By Ochereome Nnanna
IN September 2017, Nigeria’s economy finally limped out of recession, as most authorities in the economy confirmed. These included the World Bank and the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics, NBS. The NBS stated specifically that the economy recorded 0.55 per cent growth, the first in five consecutive quarters since the recession ensued in the middle of 2016.
This infinitesimal improvement in the economy is merely figurative. It is just like government telling us that our power generation capacity has increased from the 5,000 megawatts that the President Muhammadu Buhari regime inherited from the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, regimes, to the current 6,800 megawatts recently announced by the Minister of Power, Babatunde Fashola. We do not yet feel its impact, we only hear figures.
The pain of the recession is still very much with us. Most workers have not been paid for months. Companies are still closing down or laying off workers. Retirees are still going home without their benefit packages. Even after collecting huge bailout funds and Paris Club debt refunds, most state governors still owe their workers many months’ salaries. The Federal Government is still depending heavily on borrowings to fund its budget, including the 2018 budget which is still in the works. The economy has only technically climbed out of the morass of recession, but the afterburn of the economic stagnation is still upon us.
However, there are many reasons to be upbeat. The price of crude oil has continued to climb, from the January 2016 low of $29.78 per barrel to $62.06 on Thursday, 14th December 2017. Our oil production has gone on for over a year with little interruptions from “the boys” in the creeks. Our foreign reserves is close to $40 billion. Our agricultural sector is also steadily growing. This is the only sector the Buhari regime built on the gains firmly established by the Jonathan government. The naira is also stable at about N360 to the Dollar. The Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN’s steady supply of foreign exchange has helped achieve this stability.
These are only the earliest signs of economic turnaround which we ought to put in more efforts to consolidate. Instead, the Buhari regime has served notice of its intention to invite more APC political jobbers to come and eat. On October 31, 2017, he met with the National Executive Council, NEC of APC and announced that with improvements in the economy, he was going to pacify his grumbling party men by expanding the size of his government. That was surely the first sign that the President was about to enter the campaign mode.
He later issued a directive to all the state chapters of his party to submit three names each for consideration as ministers and members of Federal Government parastatal boards. His intention is to increase the number of ministers from the current 36 to not less than 44. That means they could be more than this number. Jonathan’s ministers during the years of our last oil boom were 42 in number. Lagos and Kano would be allocated extra one minister each, while the six geopolitical zones would get a minister each.
The criteria for picking those to be appointed were clearly spelt out. It is meant for “genuine APC members who worked for the success of the party.” It is not for the new joiners like Orji Uzor Kalu, Ken Nnamani, Jim Nwobodo and other opportunists who, after enjoying the benefits of PDP as a ruling party, have now drifted over to the APC to reap where they did now sow. Already, some APC chieftains have called Buhari’s impending bonanza a “pain reliever.”
We all suffered during the recession, and we are still suffering. But President Buhari is skimming off the little gain we have achieved to fatten his hungry party men and women so that they would again help him win in 2019. He is not being patriotic in this decision. That is the height of political selfishness and must be condemned. How many people are going to get these jobs compared to the millions of Nigerians who are enduring the horrendous hardship of the Buhari era? Buhari is putting his political interest before and above the welfare of the citizenry who voted for him to give them better life. This government has always put the interests of those who voted for it above those of the generality of Nigerians. This was what led to his promulgation of the pedestrian but destructive 97%/5% formula, which has torn the nation apart along ethnic, sectional, religious and partisan lines.
We had expected Buhari, in the spirit of change, to cut down the size of the Federal Government by abrogating the many superfluous agencies. Nigeria has more than 500 parastatals, commissions and agencies. The Stephen Oronsaye Report, in 2013 had recommended that at least 220 of such parastatals should be scrapped to free up more money to fund the capital vote and bring the benefits of governance closer to the majority of ordinary Nigerians. Instead of doing that, Buhari has continued to maintain the 75 per cent to 25 per cent recurrent to capital ratio in the two budgets his government has prepared, and the amounts of capital releases have remained abysmal.
We all know that politicians will always look after those who help them win elections. But a situation, as in Buhari’s case, where undue and unholy emphasis is placed on the placation of political jobbers to the detriment of the real people who build the economy and bring in the votes is unacceptable. Must everyone be in APC to benefit?
One of the problems that this Buhari bonanza for APC jobbers will create in no distant future is that the various Labour unions will demand for theirs. The Federal Government is about to commence deliberations with the Organised Labour to fix a new national minimum wage. With the windfall being arranged for APC political jobbers, we hope the Federal Government is also ready to cope with the demands for a jumbo new minimum wage. It had better be. Otherwise, it should be ready for protracted strikes and work stoppages. The Federal Government, having showered the gains of our puny economic recovery on APC political jobbers, cannot tell Labour the economy cannot carry their logical demand for a jumbo new national minimum wage.