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The president deserves accolades ! Power has improved, but …

President Buhari: Is it time to change the change?
By Dr Ugoji Egbujo
It has been three years. It’s now undeniable , substantial change won’t come easy. Bishop Kukah had warned about euphoria and messianism. The public overestimated the president and the president underestimated the nations’ ailment and what ‘change’ needed.

The president has not performed as woefully as his opponents would want everyone to believe. But the president has not met the expectations of even his most ardent and uncritical supporters, including his wife.

He believes he has run a difficult race well. He thinks he deserves another chance despite self inflicted wounds like Abdulrasheed Maina and a multitude of gaffes. His opponents insist he has frittered away an underserved opportunity.

They say he has run with tired feet and a befuddled head. They say he has been encumbered by chronic ill health. They mock that had he kept focus and not wasted useful energies in lamentations and vindictiveness, he could have received genuine accolades from his wife. The president, perhaps, has strived but has not quite managed to translate into reality his good intentions.

The president needs to change.
The president is convinced that he has retrieved the country from the ditch his predecessor drove it into. He boasts that he has put it on the right path to a prosperous future.

His opponents are fed up with his mythical reputation and the propaganda mill built on it. They are tired of unfulfilled promises and self congratulations.

They are nauseated by his sanctimoniousness. They would rather have the president concede to old age and ill health, and not run. They sneer that had the president retained his sincerity of 1984, he would have lacked the self-deception that currently denies him a true appraisal of his performance. They dismiss the suggestion that the president could spark to life in his second term as superstitious nonsense. And blame the naive credulousness of his supporters for the farce.

But there also those who believe that the president has retained a stubborn mass support. And its not because of naivety. He appeals to them despite a multitude of shortcomings. The reputation that he lacks appetite for wanton acquisition of personal wealth has survived where others crumbled. And it has survived because of his lifestyle.

The president touts his Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) and points to a quick economic recovery from recession. He reels off huge gains in the marked decline in rice and fertilizer importations, and beats his chest. He claims he has decimated the insurgency.

He dismisses the insurgency’s lingering rampancy as the vigorous last dance of a headless chicken. He wants the opposition party to always remember how its timidity allowed Boko Haram occupy 23 Local Government Areas under President Jonathan. He brushes aside concerns about his health and announces that he has dealt stronger blows against corruption than his predecessors put together. His huge documented recoveries from thieving politicians support his grandstanding.

He admits the journey has been painfully slow but he proclaims himself a surer path to national restoration and glory.

His opponents are unconvinced that he has the mental acuity to navigate the ship of a town union let alone a turbulent state. They scoff that since he cannot find projects to commission , he should at least commission peace. They say the insurgency, after Dapchi , has grown new wings, new arrogance. They tease that if the president had empathy anywhere in his soul he would have wept himself into resignation.

They concede that his predecessor was ill prepared for the insurgency. But wonder how a General, armed with precious hindsight, has ceded the country to the insurgency and banditry of cattle herdsmen. They insist that the counter insurgency requires fresh ideas which the president cannot generate. They argue that the country’s security situation has degenerated calamitously since Buhari. They believe that ineptitude and unique clannishness synergistically fostered the impunity of the violent cattle herdsmen and their blood thirstiness. They declare that the government’s pathetic approach to the crisis reveals a deep rot, a fundamental dysfunction, in President Buhari’s government .

They say the president has to be changed
Perhaps only the president and his men believe the government has lived up to its responsibilities in containing the herdsmen violence. Professor Wole Soyinka once wondered why the federal government could not be stirred by the sheer volume of the massacres. He concluded that the president could be in a trance.

Obasanjo had supported the president vociferously in 2015. He is now the champion of the Buhari-must-go crusade. Obasanjo may be self possessed. But lapses in governance have created a window for his resurgent messianism. Slow economic growth could be understood. Oil prices and production suffered a shipwreck at the outset. The reign of violence in many parts of the middle belt and the government’s ambivalence towards it are inexplicable.

Something has to change
It is significant that even amongst the president’s most enthusiastic supporters, real change is only still expected. The police have not changed. There is no one who thinks the country should continue on same path and at same pace. The opposition is exasperated with their perceived ridiculous optimism of Buhari’s supporters. The Buharists , it seems , hope that the president, if given more time , would reclaim his authority, sack the cabal , sanitize the country, and get the cogs to finally click.

Obsanjo has referred to Buhari supporters as morons. Obasanjo has become the face of anti Buharism. But he has unfortunately succumbed to the very unhealthy animosity with which anti- buharists have gone about their enterprise and polarized the polity. He cannot deny that these millions of Nigerians who are stuck to Buhari are there partly because the other politicians of stature inspire no hope of a national redemption.
Buhari supporters are not mere change romantics. Some of them are haunted by the recent past.
The 2019 elections are months away. There is no better time to assess Buhari’s stewardship than now.

THE DEGENERATING SECURITY SITUATION.
The herdsmen massacres

Massacres have left the middle belt prostrate. Everyone has lost casualty count. Benue state once mourned and put sign posts at sites of mass graves. Now, they bury the dead, and mutilated human parts, in graves, silently, and move on.

The change in the security of the middle belt has been a horrendous one.
The crisis predated the president. Plateau state was once a killing field. But the president has met a festering crisis, and has witnessed bloodbath after blood bath. The Federal government could have at least barked. The Federal Government’s incoherence, ambivalence, was as baffling as its lethargy. It shed copious tears but curiously failed to find matching anger. In the midst of rampant massacres, the federal government failed to pronounce and protect the sanctity of human life. And human lives were wasted in vengeance for cattle touched.

After one of the massacres in Benue, the state government, directly and unambiguously, implicated a faction of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Union. The nation expected Federal Government to instigate a thorough investigation of the group in conjunction with the state government. Such an action would have created confidence in the grieving communities ravaged by doubts of Federal Governments complicity. But the federal government chose circumspection and effectively trivialized mass murders.

Rather than meet cruel inhumanity with severe law and order actions, agents of the federal government, the president not excluded, toyed with childish theories about the root causes of the massacres. The failure of the government to take elementary ruthlessness to the vampires created a groundswell of cynicism that dogs every of its actions around the affected communities till date.
The Inspector General of police didn’t obey the president to sit in Benue to contain the crisis. And the president evidently didn’t view that insubordination gravely.

Rather than concentrate on fishing out and incarcerating the murderers, many federal government officials inflamed the situation by dabbling into the propriety of a legitimate law prohibiting open grazing in Benue. Espousing the very same presumptuous arguments peddled by mouthpieces of the violent herdsmen. The agents of the federal government were not able to separate strict law and order enforcement duties from political and ethnic sentiments.

A federal government shackled by sentiments abdicated its primary responsibility. That was a disheartening change.

Gen Danjuma threw caution to the winds and aired the frustrations of many in the region. He declared that the military was complicit in the massacres. The military vehemently denied complicity. Danjuma urged the affected communities to defend themselves against the herdsmen and against military collusion.

That was reckless but it was recklessness born out of frustration and hopelessness.
When a church was attacked in Benue and two priests and 15 congregants were massacred in an early morning mass, the Bishops of the Catholic Church collectively, openly, asked the president to resign. The demand by Christian Bishops that a Muslim president resign crossed the boundary of political tolerance in our context. But it may have been a reaction of a people pushed to the wall by the Federal governments inept handling of the crisis. A baffling ineptitude that left room for the connotation that nepotism was the chief evil.

Are catholic Bishops changing? Are they becoming more political?
The vice president waved a hand and dismissed the insinuation of nepotism and islamization as divisive propaganda. But the federal government can blame no one for losing the initiative to conspiracy theorists, and carnivorous politicians.

The federal government has itself descended into wimpish finger-pointing while routine killings have continued. It is possible that the lapses have allowed scoundrels to infiltrate the crises. But the recourse to lamentations about the politicization of the crises can only speak of the impotence of a president . It is the duty of the president not to weep but to fish out the killers and their sponsors and guarantee safety of lives and properties of ordinary people.

The Army has now been deployed . The Chief of Army Staff has led some of the operations. It is belated but it is welcome. But if confidence must be restored in the troubled communities, the government must be seen to keep no sacred cows. The implicated faction of Miyetti Allah must be ransacked by the security agents and every criminality housed there exposed and extinguished. Public confidence in the actions of the government is crucial . Without a quick restoration of confidence,
militias will continue to proliferate and leave long term social complications.

It is also noteworthy that some of the murderers have been arrested. They must be prosecuted and punished. But until the networks that provide finance and arms to these individual actors are uprooted, buds of new violence may continue to sprout.
Change must be visible and positive.

BOKO HARAM : TECHNICALLY DEFEATED, TECHNICALLY ALIVE

The federal government had declared Boko Haram technically defeated. It announced that the insurgency would be eliminated by December 2016. A number of other ambitious deadlines have been churned out since then. They have all come and gone. Boko haram’s increased frequency of suicide bombings was described as the cowardly last flickers of a dying ember. That was before Dapchi. The seamless abduction and the majestic return of the Dapchi girls by boko haram have left every suggestion of an imminent demise of the insurgency destitute of the merest of credibility.

Boko haram, it appears, replenishes its reputation and purse by these high profile abductions of school girls. The humiliating negotiations and huge ransoms that follow the abductions could keep the insurgency alive forever. The federal government must deny the insurgency the oxygen of international attention and cash. The government must prevent abductions

Boko haram has remained a great drain on the population, the wealth and the psyche of the nation. The northeast lies in utter ruins. Millions still live broken lives in IDP camps. Attempts to relocate displaced persons haven’t been helped by recent coordinated attacks by the insurgents at the periphery of Maiduguri and other reclaimed villages

Everyone, besides incurable skeptics, concedes that the president took the fight to boko haram, and recovered lost territories. The federal government has also managed to bring back some of the abducted Chibok school girls.

The morality and war economics of handing billions in cash and captured fighters back to Boko haram in exchange for the abducted girls is debatable. The federal government acted concertedly after the inexcusable Dapchi abduction to force the return of the girls. Unfortunately the bizarreness of the abduction and the dramatic return of the girls allowed the opposition to insinuate that Dapchi was a script.

Change has to be enduring, not fleeting.
No one is perhaps happy that the insurgency has acquired a new intractability. The existing set of scenarios in the northeast are however not sustainable. The terrain is too wide for all schools to be well defended against an asymmetric enemy. If the schools are prone, education in that ravaged and unschooled region is imperiled . The future of the region is uncertain.

The nation routinely spends billions buying arms and spends pittance in child and maternal care. The boko haram war simply cannot go on. President Buhari must find a solution to what has become a hydra-headed scourge. The faction of boko haram that acted with apparent benevolence in the dramatic return of the Dapchi girls must be watched very closely. Their methods appear benign but they could prove more effective in winning hearts and minds of the benighted people of the region than the faction that operates with indiscriminate ruthlessness. They could prove a more dangerous enemy.

Fortunately , the federal government is re equipping its arsenals with Western help. The days when we used to carry cash in planes to patronize black markets , street hawkers of arms, and South African mercenaries are perhaps over. The federal government must reduce boko haram to rubble speedily to allow a political negotiation of the surrender of the group. The contributions of the civilian joint task force cannot be overstated. They have fought side by side with the military. But we must begin to think of their eventual demobilization, changing them back to normal people.

But we may have to change our strategy.
Boko Haram must be waged a religious war. The traditional and religious leaders in the region must mount a jihad against the insurgency. A religious campaign against Boko Haram that calls for volunteers and promises heavenly rewards for martyrdom has to begin.

THE SPREAD OF POLITICAL BITTERNESS
President Buhari’s electoral victory was not well received in some sections of the country. Deep seated animosity against Hausa Fulani hegemony had been quiescent in parts of the south. It was fed raw meat in fiery divisive rhetoric by some self styled leaders of the opposition. What followed was an eruption of hostility against the president and his government from the beginning. The president’s lopsided security appointments fostered the bitterness.

The presidents determination to hold those who looted the treasury to account was deliberately misconstrued as ethnically motivated. His casual handling of the herdsmen crisis fueled suspicions, and energized rumor mongers and bigots. The president could have met the cynicism with diplomacy. But sometimes his words let him down. And many times his opponents deliberately misinterpreted him to inflame wounds and score cheap points. Many christian clerics sometimes dabbled into the president’s lapses and omissions with paranoia and demagoguery and gave them tabloid interpretations.

Change sometimes must begin with us
The nation became divided. Social media propagated bitterness , bigotry and fake news. And threw wedges in clefts in national architecture left by colonialism, sectionalism, religious intolerance and unhealthy ethnic rivalries.

Those who felt marginalized, alienated found solace in cynicism and apathy. The Federal government battled with rampant malicious misrepresentations as it struggled to find its rhythm. Then it began to see the handiworks of mischief makers in every misfortune and in its own shortcomings.

We must change our ways.
Many believe the government didn’t help itself . It didn’t engage disaffected groups meaningfully except perhaps the Niger Delta militants who brought the economy to its knees. By not concentrating efforts on national healing, the feelings of alienation metastasized.

The vice president engaged in some trouble shooting and fence mending, but it always seemed he didn’t have the full weight of the government behind him. The vice president spoke the right words, but the federal government remained incapable of the mere tokenism that could have assuaged hurt feelings. What was the difficulty in addressing the lopsided security appointments?
Neither the president nor those who want him out have played the right politics.

THE POLITICAL PARTIES HAVE FAILED TO GROW

The retardation of our parties must concern everyone. And I guess that has spurred the red card movement, the angry brigade that wants to sweep away the major parties. But we must channel our frustration into reforming the parties around strong values and building a one or two more national parties.

We must change our party politics.

The recent congresses held by the ruling party have revealed the ALL PEOPLE’S CONGRESS (APC) as a rickety dysfunctional party. The party needs a total overhaul of its leadership and then a re-orientation of its membership. The party of ‘change’ that came to defeat corruption and renew the country but has allowed corruption and gross indiscipline ransack its own innards.

The president’s political aloofness lets him retain his saintliness, but it hinders his ability to mould his party and reshape the country’s politics. He relishes his contempt for the dirtiness of contemporary politics. But how would he clean up the mess of our politics? By being a literal righteous bystander? How would President Buhari put the country on the path of progress without building a respectable political party to institutionalize the changes in political culture he intends to entrench?

The president must take personal responsibility for the dilapidated state of his party. The president has forgotten to change his party.

The main opposition, the PEOPLE’S DEMOCRATIC PARTY, was in tatters for a long time. Bereft of ideas, suffering from chronic grief reaction, it discarded all restraints and took to opportunism. Often the PDP acted like it had a country somewhere it would govern, after it had helped anarchists set this one ablaze.

The PDP that once championed inclusiveness now looks away while its leaders preach hate and division. They fueled rumors of President Buhari’s death. They promoted rule of law by taking sides with suspected looters of the treasury. They dismissed facts , promoted cynicism, and peddled fears. They went after the president but failed to isolate him from his ethnic group. So his ethnic group was so often demonized.

The opposition is entitled to vitriols and acidity but not at the expense of nation building. It cannot damage the credibility of every national institution in a bid to spite the president.
The PDP diminished itself. Shortsightedness didn’t let go for the moral high ground. The ruling party portrayed it as the party of looters of the treasury.

Rather than clear its throat and condemn corruption the PDP preoccupied itself talking about selective justice and victimization.

But the PDP’s major problem is the delusion that it would automatically regain power once it portrayed the ruling party as impotent. So the PDP routinely cries wolf. And when it sheds true tears about the wanton killings it doesn’t feel obligated to tell the frustrated public what coherent strategy it has formulated to contain the menace if elected. The PDP has not sold any economic program to the public.

The PDP assumes that the public is conversant with its pedigree. But that pedigree is a rejected pedigree. The PDP has failed to realize that it needs to re brand and re market itself with new bold ideas .

The PDP prefers transformation to change. But it needs to undergo one quickly, any one.

A FRAGILE ECONOMY AND ITS GINGERLY GROWTH.

The economy has limped out of recession. It grew at an average of 0.8% last year. The rate of growth is slow, estimated to hover around 2% this year. Cote D’ ivoire is growing at 7 %. Economic diversification is perhaps easier trumpeted than achieved.

But Oil’s projected imminent redundancy has created a new urgency for diversification. Oil’s contribution to the GDP has been dwarfed by Agriculture but Oil contributes 90% of foreign exchange earnings and the economy is still precariously import dependent. A crash in oil prices or production could be very calamitous. Fortunately crudely oil prices are at a 4 year high and the federal government has succeeded in keeping the Niger delta fairly quieted crude out put at about 1.8-2MBPD.

We would need nimble utilization of available resources and massive foreign direct investment to fill our huge infrastructural deficit, without which we may never get out of the woods.

Foreign capital importation has risen by 500%. Foreign exchange supply has improved. Naira has retained some stability. Foreign capital inflow is still all ‘hot money’. Foreign direct investment has improved only marginally.

The country must seek to attract the much needed foreign direct investment needed for sustainable growth. The IMF has endorsed CBN’s handling of the foreign exchange system but hinted that a more transparent mechanism would be needed subsequently. The CBN still operates two exchange windows.

Our foreign reserves are growing steadily. It’s at near 50 billion dollars. That provides some cushion in the event of a turbulence. But our debts are piling up. Debt to GDP ratio has crossed 18% but is still within manageable limits. Debts are not harmful if used on projects that have multiplier effects on the economy. Many have criticized the proposed extension of rail lines to Niger Republic

The public service is unwieldy. This government has weeded off more ghost workers than any government in history using Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS). The government must trim and reform the public service to meet the needs of a modern economy.

Our recurrent expenditure leaves nothing for infrastructural development. So the recourse is to loans. Inflation has fallen from 19% in January 2017 to 12.5% in April this year.

There are therefore many signs of improvement.
But commercial lending to the real sector has not improved. The lending rates are still prohibitive.

The federal government is struggling to create room for the private sector that was crowded out by government’s domestic borrowings. The central bank has retained monetary policy rate (MPR ) rate at 14 % to maintain dollar inflow . Such a rate ,however, cannot support sustained growth.

The CBN data shows that Manufacturing Purchasing Managers Index has shown expansion for 13 consecutive months. And Employment level index has expanded for the 12th consecutive month. But unemployment rates have hit through the roof.

The improvement in the economy needs to be more inclusive. The ordinary people on the street reel from hardship and high prices of basic commodities. That’s the change we need.

The IMF warns of the fragility of the economy and the need for urgent diversification. The government has widened the tax net. About 6 million new tax payers have been added in the last two years. That is commendable. Nigeria seeks to move Tax : GDP ratio from 5% to 15 %. That will put the economy on a firmer footing. VAIDS has worked .

The Federal Inland Revenue Service has markedly increased revenue generation.
The Nigeria Customs Service has reduced corruption at the ports. It has improved general collections too. But it could do much more.

Many of the land borders have now become preferred routes for importation because Customs agents are lax at the borders. Corruption thrives at the Seme border where importers still routinely pay bribes to Customs officers and evade payment of proper duties.
There is evidently a genuine cause for minimal optimism.

PETROL SUBSIDY BLEEDING THE NATION

The rise in oil crude prices should lead to huge savings in excess crude account. We should have learnt our lessons. But the NNPC has bad news. It has claimed it spent 800 billion in one year subsidizing our petrol consumption. The figure could get really worse as oil prices skyrocket. The gains of high oil prices could be lost to a perennially porous subsidy regime . The state governors are alarmed at the lack of transparency.

The president should have deregulated the petroleum downstream sector completely.
Our refineries have remained moribund . The NNPC has remained the sole importer of petrol into the country because landing costs are higher than pump prices. But the NNPC has remained incapable of computing our daily petrol needs. So the subsidy regime has remained vulnerable to exploitation by crooks in the system. Rising crude prices could mean billions siphoned through a subsidy regime that “change” has not really affected

Many had believed that a president that came in with so much political capital would discard petrol subsidy on assumption of duty. The president’s decision to retain petrol subsidy ostensibly to protect the masses is unenlightened. Some have termed it barracks economics. The president, it seems, has not changed much.

THE ECONOMY HAS GREAT POTENTIALS
Nigeria could become a global top 20 economy if she lets digitalization and rigorous strategizing drive an inclusive economic growth. It must quickly lift rural poverty by democratizing the mechanisation of agriculture and rescuing farmers from poor yields and post harvest losses. The rural farmers could be helped to optimize their efforts, maximize their yields and realize their profits. Urban poverty must be checked because it leads to anomie and societal disorientation. The increase in minimum wage is a first right step.

The government must enable job creation. That is where real change lies
The government has initiated economic focus labs. The labs are designed to bring the private sector, experts, and government officials in close intensive interactions. The interactions should produce innovations and erase bottle necks against investments and speedy progress in Agriculture, Transportation , Power and Gas, Manufacturing and Processing. The labs are a good initiative but they must be protected from bureaucracy.

Nigeria must tie economic improvement with improved living standards for the people. Often economic data of growing GDP but it never reflects on the streets where more than 75% live in abject poverty. The country still baffles the world with its number of malnourished children and unschooled young people. And perhaps that leads us to the bill Gates argument.

THE BILL GATES ARGUMENT AND THE GOVERNMENT’S SOCIAL INVESTMENTS PROGRAMME

The federal government is focused on developing infrastructure. Budgetary capital votes have increased to about 30% of total budget. New rail way lines are sprouting. But in real dollar terms, our investment in infrastructure has actually reduced. Bill Gates is bothered about our priorities. We have a huge youthful population. We have the highest number off malnourished children in the world. Chronic childhood malnutrition means a certain poor sick future. Our infant and maternal mortality rates are astronomical. Bill Gates believes our greatest asset are our people. But that is the very asset we have mismanaged the most. He wants us to spend disproportionately high volumes on health and education. He believes the returns on investment in the people are many times higher than those on investments in railways for instance.

The government accepted Gates arguments. But countered that it has not left the pope with attention. It wants to get the economy working by linking the markets with the farms and democratizing wealth to the rural poor. But it has also, through its Social Investment Programs, employed over 200,000 youths to help in agriculture, education , health and other sectors through N power. It has improved child school enrollment by its school feeding program which has employed thousands of caterers and helped check malnutrition and its adverse effects. It has instituted 5000 naira conditional cash transfers to the poorest of the poor.

That is some change.
It would appear Bill gates wants much more done in that respect. The government must be commended for the initiative but must be reminded that it has only been able to release a paltry 15 % of the one trillion voted for SIP in 2016 and 2017.

IN 2018, THE BUDGET CAME VERY LATE, AGAIN

And came with maggots. That is no change at all.
The budget was passed in May. So much has been said about the need to have the budget by New year day. It’s sad that the executive and the legislature cant find enough patriotism to make an early passage of the budget a priority. The economy depends so much on government spending. Delayed release of capital votes cause uncertainty, hinder effective planning and slows both public and private sector growths.

Recurrent expenditure is still too high. The country needs a radical structural adjustment. The budget deficit is too high. We are spending too much servicing debts even after the government has managed to restructure our debt portfolio.
Our earnings go into overheads. We borrow to repair and build infrastructural . If we are unable to borrow then capital projects suffer. Sometimes we borrow and spend frivolously.
The budgets of 2016, 2017 and 2018 were filled with capital projects that will not impact the people. According to BudgIT over 40 percent of line items in the 2018 budget are for office furniture , consulting, cars etc.
Many of the items are vague and not track-able. Till date the federal government that promised ‘change’ has not come clear on exactly how much was released in 2016 and 2017 for capital projects. The finance ministry and the budget office cant agree on figures. It’s sad that in an election eve, the federal government had room to budget for cars and furniture rather than projects that would impact the majority of the people.
Budget monitoring is especially important this year. Politicians need money to prosecute elections. They don’t change. And they will have little time to supervise projects properly. We must not allow the economy slip.

JOBLESSNESS AND AN EXPLODING POPULATION
Unemployment has continued a steady rise. It now stands at a tall 19%. Youth unemployment is particularly frightening. It now stands at 33%. That is a horrible change. These rates are not just unsustainable. They are not compatible with peace in the society.

The government has intervened with the nPower program that has seen as many as 200,000 and more youths employed to drive government programs in the different sectors. But against the millions being added to the population yearly that is less than a drop in the ocean.

Nigeria’s population is estimated at nearly 190 million now. We were 45 million in 1960. By 2050, we would be 450 million. And no one is making any strenuous efforts to tame our exploding population. Politicians have created the idea that numbers determine political strength. The mismatch between resources and population could inflict untold harm on the country.

The real reason we haven’t been able to conduct a census that we desperately need to plan well is because of shortsighted politics. The regions of the country with particularly high birth rate have not been discouraged by the leaders from engaging in uncontrolled population adventurism.
The BBC describes African population explosion as a looming disaster and the continent’s biggest challenge.
China retrieved itself from the brink by the one- couple -one- child policy. But President Buhari has not remembered to marshal ‘change’ against this coming apocalypse. The president needs to change

AGRICULTURE IS PICKING PACE

The ERGP is aimed at achieving immediate food sufficiency. And then making agriculture a major foreign exchange earner.

The government has done well in Agriculture. It deserves an applause
Our rice production has continued a steady rise. Official rice importation has dropped by 90%. Smuggling makes such figures controversial. The CBN anchor borrowers program has allowed farmers of rice and other selected crops direct access to loans at 9% interest rates. Total import substitution of rice is now feasible by 2020.

The government’s Agriculture Promotion Policy seeks to entrench food as human right. And agriculture as big business. It has focused on Rice, Wheat, Maize, Tomatoes and soya beans for local consumption and Cocoa, Mango, Sesame , Cassava, Fish , Gum Arabic, Cashew nuts, Banana for export.
Opponents of the government say that the government manufactures pleasant data. They point to ever rising food prices and wonder where the emerging food sufficiency the government brags about exists. It’s unfortunate we lack reliable data everywhere.

The government counters naysayers, explaining , that the production of grains has tripled but our grains have come under strain of increased regional demand. The huge external demand has meant that domestic prices won’t fall dramatically. And local farmers are not unhappy about the development.
One thing opponents of the government cannot dispute is the impact of the government’s intervention in fertilizer production. It has banished the notorious fertilizer racketeering of yesteryears and improved yield.

The Presidential Fertilizer initiative has ensured availability of sufficient fertilizer all year round. President Buhari negotiated long term bulk purchase of phosphate from Morocco and eleven fertilizer plants sprang back to life.

National production of fertilizer has hit over 2 million metric tonnes annually. An additional twelve moribund plants are being rehabilitated. Nigeria would soon become a net exporter of fertilizer.
That’s tangible change!

Bagging companies like BAGCO and International Polyworks Limited heaved sighs of relief as the presidential initiative created a local annual demand for 10 million polythene bags for fertilizer bagging.

The president’s fertilizer initiative didn’t just ensure 50% reduction in the street price of NPK; It didn’t just make fertilizer available all year ; It didn’t just save foreign exchange from importation; It eliminated the entrenched corruption in the fertilizer subsidy program of the recent past.

The president deserves accolades !
POWER HAS IMPROVED, BUT NOT REMARKABLY.

Nigerians expected dramatic changes. On paper, the country produces more than the President met in 2015. He may have added about 2000 megawatts . But our transmission capacity is still weak and inefficient. The country is still too poorly lit. And at the rate we are adding power our hopes of industrialization could be far fetched.

According to UASID, we have an installed capacity of about 12,500MW but on most days only 4000MW get to the people. And 20 million households have no access to power. This is not much different from the state of affairs in 2013 when average daily supply was 3500MW. That’s no change oooo!

The ERGP aims to raise power production to 10,000MW in 2019 and 300,000MW by 2030 to achieve provision of universal access. The government has to break through the existing stagnancy and improve energy mix.

The previous government privatized power and gave contracts to briefcase companies. The Buhari government chose inviolability of contract above expediency. The government has had to nurse the power companies with loans and guarantees. The company themselves complain that the tariffs are not cost reflective, they cannot attract investment.

The government must be commended for initiating 24 hour power supply projects to big markets and universities. Sabon Gari market has been covered. Ariara market in Aba is ongoing. The federal government must create industrial and technological villages which must be powered like the markets .

The government plans to generate 30 percent of power through renewables by 2030. But its efforts at initiating and promoting Solar energy has not been sufficiently aggressive.
The Federal Government wants the states to partner with the DISCOS. Lagos has seized the initiative and its power plan to feed the state 24 hour power by 2019/2020 could become a national model.
We need visible change!

THE NATIONS NEEDS AN URGENT REVOLUTION IN HEALTHCARE

34 out of every 1000 children born in Nigeria die in the first one month. 750, 000 children under the age of 5 die every year, in Nigeria. Most of them die from preventable diseases.
This situation is crying day and night for change.
The total sum needed to immunize all children born in Nigeria is about 90 billion naira. The money voted for immunization this year is about 8 billion. We had shamelessly grown accustomed to relying on foreign donors to immunize our children. But GAVI now deems us too rich for those donor funds. They are withdrawing their contributions.

Currently, we immunize less than half of our children. So we reap the worst wastage in children in the world. But we voted 770 billion for funny accessories and cars and furniture in our 2018 budget

It’s consolatory, we met the national health act requirement of appropriation of one percent of consolidated revenue fund for basic health. It is hoped that this fund would be used to reduce our shameful child and maternal mortality figures and embarrassing rate of chronic malnutrition in children.

Thirty three percent of children under five in Nigeria are malnourished because 70% of Nigerians live below poverty lines and lack access to basic health.

The health ministry is however not sleeping. It has enunciated a sound health policy. It plans free basic care for 8 million poor people. Basic care includes maternal, child 0-5 including immunization, Malaria, Tb and HIV.

But realistically to achieve anything tangible, some of the money spent on defense must go to health, soonest. And most of the leakages have to be plugged.

African Union prescribes 15 % of our budget for health. We can match that. Bauchi state has matched it.
And you would think that opposition parties would make health a talking point. And swear oaths to increased health votes drastically. But…..

Transport
The president’s plan is ambitious. But hampered by a lean purse.
He completed the Abuja -kaduna rail started by his predecessor. The federal government is aggressively working on the the Lagos -Ibadan rail. It could be completed this year. The Calabar – Lagos that would spur to Onitsha and the Ibadan- Kano line would start this year if funds are sourced

The government must be commended for its plan to link up the country by rail. The General Electric led consortium would rehabilitate and operate Nigeria’s narrow gauge rail lines. That would mark the return of the railways as major mode of transportation.
The president’s opponents must be envious of his railway ambitions.

War Against Corruption
The president promised zero tolerance for corruption. He believes he has tackled corruption. He energized the EFCC. And introduced the whistleblowing policy. But policemen still extort motorists in the open.

He has made more recoveries of looted funds than any former president. Whistleblowers have helped in the recovery of billion of naira. The onslaught against corrupt judges may not have worked as planned but its impact on the judiciary is telling.
He has expunged more ghost workers from the pay roll than any other president

The war against corruption has been hampered by many evils. Chief amongst them is the abject lack of cooperation amongst the agencies championing the War. The DSS and the EFCC have come close to fisticuffs many times, and have publicly undermined themselves.

Then there is the accusation of rampant selective justice, vindictiveness and capriciousness. Others complain of crippling nepotism. The president’s ambivalence in the face of serious allegations of misconduct against some of his appointees has eroded the confidence of some neutrals in his ability to decimate corruption

But it was in Mainagate, that the president lost substantial credibility. The suspicious roles played by the Attorney General and the president’s curious deafening silence after receiving the report on the scandal have damaged public confidence in the war against corruption

The government has not managed to present a clean register of monies and properties recovered from looters of the treasury. The opponents of the government have been left to insinuate that a lot of what has been recovered may have been re-looted.

Conclusion.
The economy needs a major stimulus. It needs to grow much faster than the population. The president has not met expectations. But has he done enough to deserve more time? I think the people should be allowed a free and fair opportunity to determine that in 2019. If president Buhari wins re election , he would need to change and change his ‘Change’ strategy in the interest of the country.


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