It is almost impossible to believe that in less than seven weeks, there would be a change of baton as the present administration would be handing over to an incoming government, the outcome of the ongoing court process challenging the outcome of the elections permitting. It is almost difficult to feel that we are in a transition period, compared to the corresponding period in 2015 when there was so much in the air concerning the content of the transition notes.

With the slogan ‘anyone but Jonathan’ still very thick in the atmosphere, the scenario being painted was that we were about to enter a state of Eldorado where everything would suddenly start to work perfectly under our new found messiah.

The outgoing administration of President Goodluck Jonathan had been weighed on the scale of its campaign promises and was adjudged to be a failure. It was said to have failed to deliver on its promises to fix the power problem, resolve the fuel subsidies, fix the refineries, send Boko Haram packing, deal with the menace of corruption, and inaugurate the Second Niger Bridge. It was as if we could not find anything good about the administration.

Premium Times did, however, highlight some of the achievements of the administration.
“…Though still far from being at par with services around the world, President Jonathan resuscitated the comatose railway sector.”
“Previously abandoned routes especially between the Southern Nigeria and the North were revived and made pliable though at a less than desirable speed and comfort. His administration also started to build new railway lines like the one linking Kaduna to Abuja”.
“Road construction and rehabilitation should rank among the top five of his achievements in office. During his administration, more than 50 road projects were either completed or at various stages of completion”.
“The government rebuilt the notoriously defective Benin-Ore road, and worked a significant part of the Abuja-Lokoja road, amongst many other roads”.
Electoral reform was perhaps the best of President Jonathan’s delivered promises. Though elections in the country remain far from ideal, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) did not enjoy the kind of independence it enjoyed under the Jonathan administration in the entire 16 years of democratic rule of the Fourth Republic.
With the signing of his Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) early in his administration, Jonathan indicated he was ready to run a transparent government. However, he did not do enough to make government agencies and parastatal buy into the spirit of the FOIA as they repeatedly turned down FOIA requests except in a few cases.
President Jonathan provided vital support to sections of the business and the entertainment community, including his grant for the Nollywood. Access to such facilities remained problematic though’.
Yet not much good was credited to the outgoing administration. Even the incoming government of Buhari had raised doubts on the ability of the outgoing administration to midwife an authentic transition programme by insisting that it would bring in independent consultants to work along with the transition team set up by the Jonathan administration.

The level of distrust was so much that, as President Jonathan later revealed in his memoirs, My Transition Hours, launched in 2018 that he was afraid that the incoming government would witch hunt him and his team.

“My concern was whether the incoming administration would go on a persecution spree of those who supported me or focus on nation building.

“Initially, the concern was not necessarily on the incoming president because having been a governor and a president, I was very much aware that many unfortunate tendencies and measures come from different camps, especially those with strong connections to the corridors of power.
“Sometimes, the intentions of people around you are unclear, and they take advantage of certain situations. I tried to have several discussions on this very subject directly with President-elect Buhari in our various meetings,” Jonathan was quoted to have said in the book.
The fears of President Jonathan turned out to be founded as the incoming administration spent close to four years spewing out juicy “revelations” about the preceding administration

Interestingly, though, there are as many serious issues to talk about in this transition period. There have not been many intellectual engagements on them. There is the issue of removal subsidies, which has been passed from one government to another without any resolution. The country is yet to recover from the chaos and confusion caused by the badly implemented Naira redesign project, but no one is talking about it. Kidnappings and campaigns from Boko Haram are very much in the air, yet we move on as if nothing is happening.

What is the content of the transition notes being put together by the outgoing administration? How does it want to ease in the removal of fuel subsidies without heating up the system, especially with the organised labour threatening a show down? How does it plan to administer the $ 800 million loan palliatives for the expected hardship from the removal of subsidies? Questions and more questions but fewer and fewer answers.

I decided to pick the mind of a senior friend who is close to the transition process on what he thinks are the differences between the ongoing transition process and the one in 2015 and what to possibly expect.

Enjoy the conversation, please.

What is your own reading of the transition project thus far?

Not much information is in the public domain, but I believe the project has started. The President-Elect is not new to governance. Given his training, background, and experience, he knows the enormity of the assignment, and he must have done sufficient work through his core team. I understand some of them even attended the ongoing World Bank/IMF Spring Meeting in Washington DC.

Comparing this period with the corresponding period in 2015, what could be responsible for the silence?

No basis for comparison. In 2015, the cabinet was not formed until six months after the inauguration. Besides, the All Progressives Congress (APC) as a party structure was relatively new with no ideological footprint. The principal himself had been out of government for about 30 years (except when he briefly served as the Petroluem Trust Fund Executive Chairman). The expectation was not much on the economy. The only hope was that he would rein in corruption and address security crises, given his background as a no-nonsense retired general and a well-respected honest elder statesman, acclaimed for his integrity. The incoming president is well-known as a more market-friendly reformer and adept politician.

I disagree slightly. The slogan then was: ‘ANYONE BUT JONATHAN’. With the ferocity of the campaign against incumbent administration, one would think that the opposition party was ready to hit the ground running on critical areas of economy, security and corruption but the new government spent almost four years on ‘REVELATIONS’’ on the outgoing administration, including the Dasukigate.

No! The electorates said ‘anybody but Jonathan’ but APC, being an amalgam of ACN, CPC, ANPP, and the Rochas Okorocha’s faction of APGA, had no coherent governance programme. They won the election on the goodwill of PMB and post election, couldn’t come up with a sound governance programme because of the clash in ideologies. We had NPDP – Saraki and co, who joined and ‘snatched’ the Senate Presidency and Deputy Senate Presidency from them. The conservatives in CPC couldn’t agree with the progressives from ACN on major programmes.

There are so many burning issues on the burner, but no one is discussing any: staggering debt stock, subsidy removal, worsening insecurity…why are we not focusing on these?

Staggering debt is within the competence of the new team who parade experts in economics, banking, and finance. Asiwaju’s area of strength is public finance, and he will definitely come up with creative ways of raising government revenue through tax reform and enforcement, etc. He will also adopt the Public-Private Sector Partnership (PPP) model to finance key public infrastructure that has the capacity for wealth creation.

He has been upfront on subsidy removal and kept no one in doubt that he would do that immediately on the assumption of office. He will, however, cushion the pain by coming up with creative pro-poor initiatives including mass transit, cash transfers, etc. Asiwaju is very courageous. He has robust plans to address insecurity, but the details will certainly not be in the public domain. Excessive kinetic options will give way to the use of technology and other intelligence based methods.

Including the $800m World Bank loan? Sounds funny that the government will be borrowing money to distribute as pallative. Some say this is a parting gift for the boys.

I don’t know about the economic policy of the outgoing administration, but I am more upbeat about the incoming Asiwaju administration. He will definitely perform above expectations. He will hire COMPETENT hands to do the difficult jobs. He has done it before; he will do it again!

You kept talking about the new team with a note of certainty. But you are aware the opposition parties are in court challenging the result of the election. Are you ruling out the possibility of a contrary outcome?

I am not God, neither do I have a crystal ball. All I am saying is subject to Asiwaju being confirmed by the Supreme Court as being validly elected (I know as fact that the case will travel all the way to the Supreme Court).

Fair enough. Come to think of it, no one is even talking of Meffy and his naira redesign. Just like that!

No one will talk about him because he is burnt out. You wait and see what will happen, post May 29.

But let us talk about it. Does it mean the policy has been reversed indirectly?

No. The policy was given an additional lifeline to smoothen the implementation. Nobody will reverse the naira redesign. The old currencies have enough time to wear out in December. But it appears no one is pushing it any longer! It has assumed a life of its own. It no longer needs any pushing. You can not continue to give a three year old baby breast milk.

Just curious: Why did this outgoing government push the implementation of sensitive policies such as subsidy removal, population census, and Naira redesign to the tail end of its tenure?

Just to escape people’s back-clash. The subsidy removal is unpopular. Naira redesign is aimed at check-mating Asiwaju (we were told that some elements close to the Villa are against the Asiwaju Presidency). Census is neither here nor there, but you need to know that a Northern-dominated government usually prefers to arrange population census for obvious reasons.

Don’t you think the subsidy matter could destabilise the incoming government if not properly handled ?

It certainly can. The incoming government knows the risk in not handling it properly. It is a form of banana pill, but I am confident an Asiwaju-led administration will implement it with minimal resistance. It is about proper communication and looking at the counter factual. What options do we have? To continue to pile up debt and incur additional N6 trillion plus in subsidies? If the people understand that unnecessary subsidies account for why the roads are bad, the schools and hospitals are dilapidated, etc, they will appreciate the need for its removal.

And the big and sensitive one: some insist that until the restructuring issue is addressed, no government can move the Nigeria project forward regardless of the soundness of policies. What sayest thou? Do you see the incoming government being able to tackle this headlong?

I agree that we shall make the biggest mileage as a country post restructuring. This is because of our history. We actually started with a well-structured regional arrangement that produced the best of us pre 1960 – the groundnut pyramid in the North, the cocoa and rubber in the West as well as the palm oil, etc in the East. The present structure is a pseudo-unitary system where power is concentrated at the centre. The political struggle to play at the centre is because of the way we are structured. We should restructure along the geopolitical line.

Unfortunately, not much of that can be done even by the new government until the Constitution is amended. The incoming administration cannot do it alone. They do not even have absolute majority at the House of Representatives, talk less of the super-majority required for that to happen. But the serious conversation should begin, and we can build consensus across party lines to deliver that.

Of course, you are aware of the new CBN policy adjusting the tenure of bank chiefs. What is your take on this?

I have no issues with that. I am 100% in support of the term limits for the executives. We, however, need to take a second look at the owner chairmen. I don’t think it is fair to send someone away at 70 just because he has overstayed on a board of a bank established by him.

What would you suggest then, concerning the chairmen?
If they are the owners of the company, they can have extended stay till a maximum of age 75.

In essence, you are suggesting that we are not likely to have ‘REVELATIONS’ where the incoming government spends quality time ‘exposing’ the outgoing government?

Asiwaju will certainly not engage in needless ‘exposure’ or deliberate ‘revelations’ to discredit the outgoing government. He will announce his unique and bold policies and allow people to make judgments.
His pre-occupation will be how to improve the people’s well being and lift millions out of poverty, not an ego trip.

You may wish to comment freely on any aspect you think could enhance the conversation but possibly omitted.

The new administration will work hard to stabilise the dollar exchange rate. Within one year of the new administration, the gap between the official rate and parallel market rate will narrow to a maximum of 10%. There will be marked improvement in GDP growth and the forex reform will improve the forex liquidity and FDI flow. There will be marked improvement in the ease of doing business.

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