At a period like this when the cloud over Nigeria seems to be that of doom and gloom, it’s easy for the challenging job of keeping the country together and afloat to be unrecognized.
In an uncanny manner, President Muhamadu Buhari, who turned 74 last Saturday, 17/12/2016, seems to be the one often saddled with the responsibility of leading Nigeria at periods when the nation’s economy has been practically brought to its knees.
The first time was on December 31, 1983, about 33 years ago,when Buhari, who was barely 41 years old at that time, imposed on himself, the responsibility of rescuing Nigeria when the nation was weighed down by myriads of socioeconomic challenges symbolized by what was then referred to as Container Armada-Huge numbers of cargo containers with imported items literarily littering the ports.
The deluge of containers epitomized the wastefulness of the previous regime which was at that time satiated with petrol dollars, as the price of the commodity was soaring in the skies.
Until Western powers, according to conspiracy theorists, sabotaged oil prices, to the extent that it crashed to as low as $10 per barrel, Nigeria was like a typical Arab nation that was flush with oil money and whose citizens therefore became spend thrifts.
But the difference was that while Arab countries or gulf states as they are now referred to, they also have relatively less population compared to Nigeria’s estimated 180 million and their leaders are also good negotiators and strategic thinkers hence their oil wealth was used to create new economies in trade and tourism.
It is not by sheer happenstance that one of the emirates in the United Arab Emirates, UAE, a major gulf state,Dubai is now the Paris of the Arab world and this happened after less than three decades of deliberate efforts to convert the quaint little boat building emirate into a trade and tourism hub for the Middle East and indeed the world.
As a reflection of Nigeria’s lack of development foresight, one time military head of state, Yakubu Gowon reportedly made a statement that money was not Nigeria’s problem, but how to spend it.
So rather than building roads, sea and air ports, bridges,hospitals and other new economy supporting infrastructure, as the Arabs have done in the gulf states,in 1977, under Olusegun Obasanjo, then military head of state,Nigeria went on a binge by organizing Festival of Arts And Culture, FESTAC, a carnival of sorts promoting so called black civilization where petrol dollars were lavishly spent without developing a sustainable roadmap to harness the tourism potentials.
It may be recalled that at about same time,Nigeria also incurred the wrath of Western powers when it made the liberation of the frontline states of Zimbabwe and South Africa from apartheid, the center point of its foreign policy. As part of the implementation of that policy, British and United States investments in Nigeria were nationalized when those countries failed to support the abolishment of apartheid , and that also turned out to be a diplomatic faux pax and policy disaster, because in spite of the gallant efforts put up by Nigeria to liberate the South African region from the shackles of white minority rule and the hefty price paid in terms of retaliatory measures, Nigeria did not as much as get a thank you from Zimbabwe or South Africa after their liberation.
The reward for the efforts put into the struggle by Nigeria could have been tied to investments that could have been recouped later as the USA did when it received oil in return for liberating Kuwait from lraq after Saddam Hussein led its invasion.
It was also a thankless effort and colossal sums of money flushed down the drain when Nigeria got involved in the settlement of the civil wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone through the funding of ECOMOG intervention force.
Apart from flexing her military muscle that resulted in fame or notoriety, depending on who you talk to, Nigeria never enjoyed any economic benefits from the diplomatic and military interventions in Southern Africa region and Liberia as well as Sierra Leone, where most of the nation’s wealth got sunk and which also became the grave yard of gallant Nigerian soldiers and journalists
The politicians who took over from the military were equally not far sighted enough to invest in the future through infrastructure development , so they too embarked on a spending spree instead of establishing Internet cities, medical cities, and creating new economies as the UAE has continued to with Dubai.
Unsurprisingly, like the proverbial fool who is soon parted with his wealth, when the carpet was pulled from under her feat, like Humpty Dumpty, Nigeria fell from her lofty heights.
As an aftermath of the major slump in crude oil price,then president -now elder statesman,Shehu Shagari etal were caught napping as evidenced by containers in the ports which reflected the business as usual mode of the ruling political class whose profligacy- such as naming champagne (Akinloye champagne) after themselves, stunk to high heavens.
Upon seizing power in 1983, Buhari engaged in the Herculean task of cleaning up the proverbial Augean stable with great vigor and high sense of patriotism, but the complexities of the malaise required deeper understanding of economic matters than sheer zeal,so the socioeconomic changes that then young general attempted to foist on the country could not yield meaningful results or impart positively on the populace, so he left office, broken hearted .
Although, Nigerians welcomed him in 1983 as a relieve from the profligacy of the politicians who had messed up the economy, under the threat of the barrel of guns, he was ousted by his colleagues who did not buy in to his modus operandi.
But in 2015 Buhari returned to Nigeria’s highest seat of power, after he had become a democrat and sought the consent of Nigerians, via electoral process, to one more time try to pull the nation back from the brinks of collapse.
How well the soldier turned democrat has faired in the task?
The answer lies in the stock taking exercise being undertaken in this article as Buhari turned 74 years old last Saturday.
All indications at this point is that mr president is poised to surpass the 20 months milestone of being in Nigeria’s leadership saddle-a threshold he could not cross in his first incarnation as military head of state between December,1983 to August,1985 because he was toppled barely 20 months into office.
If nothing else, president Buhari’s personal lifestyle of frugality appears to have mitigated the wastefulness in the application of public funds in the nearly 20 months of the captainship of the ship of state by the man fondly referred to by admirers as ‘mr integrity’.
However, perceptions are often unreal as the reality reflected in the proposed 2017 budget is that the projected recurrent expenditure will be going up to N2.98 trn compared N2.65 trn apportioned in 2016.
In effect, despite the presumed aversion to waste by president Buhari, recurrent expenditure in the 2017 budget proposal seem to be going up in practical terms.
Given the scenarios above, the pertinent question would be: is president Buhari ready to sustain his reputation for zero tolerance for corruption and Spartan outlook to life or turn a new leadership leaf of acquiescence with corruption as he turns 74?
To achieve a fair assessment or make a correct projection, it is apropos to base the review of president Buhari’s nearly 20 months in Aso Rock on the three prong policy thrust of his administration which are elimination of corruption, end to insecurity and improved economy.
Being president Buhari’s flagship on his current tour of duty, he has understandably had his most accomplishments in the sector.
So let’s give mr president an applause for the outstanding accomplishments in reducing corruption which had become systemic during his predecessor’s tenure. Although the feat of reversing the culture of impunity has come at a cataclysmic cost, as evident by the grounding of the economy,huge sums of money has been recovered and seemingly untouchables, like Supreme Court judges are being held accountable, even as the jury is still out on the efficacy of the somewhat crude methods adopted.
Despite his stern disposition, Buhari also has milk of kindness hence he decided to bail out states which could not pay workers salaries due to financial challenges.
In an article entitled “Greece and Nigeria: A Tale Of Two Bailouts ” l had vigorously argued that Nigerian govt authorities should subject the 36 state Govts being bailed out of insolvency last year via the injection of the dividends from govt’s investments in NLNG, to similar rigorous financial prudence that European financial institutions applied in granting Greece a bailout.
The kernel of my argument then was that if the attitude of gluttony by public officials don’t change, the governors would soon after, come back cap in hand, like Oliver Twist asking for more.
And that’s exactly what happened.
But instead of being discouraged by the negative experience, govt decided to convert the lapse to strength by making the conditionality for the next bail out very stringent.
Now, public officials have become more conformist than non conformist with prudence in the management of subsequent bailouts and a similar attitude may be applied by the state’s in the management of the current refund from the excess payment made by the federal Govt to the world bank and lMF as it was exiting the Paris club debt and which is now being returned to states to boost their local economies.
By and large, corruption may not be dead in Nigeria but a death knell has been sounded by Buhari’s regime and public funds are being handled with more care.
That much was captured in my article titled “Now That President Buhari has Delivered on Loot Recovery” published widely in mainstream and online platforms and in which l argued that with an estimated ten billion dollars $10b or nearly four trillion Naira , N4trn so far recovered from treasury looters, between 29th May last year to 30th June this year, (all are not in cash) president Buhari’s government will occupy a pride of place in history as the one that has recovered the most loots from plunderers of Nigeria’s treasury since independence, some fifty six, 56 years ago.
But there is a blithe as mr president would not escaped being unscathed by corruption odium given the plethora of allegations against members of his cabinet.
Worst of all, the corruption allegations involve the so called ‘kitchen’ cabinet members who critics allege are ‘swimming’ in corruption cesspool but they are not bring sanctioned and thus prompting cynics to conclude that double standards are being applied in president Buhari’s anti corruption war.
As the saying goes, when you fight corruption, it fights you back and unlike most people, l don’t regard that dictum as offensive.
In my opinion, it simply means that he who wants equity must come with clean hands. Having said that, there should be no room for sanctimonious indignation when fighting corruption, as such anybody that wants to fight corruption must be ready to be put through the crucible to prove his or incorruptibility too.
What the current situation suggests is that although president Buhari may have zero tolerance for corruption, members of the public don’t perceive those around him as being cut from same cloth as some of them have been smeared.
A situation whereby some cabinet ministers, Aso Rock Villia chieftains and even secretary to federal govt are being accused of being involved in one corrupt practice or the other and critics allege that mr president appears to be turning blind eyes to the allegations, leaves bad taste in the mouth.
Expectedly, opponents are railing against mr president on the ground that instead of trying to live above board by investigating the accused members of his inner caucus, as he did with those from other arms of Govt who were similarly accused of corruption,like senate president, Bukola Saraki and his deputy, lke Ekweremadu that were docked as well as two Supreme Court justices and other high ranking judges that are currently being arraigned, mr president allowed such matters that may diminish his rugged anti corruption credential to fester.
The situation sort of validated the notion that mr president is treating members of his cabinet like blue eye princes by not investigating them , hence opponents argue that president Buhari has to remove the log in his own eyes, before asking Nigerians to remove the spec in theirs.
No doubt, the misfortune befalling mr president’s close associates may be stemming from political machinations orchestrated by political foes, but that’s politics for you and democracy in action.
As the conventional wisdom goes: those who live in glass houses should not throw stones.
Inevitably, for the anti graft crusade to be efficacious,it should be a long race that must transcend president Buhari’s regime, so it therefore needs to be institutionalized.
The assertion above is underscored by a statement credited to outgoing USA president, Barrack Obama whose admonition to African leaders during one of his visits is that : Africa needs strong institutions, not strongmen.
I recall that during the tenure of late Umaru Yar’Adua as president, his close associate James lbori was accused of corruption by the EFCC.
The late president was told to sign a waiver for Ibori not to be arrested and that could have amounted to shielding his associate, but sensing that it was a set up that would compromise his anti corruption stance, Yar’adua declined and lbori was arrested and detained in kaduna prison by the EFCC for about 62 days.
At the end of the ordeal , lbori went to court to defend himself and all the charges were quashed in a competent court of law for lack of substance.
Forget the kangaroo arrangement in the Uk where lbori was subsequently jailed due to political motivations and which has now blown open like a rotten egg stinking into the nostrils of British metropolitan police and crown prosecution counsel where the unwholesome deal was allegedly sealed.
Bottomline is that Yar’Adua’s anti corruption dossier remained intact because he did not compromise.
Strikingly, president Buhari has now risen to the occasion by ordering an investigation into the allegation against his ‘men’, if the recent press release attributed to Garba Shehu, his spokesman, is anything to go by.
That statesmanly gesture is a great mark of honor and one of the very significant leadership by example traits, so far exhibited by president Buhari.
Only a good military general and an honorable leader can fall on his sword by arraigning and possibly sacking the accused members of his cabinet ,if they are found to be culpable.
In the USA where presidential system of governance model of democracy was borrowed, president elect, Donald Trump is alleged to have awarded contracts estimated to be over $12m to his group of companies known as Trump organization from his campaign funds which is essentially public funds raised by members of the public for his campaign.
Strictly speaking, has Trump broken the law against awarding himself or his companies contract as David Babachar Lawal, the secretary to the federal govt is being accused of doing in Nigeria?
Just flying a kite !
Given the fact that Nigeria was in the throes of death as it was struggling to unshackle itself from the stranglehold of terrorism when Buhari took the reins of power about 20 months ago , Nigerians can now heave a sigh of relieve following the drastic reduction in the menace of Boko haram terrorism, and that is no mean achievement.
Forget the fact that there are still pockets of resistance here and there resulting in a handful of deaths via suicide bombings and most of the unfortunate Chibok girls kidnapped by Boko haram-purveyors of misery, are still in captivity nearly 1000 days after , but the terrorist group , which is nothing but merchants of death, holds no territories in Nigeria anymore.
Back in the dark days, no day passed by without scores of innocent citizens being butchered in cold blood by Boko haram- nefarious ambassadors.
Today Christians attend churches and Muslims worship in mosques without mingling with heavily armed members of the armed forces deployed to protect them.
Outgoing president of the United States of America, USA, Barack Obama touted the fact there was no single act of terrorism of the magnitude of 9/11 in the USA during his 8 years tour of duty as a major accomplishment.
After all, it was under former president George W Bush’s watch, that the unfortunate incident of terror attacks on the twin towers in New York and the pentagon, that resulted in the demise of about 3000 people occurred in September, 11,2001.
What’s more, the dreaded sambisa forest which was the operational headquarters of Boko haram terrorists, has now been more or less liberated.
Same thing can not be said of Mosul in Iraq which used to be mentioned in the same breath with Nigeria on matters of global terrorism but which remains the headquarters of Islamic State,ISIS-the foremost terror group in the world. This is despite the fact that terrorism in that country is being tackled by a coalition of forces including the USA, major European and some Arab armies.The international support being received by Iraqi govt is quite the opposite of the situation in Nigeria where even without any meaningful help from Western powers like USA that has denied Nigeria of weapons to prosecute the war, thanks to president Buhari’s dexterity and tenacity of purpose, Boko haram has been highly weakened in Nigeria while Mosul is still under the yoke of ISIS.
That’s some something to cheer about.
Syria which was in a similar situation with Nigeria, in terms of terrorism could not liberate Aleppo from the clutches of the rebel forces,who made it their enclave until a couple of days ago.
This is in spite of the massive support that Syria is receiving from Russia, which has razed Aleppo down through ferocious aerial bombardments and the ground attack driven by the notoriously lethal lranian armed forces.
How about Libya, which has degenerated from where it was on equal pedestal,as a terrorist zone, with Iraq,Afghanistan, Syria and Nigeria, into a failed state without respite in sight.
Compared to Libya, Nigeria has also recorded giant strides in safeguarding its citizens which is why president Buhari can be adjudged to have done relatively well as he has not allowed Nigeria to literally fall off the cliff or descend into a Hobbesian state like Libya in terms of terrorism or Venezuela, with respect to economic instability.
It needs pointing out that even Nobel laureates in economists like Joseph Stiglitz, and Paul krugman, who at one time or the other have been economic advisers to the world bank or lMF have gotten economic policy measures wrong at the world bank. By the same token other supra national organizations in the United Nations, UN group, have so to speak,put their foot in it, by promoting wrong policies in areas ranging from climate change to birth control in what is generally referred to as Washington consensus.
So mistakes in economic prognosis and recommendation of deficient panaceas are common and often acceptable especially if the gaps are closed and more efficient and effective policies evolve from the mistakes .
It is in the context above, that l situate the economic measures and related mistakes so far recorded by Buhari’s govt.
Although Nigeria is amongst the crude oil exporting countries negatively impacted by the current global oil price melt down, the country did not become a basket case like Venezuela where the existential reality of life has been reduced to the base and banal level ,in part due to the recklessness of past and present leaders of the South American country and the unrealistic socialist slant of the state policies.
Slowly but surely ,it is dawning on mr president that his slow and steady wins the race philosophy underpinned by the story of the tortoise and the hare, has been over taken by speed and agility in decision making , which are essentially the new governance ingredients that could make or mar any Govt.
More so, in these days where Information travel at the speed of light and press releases and conferences are being supplanted by Twitter -favorite platform for USA president elect Donald Trump- in the manner that Internet rendered facsimile machines obsolete.
Happily, mr president has to a large extent toned down the rhetorics of tagging Nigeria and Nigerians as corrupt and he has also relaxed his vice grip on the management of economic policies by allowing market forces modulated by a committee of experts on economic matters headed by the Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, to take control.
Just before Xmas last year, Buhari directed that the Govt dividend of about $5b from her equity in NLNG should be disbursed to state govts as bailout loan to enable them pay back log of salaries owed civil servants.
Once again, at a most auspicious time of Yuletide, Buhari is lending a helping hand to state govts and by extension workers and society at large by authorizing the release of funds recovered from the excess payments made to IMF and world bank during the exit of Nigeria from the celebrated Paris club loan under the watch of president Olusegun Obasanjo and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as finance minister.
That gesture of releasing the funds to state govts in the light of dwindling revenue into the federation account owing to poor oil out put arising from pipeline vandalization in the Niger delta and melt down in global oil price , would bring succor to long suffering Nigerians who have been completely emasculated by the high rate of inflation approaching 20% and unemployment hovering around 15%.
The two initiatives mentioned above although unsung, are evidence that Buhari is not insensitive to the suffering of Nigerian masses.
Another bold initiative that would ‘drain the swamp’ in abuja of policy inconsistency and paralysis, especially in Aso Rock villa, is the review of redundant economic policies and procedures recently announced by the embattled finance minister, Kemi Adeosun,as the regime’s new 10 Point economic Roadmap.
The 10 points roadmap which aligns both fiscal and monetary policies of govt for more efficacious outcome, may turn out to be the much needed elixir to the myriad of challenges creating headwinds in the economy and may also serve as life buoy that would direct the wind towards the sail for the desired, but elusive changes required for steering the ship of state towards more progress in the polity and economy in 2017.
While researching for this article,l discovered that it was easier to find negative narratives about the govt in power than positive developments and clearly that does not suggest that no positive developments existed in the polity, but largely due to the fact that while negative news sells itself, good news is often a obfuscated, unless it is pushed.
The situation validates the dictum that it is easier to destroy than to build.
Last week, president Buhari presented a budget of N7.298 trn with recurrent expenditure portion having the lion share of N2.98 trn higher than the amount apportioned as capital vote which is N2.24 trn.
A substantial portion of the budget, N1.66 trn is also being allocated to debt servicing and yet these snags in the new budget were some of the negative fiscal policies that the ruling party used in castigating the previous govt as evidence of lack of progressive vision of development for Nigeria.
Another intriguing thing that president Buhari mentioned in his 2017 budget presentation to the joint session of the National Assembly is that 2016 budget recorded higher release of capital votes in excess of N700 billion in recent history, but the effect of the funds is not being felt in the market.
Perhaps this is due to the fact that most of the funds paid to contractors by Govt as mobilization are stuck in the banks where it is bring used to settle outstanding debts which arose from delays in honoring debt obligations by Govt due to the implementation of TSA policy and other legacy issues. These are salient facts that the public need to know.
What happened to the high electricity power generation that was attributed to mr president’s body language immediately after the new Govt assumed power last year?
On a lighter note, maybe electricity power saboteurs have sized up mr president and decided that they are not in his radar in the war against corruption, hence power generation and distribution are now at their lowest ebb and most Nigerians are now groping in darkness.
Has the power privatisation program started by the previous regimes gone askew, hence the near friction between the gencos and discos?
GOVERNMENT OWES NIGERIANS SOME EXPLANATION
As 2017 looms and president Buhari prepares to exceed his twenty months in office as president of the federal republic of Nigeria , a milestone that he could not cross as military head of state between Dec 31 1983 and August 1985, if he was superstitious,there could have been cause to approach the 20th month in office, which comes up next January with trepidation.
But Nigerians don’t fancy military jackboot or coups any more and as such, only a democratic process can threaten president Buhari’s position which he duly received from Nigerian voters during the presidential poll last year.
So as we go into the new year, although l’m not a soot sayer,mr president can sleep rest assured that he would remain our president in 2017 but he must be very prepared to institutionalize the change that he promised Nigerians, when he adopted it as his campaign mantra.
With more speed in decision making, harnessing nature by setting up more solar panel farms and windmills in the desert surrounding katsina, Katsina, kebbi and Kano states so that Nigerians would have alternative and renewable sources of energy as opposed to relying only on hydro in Kainji and Shiroro dams or gas for electricity from the Niger delta, president Buhari will be letting his actions speak more loudly for him and that would be much better than reliance on the mythical body language.
Finally, only if and when president Buhari makes the changes highlighted above to happen in 2017, would he no longer incur the wrath of Nigerians as has been the case throughout 2016.
As such, it is very important that ,in the coming year, President Buhari makes economic regeneration and rejuvenation, the fulcrum of his govt over and above the anti corruption war which has been mr president’s obsession in nearly 20 months of being on the saddle.
In conclusion, mr president needs no sooth sayer to inform him that his anti corruption war in a democratic setting (war is an anathema to democracy) is responsible for the hunger and starvation currently ravaging the country which he must not allow to stretch into the coming year.