Friday, December 2, 2022

Buhari gives self pass mark amid tough times

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DANIEL AYANTOYE examines the Independence Day speech of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), vis-à-vis the current economic realities in the country

Every October 1, marked as the country’s independence anniversary, many Nigerians always stay glued to their television sets to hear from their leader about the journey towards developing their country.

The President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), in this year’s Independence Day speech, showered encomium on his regime, saying it had performed creditably in the last seven years. He acknowledged that he had promised to improve the economy, tackle corruption and fight insecurity but despise his glaring failure in these area, he still insisted that his administration had made “significant progress” .

“One of the areas where we have made significant progress is in the eradication of deeply entrenched corruption that permeates all facets of our national development. We strengthened the institutions for tackling corruption and also cultivated international support, which aided the repatriation of huge sums of money illegally kept outside the country,” the President had said.

He added that his regime had increased the number of prosecutions and convictions, while also promising to continue to block corrupt practices. In the area of tackling insecurity, the President said, “In order to address insecurity, we worked methodically in reducing insurgency in the North-East, militancy in the Niger Delta region, ethnic and religious tensions in some sections of Nigeria along with other problems threatening our country. Our efforts in re-setting the economy manifested in Nigeria exiting two economic recessions by the very practical and realistic monetary and fiscal measures to ensure effective public financial management.

“This administration removed several decades of uncertainty for potential investors in the oil and gas sector with the passage of the Petroleum Industry Act, 2021. This landmark legislation created opportunities for foreign investments in addition to improving transparency in the management of the sector,” he added.

Also the President said that, the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme of the regime, the National Social Investment Programme as well as incentives given to Micro, Small and Medium-scale Enterprises opportunities had created millions of jobs as well as poverty reduction in the country.

He maintained that “there is hardly any ward, village or local government in Nigeria today that has not benefited from one of the following: N-Power, Trader-moni, Market moni, subsidised loans, business grants or Conditional Cash Transfers.” The President added that he was “very pained” about the recurring strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities, stressing that his administration “has made appreciable progress in redressing these issues that have been lingering for over 11 years.”

However, not a few think that the President has been engaging in self-praise amidst a dwindling economy and worsening insecurity. In an interview with an international news outfit, Bloomberg, early this year, Buhari said his administration would be leaving Nigeria better than he met it in 2015.

He had stated, “We will leave Nigeria in a far better place than we found it. Corruption is less hidden, for Nigerians feel empowered to report it without fear, while money is returned. Terrorists no longer hold any territory in Nigeria and their leaders are deceased; and vast infrastructure development sets the country on course for sustainable and equitable growth.”

Although the President acknowledged the challenges currently bedevilling the country, his claim that the country was in a better condition than what it was in 2015 has been faulted.

 Stark realities

Key economic indices in line with the World Bank’s criteria, which include inflation, debt level, exchange rate, Gross Domestic Product, employment rate and distribution of natural resources as well as experts’ analyses have proved that the President’s claim is merely self-praise and far from the realities on the ground.

Although it was reported in March 2022 that the regime had lifted 10.5 million Nigerians out of poverty between 2019 and 2021; over 9,048,444 million direct and indirect jobs had been created through the Bank of Industry since 2015 and N1.24tn disbursed to 4.2 million beneficiaries in micro, small, medium and large enterprises, the number of poor people in the country kept rising yearly.

The World Bank report projected that the number of poor persons in Nigeria would rise to 95.1 million in 2022 from the initial 89.0 million as of 2020. This means that 6.1 million more persons would have fallen beneath the poverty line between 2020 and 2022. This projection shows that the number of poor persons in Nigeria was 6.7 per cent in 2020, 14.7 per cent higher than the 2018/2019 figures of 82.1 million.

As of the last quarter of 2015, Nigeria’s unemployment rate stood at 10.4 per cent, according to the National Bureau of Statistics. The figure went up to 14.2 per cent at the end of 2016; 20.42 per cent in 2017; 23.1 per cent in 2018; and in 2022, the unemployment rate is estimated to reach 33 per cent.

Nigeria’s inflation rate in 2015 was a single digit of 9.01 per cent; in 2016, in the thick of recession, it increased to 15.68 per cent. In 2017, it further moved up to 16.52 per cent. It, however, slowed to 12.09 per cent in 2018 and 11.40 in 2019. In December 2020, it rose again to 15.75 per cent.

The inflation rate in the month of August 2022 rose to 20.52 per cent, according to the Central Bank of Nigeria. That remains the highest in the past 17 years. On the debt level, according to the Debt Management Office, as of 2015 before Buhari took over power, Nigeria’s debt revenue stood at N8.8tn, but as of June 2022, it had skyrocketed to N41tn.

Similarly, before the emergence of Buhari, the pump price of petrol was between N85 and N87 per litre. Currently, the product is being sold for N189.46 per litre. In 2015, when he assumed office, the dollar was exchanging for N198 in the parallel market. By 2018, it was N306 /$, and in 2019 it went up to N360/$ and exchanged for N520/$ in 2021. The regime met the exchange rate at N157/$, but according to the CBN, the current exchange rate stands at N433.9/$.

The GDP figures from the NBS and the World Bank from 2015 to 2020 show that in 2015 when Buhari assumed office, the GDP stood at $486bn; it declined to $432bn by 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic, which affected virtually every sector of the world’s economy. But in 2021, the country’s GDP figures rose by 3.98 per cent to $440bn.

According to Dataphyte, Nigeria’s GDP in the second quarter of 2022 stood at N45tn with a growth rate of 3.54 per cent against the first quarter rate of N45.32tn and a growth rate of 3.11 per cent. In the area of insecurity, though the government has successfully secured the purchase of sophisticated arms and ammunition, a large number of areas are still being controlled by insurgents, while bandits have continued to ravage the land with several reported cases of kidnapping yet unresolved.

On March 28, 2022, an Abuja-Kaduna train was attacked in Katari, Kaduna State. At least, eight persons were killed, including Amin Mahmoud, a youth leader of the ruling All Progressives Congress; Chinelo Megafu Chinelo, a medical doctor; Tibile Mosugu, a rising lawyer and son of a Senior Advocate of Nigeria; and Musa Lawal-Ozigi, Secretary-General, Trade Union Congress, while more than 65 others were kidnapped. Thankfully, the remaining 23 victims were released only on Wednesday.

On July 5 this year, over 800 prison inmates escaped during an attack on the Kuje correctional facility in Abuja, with about half of them still at large. Those at large include Boko Haram members. It was said that 44 intelligence reports were issued to forestall the incident, yet the attack was successful with no record of anyone being apprehended and prosecuted. The military was also not spared in the series of attacks that have occurred in the last seven years.

According to reports, so far this year, there have been six major attacks on military bases in Borno, Katsina, Kaduna, Taraba and Niger states. As the President eulogises his government for its achievement in curbing religious attacks, there is no gain saying the fact that the spate of violence fuelled by religious extremism has been attracting worries lately.

According to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, between January 2020 and July 2022, no fewer than 99 independent attacks against Nigerian clergy have been recorded.

In the North-Central region, 32 attacks were recorded, making it the deadliest region for Christian clerics in the country since 2020. The North-East and North-West recorded nine and 17 cases, respectively. In May 2022, an extremist mob brutally stoned, flogged and burned to death a college student, Deborah Samuel, in an attack fuelled by hatred and blasphemy allegations. Till date, no one has been punished.

According to statistical data, the highest level of kidnapping in Nigeria occurred in 2016 with 15,664 cases. In 2019, a total number of 2,895 persons were kidnapped, while 4,471 persons were abducted in 2020.

 Experts/analysts react

A political analyst and Chairman, Section on Public Interest and Development Law, Nigeria Bar Association, Monday Ubani, said, “The point is that the reality on the ground does not agree with his (Buhari’s) assertion. Nobody can conveniently travel by road anymore to any of the northern states. Travel from Kaduna now to Abuja, you know how people are being kidnapped on the road every day. So, which North-East has he secured? Buhari has not contributed anything to move us forward as a nation; rather, it would have been better if Buhari had taken us back to 2015 instead of where we are now. He has taken us to the 15th century. He just brought Nigeria from top to bottom and that’s the truth.”

He stressed that all sections of the country had been negatively impacted by the regime and argued that Buhari’s decision to grant pardon to two ex-governors, Joshua Dariye and Jolly Nyame, who were convicted of corruption.

A Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Victor Okpara, said despite the claims by the President, the quality of living of Nigerians had dropped from what it used to be in 2015. He stated, “What is the whole essence of getting them into power? They should think outside the box and bring that requisite succour to Nigerians. Nigerians are uncomfortable; the life expectancy in Nigeria has dropped. No one can actually say that this is not the reason. There is a lot of bad governance in this country and that is the problem.

“The President, being the father of the nation, the buck stops on his table. In terms of decision making and the quality of advisers you have, the speeches are good, but the question is, are these speeches going to transform into action? Are we going to see a difference? The President is saying this in less than one year to go. I don’t see any magic happening in this short period.”

A political analyst, Evans Ofeli, said while the current regime had failed to address the major concerns of the citizens, it decided to present to Nigerians a scorecard that was far from reality.

Ofeli stated, “When this government came into power in 2015, it said it would address a lot of issues; so far, it has not been able to address one among all the issues raised. He (Buhari) didn’t talk about the cost of living, which has gone really very high in the last three years; he didn’t talk about the rate of killing, which has gone really very high; he talked about corruption, but if you look at what is on the ground, there is huge corruption. He didn’t talk about the naira rate to the dollar, which is very high. He didn’t talk about what he and the security agencies are doing to reclaim a lot of ungoverned spaces.

“For me, he sounded like someone who is already tired. The truth is that the APC government failed from the moment it took off. The President failed to constitute his cabinet in six months, and the only thing they can be proud of is the railway, which they borrowed huge sums of money to build. Now, they can’t tame the bandits and the rails are not functioning now. What is the plan to tackle insurgency and bandits? The ones who have been arrested, how many of them have been prosecuted? That speech did not address the practical issues confronting this nation. It has no correlation with the realities on the ground in Nigeria.

“Lecturers have been on strike for over seven months, the cost of living is so high, the minimum wage is still low, our institutions are still riddled with corruption and the police are still harassing citizens and extorting money from them. It is shameful that 62 years after independence, we have not been able to manage 200 million people.”

Another public affairs analyst, Prof Kamilu Fage, said the Buhari regime had not performed well contrary to what the President stated in his October 1 address. “I can’t say all the things he has said have been met. The government seems to have performed very badly in these areas. Things tend to be very bad now in terms of insecurity, inflation, the devaluation of naira and even debt,” he stated.

In his reaction, a stalwart of the APC and Director-General of the Voice of Nigeria, Osita Okechuckwu, said the President had performed above average.

He stated, “A lot of people forget that when Mr President came, there were state governors who owed salaries, pensions and gratuities, and he had to raise N1.9tn and he wasn’t biased with that. It was spread across to the APC, the PDP and APGA states.

“If I name one by one the number of projects that he rehabilitated across the country, the Second Niger Bridge, and so many more projects. Look at the federal infrastructure. A lot of people are not even doing assessment of the state governors, but they forget that a state governor is controlling about 26 per cent of state allocation and about 20 per cent of local government allocation; we are using that of the Federal Government to do an assessment.

“Those who are talking about insecurity did not see that just last week, helicopters and Super Tucano fighter jets were delivered. You don’t buy them off the shelf; the American people have to agree with you before they even sell to you. There was a time they were not selling to Nigeria, but because of diplomatic expertise that was displayed, they sold to us. Now, why has insecurity been contained? It’s because of the equipment. As he (Buhari) said, it’s an appreciable progress and that we have not got to the destination.

“Mr President is not an orator that you will be expecting to raise a speech like a singer, no. On corruption, nobody is saying that you can clean up corruption in a short while. There is no village on earth, no matter the language, that does not have the word ‘thief’, which means there are thieves throughout the world and you can’t just wipe them off in one day. For the governors, I know some of the properties seized from the governors were not given back. Yes, they were pardoned because of some other exigencies, but their properties were not returned to them.

“On the (former) accountant-general, if Buhari was stealing with him, they wouldn’t try him. They would have covered it up. For the fact that somebody is being tried, it is a fight against corruption. If the person had been covered, nobody would have tried the man, he would have still been on the seat. The performance rate of Mr President is above average and let nobody give him zero for God’s sake; it would not be fair.”

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