President Muhammadu Buhari is two years old in office. A mid-term review will provide the government the opportunity to appraise its performance so far and set a new agenda for the remaining two years.
The Buhari administration should be judged by the standard it had set for itself; that is, by comparing its performance with the electoral promises. In 2015, the All Progressives Congress (APC) made some promises, all of which could be classified into three: improving security; tackling corruption and carrying out economic reform.
Of the three, analysts are unanimous that the Buhari administration has acquitted itself creditably in securing the country and sanitising the system through the fight against corruption.
The Buhari administration was rated high for restoring normalcy in the northeast, following the decimation of the Boko Haram insurgents. The people of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states now live their normal life. No part of the region or the country is under the control of the terrorists.The fight against corruption is also on the front burner.To a large extent, the consequence of corruption has crept in. One analyst puts it this way: “To a large extent, one would say that there is a consciousness now, even when you interface with government officials that one should not be given to corrupt tendencies. This is something that was not there. What we had before are situations, where people were lawless, unscrupulous and doing things with impunity.”
However, Nigerians have listed areas that the government should focus and make appreciable impact before 2019, when it is expected to give full account of its stewardship.
Nigerians are complaining about the country’s declining macro-economic fundamentals that have translated into hardships on their lives, mainly in the form of inflation, which has seen price increases across the board and a depreciated currency, which has affected people’s purchasing power. The recession has continued to bite harder. Companies lay off workers, others are reducing salaries; businesses are collapsing and the fate of the naira remains uncertain. Nigerians are unanimous on the economy.
Though Buhari has reassured the nation that the recession will end this year, Nigerians want it to come to end faster because life is becoming tougher daily.
Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) Secretary-General, Mr Anthony Sani, agreed that the economy is in a crisis, not caused by the Buhari administration. He said the challenges of the economy were obvious. To him, the Buhari administration has been pro-active in tackling the problems.
Sani explains: “You would recall when the last regime took over in May 2010, the GDP hovered around seven per cent (7%) ; oil price was about $100; foreign reserve was over $45 billion ; excess crude was $22 billion; N150 exchanged for one dollar.
“But by the time the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) handed over in May 2015, the GDP had dropped to three per cent; foreign reserves dipped to about $30 billion; excess crude account to $2 billion; N197 exchanged for a dollar while the government borrowed to pay salaries as many states owed their workers many months. All these signpost recession that has engulfed the economy.”
The ACF scribe observed that what the government had done was to remove fuel subsidy in the hope of freeing money for other productive areas to attract new refineries. He said the government had also restricted import of essential raw materials, machinery and essential services. The aim was to encourage Nigerians to depend on what they produced, instead of depending on imports from oil wealth that is not result of hard work, Sani said.
He said so far, there had been some improvements in agricultural production of rice that reduced import and saved foreign exchange. The high prices of foods, according to him, are caused by paucity of foreign exchange for import. “This comes with low value of the naira. It is hoped high prices of locally produced foods would attract able bodied Nigerians to the farms and reduce unemployment as well as force the prices down.
“There has been hue and cry against multiple values of the dollar in the market which encourages round tripping rather than production, and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has been called upon to take necessary actions towards merging the values for performance. We hope such effort by the CBN will yield positive results for larger interest. But such positive developments are not a day’s job. Nigerians needed to be patient and note that any process which requires surgical intervention cannot be without pain,” he said.
A lawyer, Chief Emeka Ngige (SAN), has advised the government to re-jig its economic team. He said nobody knew the economic adviser to the Federal Government. He noted that Acting President Yemi Osinbajo, who is the Chairman of National Economic Council (NEC), is not an economist.
Ngige insisted that the government needed economists that would assist the Acting President, the CBN and the Minister of Finance to produce economic plans that would see us through the recession, otherwise the country would remain stagnant; there would be no growth. In tackling the economic problem, the Federal Government should put square pegs in square holes, he said.
A political scientist, Professor Ayo Olukotun, said the people expect from Buhari a quick end to the economic woes and sufferings accentuated by the galloping inflation. His comment was corroborated by a student activist, Tolu Ajayi, who could not understand why the minimum wage still remained N18,000, despite that the government had increased the price of fuel by 80 per cent, with its attendant effect on transportation and the prices of foodstuff. He said: “We, the children of the down trodden, expect this government to increase minimum wage because N18,000 is no longer realistic in the face of the economy in the country.”
Civil rights activist, Comrade Mashood Erubami, said the Buhari administration should not be blamed for the economic hardship in the country because it inherited a comatose economy from the immediate past administration. Notwithstanding, he said the Buhari’s team have come out with recovery action plans matched with implementation strategies through coordinating efforts to lift the country up and meet the expectation of the people.
Erubami noted that Buhari came into office when the production of oil, which is the key supportive resources that the economy relies on, was at its lowest ebb with attendant dwindling revenue.
According to him, what is working in favour of the Buhari administration is that the production of oil is steadily on the increase due to the excellent conflict management strategies adopted with the masterminds of pipeline vandalism which calmed the restiveness in the Niger Delta, adding that with this development, the economy would bounce back very soon.
He said for Buhari government to build the foundation of a new Nigeria, it must within the next one year bring about measures, which will challenge past wrong business ethics and unethical political culture among the business class and the politicians.
Sani recalled that though the experts advised the government to exit the recession, through re-flating the economy by massive spending on infrastructure and increase supply of foreign exchange, the government opted to borrow $30 billion but the National Assembly balked. He said this had created the impression that both the executive and the legislature do not take the challenges posed by the recession serious. I, therefore, expect the government to take the issues of the economy more serious lest its achievements in the fight against the twin evil of insecurity and corruption will come to nought.
On the fight against corruption, Ngige advised the government to be total. He said the effort of the government in purging the judiciary of corrupt elements is half measure. “It is like cutting a snake. When you cut the snake into two, it does not mean it is dead; it will come out more venomous and dangerous. There should be serious consideration in wiping out corrupt elements in judiciary; there are many of them, otherwise we shall have problems in 2019 because the judiciary will play a crucial role in 2019 general elections.”
Ngige believes if the government succeeds in fighting corruption, there will be consistent power supply all over the country; there will be infrastructure development. He said the report from the House of Representatives probe of Public Procurement departments that some people are subverting the law in contract awards was disturbing. ‘’I am praying and hopeful that President Buhari will come back in good health and resume work to take Nigeria to greater heights,’’ he said.
Ajayi advised the Buhari administration to fight corruption without bias. He noted that some prominent people who looted the treasury have been arrested and charged to court; some have returned the money stolen while others are in detention. However, he said Nigerians expect the government to ensure the fight cut across all political parties.
Erubami suggested that former politicians, who have pending corruption cases with anti-corruption agencies and courts, should be tried expeditiously with their cases concluded without any undue pressure from government to allow justice to take its course.
“Cases of petroleum subsidy scam, PHCN scam, $9.7 million failed arms contract and police pension scam should be relisted and concluded to send strong signal to every citizen that corruption has become a crime in Nigeria and whoever is caught will be prosecuted and if found guilty will be sentenced to appropriate self financing imprisonment.
“Those that have been exposed to have amassed government money should equally be sanctioned to discourage others that government money will no more be available to be used for private ends while every kobo stolen should be caused to be refunded into government covers for public use.
“Enforcement of the provisions of the laws in the EFCC, ICPC and Code of Conduct Acts must become a very serious undertaking, strengthened and used to foreclose the ease with which stealing of government fund and bribe taking are being committed.
“New courts must be specially set aside to try corruption cases with time bound from the National Judicial Council (NJC). New laws that will sentence culprits to community services on environmental cleaning services in the communities where the culprits come from should be added to the list of operative laws to punish the offences of corruption.”
Nigerians also want the Buhari administration to submit itself to the rule of law. They are critical of the administration’s constant disobedience of court orders, saying the government find it very difficult to obey court orders except the ones that are favourable to it. Examples of cases where the government have disobeyed court orders include former National Security Adviser (NSA) Col. Sambo Dasuki and Sheikh Ibrahim El-Zakzaky are still in detention, despite court orders for their release.
A lawyer, Mr Babatunde Ekundayo, said the government disobedience of court order was dangerous. He emphasised that the rule of law must be complied with by the government and the governed. Once the court has granted bails to suspects, they must be released. The only option left is to appeal the court order but you can’t hold them.
Ekundayo said keeping Dasuki, El-Zazaky and other suspects after the court had granted them bails make mockery of our judiciary. All of us, the government and citizens must submit to the rule of law and due process, he said.
Other areas that Olukotun expects the Buhari administration to address before 2019 are the herdsmen rampage, improvement in the quality of education, health and infrastructure and restructuring of the federation, job creation for the unemployed graduates, improved power supply.