Buhari’s herculean task of lifting countrymen out of despair, poverty
Having shrugged off the challenge of Atiku Abubakar, the candidate of the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) at last year’s polls, President Muhammadu Buhari took oath of office for a second term on May 29, 2019, at a low-key ceremony held in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.
Thereafter, he vowed to raise the tempo on tackling crippling security threats and stamping out corruption in the country. He postulated that the economy would grow at a rate of 2.7 per cent in the first year of his second term and promised to roll out social intervention programmes that would help lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty in 10 years.
According to Buhari, “When economic inequality rises, insecurity rises. But when we actively reduce inequality through investments in social and hard infrastructure, insecurity reduces.”
President Buhari did not lose sight of his focus on improving infrastructure as a prop for economic growth. He said he would continue to build transportation network, mainly roads and railway, improve wide-ranging infrastructure and fix the electricity grid. This was as he reiterated his support for agriculture.
At the time, his promises were believed to have been informed by a consciousness of subsisting aspects of some of the promises he made during his first swearing-in address in 2015 but which were yet to be actualized. Without doubt, one major carryover of challenges from his first tenure, which he needed to redouble efforts at addressing was insecurity, which still found expression in Boko Haram insurgency in the Northeast, kidnapping, armed banditry, and farmer/herder crisis.
While the insurgency seems to have been decimated, the attacks have not completely ended. The humanitarian crisis arising from the insurgency has given rise to increasing cases of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the Northeast. This is besides the rising spate of kidnappings and armed banditry across the nation.
On the anti-corruption war, the Buhari government has secured some convictions, prominent among which are those of two ex-governors: Jolly Nyame (Taraba) and Joshua Dariye (Plateau). The convictions of the two ex-governors, according to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, (EFCC) were among a total of 139 convictions it secured between January and June 2018.
However, the credibility of Buhari’s anti-corruption war during his first tenure was called to question by the perception that it was lopsided, targeting mainly members of the opposition.
On the economic front, the issue of fuel subsidy remained contentious, even as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) advised against subsidizing fuel for domestic consumption, saying subsidy removal would help boost revenue and improve on local infrastructure development. With Buhari holding forte as Minister of Petroleum Resources, the onus was on him to come up with a policy on oil subsidy regime, which reportedly gulps over N1trillion annually.
There is also the challenge of unemployment in the country, as well as rising poverty, what with a recent report stating that Nigeria had overtaken India as the nation with the highest number of people living in extreme poverty across the world, with an estimated 86.9 million people adjudged to be living on less than $1.25 (N381.25) a day.
The revelation was part of findings by the Brookings Institution, a nonprofit public policy organisation based in Washington DC, America.
The federal government was quick to dismiss the Brookings report, but analysts linked rising incidences of crime in the country to widespread unemployment and asked the President to prioritise job creation in his second term.
One year into President Buhari’s second term in office, the scorecard could not be said to be all gloomy as there have been remarkable strides in some aspects of national life, especially infrastructure development, which would be a key boost to the economy.
The great work being done across the country on road networks, bridges, airports, railway network and housing are undeniable. The positive effect these would have on the economy in fullness of time isn’t also in contention.
On another hand, however, subsisting gaps and a number of unanswered questions from the first term are yet to be filled and answered.
While pockets of attacks by the insurgents still rage in the north, other forms of insecurity and violence, like kidnappings, farmers/herders’ clashes, and cult/gang fights have spread through and taken root in parts of southern Nigeria. The incidences came to a crescendo of sorts within the last 12 months, igniting fresh debates around such issues as state/regional policing and leading to the formation of states/regional security networks.
The anti-corruption crusade has not changed in tempo and approach either, as majority of opposition still consider it as an onslaught against the president’s political enemies, alleging that his allies are rarely followed through to prosecution.
Until recently when the dip in global oil prices occasioned by the Coronavirus pandemic forced a reduction in oil prices, there has been no improvement on the nation’s fortunes in the sector. Nothing new has come through on the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) though arguments with regards to the existence and appropriateness of fuel subsidy have remained sustained.
The economy has not fared particularly well as indices show it has been struggling. While economists continually lamented Nigeria’s sluggish growth in the second half of last year, the scenario has deteriorated for most of this year amid the twin shocks of the COVID-19 pandemic and global oil price crash. And the lockdown measures imposed across the nation, especially in the commercial nerve centre, Lagos, and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, has worsened the hit on the economy as the services sector now reels from the massive reduction in consumption.
On the heels of the about N3.5 trillion (around USD$ 9.7 billion) economic stimulus announced by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) mid-March, the lower chamber of the legislature approved a stimulus bill later that month to help households and businesses cope with the fallout. Government is also set to secure funding worth USD$ 9.6 billion from multilateral lenders. The sharply deteriorated outlook of the nation’s economy prompted both S&P Global Ratings and Fitch Ratings to cut Nigeria’s credit rating further into junk territory recently, though Moody’s held off from a downgrade and retained Nigeria’s rating at B2 mid-April, citing her low debt burden offsetting the risks from the twin shocks.
With the drive to stem the spread and flatten the curve of the COVID-19 pandemic getting into high gear, the disruptions to productive activities undoubtedly further darken the nation’s economic outlook.
There are sufficient indications already that the economy may contract again this year and bring things close to where they were during the 2016/2017 recession. One such indicator is the collapse in crude prices, which may hinder domestic production, batter forex and fiscal revenues, and add pressure to the nation’s international reserves and the currency.