Cover Story: Deceit and Despair of Change
It has come to a complete one year since Mr. Muhammadu Buhari was inaugurated as Nigeria’s democratic president. His party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) , while striving to outwit the then ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) promised a lot. It promised institutional change, job creation, security, a real fight against corruption, a prosperous economy, booming agriculture, enhanced welfare of the citizenry, massive infrastructural development among others.
The momentum of the Buhari electoral train was so compelling and it swept in its tide over 14 million Nigerians who overwhelmingly voted for the former dictator. They voted for change of the inept PDP government; change in the fortunes of the nation’s economy and change in the harsh living conditions. However, 12 months after the Change train set forth, Nigerians are left wondering what hit them. Yes, there is change but in the verdict of most Nigerians, the change is retrogressive. Our Editor-at-Large RAY UMUKORO in this cover story examines the twists and turns, pledges made and promises not kept as well as the grand deceit of the APC leadership and the efforts being made by Mr. Buhari to make good what is now generally believed to be a very bad economy.
President Buhari inherited an economy in decent. This is not in doubt but in the last 12 months, the same economy has slipped into the deeper recesses of the abyss. The flagship of the economy, the naira, has continued to lose its value at the foreign exchange market. This was largely as a result of a weak export capacity of the country. Nigeria suffers imbalance of trade almost in all sectors outside crude oil. The dwindling fortunes from oil sales meant that Nigeria’s forex earnings also dipped. The Buhari government failed to take proactive measures to stem the tide. Many have suggested devaluation of the naira but the President resisted it, arguing that previous devaluation of the currency did more harm than good to the economy. His hesitation coupled with a lack of well-articulated economy policy designed for an economy desperately in need of revival of its primary sector helped to kick the naira in its teeth. The currency depreciated further without a corresponding increase in the wages of workers thus degrading the purchasing power of Nigerians. But the general belief is that the naira has ‘devalued’ itself. It is currently trading at N350 to a dollar in the parallel market.
At a time, the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Godwin Emefiele, advised Mr. Buhari when he was still President-elect to consider selling off nearly half of Nigeria’s Joint Venture equity with multinational oil companies, to enable the new government raise a huge balance for immediate developmental projects. Experts say Nigeria stands to generate about N14.9 trillion, more than twice the country’s annual budget, which should be immediately ploughed into providing badly needed infrastructure.
But Buhari did not heed this advice, preferring instead to tinker with the nation’s oil behemoth, NNPC. The restructuring of NNPC has made the corporation a little more efficient but it leaves huge gaps in the oil and gas value chain.
The President deserves commendation in the manner he has harnessed all public sector earnings into the Treasury Single Account (TSA). It is a major breakthrough in the quest to block leakages in the system, but even this has slowed down payment processes. Former CBN Governor, Charles Soludo, described the TSA especially the manner it is being implemented, making the CBN the sole repository of public sector funds, as counter-productive. The immediate impact of this policy on deposit banks was a gale of retrenchment of staff. It spiraled to other sectors. Till this day, firms are still laying off employees on account of economic crunch.
Under Buhari, more jobs have been lost than at any time in the nation’s history. The oil and gas sector which usually acts as stabilizing force in the job market has witnessed large scale retrenchment. Some of the manufacturing firms that withstood the harsh Nigerian business clime over the years have closed shops. The Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry describes it as the worst time for manufacturing and general business in the nation’s history.
While the economy was sliding away, the likes of Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Nasir el-Rufai, Lai Mohammed, Rotimi Amaechi swarmed around the President with spins that out there, all was well with Nigerians. As the days wore on, Buhari had lost the goodwill that brought him to power. An opinion poll conducted by Political Economist showed that while most respondents still believe in the integrity of Mr. President, a lot more feel he has been alienated from the masses by the spin of propaganda conjured by the APC leadership. Many believe that Buhari has been misled by the neo-oligarchs in his party.
POWER and AVIATION
The poor economy tolled heavily on power delivery. The early gains in power supply soon faded into the heart of darkness. Nigeria’s power throughput has shrunk to an all-time low, hitting zero capacity at a time. The Minister in charge, Babatunde Raji Fashola, seems to be groping in the dark. He says Nigerians must pay higher tariff if they want any improvement. So, the people will pay for what they did not consume at a higher rate and still contend with excessively high petrol price. The end result is pain.
Following on the heels of poor power output is a dying aviation sector. As you read this, two major international airlines, United Airlines and Iberia, have stopped flying into Nigeria, citing difficulty in remitting their naira sales to their dollar accounts domiciled in their countries. In simple language, it is lack of ease of doing business that has chased them away. Other airlines are currently mulling this option. This is damaging for a nation desperately wooing foreign investors.
Over all, Buhari’s economic policies (some argue there is no clear-cut policy yet) have not fired up the economy, rather his inactions have weakened the economy further and it is tending towards recession – the very worst state of the nation’s economy since 1999.
The removal of oil subsidy clearly gives the Buhari government a face of deceit. The APC told Nigerians during the Goodluck Jonathan years that there was nothing like subsidy, that it was a PDP fraud. It was even described as ‘Jonathan tax’ and resisted through well-organised mass revolt. But less than a year into the life of the Buhari government, it removed subsidy on petrol and pushed the price to an all-time high of N145 per litre. In all of this, the wages of workers remained constant.
The outrage against the removal of subsidy by Jonathan was humungous led by today’s APC chieftains including Bola Tinubu, and their admirers namely “Occupy Nigeria”, “Save Nigeria” groups, ACN, Balarabe Musa, Dangiwa Umar, Wole Soyinka, Tunde Bakare to name just a few.
El-Rufai said in a media interview in January 2012: “If another government was in power, let us assume General Buhari was the President of Nigeria, he would not withdraw the subsidy. He will fix the problem. He will audit who is taking the money in the subsidy, who is paying what, how the money multiply three times in one year and fish out the thieves and deal with them”.
Today, the same el-Rufai, now nestled in APC, is singing a different song, defending the removal of subsidy. Ditto for Edo State governor, Adams Oshiomhole, Bola Tinubu and the horde of men and women who claimed there was nothing called subsidy.
In 2015, Tinubu said in his condemnation of President Jonathan’s attempt to remove subsidy: “Because he (Jonathan) is slave to wrong-headed economics, the people will become enslaved to greater misery. This crisis will bear his name and will be his legacy. The people now pay a steep tax for voting him into office. The removal of the subsidy is the “Jonathan tax”….. The situation shows that ideas count more than personalities. People may occupy office but how that person performs depends on the ideas that occupy his mind.”
In 2016, hear the same Tinubu justifying Buhari’s removal of subsidy: “President Buhari has, with this decision, put an abrupt and just end to this assault against our economy and political system. He has made a courageous and prudent decision. It is time to end the fuel subsidy and to begin to subsidise the true needs of the people. To Mr. President, I say congratulation for having the courage to remove the subsidy.”
Nigerians reeling under the harsh strain of the removal of subsidy have described the APC politicians as deceitful and hypocritical. “We are worse off today than we were under Jonathan, what has changed over time to make the removal of subsidy look so attractive as they are now painting it”?, queried Dr.Dickson Adeyanju who runs a clinic in Lagos. Worst hit by the removal of fuel subsidy are the small and medium enterprises (SMEs) who have to grapple with no public power supply and high cost of petrol.
It is very evident that in his first one year Buhari has largely tamed the Boko Haram insurgency in the north eastern part of the country. But he has by omission or commission created yet another security threat, this time by herdsmen who have overran communities from the north to the south committing pogrom. The Fulani herdsmen have killed Nigerians in their thousands, raped women and infants, engaged in raw stealing, kidnapping and all variants of crimes unchallenged. Though Buhari inherited this orgy of violence but it seemed to have blossomed under his watch like flowers in May.
Growing inflation and unemployment seemed to have contributed to the rising crime rate. Commuting Nigerians are waylaid on highways, robbed, killed and maimed, with abandon. What the nation gained in curtailing Boko Haram it lost to the scourge of the herdsmen.
Add to that, the growing unrest in the East and Niger Delta creeks where the military have brutally engaged members of the pro-Biafra groups, IPOB and MASSOB, and the agitating militants respectively in a war of attrition. The surprise however is that while Buhari has ordered full military onslaught against the pro-Biafra groups and the militants, he has refrained from doing so against the marauding herdsmen thus raising the tempo of insecurity not just in the north east but in the southern part of the country. But, put on a scale, the President has done more good than bad in the area of security.
If there is any prize to be won here, President Buhari deserves a gold medal. He hit the ground running in shuttle diplomacy, from Africa to Europe, Asia to America. He has toured the world in 12 months and the result is evidenced in the multinational collaboration against insurgency, enhanced bilateral relations with China, France, US and the United Kingdom. His war against corruption has received the blessings and support of the western world and the Arab nations. But the shuttle diplomacy has come at a huge cost if the revelation by Finance Minister, Kemi Adeosun, that Buhari and others spent N64 billion on foreign trips is to be believed.
This is the sector often mouthed by various Nigerian governments as the surest alternative to dependency on crude oil sales. Unfortunately, the focus on agriculture has remained largely verbal commitments and fitful attempts to practically grow crops and agricultural produce both for domestic consumption and for export. The Buhari government has not departed from this path of rhetoric. Rice and beans, two major staple, are still being imported. Ditto for chicken, fish and sundry dairies. But this administration is already showing signs that in the coming years, the Nigeria agriculture narrative would change from paper farming to real, productive farming.
FIGHT AGAINST CORRUPTION
True to his promise, Mr. Buhari has taken on the hydra called corruption with more vigour and intensity more than any past Nigerian leader. It was largely his promise to fight corruption that persuaded Nigerians to vote for him. He has scored very high in this regard, exposing the rot in the nation’s public sector. The complaint however is that the fight against corruption has been too partisan, targeted only at members of the opposition and their loyalists.
In spite of such complaint, the fight against corruption has garnered unprecedented momentum under the Buhari government and should it be sustained, the nation stands to gain hugely from the new push against the crime that has kept Nigeria wallowing in the gutter of underdevelopment. Many Nigerians from our field reports are in support of Mr. President in this regard but they fear the judiciary may stall the process of prosecution. The international community has queued behind the president and country after country has made commitment to repatriate stolen monies stashed away by Nigerians in their banking jurisdictions. Britain, US, France and the United Arab Emirates have particularly commenced processes that would lead to the repatriation of such funds. And they are in trillions of naira.
Aside the one-sided nature of the anti-corruption war, Buhari scores very high in this aspect of the social change and Nigerians stand behind him.
If President Buhari is to be judged by his one year in office, the score would be a colossal failure, an unmitigated disaster. His regime has aggravated the pains and anguish of Nigerians; his inactions and actions have resulted in massive job cuts. The manner his government manipulated the removal of fuel subsidy with somersaults and denials put a damaging veneer of deceit on his credentials. His refusal to devalue the naira and maintaining a parallel market with a wide differential margin against the official rate created a cartel of forex crooks.
The economics of dumping all monies with the CBN in a TSA has been criticized by economists as being clever by a half: though it was meant to block leakages and ensure accountability but it has denied commercial banks deposits with many of them having to downsize just to stay afloat.
But Mr. Buhari is a sincere, honest leader, though perceived as sectional, he stands the good chance to right all the wrongs of 12 months in the next 36 months. But for now, the verdict is not pleasant. Our President whom we trusted so much has failed us, Nigerians seem to say in utter regret.