our administration believes that the cost of governance in the country is still too high and must be further reduced. We will also take additional steps to stem the tide of corruption and leakages. We have worked hard to curb fraud in the administration of the pension system and the implementation of the petroleum subsidy scheme. We have introduced a Pensions Transition Arrangement Department under a new Director-General. This department will now ensure that those of our pensioners still under the old scheme receive their pensions and gratuities, and are not subjected to fraud. Prosecution of all those involved in robbing our retired people will continue. The Petroleum Subsidy Scheme is also now being operated under new strict guidelines to tackle previous leakages in the scheme and prevent fraud.

Foreign travel by government personnel will be further curtailed. This directive shall apply to all Ministries, Departments and Agencies of the Federal Government. Our strategy to curb leakages will increasingly rely on introducing the right technologies such as biometrics and digitizing government payments.

I am therefore pleased to inform you that we shall complete the deployment of the three electronic platforms in 2014 – namely, the Treasury Single Account (TSA), the Government Integrated Financial Management Information System (GIFMIS) and the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS) – which are all geared towards improving efficiency and transparency in our public finances. Through these reforms, we have already saved about N126 billion in leaked funds and intend to save more.

To sustain Nigeria’s ongoing agricultural transformation, we have planned further investments in the sector. We will provide input subsidies to five million farmers nationwide using the e-wallet system.  This Administration recently launched a self-employment initiative under the Youth Employment in Agriculture Programme (YEAP), called the Nagropreneur programme. This scheme would encourage our youth to go into commercial agriculture as entrepreneurs and we plan to develop over 750,000 young Nagropreneurs by 2015.

We will also establish new agro-industrial clusters to complement the staple crop processing zones being developed across the country. In 2014, this Administration will continue to work with the private sector to improve financing in the agricultural sector. For example, we will launch the Fund for Agricultural Finance in Nigeria (FAFIN) which will serve as a private equity fund to invest in agri-businesses across the country.

Our Small and Medium scale enterprises (SMEs) will be the bedrock of Nigeria’s industrialization. We have about 17 million registered SMEs, and they employ over 32 million Nigerians. When our SMEs grow, more jobs will be created for our youth. Therefore, in 2014, this Administration will focus strongly on implementing the Nigeria Enterprise Development Programme (NEDEP) to address the needs of small businesses. Our interventions will include helping SMEs with access to affordable finance, business development services, and youth training. In addition, our new CET policies will enable us to support our emerging industries.

We will also intensify our investment promotion efforts abroad, to ensure we bring the biggest and best companies from around the world to invest in Nigeria.

Dear Compatriots, the housing and construction industry is a critical sector in most developed economies. When the housing sector booms, it creates additional jobs for architects and masons, for electricians and plumbers, forpainters and interior decorators, and for those in the cement and furniture industries.

Today, I am pleased to inform you that this Administration is reinvigorating our housing and construction sector. We have established the Nigeria Mortgage Refinance Company (NMRC) which will increase liquidity in the housing sector, provide a secondary market for mortgages, and thereby increase the number of people able to purchase or build homes at an affordable price in the country.

In 2014, we will work in a number of pilot states where the State Governors have agreed to provide fast-track land titles, foreclosure arrangements, and serviced plots. This new institution will enable us to create over 200,000 mortgages over the next five years at affordable interest rates. In addition, those at the lower end of the economic ladder will not be left behind as this new initiative will expand mass housing schemes through a re-structured Federal Mortgage Bank and other institutions to provide rent-to-own and lease-to-own options. I am confident that very soon, many more hardworking Nigerian families will be able to realize their dream of owning a home.

In this our centenary year, we will continue our efforts, through the Saving One Million Lives initiative to strengthen primary health care services. We will scale up interventions in reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health, nutrition, routine immunization, HIV/AIDS, malaria elimination, tuberculosis, neglected tropical diseases, and non-communicable diseases. We will pay greater attention to the provision of universal health coverage. Besides the implementation of new initiatives such as my comprehensive response plan for HIV/AIDS, we shall continue to collaborate with global health partners to deliver our health sector transformation agenda.

I am glad that the issues responsible for the long-drawn ASUU strike have been resolved and our children are returning to their campuses. We are committed to making our tertiary institutions true centers of learning for our young people. We will therefore focus on upgrading hostels, laboratories, classrooms, and halls.  As the 2015 deadline for the Millennium Development Goals approaches, we will continue to expand access to basic education for all Nigerian children. Working with State Governments, we shall decisively tackle the problem of the large numbers of out-of-school children in this country. We will also invest in technical and vocational education to promote skills development for our youth across the country.

Nigerian entrepreneurs still lack access to affordable financing, with medium-to-long-term tenors. To address this gap, a new wholesale development finance institution will be established in 2014 to provide medium-to long-term financing for Nigerian businesses. We are working with partners such as the World Bank, the Africa Development Bank, the BNDES Bank in Brazil, and KfW in Germany, to realize this project. Our existing Bank of Agriculture and Bank of Industry will be re-structured as specialized institutions to retail financing from this new wholesale development bank.

In addition to the foregoing, our administration will also do all within its powers to ensure the success of the forthcoming National Conference. The report of the Presidential Advisory Committee on the Conference is undergoing urgent review and the approved structure, guidelines and modalities for the conference will soon be published as a prelude to its commencement and expeditious conclusion.

It remains our sincere hope and expectation that the success of the national conference will further enhance national unity, peace and cohesion as we move ahead to the 2015 general elections.

In keeping with our avowed commitment to progressively enhancing the credibility of Nigeria’s electoral process by consistently upholding the principle of one man, one vote, our Administration will also ensure that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) receives all required support to ensure that it is adequately prepared for the next general elections.

As peace and security remain prerequisite conditions for the full realization of our objectives, we will also do more in 2014 to further empower our security agencies who are working in collaborative partnerships with our friends in the international community to stem the scourge of terrorism in our country and enhance the security of lives and property in all parts of Nigeria. The allocation of over N600 Billion to Defence and Policing in the 2014 Budget attests to this commitment.

Fellow compatriots, the task of making our dear nation a much better place for present and future generations cannot be left to government alone. I therefore urge you all to be ready and willing to do more this year to support the implementation of the Federal Government’s Agenda for National Transformation in every possible way.

Let us all therefore resolve as we celebrate the new year, and Nigeria’s Centenary, to place the higher interests of national unity, peace, stability and progress above all other considerations and work harder in our particular fields of human endeavour to contribute more significantly to the attainment of our collective aspirations. I urge all Nigerians, no matter their stations in life, to rededicate themselves to contributing meaningfully to further enrich our national heritage. The time for that re-dedication is now, not tomorrow.

I wish you all a happy and rewarding 2014. God bless Nigeria. Happy New Year.

SOURCE: Vanguard Nigeria

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