Columns

June 1, 2024

The more things change, the more they remain the same? By Muyiwa Adetiba

The more things change, the more they remain the same? By Muyiwa Adetiba

Muyiwa Adetiba

In a low key celebration, the Tinubu administration marked its one year in office a few days ago. There has been a rash of comments and analyses on the performance of the administration. There will still be more as the days go by. It a reflection of the state of the nation that many of the comments betray the sentiments and emotions of the writers rather than objective and impassionate dissection of the situation. Unfortunately for some, the election is not yet over and this goes for those who still see themselves either as victors or vanquished.

Meanwhile, some commentators are already thinking of 2027 and are prepping readers with phantom or embellished figures to persuade or dissuade gullible minds so as to bend them towards whatever side of the fence they are on. Data, always a willing tool, is being manipulated either to eulogize or savage the incumbent. More unfortunate still, is the fact that these commentaries or analyses, are usually divided if not along political affiliations, then almost invariably along geographical zones. One could almost guess the content and direction of an article by looking at the name of the writer.

As powerful as the Presidential system is, and many agree it is too powerful, we still run a Federal system and the blame for the dilapidated state of schools, roads and hospitals should be placed on irresponsible State and Local Governments rather than on the center as some mischievously do. Many also pre-date May 28 last year. I have read articles of people wanting the President to interfere in matters that are under the jurisdiction of other tiers of government when it is convenient.

I have also read articles of people saying the President’s influence on other arms of governance is too overbearing – again when it is convenient. We may have had a change of government on May 29 last year, but the attitude of Nigerians, especially the elite and opinion molders, has remained the same. It is still as parochial, emotional and self-centered as it was twenty-five years ago when this democratic phase started. Or perhaps, even worse. Very few Nigerians put the interest of the country first, and this reflects in the way the ills and gains of the country are perceived. The more things change……

In preparing this article, I asked a few people whose opinion I respect, to assess one year of this Government. Not to my surprise, many placed their concern solely on the economic hardships in the country and blamed the sudden removal of fuel subsidy and the floatation of the Naira as the causes of the economic upheaval.

I can identify with the emotions. There is hunger in the land and these two reforms have impacted the lives of almost all Nigerians, both rich and poor, in a way very few things have in years. But in focusing only on the situation, as dire as it is – rising cost of food, unavailability of basic goods and the volatility of the Naira-we might miss the faulty fundamentals of our economy. We have to look at our dwindling productive capacity. We have to juxtapose our dwindling foreign exchange earning with our increasing population. We have to examine our weak financial discipline which makes subsidies and all pro- poor interventions ineffective.

We have to remember our most recent massive borrowing under Buhari to defend the Naira and to pay for recurrent expenditures – debts that have mortgaged our future in many ways. We also have to look at the entitlement attitude of Nigerians, rich or poor. Then we have to ask ourselves if maintaining the status quo was sustainable. Many have loudly criticized what they call the interference of IMF and the World Bank. These people conveniently forget that we are a debtor nation still seeking further financial relief. A positive nod from these institutions is needed for credibility. Added to this, is the fact that we cannot get foreign investors interested in the country unless certain economic fundamentals are fine tuned.

It is easy to find excuses for the current state of the economy and they would not be lame excuses. Covid19 brought serious disruptions to the global supply chain. Added to this, are the current wars and geo/political tensions in sensitive places around the world including Africa. Then, there is the concern for global supply of energy. Almost all countries have been bloodied by these global upheavals. Many, including advanced economies, are just seeing a glimmer of light at the end of what had been, a rather dark tunnel. Nigeria’s case is worsened by poverty, rising population, weak structures and banditry; all which pre-dated this administration. It will not be objective to blame a year-old government for problems that have almost become institutionalized. Even the best of reforms take time and what we have are not the best of reforms. A chess player considers many things before he makes a move. I don’t think enough of that was done in the economic moves this government has made this past year. I don’t think enough considerations for unintended consequences was made. So I expected a few painful periods because of this tardiness.

What I cannot grant though, is the political attitude which has not changed. Politics still overrides many decisions. The President’s Cabinet is more political than economic and does not seem to reflect the exigencies of the times. The tough monetary and fiscal reforms do not seem to extend to Aso Rock and the two legislative chambers which still have many of their indulgences satisfied. But what churns my stomach is the recent religious indulgence. How does anybody begin to explain, let alone justify, donating 90 billion Naira towards pilgrimage at this time? This sum would make a huge impact in any of the critical sectors – health, education, energy, agriculture. More important is the message it sends; to people who are struggling to meet their basic needs and to the outside world looking for signs of corrective fiscal reforms.

My faith is important to me but I am one of the many who believe religion should be personal. We also believe that the excesses of religious leaders should be curbed before they cause more damage. Our religious leaders are too vocal. Worse, they indoctrinate and control vulnerable minds. Nigeria is a secular State. There is a reason for that and we should respect it. Besides, spending tax payer’s money on the religious indulgences of a few is another proof that nothing has truly changed in the polity. This government has to get its priorities right. It is easier to accept the hardships we are currently facing when we know the leaders are focused. Not a business as usual leadership.