President Muhammadu Buhari: Three Years On

President Muhammadu Buhari: Three Years On

Saturday, June 23, 2018 12:13 pm


By New Independence Group

On May 28, 2018, the government of President Muhammadu Buhari completed the third leg of the duration of its mandate and commenced the last lap the following day. In retrospect, 2015 looks just like yesterday. The transition from an incumbent government to the opposition, the heightened expectations of a citizenry that had democratically toppled a sitting government, signaling in no unclear terms its appetite for a new order after 16 years of costly, yet not so beneficial democratic experiment; all was a first in many ways. It was the moment the nation decided to start anew.

For us in the New Independence Group (NIG), our effort is geared towards an evaluation of some critical sectors of national life, based on verifiable facts and the reality of the situation for millions of Nigerians. To this end, we shall focus briefly, on important indicators such as security, economy, employment, education and infrastructure. This intervention highlights the issues within the constraints of space, without obscuring them.

One cardinal item among a few others that President Buhari hinged his campaign upon was the provision of security. The safety of lives and property was a major issue during the 2015 elections, owing largely to the increasing capacity of the terrorist group, Boko Haram, to wreak havoc. Upon assuming office, President Buhari,therefore, ordered the relocation of the Military High Command to Maiduguri, the hotbed of the attacks, to signal his readiness to combat the challenge. As at today, there is evidence that Boko Haram has become less capable of holding down territories within the country as it once did. However, it has since changed its tactics to a more guerilla-like approach, such that it attacks identified targets for maximum effect and retreat into its hideout on regular occasions. This has proved quite challenging for the government.

In a statement by the United Nations(UN) i on Boko Haram attacks in April 2018, the body noted that: “the recent weeks have seen a steady continuation of attacks on civilians in the three most conflict-affected states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe. Since the beginning of the year, at least 120 women, children and men have been killed and over 210 sustained serious injuries in over 22 attacks allegedly by non-state armed groups directly targeting civilians. Civilians are also regularly abducted, as in Dapchi, Yobe State, where 110 schoolgirls were taken on February 19.” Yet in an earlier report in January 2018 titled “Nigeria’s Boko Haram attacks in numbers – as lethal as ever”, the British Broadcasting Corporation(BBC) reported that Boko Haram killed about 900 Nigerians in 2017, a figure higher than the previous year.

What these trends show is that, whereas it now controls a far lesser territory if any, Boko Haram remains as dangerous and capable as it has been in carrying out its activities. It is for this reason that we still have a very high number of Internally Displaced Persons(IDPs) scattered across the country, as many in the affected areas, even by the admission of government itself, cannot safely return home under the present situation. The UN reports further that about 7.7 million Nigerians across Borno, Yobe and Adamawa are in dire need of assistance as a result of the impact of Boko Haram attacks.

In the last one year as well, attacks linked with Fulani herdsmen have increased significantly. In August 2016, Premium Times had published a report wherein it claims (Fulani) herdsmen had killed 1,269 people in Benue alone. Since then, the attacks have escalated, with the state conducting mass burials of victims on a number of occasions. Such attacks have also increased in Taraba, Nasarawa, Edo, Enugu, Ogun and a few other places. The inability of the government to provide a coherent response to this challenge has led to allegations of official endorsement and connivance between Fulani herdsmen, government and security forces. So grave is this perception that a distinguished military General, in the person Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma, a former Chief of Army Staff and one-time Minister of Defence, out of deep frustration with the seeming inability of the Nigerian military apparatus to stem the tide of ceaseless killings in the Middle Belt region of the country, openly accused the Nigerian military establishment of ‘collusion’ with the killers. And giving credence to such possible collusion, eminent writer and Africa first Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, called for urgent international intervention to prevent ‘ethnic cleansing’, reminiscent of what the world witnessed in Rwanda in 1994.

The confusing diagnosis by government has not helped. From the President, to other high ranking government officials, such as the Defense Minister or his counterpart at the Ministry of Interior, the cause(s) of these attacks vary from (Fulani) herdsmen angry with anti-grazing laws to mercenaries fleeing conflicts from Libya. The inability of government to decide whether this is an internal or external threat, or a combination of both, has made the coordination of an appropriate response difficult. Also on the rise is the menace of rural banditry in northwest Nigeria, with Zamfara State being the most hit. On almost a daily basis, reports of abduction in dozens, killings, looting and destruction are replete. The region appears to slide further into the grip of a pocket of groups involved in banditry, with the security forces appearing stretched beyond their coping capacity.

The Nigerian economy continues to grow after emerging from the 2016 recession, although at a very slow pace. According to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), the year 2017 recorded a real annual growth rate of 0.83%, higher by 2.42% than –1.58% recorded in 2016.

In Q4 of 2017, aggregate GDP stood at N31.209 trillion in nominal terms, higher when compared to N29.169 trillion in Q4 2016, resulting in a nominal GDP growth of 6.99 per cent. This growth was lower relative to the growth recorded in Q4 2016 at 12.49 per cent. Nominally, 2017 recorded an annual growth rate of 12.05 per cent, higher by 4.25 per cent compared to 2016 annual growth of 7.80 per cent.

According to the NBS, GDP growth in the Q4 of 2017 was driven by growth in crop production, crude production and natural gas, metal ores, construction, transportation and storage, trade, electricity and gas production. Crop production grew by 4.58 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2017 compared to 3.19 per cent in the third quarter 2017.

While growth projections for 2018 are put at about 2.5 percent, the global average growth is put at 3.1 by the World Bank. Buoyed by rising oil prices and its spending on infrastructure such as roads and rails, the government continues to project a growth rate of about 3.5 percent for 2018. Nigeria improved its ease of doing business ranking to 145 out of 190 countries, and has been witnessing rising confidence in the stock market, although the loss of about 900 billion naira (around 6.8 percent decline) is a bit worrying.

The verdict is that, whereas the government appears to have halted the needless haemorrhage occasioned by its lethargic approach in its early days, more needs to be done to strengthen the recovery of the economy. The economic sector remains very fragile even as it continues to recuperate.

It would also appear that the government does not fully appreciate the nexus between the lethargic handling of the (Fulani) herdsmen crisis in the Middle Belt and the country’s inability to attain food sufficiency. The Middle Belt region of Benue, Taraba and neighbouring states remains strategic to food security in the country. Allowing the herdsmen to sack farms, settlements and towns in this region seriously impacts negatively on the region’s capacity to play its strategic role in the agricultural sector of the economy.

One area where the impact of government is clearly yet to be felt positively is in the area of job creation, whether directly or through targeted policies that quickly address the high level of unemployment in the country.
From available figures, unemployment rate has doubled from 9.9 percent in the third quarter (Q3) of 2015 to 18.8 percent in Q3 2017, according to data from the National Bureau of Statistics.The number of unemployed Nigerians increased as well, to 15.99 million in Q3 2017 from 11.9 million in Q3 2016. Youth unemployment stands at 33.10 percent. When unemployment and underemployment figures are merged together, we have a figure of about 40 percent of employable Nigerians under this category. Evidently, the recent promise by President Buhari to create 500 thousand jobs over the next two years falls far short of what is expected of government in ensuring that millions of able-bodied Nigerians are gainfully and optimally employed.

The education sector is yet another area to which government’s attention has been insufficient. In 2015, education got 492 billion, which decreased to N369bn in 2016. The 2018 budget for education, at 7 percent, is lower than the 7.4 percent budgeted in 2017. Although the N605 billion allocated to the sector this year is higher in value terms than the N550 billion allocated in 2017, it is relatively lower in percentage terms. When adjusted in the light of naira depreciation, the 2018 figure in terms of value is not so different from those of the last two to three years.

Grossly inadequate funding, coupled with poor planning, remain the bane of qualitative, affordable education in Nigeria. And this has resulted to regular shut down of many of the country’s higher institutions due, largely, to labour-related matters occasioned by non-payment of staff salaries and poor working environment.

According to UNICEF and the Federal government, there are about 10.5 million children out of school in Nigeria. This figure is the highest in the world. Every year, hundreds of thousands of qualified applicants are denied spaces in Nigeria’s tertiary institutions owing to limited spaces. The number and quality of artisans such as mechanics, plumbers, builders etc, continue to depreciate, as vocational institutions continue to suffer neglect.

The Buhari government has made comparative progress in the area of roads and rail line construction. Activities are picking up on the preliminary works on the second Niger Bridge, Kabbah-Lokoja road and a host of other projects being financed by Sukuk bonds and loans from China, especially on the rail lines. The government also promised recently to reconstruct the Lagos-Abeokuta and Ikorodu-Sagamu road among others. There have been some ceremonious flag offs, which bring the uncomfortable feeling that heightened activities on some of the project sites are coordinated optics ahead of the next elections. As a matter of fact, campaign issues are already being woven around them.

While it remains to be seen whether the government will complete these projects as scheduled, two important issues that have arisen revolve around the nature of funding, as well as costs. Buhari’s government has been borrowing heavily, such that in the last 36 months over 10 trillion naira has been added to the debt profile. While the hitherto low price of oil was one major argument advanced to justify borrowings, it must be noted that oil prices has now been hovering around 80 dollars per barrel, which is considerably high. The debt to revenue ratio, which continues to rise to frightening heights, raises the issue of whether the infrastructural projects being executed are not coming at a very steep cost. This also leads to the issue of prudence. The Minister of Works at a recent media briefing announced that government will be spending N64.108 billion for additional work on 43 kilometre part of section one of the Lagos-Ibadan expressway. This is an average of 1.5 billion naira per kilometre for pedestrian bridges and toll plazas between the Lagos and Sagamu section of the road. Reconstruction works on the Lagos-Abeokuta Expressway is to gulp 56 billion naira. Given the volatility of oil prices, and the cost of servicing the debts from which these projects are being financed, the government in our view can do more to streamline costs and maximise returns on investments.

Furthermore, it is clearly evident that the government is yet to explore adequately, the option of Private/Public Participation in the area of building the critical infrastructure needed to leapfrog Nigeria onto the path of sustainable development. By government’s estimation, it will take an annual investment of 1 trillion naira over the next 30 years to bridge the current infrastructural deficit. While this sum is huge, Nigeria cannot afford to wait for three decades to become a developed State infrastructure-wise. It is also obvious that given the unfavorable debt/revenue ratio of the country, borrowing is not a feasible long term option. It is crucial that government becomes more creative therefore, in finding PPP arrangements with reputable and competent partners, under a framework that creates a win-win situation for all.

While the NIG regards the private sector as critical to complementing the role of government in providing the much needed infrastructure, it is also important to ensure that private sector involvement is structured to optimally benefit the general public and not just a few. What currently obtains in the power sector, where consumers pay outrageous bills for unavailable electricity supply leaves so much to be desired. There is a rising public discontent with fraudulent billing, unsatisfactory supply among other issues in the sector. The government may need to find more competent partners with whom it must also deal in fidelity and sincerity.

Corruption is one of the key problems upon which the government campaigned and was voted in. To demonstrate its commitment to fighting this scourge, the government has since directed the full implementation of the TSA policy to eliminate fraud in public finances. A handful of high-profile persons said to have stolen funds meant for the public have also been arrested at one time or the other, including the arrest of judges linked with obtaining gratification in the course of dispensing justice.

One concern however, is the inability of the government to institutionalize the fight against corruption through a system-based approach, as opposed to the strongman approach of fighting corruption. The system requires strengthening to such a point it cannot be easily manipulated by the personal disposition of whoever is in power.

Also worrisome is the spate with which persons accused of corruption in time past appear to be finding sanctuary through defections to the ruling party. While the recent conclusion of the protracted trials of two ex governors, which trial commenced in 2007,long before the coming of Buhari administration gives reason to be more optimistic, the inability to resolve the case of Abdulrasheeed Maina,and the former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal, among others, continues to put a serious dent on the anti-corruption credentials of the President and the ruling party. Most importantly, the President has his hands full in changing a growing perception about nepotism and cronyism in his government. Corruption transcends looting of public treasury, and includes practices such as favouring unduly, members of one’s ethnic group, clan or party, in appointment to public offices. It is an abuse of public privilege for public officers to get appointed into offices primarily on account of ethnic or familial affinity rather than competence. It is the expectation of the NIG that the government will address the lopsidedness in some critical areas where such appointments have been made, more profound in the country’s security established.

Evidently, there is a need to institutionalize the war on corruption in a way that outlives the current government. Over the last 19 years, the anticorruption efforts of successive governments have had more to do with the personal disposition of the various leadership at every juncture, with little institutional progress being made. It is largely for this reason that corruption remains endemic. In its report in early 2018, Transparency International noted that corruption remains rampant in Nigeria, and indeed worsened between 2016 and 2017. Nigeria placed 148 out of 180 countries sampled. In spite of protestations from the government, the US Department of States corroborated the view with its own report a couple of months after, noting that corruption remains endemic in Nigeria. According to the report, “although the law provides criminal penalties for conviction of official corruption, the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Massive, widespread, and pervasive corruption affected all levels of government and the security services.” It is the hope of the NIG that the executive and the legislature will be able to fashion out in no distant time from now, effective policies for drastically curtailing corruption at all levels of government.

Respect for the rights of citizens under the government of President Buhari continues to attract critical review across the world. The United States Country Report on Human Rights Practices in 2017 for Nigeria, released recently, highlighted many areas of violations that are left unaddressed. It described worsening abuses of the rights of Nigerians under the current government. The 48-page report summarily said civilian authorities and the political leadership have failed to effectively bring under control armed state and non-state actors accused of perpetrating human rights abuses. In its Executive Summary, the report noted that: “the most significant human rights issues included extrajudicial killings; disappearances and arbitrary detentions; torture, particularly in detention facilities, including sexual exploitation and abuse; use of children by some security elements; looting and destruction of property; civilian detentions in military facilities, often based on flimsy evidence; denial of fair public trial; executive influence on the judiciary; infringement on citizens’ privacy rights; restrictions on freedoms of speech, press, assembly and movement; official corruption; lack of accountability in cases involving violence against women and children, including female genital mutilation/cutting and sexual exploitation of children; trafficking in persons; early and forced marriages; criminalization of status and same-sex sexual conduct based on sexual orientation and gender identity; and forced and bonded labour.”

In a similarly damning report on “Nigeria 2017/2018”, Amnesty International chronicled the abuse of women and children in IDPs by security forces, clampdown on free speech and criticism, illegal arrests, torture and killings; disregard for court rulings, notable among which is the refusal to obey the order to free Ibrahim El- Zakzaky, the Shia leader who has been detained for over two years without trial, as part of the evidences of endemic human rights abuse in Nigeria. It also mentioned the harassment, arrest and killing of harmless Independent People Of Biafra(IPOB) members, who continue to endure the brutality of government and its security agencies as they continue to agitate for self-determination.

We also note with worry, a situation where security agencies increasingly make a fetish out of the prejudicial parade of accused persons before the media and the general public. Oftentimes, the paraded suspects appear tortured and starved, thus raising concerns as to whether the ‘confessions’ obtained from them are genuine or coerced. The question remain as to why the police is always eager to obtain public-sanctioned “volunteered” statements from obvious traumatised accused persons, instead of rendering such ‘confessional statements’ before the trial judge, in an open court, as part of its prosecutional armoury.Much still appears left to be done in the area of crime detection, prevention and intelligence gathering; as part of a broader process of criminal justice process in need of dire reforms.

Ahead of the 2019 elections, there are palpable fears about the safety of lives, property, the nation’s democracy and indeed the unity of the country. Rising level of violence, arising from intra-party squabbles, are ominous pointers to what the coming inter-party contests hold in stock. The ruling APC government, sadly, has been unable to entrench internal democracy and party discipline within its rank and file on the one hand, and party elites on the other. From Oyo to Kaduna, Kano, Ekiti, Bauchi and Imo, accusations and counter-accusations continue to emerge, about sabotage, threats, intimidation and harassment. The Governor of Kaduna state has been demolishing properties belonging to opposing voices within the party, ostensibly on account of violation of building procedures, while the other groups allege victimization. The immediate past governor of Kano state, Musa Kwankwanso, currently a Senator, had to cancel a visit to his constituency not too long ago because the State Government, with whom he had been at loggerheads, couldn’t guarantee his safety.

These developments are sufficient reasons to wonder whether a party that cannot tolerate dissent within its own rank will be willing to provide a level playing field for all, especially the opposition, in the next elections. The ruling party, and especially the government, needs to do more in reassuring Nigerians that the 2019 elections will be free and fair, and that its conduct will deepen and further enrich democratic culture rather than undermine it.

As the Buhari government begins to wind down on its four year mandate given by Nigerians in 2015, it is the view of the NIG that it will need to significantly improve on its efforts to fulfill the electoral promises made to the people before it was elected into power. As we have tried to show, the little gains in the area of security and infrastructure pale into insignificance in the face of other numerous challenges that have not been given adequate attention. Very clearly, more needs to be done in the area of security, especially as it concerns the Fulani herdsmen and rural bandits. Of equal importance is the need to see education as a priority, in the light of a booming youth population. This needs to be complemented with a robust plan for job creation, in order to ensure that “lazy” Nigeria’s youth in their millions are productively engaged. The economic and security ramifications of leaving millions of children uneducated, and millions of able-bodied youth unemployed, are very obvious. On the other hand, the socio-economic benefits to derive from paying adequate attention to these issues are enormous.

More fundamentally, the NIG strongly enjoins the government of President Buhari to live up to the electoral promise of devolving powers to lower levels of government. It is very obvious that the Federal Government is overwhelmed with the security and economic responsibilities it has placed on itself. Security, power generation and distribution, among a few, are areas where federating components can contribute significantly if the impediments before them are removed.
Most significantly, numerous internal and external factors, both political and economic, continue to restate and reinstate the unsustainability of the current structure of governance. Nigeria needs to restructure itself into a federation of fewer but stronger and viable components, with a less expensive system of government. The current presidential system, with a bicameral legislature and dozens of sub-optimal agencies is an expensive luxury that benefits only a few members of the elite class. Even with the best of efforts, which from all indices is lacking, Nigeria can only make modest progress for a limited period of time before the inherent contradictions of the existing unsustainable structure become overtly manifest. In addition to the necessary need for good governance is the equally exigent need to overhaul the architecture of governance as well as the economic structure for greater efficiency and wider distribution of social goods.

Restructuring is both a vertical and horizontal process whose impact if well executed, will benefit Nigerians across ethnic and class categories. It is time to put the long-term survival of the nation above immediate and narrow political considerations.

-for NIG by Akinyemi Onigbinde

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