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Monday, 26 September 2016

How Buhari plunged Nigeria into recession



ONE funny aspect of this “blame game” thing, is that you only see what has gone wrong in terms of “the other person” – the person you are pointing accusing fingers at. You hardly realise that as you point one finger at the other person, three of your other fingers are also accusing you, but they are usually hidden from your sight. In the Bible, Our Lord Jesus Christ warned us not to judge others, but to first of all remove the log in our eyes before complaining about the speck in the eyes of our neighbours (or opponents).

We are in an economic recession. Two questions are pertinent: (a) how did we get there? And (b) how do we get out of it? The All Progressives Congress, APC, Federal Government, in tackling question number one, blames “others”, but it does not see the roles it played in bringing the nation into this pass. This is what I am here to address; that we do not allow them to confuse us with their unrelenting propaganda, the vessel that brought them to power and which they are depending upon to run the affairs of a nation in a deep economic distress. Fortunately, the propaganda has lost its allure in the face of massive suffering, poverty, hunger, mass joblessness and soaring crime rates. Nobody wants to hear any more excuses, and this applies even to the apologists of the regime. APC Federal Government spokespersons – Garba Shehu, Femi Adesina, Lai Mohammed, name them – have been blaming the nation’s woes on “16 years of Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, rot”. They said they did not expect the “depth” of the rot they met.

Vice President Yemi Osinbajo files in, and blames PDP Federal Government’s failure to save for the rainy day, forgetting that the APC sponsored its governors to oppose Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s proposal for us to save when we had an unrivalled oil boom. They also opposed President Goodluck Jonathan’s plans to deregulate the downstream sector of the economy to free up funds to attack our infrastructural deficit. Jonathan, not being “a Pharaoh” (as he put it) weakly buckled to acts which the opposition deliberately deployed to ensure his downfall. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo had shrugged off criticisms and led Nigeria to exit the slavish debt trap of the Paris Club by engaging Okonjo-Iweala to lead the negotiations in which we paid $12 billion to escape from a $30 billion debt burden. Through acts of impunity, Obasanjo created the Excess Crude Account, ECA, and saved billions, which enabled Nigeria to survive the 2008 worldwide economic meltdown.

 President Umaru Yar’Adua played a statesman’s trump card through the Amnesty deal, which ended the militancy in the Niger Delta, thus creating a new impetus for us to enjoy more oil boom till the tail end of 2014. When Jonathan assumed office, he embarked on massive infrastructure upgrades nationwide, and this manifested in our airports, roads, rail, investment in power, education (especially tertiary) and of course, democratic reforms that made it possible for a powerful opposition to arise and sweep him from office. Of course, there was massive corruption during the PDP years, but tell me in which regime since our independence when there was no corruption, even this current Buhari regime? The only difference is that the “enemies” are being targeted, while “friends and acolytes” are being shielded.

 Of course, Nigeria’s economy grew in leaps and bounds under the PDP, but it was mostly oil-fed. We became the largest economy in Africa by Gross Domestic Product,GDP, but the proceeds went mostly to a few privileged and connected individuals. A little seeped into the middle class, but the mass of the people wallowed in poverty. This was probably why the 2015 election was called “a revolution of the poor”, but where has that revolution taken us? So, yes, the recession was caused by our failure to save for a rainy day, but it was a collective failure of the nation. Jonathan cannot escape the blame because as President, he should have stamped his foot down and done what was best for the country, rather than dance to the tune of every Tom and Harry just for him to be elected for a second term.

 We are in recession because we, as a nation, thought we were an “oil-rich” country. If you compare our best production capacities vis-à-vis our humongous population, and those of other Organisation of Oil Producing Countries, OPEC, and none-OPEC countries (such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, UAE, Norway, Venezuela, USA Angola and others), it is obvious we are actually an “oil-poor” country and should not have depended on our oil alone for national survival. That mistake is a collective blame rooted in the mentality of the ruling class that took charge of Nigeria after the civil war. It goes beyond the PDP years; it is still evident in this Buhari administration.

 Yes, we are in recession because of the renewed militancy in the Niger Delta. But who caused it? Before Buhari came in, we had massive oil theft. But when he assumed office and came at governance as if on a vengeance mission, the militancy resumed. Buhari did not realise the harm he was inflicting on the psyche of the nation when he propounded his “97%/5%” formula, which went against the Federal Character principle in the constitution. He used it to divide the country along political party, religious, regional, ethnic and sectional lines, favouring his kinsmen and supporters while neglecting those who did not support him. Not only that, he mobilised the agencies of state security to go after his perceived opponents in a one-sided anti-corruption war which only emphasised the return of allegedly looted funds.

He did not make it a holistic affair. Some individuals who felt the system was blindly and vengefully after them returned to militancy and plunged the economy deeper into recession. Security threats expanded, from Boko Haram alone in 2015 to new fronts (the Niger Delta Avengers, armed Fulani herdsmen, Indigenous People’s of Biafra/MASSOB protests, and the Shiites uprising in Kaduna). If Buhari had, on assuming office, called Nigerians together, told them to forget about the bruising transitional politicking and work together to rescue the nation from the imminent economic doom, there would be no other security challenge except Boko Haram. If he had dealt with the armed herdsmen to protect the people, formed an inclusive government based on constitutional provisions and brought in the best hands without looking at their political affiliations, religious backgrounds and ethno-regional roots, we would be fighting the economic problems as a united front.

 Buhari’s anti-corruption war is a well-received policy. Nobody can openly say anything to the contrary. Corruption is a major factor in Nigeria’s backwardness. But the anti-corruption war should have been an institutional one devoid of politics. It should not have been merely aimed at recovering stolen funds, and even that should have been extended to all who stole, not just PDP people and the president’s political opponents alone. Buhari de-marketed Nigeria and Nigerians in several world capitals by calling us crooks. Every Nigerian is a crook and not to be trusted, except of course, President Buhari, the man of integrity.

The Treasury Single Account, TSA, policy, formulated by the Jonathan but left unimplemented to avoid harming the financial system, was put into effect by Buhari without consultation. Banks shrivelled and started retrenching massively. His statist policies and lack of direction for the economy created fear and uncertainties among the private sector players and investors. After waiting for a clearer picture in vain, many (like the foreign and local airlines) closed shop and left Nigeria. Unless Buhari starts seeing himself as the father of the nation rather than a sectional mujahid (“holy” warrior), he would never get it right. He must listen to the wise words of the Senators who are telling him to rejig himself and his government away from the blunders of the past sixteen months. If he does so, our journey out of the recession will be short.

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