By Ikechukwu Amaechi
AFTER three years and six months of showboating and the prospects of the consequential 2019 elections looming large, last week became a period of grand confessions by the high and mighty. Mr. Babatunde Fashola, the three-in-one Minister of Power, Works, and Housing, was the first to kick the ball down the road.
For too long, Fashola, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, and former governor of Lagos State, had behaved as if he was, indeed, a superman, fantasizing over imaginary achievements particularly in the power sector. But on Wednesday, December 12, he committed a faux pas, an unforced error.
He must have snapped under the weight of the contradictions inherent in his claims that situations in the power sector had improved considerably since the All Progressives Congress, APC, mounted the saddle in 2015 and the unceasing heckling of the end users of power.
Whether wittingly or unwittingly, Fashola admitted that he has failed when heclaimed that it was no longer Federal Government’s headache if Nigerians continued to live in perpetual darkness. Speaking at the Nextier Power dialogue in Abuja, Fashola who said in 2014 that any serious government would fix power sector challenges within six months, made a stunning declaration.
“If you don’t have electricity, it is not the Federal Government’s problem, take the matter to the people who are operating the power sector, generation and distribution companies. Let me remind you, all of the assets that the Ministry of Power used to control were sold by the last administration before I came. And so, if you don’t have power, it is not the government’s problem. Let us be honest.
“If your telephone is not working, it is not the Minister of Communications that you go to. Let us be very clear. So, for those of you who want to weaponise electricity, face the businessmen who have taken it up,” an obviously exasperated Fashola told his bewildered audience.
Really? Something is fundamentally wrong with the minister’s sudden volte-face. Is it not the same Fashola that has been regaling Nigerians with stories of the Muhammadu Buhari-led government’s exploits in the power sector?
But apparently, Fashola is not alone as this is turning out to be a season of grand confessions. Two days after Fashola’s bombshell, President Muhammadu Buhari on Friday, December 14, picked the ball from him when he finally admitted what Nigerians have known all along: Nigeria’s economy under his watch is in a bad shape.
The president made this confession to Nigerian governors who held a closed-door meeting with him at the presidential villa. Disclosing what happened at the meeting, Mr. Abdulazeez Yari, Zamfara State governor, who doubles as chairman of the Nigerian Governors Forum, NGF, said the president admitted that the economy was in a bad shape while urging beleaguered Nigerians to still tighten their belts and prepare for tougher times ahead.
Expectedly, both Fashola and his principal, Buhari, sought refuge in their foolhardy blame game, insisting that the 16 years the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, was in power is responsible for their abysmal failure in governance. To continue propping the defence of their awful scorecard after almost four years in power with PDP’s own failures – real and imaginary – is sheer disregard to fact.
But why are the same people who claimed only yesterday that Buhari’s economic genius had shielded Nigeria’s economy from harm’s way suddenly admitting on the eve of a pivotal election that the same economy they claimed to have turned around for good and placed firmly and irreversibly on the boulevard of growth is actually anemic and dying? What has changed? But Nigerians have never been deceived. Their lot today is far worse than when Buhari took oath of office on May 29, 2015.
After all, is it not said that figures don’t lie? On Wednesday, December 19, after months of delay, the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics, NBS, reeled out grimmer statistics when it finally released the Labour Statistics Report for the third quarter of 2018. “The unemployment rate increased from 18.8 per cent in Q3 2017 to 23.1 per cent in Q3 2018,” the report which was posted on the NBS website, stated. It went further to say that the total number of people classified as unemployed increased from 17.6 million in the fourth quarter of 2017 to 20.9 million in the third quarter of 2018.
Interestingly, on the day that Buhari made his unforced confession, vice presidential candidates of five political parties – Abdulganiyu Galadima of the Allied Congress Party of Nigeria, ACPN; Khadijah Abdullahi-Iya of the Alliance for New Nigeria, ANN; Yemi Osinbajo of the All Progressives Congress, APC; Peter Obi of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP; and Umma Getso of the Young Progressives Party, YPP; locked horns in a debate organised by the Nigerian Election Debate Group, NEDG; and the Broadcasting Organisations of Nigeria, BON.
For me, the highpoint of the debate was the back and forth between Obi and Osinbajo on the issue of corruption and how best to combat it. Obi started the firestorm when he posited that fighting graft was not an economic policy, an opinion which Osinbajo dismissed. But the former Anambra State governor doubled down on his claim when he clarified his position. “Fighting corruption is not an economic policy. It is not that you can’t fight corruption, but you can fight it more aggressively while addressing economic issues,” he said.
Obi, who reeled out statistics to prop his argument, threw the sucker punch when he said: “If you look at our stock market, we have lost over N2 trillion in one year. So, that is not a policy. You’re just fighting corruption, you are not creating jobs. You cannot shut down your shop and be chasing criminals.”
That drew spontaneous applause which Osinbajo’s counter-punch that: “If you allow criminals to steal all the inventory in the shop, there will be no shop,” could not drown. Those are the two dominant views in this election cycle. We have a president who flaunts his ability to catch thieves – real and imaginary – and sees that not only as an end in itself but the raison d’etre of government, and others who believe that while it is imperative to checkmate corruption, governance cannot be sacrificed on such a nebulous altar.
Buhari’s position stands on one leg because while he claims to have fought corruption to a standstill and recovered looted assets and money, which ironically is frittered away through the various Ponzi schemes like the Tradermoni, all economic indices are going south.
Early in the year, the World Poverty Clock, WPC, announced that “Nigeria has already overtaken India as the country with the largest number of extreme poor,” with about 87 million people living in extreme poverty. If fighting corruption were to be a viable economic policy as Osinbajo wants Nigerians to believe, the country’s economic fortunes would have been on an entirely different trajectory now that the battle has been won as the government claims.
The Buhari government has failed irredeemably and it is good that no less a person than himself is acknowledging that fact. But the tragedy of Nigeria is that in 2018, in a country with prostrate economy, going into a pivotal election with candidates such as Dr. Obiageli Ezekwesili, Professor Kingsley Moghalu, Atiku Abubakar, etc., there are still some who insist that the only man for the job is Buhari, someone who infamously said in May 2016 that Nigerian economists talk over his head instead of inside it because they were dissuading him from implementing catastrophic economic policies.