2016: Tit-bits, Nuggets on National Devt

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As the year draws to a close, Abimbola Akosile analyses some development initiatives and vital processes by government and other stakeholders in Nigeria which occurred during 2016

It only takes a moment for change to occur, either for better or for worse. However, the process may have a longer span. No one could have predicted that merely months after being rebased as the largest economy in Africa, Nigeria’s economy would be reeling from the blows and lows of recession.

Development in Nigeria in 2016 is difficult to describe in a single sentence or paragraph, and several factors combined to bring the giant of Africa to her current state. Here are some of the issues that had direct and indirect impact on the country’s development process this year.

Militancy Fallout
The relative peace enjoyed in the restive Niger Delta region by the current administration in 2015 when it came into power was shattered in 2016 when the militants – working at cross-purposes among themselves – unleashed mayhem and destroyed key oil pipelines and installations in order to vent their anger against the government of the day.

Various open and subtle attempts by the federal government to negotiate a truce and ceasefire in the course of the year were rebuffed due to disputes over adequate representation for the militants and the government’s perceived reluctance to meet some of the demands by the angry groups. Their actions severely reduced the crude oil output and export and this also played a role at the international market where the global price of oil had crashed to dismal lows.

Nigeria’s curtailed foreign revenue could not meet the fiscal demands for budget implementation and debts piled up, with accompanying cash crunch and inflation. The country couldn’t execute the whole 2016 budget due to cash deficit and the federal government is trying to reverse this gloomy trend in 2017 with a N7.3 trillion budget of hope. It is hoped that the relative peace in the Niger Delta, the recent upsurge in the global price of oil, the growing foreign revenue and oil reserves will help Nigeria climb out of recession in the New Year.

Corruption War
The ruling administration based its governance strategy on three pivots including sustained war against official corruption, victory over insurgency and tackling of nationwide unemployment, and also prioritisation of agriculture.

The first pivot which is fight against official corruption witnessed mixed results in 2016. Although the federal government is yet to fully prosecute, convict and jail a really ‘big fish’ like an ex-governor or a top member of the National Assembly, it made some successful forays into the judiciary; the third arm of government.

To think of arraigning a judge in a court was previously unheard of, but the recent onslaught by the federal government against some top judges in the High, Appellate and Supreme Courts of law was unprecedented and a bold statement of President Muhammadu Buhari’s aversion to corruption and his vow to prosecute anyone found guilty of corrupt enrichment.

Although PMB’s battle against the leadership of the National Assembly has seemingly lost steam in recent times, top officials in the armed forces were not so lucky, with some retired service chiefs being arraigned in court and others facing prosecution.

However, many Nigerians believe the war against corruption is not comprehensive enough and that PMB is ‘shielding’ some of his ministers and kitchen cabinet members from prosecution on allegations of corruption also. But the new policy on whistleblowers getting a juicy 5 per cent cut of any recovered public loot upon provision of vital information is expected to rev up the fight against corruption in the country in 2017.

Agric Impetus
Nigeria benefitted immensely from agriculture in 2016 and is still benefitting from an upsurge in agricultural productivity. While the federal government prioritised agriculture as a viable alternative to dwindling oil revenue in the course of the year, many skeptics thought the focus should be more on conquering local hunger than exporting ‘inadequate’ products to other countries.

The interventions of the Central Bank of Nigeria, some other banks, research institutions and the private sector boosted the vital sector in 2016 and the inflow of cash and other necessary inputs helped to increase agricultural productivity to the extent where several grain and cash crops are presently being exported with still enough for local consumption. Rice production is currently going on in around 14 states across the federation, with the goal of achieving adequate local production in a year’s time, coupled with zero importation and high tariffs to discourage smuggling.

Although there was a recent outcry and warning against imminent famine in January 2017 if the rate of export of grains from Nigeria continues, the federal government through the Ministry of Agriculture appears to have the situation under control. The increase in agri-processing especially aquaculture has also brought in much-needed foreign revenue into the economy. In all, agriculture played a key role in Nigeria’s development process in 2016, and this is expected to continue in 2017.

Quelling Insurgency
Insurgency by the outlawed Boko Haram terrorist group in North-east Nigeria was a thorn in the flesh of the last administration and the negative trend continued in 2016, although the federal government backed up the Joint Multinational Task Force in fighting the hordes of Abubakar Shekau, leading to the final onslaught by the military forces and over-run of the previously dreaded Sambisa forest which was the last enclave of the insurgents.

This recent victory has boosted the morale of the military forces and the image of the federal government on the international scene in its efforts to curb insecurity and ensure peace and stability, which are vital ingredients for investors’ confidence and desired foreign direct investment (FDI).

With the discovery of some of the missing Chibok girls and return of relative peace to the troubled North-east zone – for the first time in years, Maiduguri celebrated a peaceful Christmas – both public and private investment efforts are flowing into the region and this has had a direct impact on the development process of Nigeria in 2016. The trend is expected to continue in 2017.

SDGS Scenario
When President Buhari led the federal government delegation to the landmark 70th United Nations General Assembly in New York, USA in September 2015 (this reporter also attended the UNGA), it was a strong show of support for the new 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Now, more than a year later, the country appears to have learnt from the implementation gaps of the previous Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Although national efforts at domestication and implementation of the SDGs were showcased at the national stakeholders’ retreat organised in Abuja by the Office of the Senior Special Assistant to the President on the SDGs, the economic downturn in 2016 affected the drive to realise these goals speedily. However, with the proposed N7.3 trillion budget of hope for 2017, it is hoped that these goals and their 165 targets would boost Nigeria’s development process and status to a new high. That is a worthwhile goal.

RANDOM THOTS

Dangerous Dilemma

Recently, the Federal Government approved a new policy on whistle blowing that aims to encourage Nigerians to report financial and other related crimes to relevant authorities. According to the policy, whistleblowers whose revelations lead to recovery of money will be entitled to as much as 5 per cent of the recovered sum. The policy, which is a stop gap initiative until the National Assembly formally passes a law on whistleblowing, spurs citizens with information on financial crimes to disclose it, in a bid to strengthen the fight against corruption by the Buhari administration.

Since that policy was unveiled around a week ago, many Nigerians, including this reporter, have been doing mental calculations on what five per cent ‘commission’ comes to on recovered loot estimated in billions of naira. Despite some attached conditions like the information must be new; it must lead to actual recovery upon confirmation, and singular focus on public or government financial transactions, the new policy seems very attractive to some Nigerians who are privy to huge official corrupt deals and are sure their identities would be protected.

However, this process smacks of a paw in a bottle where a monkey tries to grab nuts in a securely-tied bottle and ends up being nabbed if unwilling to release the nut to escape. The issue here is that such clandestine looting involves as few key players as possible so any leak to government can be narrowed to a suspect observer. Until the whistleblowers protection bill is speedily passed by the National Assembly, such potential informants risk incurring the wrath of looters. It remains to be seen if the five per cent ‘carrot’ can adequately outweigh any element of risk to the informant. A delicate option…