“For too long, ours has been a society that neglects the poor and victimises the weak. A society that promotes profit and growth over development and freedom. A society that fails to recognise that, to quote the distinguished economist, Amartya Sen, ‘poverty is not just lack of money, it is not having the capability to realise one’s full potential as a human being.’”
–President Muhammadu Buhari in his Democracy Day speech on May 29, 2016
Hearty congratulations to Nigerians on the 17th anniversary of Democracy Day celebration held last Sunday, May 29, 2016. My felicitations also go to the All Progressives Congress, the new party in power at the federal level and most of the states as well as President Muhammadu Buhari on his first anniversary as a civilian president.
For the records, it is the first time Nigeria will have 17 years of uninterrupted civil governance since obtaining independence from Britain in 1960. The First Republic lasted barely five years (October 1, 1960-January 15, 1966). The Second Republic was truncated by the military junta after four years of civil rule (October 1, 1979-December 31, 1983). The Third Republic was even inchoate as the transition from military to civil rule initiated by the military dictator, Ibrahim Babangida, from 1990 to 1993 was aborted with the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election that would have ushered in the government of the late business mogul, M.K.O. Abiola. We are now in the Fourth Republic which started with the return to civil rule on May 29, 1999 when Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar relinquished power to President Olusegun Obasanjo after the 1999 general election.
President Buhari is the fourth president of Nigeria in this Fourth Republic and the second former Head of State to be twice lucky to govern the country, after Obasanjo. Since coming to power after the presidential election of March 28, 2015, which saw him defeat an incumbent president, which is yet another unprecedented feat in Nigeria, Buhari, who rode to victory on the mantra of change, has been having to contend with a lot of cynicisms and snide remarks especially from a majority of Nigerians who expected their lives to be a lot better than under the previous administrations.
They rightfully wonder why they are still experiencing a high cost of living rather than high standard of living. They yearn and ask for impactful development and not mere rhetoric. Nigerians, one year into the administration of Buhari, are still hoping for uninterrupted and affordable electricity supply, cheaper petroleum products, good roads, employment opportunities, security of lives and property, potable water, cheap health care services as well as quality and affordable education. These are basic rights and not privileges.
Quite unfortunately, what Nigerians have been experiencing under the this government are increased electricity tariff, payment of stamp duty charges on banking transactions, and an astronomic hike in the price of petrol from N86.50 to N145. For the most part of the last one year, there were fuel queues at most of the retailing outlets all over the country with the product selling well above the official pump price. This was in spite of government paying about N1tn in subsidy claims on the vital product. Even with the hike in electricity tariff, the electricity situation has remained largely deplorable in most cities and communities across the country. Instead of more people getting employed under this administration, there are records of more job losses. Inflation is about 12 per cent now, the national currency, naira, is weak against other international currencies and the exchange rate has hit the roof in an unprecedented manner with one American dollar exchanging for about N320. Nigeria also ranks poorly in the international index of Ease of Doing Business.
In fairness, many of the governance challenges faced by the Buhari administration are inherited from preceding administrations. Some others are foisted on the country by external forces beyond our control. One of such is the dip in the price of crude oil in the international market from the Olympian height of over $100 per barrel in 2010 to the nadir of about $30pb in December 2015. The administration has been churning out different policies and programmes to tackle the challenges. The government has recorded enormous success in decimating the capacity of the Boko Hram insurgents ravaging the North-East since 2009. Many high-ranking government officials (military and civilian) are also in courts answering corruption charges after their investigation and arrest by the anti-corruption agencies such as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission as well as the Code of Conduct Tribunal. The Buhari government has also implemented policies such as Treasury Single Account and the Integrated Payroll and Personal Information System of public servants under which financial leakages have been plugged. Recovery of stolen wealth is also one issue the government has been pursuing vigorously both within and outside the country.
By far, the most exciting plan by the Buhari administration in the last one year is the launch of the N500bn special intervention programme otherwise known as the palliative measures to cushion the economic hardship many Nigerians are going through. According to the President, while unveiling the scheme last Sunday, “I am happy to formally launch, by far the most ambitious social protection programme in our history. A programme that both seeks to start the process of lifting many from poverty, while at the same time creating the opportunity for people to fend for themselves. In this regard, N500bn has been appropriated in the 2016 budget for social intervention programmes in five key areas.”
“We are committed to providing job creation opportunities for 500,000 teachers and 100,000 artisans across the nation. A total of 5.5 million children are to be provided with nutritious meals through our school feeding programme to improve learning outcomes, as well as enrolment and completion rates. The conditional cash transfer scheme will provide financial support for up to one million vulnerable beneficiaries, and complement the enterprise programme – which will target up to one million market women; 460,000 artisans; and 200,000 agricultural workers, nationwide. Finally, through the education grant scheme, we will encourage students studying sciences, technology, engineering and maths, and lay a foundation for human capital development for the next generation.”
Since this plan was first made public on December 22, 2015, as part of the 2016 Federal Government budget, I have been very ecstatic about it. I have been praying that these social safety programmes will be fully implemented. If the eight million people targeted under this scheme are positively impacted as envisaged, it will have ripple effect on the entire economy. If faithfully executed, it will be Buhari’s and the APC’s redemption song. About five months have been lost to the protracted budget brouhaha. This programme, to succeed, must have the buy-in of states and local governments including the private sector; otherwise, it will be dead on arrival. I do hope by December 2016, we will be singing a melodious song about this intervention and not a dirge.