President Buhari Reset (Part I)
Leonard Karshima Shilgba
More than 5 years ago, President Buhari’s party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) won a historic presidential election to replace a ruling political party, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). President Buhari predicated his vision on the tripod of the Economy, Security, and Anticorruption—to build back a tottering economy, which was hobbled by fast-paced erosion of the value of the national currency, dwindling foreign reserves, unacceptable unemployment rate, and weak transport, electricity, health, education, water, and manufacturing infrastructure; to provide security to Nigerians who were being harassed by terrorists and criminals; and to stymie corruption (especially in the public sector) which deprived Nigerians of optimal public services. Five years after, how far has the president accomplished his vision of a Nigeria with a strong economy, dependable security infrastructure, and clean government?
In May 2019, the federal government announced that unemployment rate in Nigeria would reach 33.5 per cent in 2020! The minister of Labour, Dr Ngige broke this sad news at a workshop on “Breaking the Resilience of High Unemployment.” He based the projection on the 2019 data by the National Bureau of Statistics, which indicated 23.1 per cent unemployment rate and an underemployment rate of 16.6 per cent. We are now in the second half of 2020. What practical steps has government taken to reduce this alarming unemployment rate in the country, in spite of the ravaging COVID-19 epidemic? I understand that the Federal Government plans on “employing”1,000 Nigerians from each of the 774 local government areas, who would work for three months only, earning N 20,000 a month. The question is, after the third month, having “earned” a cumulative “salary” of N 60,000 each, what becomes of the 774,000 Nigerians? The obvious answer is that, they would go back to swell the army of the unemployed. Did Buhari’s planners or policymakers truly think this through? It is understandable that the federal government is eager to solve this alarming unemployment and underemployment problem, but I believe that there is a better way of investing the N 46.44 billion that would be spent on this short-lived scheme.
It is difficult to doubt that the Buhari government has scored above average in its support in the agricultural sector (a sector with the largest number of Nigeria’s employed), which has cut down on food imports and saved the country billions of naira annually, and given credence to his government’s promotion—“Grow What We Eat and Eat What We Grow.” Whereas Nigeria’s foreign reserves were below 30 billion US dollars in 2015, they presently stand at about 36 billion US dollars in spite of dwindling oil prices and a recession that happened between 2015 and 2019; non-oil exports have grown. Buhari government has continued to build on and expand the transport infrastructure it inherited across the country. There are other initiatives that this government has taken to improve the ease of doing business, improve electricity supply, etc. A lot more can be accomplished with a reset of Buhari’s government. Bold initiatives and reforms, which would continue to place legal and unavoidable demands on future governments, are needed at this point. President Buhari has less than 35 months to ensure these happen.
Whichever political party wins the Aso Rock, Nigerians must be the ones in charge of their government. No political party should control government; we the people must. What is my point? We need less government in Nigeria interfering in our business. This is the time for big ideas, not rocking chair motions such as hiring 774,000 Nigerians for three months and throwing away more than 46 billion naira (much of which would be recycled into the pockets of professional politicians). I would request my president to suspend this unprofitable scheme. The federal government should rather invest the 46 billion naira in a deal with the National Agency for Science and Engineering Infrastructure (NASENI), for instance, involving local governments (not state governments), to design, fabricate, build, and install various food processors in each of the 774 local government areas to process the various dominant food crops that are grown in those areas. Nigerians would be selected in those areas and trained by NASENI experts and other relevant experts to manage the processing plants. This would create enduring jobs, impart sustainable skills, add value to the farm produce in all our local government areas, bolster farmers’ income through enhanced demand, and boost the local economy.
The federal government should take steps to cut costs and reduce its financial burden. For instance, as I have advocated for years, let me state that all federal universities, except six (6), one in each of the six geo-political zones, should be partially sold to investors in education, both national and international (My education reform series—Reengineering Nigeria’s Education Sector—contains the implementation details). This COVID-19 lockdown period provides a convenient time for instigating this reform, which the federal executive and legislative branches of government should work through and capture in a landmark education bill to be passed to the president’s desk for signing. This is the kind of education reset that we need in Buhari’s era before time winds it down.
I would like to see a Buhari reset in transport infrastructure before the end of this year. Buhari policymakers and the national legislators should work on a major infrastructure bill, which would contain a clear roadmap for fixing Nigeria’s failed roads, building new railroads, bridges, and developing our water transport system. Capital votes for these infrastructure and implementation period (example, from 2020-2030) should be captured in the bill. Once signed into an Act, future governments shall be bound by it, and annual budgets shall make mandatory financial provisions as contained in the Infrastructure Act. This Act would eliminate the culture of abandonment of infrastructure projects and rocking chair motion, while facilitating continuity and completion of federal projects in a relay race fashion.
Buhari should spend his remaining 35 months as president on big ideas, resetting his strategies around providing enduring solutions instead of palliatives; giving Nigerians the opportunities to express themselves, not hand-outs; and fashioning out bold reforms without retreating in the face of opposition by labour unions. We need a Buhari reset; Buhari must work towards certain signature reforms that would wean Nigeria from foreign reliance, provide foreign trade deals for our products, bring about quality education and health care delivery, and make skilled Nigerians to stay back and build their country.