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Text of State of the Nation Press Conference addressed by Comrade Dr. Ibrahim M. Zikirullahi, Executive Director, Resource Centre for Human Rights & Civic Education (CHRICED), on Thursday, April 21, 2022, at Abubakar Momoh House, No 5, Malcolm X Street, 451 Road, First Avenue, Gwarimpa, FCT-Abuja.

Protocols

Distinguished media friends, fellow civil society organizations, ladies and gentlemen.

Introduction
Thank you for taking time out of your usually crowded schedule to join us at today’s state of the Nation press conference.

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Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, it is evident that our dear country Nigeria is bleeding at multiple points. Debt pileup, unbridled corruption, and oil theft at an industrial scale have continued to ravage our economy and rob us of the benefits of rising crude oil prices. Banditry, terrorism, and kidnapping across the country continue to claim the lives of innocent Nigerians; communities are routinely attacked, displaced, and forced to flee for safety and abandon their livelihoods. Nowhere is safe in today’s Nigeria except the heavily guarded government houses. And no one is safe, only the heavily protected elected and appointed government officials, while ordinary Nigerians either hand over to God in prayers or resort to feeble self-help. Amidst this, this administration aggressively pursues an agenda to gag free speech and convert every voice of reason into an opposition and state enemy that must be vanquished.
CHRICED joins millions of well-meaning Nigerians to commend our gallant soldiers who have paid the ultimate sacrifice in defense of this nation. Your sacrifice in defense of our sovereignty and democracy will never be in vain. We stand with the thousands of survivors of bandits and terrorist attacks, from Giwa local council in Kaduna, where 50 people were killed, to Tsafe local government area, in Zamfara state, where bandits killed about 200 people, to Lavun local government area in Niger State where terrorists attacked and killed innocent citizens in a coordinated attack across 13 villages.
Today’s address focuses on the three-cardinal focus of the President Buhari administration- the economy, insecurity, and anti-corruption.

ON THE ECONOMY
Unemployment, Economic Woes, And High Cost of Living
The sorry state of the economy, high unemployment, and the prohibitively high cost of living are markers of the economic woes of Nigerians as a result of the poor economic decisions of this administration. According to a recent report, Nigeria is still the poverty capital of the world. Over 40% of the total population lives in extreme poverty. According to the world bank, 1 in every 4 Nigerian live below a dollar per day. Unemployment stood at 33.3% in Q4, 2020; the 4th highest rate globally after South Africa, Angola, and Namibia. Youth unemployment is estimated at over 45%. CHRICED decries the government’s lack of concrete action to stem inflationary pressures that have driven the prices of food and other essential commodities and services out of reach of the average citizen. The environment is harsh, expensive, and unsustainable for businesses that attempt to produce or provide services. Epileptic electricity supply, high fuel costs for generators, multiple taxations, and the free fall of our currency, the Naira, have contributed to many small businesses’ demise. The government has remained aloof and passive in the face of these difficulties.

Higher Education in Limbo
It is a similar story of woes brought on by poor governance in the education sector. The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has been on strike since February 14, 2022, due to the government’s failure to honor agreements signed with the union. The strike has halted teaching and research across all public universities, thus suspending the lives of thousands of students at considerable cost to their struggling parents. It is irresponsible and shameful for an elected government to continue to play yoyo with the future of its youths and low-income families who cannot afford the exorbitant fees charged by private universities. CHRICED, therefore, urges the government to reconsider and change its tactics. The current minister of education has shown a total lack of interest in our education sector. His disrespect for ASUU and the student association will never bring a solution to this current quagmire. The minister has no place in the education sector. It is time President Buhari took personal responsibility for the minister’s failure and immediately appoint a more serious hand to steer the negotiations and bring a quick solution to this protracted crisis in higher education in Nigeria.

CONCERN ABOUT THE USE OF PUBLIC FUNDS
CHRICED is disturbed by reports making the round that the Federal Government recently donated $1 million to Afghanistan’s Taliban government. That ill-advised donation ignored the fact that the Taliban is led by terrorists who have no respect for women have prevented women from attending school, and are serially abusing the rights of Afghan citizens. It is difficult to understand how the Buhari administration came to befriend the terrorist Taliban government in Afghanistan to the point of donating funds to them. CHRICED categorically denounces this indiscriminate use of the nation’s funds, especially in these trying times. Aside from making little or no economic sense, such a gift should not come from a government that claims to be fighting terrorism within its borders.

ON INSECURITY
Unending Wave of Insecurity And Killings
The current level of insecurity across the nation poses the gravest threat to our country and our democracy. The military and para-military institutions are deployed across Nigeria’s 36 states and the federal capital territory for the first time. In the northeast, the deployment is tackling terrorism. In the northwest, the deployment is to tackle banditry and new forms of terrorism. In the north-central, the deployment is tackling terrorism, banditry, and communal, religious, and ethnic unrest among settler and indigene populations. In Nigeria’s southeast, the deployment is tackling secession, while deployments in the south-south and southwest respond to militancy and attacks on oil installations and kidnapping and robbery, respectively. Lives have never been so cheap in Nigeria.

Because the government is weak, criminal gangs are emboldened to take on the state and harm citizens. This inadequate response from the government appears to be what motivated the recent bold attacks by criminal elements on high-profile targets such as Kaduna International Airport and the train service. CHRICED strongly condemns the government’s poor, weak, and indecisive reaction to the wave of insecurity engulfing Nigeria and wreaking havoc on residents’ lives.

Incredibly, the terrorists behind these attacks are publicly daring and taunting the authorities, just as they have continued to threaten to kill passengers abducted during the train attack. Many families are mourning the loss of their loved ones, just as the families of those kidnapped languish in suspense, unsure of their loved ones’ fate held captive in the criminals’ den. Additionally, there have been multiple reports of terrorists marrying off women they abduct if their relatives cannot pay the millions of Naira requested as ransom. This is the situation in Shiroro Niger state, where gunmen reportedly threatened to marry off a 21-year-old lady taken from a community in the state unless her parents paid a N1.7 million ransom. There are numerous other instances like the one above, indicating a complete breakdown of security across the country. These atrocities point to the government’s failure to fulfill its primary responsibility of protecting lives and property. This failure is exacting a high price on human lives. Nigerians are fed up seeing their countrymen and women murdered, kidnapped, and dehumanized daily.

While our gallant soldiers have continued to do their best, it is clear that we must do a lot more, and urgently too, to stop the terrorists and bandits, and kidnappers from gaining the upper hand. Unfortunately, President Buhari has continued to admit that the administration is overwhelmed. He must, however, prove this claim or resign honorably. As the father of the nation, President Buhari has a constitutional responsibility to protect every Nigerian and resident in this country. His appointees share in that responsibility and are accountable for every needless death.
At CHRICED, we believe that Nigeria is blessed with enough experienced men and women that can provide expertise to overcome this existential threat to our nation. The President must show commitment by weeding out those appointees that have demonstrated a total lack of ideas and bring in intelligent, experienced hands that can help the administration overcome the multiple points of insecurity and drivers of insecurity in our nation.

Rising sexual and gender-based violence
President Buhari and all the state governors and officials of local government administrations must cooperate and coordinate to tackle the rising incidence of sexual and gender-based violence in the country. Sadly, more than 12 months after the Police announced that it received over 900 sexual and gender-based violence reports, very little has been heard about the number prosecuted and convicted. The recent murder of the gospel singer Osinachi Nwachukwu, purportedly by her husband, is another sad reminder of this shadow pandemic in our nation. Governments’ silence is a significant enabler and makes all government officials culpable. President Buhari and all state governors must show more commitment to eradicating all forms of sexual and gender-based violence in our country by ensuring proper prosecution of offenders. The judiciary must show new gusto to punish offenders to establish a deterrent. The Police authorities must train and put in place systems and structures to improve their role as the first respondent. CHRICED notes with dismay that the most visible manifestation of the failure of governance at all levels is the heightened insecurity that is currently ravaging Nigeria. As things stand, the government can no longer claim to have the competence or political will to ensure the protection of people and property throughout the country. For each life lost due to the malicious operations of bandits, terrorists, and kidnappers, the government must be held accountable for flagrantly failing to take the necessary steps to protect lives and property.

ON ANTI-CORRUPTION
Dubious Pardons And the Triumph of Corruption Under Buhari
Just when the fight against corruption appears to be finally spreading among Nigerians and development partners, President Buhari announced a pitiable, politically-informed state pardon for two recalcitrant former governors, Joshua Dariye (Plateau State) and Jolly Nyame (Taraba state). This ill-advised pardon is the biggest revelation of the deception fed by this administration to the Nigerian people in its anti-corruption promises. It is on record that the two former governors never cooperated with the government throughout the investigation and prosecution. On the contrary, they did everything possible to frustrate the investigation and prosecution. It is to the credit of the hardworking staff and leadership of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) that the country eventually secured a conviction for these two felons. It is, therefore, disappointing and condemnable that President Buhari decided to reward unrepentant offenders with a state pardon. This act is a total disrespect of the pardon power of the President. It undermines the anti-corruption investment and risks by all anti-corruption advocates and institutions. It is shameful that the attorney-general of the federation, Malami, has once again allowed this shameful action to happen under his watch. It is even more shameful that President Buhari failed to show leadership and decorum and shield the exalted office of the President from such ignominious action. The President’s action demonstrated contempt for the international community and donors who have invested heavily in this government’s anti-graft campaign; denigrates the support of civil society organizations. It is a waste of the millions of Naira and hundreds of person-hours invested by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC)’s hardworking and dedicated investigators to prosecute the case.

Furthermore, President Buhari’s use of his prerogative of mercy in a destructive manner is the final nail in the coffin of the government’s ostensibly anti-corruption battle. However, CHRICED commends anti-corruption institutions and oversight bodies that continue to live above partisan politics. The Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) recently released a report detailing its monitoring of Zonal Intervention Projects, commonly known as Constituency Projects, for the fourth quarter of 2021. The findings revealed many types of corruption and how such behaviors jeopardize ordinary persons’ rights to high-quality essential social services. Several incidents of faulty execution of schools, rural roads, cottage hospitals, and empowerment initiatives were highlighted in the report. CHRICED applauds the ICPC for its commitment to ensuring that public funding for constituency projects are used wisely and honestly. CHRICED urges the ICPC to follow up on the report’s clear incidents of corruption by either ensuring that the contractors return to the site or refunding what they have embezzled from project funds. In addition, the agency should vigorously pursue lawmakers who converted constituency projects into their personal property as a deterrent to others while hoping that the President will not pardon those convicted.

COUNT DOWN TO THE 2023 ELECTIONS
The need for issue-driven political contests
Ladies and gentlemen, the race to the 2023 elections is gaining speed. We commend the administration for working hard, in collaboration with civil society and development partners, to sign the 2022 electoral act and the several innovations capable of improving elections in Nigeria. INEC has also announced the elections timetable with clear deadlines for various stakeholder groups. We are, however, concerned by the character and integrity of the many candidates that have so far expressed interest in the presidency. Many of the candidates have serious corruption cases hanging on their necks. Some are alleged to have failed to provide leadership to curb the spread of covid-19 in their states. Some are said to be battling health challenges. Nigeria is in a dire situation, making the 2023 elections a critical milestone in our democratic development. Political parties and their stalwarts owe this nation a great responsibility, at this juncture in our political history, to search and put forward credible, hardworking, intelligent, healthy, committed candidates capable of confronting the multiple existential threats facing our nation. Because the future appears bleak, it makes it imperative for politicians to desist from empty sloganeering and posturing. Nigerians must also carefully consider and examine the credentials, ideas, and proposals of those claiming to want to govern the country in 2023. While whoever is elected President in 2023 will provide overall direction for the polity and economy, there are many other political leaders, from councilors to local government chairpersons to state and federal legislators and governors, whose actions or inactions will make or mar citizens’ lives. Citizens across the country must be interested in what each of these political representatives intends to do to bring the country back from the brink of disaster.

We beseech God not to install in power in 2023 those who will show us no mercy.

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