Nigeria Guild Of Editors Annual Conference In Bayelsa

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While I am not able to be physically present today, I am actually glad for the opportunity to speak in this conference at a time such as this, with the formidable gate keepers of the Nigerian media. I am honoured to have been invited to this conference, the 11th in the series by the apex body of the Nigerian Editors.

Although I am a lawyer, I am far from being a stranger to the media; in particular the elite league of editors whose onerous responsibility it is to determine and shape how government policies and actions are received by the public. Just barely four months ago, I performed a similar role at your Annual Convention in Lagos, where I conveyed the good wishes of His Excellency, President Muhammadu Buhari, who was then the President-Elect, to your good selves and did deliver his message that given the important role of the media in national development, his administration would look forward to a cordial relationship with the media; forge a strategic alliance and welcome every form of collaboration that is designed to bring real and rapid changes to the generality of Nigerians in line with our electoral promises.

It is my pleasure, dear respected editors and gentlemen of the press, to reassure you about this administration’s commitment to bring a new vista of life and development to our people, majority of whom are desiring to move up in life, send their children to school, get well fed, receive decent health care, hold gainful and dignified employment and so on.

The Buhari administration is fully committed to the notion that government policy making ought to have roots in the needs and conditions of the people, especially the vast majority of the extremely poor Nigerians, about 110 million people. And this government believes that elites, such as your good selves, who have been elevated in social and economic status in life do have the responsibility and duty to be an active participant in the work of lifting out the millions of our people who are in want, misery and abject poverty. The fate of any group of people such as a nation is always predicated on the values and contributions of the elite in every conceivable area of life. And we are confident that given the history of the Nigerian press, especially it’s constant patriotic zeal and courage to give expression to popular will, Nigerian editors would be partners in the Change agenda of this government.

Our nation, under the Buhari administration, has embarked on the building of a bold new Nigeria and we need all hands to be on deck.

There is so much work to do, dear friends and editors. First, let me quickly lay out our mid-to-long-term vision as a government, and then discuss briefly how we expect editors to pitch in significantly.

We are committed to the building of an economy led by a strong and responsible private sector. An economy devoid of the corrosive germs of corruption, and undue advantages but one where services and goods are efficiently and effectively offered and delivered.

Government intervention comes in the provision of physical, economic infrastructure and the social policies that provide opportunity and succour for the 110 million extremely poor in our country.

For instance, in the Power sector, we are aiming to consistently generate 5000MW going into the first quarter of next year. This will involve aggressively ensuring that all power-related projects are speedily concluded. In the hydrocarbon industry, we are pursuing a long-overdue reform. For instance, in the short to medium term, we will re-organise NNPC as we hold its leadership to account for revenue shortfalls in past years. We will also improve local refining capacity. This will reduce over 30 percent of foreign exchange currently devoted.

In Agriculture, we will pursue self-sustenance in the production of items such as rice, wheat, cotton and therefore considerably reduce foreign exchange requirements for the importation of those items. Rice importation alone consumes USD 4 billion. Seven rice-producing States are working closely with the FGN to map out the pathway to self-sustenance in rice production within the next thirty months.  The agriculture and agro-allied value chain are also important in our job creation plans. In the meantime, we intend to progressively protect and support local agriculture.

Generally, we intend to create a friendly and efficient business environment. Insisting on removing needless bureaucracies and red-tape in pre-establishment and approval processes generally. Realising that investments go where they are offered the best profits and most conducive environments, we intend to review our incentive regime even as we assure greater consistency and certainty in policies.

Equally addressing the dire employment situation is central in our socio-economic agenda, especially youth employment which is a major priority of the government. We expect that investment in infrastructure development, technology, agriculture and mining will in the medium to long term absorb many of the qualified unemployed. Our one -meal-a day programme for primary schools will also create several jobs and business opportunities. We are also committed to a robust policy of funding and capacity for SMEs and startups. Training and engagement of National Volunteers (NVs), post-secondary school students who are given vocational training equipping them with civil works, agriculture, and vocational skills, each State will start with a minimum of 5,000 National Volunteers.

Generally, our monetary policy aims primarily at a stable exchange rate and value for the Naira. Some short term measures were recently taken to stabilize the Naira, these measures are not expected to be permanent. We intend to keep inflation within the single to early double-digit margin and keep interest rates at current levels.

Social policy is a cornerstone of the Change/ socio-economic agenda. Working with the World Bank and other partners we intend to implement the Conditional Cash Transfer programme (CCT). Like the Bosa Familia in Brazil, we believe that giving N5000 (Five Thousand Naira) monthly to the poorest families, on the condition that they enrol their children in school and participate in immunization is a right step in the right direction. The five thousand Naira given to women is an injection into the local economies. Other social intervention programmes include the One-Meal-A-Day programme for primary schools, Social Benefits for the poor disabled and elderly poor.

Our revenue generation plans are straightforward, in the short term plugging the numerous loopholes in the collection of public revenue. The Treasury Single Account (TSA) which mandates all government agencies to pay all revenues directly to a single account, aggressive revenue collection especially FIRS, VAT, and Stamp Duties. We believe that a more aggressive collection policy can significantly increase public revenue.

In spite of our huge human and natural resources, Nigeria is still confronted today with a number of developmental challenges some of which include: poor and inadequate social amenities, inadequate and erratic power supply, high rate of youth unemployment, high incidence of poverty, endemic corruption and insecurity. The Buhari administration is committed to tackling these challenges head-on so as to lay a solid foundation for the sustainable development of our country.

The theme of your conference this year is, therefore, germane to the vision of this administration. And that is reassuring that as editors, the drivers of the newsroom, you are ready, able and willing to do your critical part in the work of change. As editors, you will have tough choices to make in choosing what stories to play up, where and what to emphasis, who and who not to project, when to disseminate, why report an issue or event, and even how to do it all. This would be challenging as we navigate the sometimes edgy, and rough spots on the journey of change.

But I recognize, nevertheless, that you, being editors and masters of language would be masterful in leading the upcoming and challenging national discourses on the type of change that our country actually needs, and ensuring that it is dutifully delivered through a combined effort of the people and the government.

While I have no doubt in the ability of the erudite guest lecturer for today and indeed the other resource persons who will do justice to the topic, suffice it to say that to this administration, the change that we truly need and to which we are irrevocably committed is one of efficient, transparent and accountable government, where Nigeria’s resources will be wholly and totally utilized for the good of every Nigerian, particularly those whose voices have been silenced for so long because of their economic status.

Equally, that change requires that we do away with the impunity, profligacy and reckless excesses of the past that hid information from the people and took their rights and liberties as Nigerian citizens for granted. It is a change that calls for reappraisal of values, prudence and speedy institutions of new rules of conduct and good governance. And without equivocation, it is one that demands that we put an end to iniquities of corrupt public officials and recover stolen wealth of this nation as a matter of national and societal duty.

To do these, we recognize that we need the understanding and collaboration of the fourth estate of the realm, particularly you editors who sit at the vantage position of ensuring that not only are Nigerians kept informed but are fed with the right and accurate information at the right time.

Therefore, like I urged the lawyers on Monday at the Bar Conference, let me also request of you too as editors, to join our administration in this onerous fight to stamp out corruption for good and return our people to the culture of hard work and excellence.

Thank you for your attention and I wish you fruitful deliberations.