Buhari: Two Years Down The Line

President Buhari

Last Monday officially marked two years of President Muhammadu Buhari’s government in office. At this juncture, many observers would have likely agreed with the assessment that the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) government, so far, failed to live up to its hype.
The President Muhammadu Buhari-led ruling APC’s ‘change’ mantra, no doubt, made a solid impression on many Nigerians during the 2015 general elections. The people’s expectations were so high that political, economic and social pundits thought the Muhammadu Buhari administration would turn around the  economy and restore dignity to the nation’s weak democratic institutions. But, two years down the line, it appears that the prevailing economic hardship in the country has dimmed the people’s hope in positive change.
In some respects, the underwhelming performance of the APC government was always inevitable. From the onset, there  appeared to be a considerable gulf between what the public expected of the government and what it could realistically achieve, especially when the myriads of challenges the country was facing is considered.
Although some would argue that the government, too, has itself to blame for the growing nationwide disappointment: while campaigning, its foremost candidates continued to restate commitment to promises they were highly unlikely to be able to deliver.
Political realities notwithstanding, even for those who had expressed optimism of what was feasible in the short to medium-term following the historic 2015 elections, it would, still, also be fair to say that the administration has performed worse than could have been imagined. None of the problems confronting Nigeria in 2015 or in the years leading up to this were unprecedented—not even the fall in oil prices, which had become evident by mid-2014, more than six months before the elections in March.
On this basis alone, the reasonable expectation for any Nigerian government-in-waiting is that it would at least have had a contingency plan against the risk of an oil crisis—even if this meant a plan that would be subject to revisions at a later stage.
However, the facts speak for themselves: it took Buhari eight months to appoint his cabinet, and an additional 14 months for his government to finally unveil its medium-term economic strategy, the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP). Not to mention the lack of improvement in the now-customary practice of delayed budget presentations (and, therefore, approvals). By all means, the Buhari administration can, so far, only be described as taking a bad situation and making it worse.
Even if one chooses to judge the administration against the yardstick it had set for itself, by comparing its performance to date to its key electoral promises, it is hard to get away from the fact that the administration is performing below expectations. In its election manifesto, the APC had made a number of promises, all of which could be classified under three key themes: improving Nigeria’s security environment; tackling corruption; and economic reform (which includes tackling unemployment). If one were to take a stern view, then the conclusion would be that the government has failed on all three fronts. The record equally appears more mixed, albeit more skewed towards underperformance.
The ‘reactivation’ of the EFCC seems to have got a lot of Nigerians and foreigners alike excited once again that Nigeria may finally be dealing with its decades-long reputational challenge: corruption. It is hard to read a Nigerian media outlet any week these days without spotting some reference to EFCC’s work. High-profile arrests have been made, discoveries of allegedly embezzled funds have been announced, and a lot of this seems ongoing.
However, significant as these activities may be, the APC-led government will likely continue to struggle to convince Nigerians and the world that the Buhari administration is serious about tackling corruption until the government is able to secure conviction and imprisonment of  corrupt public officials.  Herein lies the problem for the EFCC: two years into Buhari’s tenure, the anti-graft agency has yet to secure a single conviction in the courts.
Nonetheless, that public patience on this issue is starting to run thin is obvious, criticisms from various quarters have alluded to the argument that the EFCC as it is presently constituted serves as a tool to witch -hunt the opposition and, indeed, there appears to be greater preoccupation with the state of the economy—an area where the government’s track record to date appears to be far from satisfactory.
A recent report by SBM Intelligence revealed that only four per cent of the 171 promises made to Nigerians in the build-up to the 2015 elections have been fulfilled.
The Buhari Campaign Organisation made 171 promises to Nigerians at different campaign stops, and in several documents, forming the basis of a social contract between the government and the people whose votes they desperately sought.
SBM Intelligence said it curated the 171 promises and grouped them into 24 categories including accountability in public service, anti-corruption, cost of governance, economy, power, infrastructure, education and health care.
It said these were circulated among professionals in related fields to provide ratings on a zero to 10 scale of performance on each promise.
The report shows that six promises regarding national security (four) and foreign relations (two) have been fulfilled, while some actions have been taken towards fulfilling 23 promises regarding anti-corruption, oil and gas, and agriculture, among others.
It said little or no action had been taken towards fulfilling 126 promises, while actions taken on 16 promises regarding the economy, power, and health care, among others, only made the situation become significantly worse.
”The Buhari administration needs to understand that its biggest challenge is not diversifying an already diversified economy, but diversifying government revenues. This will mean widening the very limited tax net while delivering on the promise to cut the cost of governance drastically,” SBM Intelligence said in the report.
It described as “particularly untenable” that in the face of dwindling government revenues, the cost of running government had continued to increase to record levels.
Since the inception of the Buhari’s administration, not less than 1,291 Nigerians have been deported from about nine different countries. This figure is unprecedented and gives credence to the excruciating economic conditions Nigerians have experienced in recent times.
According to statistics released by the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons and other related offences, 1,291 Nigerians were deported for various immigration offences in the last seven months.
From the 1,291 deportees, 1,062 were deported from Libya in five batches, while 115 came from Italy in four batches. From Mali, 41 persons were brought into Nigeria while 26 came from Burkina Faso.
Ghana deported 14 Nigerians; the United Arab Emirate, 22; one from Cameroon; eight from Ivory Coast and two from Togo
Apart from the improvement of the economy, three of the most important drivers of the Buhari electioneering were anti-corruption, accountability in public service and reduction of cost of governance.
On the first two of these, there was marginal improvement by the government in comparison with its delivery in the first year, but the scorecard is still too poor to definitively proclaim any significant progress.
“On anti-corruption, a low 33 per cent performance score was recorded when measured against the promises, even though it is an improvement on the 17 per cent recorded in the administration’s first year. This attests that the jostling between the government’s executive ability and the National Assembly is impacting on the Buhari administration’s ability to deliver so-called ‘dividends of democracy’ to Nigerians,”SBM Intelligence reported.
According to the report, the administration has somewhat softened its “strong naira policy” in its second year although the Central Bank of Nigeria had stopped short of floating the currency.
It said the announcement in June, 2016 of a currency float, which was initially met with delight from investors and the market, turned to be the start of a multi-exchange rate system that bred a mix of frustration and confusion, while doing little to achieve the CBN’s intent of reining in the distortionary effect that short sellers and black marketers were having on the naira.
The organisation said a principals element that would unleash the economic potentials of the country “is the building of key infrastructure.”
It said, “while the campaign promises of the All Progressives Congress recognised this, the execution in the last two years leaves so much undone, with only eight per cent performance in such a critical category.
It is also worrying that job creation, housing and social welfare are in negative territory, for a country with a very large youth population, high population growth and an increasing percentage of people living in abject poverty. Today, there are no social safety nets and more and more people have fallen into poverty as a result of economic decline over the last two years.
According to the report, two key areas that affect Nigerians today and have significant impact on the future of the country have also seen lackluster performance from the Buhari administration.
Education has a mere three per cent performance, while healthcare has actually deteriorated by eight per cent over the last two years. When measured against events like the avoidable deaths due to meningitis, it is clear that this deterioration is already impacting Nigerians on the ground.
However as useful as retrospection can be, it serves no good to continue dwelling on what could have been done differently. Moreover, with the state of the nation now laid bare by the confirmation, in February, that the country experienced its first full-year growth contraction in 25 years (GDP in 2016 stood at -1.15%), it is worth asking if there is anything positive that can be expected in the years ahead.
In fact, cautious optimism is needed especially as it has taken the administration 22 months to publish a policy plan, which—although hardly much to fault about it—is, mainly, a repackaged version of proposals previously espoused by past administrations.
That it took close to two years and Buhari’s unexpected more than seven weeks absence from Nigeria (ostensibly due to medical treatment in the UK for an undisclosed illness) for the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) to finally be released certainly warrants wondering how long its implementation will take to begin.
Another impediment is the fact that Nigeria will enter campaign mood soon, at the start (at the latest, middle) of 2018, in preparation for the next elections. The elections are expected to occur no later than by the end of the first quarter of 2019. Realistically, the timeframe does not provide much of a window for all the reforms outlined in the ERGP to be carried out. Therefore, it is worth defining what reforms could reasonably be achieved.

Amieyeofori Ibim