By ABBA MAHMOOD —
Every day, it is becoming obvious that this government came to power with no clear idea of what to do with the power it got. Delay in taking decisions is one of its hallmarks known to all by now. Does it mean President Buhari has been contesting for the presidency four times without any clear agenda of what to do for Nigeria, with no clearly identified goals, and no clear team to help him actualize these goals? It took him 166 days to name his cabinet, and, after all this waste of precious time, he was able to bring, in most cases, square pegs in round holes. Government is like a race; if the take-off is bad there is no way you expect to win.
Nigeria is undergoing one of its worst recessions in its history. The president in his wisdom appointed an economic adviser recently but posted him to the office of the vice president. He appointed a finance Minister whose only previous experience in governance was as finance commissioner in her state, and she has very little exposure nationally or internationally. He appointed a lawyer in charge of budget. He appointed a head of an NGO in charge of foreign affairs. He retained the Central Bank of Nigeria governor who did some of the worst things financially on behalf of the previous government. He retained virtually all the heads of parastatals appointed by the previous government and, where a few were removed, those acting were appointees of the previous government.
President Buhari appointed a secretary to government of the federation who was not a real civil servant to manage policy in such a complex era. He appointed a chief of staff who did not have necessary public or even political experience and centralized all powers in him. Previously, the chief of staff was in charge of presidential aides but now even ministers report through him, even though there was the ridiculous mistake of appointing the chief of staff into the NNPC Board as member. Does it mean ministers report through the chief of staff while he now serves under the petroleum minister who is chairman of the NNPC Board? Or if there is a board meeting he will leave his presidential work in the Villa and go to attend a ministerial work in NNPC? It is really funny.
After almost half term in office, it is now that the cabinet came for a retreat on the economy — a cabinet that virtually has no well-known economist. It is only now that some people in government are talking of a so-called roadmap on oil and gas. Now, there are at least 10 former ministers of finance and at least six former Central Bank governors who are alive. Since the president does not want to get economists into his government, why can’t the government call these people and task them to look at the economy and come out with solutions? At least that may save us the embarrassment of government officials blaming the previous government on the current economic situation or the vice president saying recession was caused by Niger Delta militants!
President Obasanjo took over in 1999 when oil was selling for less than $20 per barrel. He set up a nice team, was able to pay off the debts, and left a healthy economy for the regime that took over from him. He never blamed anybody but set out to tackle the problems using Nigerians who are knowledgeable in economic matters such as Soludo, El-Rufai, Mukhtar, Okonjo-Iweala and others. He gave hope even when the situation was getting hopeless. He gave leadership when it was needed.
In Nigeria’s recent history, there was no government that was development-oriented that did not have an economic think-tank. Under Babangida, Prof. Aboyade of blessed memory was heading the policy team. He was one of the best economists Africa has ever produced. Under Abacha, Prof. Sam Aluko, also one of the best, was chairman of the Economic Intelligence Committee. The Nigerian economy had never been better managed than it was that time. In the first term of Obasanjo, it was Prof. Ayagi that headed the team before Okonjo-Iweala became the head of the Economic Management Team. You can’t have the right result when you don’t have the right team. This is not rocket science.
As it is now, no serious investor can ever contemplate investing in this economy under this dispensation. As any student of economics knows, it takes at least 18 months for any good project to come on stream. In the next 18 months, it would be time for another round of elections and a new transition. So investors would rather wait to see the next policies even if this government would continue beyond 2019. In any case, capital is a coward: it only goes where it is safe. So, with the level of uncertainty in the economic indices, even Nigerian investors will be reluctant to invest here at present. The exchange rate, interest rate, monetary policy, fiscal policy and indeed the entire economic policy of the government are not yet clearly predictable or even identifiable. In other words, it is already a legacy of failure.
The most unfortunate thing is that no one knows the direction the country is heading to as far as policy formulation and implementation are concerned. Various government officials give conflicting signals to the public in their pronouncements on critical issues affecting Nigeria. In the midst of all the current confused situation, government resorted to a sloganeering campaign tagged “Change begins with me”, during which the president and Nigeria were embarrassed when Buhari read a plagiarised speech written for him by an incompetent speech writer! Buhari and his team should better know that they have stopped exciting anyone anymore. If they have any plans for Nigeria, no one has communicated it to the public yet. By the time foreign airlines leave the Nigerian airspace, the country would go further down.
The cumulative effort of all these is that the president and his government have lost enormous goodwill both here and outside. Even the people of Kano, Buhari’s political base and where he got his highest votes, are feeling disappointed because the economy of that ancient commercial centre has collapsed and their youth are getting destroyed by drugs. There is desperation and frustration everywhere. People can’t wait to change the change unless there is urgent change. You can’t take the entire national economy and hand over to one section of the country and expect the rest of the country to remain happy or satisfied. The president should know that there is poverty, hunger and despair everywhere in the land.
History is on the side of the oppressed.