27 February 2019

Nigeria: What Nigerians Should Expect From Buhari's Second Term

Photo: APC Nigeria/Twitter
President Muhammadu Buhari.

After a gruelling campaign that saw him travelling to all the states of the federation plus the federal capital, Abuja, canvassing for votes, despite concerns in some quarters over his health, President Muhammadu Buhari emerged winner of last Saturday's presidential election.

Mr Buhari scored 15,191,847 votes to upstage his closest rival and candidate of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar, who managed to score 11,262,978 votes.

Though the result of the election, which suffered a postponement due to logistical problems, has been rejected by the PDP, which alleged widespread irregularities and malpractice, Mr Buhari and his team will be expected to hit the ground running, proffering solutions to some of the most pressing challenges that beleaguered the country.

In 2015 when he was first elected president, after trying and failing three previous times, it was thought that Mr Buhari, whose campaign of tackling corruption and securing the country resonated with many, would work immediately but all they got was a tepid leadership.

It took the president six months to form a cabinet. The weakened economy needing tethering was left unmanned and the country soon drifted into a recession.

To make things worse, the government also adopted a protectionist exchange rate at a period many economists were of the view that a market-determinate regime would have hastened recovery. Unable to keep heads above water, factories and other companies soon began to go under.

Job loses spiralled out of control. By December 2018 the rate of unemployment has risen from 18.2 per cent when he took office in May 2015 to 23.1 per cent. In June 2018, Nigeria had made global news after it overtook India as the country with the highest number of poor people in the world.

With an estimated 87 million Nigerians, which is about half of the country's population, believed to be living on less than $1.90 a day, the country was tagged the poverty capital of the world.

Mr Buhari was either unwilling or unable to mend a country deeply divided along ethnic lines. Adopting a winner-takes-all attitude, many of his earliest appointments were tilted in the favour of the northern region where he is from - a move which he himself justified with the now infamous five per cent vs 97 per cent gaffe during an event at the United States Institute for Peace in July 2015.

However, from the outset of his administration, the military quickly rolled back the gains of the terrorist group, Boko Haram, recapturing large swathes of territory seized by the insurgents, and returning thousands of displaced people back to their homes.

But it soon slipped into doldrum allowing the insurgents to stage a comeback and inflicting heavy losses on the military. While the military campaign in the North-east could be described as hit and miss, bloodier violence broke out in other parts of the country. In the North-central, the herdsmen and farmer crisis cost thousands of lives, and the north-west became a haven of bandits.

The long breaks the president took to tend to his failing health in the United Kingdom, also didn't help.

However, through all of these, the government managed to undertake major infrastructural projects across the country. Most notable of them was its road construction and rail projects. Its social intervention policies, such as the school feeding programme, N-Power, Trader Moni, the Conditional Cash Transfer put smiles on the faces of millions of Nigerians.

To Mr Buhari's credit, at the end of his first time the economy, which has slipped out of recession began to show signs of recovery - inflation was stalled and in fact, pushed back. In December 2018, for the first time in what seemed like ages, the economy grew by 1.81 per cent.

Next level

If the Buhari government was proud of anything, it was its social intervention programmes. Years after this administration might have ended some of its supporters will still be trumpeting the gains of some of these programmes.

Despite sharp criticism of some of these programmes by the opposition, which canvassed for market-driven policies, the government had kicked off its re-election drive, with the promise to not only continue, but to expand these programmes.

In its re-election manifesto, which it christened, Next Level, it made clear that these programmes are the quickest approach to economic revival. The government promised to create 10 million new jobs part of which will include increasing the number of N-Power graduates from just over 200,000 entrants to one million.

It also pledged to expand its hit-and-miss flagship agricultural programme, the Anchor Borrowers Programme, to one million beneficiaries. It claimed another 1.5 million jobs would be created through agriculture mechanisation.

More school children should expect to get fed as the government has promised to increase the number fed from 9.2 million to 15 million. It also estimated that this increase will create an additional 300,000 jobs for food vendors and farmers.

The government hopes its feeding programme will work as an incentive for indigent parents to send their kids to school which will in turn help erase the country's abysmal number of children out of school. According to the executive secretary of Universal Basic Education (UBEC), Hammid Bobboyi, there are 13.2 million out of school children in Nigeria.

In the months leading to the election, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, travelled across the country preaching the gospel of Trader Moni, the government soft loan scheme that hands N10,000 to petty traders.

Though this attracted sharp criticism with the opposition accusing the government of using the scheme as a ploy to buy votes, the government said it intends to expand the scheme into what it called People Moni, the scheme, which would target artisans, promises to give a soft loan of up to N1 million each to vulcanisers, barbers, Keke riders, mechanics etc.

Industrialisation also plays a major part in the government's economic plan in the next four years with the promise to build Regional Industrial Parks and 109 Special Production and Processing Centres (SPPCs) across each senatorial district.

Infrastructure

In the next four years, Nigerians should expect to see the government push ahead with its infrastructural drive, which has been one of its highpoints. Top among its infrastructural projects is the completion of the controversial Second Niger Bridge, the completion of the Lagos-Kano rail, the Eastern rail and the Lagos-Calabar rail.

The government made a big show of the newly commissioned Lagos Abeokuta rail, but perhaps with dwindling revenue, the rail tracks may not be entering into other cities as quickly as the government wants, people to believe. In fact, the minister of transportation, Rotimi Amaechi admitted this much.

"Doing Lagos-Kano, we are looking for about N3 trillion and N4 trillion. Is that a money you get easily? The budget is between N7 trillion to N8 trillion if we give only Lagos-Kano the sum of N4trillion then we will be giving half of the budget and we won't be able to pay salaries.

"So, it is a gradual process, that's why we want to rehabilitate the narrow gauge so that while we are slowly constructing the standard gauge, things will be running on the narrow gauge," he told reporters in Kaduna on November 22, 2018.

Security

The government will continue its quest to truly and completely rout the insurgent group in the North-east. Mr Buhari suggested in an interview with Arise TV in January, he was not impressed with the manner the war was being prosecuted. According to him, he has not changed the military leadership because he does not want the scrambling for positions that usually follows such changes close to an election. Therefore, changes in the military command structure in the coming weeks would not come as a surprise.

The pastoralist conflicts in the North-central seems to have been tamed, though belatedly by the military's Operation Safe Haven, a lasting solution to the conflict should not be expected until a lasting solution grazing issue is found.

Tit-for-tat attacks are still rife in Kaduna, and in the North-west states of Zamfara and Katsina, bandits still unleash terror on communities unhindered. Mr Buhari will be expected to address these issues although he has not outlined any concrete plan to do so.

Anti-corruption war

Mr Buhari's anti-corruption war recorded limited success in his first tenure. In his second term, he may be more bullish in prosecuting the war. His animosity with the judiciary, which he sees as the hurdle toward bringing many of those accused of corruption to book will continue.

Ironically, he may likely shield members of his government and top party members accused of corruption from prosecution or when even if they are charged, the charges against them may be devoid of the usual prosecutorial bite.

For instance, a former Senate minority leader, Godswill Akpabio, who defected from the PDP to the APC party is likely to be shielded from corruption charges against him. If his loyalty were to be rewarded, like the president is wont to do, it is unlikely, that he would see the inside of a courtroom in the next four years.

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