In the next two months, it will be one year since the inception of the Buhari administration. It will be a period of reviews, reckoning and analysis of what has happened and what has changed through the policies and activities of the administration. The same exercise will be repeated at the state level and should be the case for local governments where elections took place. At the federal level, the honeymoon between Nigerians and the new administration has lasted for a fairly long time and is winding down as the people are faced with the challenges of everyday life. The ghosts of the previous administration are fading away and using the ghosts as excuses for non-performance is becoming very difficult to sustain.
On the economic front, we have entered a period of grave challenges never witnessed since the return to civil rule in 1999. The major source of foreign currency and revenue to fund the budget has collapsed in the price of crude oil. Many states are heavily indebted and unable to meet their day to day obligations to citizens including payment of workers’ salaries. Allegations and disclosures about mind-boggling sums stolen from the treasury by previous managers are daily unveiled and a number of these managers are facing corruption charges and trials before various courts.
The inflation rate has moved beyond the single digit where it had been for almost a decade; workers are being retrenched; capacity utilisation in industries is low and hardship has overtaken the land. The reserves in the Excess Crude Account which should have served as a buffer to governments in these hard times have been drawn down. Pressures by state governments on the legality of the ECA and poor management practices at the federal level led to it being almost empty compared to the 2007-2009 period when the ECA had close to $20bn. These are facts that will refuse to go away as they are now part of lived experiences.
But the present challenge is not about these damning statistics and the role of previous governments in creating the rot. It is about what the present administration is doing to respond to the challenges. And this is where the figures are not adding up. The first is that we are not using all our competencies and the first 11 to run our affairs at a time of grave national crisis. In street language, we are not firing in all cylinders and available competencies are left idle when all hands are supposed to be on deck. Where is the economic management team of the administration? Who and who are in the team? Where are the stars and tested hands in the team? Where is the economic blueprint and roadmap of the administration? Is there any coherent overarching strategy for the administration? What are the sectors’ specific responses to stem the tide? Are we making evidence-led progress or are we muddling through? There are too many posers and very few answers.
It is submitted that by now, the team working on a coherent policy framework and strategy for the administration should have been concluding its work after consultations and meetings with various stakeholders. Such a document would have benefited from popular inputs and most of its provisions known by stakeholders. There are unconfirmed reports that a committee has been set up by government and it is already working on the framework document. Working secretly and without talking to any stakeholder? Such a framework document gives citizens, investors, the private sector, foreign organisations the confidence and guide to respond to economic and other challenges.
To compound matters, three key ministries namely, works, power and housing have been merged and given to one minister. And these sectors will to a lager extent determine the rating of the administration. With the challenges in the power sector which has defied several administrations, it makes eminent sense to have a minister waking up, eating, sleeping and dreaming power reforms rather than giving the same minister two more plates full of challenges. With over 20 million backlogs in the housing sector, it should have been ideal to have it as a separate ministry that plunges empirically into solving the deficit and guaranteeing adequate housing for all. To now add the works component to this full plate when our roads and infrastructure are very poor, compounds the management of the three sectors.
We are still in a situation where all eyes are on the Monetary Policy Committee of the Central Bank each time it proposes to meet. Discussions about exchange rate, inflation, interest rates among others dominate media discussions. But these rates are not thrown up in vacuum. The MPC looks at and collaborates with other policy frameworks including fiscal, trade and industrial policy to arrive at well-nuanced decisions. But it seems the MPC is working in a vacuum. What is the fiscal response to the economic crisis? How has trade and industrial policy responded? As usual, we will all end up disappointed with the MPC’s decisions because we expect the MPC to perform magic when the members are not magicians.
A plea to Mr. President, we have lost time but there is still time to make the desirable economic and social impact. Look for our best and first 11. Get them into a team. Let them harness the ideas of Nigerians across all divides and present a strategy and action plan for the remaining part of your administration. Let the plan be coherent and actionable. Forget about fixations of the 1970s and 80s; be pragmatic and respond to the Nigerian situation as it is now. Let Nigerians and the world know the direction of governance beyond anti-corruption. Take part in marketing such a strategy and liberate the energies of Nigerians to build the Nigeria of our dreams. Separate works, housing and power into single ministries.
Yes, Mr. President, get the experts to draft key bills that would enhance the work of your administration. Your party has the majority in the National Assembly and there is so much goodwill to be tapped – so the bills would not be long before they come back to your table for assent. Look beyond your party in the search for capable hands to serve the country. Set targets and task teams and back them up with resources and political goodwill from the highest authority in the land.
Get very experienced speech writers who will write empowering, thought provoking and memorable speeches that will bring out the best in Nigerians. Dream great dreams and look for persons to translate the dreams and visions into reality. Challenge Nigerians positively and you will be marveled at their response. Nigerians will rate you well if they understand what you are doing and you “carry them along” in your plans. Otherwise, the honeymoon is virtually over and the ratings will be very poor.