Tough time awaits Buhari’s ministers





When President Maada Bio of Sierra Leone last year – 2018 – called on his ministers to face the challenges ahead of them headlong, he well knew as plugs to a locomotive so are ministers to a government. 

Bio was embarking upon one of the most critical phases of his political carrier. His government had inherited one of the worst economic situations in Sierra Leone since independence. Besides, expectations from his people were enormous. But despite the roughness of the path, then, the president knew with collective efforts and total commitment to duty, the country would rise again. That is why he counted on his ministers.

When President Buhari came in 2015, oil prices – the country’s largest source of income – was on free fall. The exchange rate was volatile as 95% of exchange earnings were tied to oil and there was saving (revenue) stagnation and with a cut in government expenditure the foundation of employment was massively shaken as the public sector is still the largest employer of labour. This was aggravated more by recession that followed.  

Nearly two months after his swearing-in as president for the second time, on Tuesday 23 July, 2019, President Buhari submitted names of ministerial nominees to the National Assembly for approval. Nigerians were eager to know who were going to make it to the list going by the popular opinion that some of his first term ministers had woefully failed. This is evident as the president dropped his former ministers of agriculture, budget and national planning, science and technology, youth and sports, communication, among others. 

Almost all the ministerial nominees had taken a bow and gone. Many Nigerians were averse to that simple technique of ‘bow and go’. The decision may sound too simple and even absurd to others; but I believe any Nigerian can cite an example of a senator who was grilled and sweated during screening and yet performed below expectation. To me, the disconnection is that many Nigerians are yet to learn a lesson from ministerial nominees screening exercise. We all need to be result-oriented for Nigeria to overcome its challenges.

For clarity, choosing a senator is not one-off thing as many mistake it to be. It requires high sense of pedantry and deliberations, as a senator is not shoe-string that can be undone overnight. Even if it happens, the decision raises more question than answers.

In the same passion as President Maada Bio, on Tuesday – perhaps as a prelude to a two-day retreat organized for the incoming ministers in Abuja and their inauguration on Wednesday – President Buhari told the ministers designate that the country and his administration would rely on them to implement policies and programmes to lift Nigerians out of poverty.

“We must work as a team. Working as a team demands that we know what the next person is doing. You must open communication with your colleagues. Lack of communication leads to lack of cooperation and sub-optimal performance.

“We are working to lift Nigerians out of poverty and set them on the path to prosperity. We intend to lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty over the next 10 years,” he said.

The Buhari administration owes Nigerians a lot. For the past four years Nigerians have been counting on Buhari, his cabinet and ministers to bring about a huge turnaround in the economy. Despite failed campaign promises, Nigerians – in their millions – gave the president another mandate. The trust does exist.

To do justice to the Buhari administration, there are many carry-overs from big losses of the last administration that need to be attended to. In 2015, security issue was one of the cardinal campaign promises of President Buhari. Four years on, the threat remains unsolved. Boko Haram – although with few cases of attacks – had been significantly denigrated, but the limelight has been taken over by banditry, kidnapping and the so-called herdsmen/farmers clashes. Of course peace-building campaign has shown early signs of success in some parts of Zamfara State, but in some parts of Katsina State bandits attack and go away with it; and many people are yet to go back to their communities.

Until of recent, many of the north-west and middle-belt states knew no peace. The issue has generated many arguments. This questions the sincerity of many political gladiators especially the ministers saddled with the responsibility of restoring peace throughout the country. 

In addition to the security challenges, Zakzaky’s Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) threat must be treated with care. The federal government has proscribed the movement and Zakzaky was granted a medical leave to India. That trip is an eye-opener and still the administration must be decisive on matters of such utmost importance. 

Recently, President Buhari said that in his first tenure in office his administration had lifted five million Nigerians out of extreme poverty. This, according to him, was achieved through the Social Intervention Programmes (SIPs). 

“We note at this point that the issue of youth unemployment has assumed a global significance, and on the front burner of development discourse,” he said.

Since the issue is taking a front burner and is of global significance, economic growth must be placed on the pedestal of growth-friendly fiscal policy. Policies initiated to develop the economy and ensure its growth have started yielding good results; but still it cannot be translated to the ordinary Nigerians as prices of goods and services stuck somewhere high and as a result Nigerians are faced with crushing economic difficulties.

The issue of unemployment in Nigeria is bitingly alarming. From 18.1% in 2017, Nigerian unemployment rate is said to hit 23.1% by the end of 2018. It takes a careful statistics to determine the percentage now as it is only a few months to 2020. If the gloomy statistics persists, more than two million Nigerians – especially youth – are expected to be unemployed every year.

The foundation President Buhari said his administration is laying to lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty must be followed with appropriate actions to change the narrative of Nigeria being the poverty capital of the world.      

It is true Nigeria is exiting the painful lagoon of recession. Yet the move must be backed up with decisive policy implementation and deep structural reforms to improve the business environment. This rings a warning for the new ministers. For instance unemployment is taking after sit-tight African leaders. This probably has to do with frequent power total black-out Nigerians are experiencing which cripples socio-economic activities thereby exacerbating the high poverty rate in the country.

For ages Nigerians are suffering from epileptic power supply. The situation has deteriorated. Nigerians are almost living in total darkness today. Due to constant power outages small and medium-sized enterprises are dying with negative consequences on the health and growth of the economy. Sadly explanations given by the Ministry of Power, Works and Housing with regards to power supply has always been vague.  

The ministers have been sworn in and portfolio given. The real task of change agenda begins today. To deliver on Buhari’s campaign promises the ministers must make sure they work in line with the next level agenda. Many of the promises the president has made are yet to see the light of the day.

They should roll up the sleeves of their shirts and trousers as Herculean tasks lay in wait. They will be responsible for the development and implementation of policies, programmes and projects in their various Ministries, Departments and Agencies. 

The real work is there right under their noses. Our MDAs have been turned into private businesses where young men and women that show early potentialities are buried alive. Secret recruitments and cash-for-offer characterise many of them. With motivation and total commitment I can see Nigeria rising again. The future is now.

Abdulhamid writes via [email protected]

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