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More than ever, we need presidential candidates for 2019 (1)

By Dele Sobowale

“Once to every man [and woman] and nation comes the moment to decide; in the strife of truth with falsehood, for the good or the evil side.”—James Russell Lowell, 1819-1891.

The Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, has fixed the Presidential Election for 2019 for February 2019. That means a mere fourteen months away. INEC did not mean it that way, but, given the Nigerian situation, which will soon be summarized for all to see, it sounds like a death sentence with a chance given to us to escape it as a nation.

Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC)

Show me that person who can state that Nigeria is better today thawas n in 2009 and I will show you a liar.

And after two and a half years of Buhari, it is clear to some of us who asked for and voted for change in 2015 that we have merely exchanged one form of chaotic government for another – especially on the economic front. “Chaos”, if we need to be reminded, “is a form of servitude.” (Albert Camus, 1903-1960).

If Jonathan was nonchalant on monumental corruption and was tardy on checking the advance of Boko Haram, Buhari has been careless about the declining economy, the time bomb which rising youth unemployment represents and the growing national menace of herdsmen. Jonathan appointed world class economic managers and shackled them by allowing mind-boggling corruption to vitiate what ever good they could have done. Buhari engaged the weakest Economic Management Team since 1984, when he first imposed mediocre people on the nation. In 1985, we headed towards a recession and his colleagues showed him the way out.

The nation’s current economic decline started in 2014 when the Gross Domestic Product, GDP, first grew at less than five per cent and continued right to the time Jonathan passed the baton to Buhari on May 29, 2015. Like the weak second leg in a relay race, the current leader of Nigeria has increased the gap between what our GDP growth was in 2009 and now.

Whereas, Jonathan’s people could have developed a credible recovery plan, given their global experience, Buhari’s team can never come up with a workable recovery plan given a thousand years. “You cant give what you don’t have” – as Professor Osinbajo would have been the first to remind us.

Because in the modern age, more than ever, a nation is as sound as its economy and its currency, Nigeria recording negative GDP in 2016, a mere one per cent in 2017 and an uncertain growth in 2018 is in deep trouble for two fundamental reasons. First, one thing which even Alhaji Lai Mohammed, Minister of Information, Tourism and Culture, must accept is that with population growing at over three per cent, an economy growing at one per cent is not making progress; its people are getting poorer.

Second, the 2018 budget, which represents the latest and best effort, promising higher GDP growth has been seriously undermined by the incompetent execution of the 2017 budget. Except when an unexpected windfall occurs and a nation’s GDP is propelled beyond expectations, such as Nigeria experienced during the Gulf War in the 1990s, rapid growth occurs when the country steadily builds its capital and human resources over several years.

The 2018 Budget built on the ruins of low funding of capital projects in 2016 (56 per cent) and now, 2017 (about 50per cent) cannot possibly deliver its projected growth forecast. It has no foundation on which to stand as it is. Inevitably, the nation will end 2018 with its citizens poorer than when they started and far worse than they were in 2006 – except for the Mainas and other favoured few among us.

“Every country has the government it deserves” according to Joseph De Maistre, 1753-1821. To be honest, among those who campaigned and voted for Buhari in 2011 and 2015, we finally got the leader we thought we should have. It is not entirely his fault that he has turned out to be of limited use to us.

As an alibi, some of us expected him to reach out to excellent people in all spheres of life to help manage the affairs of government while he faced security and corruption battle fully. The economy in particular we thought will be handed over to tested world class people.

The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, IMF, still have Nigerians serving at top levels; so do several dozen international financial organizations. Instead of reaching for the best, he grabbed those forced on him by his political “friends”. The dismal results are there for all to see. All, that is, except Buhari himself. Let me quickly explain using the most recent revelations as example.

“An institution is the lengthened shadow of one man”. (Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1802-1883). In any country and at any point in time, government is the greatest institution; the Head of Government the man who casts the shadow. In December 2017, every Minister serving Buhari went before the National Assembly, NASS, to declare that less than twenty-five per cent of the budget allocation was released to them. (Finance minister has since claimed that another N739billion was released on Wednesday; and we await confirmation from MDAs).

The meaning of that is clear. About fifty per cent of capital projects promised Nigerians may not be delivered this year. It was the same last year. That leads to the question: was Buhari aware of this development and is he also aware of the consequences for Nigeria? If he is, then he is not honest with Nigerians. If he is not, that may then bother on what some would describe as avoidable incompetence.

The reason is simple. Among the first things a Chairman/Managing Director of any organization should ask for at any meeting is “The Situation Report” – how far have we gone in delivering on our promises to the shareholders? Certainly, the shareholders of Any Company Plc will be shocked to be told in December that only fifteen to twenty per cent of projects were completed. What was the Chief Executive Officer, CEO, doing or thinking while that mess was building up? He might survive one year but not two.

The question now is: when did Buhari know that the 2017 budget has again failed? A follow up to that question is: why didn’t he mention it when presenting the 2018 budget to the NASS – the representatives of the shareholders?

This development is dangerous for us and that is why we need other options as presidential candidate. For a start, we need a President who should have fired someone for the late revelation regarding capital votes’ releases. When a President appends his signature to an important document such as the budget he intends (or should intend) to be taken seriously. When eleven months after he discovers that it was all a hollow ritual, he should feel mocked by his Ministers. But, like Jonathan, this one, too, is appearing not to give a damn.

So, among other attributes, Nigeria, if we are not doomed to perpetual backwardness and poverty, needs a president who understands basic economics. That is the minimum; because without it, we cannot get to the second. The second is someone who can provide a credible road map to six to ten per cent annual GDP growth. Without that we are still doomed.

Like it or not, restructuring, what ever it may mean to everybody, will be one of the hot items on the political agenda next year. It requires leaders with minds flexible enough to sort out complex issues. Fortunately, the idea, though southern in origin, has caught the attention of Northern Senators who had a retreat to discuss it among other issues. It was a bi-partisan approach to the issue and, from all indications, the President, who should be leading has been left far behind. It is a safe bet that any candidate who is suspected to be firmly against restructuring will be starting out with a self-imposed disadvantage. This is the sort of situation in which old habits will have to be set aside to chart a new course. Unfortunately, it is still true that “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks..”

Osinbajo in politics and his ethical dilemma

“You cannot adopt politics as a profession and remain honest.”—Louis McHenry Howe, 1871-1936.

The Vice President of Nigeria was (and perhaps is still) a Pastor in the Redeem Church before he was tapped to be VP candidate by Bola Tinubu. Perhaps because time was not on their side and the position too attractive, Pastor Osinbajo could not reflect on the consequences of transforming from a “man of God”, urging his listeners to tell the truth at all times, to becoming a “Devils disciple” who don’t give a damn about  truth telling.

For Osinbajo, being VP has brought a lot of good things for which he would be remembered for a long time. He held the country together when Buhari was “hale and hearty”, according to some purveyors of falsehood. We will always thank him for that.

After that glorious contribution, the politician took over. On October 20, 2017, flagging off the APC campaign for Governor of Anambra State in Awka, the VP announced that the FG has released $2m (N620m) for the Second Niger Bridge. Buhari reportedly personally negotiated the facility.  Now, the FG is begging the National Assembly to allow virement of N135bn to, among other projects, start the same bridge.

Then Osinbajo declared that “we have over a hundred thousand children that are already fed in Anambra State..”. But, each time he and his Special Assistant, Mr Laolu Akande, have made that claim they have been asked to prove it without response. Can the Pastor be peddling rumours? God forbid.

Have a Merry Christmas.


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