by Sidney Ufot, a Public Affairs Analyst.
In a rare moment of sober self-appraisal, President Muhammadu Buhari recently declared that he has done his best in fixing Nigeria, although his best might have not met the expectations and yearnings of many Nigerians.
A few months earlier, wife of the President, Mrs. Aisha Buhari, had also asked Nigerians to forgive her husband for not meeting expectations, saying though things are tough for citizens (a reference to the rising inflation and general hardship across the land), the president had tried his best and governed with love of the people at heart. With the presidential family’s honest admission of the intractable hard life citizens have gone through in the last nearly eight years of the Buhari administration, dissipating further energy to critique the outgoing Buhari government would appear a wasted exercise, especially as we now have a golden opportunity to elect a new leader to pursue a path that could lift the citizens’ expectations and conditions higher than what currently obtains.
Two pertinent questions stare us in the face. One, where did we start falling before we arrived at where we are today? Two, what do we need to do to stop the free fall and move our country in a post-Buhari path of revamping citizens’ enthusiasm and love for country while guaranteeing happiness for the greater majority?To realistically confront the two questions above, it would be appropriate to draw an impartial picture of what the next administration has to tackle urgently.
No doubt, Nigeria’s next president will inherit a dire economic situation.The huge size of the government at the centre and its high maintenance costs vis-à-vis grossly poor performance on key indices is a national albatross.
Today, around 70 percent of Federal budgets covers salaries, allowances and running costs, while only 30 percent is devoted to capital expenditure. After two decades of robust growth, the economy is now stagnant.
At less than one percent during the past seven years, economic growth has been overtaken by the population growth rate of nearly 3 percent annually. With a population expected to double in size and reach 400 million by 2050 and over 40 percent of Nigerians currently trapped in multidimensional poverty, economic diversification and decentralization of government will be a non-negotiable task for the next leader if the Nigerian economy would have any hope of overcoming some of the current structural problems. The economy still largely depends on oil and is vulnerable to fluctuations in domestic production and global prices. It is also heavily dependent on state handouts.
Government policies have failed to create adequate conditions that foster growth and aid job creation opportunities to effectively diversify the economy as promised.
The last seven years have been characterized by a “command and control” economic management style that thrives on excessive regulation, high levels of public spending, import substitution, subsidies and welfare programs.
Key socio-economic indicators have proved the failure and inadequacy of this approach that has failed to positively impact citizens’ lives or transform the economy.
Since 2015, both internal and external debts have substantially increased. The unemployment rate is now nearly 35 percent, making Nigeria one of the worst cases in the world. Underemployment rate is estimated at about 30 percent while Inflation is standing north of 20 percent.
According to data from Nairalytics, Nigeria, in 2022, spent 96 percent of her revenue on debt servicing, with the attendant untold effect on fiscal balance. A pressing matter will be to address the growing debt issue and find a way to secure the confidence of creditors in granting Nigeria a listening hear in the arduous task of debt restructuring.
The extent to which the next administration will fail or succeed in tackling each of the challenges discussed above would depend on the profile, vision and temperament of the president we choose to replace the outgoing one.
To help Nigeria manage her way out of the woods, the next president is expected to adopt a less centralized approach to the management of the economy and more business-friendly policies as well as a more technocratic approach to governance, especially on the economic front.
Maintaining the APC-Buhari path of economic management can only bring bigger disaster. Nigeria may not survive such calamity.One major mistake we made in 2015 was to refuse to properly scrutinize the economic vision, priorities and strategies of the candidates to address Nigeria’s main problems. We cannot afford to make the same mistake now because the situation is direr.
Of all the major candidates jostling for office today, Atiku Abubakar, the PDP flag bearer who incidentally was the vice president between 1999 and 2007 when Nigeria had the most thriving economic environment since the advent of the current democratic experience, offers the best and safest route to the badly needed revamping destination.
This is because he presents an economic agenda based on three principles: private sector participation; the end of the public monopolies over infrastructures and a market-oriented approach to solving economic challenges.
During his stint as the Vice President, especially between 1999 and 2003 when he was given total power and support by his principal to oversee the nation’s economic pathway, Atiku demonstrated deftness and excellent fidelity to the best of free-market economic policies that saw Nigeria overcome the inherited stranglehold effects of the earlier two decades of military rule.
The results of Atiku’s effective management of the economy then was seen all over the country’s socio-economic landscape, from GDP growth to Direct Foreign Investment to the opening up and revitalization of key areas of the economy such as telecommunications, banking, aviation, power sector unbundling and many others.
Given his antecedent as a tested, experienced and versatile economic manager and the soundness of the economic vision he has espoused in his quest for the presidency, Atiku Abubakar’s victory would represent a departure from current economic policies that have put the country in a fix.
This nation cannot afford another rout of untried, untested and circumscribed presidential credentials which other candidates parade. Nigeria is in dire need of a president that will hit the ground-running from day one.
The peculiar man best suited for this equally peculiar assignment is none other than Wazirin Adamawa and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar.
By Sydney Ufot