A Nation Adrift.

Nigeria is adrift and beset with monumental challenges. Sadly, and painfully too, the President Muhammadu Buhari-led government appears not to realise the magnitude of the challenge. No one seems to be in charge despite the fact that an election was held and leaders were elected in the executive and the legislature. Can I ask; who really is in charge? If someone or a set of persons claims to be in charge, can they tell Nigerians what concretely they are doing to tackle the monumental challenges affecting every segment of our society? It is no longer about playing to the gallery. What are the concrete deliverables and timelines that have been set or met by this administration?

As I write this piece on the first day of May, being the fifth month of the year, the nation has no approved budget. Yet, some persons are being paid as the President and members of the Federal Executive Council. Others are paid as “distinguished” senators and “honourable” members of the House of Representatives. Above these, there is a plethora of personal and special assistants to the high level state officials and assistants to the special and personal assistants – all at the public expense. What value are we deriving from these payments? The Nigerian financial year is defined as the period between January 1 and December 31 and four months has already gone in the financial year. The Buhari government displays no sense of fiscal urgency and propriety and simply keeps muddling through.

Again, there are media reports that the executive has started the preparation of the 2017 budget. Is the executive preparing the national budget in the recesses of its chambers? Is this the executive budget or the national/federal budget? Who are they consulting? Have they spoken to the leadership of the National Assembly about the parameters and the fundamentals? Where is the consultation anticipated in the Fiscal Responsibility Act for budget preparation to get inputs from organised private sector, labour, professional groups, women and youth and civil society in general? At the end of the day, estimates that are not evidence-led and that simply repeat the mistakes of the past will be thrown up to the National Assembly and the whole circus show of previous years begins afresh. When shall the executive learn from previous folly?

Also, the Federal Government has no coherent strategy, plan or document that captures the thrusts of its programmes almost one year after assuming office. It seems we are back to the era of “as the spirit leads” the administration, so shall it proceed. What are the milestones on electricity, access to health care, education, infrastructure, among others? Are we being led into a blind alley? Nigeria should have gone beyond this type of moving without a roadmap long ago. Every administration comes up with a road map and on the basis of the road map; we can enter into a dialogue and assess their performance. But it seems we are operating in a void. We had the National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy under President Olusegun Obasanjo, the Seven-Point Agenda under Umaru Yar’Adua, and the President Goodluck Jonathan’s Transformation Agenda. What economic policy or strategy undergirds the current administration and who exactly is still in charge? President Buhari should speak up and tell Nigerians about his economic road map.

In the electricity sector, the same old stories about unavailability of gas and sabotage of gas pipelines continue to be told. But we have suffered an increase in electricity tariffs only to reap system collapse, darkness and lack of electricity. So, what are we paying for? The private operatives and the system get more financial resources and deprive citizens of electricity. And this appears to be normal, the new equilibrium. Pray, if we keep talking about pipeline sabotage, let us take a minute and review previous budgets. As of 2011, the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Petroleum Resources, Sheik Goni, stated that government was implementing the Real Time Pipeline System Surveillance project, aimed at detecting, locating and quantifying pipeline leaks in real time and thereby preventing severe loss of lives and property in the event of pipeline ruptures and sabotage. About N7bn was invested in the project which was about 85 per cent completed in 2011. So, what happened? What value are we deriving from the real time pipeline system surveillance? Did someone collect money and fail to deliver the services? Enough of story-telling. Who is in charge? Let him speak up with an energy road map.

And the Senate entered the fray with its scandalous purchase of SUVs at about N36m each at a time the general consensus is that public procurement should create local jobs and facilitate the revival of local industries. With the auto policy of the government that encourages local vehicle production and assembly, it made eminent sense for the Senate to lead by example. Sadly, the Senate, again, failed the test of common sense and reason. The cars seem to have been priced beyond their market value and seem to be out of tune with the spirit of our age and the reality of our time. Still about cars, Nigerian civil society must be prepared to institutionalise our cost of governance campaigns. What vehicles do ministers, permanent secretaries and judges drive? To the best of my knowledge, I see a lot of SUVs. I acknowledge that I do not know their cost of procurement. But if it is the consensus that SUVs are no longer the vehicle of choice for public officials, the campaign should be across board as it will make no sense for some public officials to continue living in opulence while others are portrayed as devils.

In about 26 states of the federation, workers are being owed salaries. However, the governors leading the pack of political office holders are living like the biblical prodigal son. They tell workers to forbear and have patience while they revel in opulence and incredible luxury. Their perks of office remain untouched and they make no sacrifices. And to make matters worse, some of the governors diverted the bailout funds approved by the federal government. Yet, they seek another bailout without accounting for how they spent the proceeds of the first. For their three transgressions and for four, Nigerian workers should take bold and firm actions to ground those states that diverted their bailout until the governors refund the last kobo of the diverted money. So, who is in charge in the states – governors, the devil, money launderers or who exactly? Anyone who does not have a fellow feeling cannot qualify to be a state governor. Unfortunately, we have so many fellows who think only of themselves as state governors. Where is the leadership at the state level?

But the Federal Government has virtually promised state governors more money to ostensibly pay workers accumulated salaries. This is a big joke. A great opportunity was lost in the first bailout; the same opportunity still presents itself again. The opportunity is to use the bailout as a time to conduct a proper public finance management assessment of the states. How do they manage their finances, craft their budgets, the level of transparency and accountability, propriety of their fiscal structures, etc? Let states that are ready to reform get the new funds and not just a blank cheque to state governors that are unwilling to reform and need more funds to embezzle. Of course, every governor must scrupulously account for the first bailout before qualifying for the second.

The nation is adrift, those elected and appointed must stand up to take charge or else, we should head for another election.

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