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Buhari and the challenge of economic renewal


BuhariBuhari became the president of Nigeria at an inauspicious time because the country is witnessing an economic slowdown with a burst in the international oil market. Previous regimes before it, since 1999, enjoyed better financial flows with relative stability in oil revenue; Buhari does not have that luxury. He assumed power in a period of financial squeeze, paradoxically, with high public expectations, after the dismal performance of the previous administration. The regime has taken two major steps that are worthy of note. First, it has halted the drift that characterized governance in the country.  With a strong sense of probity and accountability, it has been able to check the recklessness of power and the impunity of public office that was virtually pushing the country to the precipice. Its anti-corruption stance has exposed the abuse and venality of power that was the hallmark of the previous administration. It does appear that governance- both political and economic- has stabilized in the country.

Second, its quest for public security precisely the fight against Boko Haram has been concerted, focused and determined. With reduced corruption in the defence sector, the morale of soldiers has improved remarkably and with the supply of needed tools and hardware to wage the war, Boko Haram has been pushed back significantly. The remnants of the rag tag forces of Boko Haram are now reeling on soft targets with occasional suicide bombings and attacks on villages in the dead of night.

But the greatest test of the performance of the administration would be on the economy. Its capacity to turn the current adversity of a decline in oil receipts into opportunity, of promoting economic diversification and reducing Nigeria’s reliance on the black gold. Decreasing  revenue will challenge the regime on the allocation of scarce resources. Turning the economy around may look tough, but is no less possible.

Unlocking a new future will require some form of economic nationalism that demands unconventional thinking, unorthodox economic policies and often times, hard policy choices that the regime will have to make. Growing the private sector, especially the domestic fraction of it, is a ubiquitous necessity. The rise of Aliko Dangote as the richest black man on earth is not by coincidence; Beside hard-work, Dangote like many others, enjoyed the confidence and support of the state under the Obasanjo presidency. This is not unusual in the process of economic transformation. The chaebols in South Korea enjoyed the full support of the state in the process of industrialisation in the country. Companies like Samsung and Hyundai in South Korea are the faces of their country’s foreign policy abroad. They are pampered and courted at home by the state.

The bank consolidation exercise under the Obasanjo regime also opened a new chapter in Nigeria’s financial sector. Many Nigerian banks now operate far beyond the shores of our borders. The lesson is that Buhari needs to see the private sector as part of the architecture of governance in the country and involve it in key policy decisions on the economy.

For Buhari to keep the momentum of progress, he must insist on high performance, not only from the top bureaucrats in the public service, but also the political office holders. Although Buhari’s cabinet may understandably appear as a political team, since he needed to reward those who supported him in the quest for power, which is natural in any democracy, however, it is possible to transform a political team into a high performing team with a high sense of accountability and results.

I would recommend the option adopted by President Paul Kagame of Rwanda and recently President Hage Ginegob of Namibia to him. In Namibia recently, Ministers were made to sign performance agreements, which they themselves negotiated with clear targets, matrix of accomplishments and indicators. At the end of the financial year, there would be a thorough evaluation process by which the level of performance will be ascertained. So, ministers though may have accessed their position through political contributions, but will only retain it through performance. Buhari must emulate this good practice and draw up performance agreement or contract with all his ministers. They must owe their  position to performance and accountability and not political party affiliation or crass loyalty to the president. Through this, a “political team” will be transformed into a “performance team”.

In spite of current challenges, the Buhari regime must not lower the vision of the future for Nigeria. A major damage that structural adjustment programme did to many African countries was to lower our gaze of the future and scale down our ambition as a people. Planing and thinking big was discountenanced from our public life and economic management assumed the act of muddling through. Buhari to sow the seeds of a prosperous and economically buoyant country must learn to think, plan, and act in a big and perceptive manner that would unlock the drive and potentials of an energetic and creative people, necessary in transforming the country. Human capital is the most strategic resource of economic transformation amongst all productive resources, which Nigeria has in abundance. Buhari needs to harness it for the country’s development.

With improved and functional economic and social infrastructure including energy, adequate public security, and a stable macro-economic environment, the ingenuity and creativity of the average Nigerian will likely be unleashed that may result in private sector expansion and growth, increased productivity and  sustained economic growth and development.

For the Buhari/Osinbajo administration to succeed, it must engineer economic renewal and facilitate the economic transformation of the country.

• Prof. Adejumobi lives in Lusaka, Zambia.

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