THIS REPUBLIC By Shaka Momodu, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, sms: 0811 266 1654
Fellow Nigerians, it is 12 months since President Muhammadu Buhari took over the reins of power. It is a short time in four-year tenure to draw conclusive verdict on the administration, but time enough to do a preliminary appraisal of the government and see if it is leading us in the direction that inspires hope. In this expedition, let me adopt the memorable question asked by the then candidate Ronald Regan in the 1980 US presidential election debate. It was a question put to the American people one week to the presidential election. Today, I put that same question to the Nigerian people to earnestly answer to mark Buhari’s one year in office: Are you better off now than you were a year ago?
Let me break it down into several units for ease of understanding. Is it more difficult for you to go to the market or the mall to buy foodstuffs than it was one year ago? Is the level of unemployment in the country higher than there was 12 months ago? Is the country’s economy in decline? Are you paying more for each litre of petrol? Is the electricity situation worse than it was a year ago? Is the industrial capacity utilisation lower? Is the country’s GDP shrinking? Is the standard of living lower? Is the country less secure? Is the country more fractured? If you answer these questions in the affirmative, it means the change we were sold has not materialised. Before I forget, has the party in power fulfilled any of the electoral promises it made to the public during the campaigns? What about the misery index and poverty ratio?
On all these, I do not pretend to expect a unanimity of opinion devoid of emotive impulses that have defined public debate in recent times. But I will deal with some of the issues with facts and figures to tell the story of where we are because numbers don’t lie.
There is no doubt at all that the Nigerian economy is in crisis; it’s spiralling rapidly out of Buhari’s control. If you don’t believe it, then you probably are one of those who can’t discern the forest from the trees. A fortnight ago, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) released damning figures on Nigeria’s dire economic situation. It revealed that the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) had plunged to a historic low, -0.36 per cent from 2.11 per cent in the last quarter of 2015. As a matter of fact, Nigeria is technically in a recession right now.
I had raised the alarm month after month that Buhari was not paying attention to the economy, and that at the rate things were deteriorating under his watch, the country risked falling off the clifftop. It was a warning that was consistently booed by Buhari’s mob supporters who have since the campaigns lost their marbles and embraced hysterical propaganda as an article of faith. This has shown clearly how easily emotions blind us to the danger ahead – when you see an otherwise well-educated individual displaying crass illogicality in his arguments just to excuse evidence of a massive leadership failure, you begin to wonder whether there is a virtue in stupidity. It doesn’t bear thinking how depraved the excuses have become, it is simply grotesque to force-feed a people unrelenting propaganda, untruths and excuses for a debilitating non-performance. The arguments have been as ambivalent as they came; despite an iron-clad determination to hide the truth, it just would not go away. Stripped of the glossy world of make-believe is a dysfunctional, clueless and dithering government totally bereft of modern ideas about the economy. The All Progressives Congress (APC) clearly campaigned in poetry but is now governing in prose. After winning the election, it started repudiating all the promises it made with such self-assuredness. It dissected all the problems of Nigeria and eagerly offered curative solutions with a messianic fervour. It promised everything under the sun just to get power; of course some discerning minds knew it was all lies, but it nonetheless fired up the imaginations of many who started visualising paradise from the party. Roused to action, they came up with the rallying cry: “Anyone but Jonathan.” The sermon, “Be careful what you wish for,” was lost on all, as endorsement after endorsement tumbled in both from within and outside the country for the general who could hardly believe his fortune.
A week after the NBS’s report, the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) declared that the Nigerian economy suffered severe decline in the past one year. The LCCI report titled, “The Economy After One Year of Buhari’s Administration” is a depressing confirmation of what I have long feared. While reviewing the various declining indices that left the overall economy in a shambles since Buhari assumed office, the organised private sector body made a graphic comparison between where the country was on May 29, 2015 and where it is now. According to the LCCI, the GDP of the country which stood at 2.35 per cent in May 2015 when the current administration took office, has now crashed to -0.4 per cent (negative growth).
As for the official exchange rate of the dollar to the naira, in May 2015, $1 exchanged for N197.9, while in 2016, $1 exchanges for N199. But in the parallel market, according to the LCCI, $1 exchanged for N219 in May 2015 but depreciated to about N350 in May 2016.
Other indices analysed were the rate of inflation which according to the LCCI, jumped from 8.7 per cent in May 2015 to 13.7 per cent in May 2016. The crude oil output of the country has dipped significantly, owing to renewed militancy in Niger Delta. In Buhari’s one year, the nation’s external reserves also declined from $29.1 billion to $26.42billion.
The Federation Accounts Allocation Committee (FAAC) also had its revenue markedly depleted from N409 billion in May 2015, to N288 billion in May 2016. Unemployment figures soared higher during the period, rising from 24.1 per cent in 2015, to 29.2 per cent in 2016.
Other figures analysed by the LCCI included the Business Confidence Index which tumbled from 7.3 per cent to -8.0 per cent (negative); Industrial Capacity Utilisation and Ease of Doing Business both fell sharply; agricultural sector growth fell from 4.7 per cent to 3.09 per cent; industrial sector growth fell from -2.53 per cent to -5.4 per cent; services sector growth fell from 7.04 per cent to 0.80 per cent; aviation passenger traffic dropped from 4.2 million to 3.8 million people; Real Estate Vacancies Index rose from 100 units to 143 units; power output dropped from 3,205 MW to 2,500 MW; power available per day dropped from 13 hours to 5 hours. The picture is so grim that one is surprised how quickly things have deteriorated under Buhari in just one year in office.
In March this year, in my article titled, “Paradox of the Poor”, I borrowed the words of the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, who in an open letter to the then president, Shehu Shagari, in 1982 warned that the nation’s economy was in dire straits – to raise the alarm about the massive drift of the ship of state under President Buhari. It went thus: “The ship of state is heading inexorably towards the rock and you as the chief helmsman owe it a duty to steer the ship away from it.” I was called all sorts of names by the mob supporters who have come to believe they have a greater stake in our dear country and are more patriotic than some of us. They attacked anyone who criticised the president no matter how justified, and defended all his actions no matter how indefensible, including his long silence on the Fulani herdsmen’s unprovoked massacre of communities. It is the same people who urged Buhari to take his time in constituting a cabinet so he would pick saints and angels to serve Nigeria. It took him nearly six months to finally constitute one. And what did the list contain? Some dreadful characters forever blemished with pillaging the commonwealth. If the truth be told; that cabinet delay, coupled with the fact that many investors were not impressed by the low calibre of some of the nominees that eventually made it, seriously eroded confidence in the president and his handling of the economy. Every subsequent misstep only worsened the state of the economy. I don’t know if we have survived the worst of the economic crisis but the various reports on the economic outlook are dreadfully gloomy on all fronts and forecasts for the future depressingly frightening. According to the data released by the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE), the equities market lost N1.733 trillion in the last one year. For the first time in seven years, Nigeria recorded its first trade deficit. All the reviews of Buhari’s one year in office — local and foreign — have minced no words in condemning his handling of the economy.
What should serve as a sobering wake-up call is unfortunately being used by the APC and its dubious intellectual collaborators to grotesquely sermonise how bad things were, and that had Jonathan remained in office, Nigeria would have been finished by now, or worse still, would have simply disappeared completely because the “rot” would have continued. But how can these people continue with this narrative? Have they forgotten that barely two weeks into the Buhari presidency, when electricity supply marginally improved, they attributed it to Buhari’s body language? The Treasury Single Account (TSA), they took credit even though it was not Buhari’s initiative. They even deceived Nigerians then that the refineries were working, and many hailed the magic of body language. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo declared gleefully then that Buhari had started to achieve the “Nigeria of our dreams”, while Wole Soyinka followed with his now famous description of Buhari as a “born again phenomenon”.
For sure, we don’t know what would have happened if Jonathan had won a second term because we are not living in his present. But we are living in President Buhari’s present. On the economy, Jonathan’s period was certainly better than Buhari’s present going by the data released by the NBS, NSE and the LCCI. If we don’t remember, we absolutely will forget.” One year after Jonathan left office, we are still being force-fed conjectures of what would have been. One year after, we still have not seen the real change promised. On the contrary, the economic situation has worsened dramatically. Electricity generation is at a new low. Factories are shutting down and laying off workers in record numbers; investors are fleeing the country in droves and all the gains of the past 16 years are being eroded as the economy, according to Professor Pat Utomi, an APC card-carrying member, is dragged back to the “medieval” age.
Prices of foodstuffs have skyrocketed well beyond the reach of a minimum wage of N18,000. For example, a bag of rice in May 2015 averaged N8,000, while a bag of rice in May 2016 now costs N18,000; the cost of a bag of garri in May 2015 was N3,800, it now costs N8,000; a yam tuber in May 2015 was sold for an average price of N400, and now sells for N900; a basket of tomato in May 2015 was sold for N8,000, while a basket of tomato now costs N45,000. Add to the above is that a record number of people can’t pay their rents anymore. The misery index and poverty ratio are at highest levels in living memory. Change can be mysterious and beautiful and yet intriguingly complex and complicated especially when it is predicated on lies. Those promises made to Nigerians during the campaigns are quickly turning to memories.
Sadly however, the president and his party have never been known to take responsibility for anything; they blame others for their failures, but are quick to take credit for another’s successes. The truth must be told in no uncertain terms, Buhari and the APC have mismanaged and done incalculable damage to the Nigerian economy since assuming power. Certainly, the way to fix a problem is not to make it worse.
Finally, I must admit that he has done fairly well on Boko Haram, but this in itself is greatly undermined by the rising insecurity in the Niger Delta, Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB)/ MASSOB’s agitation for self-rule in the South-east and the reign of terror visited on communities by rampaging Fulani herdsmen across the country.