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The clock is ticking for Buhari’s Nigeria

AS a new year approaches, hopes of a brighter future raised by the inauguration six months ago of President Muhammadu Buhari have gone down a notch. A report by Bloomberg that the value of quoted equities on the Nigerian Stock Exchange fell by 22 per cent between April and November coincided with yet another foreign shuttle by the President amid petrol and power shortages. At home and abroad, the message to Buhari is strident: settle down and deliver on your promise of change.

For Nigerians and the administration, time is a luxury. A presidential term is only four years and Buhari has spent a bewildering six months simply cobbling together a cabinet, during which time he has made about 15 foreign trips. Between June and now, a third round of petrol shortages is just winding down after marketers collected the latest ransom of N407 billion as subsidy, while the naira has crashed to N250 to US$1 at the parallel market, down from N185 to US$1 in April. Power supply, described as epileptic for three decades until a flawed privatisation two years ago, has become even patchier in many parts of the country.

Though the Transmission Company of Nigeria reported average generation at just 4,000 megawatts in October, problems such as sabotage of gas supply pipelines, breakdown of obsolete equipment and sheer incompetence have denied businesses and homes of power and sustained Nigeria as Africa’s largest importer of standby generators. Industrial capacity utilisation, according to the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria, that stood at 59.5 per cent in June, has dipped a few percentage points, leading to further job losses in an economy grappling with a 24.1 per cent jobless rate. The National Bureau of Statistics says 1.5 million jobs were lost in the five months to November.

The government appears to be running primarily on the personality of the President, not on clearly set-out policy or an overall plan. Though important, this is not sufficient. Modern governance is built around institutions and processes, not on the integrity of a single person. It is more worrying that even after the cabinet was finally inaugurated, there has been no discernable sense of urgency or a new policy direction to concretise the administration’s promise of change. Like their principal, ministers appear tentative.

Buhari must therefore regain the momentum generated by his dramatic victory in the March presidential election that won national and international acclaim and encouraged foreign investors and governments to lean favourably once more towards Africa’s largest economy. Whereas the NSE’s All Share Index surged 12.5 per cent two days after the result was announced, the flight by portfolio investors has since resumed with about N47 billion leaving in November.

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After running for the top job four times since 2003, we had expected Buhari to hit the ground running. It is time to dump his snail’s pace and get cracking. Oil prices dipped dangerously low to $37 per barrel midweek after an Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries meeting in Vienna, Austria, broke up without an agreement on production cutbacks to stem over-supply. The tentative budget proposals unfurled by the National Planning Minister, Udoma Udo-Udoma, reveal tough times ahead. The budget envisages borrowing of about N1.9 trillion and a hefty deficit. Meanwhile, government’s finances are in a bad shape, having taken severe bashings from falling oil prices and the brigandage of the departed government. Buhari should squarely face the enormous challenges at home and drop his new-found taste for foreign trips. There are some trips he should delegate to the Vice-President or ministers.

After enduring the careless, inattentive government of Goodluck Jonathan, Nigerians deserve a hands-on government. We expect Buhari and his ministers to undertake regular working visits to project sites. The President should be the chief mourner when natural or man-made disasters occur. Presidents Barack Obama and Francois Hollande will never be too busy and will promptly abort foreign trips to be on hand when terrorism or floods occur in the United States and France respectively. That is an irreducible requirement of responsible leadership.

Nigerians expect action. When Alberto Fujimori won power in Peru in 1990, inheriting a country wracked by economic crisis and armed insurgency, he immediately concretised his election slogan of “Cambio” or change into liberal economic reforms and, according to The Economist, “succeeded in restoring Peru to the global economy” witnessed in investment inflows, privatisation of state enterprises and a GDP growth rate of 13 per cent by 1994, the world’s fastest then.

Paul Kagame did not waste time when he became Rwanda’s president in 2001, but quickly initiated reforms in education, finance, and agriculture, enabling the civil war-ravaged landlocked economy to become Central Africa’s services and IT hub and Africa’s top performer in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Index. Brazil’s Luiz Lula Da Silva similarly set to work when he became president after three attempts and before he left office, had led the South American country to become a rising economic power and dragged 20 million Brazilians out of poverty.

Buhari needs to inject such verve into his administration. Even the anti-corruption war, his major electoral asset, lacks a clear direction. Through delays and failure to start the cleansing at the judiciary, lawyers and judges are resorting to their old tricks of frustrating the trial of highly politically exposed persons.

The President should settle down in finding solutions to Nigeria’s socio-economic problems. He has enough good hands in the cabinet; he should get to work and design supply-side reforms geared towards production of goods and services that can compete globally, create jobs and reduce poverty.

 

Source: Punch Nigeria

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