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Monday, November 02, 2015

Can Buhari and His New Ministers Deliver The CHANGE?

President Muhammadu Buhari has a duty to fix the ailing sectors and restore public confidence. It is a huge task that demands commitment, patriotism and speed. What are the areas that need urgent attention?
The Nation's Group Political Editor, Emmanuel Oladesu, examines the agenda of CHANGE and how the new administration can bridge the gap between expectation and reality...

Expectations were high on May 29 when President Muhammadu Buhari took over from his predecessor, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan. That was almost six months ago. Now that the Federal Executive Council (FEC) is about to be constituted, following the screening of ministers by the Senate, the people anxiously waits for the dividends of change.

The President rode to power on the back of popular support. Ahead of the general elections that drew the curtains on the 16 years of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) hegemony, the country was in a fix. The sleeping giant of Africa was at crossroads. The fragile edifice was about to crumble.

The economy was on its knee. The mono-economy that thrives on oil had been hit by the global meltdown. The failed budgets had exposed imprudent management on the part of government. The country was battling with poverty, misery, decayed infrastructure, soaring unemployment, power outage and large scale corruption. The atmosphere of insecurity was not investment-driven. The protracted energy crisis has led to a high cost of production and crippled the manufacturing sector.

Buhari offered hope. His party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), rolled out a roadmap for a welfare state. Although the party was not categorical on its ideological leaning, many felt that it was a left of the centre party genuinely committed to leadership renewal and service delivery. APC’s manifestos portrayed it as a credible alternative platform to voters who opted for regime change on poll day.

When the APC unveiled its plans for the nation in Abuja, it attempted to provide answers to some puzzles. The 10-point road map, according to the party, was meant to herald a welfarist state. The highlights of the manifestos include job creation, free and qualitative education, better housing plan, improved funding for agriculture, security. Others are social security for the poor, technological driven industrial estates, allowances for ex-corps members for 12 months and war against corruption. Many Nigerians hailed the manifestos, but, the PDP frowned at it, dismissing it as unrealistic. Its National Publicity Secretary, Chief Olisa Metuh, described it as a road map to anarchy, adding that it will lead to doom.

However, APC Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, assured that, when they are implemented, the road plan would halt the cries of despondency, unlike the Federal Government’s hypocritical transformation agenda, which has become a disaster, owing to faulty implementation. The party official, who described the manifestos as the outcome of national need assessment, stressed: “We commissioned a survey on what is wrong with Nigeria; what exactly Nigerians need. Unemployment, corruption and insecurity are the major problems confronting Nigeria today. So, the road map is a result of what Nigerians need. We are after a new Nigeria. This is a new Nigeria we are creating in which the people will be the beginning and the end of all developmental programmes”.

Party leaders believed that the manifestos were achievable goals. In fact, former APC National Interim Chairman Chief Bisi Akande said the APC-led states have been implementing them, adding the next stage is their replication at the federal level by the APC-led Federal Government.

Many Nigerians applauded the plan, which, in their view, underscored the APC’s strategic planning and vision for a brighter future, although the party kept a sealed lip on its implementation strategies. The party did not promise what it could not achieve. For example, throughout the campaigns, APC leaders avoided the contentious national question.

However, between May and now, there have been obvious gaps between expectation and reality, despite the promise of fundamental changes to socio-economic structures and articulate measures to halt the national drift. Although President Buhari has taken bold steps to restore public confidence in government, critics have pointed out that he has been moving at a snail-speed.

The President has been criticised for the delay in setting up a cabinet of talents. He has also come under attack for not putting in place an economic team, making experts to conclude that the administration aptly lacks economic direction. Acknowledging that his administration has been objectively slow, Buhari quickly rationalised that he has been slow, but steady.

Many reasons were responsible for the President’s inability to hit the ground running, following the change of baton. Buhari, according to the Presidency, needed to clean up the Aegean table. Besides, the President inherited an economy in ruins. The decline in the price of crude oil from $120 per barrel in June last year to $48 per barrel poses a challenge.

According to Presidency sources, what the Federal Government has done was to re-assess the economic situation, reduce the cost governance, select the best of talents as ministers and put the round a peg in a round hole and embark on the full implementation of the road map to deliver the dividends of democracy to the generality of Nigerians.

In his first one hundred days, President Buhari declared his assets. He also facilitated bailouts for distressed states to halt the cash crunch. This, according to experts, has offered a temporary relief to the 27 states on the verge of liquidation. The President has also moved swiftly to block financial loopholes by insisting on a Treasury Single Account. The anti-corruption mantra is also achieving results. Government is on the trail of looted funds. The Commander-In-Chief has also successfully crossed the bridge from dictatorship to democratic constitutionalism. Buhari has given a marching order to the Armed Forces to crush Boko Haram insurgency before December. So far, the appointment of credible Nigerians as ministers has elicited commendation. On the shoulder of the new team rests the arduous task of assisting the President and the nation to realise the vision for change.

To reposition Nigeria and deliver the dividends of change and democracy to the common man, the Buhari administration should urgently focus on the critical sectors for surgical operation. The areas highlighted by experts include the economy, with special emphasis on diversification, power supply, resuscitation of the oil sector, employment generation, promotion of agriculture, security, anti-corruption war, unfinished business of electoral reforms. Nigerians expect the government to cut down the cost of governance by avoiding the duplication of ministries and departments. The administration should also show the example that will change the perception of public office as an avenue for private accumulation and financial aggrandisement.

The prevailing macro-economic indicators point to an economic in distress. It has made the rebasing of the economy by the previous government, which now put Nigeria as the 21st biggest economy in the world, as a fabrication and figment of hyperactive imagination. The economy is biting harder. Its fragility is underscored by the declining Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Unless urgent steps are taken to stimulate or re-direct the economy, the current status suggests a prelude to recession. It is very confounding. There is a decline in oil earnings, following the drop in oil prices from $120 per barrel to $48 per barrel. The currency has been under pressure since the oil price collapsed.

Some experts even suggest that the naira may have suffered 25 percent devaluation. Last week, the suggestion by former Central Bank Governor Lamido Sanusi , the Emir of Kano, for outright devaluation inflamed economic passion. In the World Bank’s ranking of world economies, Nigeria is 170th. Nigeria’s debt profile is soaring, with the Federal Government said to be spending N500 billion for servicing in the first two quarters.

A gloomy picture is painted daily by economic analysts. Inflation rate is rising. The common man is at the receiving end as he bears the burden of the surge in prices of food items. Bankers have cried out that savings are going down and withdrawals going up, with implications for investment and productivity.

According to the World Bank, Nigeria is under the yoke of extreme poverty with over 70 percent of its 170 million population living on $1.25 (about N250) per day. This is compounded by lack of access to social amenities, including healthcare, sanitation, and portable water. Millions are battling with homelessness. Unemployment is growing in geometrical proportions. The manufacturing base cannot expand under the unbearable atmosphere.

“The cost of doing business in Nigeria is high,” said Dr. Rasak Odunlade, a public affairs analyst, stressing that this may discourage domestic and foreign investors. “The truth is that businesses here face very high costs, the most obvious being the high input cost of power where manufacturers and other businesses pay twice the rate per kilowatt hour than the grid to provide continuous power they need. Foreign investors have a choice and if we don’t measure up, the investment and jobs go elsewhere. Similarly, our companies struggle to export with a high cost base,” he added.

Nigeria needs a very focussed, patriotic and efficient economic team. The team should restore order into a state of economic pandemonium and hullaballoo. The miracle cannot be achieved overnight, owing to the many years of neglect, inaction, ineptitude, mismanagement and decay.

But, it is possible to halt the drift. Financial operators have pointed out that as the government pursues the anti-corruption and terror wars, equal attention should be given to the economy. The Registrar of the Institute of Business Development (IDB), Paul Ikele, advised government to initiate people-oriented policies and programmes to stimulate the economy and reduce cost of production by fixing power and other infrastructures.

“The local currency, the naira, is still losing value. Unemployment is rising dangerously. Manufacturers are either closing shops or putting their expansion programmes on hold due to rising production cost that has in turn triggered infrastructure challenges, particularly power,” he lamented.

A financial expert, Dr. Alaba Olusemore, warned against the danger of over-reliance and over-dependence on a single product for national earning. Olusemore, the Managing Director of Nesbet Consulting, said: “The monolithic nature of the economy is unsustainable. We must immediately begin to initiate and sustain policies directed at economic diversification. We must look at manufacturing and agriculture, which have the potentials to create employment opportunities.”

An economist, Olaotan Kuku, agreed with Olusemore. He noted that the economy is in deep woods. But, he added that diversification is challenging, stressing that the moribund non-oil sectors will require financial rejuvenation. Kuku, who teaches economics at the Federal College of Education (Technical), Akoka, stressed: “Agriculture should be made attractive and it can only be attractive if it is profitable. Farmers’ farm produce rotten away on the distant farms, in the absence of feeder roads. There is lack of immediate market for the products, which are mostly perishable. Government can assist in facilitating the marketing of agricultural products. Canning is also very important. Youths will not embrace agriculture, if the rural areas are unattractive because of lack of social amenities and if agriculture is unprofitable.”

He added: “There is need for government to make land available for agriculture. Those involved medium and large-scale farming should have access to mechanised farm tools-tractors, ploughs, and seedlings-in each of the local governments. Farmers should able to rent these implements at a subsidised rate to encourage them. Loans should be given to farmers. In the North, fertilisers should be made available and the corruption associated with its distribution should be curtailed.”

Reality should now dawn on Nigeria that it cannot be salvage by oil. Government should see the futility of dependence on the acclaimed black gold. Nigeria should emulate other countries that are reaping the fruits of diversification. Examples are China, India, Mexico and Indonesia. In China, government is making money from 171 mineral resources. They include coal, copper, aluminium, lead, zinc, and mercury. Its industrial products are competing favourably in the world market. Nigeria has natural endowments, which remained untapped. These resources include bitumen, tin, copper, zinc, coal, gold, celica, clay limestone.

Others are limestone, laterate, cassilitrite, koolne stones, columbite and marbe. They abound across the states of the federation. “Nigeria can earn more from solid minerals than oil,” said Prof. Olugbenga Okunlola, the President of Nigerian Mining and Geosciences Society. The University of Ibadan don lamented that, despite Nigeria’s natural endowment, efforts have not been made to harness the natural resources outside the oil-sector.

He pointed out that, of the 44 non-oil resources available, at least, 20 are of economic value. “We suffer in the midst of plenty. If government puts just about 10 per cent of what is in oil and gas into the solid mineral sector, our national income will be more than triple. The MDAs in the Ministry of Steel and Mining will be richer than the NNPC. We are talking about 44 minerals with many more being added. In 2006, we were talking about 34 minerals. In eight years, we are talking about 44.

“If we have adequate data acquisition, we will have more minerals that will generate more incomes for us. If there is close monitoring, no gold will be smuggled out. Investors will come in. So, we are endowed and it is a shame we are not tapping into them.”

On rice importation ban, Kuku warned that Nigerians may starve, unless local production is boosted. “If local production is boosted and there is enough to consume at home, government can begin to impose higher import duty and tariff to discourage import,” he said.

Tourism is a veritable source of income. Nigeria appears to be waking up to the reality. However, the atmosphere of insecurity is detrimental to its growth.

President Buhari should focus on the repositioning of the power sector. He should also come up with a definite policy in the oil sector. Generally, there is the dearth of infrastructure facilities. Many roads are still death traps. A proactive measure is also required to sustain the environment and prevent the yearly flooding, which often displaces people from their homes and farms.

The energy crisis has become a national albatross. Power generation and distribution are a mirage. Although there was a glimpse of hope when President Buhari was inaugurated, the relative electricity supply has now been displaced by acute darkness. This explains the limitation to the efficacy of presidential body language. The saving grace is the generator. Yet, not all Nigerians can afford it. The Ministry of Power recently painted an awful picture. Power supply is fluctuating. From 4,005.53 megawatts (mw) last month, it dipped to 3,619.70 mw. If the power challenge is resolved, it will boost productive activities in the manufacturing sector. In particular, it will be to the advantage of the informal sector. Artisans will be busy. The cost of production will not hamper business operations.

Despite previous investment that went down the drain, there is need for another round of huge investment in the crucial sector. The weakened manufacturing base is attributed to huge cost od logistics and production. This has led to capital and investment flight. To the Manufacturing Association of Nigeria (MAN), the high cost of production, which is traceable to the cost of alternative sources of energy, affects the profitability of manufacturing operations and product competiveness. The Chairman of MAN, Apapa branch, Babatunde Odunayo, said the expansion programmes of the sector are hampered, making it difficult or impossible to assist in resolving the challenge of growing unemployment.

Reflecting on the power sector, Eko Distribution Company Deputy Managing Director Ramesh Narayanan listed the factors that inhibit the supply chain at the level of power generation, transmission and distribution. The impediments include inefficient and outdated technology and the dearth of national grid. “This is responsible for the bottleneck hindering access from power source to the point of use, resulting in poor quality of supply,” he said.

Government is contemplating increased electricity tariff. This may constitute an untold hardship to Nigerians, who are already suffocating under the comatose economy.

The new minister of power has a lot of work to do. Power generation, transmission and distribution are critical to the survival of the economy. It is a core infrastructure that is non-negotiable. Unscrupulous elements sabotaging government’s efforts should be shown the way out.

There are certain problems associated with the ailing sector. Paradoxically, the sixth largest producer of crude oil is also an importer of oil for domestic consumption. Few months ago, the premium spirit was scarce in the market, with the agony of long queues at filing stations staring the government in the face. The amount of crude oil being lifted and actual earnings from the crude oil is unknown. Until recently, multiple bank accounts of the NNPC were confusing about the motivation for opening them. Refineries are at a low ebb, despite the huge investment on turn around maintenance. Oil theft has become a lucrative business, fuelling suspicion of an institutional cover-up. Last year, Sanusi cried out that a huge amount of money meant for the NNPC was missing. It generated controversy. But, it has not been resolved.

Already, the NNPC group Managing Director, Dr. Ibe Kachukwu, who may double as the Minister of State for Petroleum, has embarked on miniature reforms in the sector. He has reduced the number of subsidiary heads from eight to four. In his view, cutting costs will reduce efficiency and profitability. But, the sector may be sitting on a keg of gunpowder. Marketers appear to be cooperating avoiding strikes that could threaten steady supply of petroleum. But, the subsisting rift over the non-payment of their outstanding M200 billion claims on subsidy is not over.

One of the cardinal decisions the government must make revolves around fuel subsidy. When the former CBN governor called for its removal last month, it provoked arguments. Some experts argued that it will create more hardship for Nigerians. But, others also argued that the fuel subsidy is to exclusive advantage of few oil barons and collaborators who are holding the sector in it jugular.

Another area of focus should be the health and capacity of the refineries. Should Nigeria continue to import fuel as outrageous costs when the refineries can be rehabilitated and bridge the gap? What has happened to the huge investment on maintenance? Which is a better option-importation of refined fuel or domestic production and distribution? What time frame is apposite for full domestic production?

The new minister of works has a lot to do. Lamentably, federal roads in many states are an eyesore. Many of them are abandoned projects. Project sites have been deserted by contractors. Where they stay back, there is hypocritical commitment to the job. The Federal Government owes huge amounts of money to states for federal roads constructed by the states. The most embarrassing is the Lagos/Ibadan Expressway. Since 2003, the rehabilitation of the road has been on-going. Commuters suffer traffic gridlock which could last for between six and eight hours. Besides, many accidents have been recorded on the road because it is not motorable.

The eyes of the world are on Nigeria as it grapples with the Boko Haram insurgency in the Northeast. But, other zones also have its fair share of insecurity ranging from armed robbery to kidnapping. Prominent Nigerians have only regained their freedom from abductors after paying fat ransom.

Many lives have been lost in the North, no thanks to the dreadful sect. The fate of the abducted Chibok girls still hangs in the balance. Their whereabouts are unknown. Many of their parents are dying of psychological trauma.

Many have been displaced from their homes and they now sojourn in refugee camps. The camps are not even insulated from terror attacks. Many investors have attributed their inability to explore investment opportunities in Nigeria to the unfavourable climate.

President Buhari has taken proactive steps. Following his inauguration, he directed the relocation of the Army headquarters to the battle front in Maiduguri, the Borno State capital. Now, he has directed the Armed Forces to end the menace in December. The Commander-In-Chief is with justification ambivalent towards the option of dialogue.

In his view, dialogue could only be meaningful, if the abducted girls are still alive. The Army has recorded tremendous success in the onslaught against the enemies of the state. But, the war has not been won. The Minister of Defence will inherit the burden. The President has visited the neigbouring countries-Cameroun, Niger and Chad-to solicit their cooperation for the sustenance of the Joint Task Force. The joint task force should be re-invigorated. More weapons should be procured from the right sources in aid of the war. In the past, Boko Haram was taking the battle to Nigeria. But, as Nigeria started taking the battle to Boko Haram, the sect now is on the defensive by going after soft targets.

Recently, the Director of Army Public Relations, Col. Sani Usman, alleged that some powerful and influential forces in Borno and Northeast were undermining the fight against terror. Government should not take it lightly.

When the war is won, the work of reconstruction and rehabilitation should begin in the far flung region.

Central to the maintenance of security, law and order across the state is policing. Currently, under the lopsided federal structure, governors, who are honorary chief security officers of their states, rely on the police under the supervision of the distant Inspector-General of Police. The governor in distress has to appeal to the Commissioner of Police, who in turn has to obtain the approval of the IGP before obliging the governor.

During the ministerial screening in the Senate, Former Lagos State Governor Babatunde Fashola (SAN), who is now a minister, decried the unhealthy arrangement, saying that it is counterproductive. The agitation for state police and community policing is on the burner again.

Those against it said that the police can easily become the willing tool on the hand of governors to intimidate and harass the opposition. But, the advocates of decentralisation and devolution of power said that it will enable state authorities to prevent crime and ensure law and order. There is also the argument that the current police structure needs help, in terms of equipment, logistics, and morale to combat crime and protect life and property.

Corruption has dented the image of Nigeria. The giant of Africa in population is also a continental giant in reckless behaviour. Despite the activities of the anti-graft agencies and courts, unpatriotic Nigerians exploit the loopholes in the legislations and the alleged vulnerability of few judicial officers to undermine the war. It is, therefore, gratifying that the Sagay Committee was set up to offer a novel legal framework on the anti-graft war.

Government should be courageous to implement the recommendations of the committee.

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