By Bolanle BOLAWOLE
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For the first time since Independence in 1960, Nigeria’s economy expanded slower than its population between 2015 and 2020. Nigeria’s GDP per capita declined by 0.02 per cent, 4.16 per cent and 1.78 in 2015, 2016 and 2017 respectively; in 2018, 2019 and 2020, it declined by 0.68, 0.38 and 4.57 per cent respectively.
Nigeria’s annual GDP growth rate also declined from 6.22 in 2014 to 3.10 in 2022. Under Buhari, Nigeria’s economy fell into recession twice.The exchange rate of Naira to US dollar in 2015 was N197 but today the rate on the black market where most Nigerians source their forex is well above N700 to the dollar.
Merging the official and black market rates by the Tinubu administration has only led to Naira devaluation, driving the former to meet the latter upstairs! According to the Debt Management Office (DMO), Nigeria’s debt profile stood at N12.12 trillion as at June 2015 but now stands at about N81 trillion. On the Global Human Development Index (HDI), Nigeria ranked 152 out of 187 countries in 2014 but dropped to 163 out of 191 countries by 2022. We can go on and on!
What the above statistics indicate – including maternal and infant mortality rate, out-of-school children figure and the corruption index – is that in virtually every area, we fell backward under the Buhari administration rather than make progress. Were it possible to completely wipe out the Buhari years and take Nigeria back to where it was pre-Buhari, many Nigerians will smile! Return the price of petrol to what it was pre-Buhari era! Return the price of a bag of rice and other essential commodities to what they were in 2015! Return the price of a bag of cement to what it was in 2015! Return the exchange rate of the Naira and PHCN tariff to the pre-Buhari era! Return Nigeria’s debt profile, local and foreign, to what it was under Jonathan!
Again, we can go on and on! Yet, this was the same Jonathan that Lai Mohammed, at the head of the APC propaganda machine, had described as “clueless and incompetent” and the same Buhari that had promised Nigerians CHANGE! For sure, Buhari proved more clueless and more incompetent than Jonathan!
What kind of president has Tinubu himself said he will make? If we must take the advice of MKO Abiola that you do not shave a man’s head behind his back, we should take a look at what Tinubu himself considers as the tasks before him. While campaigning for office and after his swearing-in as president and commander-in-chief, Tinubu, like the presidents before him, has promised heaven and earth! He has said he will fight insecurity and protect life and property; he will provide infrastructure, including regular power supply; run an inclusive government that will give everyone a sense of belonging; fight to keep the country united, strong and prosperous; govern according to the rule of law; revamp the economy and make it strong; create jobs; give agriculture a pride of place; maintain a robust foreign policy, etc, etc.
There is hardly anything that Nigerians need that Tinubu has not promised. But will he walk the talk? Can he? Talk, as they say, is cheap. We have seen examples of that again and again. Will Tinubu be different? And will “they” let him? I am sure you know who the “they” are!It is not every leader who leaves office as a failure that planned to fail. Many had lofty goals and great ideas but translating them into plans of action and following through with them was their Achilles heel. Running for office is tough but composing a good team afterwards is tougher. Ensuring that the team keeps focus and stays the course through thick and thin is even harder. Here, then, are nine points that will be of help to President Tinubu if he must make a difference:
1. He must possess the political will to see his plans and policies through. Fickle-minded leaders have no chance of success in the Forest of a Thousand Demons that Nigeria is.
2. As a visionary leader determined to overhaul a decadent political and economic system, he must be ready to commit what the Marxists call class suicide because the greatest stumbling block on his road to success are the members of his own ruling class.
3. To avoid being blown off by the landmines of religious, ethnic and other chauvinistic tendencies, he must apply the biblical injunction of being wise as a serpent but gentle as a dove. Grandstanding or playing to the gallery will do him no good.
4. He must understand that to succeed, a measure of authoritarian streak in the right direction is needed. If in doubt, ask Germany’s Otto von Bismarck or Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew.
5. Another biblical injunction he must take very much to heart is the one that warns that a man’s enemies are the members of his own household. Rein in your family members – wife or wives, concubines, children, friends, etc. Usually, they are the weakest link in the chain.
6. Ministers, aides and other officials who work for you are often the cause of your failure. Once they discover your template or weakness, they will exploit it for their selfish benefits rather than help you overcome them. Over time, they will barricade you in and cut you off from the very people you purport to lead, such that you no longer see the reality on ground. A leader who wants to succeed must design a way to get feelers and feedback from the grassroots outside and independent of those in the corridors of power.
7. A leader must understand that try as he may, he cannot possibly please everyone; neither can he solve all problems. Government is a continuum; no single administration can “finish” it, so to say. Government is like “soldiers come, soldiers go but barracks remain”. Government is the soldier that comes and goes while the country is the barracks that remains. Like William Shakespeare admonishes, the world itself is a stage where all of us as actors come in, play our part and leave the stage for others. May we know when to leave and may we leave when the ovation is loudest!
8. The purpose of government, as posited by Jeremy Bentham, is “the greatest happiness of the greatest number” In democracy, the majority will have their way but the minority must be allowed to have their say. The dividends of democracy must be spread evenly across board to promote inclusivity, justice and fairness and give everyone a sense of belonging. The cost of injustice and high-handedness in governance can be prohibitive.
9. Have an eye on history. If, like Buhari, you wait until you are on your way out of power before you begin to bellyache about your place in history, it will be too late. Understand that history is “pay as you go”.
As expected, discussion at the lecture was not only robust but also offered hope that with prayers and the support of well-meaning Nigerians coupled with President Tinubu’s pursuit of the right policies quickly, the hope of Nigerians will be renewed in no time and the narrative, which is frightening at the moment, will give way to renewed and refreshed hope and Nigerians will begin to see the glimpses of light at the end of the tunnel. Data, statistics, and economic indexes may not look good at the moment but the consensus of opinion was that these are mere symptoms of deep-rooted malaise bedevilling the country and they will dissipate with the application of the right policies by the Tinubu administration.
A three-pronged approach was suggested:
1. As fast as possible, move Nigeria from a consumer economy, which has made it a dumping ground for all manner of adulterated and sub-standard products from all the nooks and crannies of the world, to an economy that produces what it consumes and consumes what it produces. Curb the unbridled taste for anything foreign; be proudly Nigerian. Restructure the country by returning/reviving the 1960 Independence Constitution or the 1963 Republican Constitution and make the various components of the country competitive and productive again. Find a way to reduce the prohibitive cost of governance. Also, the manufacturing companies that have either collapsed or have voted with their feet should be encouraged to return. Provide an enabling environment for business through favourable and business-friendly policies and the provision of needed infrastructure. Where are the Oni and Sons, Exide batteries, Michelin and Dunlop tyres, the textile factories, Cable and Wires, Oluwa Glass to mention but a few? Once we stimulate local production, jobs will be created, income will rise, inflation will go down, the “Japa” syndrome will abate; the Naira will firm up against other currencies when the pressure on it caused by the over-reliance on imported goods is relaxed with local production.
The second is that there is the need to fashion out an elite consensus that will see the need to reduce corruption to the barest minimum. It was not that there was no corruption in the First Republic, which Nigerians have remained nostalgic about, but there appeared to have been an elite consensus that corruption be limited to only 10 percent of total contract sums; hence, the coup plotters of January 15, 1966 referred to the First Republic politicians as “ten per centres….who make the country look big for nothing” These days, however, the actual cost of contracts and services are not only scandalously inflated, huge percentages of contract sums are carted away. Some jobs are executed only on paper and the same projects keep resurfacing each budget cycle; allocations are shared with no work done and the cycle continues! Where the job is done at all, the quality is usually sub-standard and the cost of one project should, actually, deliver multiples of such projects.
The third is that deliberate and vigorous effort must be made to diversify the economy for the country to earn more revenue. For too long, we have paid lip service to diversification without much to show for it. A population growing at a rate faster than the economy is expanding is a sure recipe for disaster. In this way, we must do what other countries do: pay our taxes. Many of the developed countries that our children run to, run on taxes; the time has come for us to do similarly here in Nigeria. The Tinubu administration should ginger the religious leaders in this respect. The time is now when churches and mosques should not only encourage and pray for those who are faithful in the payment of their tithes and in giving of their offering or zakat but must also encourage and pray for those who pay their taxes and who also shun all vestiges of corruption. In a country made up mostly of those professing Christianity and Islam, how come that finding honest and conscientious leaders and followers has become a problem? Finding honest workers is like searching for a needle in a haystack; why? (Concluded)
Former Editor of PUNCH newspapers, Chairman of its Editorial Board and Deputy Editor-in-chief, BOLAWOLE was also the Managing Director/ Editor-in-chief of THE WESTERNER newsmagazine. He writes the ON THE LORD’S DAY column in the Sunday Tribune and TREASURES column in New Telegraph newspaper on Wednesdays. He is also a public affairs analyst on radio and television.