Economy: Catholic Bishops Want Buhari to Take Responsibility

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  • ‘If the previous government did badly, that was why we voted a new government’
  • Quit now, says PDP

Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja and James Sowole in Akure

Roman Catholic Mission (RCM) bishops in Nigeria wednesday entered the raging conversation about the dire state of the economy, telling President Muhammadu Buhari and his officials to abate the blame game and take full responsibility for the task of retrieving the economy from the recession it has slipped into under his watch.

The bishops, who spoke through the Arch-Bishop of Sokoto Dioceses, Mathew Kukah, said the president ought to prevail on his aides to stop passing the buck over the prevailing economic challenges and pay more attention to telling the people what his administration was doing to pull the economy out of recession.

“If the previous government did badly that is why we voted a new government. We didn’t vote a government to complain about wednesday. If we wanted wednesday, the new government would not be there,” Kukah said at a dinner organised on the occasion of the Catholic Bishop Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) 2016 by Ondo State Governor, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko, at the International Event Centre (Dome), Akure on Tuesday.

Since the advent of his administration last year, Buhari has persisted in blaming the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) administrations for the economic downturn, saying their failure to diversify the economy coupled with high rate of corruption were responsible for the virtual collapse of the economy under his watch.

‘‘I want Nigerians to realise that what this government inherited after 16 years of the PDP government was no savings, no infrastructure, no power, no rail, no road and no security,” he told journalists in his Daura hometown after the Eid-el-Kabir celebrations on Monday.

Even as the critique of the Bishops became public wednesday, the PDP reiterated its rejection of Buhari’s prognosis, declining responsibility for the prostrate state of the economy and asked the president to turn in his resignation letter if he could not use his inheritance from the Goodluck Jonathan administration to take the country to prosperity.

“We ask President Muhammadu Buhari to resign if he is unable to manage the economy,” the PDP said in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Prince Dayo Adeyeye, in Abuja wednesday.

The Catholic clergy were similarly inclined at the end of their Akure conference as they urged the present government to stop the blame trading and dissuade its supporters from attributing the economic woes of the nation to past governments.

Rather, the Bishops said the president should consolidate on past achievements and find ways of ameliorating the sufferings of the people.

“It is really about taking responsibility. No matter how much you praise or abuse Jonathan, he is not the president of Nigeria. I think that people must understand, you take power to solve problems not to agonise. As the head of a family, no matter how bad things are if there is no food in the house; you as a father can’t enter the house crying,” Kukah said.

He added: “It is the question of developing the mechanism: you can’t solve the problem by guess work. Even my best friends in APC now realise that nobody can sing the song about Jonathan being responsible for the problems we are in. We are not asking you to change the whole world.”

Saying it might be true that the Jonathan administration created problems for the economy, he contended that it was better to play up the good deeds of the administration and improve on them than become slave to its shortcomings.

“We are now riding a train between Abuja and Kaduna now; the train wasn’t there before. Things that Jonathan did that can help Nigeria, let’s continue with them. The bad things that Jonathan did and those who deserve to go to prison should go to prison. But sending people to prison will only be useful if it puts bread on the table of people,” Kukah said.

He said that the situation became more complicated because government had failed in its responsibility to be open with the people.

According to him, “I think the challenge government is facing is this: just to be able to explain to the people that this suffering has something redemptive about it because if you know that at the end of this suffering something good is going to happen, people will be ready to live with the consequences.

“But so far, I don’t think government is communicating effectively with ordinary Nigerians and to know where we are and the state of things. So, this is why you increasingly have a situation which people are not willing to make sacrifices because they still believe that their obligation is to protect themselves.”

The bishop also spoke about the Buhari administration’s fight against corruption and said it was essentially superficial.

He said: “I have always said, you can’t cure malaria by just providing tablets; you might provide tablets to cure malaria but you have to look at the cause of malaria. As long as dirty waters and mosquitoes are around, there will still be the disease.

“My argument has always been that we are not really fighting corruption, we started off with the assumption that corruption is all about people stealing money. But stealing money is actually the other end of corruption. The reason we don’t seem to make much progress is based on the kind of diagnosis; how we diagnose the problem.

“I still believe that unless we get to the root cause of poverty, inequality, which is really the evidence and symptom of corruption; you can talk of fighting corruption all the rest of your life and very little is going to happen.”

The Catholic clergy, who declared that the present economic crunch is also having a big toll on the church, said recession had meted out difficult times on Nigerians.

“But don’t forget, while people are having difficulties finding food to eat, Nigerians are still drinking and buying champagne for N1.5m or more. We are still the highest consumers of champagne outside France.

“So, the real question is this: how do we get to this situation, literally, living in two worlds so to say: a tale of two cities. The difficulties are there like I said, but I think that all that government needs to do is to think out, a bit more clearly, how it can engage ordinary Nigerians,” he said.

Kukah faulted some of the measures put in place by the government to bail out the country, saying: “It is not enough to tell people to get back to the farms, the issues are much more than that; it is not enough to say you have big plans for agriculture.”

PDP Tells Buhari to Quit

Reacting to the president’s persistent claim that the PDP laid the foundation for the current economic crisis, the party denied responsibility and told him to leave office if he is unable to take the economy beyond where he met it.

According to Adeyeye, the opposition party felt it was the crass ineptitude and lukewarm attitude of the All Progressives Congress (APC)-led government that brought the economy to its knees, saying the PDP left behind a vibrant economy.

“The crass ineptitude and lukewarm attitude of this APC government is no longer tolerable, and therefore, we are calling on President Buhari and his team to return Nigeria to its state of booming economy before they assumed office in May 2015, and then quit immediately to allow other capable leaders recover our ailing economy,” it said.

The party’s statement read: “For instance, recall that about three Airlines, local and international like some banks, have suspended operations and sent their staff on indefinite leave due to the poor state of the Nigeria’s economy. Nigerians are aware that the PDP government invested heavily in most of our airports in the country that resulted to obvious ‘facelift’ and improved operations through remodelling, construction of new airports, refurbishing and equipping of the local and international airports to meet best practices in the aviation industry.

“But the APC’s administration has frittered away all the good policies and programmes which the PDP put in place, thereby crumbling the aviation sector in the country amongst other catastrophes it has caused.

“What Nigerians want from this administration are results, simple! And not resorting to throwing tantrums on the PDP at every given opportunity. Our call for the president to return the country to how he met it in 2015 is justified on the following grounds: a bag of rice was N7,000 and now is above N20,000; a mudu of beans was N150 and now is N500; one US dollar was trading for N197 but now over N400; a litre of fuel was N87 but now N145; cost of transportation and other services have skyrocketed. Given our observation since the inception of this government, they have nothing to offer and as such, quitting will be a solution because nobody can give what he/she does not have. APC has failed.”

The PDP calls on Nigerians to recall President Buhari’s purported ‘body language’ at the beginning of his administration and reiterated that governance is a serious business and not about someone’s body language’ and de-marketing strategies of Mr. President while ‘globetrotting’.

PDP said: “When this government came to power in May 2015 riding on the achievements of previous PDP administration, President Buhari’s handlers and his party, the APC claimed it was his ‘body language’ that brought some positive changes the country was witnessing at that time; so we want to know what are the results of the so called ‘body language’?”

The party concluded that the earlier the president and his team quit, the better for the country, saying: “There is no better time than now to make this call for the president to return the country to how he met it and quit, or right away quit for a more experienced team to take over.”