(The Buhari Presidency: Nigerians give verdict)
By CHIDI OBINECHE
OLISA Agbakoba, SAN is a former president of the Nigeria Bar Association, NBA. He speaks on the 365 days of President Muhammadu Buhari Administration.
THE CRISIS OF ORDER
There is no doubt Nigeria was in a state of utter chaos and disorder prior to the 2015 elections. Nigeria struggled with massive insecurity, weak political structure, empty treasury and corruption. These issues actually influenced the election of President Mohammadu Buhari.
The President has done well with the Boko Haram crisis. But unlike late President Yar Adua, the Niger Delta crisis is seemingly out of control. With oil production at about 900 Bpd, this is a danger signal. The President needs to adopt a more flexible approach. This also extends to pro Biafra agitators. Part of the flexible response is set out below: The President must go back in history and borrow a leaf from President Roosevelt who ably dealt with the shock of the great depression that ravaged the United States of America when he became the US President in the 1930s.
Nigeria is in utter chaos and disorder. This greatly affects the nation. The disease of disorder has eaten deep into our national fabric. The absence of order has badly damaged the national psyche. Love of country is absent. It is suggested that government works out a framework to reverse disorder and instil discipline. The issue of national order is closely linked with a new constitutional order. It is strongly recommended that priority should be given to the national question and resolved urgently. The Nation will not settle or move forward without solving the issue of disorder.
WEAK POLITICAL STRUCTURE
The most critical pillars are the political arrangements and agreements that bind Nigerians in one nation. We have not lived in peace and harmony. Nigeria is a fractured and divided nation. The Amalgamation agreement of 1914 failed. The colonial agreements in the shape of orders in council promulgated by the English crown failed us. The post-colonial constitutions and their military counterparts all failed. The result has been long years of national disorder and disharmony that has impeded economic development and political stability. This is a challenge the President must engage.
THE NEED FOR A NEW NATIONAL ORDER
The President can build a new national order by recognising our diversity and managing it in an inclusive process that would lead to an agreed constitution by all Nigerians. The president must refrain from calling yet another wasteful national conference. All that is needed is a comprehensive review of the reports of the national conferences. It will be a very difficult but not impossible task. The key in arriving at a new constitution is in isolating what Nigerians will agree to immediately. I believe Nigerians will accept the need for a balanced federation. We must strive for a balanced federation and decentralisation of powers from federal to state government. The centre is too strong and can pass responsibility out of the ninety eight items of power, under its exclusive control, to the states. This will balance up the federation. It is recommended that a graduated process of constitutional amendments should be introduced to replace failed holistic attempts to write new constitutions in one fell swoop. Creating a new national order will be very difficult but not an impossible task. The effect of a national order will be stabilization and national rebirth.
Corruption is endemic in Nigeria and to reverse it requires strong new institutions. There has to be roots and branch reform of the anti-corruption agencies if we must succeed in slowing down corruption before even thinking of reversing it. Salaries and emoluments voted to our legislators by themselves is about 25% of our national budget. This is unconstitutional because it is not approved by the Revenue Fiscal and Mobilization Commission. Stopping this outrageous conduct on the part of the legislators is, with respect the litmus test in assessing the sincerity of the anti-corruption agenda. It is strongly recommended that the NNPC be fundamentally reformed.
Corruption is also manifest in over bloated budgets for the presidential villa and government houses, corrupt/weak public procurement procedures and abuse of discretion of ministers in the award of contracts. All these have taken a major toll on our resources and encouraged corruption. The first crucial challenge is for the President to stop these aspects of corrupt practices and introduce major spending cuts.
Experts are unable to agree on whether Nigeria is in a recession or depression. Whatever the position, 5 conservative quarterly low GDP performances have had a massively negative impact. From Q4 2014 to Q1 2016 Nigeria has been in terrible economic straits. The critical nuggets to turn things around must be put in place right now because they are not in place. Confusion as to whether we are liberalizing or regulating different aspects of our economy is keeping investors away.
A good example is the Petroleum Industry. The only way Nigeria can grow and sustain development to attract 5-10 GDP is to have an open deregulated economy. This will bring hardship but with a robust social benefit agency to properly implement welfare package in the Budget a substantial cushion can be provided. The priority must be to diversify the economy and make it less dependent on imports. Nigeria has long depended on crude oil as if it is the only hydrocarbon to the utter neglect of gas. The economy heavily relies on oil revenue and is vulnerable to price shocks in oil and the associated risk to national stability. The most recent volatility in oil prices suggest that we must start to diversify our revenue income streams by developing non-oil tradable sectors. A clear strategy, model and plan for economic diversification both horizontally and vertically is necessary. Horizontal diversification should explore new opportunities in the same oil and gas sector. There are at least thirty-six value added products to be explored in the extraction of crude oil. Vertical diversification means a shift from the oil and gas sector to other sectors, Agriculture, Services, Maritime, Aviation/space, Manufacturing, Health, Sports etc.
Pursuing economic diversification will make the economy less vulnerable to the boom and bust cycles of oil and natural gas prices. A model we can follow is the United Arab Emirate that has successfully diverted out of oil into new revenue sources.
REVIEWING PUBLIC PRIVATE SECTOR RELATIONS
Public Sector Economy is not properly defined in Nigeria. Whilst Nigeria’s State owned Public Enterprises are often ineffective, China’s Model appears very effective. The Privatization escape route that Nigeria is often eager to employ has not been successful. In fact, none of the privatized entities in Nigeria could serve as a model.
It is urgent therefore, that Nigeria reviews her Public/Private Economy. Government must control the overarching sectors of the Economy. There is need for a strong Public/Private Sector Framework. It is important that despite current challenges, Nigeria is still rated as the 20th largest economy in the world. Reviewing Nigeria’s public/Private economy would go a long way in turning potentials into reality and move the economy forward.
THE BIG ISSUE OF FOREX POLICY MANAGEMENT BY THE CBN
Nigeria’s Forex policy is unclear and uncertain. We have CBN rates, rates for fuel importers, rates at autonomous markets and rates at the parallel Market “black Market”. This breeds corruption from differentials in the 4 markets.
There is no doubt the absence of National Order has hampered the President from delivering on most of the issues. This government needs to stop looking at the rear view mirror. It needs to develop a clear political and economic vision for the country. At the moment it does not exist. Therefore I have moved from being cautiously positive to cautiously negative.