Two years on, Nigerians appraise gains, pains of Buhari’s government
By Tope Adeboboye
It was an administration that rode into office with much aplomb.
Immediately after Muhammadu Buhari was installed Nigeria’s president on Thursday, May 29, 2015, at Eagle Square, Abuja, a dole of doves was released into the air, signifying the dawn of a new day. And as the doves soared into the cloudless sky of the nation’s capital, so soared the expectations of millions of Nigerians, men and women that had eagerly awaited a diametric change in their lives and their country, as vigorously pledged during the campaign of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
Two years down the road, how has the nation fared? Not a few would answer in the negative, even as others would nod in the affirmative. And neither group would be lacking in justifications for its position.
In the past few months, the nation’s economy has been in the doldrums. The naira, Nigeria’s currency, has suffered unprecedented whipping in the hands of the world’s major currencies.
Yet it hasn’t been a bed filled with only thorns and thistles. As some Nigerians criticise the Buhari government for dilly-dallying on some issues affecting the country, others are eulogising the administration for its pragmatic tackling of some critical national issues.
Right now, the state of the Nigerian economy seems the major issue troubling the minds of many.
“As the recession bites, inflation rises. Prices of essential items have continued to increase, even as many companies have not relented in laying-off their staff. But then, all hope isn’t lost. Some interventions by the government seem to be steadily navigating the nation from the recession path,” an economist, Dr. Martin Alaba, said.
Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, recently asserted that the number of sub-sectors of the economy experiencing negative growth has almost halved, falling from 29 sub-sectors in 2016 to 16 in the first quarter of 2017. It was also stated that growth in manufacturing has become positive after five straight quarters of negative growth. It grew by 1.36 per cent in the first quarter of 2017 after falling to -7.0 per cent in the first quarter of 2016.
Daily Sun’s findings showed that the agriculture and the solid minerals sectors have not fared too badly, in spite of the recession. For instance, agriculture recorded a 4.11 per cent increase in 2016, while solid minerals grew by 7 per cent. The contribution of the Ministry of Solid Minerals’ to the Federation Account tripled to about N2 billion in 2016, up from N700 million in 2015, it was learnt.
But some Nigerians insist that the government hasn’t adequately employed solid minerals to address the country’s economic challenges, as promised by the federal government.
Hassan Adamu is one such Nigerian. “By this time, you would have expected that solid minerals would have become one of our major revenue sources. But what do we still have? Illegal miners, especially foreigners, setting the pace in the solid minerals sector,” he said.
Minister of Mines and Steel Development, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, recently declared that the federal government was partnering the states to tackle illegal mining in the country. But national president of Miners Association of Nigeria, Alhaji Sani Shehu, said the government must employ the security agencies, especially the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) to protect mining sites against illegal miners.
One of the reasons adduced for the hardship in the country was the sudden drop in the price of crude oil in the international market. The reporter learnt that in spite of the low revenue accruing to the country at the moment, the country has continued to fill up its reserves.
Special Adviser to President Buhari on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, said: “Even at a time of low oil prices, and by implication low government revenues, Nigeria’s External Reserves have grown by $7 billion since October 2016. The Sovereign Wealth Fund has seen inflows of $500 million in 2016 and 2017 (the first inflows since the original $1 billion with which the fund kicked off in 2012), and the Excess Crude Account has seen an inflow of $87 million in 2017.”
Similarly, the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme (ABP), an initiative of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), has ensured, among others, improvement in the local production of grains. The productive agricultural collaboration between Lagos and Kebbi states (which produced the Lake Rice), it was gathered, was a product of the ABP. As a result of these initiatives, Nigeria’s rice imports fell from 580,000 metric tonnes in 2015 to 58,000MT in 2016.
Besides that, Daily Sun further learnt, the presidential fertilizer programme has also been of much benefit to farmers, even though there are insinuations in some quarters that the benefits of the initiative are not evenly spread across the country.
“Rich farmers still seem to benefit more from these fertiliser subsidies,” lamented Prince Afam. “Rural farmers are afflicted by poverty. There is no change in their lives. Government must devise a process whereby the rural farmers will benefit from these initiatives.”
Among those adversely affected by the dwindling economy are the small and medium entrepreneurs across the country. With many struggling to put food on the table and cater for basic needs, patronage of small businesses has been on the decline.
In an article in the Chron, Tracey Sandilands argued that small businesses are often hit the hardest in an economic recession: “Many small businesses operate on a tightly controlled cash flow because they don’t typically have large cash resources available to them. As the money comes in, it goes out. In a recession, customers may delay purchases or payments for longer than usual, often because they are waiting for income to arrive themselves. This causes a chain reaction of delayed payments from one vendor to another.”
The writer could have been talking about Nigeria, as many owners of small and medium-scale businesses continue to lament their woes in the recession.
The federal government says, though, that it has been working hard to bring some succour to small and medium enterprises, among others. Such interventions include the establishment of the Development Bank of Nigeria, which has an initial funding of $1.3 billion provided by the World Bank, German Development Bank, African Development Bank and Agence Française de Development. The bank will provide medium and long-term loans to micro, small and medium enterprises. The MSME clinic also ensures interactions with government agencies that provide support to the businesses, among others.
Furthermore, the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council, which was inaugurated by President Buhari in August 2016, implemented a National Action Plan between February and April 2017. The federal government has said that 70 per cent of the targets have been achieved.
Indeed, only recently, Acting President Yemi Osinbajo signed Executive Orders on Improving Efficiency in the Business Environment, and on Promoting Local Procurement by Government Agencies.
President Buhari also launched the mid-term Economic Plan in April 2017. The plan charts a course for the Nigerian economy over the next four years.
Another important factor by which government at state or federal level is measured is its commitment to infrastructure, especially transport infrastructure. Over the years, across Nigeria, the state of transport infrastructure has been nothing to write home about. Many of the federal highways have become dilapidated and, for long, the rail system has virtually collapsed.
Each succeeding government has claimed that it spent huge sums to fix the roads and the rail system, yet the results are not tangible.
In the first year of the Presidemt Buhari administration, many Nigerians lampooned the federal government for apparently abandoning the roads. But the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, has since rolled up his sleeves. He has been touring the country, inspecting on-going federal road projects. He announced that 206 federal road projects were being executed across the country.
Adesina, the President’s spokesman, said the government was also pushing ahead with the revitalisation of the country’s 3,500km network of narrow-gauge railway. In March 2017 a consortium, led by General Electric, Transnet of South Africa, APM Terminals of the Netherlands and Sinohydro Consortium of China, submitted the sole bid for the concession of the Lagos-Kano Railway narrow-gauge Line. (Transaction Advisers were approved for the project in 2016). In May 2017, the Federal Executive Council approved the commencement of negotiations with GE to conclude the concessioning.
The federal government has also said the Abuja’s Light Rail system would be test-run this year. “The first line to be launched will connect the city centre with the airport, with a link to the Abuja-Kaduna Railway Line. The test-run will start in November 2017, ahead of full commencement of operations in the first quarter of 2018,” the Federal Government has announced.
Last year, President Buhari completed and inaugurated the Abuja-Kaduna rail service, which was started by the President Goodluck Jonathan administration. And in April, the government completed the reconstruction of the Abuja Airport runway within the scheduled six-week period.
In the area of security, many people have applauded the federal government, especially for tackling the Boko Haram terrorist scourge that had for years caused death and distress in the North East. The Buhari government has also ensured the release of many of the abducted Chibok schoolgirls. Earlier in May, 82 of the girls were released after three years in captivity.
Despite all this, some still insist that the federal government needs to do more to secure the country. Social commentator, David Udeh said: “I’m happy that the Boko Haram insurgents are being tackled. But that’s not the only security challenge in the country. Kidnappers are still as strong as ever. Government needs to tackle that too.”
The government has also been addressing the Niger Delta question. A series of interactions with stakeholders in the region, mostly led by the Acting President, has ensured the cessation of bombings of oil pipelines.
Some new initiatives for the area, it was gathered, include the approval of a 2017 commencement date for the stalled Nigerian Maritime University in Delta State, just as an
additional 35 billion naira has been approved for the Presidential Amnesty Programme. The federal government says it has also approved the establishment of modular refineries across the nine states of the Niger Delta, just as it pledged that construction would soon commence on abandoned projects across the Niger Delta, including the East-West Road.
The federal government has relentlessly pursued its anti-corruption fight, among others, just as its whistle-blowing policy is said to be yielding positive results.
But many Nigerians said the federal government should ensure a holistic approach to the anti-corruption fight, urging the Buhari administration to also prosecute government officials that have been accused of engaging in corrupt practices.
“Besides, the Apapa Road which leads to the ports deserve immediate attention,” David Udeh noted.