Nigeria’s true path to national renaissance

President Muhammadu Buhari is a man that is considered largely as honest, fair minded and incorrigible long before he assumed office. Many of his supporters back then, including this writer could swear by their Holy Book that the man was the right person for the job.

He was perceived as a man who would help rid the country of endemic corruption and probably re-direct the country’s destiny on its right course. Although there were those who perhaps as a result of their opposition to his ascendancy claimed the man was an unrepentant tyrant, hell-bent in leading the country to a religious cauldron, and help the core North to achieve their life-long agenda of northernisation of the country.

With the election won by Buhari and his All Progressives Congress, against all odds, the coast was clear for Buhari to prove his ardent supporters right and his most vitriolic critics wrong.

A number of Nigerians eagerly waited for the dawn of a new era, when the corrupt, those who had with impunity bestridden the country’s public offices and the proverbial goats that had eaten the country’s yam would be brought to book. More than four years down the line, the gross disappointment in the level of performance of the president is palpable across the land, including even many of his previously fanatic supporters.

It must be said, however, in fairness to Buhari that the country was already in a bad shape when he took over power from President Goodluck Jonathan, who was seen by many as the most inept leader Nigeria had ever had. However, in spite of the poor state of the economy, many still believed that with a Buhari in power, ‘all shall be well’ like the modern day Pentecostal people will say.

In spite of the ominous signs that Nigeria should take measures to redress the slide in the economy, the President held rigidly to his ‘slide rule’ approach to economic issues. Meanwhile, corruption failed to abate in spite of the much-trumpeted slogan by his acolytes that ‘a new sheriff is in town.’

There were allegations of corruption against people close to the President without any action being taken to investigate and even stop the bleeding of the economy. Nepotism seemed a new official policy of the government.

Today, the government has missed all the economic targets it set for itself; the contest for elections has become worse than what it used to be under previous administrations as violence and deployment of state security agencies to influence election outcomes has become rampant and the new fad.

For instance, the country is lagging behind in all economic parameters set at the beginning of the regime; currently, inflation is at 11.58 per cent as of the end of November, far higher than nine per cent target set by the government, the same for the Gross Domestic Product, which grew at 2.28 per cent by the third quarter compared with 3.6 per cent population growth rate.

We have heard several times from the government circles that the country is under-borrowing and should borrow more, because ‘we have no option.’  Many of those working in the government have proudly announced to the whole world that Nigeria’s debt to GDP ratio is the lowest in the world, to justify the government’s penchant for accumulating debts for the next generation to pay.

While it is true that Nigeria’s debt to GDP is low, at around 21 per cent, debt service to revenue current is around 54 per cent and could rise to almost 74.6 per cent by 2024, according to IMF recent report.

The saving grace for the country today is not because of sound government policy; Nigeria’s economy was helped out of recession largely as a result of the recovery in the global oil price and partially as a result of increased yields on the local debt, which attracted offshore portfolio investors into the country. The portion of offshore investors’ funds in the country’s external reserves is about 25 per cent or more and some of the offshore investors are already selling down their positions in the debt market because of the fallen yields and this has negatively impacted on the country’s external reserves with dire implications on the local currency.

A closer look at the government’s Economic Recovery and Growth Plan 2017-2020 shows that the government has been working in self-sabotage without following through with its set objectives for the economic plan.

Stated as the core objectives of the ERGP are; new initiatives to ramp up oil production to 2.5mbpd by 2020; privatising selected public enterprises/assets; and revamping local refineries to reduce petroleum product imports by 60 per cent by 2018.

As of today, Nigeria’s crude oil production is barely above 2 mbpd while the country is substantially depending on importation of refined petrol to meet local consumption, no thanks to dilapidated refineries.

Also, the five key principles of the economic plan have been subverted by the government itself. The key principles such as focus on tackling constraints to growth, leverage the power of the private sector, promote national cohesion and social inclusion, allow markets to function and upholding core values have been largely jettisoned.

For instance, the ERGP stipulates that it will focus on tackling constraints to growth, such as fuel, power, foreign exchange and business unfriendly regulations, and addressing shortage of requisite skills. These have been largely unfulfilled. The same goes for the plans to leverage the power of the private sector, rather than the government helping the private sector, multiple levies and taxation. Instead, these have continued to constrain growth in the sector.

Free market has not been allowed to work in the real sense; rather both the fiscal and monetary authorities have resorted to unconventional intervention to promote domination and encourage arbitrage.

Like in the words of Mohammed Al Maktoum in his book, My Vision; “When nations fail to develop, they become vulnerable to a collapse in security and stability, and lose the foundation on which their prosperity was built. They also risk being subjugated to tyranny and prejudice, and after a few years of recession, lose most of the benefits, status and respect they had acquired over several decades of development.”

Nigeria is currently on the verge of receding into another recession, in spite of the seemingly positive GDP rate while insecurity is steering us in the face and we risk being subjugated to tyranny and prejudice unless the regime retrace its steps and follow the path of growth and development.

The president should step down from his high horse and level up with the people whom he governs over and start the process of national reconciliation, cohesion and rebuild trust among the various ethnic divides. To me, this is the only true path to national renaissance.

Mayowa is a Lagos-based international financial journalist, author

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