Things Nigerians want to change in 2019
If Nigerians had been told that a time would come when they will buy a bag of rice for N20,000, they would probably had laughed it off. But that is the reality on ground today as the nation is presently under the strong hold of ‘hunger’ and ‘anger’ occasioned by economic hardship. It is even more worst for the average Nigerian worker who finds it hard to maximize his minimum wage during the time of ‘normalcy’ in the economy, talk less of now that everything is constantly going up.
When President Muhammadu Buhari assumed office as President, expectations were high; if not all, many claimed Nigeria’s ‘messiah’ has come and in a matter of time, things will begin to go normal and change will be ushered in.
But sadly, the testimony on the lips of many today is one that they cannot even share with their own mouth. After enjoying massive support from majority of Nigerians in office as President, the relationship between President Buhari and Nigerians appear to be in jeopardy, as the people have started questioning the All Progressives Congress’s (APC) ‘Change’ mantra.
Many of them who previously supported President Buhari not because he was the candidate of the opposition party that ejected the dominant Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) that governed the nation for 16 years, but due to his personal integrity and passion of building a better Nigeria are now beginning to scrutinize if not already withholding their support for his administration.
According to them, it is not what Mr. President promised during his campaign that is happening. They have suddenly become skeptical of the capacity of his cabinet and his administration, forgetting that he is not a magician. Circumstances have overtaken his beautiful plan for the country and what we are now experiencing is the dawn of reality.
After 29 years, the nation is presently faced with a worse economic slump, compared to the one that was experienced during the military regime of General Ibrahim Babangida. According to World Bank data, Nigeria’s economy recorded consecutive decline of 0.51 per cent and 0.82 per cent in first and second quarters of 1987.
After taking about 6 months to constitute his cabinet, Nigerians expressed reservation over President Buhari’s slow takeoff of governance. In fact, he was labeled “Baba go slow” on social media. Responding, his senior special assistant on media and publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu said, the selection process had taken this long because President Buhari, unlike previous presidents, has high expectations of his cabinet. The President told Nigerians that he was taking his time to select ‘technocrats’ whom he can entrust with the ‘Change’ vision.
But months after marking his first one year in office, the worst fears of many Nigerians happened – the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), in August confirmed that Nigeria’s economy was in recession and its worst economic recession in 29 years.
According to the NBS gross domestic product (GDP) report for the second quarter of 2016, Nigeria’s economy contracted by 2.06 per cent to record its lowest growth rate in three decades. In the first quarter of 2016, the NBS said the economy shrank by 0.36 per cent to hit its lowest point in 25 years.
“In the Second Quarter of 2016, the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) declined by -2.06% (year-on-year) in real terms.
“This was lower by 1.70% points from the growth rate of –0.36% recorded in the preceding quarter, and also lower by 4.41% points from the growth rate of 2.35% recorded in the corresponding quarter of 2015,” the NBS revealed.
To assuage the fear and tension created by the NBS revelation, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, said there was no cause for alarm, as his office and the Buhari-led administration are working to make the second half of 2016 better for Nigeria. But from then till now, Nigerians know the story better.
Contributing factors to the recession
1. The delay and controversies of the budget
If there is one thing that didn’t go down well with many Nigerians with regards to the administration of President Buhari, it is the scandalous ‘Budget Padding’ saga that rocked the National Assembly. From the date President Buhari laid the budget document before the joint session of the National Assembly, it was ‘one week one trouble’.
First, it was declared missing. Moving from that, the Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki admitted that the Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters Senator Ita Enang removed the original copy and replaced it with a different copy, different from the one presented by President Buhari.
To save the nation from embarrassment, the Presidency sent a fresh copy to the National Assembly for its speedy consideration and passage. But there was more to come as ministers denied the budget proposals for their ministry, saying that was not what they sent to the budget office.
Specifically, the Senate Committee on Education discovered a padded figure of N10 billion in its votes for parastatals. Also, the Ministry of Health disowned the budget proposal submitted on its behalf by the ministry of Budget and National Planning. Health Minister, Prof. Isaac Adewole, who addressed the Senate Committee on Health during its budget defence, said the proposal drawn up by his ministry and submitted to the budget office was doctored and that “foreign” appropriations, different from what was submitted, was sneaked in.
The budget literally moved from being ‘missing’ to being ‘padded’, ‘doctored’, or whatever you wish to call it.
After all the razzmatazz, the Appropriation Bill was eventually passed into law on March 23. Thinking all is now set for its implementation, another round of controversy started again. This time, the President refused assent to the bill; requesting that the details of the budget be forwarded to him before he would sign. The President had earlier in the United States, ruled out the possibility of early signing of the 2016 Appropriation Bill passed by the National Assembly. He had said that before he would sign the budget, he would do a ministry-by-ministry review of the document to ensure that what was returned to him was the same with what he submitted to the National Assembly for passage.
However, the detail of the budget was sent to President Buhari on April 8, and lo and behold, accusation and counter-accusation rented the media again. This time around, the National Assembly was accused of removing certain projects which the Presidency described as “key” to its change agenda from the budget, particularly the Lagos-Calabar rail project which the President said was removed. But the National Assembly seriously refuted the Presidency claim.
Speaking at a news conference in Abuja, spokesman of the House of Representatives, Abdulrazak Namdas, insisted that there was no project as to Lagos-Calabar rail in the 2016 budget presented by President Buhari. He criticised the late presentation of the project by the Minister of Transport, Chibuike Amaechi.
“What we are saying is that we couldn’t have removed what was not even inserted in the first place, this is actually not true. The story again is that the Minister (Amaechi) brought the Lagos-Calabar Rail Project to be included in the budget. We want to say clearly that budget is an estimate that is always presented in a joint sitting of the National Assembly by the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, we do not receive budget from the Ministers; it is from Mr. President. And what was given to us did not include the Lagos- Calabar Railway Project. So, for somebody to say that we removed something from this budget and that we pushed to the North, I think it is just to smear our image,” Namdas said.
Also lending his voice, Chairman, House Committee on Appropriation, Abdulmumin Jibrin said: “Lagos-Calabar Railway line was NEVER captured in the budget that was sent by the Executive. How then could it have been removed by NASS?” he queried via Twitter.
After all said and done, the President finally signed the budget into law on May 6, paving way for its full implementation.
As the second tenure of Buhari begins, Nigerians are not prepared for another round of foot-dragging on the passage of the budget of “Recovery and Growth”. They are hoping for a better and more improved budgeting process come year 2019.
2. High Inflation Rate
The recession has been further worsened with the prices of household items rising astronomically. As at October, Nigeria’s inflation rate stands at 18.3 per cent. Sadly enough, the woes of the people is further compounded with the non-payment of workers’ salaries by state governments and private employers, who owe workers backlog of unpaid salaries.
Government’s ban on the importation of certain essential products especially rice, which is a household delicacy without any plan to cushion the effect is rather unfortunate. The government’s decision of stopping the payment of fuel subsidy to some extent, contributed to the double digit inflation rate the country currently maintains. Placing of ban on rice import and the stoppage of fuel subsidy payment shouldn’t have been simultaneous.
Nigerians are looking to see how the government intends to make those banned goods produced sufficiently and available at affordable prices come 2019. They also hope to witness a drop in the prices of goods to restore their purchasing power.
3. Inconsistent economic policies of the present administration
Time without number, several economists and financial analysts had advised the federal government and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to harmonise its monetary and fiscal policies to reflect present realities. But the government has remained adamant.
Believe it or not, no investor will want to invest in an economy that charges double digit interest rate. With the interest rate fixed at 14 per cent, the more discouraged investors will be. And of course, poor investment into an economy will only end up pushing the unemployment rate high.
Also, the high tax rate is not helping matters. Even in the face of recession, the government still charges high taxes. This is rather unhealthy for small business owners. High interest and tax rate is definitely not a good signal an investor is looking for.
This 2019, Nigerians are hopeful that government will shift ground and fix a more realistic rate to instill confidence in investors and to encourage entrepreneurs stay in business.
4. Not saving for the rainy days
Since the APC-led administration came on board, casting of aspersions on the 16 years of PDP’s leadership has remained in public fore. From President Buhari to his cabinet members and members of the APC, the habit of blaming PDP for the nation’s economic slump has continued, making many to wonder why the APC and President Buhari promised “Change” during electioneering.
But one thing the Presidency has not considered properly is the fact that, majority of those who are currently with him in the APC, was once full-blown PDP members. In fact, some of them held key positions while they were PDP members. It is said that state governors under the auspices of the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF) which was formerly headed by the former governor of Rivers State and the present Minister of Transport, Rotimi Amaechi, pilled pressure on former President Goodluck Jonathan to share funds in the excess crude account to them.
Speaking with Bloomberg TV, Jonathan said state governors regularly pressured the federal government to draw from the reserve fund to augment revenue allocations from the federation account, saying: “At any time the earnings (from oil) drop, the governors would insist that there is no place in our laws that actually say that the federal government should keep the reserve. They always insisted that a part of it (excess crude revenue account) should be brought,” he said.
Hence, the APC should take cognizance of the fact that there are no ‘saints’ in its fold because the APC is just like an old win in a new bottle.
Nigerians expect to see an end to the ‘treasury looting blame game’ and a more focused plan on how to steer the country back on track come 2019. Enough of the wailing song; Nigerians awaits the promised next level.
5. Niger-Delta militancy and fallen crude prices
The popular maxim “Every day is not Christmas” best depicts Nigeria’s crude oil crisis which has further aggravated the economic crisis the country faces presently due to shortage of funds accruing from crude oil sales.
Before now, Nigeria’s crude oil receipts were very encouraging especially when the commodity sold for $140 per barrel until the middle of 2014 when crude oil price started declining. This was caused by a significant increase in oil production in the USA and falling demand for oil in the emerging countries and by February 3, 2016, oil was below $30 – a drop of almost 75 per cent since mid-2014.
This development seriously affected oil revenue which is a big financier of the yearly budget of the federal government.
Yet to recover from the shock of dwindling oil revenues as a result of fallen oil price, the nation’s problem was further worsened when militancy resurfaced in the oil producing Niger-Delta region of the country; leading to the blowing up of crude oil facilities and subsequent fall in Nigeria’s production capacity. In fact, some leading oil multinationals were forced to shut down operation owing to threats from the militants, especially the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA), which spearheaded most of the attacks. Power supply across the country was hugely affected because gas supply was also interrupted due to attacks on gas plants which were not spared of militants’ havoc.
Aside the militancy in oil rich region of the country, sabotage in the form of bunkering and crude oil theft was another major nightmare for the petroleum ministry and the federal government. Activities of suspected oil thieves greatly shortchanged government of adequate resources needed for developmental purposes.
With hostilities resuming in the region at the time oil prices fell as low as $30 a barrel, the days of oil boom for Nigeria gradually started fading away.
Nigerians hope to see a rebound in crude prices to save the nation from another calamity in the New Year, even though the slogan of diversification of the economy has remained in public discourse, yet unmatched with realistic blueprint. Also, Nigerians and the world in general look forward to the final outcome of President Buhari’s dialogue mechanism with the militants – to put a stop to attack on oil facilities and shore-up Nigeria’s crude oil production in 2019 and guarantee tangible and foreseeable revenue.
By Mark Pippah