5 years after, Buhari counts gains, losses

In this piece, State House correspondent, LEON USIGBE, reflects on the progress of, and impediments facing President Muhammadu Buhari after five years at the helm of the nation’s affairs. 

 

Like every leader, President Muhammadu Buhari would have hoped that his reign brings prosperity and bountiful joy to the citizens. Alas, as he begins his sixth year in office, he is still faced with daunting problems that seem to obfuscate whatever effort he might have expended since May 29, 2015 to bring life more abundant to the people. These are very difficult times for Nigerians, and it has been so for the last five years, in which things have been tough with a viscous consistency. Yet, the future does not suggest a let off, analysts believe. But like all feeling leaders, President Buhari sympathizers say, he is intent on engendering hope of a better tomorrow amid unabated economic misfortune, insecurity, corruption, disease, and general hopelessness.

When he spoke a year ago after his first full tenure, he was confident that he had applied his first four years to bring Nigeria back to its feet despite what he observed as the attempt by some vested interests to resist his change agenda. Convinced that he had succeeded in that direction, he promised to move the country to the next level. “In my first term, we put Nigeria back on its feet. We are working again despite a difficult environment in oil on which we depend too much for our exports. We encountered huge resistance from vested interests who do not want Change, But Change has come, we now must move to the Next Level. By the Grace of God, I intend to keep the oath I have made today and to serve as President for all Nigerians,” he said on that occasion, with a vow to consolidate on his achievements and correct observed lapses.

“The principal thrust of this new administration is to consolidate on the achievements of the last four years, correct the lapses inevitable in all human endeavors and tackle the new challenges the country is faced with and chart a bold plan for transforming Nigeria,” he stated.

After watching the economy witness eight quarters of growth and external reserves rise to $45 billion, Buhari thought he had laid the foundation, taken steps to transform the country and liberate people from the shackles of poverty.  That emboldened him to promise to lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty in 10 years through good leadership, which he said, could overcome whatever challenges that exist. “This task is by no means unattainable. China has done it. India has done it. Indonesia has done it. Nigeria can do it,” he affirmed.

He pledged to tackle infrastructure decay having in mind the urgent need to modernize Nigeria’s roads, bridges, electricity grid, ports, and rail systems as well as to increase agriculture and industrial outputs and accelerate economic growth. However, he acknowledges that the inflation rate is still too high as it remains above a single digit. Drawing a correlation between economic inequality and insecurity, President Buhari had hoped to actively reduce inequality through investments in social, education and healthcare, and hard infrastructure to decrease the disturbing increase in rates of kidnapping, banditry and other criminal activities. Observers affirm that agriculture, railway, and roads are some of the sectors that benefited from this zeal.

But one year after expressing the sublime optimism about the positive direction of the country, many Nigerians are still left wondering when all the superlative words will translate into concrete transformation in their impoverished lives.  President Buhari though, despite doubts by some in his capacity, is happy that the Nigerian economy recorded nine consecutive quarters of GDP growth by the beginning of this year, citing an annual growth increase from 0.82 percent in 2017 to 1.93 percent in 2018, and 2.02 percent in the first half of 2019. He believes that continuous recovery reflects Nigeria’s economy’s resilience and gives credence to the effectiveness of his administration’s economic policies.

Hear him: “We also succeeded in significantly reducing inflation from a peak of 18.72 percent in January 2017, to 11.02 percent by August 2019. This was achieved through effective fiscal and monetary policy coordination, exchange rate stability, and sensible management of our foreign exchange. We have sustained accretion to our external reserves, which have risen from US$23 billion in October 2016 to about US$42.5 billion by August 2019. The increase is largely due to favourable prices of crude oil in the international market, minimal disruption of crude oil production given the stable security situation in the Niger Delta region, and our import substitution drive, especially in key commodities.

“The foreign exchange market has also remained stable due to the effective implementation of the Central Bank’s interventions to restore liquidity, improve access, and discourage currency speculation. Special windows were created that enabled small businesses, investors, and importers in priority economic sectors to have timely access to foreign exchange. Furthermore, as a sign of increased investor confidence in our economy, there were remarkable inflows of foreign capital in the second quarter of 2019. The total value of capital imported into Nigeria increased from US$12 billion in the first half-year of 2018 to US$14 billion for the same period in 2019.”

Femi Adesina, the president’s spokesman, brushes aside the criticism about the perceived poor performance of the administration and argues that critics have deliberately blinded themselves to the sterling achievements of the federal government because they cannot bear to see Buhari succeed.

“The President and his team are steadily and painstakingly retooling Nigeria. Out of sheer and deliberate ignorance, some people deride it, saying we see nothing, we hear nothing. Yes. When you have become deliberately blind, you can see nothing, even when it is thrust before your very eyes. You won’t see it. When you have become willfully deaf when it is noised to your hearing daily, you won’t hear,” he wrote recently.  Adesina points out, as achievements, the ongoing construction of the Second Niger Bridge and the Owerri Interchange made up of 1.6 kilometers bridge and 10.3 kilometers highway at Onitsha/Owerri road, Obosi junction. The president’s megaphone also informs that work is restarting on 53 infrastructure projects in 26 states, across the country and that when the country returns to normality after the COVID-19 pandemic, the Federal Roads Maintenance Agency (FERMA) will roll out 92 repair works across 24 states in the country different from the 53 projects in 26 states. “Nigeria will be one huge construction site, at a time the economy is down, and revenue has shrunk considerably. That is the hallmark of a government out to serve the people, come rain or shine,” Adesina notes.

Beyond a tethering economy, Buhari’s critics are not impressed with the state of security in the country where a Boko Haram insurgency that seems to be in constant mutation is complemented by burgeoning banditry, kidnappings and herdsmen attacks. However, notwithstanding the threat of global economic meltdown occasioned by the COVID-18 pandemic, the president avers with confidence that he will prove his critics wrong. Nigerians are eagerly anticipating the day.

 

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