Last 18 months most difficult in Nigeria’s history —Buhari

•Says Kanu, Igboho high profile financiers revealed •Speaks on Twitter suspension •Decries COVID-19 vaccine inequities

PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari has lamented the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on the country, saying that the last 18 months have been some of the most difficult in the history of the country. 

He made the declaration in his nationwide Independence Day broadcast on Friday morning. 

He, however, noted that Nigerians came together as one to fight the virus even as he regretted the manner of vaccine distribution in the global space. 

He stated: “Fellow Nigerians, the past 18 months have been some of the most difficult periods in the history of Nigeria. Since the Civil War, I doubt whether we have seen a period of more heightened challenges than what we have witnessed in this period. 

“Our original priorities for 2020 were to continue stabilising our economy following the deep recession while restoring peace in areas confronted with security challenges. But the COVID-19 pandemic and its devastating impact on all nations meant we needed to shift gears and re-strategise. 

“Nigerians came together as one to fight against COVID-19. It is this attitude and by the special grace of God, we continue to survive the pandemic as a nation and indeed, provide leadership and example at regional and international levels. 

“The doomsday scenario predicted for our country never came. Even as the Delta variant continues to spread, we have built the capacity we need to respond now and into the future.” The president appealed to Nigerians not to take COVID-19 lightly, admonishing that they adhere to public health and social measures, put on masks and get vaccinated. 

Addressing the international community, the president rejected the lack of easy access to COVID-19 vaccines, saying: “I will take this opportunity to remind the global community that the current state of access to COVID-19 vaccines is unacceptable. We cannot afford a situation where a handful of countries keep the global vaccine supply to themselves at the expense of other nations. 

“We must act now to accelerate equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. This is the message I conveyed to the international community in New York last week. 

“As we push to source vaccines for our immediate needs, we shall invest more to support our pharmaceutical and research agencies to come up with ideas for locally developed vaccines. Should another pandemic arise in the future, our question is simple; will Nigeria be ready?” 

Buhari revealed that he has directed the ministries of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Health, Education and Science and Technology to work with Nigerian and international pharmaceutical companies and research organisations to enhance Nigeria’s domestic pharmaceutical capacity. 

“Already, the Nigerian Sovereign Investment Authority is raising a $200 million fund for this initiative that will complement the Central Bank of Nigeria’s ongoing N85 billion Healthcare Sector Research and Development Intervention Scheme to support local researchers in the development of vaccines and drugs to combat communicable and non-communicable diseases, including COVID-19,” he stated. 

He expressed delight that the country may soon be self-sufficient in pharmaceutical production. 

“Fellow Nigerians, this is just the beginning. Similarly, on our approach to food security, I am proud to announce Nigeria has commenced its journey to pharmaceutical independence. 

“This journey, which will take years to achieve but will ultimately result in Nigerian-based companies developing the active pharmaceutical substances and competence needed for us to make our own drugs and vaccines,” President Buhari assured. 

President Buhari also said the arrests of the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu and Sunday Adeyemo (Igboho) of the Yoruba separatist group have revealed the high profile personalities, including a serving member of the National Assembly funding the agitations. 

The president said while his government would continue to pursue dialogue-based solutions in dealing with legitimate grievances, it was determined to take decisive actions against such secessionists. 

Citing Section 14(2)(b) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), he pointed out that the security and welfare of Nigerians continued to be the prime focus on which pro- grammes and projects of his government revolved as a government, we are ready to arrest and prosecute all persons inciting violence through words or action. Our resolve for a peaceful, united and one Nigeria remains resolute and unwavering. 

“That said, our hope is not to fight for peace. We can always settle our grievances peacefully without spilling any blood. 

“I will, therefore, take this opportunity, on this special day that symbolises the unity and oneness of our great nation, to ask all Nigerians to embrace peace and dialogue, whatever your grievances. 

“The seeds of violence are planted in people’s heads through words. Reckless utterances of a few have led to losses of many innocent lives and destruction of properties. 

“Such unfiltered and unsubstantiated lies and hate speeches by a few evil persons must be stopped. Our media houses and commentators must move away from just reporting irresponsible remarks to investigating the truth behind all statements and presenting the facts to readers. 

“We must all come out and speak against the lies being peddled. At this point, I would want to sincerely appreciate the large number of our traditional, religious and community leaders as well as other well-meaning Nigerians who, in their various fora, are openly spreading the message of peaceful coexistence and conflict settlement through dialogue in their respective communities. 

“Nigeria is for all of us. Its unity is not negotiable. And its ultimate success can only be achieved if we all come together with a common goal of having peace and prosperity for our nation. 

“We shall continue to work on dialogue-based solutions to address legitimate grievances. But we remain ready to take decisive actions against secessionist agitators and their sponsors who threaten our national security. 

“The recent arrests of Nnamdi Kanu and Sunday Adeyemo, and the ongoing investigations being conducted have revealed certain high-profile financiers behind these individuals. We are vigorously pursuing these financiers, including one identified as a serving member of the National Assembly. 

“Fellow Nigerians, this is a clear example of how people abandon their national leadership positions for their selfish gains. Instead of preaching unity, they are funding and misleading our youth to conduct criminal acts that sometimes lead to unfortunate and unnecessary loss of lives and property.

“As the so-called leaders run abroad to hide, our innocent youths are misled and left in the streets to fight for their senseless and destructive causes. 

“Government will continue, with greater level of peoples’ participation and, in collaboration with our international partners, to improve the security architecture, reduce enabling environment for criminality to thrive and eliminate opportunities for terrorism financing.” 

Speaking on the role of the digital economy in the country, President Buhari noted that though social media is a useful platform, it had been misused to coordinate criminal activities. He said he had directed the lifting of the suspension of the activities of Twitter in Nigeria as long as the microblogging site fulfilled some conditions. 

President Buhari explained: “As we embrace the digital economy in Nigeria, we are fully aware of the prospects and the perils. Our policies have been developed to enable Nigerians to take advantage of the prospects and avoid the perils of digital technologies. 

“Social media is a very useful platform that has enabled millions of Nigerians to connect with loved ones, promote their businesses, socialise and access news and other information. 

“However, recent events have shown that the platform is not just an innocuous platform for information dissemination. 

“Rather some users have misused the platform to organise, coordinate and execute criminal activities, propagate fake news, and promote ethnic and religious sentiments. 

“To address these negative trends, the Federal Government suspended the operations of Twitter in Nigeria on June 5, 2021 to allow the government to put measures in place to address these challenges. 

“Following the suspension of Twitter operations, Twitter Inc. reached out to the Federal Government of Nigeria to resolve the impasse. Subsequently, I constituted a presidential committee to engage Twitter to explore the possibility of resolving the issue. 

“Following the extensive engagements, the issues are being addressed and I have directed that the suspension be lifted but only if the conditions are met to allow our citizens continue the use of the platform for business and positive engagements. 

“As a country, we are committed to ensuring that digital companies use their platform to enhance the lives of our citizens, respect Nigeria’s sovereignty, cultural values and promote online safety.” 

President Buhari was confident that his government’s goal of lifting 100 million Nigerians out of poverty in 10 years was achievable. 

He stated: “Considering the positive impact of our social investment programmes, I recently approved an increase in the number of N-Power programme beneficiaries from 500,000 to 1,000,000. 

“Out of this, 510,000 have started the programme while the competitive selection process for onboarding the outstanding 490,000 beneficiaries is in progress. 

“The national homegrown school feeding programme is currently being implemented in 35 states of the federation and the FCT. Over 103,000 women have been engaged and empowered as cooks under the programme, while about 10 million pupils are being fed across public primary schools in the country. 

“To grant increased access to credit to the most poor and vulnerable, I have directed an increase in the disbursement of Government Enterprise and Empowerment Programme (GEEP) loans to an additional one million beneficiaries, laying more emphasis on the smallholding farmers through the farmers Moni programme.”

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