Last Friday, May 29, 2020 marked the fifth anniversary of Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) as a civilian President. Buhari, as you may recall, was a former Head of State between December 31, 1983 and August 27, 1985. He could be said to be a favoured child having previously served a military administrator, minister, Chairman of the defunct Petroleum Trust Fund, Head of State and now a civilian President. In the annals of Nigerian history, only he and Olusegun Obasanjo had served as both military head of state and thereafter as President.
However, his journey to becoming the President did not come on a silver platter. He only got lucky at the fourth attempt after botched attempts in 2003, 2007 and 2011. But he made history as the first person in Nigeria to have defeated an incumbent president in an electoral contest!
Buhari means several things to several people. His admirers call him “Mai Gaskiya” that is, one who is honest to a fault. He is portrayed as a puritan, austere and humble leader. They say he is a man of the masses who is selfless, patriotic and conscientious. He was projected as the silver bullet to solve all Nigeria’s socio-economic malaise. On the other hand, his traducers see him as a religious bigot, a provincial leader and ethnic jingoist. More often than not, his political appointments are said to be lopsided in favour of Northern Nigeria. His fierce opposition to the restructuring of the country is deemed to be as a result of his desire to maintain Northern Nigeria’s political hegemony over the rest of the country.
I have been privileged to be a guest analyst on several media platforms, both radio and television, to discuss the five years of the Buhari presidency since last week. The summary of my position is that the President is contributing his quota to national development. He has done some fantastic things to turn the country around positively, the same way some of his actions have given cause for concern. I intend to highlight some of these fortes and foibles.
Buhari came to power in 2015 on a mantra of change. He promised a new normal in the areas of economy, anti-corruption and security. Interestingly, these three are not mutually exclusive. They are intertwined. The President inherited a comatose economy with all the development indices pointing southwards. Nigeria was doing badly in the Ease of Doing Business, Inflation, unemployment, and infrastructural deficit. No sooner did he take over the reins of power than the country slipped into economic recession in the second quarter of 2016. Initially, things appeared to be moving from bad to worse but the President and his lieutenants were able to steer the ship of nation out of the stormy waters and got the country out of recession. Today, Nigeria has bested South Africa to become the biggest economy in Africa.
In 2017, the administration came up with the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan. The fundamental objectives of the ERGP (2017 – 2020), according to the document, are “sustained inclusive growth to consolidate national cohesion; a structural economic transformation; improving efficiency in both public and private sector; increasing national productivity; achieving sustainable diversification of production; to significantly grow the economy and achieving maximum welfare for the citizens by ensuring food and energy security”. With diligent implementation, the country’s economy has been diversified to the point that non-oil sector’s contribution to the Gross Domestic Product has been significantly increased. The country has heavily cut down on its food importation by growing local food production.
The regime launched the “Buy Made in Nigeria” and with funding support from the Central Bank of Nigeria under the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme has been able to incentivise thousands of farmers to go into local rice production, animal husbandry and poultry. These measures have significantly reduced the country’s dependent on foreign rice and poultry products. In order to protect local agribusiness, the Federal Government on August 20, 2019 partially shut Nigeria’s borders with its neighbours. According to the Nigerian Customs Service, this measure has considerably cut down smuggling of rice, poultry products, used clothes and vehicles into the country just as it has also cut down the smuggling of petroleum products from Nigeria to neighbouring countries. Concomitantly, it has exponentially increased the revenue of the customs.
Under the previous administrations, fuel scarcity was very rampant but this regime has largely stabilised domestic fuel sufficiency. Unfortunately, in spite of increase in the pump price of Premium Motor Spirit better known as petrol from N87 to N145 in May 2016, the regime has failed signally to stop importation of refined petroleum products thereby making the country to lose billions of naira in fuel subsidy scams. Increased pipeline vandalism and illegal bunkering had led to huge revenue loss. In order to shore up the country’s internally generated revenue, N50 Stamp Duty payment was charged on certain categories of bank transactions. However, how much has been realised from this fund generating measures is left to conjecture.
In spite of huge resources pumped into electricity power generation, transmission and distribution, the country still gropes in pitch darkness. While I admit that there has been some improvement in power supply, it is still too little to drive the economy. Many Nigerian homes and government businesses are still being powered by privately procured generators. This has exponentially increased the cost of doing business. It was hoped that with the increase in electricity tariff, there would be better service delivery. Unfortunately, that has not been the case. Yet, no national economy can be sustained on private power generation.
In President Buhari’s first tenure, he attempted to run a small government by scraping some ministries and merging them with others. He also reduced his cabinet from 42 under the Jonathan administration to 36 between 2015 and 2019. However, he shocked Nigerians by constituting a 43-member cabinet in his second term. This has made a mockery of the mantra of reducing the cost of governance. Ironically, this regime has not done well in the area of job creation, reduction of unemployment and poverty alleviation. The nation’s unemployment has risen to 23 per cent while the country is home to the most extreme poor people in the world, according to the World Poverty Clock in 2018.
The most mind-boggling thing the President has done since coming to power in 2015 is the exponential increase in the debt profile of the country. Nigeria’s debt profile since 2015 has more than tripled under this regime with more borrowings still being sought to fund the country’s budget deficit. Just last week, the President had written to seek approval for an additional $5.513bn after the National Assembly recently approved a loan of N850bn for the Federal Government, while another $22.79bn, which the Senate had approved, is pending before the House of Representatives.
In order to improve the economy, the President has strengthened the country’s anti-corruption institutions such as the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal, Bureau of Public Procurement, Fiscal Responsibility Commission and even the Nigeria Police. Just recently, after the passage of the Police Equipment Trust Fund by the National Assembly and the assent to the bill by the President, Buhari appointed Suleiman Abba, a former inspector-general of police, as chairman of the Police Trust Fund board. This is heartwarming.
In the area of anti-corruption, billions of naira and foreign currencies have been recovered from looters while a lot of assets of fraudulent people had been seized. Top military brass including a former Chief of Defence Staff, Chief of Air Staff and even Chief Justice of Nigeria had been put on trial for corrupt practices under this administration. Millions of dollars of Abacha loot had also been received from abroad. The anti-corruption agencies have also recorded more convictions under this regime than any previous regime. Though it did not introduce the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System, Treasury Single Account, and Bank Verification Number, the Buhari regime has been implementing these anti-corruption tools through which trillions of naira has been saved.
However, some analysts have accused the anti-corruption agencies of selective arrests, investigations and prosecutions. They claim the chieftains of opposition political parties are being targeted on allegations of corrupt practices.
The high rates of unemployment and poverty have worsened the security situation in the country such that at some point the country had the highest number of internally displaced persons in the world. Insurgency in the North-West, rural banditry and kidnapping in the North-West, herder-farmer clashes in the North-Central, armed robbery, cultism, rape and other acts of criminality pervaded the entire country.
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