It was back in May 2015 that Muhammadu Buhari’s presidency began; albeit on a turbulent note. The economy was steadily slipping into a recession, and there was that bitterness and division that was left behind in the wake of the highly-contested elections. The purported fight against corruption could not help the situation, even as the wailers cried foul and alleged political persecution. Meanwhile, there was widespread hunger across the nation as the dire economic realities began to hit home. Unemployment was rife, and workers were being retrenched on a daily basis. Those who were lucky enough to keep their jobs were either owed many months’ salaries or paid half their original salaries. Through it all, the presidency continually urged Nigerians to exercise patience. “All will be well” became a common sentiment expressed by the Vice President whenever he went. But fast forward to December 2017, the economy is still very depressed even as most Nigerians cannot afford to feed themselves. This begs the question- does President Buhari really have what it takes to save the Nigerian economy?
A Look at his Economic Policies…
Recall that throughout much of 2016 and early 2017, FOREX was a major problem in Nigeria. The president and his economic team practically made it cumbersome to import most things into the country, even as zero alternatives were made available. But perhaps it was not of their making per se; the foreign exchange rate was skyrocketing. Moreover, the presidency needed to protect and rejuvenate the country’s external reserve which stood at an all-time low, allegedly drained by the previous administration of President Goodluck Jonathan. In any case, Buhari’s [good-intentioned?] plan to save the external reserve and encourage local production by making importation cumbersome ended up causing more harm than good. Many businesses were seriously affected by this policy, causing them to lay off most of their workers due to dwindling profits, high cost of business and inability to pay workers’ salaries.
Meanwhile, as most companies were battling FOREX, the recession was also happening pari passu. No thanks to our over-dependence on the oil sector, the global oil price crash meant that the inflow of dollar cash into the country was drastically reduced. That further depressed the economy as there were hardly any other viable means for the country to earn foreign exchange. Perhaps this was what sent the government into overdrive mode, even as they sought to come up with policies that could remedy the situation. And so the came up with their short-lived economic diversification mission. Diversification soon gave way to economic restructuring. And may I emphasise that all of these were mere economic papers with no actual plans to implementing them.
I the meantime, Nigerians continued to suffer. Millions of graduates struggled to find jobs, and still do. And as though this specially caught the attention of the president, a social investment programme (N-Power) was adopted as a means to create jobs. Now here is the funny thing about this programme- the fact that the government thought it wise to pay an average Nigerian graduate the sum of N30, 000 monthly all in the name of employment. But then again, I guess half a bread is better than none; right?
Moving on, the endless fight against corruption raged on. Good enough, millions of embezzled dollars were recovered, much to the delight of Nigerians. But what has become of these recovered monies continues to bother people. The government preferred to borrow money for the implementation of budget proposals instead of using the recovered [corruption] monies. This has raised some questions about this corruption fight, with some calling it a distraction. And while that categorisation is controversial, what indeed has been a major distraction (as far as restoring the economy is concerned), has been the President’s unstable health. Who can forget those many months he spent in London a hospital? Who can forget the palpable tension that his absence caused, with some wondering whether we even have a president and others calling for his resignation? Little wonder we were all relieved when he finally came back hale and hearty, even as we hoped that he would take up the task of solving all of our economic problems. But our hopes have so far been dashed, which brings to mind the one million question- is he really up to the task?
Some say that he is up to the task. But inasmuch as I would love to believe that, the situation on ground does not quite support the claim. I look around and I do not see any tangible measures being taken towards eradicating the extreme poverty in the land. How can the economy be revamped when the power sector is in such a terribly bad state? As a matter of fact, how can the economy be made whole when nothing is being done about fixing the decayed infrastructure?
Truth be told, I am appalled every time I read through a copy of our national budget. I am disappointed to see how little is allocated to fixing the economy, whereas a bulk of the money is earmarked for administrative expenses. How can a president who works with such a budget be responsible for fixing the economy? Does he even realise the enormity of the task we are looking up to him to accomplish? Frankly speaking, I am not convinced that he is up to the task of fixing our economy. Until a major part of our national budget stops going towards the payment of public office holders’ salaries and entitlements, I am not convinced. Until all the politicians stops sending their children abroad to study, I am yet convinced. And until President Muhammadu Buhari [himself] stops going abroad to receive medical treatment and actually dedicate himself that making our hospitals here good enough, I am not convinced that he is capable of solving our economic problems.