By Dele Sobowale
“Every country has the government it deserves.” Joseph De Maistre, 1753-1821.
Nigerians voted yesterday for the President they want and the consequences we all deserve. This article had to be written before Saturday to meet deadline. So, news about the conduct of the Presidential election is not available. But, assuming the voting was free and fair – we have not heard or read of soldiers and security forces invading any state to intimidate the electorate – then we are all honour-bound to accept the wishes of the majority of voters nationwide. Irrespective of your choice, or mine, we are now all in the same leaky boat ferrying us to destination unknown.
Despite any spirited efforts which third party candidates might have put up, it is certain that either Buhari, candidate of the All Progressives Congress, APC, or Atiku, flag-bearer of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP will emerge as our President. Crying over spilled milk or any beverage serves no useful purpose. So, nobody should send me any message or call to lament if their candidate lost the election yesterday. I certainly will not lose sleep over it if mine was defeated.
“Actions have consequences”
Having decided our fate in the next four years, we must now brace up for the consequences which will follow. Some of them are actually clear to those who can think dispassionately instead of being hostage to the lies which all political parties dispense regularly. Let me reveal a few – in case you have not thought of them yourself. As an economist, I think of the economic repercussions first.
The National Bureau of Statistics, NBS, during the past week, reported that the Nigerian economy grew at 1.93 per cent in 2018. That figure has its own repercussions. But, first readers need to remember that the achievement is far less than the 3.0 per cent which the Federal Government, FG, promised in the budget for last year. After the recession of 2016, the low growth, 0.8 per cent in 2017, the FG has improved considerably in 2018, but more Nigerians would still have descended into poverty by December 31, 2018. We are extending our lead as the poverty capital of the world.
The obvious question is: what is the prediction for 2019? The first thing Nigerians must discard is the growth projections in the 2019 Budget. This government failed three times to reach its target; and it is poised to fail again. They will disappoint again for the same reason they missed targets in 2016-2018; they are lousy budgeters. They have adopted 2.3 million barrels per day of crude oil exports in each of those years. In no single year were we able to average 2 million barrels per day. Yet, there it is again in the 2019 Budget.
Second, they are so wedded to their own propaganda that even objective reports from other sources are rejected. For instance, as late as October and November of last year when the International Monetary Fund, IMF, was forecasting GDP growth of 2 per cent for Nigeria, Buhari’s government was assuring Nigerians that the result will be better. Now we know that the IMF was even charitable with its projections; Nigeria did worse than 2 per cent. But, FG officials, instead of being embarrassed by the targets promised and missed once again are parting themselves on the back saying that “our policies are working”. Obviously, if Buhari is re-elected, Nigerians can expect another year of low economic growth.
Will the economy improve significantly in 2019 if Atiku wins? Unfortunately, the answer is: not likely. Any major impact Atiku will make on the Nigerian economy will not be felt until 2020. The reasons are not hard to discover. First, he will inherit Buhari’s partially executed 2019 Budget – but he will not be in control until June. Five months will be gone by the time he is handed the baton. Second, he will spend at least the entire month of June assembling an Economic Management Team, EMT, which will also need some time to come up with an economic policy and programme. That again will take time.
Third, he will confront a “banana peel” when he reaches the Rock. The out-going government would have committed most of the revenue for the year by awarding contracts and by paying mobilisation fees. Nigerians should remember how often they have heard elected governments lamenting that they met “empty purses”. Invariably, Supplementary Budgets are necessary. How quickly they get passed depends on the composition of the National Assembly and who emerges as Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives. All is lost if those two offices are held by political adversaries.
Let me therefore summarise on the expected economic outlook. Nigerians should not expect any dramatic change in 2019. If anything, the situation will get worse before it gets better. Here are a few reasons why that might be the case.
Large segments of farmlands in the North East, especially in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states, as well as North West states of Zamfara and Katsina plus North Central states of Benue and Kogi are now idle. Traditionally, farmers prepare the land for planting from January to March while expecting the early rain. A trip to the North in January revealed that very little preparation is taking place this year. The response is the same when questions are asked: “we cannot work for herdsmen and armed men who damage our crops and collect our harvest”. With hundreds of thousands of farmers not planting nationwide, and FG officials too busy with election campaigns to provide support services, order and help distribute fertilisers, food supply is threatened this year as it has not been in the last eight or more years.
All these assume we had a peaceful election and losers are prepared to go to court to settle their differences. That is a tall order – given the fact most Nigerian politicians have no “alternative address” (Dr Muiz Banire). They want to move from one public office to another – Governor to Senator to Minister and vice versa. For them holding political office is a matter of life and death. They generally don’t accept defeat easily. As far as Buhari is concerned the only free and fair Presidential election ever conducted in Nigeria was the one he won – even when we saw on television hundreds of thousands of under-age voters queuing to vote in the North. There was no violence when Buhari won in 2015; there was when he lost in 2011. As President he has infinitely more capacity to induce more mayhem than as a mere candidate. Of the two major candidates, therefore, Buhari and his supporters are the people we watch with trepidation. He has teamed up with some Southern politicians who are also poor losers. The only fair election was the one won by Action Congress.
“I hold that man in the right who is most in league with the future.”
Henrik Ibsen, 1828-1906.
Like it or not, therefore, we must confront the question of what to do if the elections and/or their aftermaths are not peaceful. What if we have a situation like Venezuela on our hands? Surely, given the tension, the accusations, allegations and character assassinations these campaigns have generated, anybody who totally discounts violence must know something the rest of us are missing or must have rocks where brains should be. Incidentally, the greatest anxiety has been created by the Buhari-led APC. Some examples will illustrate the point.
First, the APC has lost out totally in Rivers and Zamfara States; it is seriously divided in Imo and Ogun. To some extent, it is a house divided against itself. Nigerians are watching to see if APC will allow peaceful elections to take place in states where they field no candidates. Second, violence at campaign rallies had occurred more at APC rallies with the antagonists being APC members.
Third, it was an APC chieftain in Kaduna State, who threatened “body bags” for foreign observers. Instead of admonishing him, the party supported the would-be assassin. Obviously, a diseased mind which can think of such atrocities will stop at nothing. All eyes are now on Kaduna to see who will fire the first shot – if any. If it happens, it will be another shot heard around the world.
We have voted, but, only God can help us to get the government we need – instead of the one we probably deserve