PMB: Waiting for the Lift of Poverty Stricken Nigerians

Muhammadu Buhari

By Eddy Odivwri

When President Muhammadu Buhari failed to utter any word after the May 29 swearing in ceremony, Nigerians were aghast that the president got a second term mandate without a whiff of appreciation to Nigerians. Not even an assurance of a better tomorrow. He just got sworn in, wearing an idle bag hanging down his right shoulder. Some said the strange bag contained the constitution of Miyetti Allah. I couldn’t confirm that.

But by June 12, President Buhari came fully charged, delivering a 19-page speech that got many Nigerians talking for days. Some are even still talking about the June 12 speech. That speech is significant not only because it marks the 20th year of unprecedented back-to-back democracy celebration in Nigeria, it indeed marks the fifth round of transfer of political power from one leader to another.

Perhaps the other aspect of the speech that thrilled Nigerians greatly was the naming of the Abuja National Stadium after the late MKO Abiola, in whose memory the June 12 Day has been declared Nigeria’s Democracy Day. Many believed the gesture redeems, a little, the injustice done to the late politician.

Even then, the speech appeared more like a political manifesto and a report card of what has been achieved.

With editors (and many Nigerians), the part of the speech that seems to have resonated well was evidently the promise of lifting 100 million Nigerians out of poverty. That clearly was the celebrated headline of many newspapers the next day. And that shows that poverty and its cousin: hardship, have held many Nigerians down for years, with the grip further tightened in the last four years. And so Nigerians are more than eager to be liberated from the infamous shackles of poverty. But the president did not say how these 100 million people will be “delivered” from poverty. In fact, he did not actually promise to do so. He was expressing the possibility of doing so, not necessarily that it is an agenda he wants to execute in the next four years.

See how he put it: ” With leadership and a sense of purpose, we can lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty in 10 years”.

What’s more, it is a ten-year projection, not a 4-year programme. In fact, even if the Buhari administration is faithful to the agenda, a succeeding administration would have to midwife six years of the agenda; time enough to ruin, wreck or re-order the scheme altogether. Yet, it is the brightest part of the speech which many Nigerians could identify with, especially as it was laced with hope. Mr President had clearly pointed out that Nigeria with her huge potential could indeed achieve greater governance feats that will improve the socio-metrics of Nigerians.

Hear him: “We have water, arable land, forests, oil and gas and vast quantities of solid minerals. We are blessed with an equable climate. However, the bulk of our real wealth lies in Agriculture, Livestock, Forestry and Mining. We possess all the ingredients of a major economic power on the world stage.”

Perhaps Mr President understands this burning desire of Nigerians: to relax the economy a little so that cash flow can increase. It has become a notorious cliché to always hear people retort: “for this Buhari time?” whenever a request for money is made. No jokes, the economy has been on a grind.

But the president is full of hopes that our tomorrow, as a country, will be better and brighter. He believes that the efforts his administration had put in place in the last four years are reassuring of a brighter and greater future. Despite the controversy that has trailed the Social Intervention Programmes (SIP), the administration looks committed to continuing the school feeding programme, provision of loans to traders, skill and knowledge acquisition support (N-Power scheme), cash transfer to the poorest of the poor in the country, etc.

He plans to integrate more rural people into the “economic grid” of the nation by creating greater access to funds which small scale entrepreneurs can use to grow their businesses. But the unaddressed snag is the huge interest that accompanies bank loans. Nigerian banks are eager to make a kill of profits at the end of every trading year, without giving enough support to SMEs to grow and be established, thus restricting the full realisation of the potential inherent in the Nigerian economy.

But despite this challenge, the president was enthused that the Nigerian economy was doing well, not only because it crawled out of recession (never mind that the tell tale signs are still plaguing us), but also because the economy has now “witnessed 8 quarters of positive growth in the economy and our GDP is expected to grow by 2.7 percent this year”.

Nigerians are eager to have a better economy. And Buhari is promising them. He assures that, ”this Administration is laying the foundation and taking bold steps in transforming our country and liberating our people from the shackles of poverty”, assuring that, “for the next four years, we will remain committed to improving the lives of people”

Nigeria is a complex nation. Many plans do not run as conceived. They get botched midway. The President must factor this into the bag of hope he is offering Nigerians.

Were it not so, the Ease-of-doing –business, as a government policy which was launched some three years ago would have eliminated all the difficulties in business transactions. But it has not. The president picked this in his speech. He lamented that we are still having too long a time in clearing goods from our sea ports; the roads to these ports are still too bad and choked, and too long a period of getting regulatory approvals for business transactions. Surely, these drawbacks are part of the labels which we interpret as “Nigerian factor” in the Nigerian lingo. As the president rightly noted, these draw backs affect our collective productivity. He expressed the determination to see that “Nigeria works for Nigerians of all persuasion”:

Mr President rather glided over the crucial issue of stable electricity which many believe holds the key to economic or industrial liberation in the country.

I believe the president, and indeed no president can accomplish everything at the same time. If Mr President will, for instance decisively tackle the mystery around stable electricity in the country, half of our economic problems would have been solved and he would have his name written in gold across the land.

All said, Mr President must be time conscious. With three weeks gone into the second term, with no cabinet in place, the time to work the talks is now. Mr President must hit the ground running.