By Femi Aribisala
Pastor is a friend of the Buhari administration; an unusual role for a man who normally thrives as an opponent of governments. Apologetically comparing the Buhari government to that of Goodluck Jonathan, Bakare says the Buhari government is not “clueless” but “helpless.” That is a pity because a government in need of help but helpless cannot be expected to be of much help to needy Nigerians.
You immediately know something has gone terribly wrong when friends of the government who were loud in proclaiming Buhari’s messianic role during the election campaign, start apologising for him barely six months into his tenure.
During the election, APC did not ask Nigerians to replace an allegedly clueless PDP government with a helpless APC government. On the contrary, General Buhari derided the Jonathan administration for needing the help of Nigeria’s neighbours in order to fight the scourge of Boko Haram.
However, the first thing the president did on assuming office was to make official trips to Chad and Niger, seeking the help of our neighbours to fight the same Boko Haram. Then he went to Washington, seeking the help of his new Western friends. In short, immediately he assumed office, President Buhari’s government became “helpless”; in the words of his ardent supporter Tunde Bakare.
On the campaign stumps, Buhari promised to help the needy once in office. One of those promises entailed giving Father Christmas handouts of N5,000 a month to 25 million unemployed youths. This promise of help was made without recourse to arithmetic. It was a promise that would surely bankrupt an economy already reeling under the burden of the petroleum subsidy. Nevertheless expediency recommended it to the APC.
The 2015 federal budget is N4.4 trillion. At a cost of N1.5 trillion per annum, APC’s Father Christmas handouts for the poor would gulp a whole one-third of that annual budget. It would treble what Lagos State, the richest state in the federation, spends on everything annually. Even more ridiculous is the fact that APC’s Father Christmas promise was made in the middle of a looming recession when the price of oil, the mainstay of the Nigerian economy, had tumbled from a height of $150 a barrel to barely $50.
Nevertheless, APC dazzled the electorate with this promise and, in combination with others like it, it achieved its purpose. Nigerians bought the lie and APC triumphed at the polls. But once in office, the government that promised the needy it would be their help became helpless, in the words of Tunde Bakare; the president’s vice-presidential running-mate in 2011. Six months down the road after its election into office, no unemployed Nigerian has received one kobo from the government, how much more N5,000 six times over.
Shaming the APC
APC’s Father Christmas turned out, like all Father Christmases, to be a cruel hoax. It also became clear that the helpless APC government needed help in fulfilling its promises. That needed help came from a most unlikely and unexpected source: it came from the PDP.
PDP senators decided to help the APC fulfil its promise by shaming it. Borrowing from the APC platform, they put forward a motion requiring the government to provide N5,000 monthly to 25 million of the unemployed. Surely, this motion would pass by acclamation, seeing that the opposition was, in effect, providing unexpected backing for one of the cardinal aspects of the APC’s highfalutin election promises.
However, in the comedy of errors that has become the signature of this APC government, APC senators promptly voted en masse to block their own programme. In short, the PDP successfully turned the APC into a national laughing-stock. The laughter of derision rang right around the federation. It showed Nigerians yet again that they were fooled into electing a government that is not only helpless, but that cannot even be helped.
Insult to intelligence: But the matter did not end there. In embarrassment, the APC returned to its campaign mode of insulting the intelligence of Nigerians. The loquacious Lai Mohammed was trotted out yet again to rationalise to Nigerians the wisdom of the APC in voting against its own programme in the Senate. Rather than covering the face of the APC in embarrassing silence, Mohammed compounded matters by declaring the government’s determination to devote N1.4 trillion to the fictitious Father Christmas handouts in the 2016 budget.
Hear him: “The Buhari administration is poised to lift millions of Nigerians out of extreme poverty by providing social protection and safety-nets. The non-implementation of the payment policy so far is due to the fact that it was not included in the 2015 budget. The Muhammadu Buhari administration has been busy putting in place measures that will make it possible to start the implementation of this project. Such measures include the introduction of the Treasury Single Account, TSA. We are happy to inform Nigerians that as at the end of September 2015, over N1.4 trillion which hitherto was lying unproductive in various commercial banks has been recovered.”
When is the APC going to learn to stop embarrassing itself like this? When will Lai Mohammed learn to stop taking Nigerians for fools?
APC cul-de-sac: In the first place, the TSA was not introduced by the Buhari administration. It was introduced by Goodluck Jonathan. As at January this year, over 400 MDAs had already complied with the Jonathan administration’s directive on the implementation of the TSA. Surely, APC knows the difference between introducing something on its own initiative and continuing something introduced by the PDP.
In the second place, a government that spent the last six months saying it met no money in the treasury now claims it has found N1.4 trillion somewhere. This money was actually not lost. Therefore, it cannot be said to have now been recovered. The money was just moved from private banks to the CBN.
The monies now designated to the TSA cannot be used to play Father Christmas. They are monies already budgeted to government agencies. These monies are already denominated for projects. They can still be spent by their depositors between now and the next budget. Therefore, they are not strictly-speaking available for conversion into government handouts. In any case, if TSA deposits are used to finance Father Christmas in 2016, what will be used to finance it in 2017?
Indeed, Lai Mohammed has put the government in another cul-de-sac. He says needy Nigerians have not seen the government’s Father Christmas because Christmas was not included in the 2015 budget. In which case, Christmas will finally arrive in 2016, when the APC will have the opportunity to include it in the budget.
This means if Christmas is again delayed in 2016, the APC will have to bury its head again in shame. However, if having boxed itself into a corner, the APC decides to save face by unveiling Father Christmas in 2016, Nigeria can be expected to become practically bankrupt before the end of the year.
The truth of the matter is that a country where states have to be bailed out of failure to pay workers’ salaries for several months can ill-afford to play Father Christmas. APC is simply a victim of voodoo economics.
On coming to power, Vice-president Osinbajo said Nigeria was owing $60 billion; a “humungous” figure he arrived at for the purpose of giving a bad name to the previous government by converting the country’s local debts into dollars. In actual fact, Nigeria’s dollar debts were shy of $10 billion. The rest of our debt portfolio is denominated in naira. However, in just six months, the Buhari administration has added over $2 billion to Nigeria’s debt profile.
The level of borrowing currently being entertained by the APC is ridiculous. At the presidential retreat organised by the Office of the SGF for ministers-designate, the same Osinbajo revealed that while the 2015 budget was N4.4 trillion, the proposed 2016 budget would be pegged at nearly double that amount; between 7 and 8 trillion naira. This increase is to take place in spite of Nigeria’s financial crunch.
Hear him: “In May 2015, Nigeria experienced its worst economic decline in decades with sharp decline in oil prices from an average of $105 between 2011 and 2014, to $45 in 2015; foreign reserves at 10-year low of $29.595 billion; oil production has declined to 2.05 million barrels per day; and power supply down to less than 3,000MW.”
Where then does the government expect to get the extra trillions of naira it is now proposing to include in the 2016 budget?
There is only one major source: the government is going to go a-borrowing on a large and unprecedented scale. In short, the same government that sought to make public relations capital out of the Jonathan administration’s debt profile is now getting ready to exceed the Jonathan administration in borrowing and drown us in debt.
Osinbajo told his audience of ministers-designate that the government intends to peg capital expenditure in 2016 at N2 trillion. Compare that outlay to Lai Mohammed insistence that the government has warehoused N1.4 trillion in the TSA as Father Christmas handouts to unemployed youths in the same 2016 budget.
In short, the budget for Father Christmas will rival that of capital expenditure in 2016. Little wonder then that APC senators blocked the PDP motion inviting Father Christmas to Nigeria in 2015. Is confusion not another word for the APC mantra of change?
Laughing-stock: The highfalutin promises of the APC in the heady days of the presidential election campaign will continue to haunt the Buhari administration, making it a perpetual laughing-stock. In February 2015, at a meeting with the organised private sector in Lagos, presidential candidate Buhari said:
“If elected, we will complete the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway to Ilorin. We will concentrate on the roads and highways that link up Nigerian states. Road construction alone will unlock a value chain of opportunities in the building industry for construction companies, builders, engineers, architects, quarry operators, cement and iron-rod production and supply.
“The successful opening up of Nigeria by the construction of new roads and highways will revive road transportation, truck manufacture, tyre manufacture, engine oil, brake-pad productions on one hand. It will also create a demand for jobs for mechanics, drivers and those engaged in transport support business. We expect a revival of all the inter-state economies that used to thrive across Nigeria, providing support to travelers by way of canteens, restaurants, farm produce, etc.”
However, since President Buhari came to office in May 2015, work on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, begun under the Jonathan administration, has stopped.