Tobi Soniyi, in Abuja, reviews President Muhammadu Buhari’s one year in office
When General Muhammadu Buhari was sworn in as president a year ago, the people’s expectations from him were very high. They are no less high today.
While he was still battling in the euphoria of his success at the presidential election, oil price suddenly collapsed. That certainly was a development the president did not prepare for. The reality which dawned on the president was that delivering on many of his promises would be hard to come by. At a time, Buhari wondered if he had not been elected Nigeria’s president at the wrong time.
The collapse of the oil price caused panics in government and led to the adoption of some not well thought out policies. Even as these harsh economic realities threaten to overshadow other laudable accomplishments of the Buhari administration, one cannot but admit that some radical changes have indeed taken place.
First, no one can deny the fact that the war against Boko Haram has been largely successful under Buhari. The Armed Forces have been overhauled and now have a sense of direction. This is unlike what obtained in the past. Today there is currently no Nigerian territory under the control of Boko Haram.
The president was able to bring back hitherto military allies which saw the United States and the United Kingdom governments commit their resources to the fight against the insurgents after previously backing out of negotiations with the previous administration.
His trips to neighbouring countries show the resolve of the president to push Boko Haram elements out of existence by going for the jugular of the group, cutting their arms, food supply routes. Support has thus been mobilized through the Multinational Joint Task Force.
He also realigned Nigeria’s partnership with regional allies by embarking on foreign visits which resulted in bilateral and multilateral agreements to tackle insecurity back home.
The fight against corruption which was virtually non-existence before he took power became centerpiece of governance. While there have been allegations of high-handedness in a few cases, there is a general consensus on the fact that the level of stealing that took place prior to Buhari’s assumption of office was unprecedented and that the country could not continue like that.
How did he do it? He provided the needed leadership which is often absent in the fight against corruption. When Buhari provided the leadership, the anti corruption agencies took notice. Even the world took notice. The leadership of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission was changed to give the desired impetus to the fight against corruption. The same EFCC staff who were made redundant during the immediate past regime are the ones doing very well now in the fight against corruption: that is leadership. Ibrahim Magu happened to share the same passion with Buhari in this regard.
One of the reasons why the fight against corruption has failed to achieve the desired result is that the country has always adopted a reactive approach. Buhari understood the fact that to stop corruption, you have to be proactive. In this wise, he adopted the full implementation of the Treasury Single Account to block leakages. The TSA, though not an original idea of this administration, was made a cornerstone of this administration and the result is there for all to see. Over N3 trillion have been saved already and that is huge.
Also by ensuring strict enforcement of the Bank Verification Number, government was able to eliminate ghost workers while looters with multiple accounts can no longer hide their loot undetected. Ministries, Departments and Agencies of government are now being audited regularly to eliminate corruption. Many civil servants no longer have access to free funds. They all agree that something has changed in the way and manner funds are being disbursed.
He is also pushing on with privatization of the power sector and also looking for other ways to generate power. Under his leadership, the Federal Government agreed to a 50 million Euro (about (N11.15 billion) loan agreement with French government for capacity-building and upgrade of power training facilities in Nigeria.
Nigeria also signed a $237 million agreement with World Bank to improve power.
Buhari had also discussed initiatives to bring solar power price down to five US cents per kilowatt hour, (approximately N10) as against the price of 17 US cents (N34) per KW/h tariff in Nigeria fixed at privatisation by the last government with a solar deployment agreement soon to be signed.
Chinese Solar power manufacturers had agreed with the Federal Government to set up solar panel manufacturing business in Nigeria.
Buhari had also signed agreement with Chinese president to improve Nigeria’s power infrastructure. Power supply in February peaked at over 5000mw for the first time in recent time.
However, vandalism in the Niger Delta has reversed some of the gains recorded in the power sector.
The government has shown a higher commitment to development of infrastructure. Over $6 billion in investment was the fallout of the president’s state visit to China.
Completion of the Kaduna-Abuja rail line and the construction of the coastal rail line linking major economic centres of the South, South East and South West cities will be executed from the Chinese funding. At press time, contractors were being mobilized to return to construction sites, after they abandoned construction of critical roads long before the 2015 election.
As indicated in the 2016 budget, social protection is another cornerstone of the administration populist policy, although it hasn’t been fully implemented due to some delay in signing the budget. Nevertheless, the groundwork is fully in place as data are being collated by the economic planning office of the Vice President in conjunction with the World Bank.
Upon assumption of office, the president discovered that the rot in the oil and gas sector was deeper than he had imagined. Buhari was jolted by the level of corruption in the sector. He had since realized that the solution he had in mind would not work. And there would be no quick fix either. Sooner than he expected, the nation was hit with inadequate fuel supply. The refineries which he had hoped would complement importation were not forthcoming.
In what one of his aides described as a painful decision to take, the president had to agree to an increase in pump price of petroleum. He is hoping that by making the refineries to work at optimum capacity, Nigeria will reduce dependency on importation.
Just recently the Kaduna Refinery finally began production while the one in Port Harcourt had begun production after several years of zero production, but for saboteurs and vandals, most of the refineries would have been at over 90 per cent production as at today.
Since the coming of this administration, Buhari has maintained a clear stance and policy on the rule of law and separation of powers. So far, he has allowed the judiciary to run its affairs. He also hardly intervenes in the affairs of the National Assembly even though some members of his political party wanted him to weigh in more in the affairs of the legislature. Buhari has rebuffed such pressure.
Nevertheless, challenges remain. Some of his ministers are not pulling their weight even though their appointment came late. The government also needs to come out with a clear policy on the volatile Niger Delta.
Many analysts have also criticized the president for making policy statements when abroad. Some also would like to see him talk more to Nigerians by explaining his policies to them. Many of his ministers are not good at explaining the government’s policies.
Unemployment remains at a critical level. The government will have to declare a state of emergency in the job sector as lack of jobs pushes more able bodied men and women into crimes. Except many people are employed, growing the economy will remain a challenge.