Monday, 30 May 2016
Buhari’s 365 days: The knocks and nods
By Olamide Bakare
“…As I said in my New Year message, living in the State House does not in any way alienate me from your daily struggles. I read the newspapers and listen to the TV and radio news. I hear your cries. I share your pains.
We are experiencing probably the toughest economic times in the history of our nation. I want to commend the sacrifice, resilience and toughness of all Nigerians, young and old, who have, despite the hardships, continued to have hope and confidence of a great future for Nigerians…I cannot promise you that this will be an easy journey, but in the interest of so much and so many, we must tread this difficult path. I can assure you that this government…will work with honesty and dedication…to ensure that our country prospers and that the prosperity benefits all Nigerians…”
The above are excerpts of President Muhammadu Buhari’s remarks during the signing into law of the 2016 Appropriation Bill, on Friday, May 6, 2016.
Based on the “change mantra” of the All Progressives Congress government, Nigerians have never demonstrated such great expectations of economic turnaround like they did since Buhari’s government came on onboard. Hence, they have been using different yardsticks on their judgment and assessment of Buhari’s one year in office.
The dwindling oil price in the global market would not have had a devastating effect on our economy had we not be running a mono-economy policy, depending largely on oil at the expense of other key sectors over the decades. Likewise, the instability in the forex market would not have had ripple effects on our economy if there had been proper coordination of fiscal and monetary policies. On the issue on economy, economists and financial experts have expressed divergent views in this regard. Despite the immediate injection of N350bn into the economy by way of capital projects as promised by Mr. President, technocrats are of the view that without any clear-cut government policy direction after one year in office is a bad omen for the economy, noting that it is a key area that affects the common man on the street. And to add insult to injury, the Federal Government increased the pump price of petrol from N87 per litre to N145, representing a 67.63 per cent hike, coupled with 45 per cent electricity tariff hike in February, 2016.
Although, according to the government, the inevitable increase was not unconnected to the inability of the Central Bank of Nigeria in providing enough foreign exchange to independent marketers, the rationale behind such a policy has been rejected outright by many. On the other hand, there are those who show considerable understanding, believing that one year is too early to write off a government that inherited 16 years of socio-economic decadence characterised by political profligacy, devoid of moral rectitude.
However, there are those who believe very strongly that the eight million Nigerians who would benefit from the N500bn Special Intervention Programme is a step in the right direction, considering the categories of the beneficiaries. Yet, there are those who believe that the Buhari’s government lacks a clear-cut policy direction that could bring about the actualisation of the highly expected change Nigerians have been longing for, considering his lacklustre style of leadership. As far as they are concerned, even the Medium Term Expenditure Framework and Fiscal Strategy Paper are not convincing to bring healing or palliative measures to the chronically ill economy. Thus, they conclude that, as far as they are concerned, Buhari’s government has been chasing shadows without clear and defined templates for saving the economy from sliding into recession.
Moreover, if there is any other area the President has impressed most people, it is in his dogged determination in the fight against corruption. However, while some have given him kudos that his frequent foreign trips have been yielding positive results, considering looted funds that have been recovered and other bilateral agreements signed in this regard, others have frowned on this move, considering the huge cost of such trips at the expense of the already bleeding economy. On the other hand, there are those who fault his “dictatorial” pursuit of the anti-corruption war, claiming that some of his actions portray political witch-hunt, especially in relation to flouting some court orders. Even, renowned senior lawyers are divided in opinions in this matter. Some have expressed fears and disappointment at what they call government’s intimidation of judges, saying that such an action is capable of weakening the nation’s judicial system. On the other hand, there are those who have patted the President on the back for his uncompromising stance to cleanse the judiciary of its Augean stables.
In the area of security, many Nigerians, particularly the north-east, have heaved a sigh of relief for the first time in recent times from the incessant killings by the Boko Haram. This appears the area where Mr. President earned the applause of many Nigerians. On the contrary, some believe that Buhari should have replicated the same vigour he exerted in the fight against the insurgency on the economy. If he could technically defeat Boko Haram within one year, 12 months in office is more than enough to formulate a blueprint for sustainable economic development. Polls conducted on social media platforms have shown that the impatient suffering masses prefer “drastic” and “quick” change to the “steady” change, which the APC-led Federal Government is appealing to Nigerians to have.
Although the President has said he cannot promise Nigerians that this journey will be easy, Nigerians are hoping that by the time his government would be 730 days old in office, the performance index would have improved significantly and commensurate with the avalanche of promises in its manifesto to them. Nigerians are hoping that the rhetoric of economic diversification would have become a reality in two years’ time. Though some believe that the Buhari presidency is still evolving, others are of the view that the situation on the ground demands quick and drastic measures to rescue the economy from nose-diving into recession.
Bakare is a public affairs analyst based in Lagos