Tortuous and Difficult Change!

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Bolaji Adebiyi
Adebiyi has practiced journalism for 26 years and is presently deputy editor, Thisday Newspapers. Grounded in political reporting, he is at home with the nuances of governance, having served Presidents Umaru Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan as Special Assistant on political matters as well as media.

These are not the best of times for Yakubu Mohammed. Married with three children, things have not been nice with him. Since he lost his job two years ago, he has had difficulties making ends meet. Yakubu, who lives in Kwali, a suburb of Abuja, heaps his woes on government, which he says has not do enough to create the enabling environment for jobs to be created for the like of him to earn a living. He is one of those who are enlightened enough to believe that they could go beyond complaining to change their condition.

Believing that the government of the day was responsible for his condition, he decided to use his vote wisely, at least so it seemed. Yakubu voted for Muhammadu Buhari. “He was a candidate that promised change. I was feed up with President Goodluck Jonathan, whose government could not provide me a job. There was no light, no fuel and people were just being killed in the North. But he promised to change all these,” he said.

One year on, Yakubu has this to say, “Do I regret voting for Buhari? I should say I am disappointed because my condition has not changed. In fact, it has worsened. Not only am I still jobless, but life has become more difficult. I pay more for food stuff these days and the free lunch promised our children has not been fulfilled. I pay more for light but receive more darkness in return. Meanwhile, the recent increment in price of petrol has made my daily routine of searching for job a more expensive schedule because of high cost of transportation.”

Not a few Nigerians would agree with Yakubu’s testimonial on Buhari, which as it were is an expression of disappointment with the President’s performance in the last one year. Viewed against his electioneering promises, President Buhari is at best still revving his engine. He rode into office on the back of perceived failure of President Jonathan’s administration to secure the country, tame corruption and revive the economy. Specifically, he promised to improve power supply, stabilise availability of petrol and provide jobs for the teaming army of unemployed youths. He said he would pay N5, 000 to the unemployed and give free lunch to school children. He would diversify the economy, revive agriculture and encourage the exploitation of the country’s vast mineral resources.

All these are obviously still in the pipeline. But the indication that it will come to this were there early when the President could not point to any concrete achievement in his first 100th day in office. He told Nigerians that there was nothing sacrosanct about the day, which was a tradition celebrated in the past. Told that his approach to governance was at snail speed, President Buhari apprehended his predecessor as the reason for his non-performance, complaining that the Jonathan administration ran the country aground before he took over on 29 May last year. This recourse to the deficiencies of the Jonathan administration as excuse for the non-performance of President Buhari is obviously spent.

Although President Buhari came into office at a time the economy ran into a stormy weather, the raw data show clearly that the situation was not as bad as the President and his men want Nigerians to believe. The President inherited an economy that was the largest in Africa with a US$ 504billion size and a 6.3% growth rate. The value of the naira was N218 to US$1, while inflation stood at 9%. The nation’s capacity utilisation was 51.95%, helping to reduce unemployment rate to 8.2%. The volume of FDI was US$4.9billion. The power generation capacity was about 5,000MW with actual generation in the neighbourhood of 4,000MW. Of course petrol pump price was N86.50 and queue had diminished until on the eve of the presidential election when it curiously returned.
In one year of President Buhari, the figures have changed, though in the negative direction. The value of the national currency now hovers around N340 to the US Dollar. Inflation has moved up to 13.7%. Our growth rate has sunk to an all-time low of 2.3% even as capacity utilisation moved down to 50.69%, growing unemployment rate up to 9.9%. Meanwhile, foreign direct investment reduced to US$3.4billion in spite of the President’s several trips abroad.

The administration’s excuse for its abysmal performance in the power sector is insufficient supply of gas to power plants, caused largely by vandals who rupture gas pipelines, carrying gas to the power plants; and the sabotage of transmission lines by economic saboteurs. These, however, have been the usual excuses given by past administrations for the failure of the sector to provide constant power supply. Interestingly, the Buhari administration forgot that its promoters had told the people during the campaign that it was the incompetence of the Jonathan administration that had worsened the matter and that if elected, they would deal decisively with the vandals. One year on, the vandalism has not only persisted, the vandals have also become more audacious, blowing up flow stations at high seas.

Petrol supply has been as intermittent as electricity supply. More serious is the return of queues, which has lasted for most of the last 10 months. As scarcity persisted, the price of the critical product went through the roof, peaking at as much as N300 per litre, depending on the region of the country. The Buhari administration generated several excuses for the acute shortage and when it ran out of blames for other people except itself, it decided to raise the pump price of petrol from N86.50 to N145 per litre.

Yet in raising petrol price, the Buhari administration offered no new arguments different from those its promoters opposed in 2012 when President Jonathan deregulated the downstream sector of the oil industry. It is doubtful if the labour resistance collapsed because the people appreciated the argument of the government. And the Buhari administration would be playing the ostrich if it read the people’s response as such.

Obviously, the people perceived labour agitation against the price increase as half-hearted. After all they had been buying the product at about N300 per litre for months without a whimper from the labour organisation. In any case, labour had, in the face of states and local governments’ failure to pay salaries for upwards of six to eight months and the increase in electricity tariff, neglected to take any concrete action. The official price increase, though an additional burden, was perhaps a relief to the people who hope that it would improve supply and end the long hours to queue at petrol stations.

Long before the official petrol price increase, however, inflation had pushed prices of essential commodities to the roof top, forcing people to complain that basic food items, including garri, rice, beans, yam, pepper, onions and tomatoes, are now becoming unaffordable, largely because there is no money to spend as the Buhari administration, owing to dwindling revenues has found it difficult to reflate the economy.

Although the massive fall in the price of crude oil is not the fault of President Buhari, he, however, must bear responsibility for his administration’s inability to reengineer and tap other revenue sources to meet the requirements of financing the country. It is generally settled that his refusal to take some policy options to tackle for instance, the chronic shortage of foreign currencies and the value of the naira, has, more than his habitual complaint about corruption, been responsible for the comatose state of the economy.

Added to this is his poor sense of political management that stalled for a long time, the nomination and passage of his ministers, and also prolonged the budget process and passage. The delays in the formation of cabinet and the passage of the budget contributed in no small measure to the stagnation of the economy as there was no concrete economic policy direction that could aid investment decisions by investors and other players in the economy.

Hopes that the signing of the budget by the President earlier in the month, and a promise of speedy implementation, would reactivate the economy, is, however, threatened by the rising threats to security by the resurgence of militancy in the Niger Delta and the murderous activities of killer herdsmen. While the former is restricted to a part of the South-south region, the later spreads across the nation and could ignite violent national crises.

The escalation of the two has dampened the seeming success point of the Buhari administration: the subduing of the Boko Haram insurgency in the North-east. In spite of the clear orders of President Buhari to the security forces to deal decisively with these violent crimes, both the herdsmen and the militants have persisted in their nefarious activities with uncommon audacity to the consternation of many Nigerians.

President Buhari’s war on corruption has no doubt generated more attention in the public space. But in concrete terms there is no fundamental change in policy and law. Relying on the existing structures of the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) and Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to carry forward the fight, the administration has put on trial largely opposition politicians and military chiefs for using security votes to prosecute the last presidential campaign. The EFCC has also dug up some old cases and its prosecuting them. But as usual, the cases are dragging in court in spite of the signing into law of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act by President Jonathan. The law, among others, seeks to speed up criminal prosecution by removing the several loopholes that prolong trial of suspects.

In fairness to the President, however, his perception as a man with zero tolerance for corruption has put many on the edge, with at least a minister receiving a query for alleged misconduct and abuse of office. The Attorney-General of the Federation and the Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, had been accused by a security consultant of covering up the stashing away of over N300 Billion of federal government money in some commercial banks in spite of government’s directive that all such monies should be lodged in the TSA at the Central Bank of Nigeria. He has since replied the query. The release of the resolution of this query to the public would definitely increase the moral credit of President Buhari and serve as a clearer warning to all that indeed no one would be spared in this war.
For now, it is safe to say that time is still on the side of the President. After all, his mandate is for four years. Only one year has been done. He therefore has three more years to make the difference and deliver the change promised in 2015.