Is Buhari Really Feeling Our Pains?

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RingTrue

with Yemi Adebowale; yemi.adebowale@thisdaylive.com; 07013940521 (text only)

I have spent the last eight days reflecting on a section of President Muhammadu Buhari’s speech while signing the 2016 budget last week. Here, our globetrotting president talked about hearing our cries and sharing our pains. Buhari said: “living in the State House does not in any way alienate me from your daily struggles. I read the newspapers and listen to the TV and radio news. I hear your cries. I share your pains. We are experiencing probably the toughest economic times in the history of our nation. I want to commend the sacrifice, resilience and toughness of all Nigerians-young and old who have, despite the hardship, continued to have hope and confidence of a great future for Nigerians.”
Is our president really feeling our pains as stated in this speech? That was the big question I struggled with for most of this week. My conclusion yesterday was that there was nothing on ground pointing to the fact that Buhari is feeling our pains. Most of his actions and inactions portray a man cut off from the masses of this country. I have a long list of issues to justify this position.
The muttering of gloominess is growing louder in our homes and markets. The price of a bag of rice has surged by 30% in the past months. Daily, the poor complain about the price of garri and pepper. Inflation was 11.4% in February while GDP growth has fallen to 2.1%. Factories are closing down and sacking workers for lack of supplies and the managers of those still existing spend much of their time battling epileptic power supply, fuel and forex crisis. Amid all these, our president is still maintaining 10 aircraft in the Presidential fleet with billions of Naira. Malam Garba Shehu, the president’s media aide recently confirmed that N2.3 billion was released to the Presidential Air Fleet by the office of the Accountant General of the Federation between May and November 2015. In this year’s budget, about N6 billion will be spent on maintaining the 10 aircraft. So, what is our president saying about feeling our pains and spending this much on Presidential fleet? His government needs to cut avoidable expenditures with huge foreign exchange components like this. Buhari’s globetrotting is costing this country a lot of forex amid limited inflow of USD. He has visited 30 countries in 12 months.
There is also this funny story about savings in the Treasury Single Account (TSA) hitting N2.7 trillion. Our president has been celebrating this while the country bleeds. This is good money that should be used to reflate the economy. Yet, it is locked up in the vault of the Central Bank of Nigeria. Right now, most of the MDAs are gasping for breath because their funds are locked up in the TSA. What kind of archaic economic policy is this amidst the cries across the land? This money should be released to the MDAs to complete abandoned capital projects and execute new ones. The multiplier effect of this investment will reduce our tears. I hope those around our president will be courageous enough to tell him this.
While the country bleeds, Buhari hands out subsidised greenbacks to all manner of importers at official rate of N197/$, which naturally invites corruption. The bulk of the USD bought at official rate finds its way to the parallel market where it is sold at about N340/$. Genuine manufacturers are struggling to get the greenbacks. All efforts to convince our president to allow the Naira to float have been unsuccessful. Suggestions in this direction by key actors in the real sector have been ignored. As a result, the manufacturing sector that would have helped to ease the pressure on Nigerians is gasping for breath. All sorts of stifling policies rolled out in the last 12 months have combined to incapacitate this sector. Now, the increase in electricity tariffs and policy somersaults are creating more problems for Nigerian manufacturers. Some of them have closed shop or relocated to other West African countries where production environment is conducive. Many can now understand why the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria and the Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture faulted all the policies designed by the Buhari administration to stimulate the economy and salvage the Naira.
Official statistics confirmed the mass sack across our nation. According to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), the unemployment rate in the country climbed to 10.4 per cent in the fourth quarter of last year, compared to 9.9 per cent in the previous quarter. The NBS noted that a total of 22.45 million of the total labour force of 76.96 million were either unemployed or underemployed in Q4 of 2015 compared to 20.7 million in Q3 and 19.6 million in Q2 of the same year. The number of unemployed persons increased by 518,102 during the period under review. Still, no tangible action from Buhari to ameliorate this unemployment crisis.
How can a president who claims to be sharing in our pains budget more for capital projects at the State House Medical Centre this year than it would provide for the 16 teaching hospitals belonging to it. The State House Medical Centre is a facility that provides healthcare for President Muhammadu Buhari, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, their families and other employees of the Presidency, all possibly less than a thousand. Federal teaching hospitals cater for the health needs of millions of Nigerians, train medical doctors and other health professionals for the nation while also serving as top medical research centres. So, why should more money be allocated for capital projects at the State House Clinic? If Buhari is truly hearing our cries, then those living in the State House should start patronising public hospitals while funds allocated to the State House Clinic should be redistributed to our public hospitals.
What about the unending queues at fuel stations and persistent epileptic electricity supply in the 12 months of the Buhari administration? These have all combined to make our lives miserable. Yet, no concrete action to suggest that the problems will abate in the coming months. Ibe Kachikwu, the crabby junior minister for petroleum resources keeps shifting the goal post, whenever he is asked to tell the nation when fuel supply will stabilise. Is this a sign of a government that genuinely shares our pains?
Ignoring suggestions from key actors in the real sector is the biggest bane of the Buhari administration. A government interested in alleviating the suffering of the people should be prepared to accept suggestions from outside; more so, when its own policies and actions are not yielding the desired result.
This morning, I urge our president to deeply reflect on these three remarks and swiftly take steps to respond to the points made, if he truly cares about Nigerians. The first one is from the IMF and states: “As part of a credible package of policies, the exchange rate should be allowed to reflect market forces more and restrictions on access to foreign exchange removed, while improving the functioning of the interbank foreign exchange market (IFEM). It will be important for the regulatory and supervisory frameworks to ensure a strong and resilient financial sector that can support private sector investment across production segments (including SMEs) at reasonable financing costs.”
The second remark is from the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI). It stated: “Significant disruptions, distortions and dislocations have been created in the business environment by the CBN as a consequence of the restrictions on the use of export proceeds, denial of access to foreign exchange market for many products, including critical inputs needed in manufacturing and service sectors, tight exchange controls and administrative allocation of foreign exchange which are typically characterised by lack of transparency, corruption and considerable abuse.
“The economy is now faced with a scenario where there is much pressure to move funds out of the economy than moving funds into the economy. This can be likened to a run on a system. This is a typical scenario which a confidence crisis would create. Future international trade transactions, financial and investment relations are now at risk. Round-tripping of forex has continued to flourish because of the disparity in the exchange rate between the official and parallel market. Inflow of forex into the two autonomous sources has been adversely affected.”
The last one is from Professor Pat Utomi who said: “Your (Buhari’s) ideas go back 30 years and they are irrelevant to this world. Open up your mind and listen to people and you can make progress. To lead is to serve. To lead, you must be knowledgeable. People don’t follow somebody who doesn’t know where he is going. Otherwise, you fall into a ditch.”
Buhari, please don’t take these personal. Read more of what your opponents and neutral people are saying. Your aides, friends, ministers and cronies will only tell you what you want to hear. God bless Nigeria.

Ezekwesili’s Party with Buhari’s Now over
The fragile relationship went bad when Oby Ezekwesili, coordinator of the #BringBackOurGirls, (BBOG) movement and her members were prevented from accessing the Presidential Villa during the second year anniversary of the abduction of the Chibok girls last month. The action was a reminder of the‎ military era, declared Ezekwesili. Suddenly, the BBOG members have become a pest to be grilled. An obviously depressed Ezekwesili still can’t fathom why President Buhari failed to make any progress in his pledge to rescue the girls. The fact that Buhari said the administration lacked any information about the whereabouts of the girls, after almost a year, was most dreadful. As reality dawns, it became obvious that the BBOG was used to achieve a political goal and dumped at the end of the day. The hypocrisy of this administration became evident.
On the economic front, for almost a year, Ezekwesili bottled up her feelings about the mismanagement of the nation’s economy. It eventually got to a crescendo; she could no longer endure again and exploded with a loud bang. “What did not work in 1984 can¬not possibly be a solution in a global economy that’s much more integrated. His (Buhari) archaic and opaque economic principles are not only encouraging massive cor¬ruption and abuse of power, but also damaging poor Ni¬gerians they were intended to help.” Clearly, the party is over. I hope madam due process will now spend more time on the side of the people.

Judgment Day for Randy Lecturers
I am earnestly expecting the swift passage of the bill for a law which prescribes five-year jail term for lecturers who engage in sexual relationship with students. The bill, sponsored by Senator Ovie Omo-Agege seeks to completely prohibit any form of sexual relationship between lecturers and their students. The extent of sexual exploitation on our campuses is frightening. Sex for marks is now seen as normal. Heads of these institutions have done very little to stem this ugly trend. Some of them are even actively involved in this repugnant act.  The nation’s institutions of higher learning must be sanitised. Lecturers who see female students as mere articles must be kicked out and severely punished. When the bill is passed and signed into law, any lecturer found guilty will be liable to a jail term of up to five years but not less than two years with no option of fine. It makes it a criminal offence for any educator in a university, polytechnic or any other tertiary educational institution to violate or exploit the student-lecturer fiduciary relationship for sexual pleasures. The bill imposes stiff penalties on offenders in its overall objective of providing tighter statutory protection for students against sexual hostility and all forms of sexual harassment in tertiary schools. When passed into law, heads of institutions of higher learning will go to jail for two years if they fail to act within a week on complaints of sexual harassment made by students. Thank you Omo-Agege for standing by our daughters.

Troops Retake 7 More Villages
Troops of 28 Task Force Brigade have successfully cleared Boko Haram terrorists along Galtha Baba, Galtha Musa, Bulakurma, Shatimari, Chukruk, Bulangaje, and Disa villages, all in Borno State. Thumbs up for our gallant soldiers. I hope those telling the world that no Nigerian territory is under the control of the terrorists will now keep quiet. Just on Thursday, Boko Haram attacked Maiduguri, killing six people. This is not the right time for propaganda. Let us face reality and battle the enemy with all our might. victory is certain.