Thursday, 24 September 2015

Is The APC Really Ready To Change Nigeria?

Buhari and Osinbajo - APC Change Agent
by: Niran Adedokun

It is true that the President Muhammadu Buhari administration has just spent a negligible four of its 48 months term. I understand that this period represents a paltry 8. 3 per cent of the entire tenure but then, it is also true that none of these 180 days will ever come back.

Someone likened opportunities to sunrises which you will miss if you wait too long. This is why a government which rode on the affection of the bulk of the people of Nigeria should have seized the opportunity of that fondness, which will not last forever, to set its promise of change for Nigeria in motion.

This is more so because in Nigeria, governance only goes on for a little more than two of the four years of an administration’s term. By the two and half years mark, permutations and scheming for the next election start to take over and governance is left to suffer. That is one reason why there is no time to waste in public office in Nigeria.

The President and his All Progressives Congress have tried to assure the citizens that work is going and that Nigerians do not seem to realise that because of the extent of the “rot” of the 16 years of the governance of Nigeria by the Peoples Democratic Party.

As a result, they have argued, this administration has been busy dismantling the mountains of impunity and misgovernance, especially of the immediate past administration of President Goodluck Jonathan. Except that we have had more verbiage than actual evidence about that.

But that is beside the point, what a lot of those critical of this administration think is that the PDP and its members may truly have packed Nigeria into a coffin while the country still has some life, but it is now in the hands of the APC to nail that coffin or fling it open and give the country a new lease of life. And the gesture, one way or the other, deserves some urgency.

One of the things this government is expected to have accomplished in the past four months is to have cultivated the National Assembly and got the best out of it while everyone is still feeling fresh from the elections. Truth be told, no matter how much the executive arm tries in a presidential system of government, frostiness in its relations with the legislature is as sure as night and day. As a result, democratic governments are ideally expected to exploit the first few moments in their administration to get the best from the legislature before vested interests creep in. This administration has not only lost that opportunity, the chance that it would ever take advantage of its party’s majority in the legislature gradually evaporates like water in the sun.

I also imagined that the administration would take advantage of the adulation that heralded it to take tough but necessary decisions in the interest of the country. One of such is the termination of the subsidy regime on petrol.

At the end of June, 2015, The PUNCH reported that the Federal Government incurred the sum of N56.784bn in petrol subsidy arrears in Buhari’s first months. Quoting data from the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency’s website, the report said that the country took petrol subsidy arrears to the tune of N47.32 per day on one litre of petrol. And at the beginning of this week, reports indicated that the sum may have hit the N500bn mark!

Yet, the President is said to find no justification for the removal of subsidy on petrol in spite of counsel from experts including the Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, which he recently appointed.

Apart from the trillions of naira that the country will continue to spend on subsidy, the President seems not to realise that challenges like sabotage, vandalism, corruption and mismanagement attend this subsidy regime. For as long as petrol sells cheaper here than in other countries on the borders of Nigeria for instance, oil theft is not likely to stop and depending on the character of superintendents over relevant agencies to solve the problems is not unsustainable. Reforming procedures is absolutely more effective than the replacement of personnel, a point that I am not sure the President takes seriously.

But then, it would be unfair not to see the President’s point of view concerning the removal of subsidy. Aside from insisting that corruption and a few other things account for the problems in the oil and gas sector, the President is averse to subsidy removal because of the effect that it would have on the personal economy of the common man.

Speaking after receiving a briefing from the Ministry of Petroleum Resources, the NNPC and other agencies in the oil sector in July, Buhari was quoted as saying that “When you touch the price of petroleum products that has the effect of triggering price rises on transport, food and rents. That is for those who earn salaries, but there are many who are jobless and will be affected by it.” That is quite considerate of the President but I do not know how far populism takes a government that promised to reform a country where compromise thrives.

It is in the same breath that I do not understand this week’s exemption of the NNPC and 12 other agencies from operating the Treasury Single Account which Buhari ordered last August. This flip-flop is pathetic because the NNPC, given several allegations of misapplication and misappropriation of national revenue, inspired the idea of the TSA in the first instance. So, was this idea not well-thought out from the outset?

Another important task before this government is the reform of the civil service. This should not be restricted to just merging Ministries, Departments and Agencies but must address the overblown size of the service, reduce, if not totally eradicate, redundancies and reposition it for efficient delivery. But will the government be willing to go this stretch? Will it realise that laying off excess weight is not necessarily anti-people provided those affected get their entitlements promptly and receive capacity building support for productive entrepreneurial opportunities?

Of course, government will face a lot of opposition if it contemplates this proposition but so is the essence of change. I recall the hostilities between President Olusegun Obasanjo’s government and the Adams Oshiomhole-led Nigeria Labour Congress on the imperatives of reforming the Pensions regime in Nigeria. The same can also be said of what the Jonathan administration faced with the National Union of Electricity Employees. A government interested in reform must be visionary and dogged in the pursuit of its vision.

The change that Nigerians voted for is one meant to recreate a society blessed with all the ingredients of growth and reverse the stymied potential of an abundantly endowed country.

In the pursuit of that, the people being emotional and desirous of instant gratification may abandon the government and criticise it or hate it but even then, a volte-face will be no option for the government.

Let the APC be advised that not even the prospect of losing the 2019 elections should make it abandon the promise that it made to Nigerians. No matter what the people say, nothing, other than an error fatal to the end goal should make the government waiver in the determination to turn this country around. It is desirable that the administration regularly converses with the people in the execution of its plan, but no opposition should be strong enough to terminate well-thought out reform initiatives from which the country will ultimately benefit.

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