Once again, Nigeria is at the crossroad of history. President Muhammadu Buhari, who broke history as the first opposition figure to unseat a ruling party through the ballot box, is battling to prevent the return of a resurgent PDP; the party he defeated four years ago.
There have been several polls and analyses, including one from Today’s Echo that clearly predicted a win for Atiku Abubakar. The write-up on this publication mentioned brand appeal, party cohesion, and the backing of the international community and former presidents as some of the factors that will guarantee an Atiku win.
What many analysts and citizens fail to realize is that this election is not about Buhari and Atiku, neither is it between APC and PDP. It is between two different ways of doing things. To be succinct; it is between an old, familiar order and a new one that many Nigerians still find difficult to adjust to. This article does not in any way aim to promote Buhari, nor does it excuse some of the misdemeanours of this government, but to describe how things have changed and why it has been difficult for us to change with them.
Before things get better in an already flawed system, they will first get worse. For a long time, the most common method of wealth distribution in Nigeria was through a network of allies and family members in a largely informal manner, creating a black economy that is opaque to scrutiny and promotes nepotism at all levels. This has put pressure on highly-placed government workers to misappropriate funds to satisfy their dependencies, who in turn pump the money back into the economy by patronizing other businesses. A young man without a job for instance, but who has a corrupt relation can live large in this economy and even stimulate the growth of some businesses with his patronage.
This kind of economy is unsustainable and cannot lead Nigeria to self-dependency. It encourages consumerism and is susceptible to external forces, which is why the economy nosedives every time oil prices go down.
When the APC came into power, one of the first things to be implemented was the Treasury Single Account(TSA), which centralizes government revenue and accounting in a way that opens it up for scrutiny. This is one of the greatest threats to the old system of doing things. TSA plugged leakages and made it almost impossible to steal from the treasury. This blocked the magnitude of extra-income for many public officers and forced them to cut down drastically on spending. It also made it difficult for the private sector to bribe public officials. The processes for contracts and licences have become more transparent and this government has produced a new crop of billionaires by merit instead of the briefcase businesses that we saw thriving under the past regimes.
The second thing the government did was to go after past officials that have been involved in fraud. It is only natural that most of the victims would be from PDP; a party that was in power for 16 years. It is also natural that this will have a significant impact on the economy. In the early days of the administration, the economy was plunged into a recession that was caused by many factors including falling oil prices. This was after several years of oil boom under previous PDP regimes. What made the recession worse was the shortage of dollars in the system. As government cracked down heavily on corrupt officials and businessmen, those that had previously stolen huge sums of money and had converted it to dollars refused to spend out to their loot in fear of being hounded for corruption. This is a clear case of corruption fighting back.
Let us get the facts straight; It is true that this government has presided over one of the worst recessions in Nigerian history, but it is also true that it is taking Nigeria out of it. As statistics show, the Nigerian economy has been growing since late 2017. The growth rate is slow, but its climbing steadily. Latest data from the Nigerian Bureau of statistics indicate that growth rate increased to 2.38 per cent in the last quarter(Q4) of 2018 from 1.81 in the Q3 of the same year. The Nigerian economy is also outperforming international media projections. For instance, Bloomberg’s projection for Q4 2018 was 2.10 per cent.
Although it will take a little more time before the effects of these improvements are felt significantly on the streets, we are beginning to see the signs in the rush for employment by corporate organizations at the beginning of 2019. It is just unfortunate that the time when the economy is just picking up has coincides with the elections. With a little patience, Nigerians will soon start enjoying the dividends of a resurgent economy.
It is pertinent to note that I have opted not to use Buhari in my above analysis but use government instead. The biggest problem Nigerians have against Buhari is his personality. Many have used words like austere, aloof, uncharismatic, unintellectual, conservative and rigid to describe the man, who spent several months in and out of the hospital. People say he allowed himself to be controlled by a nepotistic, kleptocratic cabal. This is just an allegation that cannot be proven. What is obvious is that Buhari has left the operation of the economy largely in the hands of a highly efficient deputy called Yemi Osinbajo.
The beauty of democracy is that everything does not have to be in the hands of the president. We are already used to personality-focussed democracy. What is emerging right now is a democracy focussed on building institutions rather than people. Is it not a good thing that Buhari does not interfere with the running of the party, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), and even the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
The Buhari regime has its security flops and I believe the government must be regretting some of its actions and inactions. It is true that things have deteriorated in some cases. However, things have gotten a lot better in many cases. In 2015, Boko Haram held 17 Local governments across three states. Today, they are not presiding over any. Also, armed robbery has reduced in the urban centres. One of the issues that caused a dent on the image of the government was the poor handling of the farmers-herdsmen clashes in 2018. It is pertinent to note that the framing of reportage by bloggers and some media outfits aggravated the crisis, making it seem like the government supported one side. Since August, 2018, cases of herdsmen attacks have become quite rare.
With his genius, Osinbajo spearheaded what will go down as one of the most economic recovery projects in Nigerian history if allowed to completely unfold. Through the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan(ERGP), the economy is gradually coming back. Latest reports from both NBS and the World Bank indicate that the diversification policy of the government is working as the non-oil sector now contributes a bigger quota to the economy. In Q4 2018, non-oil sector grew by 2.7 per cent against 0.76 per cent in Q1 2018. Recession is bad everywhere and would have been worse in Nigeria without pro-active moves from the government; Venezuela is a classic example.
Osinbajo and his economic team have helped to cushion the effect of recession by implementing a massive, innovative set of Social Investment Programmes (SIPs), which include the National Home-Grown School Feeding(NHGSF), Tradermoni, N-power and Conditional Cash Transfers.
Through Tradermoni and its brother, Marketmoni, the Federal government has provided soft, non-collateral loans that can be paid back in bits to over 1.1 million traders and artisans. Under the NHGSF provides jobs for 95,422 cooks, who feed about 9.4 million pupils in 49, 837 schools across the country. Under the N-power scheme, 500,000 youths have been provided internship placements with government stipends in various sectors including construction, education and technology. Under the CCT, the government has spent N15 billion on N1.8 million vulnerable women across 20 states, enhancing the livelihood of 326,000 households.
If you are highly placed, or upwardly mobile, you may not be a beneficiary of these programs because they are not for you. With time, everybody benefits but it is only fair that the most vulnerable in the society benefit first.
This bottoms-up approach to governance is alien to us and differs from the top-first, trickle-down approach we are used to. This election is, therefore, a choice between the two different systems of doing things. We can go back to the old system that rewards the big guys on whose generosity the poor rely? We can also stick to the new, more sustainable system that gives first to the less privileged.
Dayo Ifayemi writes from Ibadan