COVER STORY: Nigeria in Recession – The daunting task ahead of Buhari

By – George Daniel

Normally a typical debate on politics in Nigeria takes the form of APC apologists versus PDP apologists. Hardly will you find Nigerians agree on, let’s take for instance, the assertion that “all Nigerian politicians are corrupt.” For a change, everyone seems to agree that “Nigerians are hungry”.

With hunger being unable to tell between APC supporters from those of the PDP, the thick line that once divided opinions have blurred. Hunger has succeeded in uniting Nigerians. Interestingly, both the presidency and several notable figures in the ruling APC, have publicly acknowledged this truth.

Nigeria’s economic woe is obvious for anyone to play the ostrich. Value of the dollar as against the naira keeps skyrocketing, affecting the price of nearly everything found in the market. Prices of staple food items like rice and bread have seen an increase of more than 200 percent. The subsidy on petroleum products which the federal government believed would serve as palliatives when removed, have failed to ameliorate the weakening economy.12

For an economy that depends heavily on importation, this increment in the cost of living has a direct effect on the common man. Up North which is supposed to be Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari’s stronghold, people ar13e complaining. The shouts of ‘Sai Buhari’ that permeated the atmosphere during campaigns for the 2015 presidential election, have taken a new tone, a sigh.

Many State Governors owe several month salaries and the pace of governance in States across the federation is snail-slow. One reason for this is the baggage that was inherited by President Buhari’s administration. In late July the Minister of Finance, Mrs. Ke
mi Adeosun, admitted that Nigeria was at a tough place and in recession. She pointed out to the Senate that the Buhari government inherited a poor reserve and salary wage bill of approximately N165 billion.

At the Senate briefing, Mrs. Adeosun implored Nigerians not to dwell on definitions but on how government was working to remedy the situation. Disappointed by past governments,

Nigerians are justifiably impatient. Many supporters of the APC have publicly expressed regret.

Former staunch supporters of President Buhari – the youths – most of whom rallied other youths on social media to canvass for vote, are rethinking the roles they played in helping the president to power. They see President Buhari as having so far failed to demonstrate the capacity and political will to resolve the myriad and multifarious challenges facing Nigeria.

Feyi Fawehimi, with Twitter handle @Doubleleeph, well known for his pro-Buhari/APC stance on social media, recently penned a regret note, where he said, “It is possible that I convinced a couple of people to vote for Buhari and the APC. I owe them an apology.”

Referring to the ruling APC, he wrote, “The instincts of these people is to run with their expired ideas directly in the face of all the contrary evidence i.e the 21st century. In fact, they are not interested in evidence; they are so convinced of their foolishness. A bunch of undercover communists and unreconstructed socialists; I have nothing in common with such people and yet I somehow donated money to them and canvassed people to vote for them. I will freely say that this is one of the biggest lessons I have learnt in my life so far.”

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Mr. Fawehimi’s apology went viral, and did not go unnoticed by the presidency. Buhari’s spokesman, Garba Shehu, on August 14, took to his Facebook page to respond in a piece titled, “In Defense of President Buhari: Is this The Change We Voted For? Yes, It Is.”

In Buhari’s defence, Mr. Shehu wrote: “THE LAST COUPLE of weeks have witnessed the heaviest public criticism of the Muhammad Buhari administration since he came to power after inflicting a heavy defeat on the Peoples Democratic Party and their candidate Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan. Much of it has been on account of the unresolved social economic problems facing the country.”

The spokesman said that it was important to challenge what he termed the “unfair” criticism of his principal, “especially on account of escalating prices of foodstuff and the liberalization of the currency exchange”, before they overshadowed the “commendable job the president has done in fighting terrorism as part of their overall effort to secure the country, reducing corruption and yes, arresting the economic slide before it sinks the nation.”

Mr. Shehu argued that the President had improved Nigeria’s image abroad, and that Nigerians should celebrate the victory over Boko Haram and not to be too quick to forget how it was the PDP that ruined the country.

In writing this piece, the people’s views were sought. From the food vendor and tomatoes seller, down to professionals in the public and private sectors, the mood across the country although being that of disappointment on how the ruling party has ran the economy, majority admitted that the president had done well in curtailing activities of the Boko Haram sect. Many hoped that President Buhari would speak out on the activities of rampaging Fulani herdsmen that have killed hundreds in the Middle Belt and Southern Nigeria.

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On fighting corruption, while some are in support of the President, others consider the fight “cosmetic”, their reason being that the Nigerian government has not been able to sanction or reverse the shady employment of children of influential Nigerians into the country’s central bank, Inland Revenue agency and some other “juicy” government agencies.

There’s been accusation of nepotism in how President Buhari runs the government. Responding to Mr. Shehu’s defense, blogger, Aliyu Nuhu wrote: “However, Garba Shehu conveniently ignored three reasons that are making Nigerians angry with Buhari. He is running a government of family and friends to the exclusion of other parts of the country. The president is a provincial leader running his affairs with nepotism, favoritism and cronyism in mind.”

The Christian Association of Nigeria in the north has accused President Buhari of ignoring northern Christians. Also the Igbo’s in Nigeria’s Southeast have accused the president of neglecting the region in his appointments. The media have accused him of giving almost all the major appointments to Northerners and Muslims. Since those who once supported him are now accusing him of nepotism and cronyism, handlers of the president appear worried.

Lately, supporters of President Buhari who have always maintained that it was too early to appraise his administration have lost control of the narrative. The high cost of living, inability of state governors to pay salaries, unemployment, declining businesses and the presidency’s inability to communicate to the people, are issues plaguing the President Buhari administration.

Like Nuhu would point out, a lot of Nigerians feel that, “the president by his lifestyle is becoming detached from Nigeria’s economic reality” and does not feel the hunger pang biting many families struggling to survive on an N18, 000 a month minimum wage and still living below $1 a day.

“After admitting that the nation had become poorer due to falling oil price, the president is living a life of an emperor, maintaining large fleet of expensive luxury cars, 11 planes and a wasteful palace that constitutes a heavy drain on the nation finances. The president has also failed to enforce his orders of ban on first class tickets and medical tourism by himself, family, ministers and officials.”

Going further to accuse the presidency of “Interfering” with the law, due process and using state security agencies to “harass” the opposition, while absolving Speaker Yakubu Dogara from complicity in the budget padding scandal that rocked the House of Representatives, Nuhu wrote that, “These are the key areas Garba Shehu needs to make some explanations.”

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In the early days of President Buhari’s administration, those who criticized him were referred to as “Wailing Wailers” by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina. To be fair to the present administration, most of today’s problems that has Nigerians wailing are consequences of recklessness by previous administrations dating back to 1999 and beyond.

The likes of former Central Bank Governor and now Emir of Kano, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, warned of this situation when the Goodluck Jonathan government removed the subsidy on oil product and the Nigerian masses resisted. Former Finance Minister Okonjo Iweala warned of the same scenario. That it is happening now is not a surprise at all but how this government handles it all is going to be key in whether Buhari succeeds or fail.

President Buhari has a daunting task ahead of him, one of rescuing the country from its present predication. The government is working hard to do so. Monies owed local contractors are being paid to boost the economy. Serious on diversifying the economy, agriculture has been given priority to increase food production and self-sustainability from massive importation of food.

At a presidential policy dialogue organised by the Lagos Chambers of Commerce and Industry, LCCI, Vice-president Yemi Osinbajo listed the challenges bedeviling the country as follows: “Foreign Direct Investment has taken a plunge of 56 percent of from $395 million in Q1 2015 to $175million by Q1 of 2016. The Foreign Portfolio Investment which averaged $621 million in Q1 of 2015 had declined to $90.3 million by Q1 2016.

“Inflation is at 16.5%. Depreciation of the naira, increase in importation costs due to scarcity of FX. GDP declined from 6.3% in 2014 to 2.15% in 2015 and -0.36% in Q1 2016. Earnings from oil declined in the past eight months due to vandalization of pipelines and export assets in the Niger Delta. Power output fell from 5kMW in February to about 2.5k recently on account of over 60% loss in gas production due to pipeline vandalization.”

On what the federal government was doing to tackle these challenges, Osinbajo said: “In order to tackle these problems, priority attention was given to assist the states and local govts pay the salaries of workers, which were several months in arrears. We have had three such interventions, including the latest loan of N90billion as part of a fiscal responsibility plan for states. These interventions have helped to boost household spending, which were key steps to prevent the economy from falling into deep recession. We have pledged to keep capital spending in the budget at a minimum of 30 percent.

“Accordingly, we have already made capital releases of N332billion, with another N100 billion set to be released in the next few days. Other policy instruments used in this regard include the TSA, which has brough transparency into inflows and outflows of government monies. A great effort has been made to improve non-oil revenues. This includes bringing an additional 700,000 companies into the tax net as compared to the targeted 500,000 set at the beginning of the year.

“FIRS have achieved 73.17 percent of its target for the first half of the year. Similarly, milled rice capacity is being increased from 3 million tons annually to 10 million tons of paddy annually. The present administration is a strong believer in public-private dialogue. Our immediate tasks to achieve our economic objectives are: Reduce fiscal and forex imbalances; boost dollar liquidity; curb inflation; lower interest rate and ensure lending to the real sector; increase FDIs and FPI by sustaining enabling policies.” MA