By Levinus Nwabughiogu
Though he inherited a battered economy upon his inauguration on May 29, 2015, he did not, perhaps, envisage the trying times that were to greet him later.
He had just presented his first Budget, tagged “Budget of Change” with a loud ovation and public euphoria. But what was unknown to him was that his troubles had just begun with the presentation of the N6.08 trillion financial estimates and throughout 2016, he swam in the river of agony and recession.
Here are a compendium of major events/actions that defined the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari in 2016.
Removal of Oil Subsidy
Anyone who lived in Nigeria between January 1 and 9, 2012 must have witnessed the sprawling protests that greeted the government of ex-president Goodluck Jonathan’s announcement of the withdrawal of oil subsidy. The hue and cry reached a crescendo as Premium Motor Spirit, PMS also called petrol sold for N141 per liter. It was one development that forced the House of Representatives to have a session on a Sunday for the first time in the history of Nigeria’s legislative business.
But amidst the protests, government later bowed to pressure and reduced the price to N97.
But by March 2016, the government of President Buhari had already concluded plans to jettison the age-long practice. Recall that while the scarcity of the product was biting hard with serpentine queues at the gas stations across the country, the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Ibe Kachikwu who then doubled as the Group Managing Director, GMD of the Nigerian National Petroleum Cooperation, NNPC announced that the scarcity would persist until May.
And in May, subsidy was removed. Though, it prompted a few protests here and there, government’s propagandist mechanisms took care of the pockets of grievances and soon, the strikes fizzled out. Since then, Nigerians have been living with the new pump price of N145. Here, President Buhari won while Jonathan who first pushed for the removal failed. Nigerians had become more aware of the situation.
This was one word or rather a phrase that made its way into the Nigerian literary lexicon in 2016 and was so, popularly used. The parlance largely played out while the consideration of 2016 budget proposal presented by president Muhammadu Buhari in December 2015 lasted.
Prior to now, no one in the history of budgeting in Nigeria could say the phrase was a familiar one.
It connoted the smuggling of fictitious figures and projects by most dubious and selfish characters in the budget chain and processes both in presidency and the national assembly.
Recall that the budget at a time also got missing and later appeared in two versions.
These ill developments prompted President Mohammadu Buhari who had hitherto served Nigeria at various times as a former Military Governor, Minister and Head of State and had as well dealt with budgetary figures without such an ugly experience to say that “padding” as it were, was novel to him.
Unfortunately, the evil of this development was not lost on the nation. It delayed the passage of the 2016 Appropriation Bill into law and that affected the economic fortunes of the country. However, while the economy bled, hopes were high that the document would pass and be assented to by the president early in the year. But that never happened until May 6 when the president appended his signature to the document.
Performance of the budget predicated on the exchange rate of N197/$1 as at now is abysmally low as it didn’t achieve most set out objectives and so, dashed several expectations.
Like “padding”, economic recession was another phrase Nigerians battled to come to terms with in 2016. This is not an everyday word for the layman. In fact, even certified Economists and accounting experts don’t use it everyday. Little wonder why the common man needed to be schooled about it.
In the passing year, Nigeria’s economy became largely recessed especially from the third quarter. It defied every measure meant to revive it and remained same till now.
For President Buhari, the year was a very challenging one seeing the prices of essential commodities including Nigeria’s staple foods such as rice skyrocket.
But with some major steps so far taken, President Buhari remains optimistic that the economy will reflate in due course.
If there is one area president Buhari had scored many laurels, it is in the fight against corruption. This is not surprising because, it was one of his campaign promises to Nigerians in 2015.
The war against graft took a serious dimension in 2016. For the first time, Nigerians witnessed the prosecution of some people who might be regarded as untouchables in the society. From the military to the Legislature down to the Judiciary, the government blew hot.
The gains of the anti-corruption fight included the facilitation of the recovery of looted funds which would help to fund the 2017 budget. To many people, Buhari anti-corruption fight is succeeding.
Nigerians in their numbers would be quick to score the president high on Security. The outgoing year saw the safe return of 22 abducted Chibok girls. First, it was Amina Ali and later 21 others. In the course of the year also, the Boko Haram sect was greatly decimated. And only last week, the president announced to the nation that the insurgents had finally been flushed out as the Nigerian Army invaded their last enclave, Sambida forest. The country at the moment is calm and peaceful.
The diversification programme is ongoing and the president has consistently told Nigerians that with the crash of oil prices, agriculture was the next bus stop. To walk the talk, the President recently signed about 15 bilateral agreements with the Kingdom of Morocco.
Perhaps, the loudest amongst the bilateral exchanges was the fertilizer production agreement. Soon and very soon, the product, the government has assured, would be a common item in Nigeria.
Another one is the rice farming project. So far, it’s been a pleasant journey as Nigerians can now feast on local rice.
The government in 2016 kicked off the social investment scheme otherwise called N-Power jobs. The scheme intends to employ about 500,000 graduates for teaching, etc.
Buhari’s Challenges in 2016
For President Buhari, the outgoing year hasn’t been all rosy. There are many knocks on his government. For instance, Buhari is accused on being selective in the anti-corruption war, targeting only the members of opposition.
Again, the president is not lifting his head with pride on the economy. For one, he’s been touted to be lost in the woods; accused of not having the solution to the recessed economy. To this end, many have been tempted to ask him to prepare for his exit in 2019 as his re-election may not be guaranteed.
There are also many knocks following the non implementation of social investment scheme. Though the government said the programme had kick started, Nigerians were yet to see its functionality.
Another albatross on the neck of the president was the recent allegation of corruption against the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, Lawal Babachir and the Chair of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, Ibrahim Magu which led to his rejection by the senate. While Babachir was accused of complicity in the funds meant for the welfare of the Internally Displaced Persons, IDPs in the north east, Magu was accused of benefiting from a largesse of corruption by occupying a house that is far above his earnings. He was also been accused of flouting a presidential order by traveling on first class to Mecca. Many are calling for their sack, believing that their continued stay would dent the integrity of the government. But President Buhari is yet to heed the calls.
2017 Budget-Any Hope?
While most Nigerians agonize over the state of affairs in the country, there is also this glimpse of optimism especially by the ruling class that the economy would pick up next year. This is centrally predicated on the 2017 budget which was laid before the National Assembly by the president on December 14.
Tagged “Budget of Recovery and Growth”, the executive arm of government is basking in high hopes that the country would be brought back to the path of progress instead of steady decline witnessed in 2016. But only time shall tell.