Wednesday 8 June 2016

#MustRead: President Buhari: Three Years To Go

President Muhammadu Buhari
by: Niyi Akinnaso

President Muhammadu Buhari primarily based his presidential campaign on achieving three major goals: (1) to fight corruption; (2) to enhance national security; and (3) to revamp and diversify the economy. Of the four years he has to accomplish these goals, one is gone! Yet, much more has yet to be accomplished than he has been able to achieve.

True, the fight against corruption has recorded some successes and Boko Haram’s capabilities have been significantly degraded, not much has been accomplished on the economic front. However, rather than fail Buhari outright on this front, a concessional pass is in order if only for his courageous fight against corruption, which must be viewed as an attempt to lay a solid foundation for the economy. Any economy pivoted on corruption is like a basket being used as a receptacle for water.

That was particularly the case with the last Peoples Democratic Party administration, led by President Goodluck Jonathan, which rocked the very foundations of the nation’s economy, by blatantly looting the treasury, thus worsening the effects of the dip in oil prices and reduced production due to damage to oil installations by the Niger Delta militants. Events in the last year have shown clearly that, under Jonathan, oil funds were diverted into private accounts; defence funds, meant for fighting the Boko Haram insurgency, were converted into campaign funds; and oil marketers became racketeers, illegally profiteering from fuel subsidy funds. Yet, Jonathan failed to make provisions for fuel subsidy in the 2015 budget, leaving the debt for his successor on top of a virtually empty treasury.

Another symbol of the low ebb to which Jonathan dragged the economy into, but which many may have forgotten, was the precipitous drop in power generation to an unprecedented low of 1,327 megawatts a week before he handed over power. We also should not forget the fuel scarcity during the first half of 2015 and the debt owed to oil marketers by the Jonathan administration. Above all, the foundation for non-payment of salaries was laid under Jonathan. No matter how much we may want Buhari to own the present problems, the depth and scope of their foundation must not be forgotten.

The above notwithstanding, Buhari doggedly fought corruption during his first year and succeeded in recouping about N143bn cash from looters and in seizing or freezing cash and assets worth over N3tn, including about N51bn associated with the Office of the National Security Adviser. In addition, about N114bn is being recovered from foreign governments. Buhari may have made a mistake in leading Nigerians to expect not just the looted sums but also the looters’ identities; it is nevertheless disingenuous to discredit his anti-corruption efforts, either for not recovering more money than he disclosed or for not publishing the names of the looters at this time. What is more important is for Buhari to account for all the funds recovered, which he plans to do by setting up a special account for recovered loot and making a provision for it as possible income in the 2016 budget.

Whether you are for or against Buhari, it must be admitted that his first year was rough, very rough. True, his limited knowledge of the intrigues and intricacies of democratic governance, delayed action, and poor communication with the public (at the appropriate times and in the appropriate places) were part of his undoing, his biggest obstacle was the PDP, which almost ruined an otherwise buoyant economy after 16 years of misrule, which peaked under Jonathan.

Buhari also deserves credit for fighting the Boko Haram insurgency with the same zeal and dedication with which he battled corruption during his first year in office. But, again, he has been having it pretty rough in this sector. For, just as Boko Haram was being contained in the North-East, three major security threats became prominent. They are: (1) the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra, agitating for the secession of the South-East from the federation; (2) the Niger Delta Avengers, damaging oil pipelines in the South-South; and (3) Fulani herdsmen, killing and kidnapping farmers, raping their wives, plundering their farms, and destroying their villages in different parts of the country.

As if to further complicate matters for Buhari, his first national budget suffered serious delays due to sharp practices, otherwise labelled as “padding”. Moreover, power generation went down and fuel suddenly became scarce. It is a measure of strength that Buhari was able to overcome these difficulties mainly through dogged negotiation. He eventually got the budget passed, deregulated fuel supply, and set in motion the processes for generating more electric power.

The critical question now is: What’s in store for the second year? And the third year? And the fourth year? It is tempting to proffer a simplistic solution: The economy. The economy. And the economy.

While the economy may be the overarching focus for the next three years, specific attention should be given to the key sectors that would drive the economy. They are: power, transport, agriculture, mineral resources, education, and health care. Incidentally, these are the sectors highlighted in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which provided the basis for the stimulus package used by President Barack Obama to combat the recession that had set in before he took office in January 2009.

A close look at the 2016 budget shows that there are funds to be used as working capital in each of these sectors, although no sector could be said to have been given enough funds to accomplish its goals. While no sector should be neglected in the scheme of things, the government should set its priorities on those sectors that could yield immediate returns to alleviate the sufferings of the masses, while allowing small scale businesses to grow. This would automatically privilege power, road and rail transport, and agriculture. Just as corruption and the fight against Boko Haram were the focal sectors during his first year, the three sectors listed above should be the focus of the second year.

One critical issue remains that may consume Buhari’s attention in years to come, if not properly handled now. It is the wave of security breaches by MASSOB, NDA, and herdsmen. True, the ultimate solution to these problems may lie in restructuring the political units in the country, for example, as contained in the 2014 National Conference Report, immediate solutions are needed. However, while militarisation may provide such solutions in the short term, permanent solutions lie in social and political engineering.

This country will know no peace until every group achieves self determination and does not need to look over its shoulders to achieve it. In the meantime, however, nothing prevents states with shared borders, history, language and culture from pursuing social, political, and economic integration. The challenge will be how to achieve such integration without damaging the nation’s common patrimony, like the NDA, or committing treason, like MASSOB. This is where the South-West could again lead the way.

Finally, Mr. President: Good luck with your ENT doctors in London.

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