What do Nigerians expect from any post-Buhari government?
The end of a regime is not the end of a nation but the beginning of another government, because Nigeria must continue.
Presidential political power in Nigeria has just switched hands, bringing an end to the eight-year-old Buhari regime, but not an end to what many observers described as the most repressed economy in Nigeria’s history as it was riddled with three recessions, soaring unemployment, and punishing food prices.
However, will the recent power shift alter the economic fortunes of the citizens? Certainly yes, if judging from antecedents, given that the previous average welfare levels of Nigerians were different under different administrations. For instance, some Nigerians believe they were better off under the civilian government of Obasanjo than under Jonathan’s and well off under Jonathan’s than under Buhari’s. Still, those who have lived through the ages will always prefer living in Nigeria’s golden decade led by generals Gowon and Obasanjo: the 1970s. However, in years to come, will the current citizens feel better off under any post-Buhari regime?
The answer to this question depends on who governs them. If the courts voided the last presidential election results and on top of that screened out previous name(s) from the ballot of forthcoming remedial elections, then Nigerians may expect a different style of leadership and results in contrast to what they have been through for close to a decade.
Some politicians may lie but numbers do not lie. There is no question that President Buhari inherited – even though rejected by most Nigerians through the ballot in February 2015 – an economy far better than the one he handed over roughly half a year ago. In other words, he took over an economy that was less battered than the one as of his last day in office. In the eyes of many, he was not a good economic physician because, instead of steadfastly nursing back to health a 2015 ‘wounded’ economy, he further bruised it, magnifying the damages. His twin economic errors were the floating of the exchange rate and cutting the supply of forex to legitimate businesses and individuals. These miscalculations were not without unintended consequences. Through cost-of-living crisis, they have unleashed a wave of economic hardships on Nigerians, pushing millions into absolute poverty even as the country’s mood grows darker.
Not enough. The value of the local currency has depreciated nearly 400 per cent in parallel against the US dollar since 2015. In response, the inflation rate has soared into double digits.
In its effort to defend the local currency and clamp down on the black market on foreign exchange, the Central Bank of Nigeria rationed the supply of dollars, restricting access to many importers. The policy move did not pay off and the currency further depreciated. As a result, factories that could not obtain dollars to import raw materials and capital goods shut down and eliminated tens of thousands of jobs. By mid-2016, the economy had fallen into a recession. This prompted a different approach to managing the exchange rate.
This time around, after it failed to lean against the wind of popular opinion, the Central Bank allowed the local currency, the naira, to float. This was a huge policy mistake that opened and exposed the currency to speculative attacks, resulting in further depreciation of the value of the Naira of over 200 per cent.
Furthermore, between 2010 and 2014, the GDP per capita grew an average of 3.6 per cent per year but later slipped into a steep downturn: it was shrinking by an average of 1.6 per cent every year between 2015 and 2018. The decade’s average growth was about 0.5 per cent. This implies that the economic gains recorded throughout the first half of the decade were almost completely eroded as the decade proceeded.
Foreign direct investment was one of the worst hit economic indicators. After peaking in early last decade, net inflows of FDI plummeted by 167 per cent, it declined from 8.84 billion in 2011 to roughly three billion dollars in 2021 and then to a negative flow as of last year, the lowest in 42 years. And, in tandem, the average living standards – measured in terms of GDP per capita – deteriorated by seven per cent, with the unemployment rate hitting its highest level in about 50 years: roughly 35 per cent as of 2021, which is equivalent to around 31 million people losing their jobs: the disenchanted youths in a country with faltering economy.
Mr Buhari has been shifting the blame for the economic woes on crashing oil prices and his predecessors, but Nigerians are hurling back the culpability at his feet, arguing that what matters is not the crash in oil prices but how the president responded to the instability arising from the oil market and that Mr Buhari is not being vindicated by the facts on the ground.
Nonetheless, now that Buhari is no longer in power, given the economic experience of his years in office, what do Nigerians expect from a post-Buhari government? Two things. First, give Nigerians the pre-Buhari economic numbers and second, give them numbers better than pre-Buhari’s. What were the numbers? These are the facts:
What needs to happen to return Nigeria to prosperity?
First, the country needs a legitimate government in power. A legitimate government is established by the will of the people and as a result, it will be run for the people. But a government propelled into power by cash and corruption will only be loyal to money and sleaze at the expense of most of the people. A legitimate government will not only win the affection of the people, but it will also be accountable to them. That said, how do we enthrone a legitimate government? One word: Institutions.
The national electoral commission, the military, and the judiciary are deemed essential, but they cannot be effective in safeguarding and deepening democracy if they are not independent of the federal executive branch of government, unfortunately, this is not the case in Nigeria, a far cry from expectations. The institutions have always been under the heavy influence of the presidency and therefore politicians and politics. One of the pieces of evidence in support of this claim is that Nigerian presidents from 1999 to date have been regionally biased in their appointments to fill the four most powerful presidential appointments in Nigeria: Minister of Justice/Attorney General of Nigeria-AGF, Minister of Finance, Chief of Army Staff and Inspector General of Police. To move the nation forward, both the leaders and the governed must rise above the partisan fray.
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