AN ECONOMY IN DIRE STRAITS

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Emir of Kano, Lamido Sanusi Lamido

Monday comment1

President Buhari could do more to lift many Nigerians from poverty, writes Mahmud Mustapha

In the past few weeks, alarm bells have been ringing about the danger facing the Nigerian economy. These alarm bells cannot be said to be frivolous or borne out of partisan inclinations because they are coming from tested economists and those who know about how well-run economies look like.

The most recent is by the Emir of Kano, Lamido Sanusi Lamido, a renowned banker who rose to become Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria. Speaking at a workshop on National Treasury in Abuja, the traditional ruler and economist unequivocally said that the country was heading towards bankruptcy if the Buhari administration failed to stop fuel and electricity subsidy.

In the same vein, the respected Invest Africa magazine has also drawn attention to Sanusi’s warning about Nigeria’s imminent bankruptcy, even when some people said he had denied the statement. Sanusi is not the type of man who denies statements credited to him. Even if he denied it, it should be noted that these concerns are no fluke as the high level of borrowing and debt servicing embarked upon by the Buhari administration should be a source of great worry about the future and health of the economy.

The economic condition of the majority of Nigerians is currently very bad. Statistics from reputable foreign economic monitoring bodies like the Austria-based World Poverty Clock has it that a whopping 93.8 million Nigerians, as at June 2019, suffer from extreme poverty and that about six Nigerians fall into damning poverty every six minutes. On its own part, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) puts the country’s unemployment rate at 23.1 per cent, under employment at 20.21 per cent and youth unemployment at 55.4 per cent.

The above indices show that many Nigerians notably the young and educated population are battling with poverty. It was not long that Nigeria became the laughing stock of the World when in 2018, the World Bank and other multilateral institutions declared the country as the World poverty capital thus sounding another alarm bell for Nigeria’s political leaders.

It should be stated that these poverty indices became prevalent under the administration of President Buhari who took more than six months to put a cabinet in place after he emerged victorious in the 2015 elections. President Buhari’s lack of passable knowledge of economic issues, in the view of many experts and observers, was the main reason for the recession that hit Nigeria in 2016, the first time in 25 years. Granted that the excesses of the Goodluck Jonathan administration contributed to the economic difficulties the country faced after Buhari took over in 2015, the poor policy choices and outright lack of choice under Buhari’s watch made economic recession and creeping poverty inevitable.

It was in this condition of recession hangover, continuing corruption in the government and the continuing burden of fuel subsidy that the 2019 polls came. Faced with enormous hardship under Buhari, the majority of the Nigerian people reasoned that voting out the lackluster administration of President Buhari was the way to put a stop to the relentless march of poverty and social dislocation in the country.

The APC and Buhari claimed victory in that election against the postulation of many analysts before the polls. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) whose uncertain and indecisive public posture on issues arising from the collation of results at the Presidential Election Tribunal also sided with Buhari and his party’s claim. The final report of European Union election monitors on the conduct of the election points to the fact that the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and its presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar have a strong and genuine case before the judiciary.

The poor economic history of Nigeria under Buhari’s watch, characterized by growing poverty of the population, is the result of poor leadership. It was for this reason that when Buhari told Nigerians at the 2019 Democracy Day celebrations that his All Progressives Party (APC) administration can raise 100 million Nigerians from poverty in a period of 10 years, those who have observed him since 2015 labelled the statement as hollow. Most Nigerians hold the view that Buhari’s leadership and policy of exclusion means that the president and his party can only drive people into poverty, not to lift them.

Among the reasons why the growing poverty in Nigeria persists, and might continue despite Buhari’s good intentions are first, the poor and indecisive leadership of Buhari. Second, is the nationwide security problem – violence and killings – which has dislocated many Nigerians. Third is the problem which herdsmen pose to the farming population in the country that has uprooted millions of farmers from their farmlands mostly in the Northern part of the country. Food shortages are very likely in the next four years. President Buhari has shown that he lacks the will to deal with the problem of insecurity, more so when his military commanders blame everyone except themselves for the security problems in the country including the Boko Haram insurgency in the Northeast region of the country. The insecurity issue has emerged as a disincentive to domestic and foreign investment. Four, the country’s huge population is another factor. With a population today at 200 million and projected to rise to 400 million around 2050, the nation will be in a messy situation if it does not solve its leadership, social, infrastructural, educational and health delivery problems which are becoming critical by the day.

Part of the solution to the poverty problem is the practice of true federalism under which the federal government, the states and local government will be responsible partners with each level of government, working hard to eradicate poverty among the people under its care.

 Mustapha wrote from Bauchi