Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Still awaiting Buhari’s dividends of democracy

By the time you’re reading this, all things being equal, the long-awaited cabinet of President Muhammadu Buhari would have been inaugurated. As such, the President would have the full complement of lieutenants that would help him run his government. Since Buhari’s inauguration on May 29, 2015, Nigerians have hoped that he would hit the ground running. So far, he hasn’t, and his media aides say he is trying to clear the Augean stable. Presidential spokesman, Femi Adesina, had this to say in a widely published article entitled, “A new sheriff is in town”, sometime ago: “Some people say the sheriff did not hit the ground running, as he has yet to constitute his cabinet in 100 days. And I usually ask such people: When you hit the ground, and you land in mud, how do you begin to run immediately? You can only sink deeper, if you attempt to run. The thing to do is to first clear the mud, till you get to terra firma, and then you can begin to run.” I hope after five months in the saddle, the President is now on a firm ground and has sufficiently cleared the mess of his predecessors for him to now deliver on his electoral promises.
It would seem our elected representatives do not realise the urgency that the dire economic situation of this country desires. It took our senators a whole month to screen and confirm 36 ministerial nominees and it has taken the two chambers of the National Assembly about five months to sort out the election and appointment of their principal officers as well as committee leadership and membership. In spite of the long time it took for these to be done, they have not been devoid of bickering with some members rejecting key positions allotted to them. Surprisingly, at the state level, many governors are just inaugurating their cabinet in the last one week or thereabout. Perhaps, they are using the Federal Government as a guide. Now, I do hope that as the dust gradually settles about who gets what and where at both the executive and legislative arms of government, we can start to see some concrete steps being taken to deliver dividends of democracy to the citizens.

For me, there are some urgent steps I want the President and his cabinet to take. One is for the Federal Government to come up with its economic blueprint. This has taken too long in coming and Nigerians and foreign investors alike will like to know the present administration’s policy direction. You’ll recall that former President Olusegun Obasanjo came up with the National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy better known as NEEDS. We have also had Vision 20:2020 which aims to make Nigeria one of the 20 most industrialised countries in the world by 2020. That is barely in five years’ time. How have we fared in relation to that noble vision? The immediate past administration of Goodluck Jonathan came up with a nebulous Transformation Agenda. What shall it be for the Buhari administration? The country’s economy is haemorrhaging profusely due to lack of a well-articulated economic roadmap.
Another thing the Federal Executive Council needs to help the President to quickly marshal out is the Medium Term Expenditure Framework, the Fiscal Strategy Paper and 2016 budget. We are some few days into November and it’s barely eight weeks to the end of the year. Ordinarily, next year’s budget ought to be before the National Assembly by September in order to allow the lawmakers to do a thorough job of scrutinising the appropriation bill and pass it before the end of the year. Now, that seems implausible. Again, this will hurt the economy.
But I have some questions for the President. What is he still doing with about a dozen aircraft in the presidential fleet? When news filtered that he had sold off some of them some few weeks into his administration, his media team debunked it. Yet, I am of the opinion that given the parlous state of our economy, he needs to sell off most of the aircraft in the presidential fleet. Two, what is the take of the government on the report of the Steve Oronsaye Presidential Committee on Restructuring and Rationalisation of Federal Agencies, Commissions and Parastatals of 2012? I learnt that the Ahmed Joda transitional committee set up by the All Progressives Congress immediately after the election also suggested something similar to what the Oronsaye committee proposed earlier. What is Buhari’s implementation strategies for these reports which from all intents and purposes will help reduce the cost of governance substantially?
Also, what is the government going to do with the plethora of abandoned Federal Government projects that dot Nigeria’s landscape? May I remind the President that his predecessor in 2011 inaugurated the Ibrahim Bunu-led Presidential Projects Assessment Committee. On completion of its assignment, the committee reported that there were a staggering 11,886 abandoned projects that would cost an estimated N7.78 trillion to complete. That was then. Recently, the President and chairman of the governing council, Chartered Institute of Project Management of Nigeria, Dr. Victoria Okoronkwo, estimated the cost of abandoned projects in Nigeria at N12tn. Listing the projects by geopolitical zones, Okoronkwo said the South-East has 15,000; South-West, 10,000; South-South, 11,000; North-West, 6000; North-Central, 7,000: North-East, 5,000 and Abuja, 2,000. I think these uncompleted projects should be audited and given the government’s lean resources, the white elephants among them should be auctioned and the proceeds from such should be used to complete the genuine and desirable ones that will have great impact on the people.
In addition, there is the need to bring in the Public Private Partnership to assist with getting private sector finance for some critical infrastructural projects. Thankfully, there is in existence the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission whose strategic objective is to accelerate investment in national infrastructure through private sector funding by assisting the Federal Government and its Ministries, Departments, and Agencies to implement and establish effective Public Private Partnership procurement framework.
It bears noting that the key to unlocking the transformation of the economy is for the government to support small and medium enterprises. By this I mean the need to ease protocol and procedures of doing business in Nigeria. The SMEs need low interest loan (single digit interest of not more than nine per cent); tax holidays, security and social infrastructures in order to incentivise them. It is the private sector, particularly the SMEs that can help the government to engage meaningfully the army of unemployed Nigerian youths. Our policy of import substitution and export promotion should be aggressively pursued. The administration needs to work with other arms of government and other levels of government if it hopes to bring about positive change in our governance system.
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