Buhari’s First Year: ‘It’s the Economy, Stupid!’

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By Tunde Rahmanu; tunderahmanu@yahoo.com;  08055069548 (Text only)

It’s too tempting as I restart this column again to begin with the nauseating macabre dance playing out in the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which has again ruptured our peace in the last one week or so. But then I remember that our own President Muhammadu Buhari has now spent one year in the saddle and this moment presents a wonderful opportunity to look back and interrogate our minds about just how well or unwell the president has performed in office, to juxtapose the prevailing situation, the deliverables thus far, against the change that was promised during the electioneering.  Like I indicated earlier, the leadership crisis rocking the PDP, which by Tuesday had engendered two conflicting court orders, one in Lagos and another in Port Harcourt, one in favour of the embattled former Acting National Chairman of the party, Senator Ali Modu Sheriff, and another against him, thus making a mockery of our judiciary once again, constitutes a distraction. But then, when will the Fuji House of Commotion that is PDP receive deliverance, reform itself, seize the moment and provide a virile opposition to whip the governing All Progressives Congress (APC) into line? When?

But let not the PDP issue detain us here; let’s focus on President Buhari and the promised change. Indeed, President Buhari’s one year has brought some changes. He has lived up to his billing, which he rode on to get elected, by giving some fillip to the fight against corruption, which seemed to have ranked low in the agenda of former President Goodluck Jonathan. The anti-corruption war is being waged stubbornly, though there have been more of court shows than convictions. The EFCC needs to convince us more that it is serious about getting convictions and not just interested in playing to the gallery, in television trials. Those who allege that the anti-corruption war is taking on the toga of war on opposition figures miss the point, in my view. The question, for me, is: are those being put on trial having alleged corruption issues for which they need to clear themselves? That is the crux of the matter. My fear though is whether the anti-graft body and its lawyers can deal incredibly with as many cases as they have taken on at the same time. But we have seen a remarkable change in the area of anti-corruption crusade: under Buhari, the culture of impunity among public officers has been reduced. Those in government now have to think twice before dipping their hands in the till. The war against corruption has also recovered some money for the country as President Buhari told the nation that some people have returned money and that he would soon unearth the identities of those who have done so.

There is also good news in the area of fighting the Boko Haram insurgency in the North-east, which has claimed thousands of lives, maimed many, displaced many others and ruptured their source of livelihood. Today, Boko Haram has been sufficiently weakened, occupies no territory in any state in the North-east and has been condemned to attacking soft targets. The Nigerian army now has confidence to take on the insurgents as opposed to what obtained in the past where the force lacked necessary arms to fight because the money meant for arms procurement had been shared. But there are still a lot of grounds to be covered. Also, the rescue of the 219 girls abducted from their school in Chibok in April 2014 remains a sore point. I read a statement from Sultan Saa’d Abubakar-led Nigeria Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) recently where the body commended President Buhari over the battle against Boko Haram but said the rescue of just two (or one) of the abducted girls cannot be said to be enough.

Perhaps, there are other structural changes in the system, which may not have yielded the desired dividend yet, but the management of the economy under Buhari has left much to be desired. I understand the argument that plagued by corruption and profligacy of the highest order of the immediate past and the declining revenue from oil, the country’s main revenue earner, the nation is left in dire financial shape. But the economy under Buhari seemed to lack a clear direction. There have been slip-shod and doublespeak by top government functionaries on some key issues. The foreign exchange issue and the matter of Premium Motor Spirit are two such issues for instance. Some economic experts have argued that the poor growth which the economy recorded in the first quarter of the year has shown that some of the economic strategies embarked upon by the Central Bank of Nigeria, particularly on the forex issue, are not working and there is a need for review. The statistics are indeed unflattering: in the first quarter of the year, the nation’s GDP contracted by 0.36 percent from what it was earlier, according to a recent emailed statement from the National Bureau of Statistics. The GDP growth rate in the last quarter of 2015 was 2.11 percent. The negative growth is the first in 12 years according to CBN stats. Unemployment rate fell to 12.1 percent in the month of April alone, according to NBS report released last week Friday. Also following a national newspaper report, power generation has dropped to 1,400 megawatts while about 800,000 barrels of oil is being lost daily, according to the Minister of State for Petroleum, Ibe Kachikwu, following pipeline vandalism and renewed criminality by a new militant group in the Niger Delta called Niger Delta Avengers. The country is in deep trouble and the fear is that Nigeria’s economy may enter into recession any moment from now. If it were in more organised climes, these stats would have sent the government into panic mode. The issue would have been about the economy: “it’s the economy, stupid,” to quote former President Bill Clinton’s words to the American public when he ran for the US presidency in 1992.

The other point is about the recent hike in pump price of petrol from N86, 50k to N145, which led a divided labour to call out workers for a shabby strike, which has now been called off.  Again, what is the real policy of the government as it concerns PMS? It is yet unclear. Minister Ibe Kachikwu says the government has removed fuel subsidy and deregulated the downstream oil sector. Vice President Yemi Osinbajo says what the government is dealing with is not fuel subsidy removal but foreign exchange issue. Labour may have itself to blame for not putting its acts together in organising the strike, but truth is the workers who have not been paid for months in most states are weak and tired and are not convinced the strike would get them their pay. Some others are simply ready to give the Buhari government the benefit of the doubt about the fuel issue. Otherwise, the way and manner the government just slammed petrol pump price increase on the hapless nation without any interface or engagement with the people is to say the least cruel.
My sense is the government must not burn the remaining goodwill left in its kitty. The Buhari government needs to come out clean on what it’s up to.  For me, just like a few others have articulated, this time offers an opportunity for the government to fully deregulate the downstream oil sector. But to make a success of it the refineries must be made to work to compliment fuel importation while the promised palliatives must be rolled out now.  On the economy, which may enter into recession as things stand now, there is an urgent need to stimulate growth while the CBN review its forex policy as it has already promised. The Buhari government must act fast and be ready to review the strategies that are not working. I think there still a silver lining on the horizon for the government.

Little Move That Matters (LMTM)
The Ibadan School of Government and Public Policy (ISGPP) did noble last week. The Readers’ Club put together by the school got underway. The idea behind the club, as the name suggests, is to revive the dying reading culture in the country, which is dealing telling blows on authors and newspaper publishers. Books convey knowledge and intelligence which can edify human beings. But that does not seem to resonate well with many Nigerians particularly with our young ones who are addicted to the social media and networking sites.  It is often said that if you want to hide something from Nigerians, put it in a book. So it was that to rev up the reading culture that we, members of ISGPP Readers Club, gathered at the International Conference Centre of the University of Ibadan Thursday last week for the public reading of one of the recent books of poet and critic, Mr. Odia Ofeimun. The 9-chapter book entitled “Taking Nigeria Seriously,” dissected the various facets of the problems plaguing the country at present as if Ofeimun could vividly see tomorrow like Nostradamus. Yet, the book is a compilation of articles he had ever written, though like an Awoist that he is, his articles drank from the thoughts and beliefs of his mentor, late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, whom he once served as Private Secretary. Ofeimun who began the debate said the bulk of the nation’s woes could be linked to the fact that Nigerians and their leaders do not take the country seriously in all their interactions with the nation. And in articles like ‘Educating the Educators,’ ‘Saving the Naira to Fix Nigeria,’ ‘Resource Control and Beyond,’ among others, he offered real ideas on how to resolve some of the knotty national issues. Educationist Prof. Bolanle Awe, former Dean of Postgraduate School, University of Ibadan, Prof. Olabode Lucas, former Permanent Secretary and Vice Chairman of the ISGPP, Dr. Tunji Olaopa, Prof. Remi Raji, Prof. Bimpe Aboyade, Dr. Doyin Ajuwon, Mr. Kolade Mosuro, among others all raised thought-provoking questions about the Nigerian state and proffered what they consider to be true answers. There was no dull moment throughout the three or so hours we spent at the session. Such was the enthusiasm showed at the event that the club has already identified some sets of books out of which one would be read at the next meeting. Two of the books identified are ‘There was A Country’ by late Chinua Achebe and ‘Power, Politics and Death’ by our own Olusegun Adeniyi.