Thursday, December 31, 2015

Reminiscences on Nigeria 2015

In order to shoot an arrow one needs to draw it backward with the bow-string. The same applies with planning for the future. It is always important to assess previous activities before one can effectively plan for the next phase of implementation. It is some 48 hours to the end of Year 2015 and it falls due to take stock of epochal events of the outgoing year so that we can draw the necessary lessons for the oncoming year.

Of the few memorable events of Year 2015 none compares in magnitude to the 2015 elections. It was the fifth general elections since the country’s return to civil rule in 1999. Our elections got better and against the grain of palpable public apprehension about likelihood of widespread bloodbath, the elections were held after being shifted by six weeks from the initial February 14 and 28 to March 28 and April 11. By the time the votes were counted across five different political offices viz. president, Senate,  House of Representatives, Governorship and States House of Assembly, power has changed hands from the hitherto ruling People’s Democratic Party to the All Progressives Congress. It was a political Waterloo for the PDP who had arrogantly boasted to rule Nigeria for 60 years but only succeeded for 16 years.

PDP lost the presidential seat, majority seat in the House of Representatives and Senate as well as governorship and state houses of assembly. In what is akin to Obama phenomenon in USA presidential election of 2008, the APC presidential candidate, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (Retd.), on his fourth attempt, won a landslide victory defeating an incumbent president Goodluck Ebele Jonathan by about 2.6 million votes. (APC won by 15,424,921 votes while the PDP total vote tally stood at 12, 853,162.) 

President Muhammadu Buhari emerged as the fourth executive president under the presidential system of government.   The first being Alhaji Shehu Usman Shagari in the Second Republic followed by President Olusegun Obasanjo, Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and Dr. Goodluck Jonathan in the Fourth Republic. Buhari is the second military Head of State after Obasanjo to be elected executive president. This is no mean feat. It also shows that military has not fully severed its umbilical cord with politics, though it may be argued that these gentlemen were retired soldiers.

The 2015 General Elections were adjudged to be credible and successful by both local and international accredited observers. Not necessarily because incumbent party and government lost power to opposition but largely because the outcome of the elections reflected the wishes of the voters who defied all odds to exercise their franchise. It was the success of the polls that gives Nigeria moral high ground in Africa to mediate in political logjam in other countries such as the case in Burkina Faso in October 2015.

It must be stated that the elections, though reflected the wishes of the people, nonetheless it was violent and was the costliest in the political history of the country. No fewer than 160 lives were allegedly lost to election related violence while the PDP and APC were on record to have spent well above the permissible limit for campaign finance. Invariably, in 2015, Nigeria has two governments, that of PDP from January 1 – May 29 and that of APC from May 29 to date. While Jonathan’s government implemented Transformation Agenda, Buhari’s administration’s mantra is Change! 2015, more than previous year of electioneering revealed the true colour of Nigerian politicians as a bird of passage that lacks the quality of permanence. No sooner did APC win at the centre than most stalwarts in the PDP began unholy pilgrimage to the new ruling party, the APC. They are leaving PDP in droves. This further shows that in politics, there is no permanent friend or enemy, only permanent interest.

Another silver lining in Nigeria’s climate in the outgoing year is our fortunes in sports. By dint of hard work and stroke of luck, Nigeria raked in a lot of continental and international sporting laurels. Nigeria’s D’Tigers won for the first time the AfroBasket in Tunisia by beating our perennial archrival Angola. Team Nigeria also came second behind Egypt at the 11th African Games held in Congo Brazzaville. Jighere Wellington of Nigeria on Sunday, November 8, 2015 emerged the new Scrabble champion of the world (the first African) after defeating Lewis Mackay of United Kingdom 4-0 in a Best of Seven series in Perth, Australia. The Falconet qualified for 2016 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Papua New Guinea by beating South-Africa 3 –1 on aggregate. Golden Eaglets of Nigeria also defeated the African champion, Mali 2-0 to win the FIFA Under-17 World Cup in Chile. In winning the trophy, the Golden Eaglets made history as the first team to win the championship five times and the second country, after Brazil, to take the title back-to-back. Odunayo Adekuoroye of Nigeria has just done Nigeria proud by winning Gold Medal at the maiden edition of the  Pro Wrestling League in New Delhi in India

In the area of the economy, Nigeria’s austerity measures which officially began in the last quarter of 2014 bit a lot harder in 2015. Oil prices in international market fell to an all-time low with a barrel of crude oil now selling for about $32. Nigeria’s currency is also very weak against other international currencies like Dollar, Pound and Euro with Naira exchanging for about N273 to a Dollar. Sourcing foreign exchange for industries that are import dependent had become very challenging. This much was admitted by President Buhari in his budget speech on December 22, 2015.

The low government revenue had also made distributable income for the three tiers of government to be paltry with some of the governors saying that they now receive about 60 per cent less than they were collecting last year. Some state governments have said that they are no longer in a position to pay the N18,000 minimum wage. They are proposing wage cut or staff retrenchment which labour unions have vehemently opposed. It would be recalled that Federal Government had to come to the aid of many of the states through restructuring of their loan with commercial banks as well as giving them additional loans to enable them pay some of the salary arrears they were owing their workers. Some new economic jargons that gained prominence this year include Treasury Single Account popularly called TSA and Zero Based Budgeting otherwise known as ZBB.

The economic forecast for 2016 does not look good as Nigeria remains largely a monoculture economy depending on oil revenue for most of its income. The good news however is that giving the dwindling oil revenue, Nigerian government seems to now focus on serious diversification of the country’s income base.  This much is reflected in President’s Buhari’s 2016 budget speech. In paragraph 28 of the speech, the president said “In 2016, oil related revenues are expected to contribute N820 billion. Non-oil revenues, comprising Company Income Tax, Value Added Tax, Customs and Excise duties, and Federation Account levies, will contribute N1.45 trillion.”

Aside tax, government has  also promised to take more than cursory look at agriculture and mining. The focus on job creation (500,000 teachers to be employed in addition to 10,000 police recruits ordered earlier this year), improvement in electricity supply, revival of our hitherto comatose petroleum refineries and government’s promise to curb wasteful spending, block economic leakages and fight corruption all combine to inspire hope in this season of gloom.  As PMB said in paragraph 52 of his budget speech, “We as a Government cannot do it alone. We will require the support of all civil servants, the organised labour, industry groups, the press and of course, our religious and traditional institutions. This is a call for all of us to stand and serve our country.” Happy New Year to you all!

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