By: AKIN ONIGBINDE
By May 29th 2017, the APC government under the leadership of President Muhammadu Buhari will be two years in office. Having reached the midpoint of its 4 year tenure, we consider an assessment of the government to be appropriate. In doing this, it is proper that we base our assessment primarily on how the government has fared in those areas where it made tangible promises to the electorate. The APC, prior to the 2015 elections, clearly and rightly identified security, the economy, corruption and unemployment as the critical issues of concern for Nigerians. Thus, there were major promises made about the provision of security, fight against corruption, job creation and a turnaround of the economy. These were the four cardinal points of promise of the Buhari Government.
There were quite a number of security challenges facing the nation when President Buhari took office, of which the Boko Haram menace was the most serious. By late 2014, the group was in control of a large swathe of the North-East, meeting with little resistance from a dispirited Nigerian army as it sacked one town after the other. Early in 2015, and shortly before the elections, the government of President Goodluck Jonathan stepped up the effort to push back the insurgents, with reports of hired mercenaries and army units from neighboring Chad and other countries contributing to the victories recorded against the group. Immediately after being sworn in, President Buhari ordered a relocation of the Defence Headquarters from Abuja to Maiduguri to battle the insurgency. This was done with dispatch and within the period under review, it can be said that the Nigerian Military has done well in further decimating Boko Haram and reclaiming most of the lost territories in North-Eastern Nigeria. While there may still be room for improvement, sustaining the onslaught against the group, alongside other measures, will likely ensure the return of normalcy in the region soon. It is equally heartwarming that quite a number of the abducted Chibok girls have had their release successfully negotiated. The government must however address concerns about the potential downsides of setting free notable Boko Haram figures in exchange for the girls, in a way that forestalls the possibility of the swapped insurgents inflicting more damage on the country through resumed higher level of insurgency in the long run. There are also issues about numerous other abductees whose cases have been overshadowed by the Chibok abduction. The NIG encourages the Federal Government to generate a reliable data of missing persons across the affected region, and do all within its powers to ensure their safe release.
It must be said though, that in spite of the notable success against Boko Haram, the government of President Buhari has failed remarkably in combating the herdsmen menace that is increasingly ravaging many parts of the country. From Benue to Kaduna, Delta, Enugu and to other parts of the country, Fulani herdsmen continue to unleash terror on communities, destroying settlements, lives and farmlands ostensibly in the search for survival for their cattles. Shockingly, the response of the government to this cancerous development has been tepid, to put it mildly. Expectedly, the herdsmen appear to have been emboldened by the indifference of the government, as well as the defensive rationalizations of powerful persons in government such as Governor Nasir El Rufai of Kaduna State and Senator Rabiu Musa Kwankwanso from Kano. The result has been more coordinated attacks that have made communities, and indeed a couple of states to devise protective measures. This resort to self-help is an indictment of the Federal Government and its tepid response, and may lead to an escalation of the crisis along ethno-religious lines as has been witnessed in a few instances. The government must demonstrate in no unclear terms its readiness to deal with organized crime irrespective of whoever is involved.
It is also important that the government of President Buhari begins to pay attention to the rising cases of unresolved murders across the country. From Port-Harcourt to Yenagoa, and to Ijebu Ode among others, cases of killings by assailants continue to be on the increase. This does not bode well for the nation, especially as 2019 approaches.
Economic growth, though quite impressive in 2014, was already showing signs of sluggishness by the second quarter of 2015. According to National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), Nigeria’s real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth rate fell to 2.84% in the third quarter of 2015, compared to 6.23% in the same period in 2014. This was to be expected, as there were palpable fear over the outcome of the general elections. The successful completion of the elections and the smooth transition that followed however did not do much to stimulate investors’ confidence in the economy, as the new government halted public spending, and failed to articulate its economic direction for many months. A cabinet was not constituted until after six months, by which time the economy had taken a serious hit. Inevitably, the country slid into recession.
The crisis at the economic front bit harder as the price of oil slumped across the globe. Worse still, the seemingly combative rhetorics of the President seemed to be the motivation needed by militants and criminal elements in the Niger-Delta to sabotage the country’s oil production. This aggravated the acute shortage of foreign earnings that impacted badly on the value of the national currency. Several policies, often short timed and reversed, did little to help the slide. Today, the naira exchanges with the dollar for #375, as opposed to #199 on May 29, 2015.
In the meantime, the country’s debt profile continues to rise. According to the 2017 budget passed by the National Assembly, N1.84trn was allocated for debt servicing, representing 24.73 per cent of the overall budget, as well as 35 percent of projected revenue. With the slow pace of economic diversification, the continued reliance of the economy mainly on petro-dollar gives serious cause for worry. The government therefore needs to do more to widen its revenue base without hurting the economy further, and also manage the debt in a sustainable manner.
One of the ways through which the government promised to revamp the economy was in the area of job creation. However, the sharp increase in exchange rate, with its attendant effect on production, has affected the manufacturing sector, resulting thereby in rising unemployment. With comatose infrastructure, especially transportation and power, even the service industry has not been left out. Astronomical overhead cost arising from the increase in the price of fuel, with little progress in the area of power generation is responsible to a great extent for the cost-cutting measures at both the individual and corporate level. Currently, Nigeria has an installed electricity generation capacity for supply to the national grid of 12,522MW, with available capacity of only approximately 4,500 MW which even dropped to as low as 1,200 MW at a time, to meet the needs of Nigeria’s population of more than 170 million.
The effect of this pervasive infrastructure and power deficit has been the systemic collapse of the Nigerian economy, going by the recent report of the Good Governance Initiative (GGI), a non-governmental organisation advocating uninterrupted power supply in the country. The report also says Nigerians spend N3.5 trillion on fuelling their generators annually. An intensive research conducted by the body to ascertain the negative multiplier effects of unsteady power supply showed that the manufacturing sector spends over N800billion yearly on generators.
The report added further that this is apart from about N2 trillion spent on running generators by over 17 million Small and Medium Scale Enterprises (SMEs), banks, other corporate entities and traders across the country. “In the banking sector, each branch spends over N4million on diesel in a month. When you multiply that figure by the number of bank branches in Nigeria, it could be colossal. An average family man spends between 60,000 and N100, 000 in a month on fuel, apart from the maintenance”. Needless to say, medium and small scale industries, which are the largest employers of labour are worst hit. This is because most of them are unable, on their own, to cope with the prohibitive cost of generating the needed power for profitable production.
Within the period under review, unemployment rate moved from 9.9 percent to 13.9 percent, with youth unemployment peaking at 24 percent. To stem the rising tide, the Federal Government has resorted to borrowing, the recent of which is a World Bank loan of 500 million US dollars at the interest rate of 1.7 percent, to expand its cash transfer program. The recruitment of about 200 thousand teachers on a temporary basis is also a measure that has been put in place to curtail the growing unemployment rate.
Beyond this however, it is important that the government improves in the area of creating an enabling environment for investment by synchronizing its policies in a manner that guarantees investors’ confidence in the economy. Nigeria currently ranks 169 out of 190 countries on the Ease of Doing Business report. This is equally not surprising, when one considers for instance, that the road to Apapa port, accounting for about 60 percent of port activities in Nigeria, is practically impassable. It is also necessary for the government to avoid the numerous inconsistencies in monetary policy, develop strategies for accelerated domestic fuel sufficiency as a way of driving down the cost of production as well as easing the pressure on the naira; while as well creating both legal and administrative frameworks for contract enforcement and private-public partnership in the area of infrastructural development.
Vital to this is the critical issue of power. In our recent release on the energy crisis in Nigeria, we noted the need, among others, for government to;
“open up the power sector for wider participation. There is no reason why multiple approaches should not be employed by different players to meet power challenges. States, for instance, ought to be able to explore various alternatives on the economy of scales to generate power and distribute same under clearly stated regulations. That way, it will be easier to break down the power generation and distribution process into more manageable bits. A situation where the entire country, or most part of it experience prolonged outage because of disruption in the power chain at one or two points is unacceptable in this age. By liberalizing the sector further, it will help create cluster zones wherein a few contiguous communities benefit from specifically dedicated infrastructure. It is our view that the huge cost, as well as risk constituted to effective delivery by the current cost of transmission compels a change of approach. Power should be generated, transmitted and distributed from places proximate to the immediate end-users”.
In the run up to the last presidential election, not a few persons raised concerns about the capacity of General Muhammadu Buhari to steer the ship of the Nigerian State. In spite of attempts, especially by the opposition to characterize him as unfit for the job however, one factor that resonated with the populace was his reputation for honesty. His onslaught against indiscipline as a military ruler, though largely criticized for its violation of citizens’ rights, was seen as the needed antidote to the numerous corruption scandals that rocked the previous governments. It is therefore safe to say that President Buhari’s campaign as an anti-corruption crusader was the single most important personal quality that swayed the election for the APC.
To be fair, the current government made a bold statement to block public leakages and graft with its full implementation of the TSA immediately it assumed office, the accompanying disruptions notwithstanding. There have also been reported cases of cash recoveries running into millions of dollars from various individuals, many of those who occupied sensitive positions in the last government. It soon became obvious however that there was no program of action articulated by the new government to institutionally combat corruption. Two years on, only the recently introduced whistle-blowing policy is the major initiative awaiting parliamentary approval. There has been no corresponding urgency between the vigour of campaign and efforts to institutionalize the fight against endemic corruption. The President has equally done little to dispel insinuations that the fight against corruption is one-sided. While this argument cannot be taken as serious enough to overlook the impunities that contributed in putting the nation in its present dire condition, it is seriously worth examining in determining the enduring capacity of the present approach to corruption. The decision of the President to constitute an investigative panel to look into the case of the Osborne billions has only fuelled insinuations at attempts to cover up the scandal. What has made it difficult for the government to hide under the guise of the sensitivity of the agency involved – (NIA) – is the extension of the brief of the panel to also look into allegations of corruption against the now suspended Secretary to the Government of the Federation. A panel comprising of the Vice President, Attorney General of the Federation as well as the National Security Adviser is not appropriate as a substitute for statutory agencies saddled with the responsibility of investigating and prosecuting such a case. It is even more curious that the President would ask for such an inquiry not too long after earlier absolving the SGF in reaction to his indictment by a Senate committee.
The ongoing supremacy tussle between the EFCC and the DSS, which the President appears helpless in resolving, has also been a drag on the anti-corruption stance of the current government. What the public is treated to are public spectacles that appear choreographed to mould public opinion more than actually combating corruption. The Gestapo-like invasion of the residencies of judges by the DSS, as well as the reported exposure of the Osborne billions by the EFCC in spite of information about same from the NIA (if the latter is proven true), signifies the arbitrariness and directionlessness of the current anti-corruption efforts. It is equally worrisome that the DSS has continued to persuade the Senate that the EFCC Chair nominee is unfit, while the presidency continues to show faith in him, on account of alleged past misdeeds. Very little if anything can be achieved whenever agents of government work at cross-purposes. Matter of fact, public interest becomes endangered, and abuses become inevitable as the instruments of State become tools for pursuance of clandestine personal and group objectives. The NIG calls on the President once again to rein in the narrow impulses of heads of important agencies, especially those involved in the anti-corruption drive, and develop a more enduring and holistic approach to stem endemic corruption in all facets and levels of the country.
Based on the foregoing, it is quite apparent that the current APC government under the leadership of President Muhammadu Buhari needs to do more if it is to significantly meet its electoral promises to the people. To do this, it must double its efforts in addressing the pressing challenges in critical areas of the economy and national life, with clearer policy initiatives that not only ameliorate the present hardship of the average citizen but are also capable of standing the test of time. Doing this requires leveraging on the ruling party’s control of the executive and the legislature for the fundamental reforms of the political and economic architecture of the country for maximum benefit to the citizenry. So far, finding a template to work together seem too much a task for the ruling party, as the different groups within it seem stuck in the battle that characterized, and continue to define the sharing of the spoils of its electoral victory, midway into its term. The parliament is yet to enact a single piece of landmark legislation since its inauguration, while the executive trudges along trusting on the personality of the President to reassure the citizenry of the government’s commitment to its promises.
Currently, the States appear indifferent and isolated from efforts at the centre to fight unemployment, stimulate economic growth and ensure security. The different levels of government have been satisfied with offering bailouts to the States whenever they seem stretched for resources, with numerous stories of looting, indebtedness to workers and financial organizations, as well as a litany of abandoned projects. The ruling APC however has the added advantage of controlling most states, thereby having all it takes to harmonize the conceptualization and implementation of a more viable developmental agenda for the nation. It is time for the APC to explore for maximum benefits its control of the levers of power both vertically and horizontally. The ruling party needs to focus on the issue of state police and its relevance in enhancing national security, as well as giving the states more responsibilities in the area of power as well as rail and water transportation. Devolving more powers and resources to the states will go a long way in diffusing the pressure on the centre, unleashing in the process, multiple capacities that have up till now remain latent.
On a final note, the NIG calls on President Buhari to focus more on strengthening institutions of State for optimum performance of the roles designated for them by our laws. The continued detention of Sheikh El Zakzaky and Colonel Sambo Dasuki in defiance of court pronouncements amount to a breach of the Nigerian Constitution he swore to uphold. He needs to learn from the Turkish President who, even in his quest for authoritarian powers, still had to muscle through the required legal procedures to put a veneer of credibility on his power-grabbing schemes. Contemptuously ignoring judicial pronouncements, irrespective of the purported ends, does grave damage to the State as it subjects the rule of law to the whims and caprices of individuals in power. While it may be alluring in the present, it is a dangerous precedent likely to be explored for sinister ends by subsequent office holders even against the present holders. The NIG wishes the President, and indeed the ruling party well in the onerous task of delivering on its promises in the remaining half of its mandate.