The Buhari Year 3 Mid Term Report — Year of Nothingness
2017 was a rather peculiar year…..a year that proved that “do nothing” is indeed an option that can produce outcomes. Nigeria started the year still firmly ensconced in a recession, with the first quarter of 2017 proving to be the fifth straight quarter of contraction. However, despite doing practically nothing, Nigeria’s GDP was back in the black by the second quarter of 2017 with further improvement in the third quarter on the back of rising oil prices and a slow down in inflation. It was so obvious that the government had nothing of importance to show as achievement in 2017 that on Christmas Eve in the middle of a debilitating fuel scarcity, the media team thought it made sense to present a documentary on President Buhari’s “human side” on national television, see here. Just when you thought you had seen it all.
As with other reviews done over the first 24 months of the Buhari presidency, this review will look at the Change Tripod: Corruption, Economy and Insecurity. After two years, half way through his first term, the Change Tripod was in disastrous shape as reported in this 24 months review. It required a significant shift in direction and an injection of intellectual rigor and urgency to get the country back on course. Instead, the same lethargy and obvious lack of capability that has bedeviled this administration from the onset remain firmly in place. After all, this is a President that just appointed about 10 dead people into the boards of federal agencies!
Corruption — Here to stay
A pervasive feeling of helplessness has become the hallmark of the Buhari presidency with regard to tackling corruption as promised. It has remained business as usual with incidents even very close to home as seen with the indictment of the former Secretary to the Federal Government, Babachir Lawal for misuse of funds meant for Internally Displaced Persons in the North East. Lawal was finally relieved of his duties and replaced, however there has been no move by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to ensure that he is brought to justice. Same is the case with the former Director General of the National Intelligence Agency, Ayo Oke who was indicted for the huge sums of cash found in an apartment in Ikoyi. Oke was also dismissed and nothing further has been heard of the matter. What would have been a major opportunity to record a big win against corruption and set the tone has been lost, giving the lie to claims by President Buhari that he is keen to kill corruption before it kills Nigeria. He doesn’t seem ready just yet.
Throw in the corruption allegations made against the Group MD of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Maikanti Baru by the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Ibe Kachikwu. Those allegations remain unresolved, with some of the revelations indicting President Buhari himself as he was said to have been authorizing some contracts while he was on his sick bed, in contravention of the Constitution as he had handed over power to the Vice President. There was also the reinstatement of the former Chairman of Pensions Reform Task Team, Abdul-Rasheed Maina, who has been on the run since his indictment in 2013 over pension fraud allegations. Maina who was dismissed from the Federal Civil Service in February 2013 was surreptitiously reinstated with Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami heavily involved.
This is an administration that came to power on an Integrity and Anti Corruption platform, yet at every turn is intent on creating loopholes for corrupt practices. Case in point, the Central Bank of Nigeria’s (CBN) insistence on sticking to a Naira to US Dollar exchange rate that is clearly 20% lower than the accepted market level, creating an arbitrage opportunity. One can only imagine how many FX billionaires have been newly created just as we had fuel subsidy billionaires in the recent past. As stated in this article, corruption is winning the war and Buhari is fast emerging as an enabler rather than the stopper he promised to be.
Economy — The Fanny Amun Ideology in full effect
Nigeria’s economic performance in 2017, particularly from the second quarter is reminiscent of the Fanny Amun led Flying Eagles team at the 1995 Africa Youth Championships, remembered for their wobbling and fumbling. Nigeria has wobbled and fumbled out of recession, but the main prize of effective growth continues to elude the nation due to poor and ineffective policies by the government. The exit from recession was solely attributed to the 25% increase in average oil price from 2016 to 2017. In contrast, the Non Oil sector of the economy shrunk according to the Q3 2017 GDP report from the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics (NBS), a result of the counter-intuitive fiscal and monetary policies which are decimating the local economy.
The government remains patently unable to finance its budgets yet persists in increasing proposed spend each successive year, with a proposed plan to spend N8.6Trillion in 2018 despite bringing in only N1.5Trillion in revenue for the first half of 2017. Signature programs such as the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) and the Ease of Doing Business initiative have yet to make any impact as they remain wishlists which do not take off as they run contrary to the fundamental statist ideology of the President. For example, the liberalization of the foreign exchange market which despite the gains of the Importer/Exporter market launched in 2017 by the CBN, remains without clarity given the multiplicity of rates. In addition, unemployment in Nigeria rose to 19% by Q3 2017 according to the NBS.
To make matters worse, Nigeria has had fuel scarcity since the start of December 2017 due to refusal to adjust petrol prices in line with market realities, see this article for details. Without doubt, fuel availability is a key indicator for the Nigerian economy and whenever there is a scarcity the economy literally grinds to a halt. In addition, there is usually an inflationary effect as transporters, food suppliers and others that can pass on their costs to consumers immediately adjust their prices to accommodate the higher cost of buying “black market” fuel. In effect, with the non oil sector still struggling, if the fuel scarcity persists there is the possibility of slipping back into a recessionary situation. It will be unforgivable for this government to stand by and watch the economy take a hit again due to its poor policies as well as refusal to act appropriately and with urgency.
Insecurity — $1Billion for the account
2 years after announcing to the world that Boko Haram has been technically defeated (see here), President Buhari is looking to access USD$1Billion from the balance in the Excess Crude Account (ECA) to fight the same Boko Haram. This is against the backdrop of continued attacks on both military and civilian targets by the group he once called riff raffs. Given the fact that a major 6 week offensive in early 2015 had made it possible for elections to be held in the North East, it is quite disappointing that the Buhari administration has not been able to put down this insurgency definitively and permanently two and a half years later. There is no confidence that this new plan to spend will make a significant change, especially when one considers elections are round the corner, as this could just be a ploy to feather the campaign nest. It remains to be seen how this unfolds, especially as Vice President Osinbajo later stated that the funds are not meant to fight Boko Haram alone, but to deal with security challenges across the country.
However, insecurity issues under the Buhari administration have grown beyond just Boko Haram. The Fulani Herdsmen have continued to attack with impunity, leaving communities decimated across the middle belt region. There has been no effective government action to combat this threat. In addition, there has been a quite discernible (and discomfiting) uptick in the incidence of armed robberies and kidnappings across the nation. Rather than address these threats, law enforcement agencies such as the Special Anti Robbery Squad have unleashed terror on civilians leading to a cry out captured under the #EndSARS campaign. The government has rather conspicuously ignored the campaign, refusing to address the issues. Add the various operations undertaken by the Nigerian Army, particularly in the South East in response to the Independent People of Biafra (IPOB). The IPOB leader has since gone missing with rumors that he was abducted by the Army. When all these various elements are taken into consideration, it is obvious that Nigeria is sitting on a powder keg scenario and a lot needs to be done to defuse the situation.
Countdown to Elections
2018 is a key year as it is the year in which election campaigns will kick off in earnest ahead of the 2019 general elections. Just as Goodluck Jonathan did, if Muhammadu Buhari seeks reelection, he will run on his record. So far, it is not a glowing report card and each day, those who had trooped out in numbers to send him to Aso Rock are expressing their intent to troop out again, but this time to send him out. He has a year to win them back, perhaps his return to good health may be the fillip he needs to knuckle down and begin to deliver. A herculean task, but stranger things have happened…..won’t bet on it though.