The APC federal government must now move from correcting the misdeeds of the past to delivering its own vision of change, which Nigerians actually voted for, writes Vincent Obia
As Nigeria greeted the first anniversary of the victory of All Progressives Congress amid deepening economic dilemma, President Muhammadu Buhari must have realised the enormity of the constraints under which he has to run his administration. One such constraint is public perception of the reality of the change APC promised when on March 28 last year the party was voted into power. There is a flagging enthusiasm for the change promised Nigerians. Buhari must work to restore public trust in his party’s philosophy of change as the country approaches the first anniversary of the APC federal government on May 29.
Trying to wrest power from the political behemoth that Peoples Democratic Party had become, the section of the political class, which had come together to oppose the incumbent regime, needed an effective and persuasive message on which to anchor the rejection of the old order. They highlighted the political and economic crisis that encumbered the country, adjudged them as wholly politician-made, and believed all of Nigeria’s problems could be laid at the door of PDP and its then President Goodluck Jonathan.
The accusations against the former regime were largely true, and the APC strategy worked like magic. Jonathan and PDP were rejected, as the people embraced en masse the change agenda that APC preached.
However, after nearly one year in power, it is obvious that the message, which held the previous administration responsible for the country’s problems, is no longer satisfactory to the people. They want to see the Buhari government’s vision of change in terms of improved quality of life. But the prognosis appears to be for more hardship. Analysts have estimated that the country’s GDP growth rate would be -11.90 by the end of this quarter. The unemployment rate was estimated to have increased to 10.40 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2015 from 9.90 per cent in the previous period. The number of unemployed persons rose by 518, 000 to eight million, and labour force population increased by one million to 76.95 million. The underemployment rate grew to 18.7 per cent (14.4 million), compared to 17.4 per cent (13.2 million).
The APC government has blamed the former PDP administration for most negative happenings in the polity, from fuel scarcity to the seeming revision of its promise to pay N5, 000 monthly stipends to 25 million most vulnerable Nigerians. But the excuses are no longer acceptable.
Of course, no one can deny that the current administration started well when it beamed the anticorruption searchlight on some core sectors of the system to recover looted funds and try to right some of the past wrongs. That effort has yielded over N7 billion in recovered funds from indicted companies and individuals, according to the senior special assistant to the president on media and publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu, and another N41 billion expected refunds by indicted companies. That is in respect of contracts awarded by the Office of the National Security Adviser from 2011 to 2015. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission is also trying to determine whether another N75 billion should be recovered from some of the companies for failing to execute or partially executing contracts.
But the government should now focus on implementation of its own programmes.
The federal government has promised to give expression to its cardinal pro-poor policy in this year’s budget. It plans to execute six principal forms of socio-economic intervention that are expected to lift millions of Nigerians out of poverty. They include employment of 500, 000 graduates from across the country, who would be trained and deployed to teach, especially, in the rural areas; employment of 370, 000 non-graduates, including holders of the Ordinary National Diploma, artisans, and technicians; and an empowerment programme targeting one million people, mainly farmers, traders, and other self-employed people, who would be trained and given loans to start or expand their businesses.
There is also the one meal a day school feeding initiative targeting pupils from Primary One to Three across the country, estimated to be about 4. 5 million; the conditional cash transfer meant to uplift the most vulnerable Nigerians, such as widows, the physically disabled, and the aged; and injection of N350 billion into the economy to enable contractors return to site and continue work on abandoned projects, which, according to the government, is purposed to facilitate both job delivery and employment creation.
The budget of N6.060 trillion was passed about a fortnight ago by the National Assembly after the legislature had reduced it by N17 billion, from the N6.077 trillion proposed by the executive. It is said to be the first time in the Fourth Republic that an annual budget presented by the executive would be so reduced by the National Assembly. This is an indication that the legislature may have also realised the need to turn the page and help in the prudent management of the economy.
Governments in this part of the world are never short of excuses when they fail to fulfil their promises. As lofty as the poverty alleviation programmes enshrined in this year’s budget look, only their sincere implementation can make the difference that would rekindle the confidence of the people in the Buhari administration.
But the APC government also deserves cheers of encouragement on its first anniversary. The party is the first opposition party in Nigeria to form a government at the national level after defeating an incumbent president. And at its registration by the Independent National Electoral Commission on July 31, 2013, APC was the first successful merger of existing political parties in the country. Three political parties – Action Congress of Nigeria, All Nigeria Peoples Party, and Congress for Progressive Change – as well as factions the All Progressives Grand Alliance and Democratic Peoples Party had merged into APC after withdrawing their individual certificates.
One of the most memorable images of that great moment on May 29 last year when the APC federal government was inaugurated was the inspiring scenes of Jonathan handing over the leadership baton to Buhari. The country had seen several political transitions, but it was the first time an incumbent president would hand over to his victorious opponent after a democratic election. The events of that historic Democracy Day also revealed the great democratic potentials Nigeria harbours beneath its façade of political instability. The PDP candidate at the presidential election of March 28 last year, Jonathan, achieved instant fame when he conceded defeat and handed over to his opponent, APC’s Buhari. The handover presented a historic challenge to Buhari.
The president has made promises of a bright future, but it is hard to tell what lies ahead. He needs to reassure Nigerians that his party’s vision of change is feasible.