Thursday, October 4, 2012

President Jonathan’s Independence Day speech

Listening to President Goodluck Jonathan on October 1, 2012, one cannot but sympathise with him as he laboured to reel out the achievements of his administration since assuming office on May 6, 2010. The aspect of his speech which caught my attention most is that of the economy. Mr. President gave what is tantamount to a scorecard but failed to dwell on the specific milestones that have been achieved by his administration.

According to him, “Over the past five years, the global economy has been going through a weak and uncertain recovery. During the same period, and particularly in the last two years, the Nigerian economy has done appreciably well despite the global financial crisis. Nigeria’s real Gross Domestic Product has grown by 7.1 per cent on average. It is also significant that the GDP growth has been driven largely by the non-oil sector.” Yes, there has been growth but this has not translated into development.

The President also said the country’s power supply situation is improving gradually and that his administration is successfully implementing a well-integrated power sector reforms programme which includes institutional arrangements to facilitate and strengthen private-sector-led power generation, transmission and distribution. How many megawatts are we producing now, Mr. President? In my own area of Abuja, there has not been significant power improvement as we only get light on alternate days. President Jonathan also said his administration had put in place a cost-reflective tariff structure that reduces the cost of power for a majority of electricity consumers. This is untrue as electricity consumers now pay through their nose for the little light supplied. Prepaid meter is unavailable and where it is, approximately N40, 000 is paid to secure one. Though the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission has asked Nigerians not to pay for the prepaid meters, a dubious N500 is charged monthly whether the consumer uses light or not. For those still using the analogue meter, crazy bills is the order of the day as no meter reading takes place while estimated bills are issued.

The President went on to talk about crude oil production, a 12-month emergency gas supply plan, the Petroleum Industry Bill as well as several government programmes and projects aimed at creating wealth and millions of job opportunities for our youths and the general population. He said such programmes include: You-Win, both for the youths and women, Public Works, the Local Content Initiative in the Oil and Gas Sector, and the Agricultural Transformation programme. Can we have an estimated number of people who have so far been employed under each of these initiatives?

The President went further to say that, “Our Investment Climate Reform Programme has helped to attract over N6.8tn local and foreign direct investment commitments. Nigeria has become the preferred destination for investment in Africa. It is ranked first in the top five host economies for Foreign Direct Investment in Africa, accounting for over 20 per cent of total FDI flows into the continent.” Really? He went on to say that his government has streamlined bureaucratic activities at the ports to ensure greater efficiency in the handling of ports and port-related businesses. “Specifically, we have drastically reduced the goods clearing period in our ports from about six weeks to about one week and under. We have an ultimate target of 48 hours. We have put in place, a new visa policy that makes it easier for legitimate investors to receive long stay visas. We have achieved a 24-hour timeline for registration of new businesses, leading to the registration of close to 7, 000 companies within the second quarter of 2012.” Good efforts and great achievements if these claims are true. However, how sustainable are these reforms? Will it be a flash in the pan or an enduring change?

The President said the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria had disclosed that, as of July 2012, 249 new members across the country had joined the body, and that capacity utilisation had also improved. True, but how many businesses folded up in the same period? Has the cost of doing business in Nigeria reduced?

President Jonathan will have us believe that he is focused on the issue of security and the fight against corruption by putting an end to several decades of endemic graft associated with fertiliser and tractor procurement and distribution; exposure of decades of scam in the management of pensions and fuel subsidy, and that in its latest report, Transparency International noted that Nigeria is the second most improved country in the effort to curb corruption. The veracity of these claims cannot be empirically established. In fact, Premium Times, an online news portal, claimed in its publication on October 1 that Transparency International has debunked the President’s claim and that TI’s last year’s ranking put Nigeria at 143 among 183 countries on transparency perceptions index. Yes, there were several probes and symbolic fight against corruption, however, many of the culprits have yet to be successfully prosecuted and there is nothing to show that corruption has ceased to be a way of life in Nigeria. Where some of the culprits are charged to court, there has either been a lack of diligent prosecution or long adjournments.

It will be uncharitable of me to say that the present administration has not achieved any success in the area of the economy, however, the positive impact of many of the initiated reforms have yet to be felt by a majority of Nigerians. I doubt if any sincere compatriot will agree with the President that we are safer now than when he assumed office in 2010. What with the rampaging kidnappers, robbers, and bombers who have succeeded in making peace a scarce commodity in Nigeria. Do I even need to recall that the President, for the second year running, was confined to the forecourt of the Presidential Villa for the Independence anniversary celebrations ostensibly out of fear of Boko Haram. Even the reform in the energy sector has yielded little or no success. As I write this, fuel queues are now a daily occurrence in major towns and cities while unemployment, poverty, and inflation ravage the land leading to high cost of living rather than high standard of living for a majority of Nigerian masses. Curiously, and surprisingly too, the President made no mention of new roads, hospitals, schools, and other needful infrastructure he has put in place, only to indulge in unimpressive platitudes. Yet, in the last 12 months, his government had, on a weekly basis, turned the Federal Executive Council into a contract awards meeting.