Editorial: The commander-in-chief of recession

Last month, the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics in its Q2 report said the GDP contracted by 3.62 percent, thereby pushing the country into its worst recession in 30 years, the second in the last five years of Muhammadu Buhari’s Presidency. The name Buhari has become synonymous with titles Nigerians elected him to help them prevent: recession, poverty, insecurity, impeccable foreign policy and improved infrastructure. The administration has not only plunged the country into these titles, it is doing so with pride too.

Buhari campaigned in 2015 by making all sorts of promises. It is now glaring that he likely did not understand them, and nothing is as sweet as holding someone to his/her words. Recall that he was handed one of the fastest growing economies in the world but Buhari, instead of hitting the ground running, hit the presidential jets he had promised to sell off some flying. In those travels, he was engrossed with making the country look bad, calling the youths who are now the victims of his thoughtless policies criminals while deploying his now infamous mathematical impossibility of 97/5 percent dichotomy that he forgot to set up a cabinet to help him navigate the affairs of the country he had recently earned its vote.

While Buhari gloried in his new position, Nigeria’s economy was bleeding from all front; some poor people became overnight billionaires through foreign exchange scams. Those who had access to Aso Rock became overnight billionaires through other shady government deals while BMC deployed it well-oil propaganda machinery to discredit those who dared raise alarms over the systematic destruction of the economy. They brought out the body language theory which has now become worse than body odor.

While in France in September 2015, four months after he was sworn-in, when asked why he had not appointed ministers, Buhari said during an exclusive interview with France 24 tv François Picard that ministers are only there to “make a lot of noise.” Asked if the absence of a Minister of Finance was affecting the Nigerian capital market and economy, Buhari said: “No. It is what we know –and which we learnt from the western system. The civil service provides the continuity, the technocrat. And in any case, they are those that do most of the work.

“The ministers are there, I think, to make a lot of noise; for the politicians to make a lot of noise. But the work is being done by the technocrats. They are there; they have to provide the continuity, dig into the records and then guide us, [those of us] who are just coming in”.

Other times when he was confronted with the reality of not having a cabinet, Buhari said that he was looking for the right people for the job, in a country of 196 million people whose citizens have raked-in accolades all over the world.

He was to appoint ministers six months after his inauguration but instead of appointing round pegs into round holes, he had square pegs and those whose shapes could not be ascertained into round holes. And so, in August 2016, Nigeria slid into its first recession since Buhari became the head of state in 1983.

As if that was not enough, his then minister of finance, Kemi Adeosun told a confused country that recession was just a word. But that was the beginning of the country’s negative financial policy ratings by renowned global financial rating agencies like Fitch and Moody. The policy flip-flops, multiple foreign exchange benchmarks and lack of political direction made a second recession an accident waiting to happen. As Robinson Side wrote on Facebook, Buhari is the commander-in-chief of recession.

It was obvious in his first term that Buhari did not come to govern. Whatever it is that attracted him to Aso Rock could be seen through his method of appointments in a multicultural country. The Buhari of 1983 did not undergo any form of transformation in the 30 years it took for him to rule the country again.

Everything in the political world has a pattern. Economic growth or recession follow a pattern of competency or that of incompetence. Buhari did not choose the former. His thoughts about the economy could be understood through the people he appointed into the finance ministry; Kemi Adeosun and Zainab Ahmed. They were appointed for political compensation and not for their knowledge about the country’s financial system and how to grow the economy. Worst still, a country whose economy was bleeding found the pleasure to close borders in order to checkmate rice smuggling. Who is advising the president?

It is glaring to the blind and loud enough to the deaf that Buhari did not come to better the lots of the country but to reverse the gains that had been made. While he talks to the country through the press statements issued by his media aides, insecurity is eating up the North; police officers are being abducted; villagers and farmers now pay bandits huge ransom in order to harvest their crops. School children, their teachers are abducted for huge ransom. Those who dared to protest are shot, and that’s it. Nigeria will face a dangerous food crises in 2021, thereby compounding its woes.

These are the promises Buhari made about the economy in 2014 if he is elected:

The Economy & Infrastructure Base On the Economy: I will;
1. Maintain sound Micro and macro-economic policy environment, and run an efficient government and preserve the independence of the Central Bank;

  1. Restore financial confidence in the citizens and the world, by putting in place a more robust monitoring, supervising, and regulating of the financial institutions;

  2. Make our economy one of the fastest growing emerging economies in the world with a real GDP growth averaging at least 10-12% annually

  3. As at 1999, Nigerian rate of unemployment stood at about 8%, today it is estimated from official statistics to be close to 30%. I will embark on vocational training, entrepreneurial and skills acquisition scheme for graduates along with the creation of Small Business Loan Guarantee Scheme to create at least 5 million new jobs by 2019. A Small and Medium Enterprises Development Commission will be created for this purpose. I will also encourage State Governments to focus on employment creation, by matching everyone job created in the same state.

  4. Integrate the informal economy into the mainstream and prioritize the full implementation of the National Identification Scheme to generate the relevant data;

  5. Expand domestic demand and will undertake associated public works programmes to achieve this goal;

  6. Embark on export and production diversification including investment in infrastructure; promote manufacturing, through Agro Based industries; and expand and promote sub-regional trade through ECOWAS and AU;

  7. Make Information Technology, Manufacturing, Agriculture and Entertainment key drivers of our economy, by reviewing the present reward system, which is based on certification, to that based on skills, competencies, and performances;

  8. Balance the Nigerian economy across regions by the creation of 6 Regional Economic Development Agencies (REDAs) to act as sub-regional hubs in order to promote healthy regional competitiveness; Put in place a N300bn Regional Growth Fund with an average of N50bn in each geo-political region; to be managed by the REDAs, to encourage private sector enterprise and to support places currently reliant on only on the public sector, to migrate to a private sector reality; Amend the Constitution and the:

  9. Land Use Act to create freehold/leasehold interests in land along with matching grants for states to create a nationwide electronic land title register on a state by state basis;

  10. Create an additional middle-class of at least 4 million new home owners by 2019 by enacting a national mortgage single digit interest rates for purchase of owner occupier houses as well as review the collateral qualification to make funding for home ownership easier, with a 15 to 30 year mortgage terms. This will equally help our banking system migrate from short to long term perspective of their role in sustaining the economy.

  11. Create a Social Welfare Program of at least Five Thousand Naira (N5000) that will cater for the 25 million poorest and most vulnerable citizens upon the demonstration of children’s enrolment in school and evidence of immunisation to help promote family stability.

  12. Provide allowances to the discharged but unemployed Youth Corps members for Twelve (12) months while in the skills and entrepreneurial development programmes.