Akintunde Adeyemo
Adeyemo…not the right time to restructure

A political scientist, Dr Akintunde Adeyemo, in an interview with Jonathan Eze, said that calling for restructuring at a time when different ethnic groups are advocating for secession is not only a bad idea, but a risky proposition. Excerpts:

What is your assessment of the President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration so far?

As a political observer, it appears to me that this administration has mismanaged its political capital. President Muhammadu Buhari was elected for a particular reason – to fundamentally rebuild a broken country. The issue is whether Buhari has so far judiciously used his political mandate to rebuild Nigeria. A likely answer depends on a few variables. First, voters’ expectations from this administration. Second, your political affiliation. Third, the state of the economy and finally, the ongoing war against Boko Haram.

On the first variable, voters in democratic nations tend to have unreasonable expectations from politicians who, in order to get elected, inundate their voters with exaggerated promises. Let’s suppose that Nigerian voters want to judge the Buhari administration based on Mr. Buhari’s pre-election political rhetoric, one can confidently assert that this administration, so far, has failed.

However, in the eyes of smart political observers, this administration should not be judged based on its pre-election rhetoric, for it should be fairly understood that, during the election that ushered in this administration, candidate Buhari and its political party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), were engaging in pure politicking, which is an act of selling exaggerated political solutions to myriads of problems that have overwhelmed unsuspecting voters. This administration should however, be judged based on a reasonable expectations.

Assessing this administration based on a reasonable expectation standard still objectively doesn’t vindicate this administration. While it might be too early to assess this administration, it is never too early to assert that this administration has failed to satisfy the reasonable expectation of political observers.

On the second variable, it’s understandable that an opposition party, such as the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), will, regardless of what the Buhari administration does, remain hostile to its policies. A litany of condemnations from one’s political rival should not be adjudged as an honest exercise, but may provide political observers some useful information on how to objectively assess this administration. When an opposition party, such as the PDP, points to some substantive shortcomings of this administration, it behooves journalists and political observers to thoroughly investigate those claims. By so doing, voters are well informed.

On the third variable, the state of the economy, as Buhari looks within to revamp a failing economy, political and economic fundamentals point to uncontrollable external factors. What am I talking about? Nigeria is a petro-economy, which means our national budget is pegged to the price of crude oil. In the last couple of years, because of the geopolitical war between the United States of America, Saudi Arabia, Russia and Iran, oil prices have been artificially manipulated by one dominant player, Saudi Arabia. As oil revenue decreases, which ushered in an economic recession, the economy of Nigeria took a nosedive. In my own opinion, which is subject to a rebuttal, the Buhari administration made a strategic blunder when, given all these problems, refused to timely devaluate Nigeria’s naira—that failure led to capital flight from Nigeria, and hedge fund investors left Nigeria, too.

In order to get Nigeria out of recession, Buhari, abandoned by sovereign bond buyers, sought refuge from World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). These two entities imposed stringent conditions on their loans, but agreed to rescue Nigeria. While the World Bank said that Nigeria is no longer experiencing recession, ordinary Nigerians, reasonably so, are still economically battered. From my observation, our oil revenue will soon increase, based on the tentative decision reached between Saudi Arabia and Russia, two weeks ago, which stipulated that both countries will stop oversupplying oil to an already depressed oil market. This decision will likely increase oil prices, which will consequentially increase oil revenue for Nigeria. But it will take a while for ordinary Nigerians to benefit from this good news.

On the last variable, the war against Boko Haram, there is a universal consensus on this one: It has been fairly mitigated by the administration. While a complete success has proven to be elusive, a relative success has been achieved vis-à-vis the ongoing war against Boko Haram. While still a threat to our national security, it has been decimated and some of the abducted “Chibok girls” have been rescued. On this variable, I tip my hat to the president.

On assumption of office the Presidency created a single Treasury Account (TSA) to check fraud. What is your take on that?

That was a positive step in the right direction. Prior to that action, multiple accounts at different agencies were used as vehicles to embezzle taxpayers’ money. However, it’s illusory to think that a Single Treasury Account (TSA) will bring an end to public corruption, because corrupt public officials will devise other ways to embezzle taxpayers’ money.

What is the perception of people coming to invest in Nigeria?

This is one of the questions I get from my American friends who are eager to invest in Nigeria and other countries in Africa. In order to woo back foreign investors, the government of Nigeria must do more than release another white paper or an executive order, it must work closely with all stakeholders to codify all these changes. Investors value certainties. While investors may welcome another friendly executive action on easing of doing business in Nigeria, they are cognisant of how this administration has deviated from its position in the past. Per the World Bank’s 2016 Ease of Doing Business Index, Nigeria is currently ranked 169 out of 189.

While the acting President, Mr. Yemi Osibanjo, was right to steer us in that good direction, it will take the unison of all three branches of government, especially the legislative branch, to codify a bill that will boost potential investors confidence. This is necessary because, according to the World Bank, investors willing to invest in Nigeria are weary, among other things, of these two things; enforcement of contracts and resolving insolvency.

What is your take on agitation for restructuring of the country?

The term restructuring is subject to different interpretations. What exactly are we restructuring? Our political system? Our federal system? When people talk about restructuring, I see it as another attempt to waste time and resources. Any restructuring exercise must be thoroughly scrutinised before it is embarked upon. At this time, the country is relatively peaceful; calling for a restructuring of the country at a time when different people are actively advocating for secession is not only a bad idea, but a risky proposal.

How do you think the federal government can manage its relationship with states?

We should understand that, while state A might claim to have more resources than state B, which entitles it to more allocation than state B, state A must understand that its claim is subject to the needs of the remaining 35 states. You can look at the state of California in the United States, in terms of generating revenue for the government of the United States, California generates more income than other states in the union. Still, it doesn’t get much from the federal government. Mississippi, one of the poorest states in America, gets more than what it gives to the federal government. Such is the nature of a true federalism. In the interest of fairness, all states must reach a political compromise.

The relationship between the National Assembly and the Executive has not been cordial. How can the hostility be addressed?

The hostility between these two important branches of government, in my own opinion, is one of the reasons why Nigeria is always moving from one crisis to another. From my own observation, there is no working relationship between these two branches of government. It appears to me that some political handlers on both sides are constantly releasing embarrassing information on one another, which, in a few cases, paralysed the government. The hostility can be resolved, however, by both sides hitting a restart button.

What is your assessment of our foreign policy under this administration?

Mr. Buhari’s candidacy:, it is my opinion that he tacitly received the blessings of the United States and Britain when, during his carefully worded speech at Chatham House, on Thursday, February 26, 2015, he became a “democratic convert.” Once elected, Buhari created and continued to foster a close-working relationship with these two countries. Unlike his predecessor, Mr. Jonathan, Buhari’s foreign policy is in sync with that of the United States and Britain. In fact, the United States, which had qualms with the Jonathan administration, now fully supports this administration’s war against Boko Haram. Another foreign policy achievement of this administration was the successful enforcement of the electoral mandate of Adama Barrow, the democratically elected president of Gambia. Through a show of military force and smart diplomacy, Buhari and other regional leaders were able to successfully convince Yahya Jammeh, then incumbent president of Gambia, who vowed to not relinquish power to Adama barrow. In the Western world, President Buhari, for his decisive action in Gambia, was seen as a gatekeeper of democracy in Africa.

Crisis in the North, especially in Southern Kaduna, has the colouration of religious crisis. What can the government do to manage this situation that is claiming lives on daily basis?

The lack of an affirmative solution to the crisis in Southern Kaduna is worrisome. Historically, Christians in those areas have been targeted mainly because of their religion. While the state government and the federal government have chosen to quietly wish the problem away. Concerned Nigerians must continue to chastise all stakeholders to respect all human lives. Quite honestly, there is no easy way out of this crisis, but the government must create a platform, which encourages a dialogue on religious tolerance. At the same time, the federal government in conjunction with the state government must create a Rapid Response Squad (RRS) that will be solely responsible for apprehending and deterring these perpetrators of evil. However, because of different parochial interests, the political will to address these senseless killings might be lacking; in fact, such is the current situation.

What is your take on the secessionist agenda of the South-eastern people?

As long as Nigeria exists, the ghost of the Biafran agenda will never disappear. The only true call for secession of the Biafran people was brutally fought and defeated between 1967 and 1970. These days, however, the talk of secession should be strongly viewed as a political weapon to claim victimhood. While some of these groups have genuine grievances, they should be addressed through existing channels within the government. The talk of secession should be as a matter of last resort, which means all existing instruments of the state must have failed to ameliorate those grievances. In the case of the secessionist agenda of the Biafran people, their grievances, while valid from a political standpoint, have not risen to the level of seeking secession.

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The term restructuring is subject to different interpretations. What exactly are we restructuring? Our political system? Our federal system? When people talk about restructuring, I see it as another attempt to waste time and resources. Any restructuring exercise must be thoroughly scrutinised before it is embarked upon.