President Muhammadu Buhari, on September 7, disclosed that the coronavirus pandemic had caused a 60% drop in Nigeria’s revenue, noting that this had affected every facet of his administration.
Speaking through Vice President Yemi Osinbajo at the beginning of the first-year ministerial performance review in Abuja, the President had said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a severe downturn in the funds available to finance our budget and has severely hampered our capacity.
“For the government, it has been a particularly trying time. As a result of the poor fortunes of the oil sector, our revenues and foreign exchange earnings have fallen drastically. Our revenues have fallen by almost 60 per cent.”
Buhari’s admission brings home the very prostrate state of Nigeria’s economy, and how it had been held down by years of excessive reliance on crude oil, reckless spending and outright stealing.
While the country’s near hopeless state can be blamed on the failure of successive governments, the lamentations of Buhari and the appeal to pity should be taken with some reservations.
It is only logical to query what the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) is doing in the face of crumbling revenue. What manner of austerity measures have been designed to reverse the trend or check unwarranted leakages? Indeed, how has the country’s leadership responded to calls for drastic reductions in the cost of governance?
A cursory glance still shows ostentatiousness all over, with almost every organ of government carrying on as if the economic fundamentals have not radically altered.
While the ruling party is forcing a diversified economy at slow speed, the president, governors, ministers, lawmakers, and judicial officials are still seen strutting around in long convoys of cars that don’t support the growth of local industries.
What about the presidential fleet sustained with diminishing resources, the avoidable waste on medical tourism and official taste buds skewed in favour of imports?
And, why is the leadership refusing to give a radical thought to altering the presidential system, with its cumbersome bicameral legislature that has become an unsustainable drain pipe to the economy.
The current scenario does suggest, therefore, that the country’s leadership, almost at every strata, is unwilling to make the necessary sacrifices and or take uncommon steps to restructure the polity or economy.
President Buhari must lead from the front, if the country’s leadership is to be taken seriously on the matter of restructuring the economy for productivity, and away from wastefulness.
Two other talking points
Of Buhari’s strides in agric
On September 10, President Buhari declared that his administration had recorded notable achievements, especially in the agricultural sector, pointing out that it had averted food crisis through promoting self-sufficiency over the years.
According to a statement by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, the President said among others:
“In the last five years, we have recorded notable achievements. Despite the decline in GDP by 6.1 per cent in Q2 of 2020 as a direct result of coronavirus, the agricultural sector continued to grow because of government targeted policies.”
While it is true that the Anchor Borrower Programme (ABP) speaks to government’s efforts, as exemplified in the volume of rice produced in the country, the progress made must be celebrated in a subdued manner. The reasons for this are not far fetched.
First, there are inherent contradictions that put the President’s declaration to test. On August 6, in an internal memo of the Nigeria Customs Service, endorsed by the deputy comptroller-general, T. M. Isa, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), granted approval for four agro-processing companies to import 262,000 tonnes of maize and corn.
Again, on August 24, the Minister of State for Agriculture and Rural Development, Mustapha Bab-Shehuri while receiving 3,999 tonnes of cereals donated to Nigeria by ECOWAS, stated that: “The Government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria loaned 5,000MT of assorted grains from ECOWAS stock which was agreed to be paid back on grain for grain basis.”
The question then is, why is the President singing food security when the country is resorting to borrowing food and seeking emergency imports?
Secondly, the rising food prices, as admitted by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), and the President’s assertion not long ago that the country is on the brink of food crisis, should be food for thought.
Perhaps, it’s time to eat humble pie and admit that insecurity is bringing agric business to its knees and rubbishing the gains of the recent past.
On sit-tight leaders
While presenting Nigeria’s General Statement at the 57th Ordinary Session of the ECOWAS Heads of State and Government in Niamey, Niger Republic, on September 7, President Buhari warned against leaders of the region elongating their tenure in office beyond constitutional limits.
In a statement by his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, the President asserted that: “It is important that as leaders of our individual member states of ECOWAS, we need to adhere to the constitutional provisions of our countries, particularly on term limits. This is one area that generates crisis and political tension in our sub-region. I urge us all to resist the temptation of seeking to perpetuate ourselves in power beyond the constitutional provisions.”
President Buhari couldn’t be more forthright on the issue of sit-tight leaders. His admonition is needed, especially now that the region is going through several challenges ranging from socio-economic and political crisis, as evident in Mali.
But beyond this, Mr President must also champion efforts at ensuring that democratic institutions are not weakened as such are usually exploited by mischievous politicians to upturn the will of the people.
Just as Buhari pushes for reforms abroad, he must lay the foundations for a shining example at home, if only to convince his peers that he is ready to walk the talk.
By John Chukwu…
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