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Will Buhari complete his project? – Part 2

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[FILE PHOTO] President Muhammadu Buhari. PHOTO/TWITTER/APCng

The country’s shortcomings are severely handicapping its potential, in particular, with regard to industrialisation which Nigeria should have unmatched comparative advantage in Africa because of its natural resource base, size of the domestic market and focus of the Buhari administration. In a recent report (September 2018) by Landry Signe of the Brookings Institute on the potential of manufacturing and industrialisation in Africa, Nigeria had the lowest score on the quality of electricity and second lowest on transport (roads, railroads, ports and air transport) infrastructure among the top ten manufacturers in Africa. The author noted that “Nigeria continues to be constrained by its political and regulatory environment – especially high levels of corruption, poverty and bureaucratic red tape.”

A review of critical indicators on the welfare of the population shows that much work still needs to be done. The fragile state index compiled by the Fund for Peace which looks at the security, economy, state legitimacy and demographic pressure faced by Nigerians shows that the country is still very fragile although there has been a significant improvement in the last two years. Another indicator is the Severely Off Track Countries (SOTC) index which measures a country’s ability to ensure its population can escape extreme poverty over the medium term. In SOTCs neither the markets nor the bureaucracies are reliable pathways because the former are shallow and inefficient and the latter are under-skilled and ineffective. Finally, the most glaring indicator of the current situation is the level of emigration with Nigerians forming a significant proportion of people currently crossing the Mediterranean Sea fleeing to Europe.

So how does Buhari stand in his attempt to persuade voters to give him a second chance? Detractors are likely to use the famous phrase by Ronald Reagan, “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” They will say that his policies have not improved the lives of Nigerians and he does not have the skills to leverage the other legislative bodies, businesses and foreign governments and international organisations to support, devise and implement policies and invest in the country to improve the lives of Nigerians.

Buhari can correctly say that he is on the right path. He has reduced the impact of the Boko Haram problem. He has taken measures to reduce corruption, taken measures to diversify the economy by allocating resources at crucial but neglected sectors – as an observer noted, “now contractors are actually working on road projects rather than simply pocketing the money and sitting down.” On the issue of whether the electorate feel things are better off and are willing to give him another chance he can note that this is not be an appropriate way of judging his administration. Firstly, the time he has had has been relatively short given the immense challenges he faced after decades of mismanagement, rampant corruption and administrations that were indifferent to the needs and potential of the country and the fact that he has shared power with other legislative bodies who do not share his progressive agenda, it was never going to be plain sailing. He is taking an approach that previous administrations did not take but which are crucial in making the country realise its potential.

The challenge for Buhari is how to shape the narrative in messaging to the electorate to win the election and then, if successful, how to leave a transformative legacy. To control the narrative his campaign would need to decipher the attitudes and effectively deliver the relevant message to the diverse voter demographic that he will face, namely, by state, region, age, ethnicity religion and sex to find out how they view his track record, knowledge of why or how he has failed/succeeded and aspirations. He would need to tailor his message and delivery of that message in a way that will maximise the impact. This is difficult enough in advanced democracies but in a country like Nigeria with high levels of illiteracy and voter decision making that is significantly influenced by ethnicity and religion it is far more challenging, with voters often taking perverse decisions. They are for example often swayed by a bag of rice, forgetting that a bag of rice once every four years is far inferior to measures to provide the means to produce or purchase many bags of rice over that four year period. He needs to sell the idea that corruption is an inefficient and ineffective way of distributing the country’s resources and general development to an electorate that although they only infrequently gets the crumbs of corrupt practices have come to regard that practice as the norm.

To realise his goals and objectives Buhari needs to convince the electorate that he needs to complete his project and leave a legacy that all Nigerians will benefit from. But given the governance structure, namely, the federal, state and multi-party democracy, he needs to develop partnerships. The challenge therefore is to get a mandate at the various levels to ensure that stakeholders are aligned to his reformist agenda. He needs to sell his project to create a cohesive party structure in the regions and states. The recent defections from his party by legislators should be an opportunity because he can choose replacements or readmit defectors who will closely adhere to his reform agenda.

Buhari needs a review of his approach if he is given a second shot to leave a lasting legacy. He needs to take a much more ambitious line and speed up the process relative to his first term. Nigeria needs a quantum leap in developing its infrastructure and particularly the level of electricity power generation given the needs of the public and industry and its natural resource base. This has got to be done now, and may require radically departure from the existing structure. He should borrow from the experience of other African countries.

In borrowing from other African countries he could look at the examples of Rwanda and Ethiopia (which used to be in the SOTC group with Nigeria)that have achieved very high economic growth rates for decades and attracted significant FDIs largely because they have taken bold measures, minimised corruption and invested heavily in their physical and soft infrastructure. Over half a century ago Nkrumah took a bold step in constructing the Akosombo dam that still provides the bulk of Ghana’s electricity and the Ivory Coast has developed its electricity generation capacity to a level where it exports power. Ethiopia is currently developing its huge power generation capacity (the project manager is Ethiopian) to a level that will allow it to develop its rapidly growing industrial sector, export power to several countries as well as provide irrigation to thousands of farms. The policies, governance structures and investment partners used by those countries would be relevant to the Buhari project. Interestingly, in its effort to resuscitate its national air service Nigeria appears to have shortlisted Ethiopian Airlines, one of the few national airlines that have survived in the continent. While Nigeria is the giant of Africa it can still learn from smaller nimbler countries on the continent.

Buhari’s legacy would be how significantly he can accelerate the fight against corruption and develop the infrastructure that he has started to realise the country’s huge potential. The country has the potential with regards to power – oil, gas, rivers, sun and coal, diverse agricultural base – rain forest, savannah and semi-temperate highlands, and market for food and manufactured products – 170 million consumers. Buhari’s project will allow Nigeria to rightfully assume its mantle as the giant of Africa.

Concluded.
• Rogers is a principal consultant at Media and Event Management Oxford (MEMO).


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