By Omeiza Ajayi, Abuja
Director-General of the Progressive Governors’ Forum PGF, Salihu Moh. Lukman has faulted ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo’s criticism of the fresh borrowing plans of President Muhammadu Buhari administration, saying in spite of the debt cancellation secured by the Obasanjo administration, there is now more fiscal prudence than obtained under the 16-year rule of the Peoples Democratic Party PDP.
“Everything considered, all the indices of Nigeria’s fiscal management between 1999 and 2020, indicates more prudence under the six years of President Buhari than during the eight years of former President Obasanjo, notwithstanding the claims of cancelling Nigerian debts”, Lukman said in a statement issued yesterday in Abuja.
He said maybe former President Obasanjo has forgotten this very legacy of being unable to prioritise capital expenditure during his tenure, especially given the successful debt cancellation, when he recently added his voice to those who are criticizing the decision of President Buhari’s administration to obtain additional debt.
The former president had argued that; ‘If we are borrowing for recurrent expenditure, it is the height of folly. If we are borrowing for development that can pay for itself, that is understandable. Then the payment, how long will it take to pay itself?”
However, Lukman said Nigeria may have to ask Obasanjo about the specific objective of Nigeria’s debt cancellation in 2004.
“Shouldn’t it have been for development? The resources that were freed from debt services, which component of the Federal Government budget was it used for?
“By the time the analysis is expanded to cover specific issues of projects executed, under the current administration of President Buhari, Nigerians would need help from former President Obasanjo, former President Goodluck, all PDP leaders and their supporters to highlight what specifically they were able to give Nigerians in terms of projects executed in return for their ‘prudent’ management of the national economy during their sixteen years tenure.
“For instance, President Buhari is implementing one of the most ambitious National Social Investment Programme (NSIP) in the country since independence. Under the programme, with the goal of lifting 100 million Nigerians out of poverty, millions of poor Nigerians are benefiting from these initiatives. One of the components of the programme, Government Enterprise and Empowerment Programme (GEEP), N36.9 billion in interest-free loans of between N50,000 to N350,000 has been disbursed to more than 2.3 million Nigerians. Under another component of the Programme Home-Grown School Feeding Programme, 9.9 million primary 1 – 3 pupils in 54,952 public primary schools in 35 states have benefited. Additional 107,000 cooks have been engaged. In the case of Conditional Cash Transfer, the third component, more than 3 million poor and vulnerable households have been registered on the National Social Register, out of which more than one million families are currently being paid N5,000 monthly”, he added.
Lukman added that notwithstanding all these and ignoring all the years of lost opportunities under sixteen years of PDP, public debates around comparative assessments of the performance of six years of APC government under President Buhari as compared to sixteen years of PDP get unfairly dominated by allegations of recklessness and incompetence.
“PDP may wish to go beyond the manipulative strategy to rewrite the realities of incomparable achievements of President Buhari led APC government as against all the PDP administrations between 1999 and 2015 by coming out with a clearer empirical account than can present new evidence. Otherwise, the incontrovertible evidence is that APC led government of President Buhari is in fact more prudent than all PDP governments between 1999 and 2015.
“Maybe also, given the bullish disposition of Governor Nyesom Wike of River States in engaging economic policy debates in the country, it is important to stress the point that in addition to the requirement for honesty, PDP leaders should understand and appreciate that when issues of development are reduced to what the English Economist, Kate Raworth referred in the book, Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist, as the portrait of a person ‘standing alone, money in hand, calculator in hand, and ego in heart’, initiatives of governments can hardly rise above consumption, which was the case throughout the sixteen years of PDP. Because that was the case, even when former President Obasanjo negotiated debt cancellation, rather than resulting in increased capital expenditure significantly, that didn’t happen.
“Interestingly, Governor Wike’s response to the decision of President Buhari’s administration to negotiate the new debt of about $4 billion was that Rivers State was discriminated against. One of the problems of bullies is the mentality of believing that they can force their way by intimidating others. Governor Wike needs to accept that negotiation in a 21st-century economy doesn’t require intimidation.
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“In addition, leaders who are committed to developing their societies would have to outgrow the doughnut mentality, which reduces every policy debate to cheap sharing of so-called resources. After all, in any case, some of the projects being executed by the administration of President Buhari such as the Bodo-Bonny Bridges and Road (linking Bonny Island to the Rivers Mainland), was decided without any pressure. Besides, how much pressure did Governor Wike had to put on the Federal Government of President Buhari to get the refund of over N70 billion for repairs on Federal Roads?
“One of the issues that needs to also be appreciated is that to some extent, the confidence of PDP leaders tends to be high in engaging debates around the performance of the economy because of the laid-back attitude of some appointees of Federal Government who should have been very proactive in directing public debates in the country.
“Many PDP leaders and their supporters are emboldened by the weak responses of designated public officers in Federal Government saddled with the responsibilities of engaging Nigerians around initiatives of the government. The other challenge, which is very disturbing is issues around the management of Nigeria’s foreign exchange by the Central Bank.
A situation whereby the US Dollar would appear to be on a roller-coaster against the Naira is simply unacceptable. Had the Naira to US Dollar exchange rate been stable in the last two years, most of the alleged debates about so-called recklessness against the government of President Buhari would have been long settled.
“Therefore, while appealing to the CBN to take every measure necessary urgently and expeditiously to stabilise the Naira exchange rate, a similar appeal must also be made to all functionaries of the Federal Government, especially in ministries of Finance and National Planning to provide all the intellectual leadership required to convert the false accusation that APC led government of Buhari is recklessly borrowing.
Nigeria’s borrowing, both with reference to debt/GDP and debt/revenue ratio is still below the permissible economic threshold of below 60% and 46% respectively.
If economic indices are the reference point in any comparative assessment of performance President Buhari led administration as compared to all the PDP administrations between 1999 and 2016, PDP leaders and their supporters cannot have any voice!”, He declared.