Still on the Buhari Administration’s 1st Year in Office
The Buhari Administration in its 1st Year in Office has struggled to convince Nigerians it has what it takes to bring about the much-needed change promised. The new government campaigned on the basis that it would improve security, curb corruption, create jobs and grow the economy. Are Nigerians right to be skeptical about what has been achieved so far? Citizens appear divided over the performance but can anyone really articulate what the issues are? Knowing where Nigeria now is in relation to where the voters expected it to be after one year might help them identify the specific steps they need to take if they are to achieve the change they seek through the Buhari Administration. This article seeks to be one useful contribution towards that quest. With a clear mandate to deal with “security, corruption and the economy”, how much has really changed in the last year?
With regards to security, whilst it is true the Boko Haram (BH) threat has been severely degraded by the government, new security threats have since emerged in several pockets around the country. In addition, the approaches deployed by the military in dealing with the security threats have left some wondering how sustainable our current level of peace will be. The media’s portrayal of the military actions has been rather mixed- either accusations of human rights abuses/extra judiciary killings by the military or claims by the military to have acted purely in self-defence. In cases where the State was perceived to have been threatened, the military appears to have acted swiftly to nip it in the bud notably acts by the Shiites, iPOB and MASSOB movements. In other cases where threats were more to citizens than the State, the military response has been lukewarm at best, such as clashes between farmers and herdsmen. It appears in areas where the President has a firm support base, security threats are on the decline or are seemingly felt to be non-existent (e.g. herdsmen), whereas in areas where the President has a weak support base, security threats are seen to be on the rise. Perhaps those who lost out from President’s historic emergence are simply signalling the need to redress and renegotiate power imbalances. The Buhari Administration should address the problem of insurgencies in a more holistic manner, one which includes both military and political solutions, particularly in parts of the country representing a weaker support base for the President. Even in areas where the President is apparently well liked, there are known political interests capable of destabilizing the State especially those surrounding the discovery of oil in the Lake Chad basin. If this was the real purpose of those behind the BH insurgency, we may not have heard the last of them. It is commendable that the government is now considering talks on the Niger Delta Avengers’ (NDA) issue; a step in the right direction.
This administration has been quite vocal on the fight against corruption and a lot of effort has been exerted in the last year. Nevertheless, many may question the impact and sustainability of such tactics. For the fight against corruption to be effective, efficient and sustainable, there needs to be public momentum behind it. For public momentum to be built there needs to be a clear vision shared, strategy outlined, operational plan and thorough engagement of stakeholders alongside current tactics and efforts. As it is, the business community may not be aware of what role to play in the anti-corruption war, but we are happy to note efforts by the Presidential Advisory Committee against Corruption (PACAC) to engage the Private Sector through the Association of Professional Bodies of Nigeria (APBN). The same i.e. unaware of what role to play can be said of civil servants, faith-based organisations, professionals, civil society organisations and the general public. Indeed the fight against corruption in Nigeria is an extremely daunting and difficult task that no one person could be expected to fight and win alone in the way Nigerians expect the President to do. Everyone should be challenged on what role they each could play in the fight once the direction has been made crystal clear from the top. There is an urgent need for better communication from the President on the fight against corruption, as there is nowhere in the world where change was successfully brought about without communication.
However well he does on security or corruption, the President’s time in office may eventually be judged primarily on economic performance i.e. visible improvement in the lives and livelihoods of citizens. Nigeria’s GDP growth rate has unfortunately contracted for the first time in the last 12 years coupled with record unemployment and high inflation. The economy has progressively worsened since this administration came into office largely due to factors beyond the control of the administration. However, the choices around forex management and the treatment of government subsidies further exacerbated the problem. Reactionary forex policies led to nationwide confusion and even fuelled corruption while the delay in the removal of the fuel subsidy brought about untold hardship. We welcome the partial removal of fuel subsidies (although full removal would be better) and we also note the shift to a more flexible exchange rate regime. The latter in particular is expected to bring about huge gains in the capital market as foreign investors might be enticed to look favourably once more on opportunities in Nigeria due to reduced uncertainty and greater transparency. Proper diversification of Nigeria’s economy requires putting together a strong economic team that can formulate and communicate clear policies hinged on a well thought out economic blueprint. Arguably, there should be a bias towards private sector led development, where market based mechanisms drive development.
So, what can we say about the first year? Are the skeptics right? On a scale of 1-5, how should we score the performance of the Buhari Administration after the 1st year in office? On security, a good 3-4 out of 5 seems reasonable. On corruption, a weaker 2-3 out of 5 and on the economy, a very tepid 1-2 out of 5. Overall? What do you think?