By Rafiu Ajakaye
LAGOS, Nigeria (AA) – Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari has launched an ambitious $2.5-billion welfare program targeted at the country's extreme poverty, partly fulfilling a cardinal pledge of his election campaign.
“For too long, ours has been a society that neglects the poor and victimizes the weak,” Buhari said Sunday morning in a televised speech commemorating his first year in office.
“In this regard, 500 billion naira [$2.5 billion] has been appropriated in the 2016 budget for social intervention programs in five key areas,” he said.
This plan will employ 500 teachers and feed 5.5 million schoolchildren to shore up enrollment.
The program also includes conditional cash transfers for a million “vulnerable beneficiaries”, and an education grant scheme for science and technology students, among other targets.
Buhari acknowledged the pain resulting from some of his policies – including a recent hike in the price of gas – but said such decisions were inevitable as Nigeria suffers from plunging oil prices and breaks from a past riddled with corruption and neglect of critical infrastructure.
The president said his government is working to align fiscal policy with monetary policy as recently announced by the Central Bank but maintained his opposition to devaluation of the naira.
He also touched on “vandals” in the southern Niger Delta region who have disrupted oil production.
“The recent spate of attacks by militants disrupting oil and power installations will not distract us from engaging leaders in the region in addressing Niger Delta problems,” he stated, referring to the Niger Delta Avengers whose actions have cut oil production to below 1.1 million barrels per day, down from 2.2 million.
“If the militants and vandals are testing our resolve, they are much mistaken. We shall apprehend the perpetrators and their sponsors and bring them to justice,” the president added.
However, the country's opposition People’s Democratic Party – which lost the presidential election to Buhari’s All Progressives Congress – dismissed the leader’s speech as “uninspiring”.
“This speech by the president has shown why he has failed and ruined Nigeria in just one year. President Buhari wasted 365 days,” the party said in a post on Twitter.