Wilfred Eya, Chinelo Obogo and Chukwudi Nweje
Today, Nigerians will further have a clearer picture of what to expect in the next four years as President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration will announce the portfolios of the newly appointed ministers. Barring unforeseen circumstances, before the end of today, the presidency would have set up his cabinet made up of 43 ministers, the largest since 1999. Thirteen of them who are mostly career politicians served with Buhari in his first tenure, while 18 are new.
In the estimation of many, with the new mandate to Buhari for another four years, the onus is now on him and his cabinet to rebuild the faith of the citizenry in the Nigerian project by running a dynamic and all-inclusive administration. Expectations in many quarters include the urgent need to strengthen state institutions that will midwife the new Nigeria that the citizens have always wished for.
Critical observers argue that given the many crises that characterised Buhari’s first tenure, he would have learnt appropriate lessons to ensure that his cabinet hits the ground, running from today.
The President waited for 54 days to send a list of the ministerial nominees to the Senate for screening after his inauguration for a second term. For observers of his administration, it is still a better record than his first term, which began in May 29, 2015 and had to wait for six months before the list of ministerial portfolios and offices was announced.
The calculation was that the delay then created a lot of uncertainties worsened by the incoherent policies implemented by the Federal Government at the time. Not a few are in agreement that the recession that plagued the country in 2016 was the outcome of the seeming flip-flop in governance by the APC –led administration. There was also inconsistent forex policy and no clear economic direction. The country had four exchange rates; the black market rate (parallel market), manufacturers rate (for importation) interbank rate and Financial Market Dealers Quotation.
Rather than set up competent economic team to map out policies, the Federal Government, in a bid to ‘stablise’ the naira, had officials of the Department of State Security (DSS), raid Bureau De Change outlets. It was as bad as that. The forex policies meant that banks couldn’t get forex and companies started defaulting in their financial obligations and the full implementation of the Treasury Single Account (TSA) also weakened the ability of banks to do business. These policy missteps gradually caused the economy to shrink and businesses began to fold up and to downsize their workforce.
In June 2016, the Central bank floated the naira after several calls for a currency adjustment from both domestic and international economists. The then Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun and the CBN governor, Godwin Emefelie gave contradictory statements on the economy; Emefelie wanted to maintain the interest rates but Adeosun wanted it lowered. These inconsistencies created forex crisis, which negatively affected Nigeria’s import driven economy till date and has plunged millions into poverty.
In June 2018, the World Poverty Index, named Nigeria the poverty capital of the world, saying 91.8 million Nigerians currently live in extreme poverty. According to the World Bank, a person can be said to be living in extreme poverty if he lives below the poverty line of $1.90(N695) per day. This means that more than half of Nigeria’s population is very poor.
In view of all those challenges, analysts obviously cannot wait to know who of the ministers would be where, as the government controlled by the All Progressives Congress (APC) settles down for the onerous task ahead. For obvious reasons, many have high hopes that the new cabinet will hit the ground running to manage and reposition Nigeria which literally has become a beleaguered nation.
But there are those who insist that the adverse effect the delay for the ministerial list has had on Nigeria’s economy was not worth it and further showed the slow pace of President Buhari’s administration.
The contention of such people is that time is running on Nigeria because currently, the nation’s security sector is still in poor shape with killings, abductions and terror attacks becoming commonplace even as there seems to be no end in sight to the Fulani herdsmen crisis.
Available records also show that the economy is still being supported by foreign loans with not so cheery reports coming from the likes of the International Monetary Fund and other internationally recognised agencies.
It was not surprising that on Monday, President Buhari himself while declaring open the presidential retreat for ministers-designate, federal permanent secretaries and other top government functionaries charged the incoming Federal Executive Council (FEC) members to work hard to find solutions to the frightening threat of population explosion of the country.
He said: “ By average estimates, our population is close to 200 million today. By 2050, UN estimates put Nigeria third globally, behind only India and China with our projected population at 411 million people.
“This is a frightening prospect but only if we sit idly by and expect handouts from so-called development partners. The solution to our problems lies within us.”
Following the reality on ground, a lot hope that the new cabinet must have the capacity to drive sustainable economic growth, job creation, enhance good governance through the delivery of tangible dividends of democracy and also engender unity and inclusive governance in the country.
But is the task going to be easy? Many do not think so? On Monday, the Presidency raised the alarm that the country might be heading for a fiscal crisis unless urgent steps were taken to halt the negative trends in target setting and realisation in government revenue.
This was even as it said that under the Buhari administration, the number of taxable adults have risen from 10 million to 20 million as concerted efforts were still on-going to bring a lot more into the tax net.
The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, made the remark in a statement denying media reports that the Chairman of the Federal Inland Revenue Service, Babatunde Fowler, was not under any investigation.
With the country’s debt profile which has hit N24.3 trillion, the oil crisis and a stagnant economy, Nigerians are expectant that the Ministers will perform and bring the much needed improvement in critical sectors of the economy. Allegations abound that the previous cabinet had a lackluster performance because they did not enjoy the requisite freedom to do their jobs without encumbrances. But the presidency has promised to ensure that all the ministers perform well. On its twitter page, it said: “We will ensure these targets are complied with; performance will be monitored by the Office of the Secretary to the Government.”
But the former national chairman of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), Rufai Hanga, told Daily Sun that the Federal Government lacked capacity in all the sectors. “The problem is that this administration lacks capacity all round. There has never been a time in the history of this country that we spent the kind of money we have spent on security in this administration, yet there is no significant improvement. It is this lack of capacity that makes this administration not to embrace changes.
“If you try a method and it does not work, you do not need to try it again. Try another method. You do not apply the same method and keep getting the same results without changing course,” Hanga said.
Despite touting its fight against corruption as one of the cardinal points of the administration, some people also insist that President Buhari is yet to sign the anti-graft bills and this has given the leeway for Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDA) to violate accounting rules and refuse to submit fiscal reports. A lawyer, Martins Agoziem wants the government to fight corruption by being more proactive than reactive. “We have heard so much about the fight against corruption but nothing seems to have changed. He should start with signing the anti graft bill so that we will know how serious he is. He needs to implement systemic changes by using technology to remove opportunities to loot and creating a transparent environment. “Unfortunately, his cabinet is made up of mostly politicians and I sincerely hope that they will at least perform well, even though I would have preferred that he appointed more competent technocrats,” Agoziem said.
As the new cabinet is inaugurated, Nigerians also look forward to seeing a synergy between the Executive and the Legislature. Interestingly, the APC is again in the majority in the National Assembly and it would not have any reason to give Nigerians for not performing. In the first tenure, the ruling party claimed that it had some enemy within as some commentators branded the outgoing Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki as one of those that sabotaged the first term of Buhari’s administration.
Again, enriched with the experiences of 2015, and having put its house in order, the expectation is that the two arms of government will work in harmony and in real time too, and avoid some time wasting distractions that could deny Nigerians their expectations.
So, all eyes will be on the legislature to see how it supports the executive arm to move Nigeria to the ‘Next Level”.
Many supporters of President Buhari’s administration argue that even with the less than impressive overall performance of the government as critics of the government continue to insist, the fact that more Nigerians entrusted their votes with the government showed a conviction and hope for a better performance given a second term in office.
A good number of Nigerians that toed that line believe that four years was not enough to appropriately judge the work of the administration and maintain that there is need for the government to be given time to complete some of the ongoing projects and programmes it initiated.