By Eze Onyekpere
There is a strong and inextricable relationship between political and economic governance. The quality and character of political governance to a great extent determines and influences economic outcomes. The Nigerian situation under Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) epitomises this link. The economy has nose-dived,and all the macroeconomic fundamentals are headed south arising from the mismanagement of political tensions and fault lines. However, the attention of most Nigerians is on the insecurity and the daily loss of lives and property across the country. It is now becoming a chicken and egg situation as the insecurity apparently fuels economic and fiscal crises and the poser is now on which one to tackle first. This discourse reviews key economic challenges as they are linked with poor political governance and suggests ways of making progress.
The first is that economic growth cannot thrive under a situation of uncertainty, insecurity, and daily loss of lives. Agriculture is the mainstay of most rural economies and has contributed an average of 25% of the Nigerian Gross Domestic Product in the last 10 years. It is also responsible for raw materials for industry and export as well as creating jobs along its value chain. With the growing terrorism in the North-West of Nigeria and the murderous herdsmen incursions into the Middle Belt especially in Benue and Plateau states, the agricultural output has plummeted. The challenge is not limited to these states and zones as the killer herdsmen are now operating across the South-West, South-East, and South-South geopolitical zones. Who then is the loser? Of course, the entire country and the citizens who have lost their rights to livelihood and persons who have become bereaved and orphaned by the murderous herdsmen.
What has been the reaction of the Buhari regime? It has defended killers of Nigerians and threw citizens of Nigeria who have been placed under his care by virtue of his being President and Commander-in-Chief under the bus. All attempts by the victims of this political malfeasance to request presidential action have been rebuffed to the extent that high level federal officials defend the activities of killers. From the President’s action and body language, politics trumps the economy and politics trumps consideration for human life. The President has acknowledged that most of the killers are foreigners but has taken no concrete steps to arrest them or get them out of Nigeria.
There has been 80% drop in foreign direct investments. The drastic drop is traceable to the politics which reflects in economic mismanagement. Beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, which investor will bring their money into a country where the daily report is about disorder and anarchy? Foreign investors come from countries who have embassies and High Commissions here and who get briefings on the actual security situation in Nigeria. The investors do not get the kind of propaganda and doctored reports that Lai Mohammed would dish out. Instead, it is the truth and nothing but the truth. And we still expect them to come and invest? For investors who put down money on the Nigerian Stock Exchange and now want to pull out, have they been able to get their foreign exchange component? This is the politics that decapitates the economy.
A situation where terrorists nicknamed bandits openly boast about the number of persons including security personnel they have killed and vow to kill more if the authorities dare them cannot be one to attract investors. And when the authorities dared to arrest his father, he manifested more sinister violence leading to the eventual release of his father. We have a situation where a high-level cleric became the mouthpiece of terrorists and regales Nigerians with tales of injustice (only known to him) done to terrorists; the cleric knows where the terrorists live and stay and enjoys a robust relationship with them,but the security agencies claim and feign ignorance of the abode of the terrorists. The situation is that government invests energy and resources in hunting down persons who hold contrary opinion and organise demonstrations – they are met with maximum force while at every encounter with terrorists, security agencies are overwhelmed. The so-called bandits now have surface to air missiles that have brought down fighter jets and the government simply celebrates the parachuting of the pilot who escaped from the downed fighter jet. A governor of a state now believes and states so publicly that kidnapping is a business, and we expect the state to be peaceful and business/investor friendly?
Who will continue to invest and create jobs in a country where the President reminds members of a section of the country who invest their hard-earned resources across the country that they are vulnerable to their property being illegally confiscated? How do we expect the economy to grow when the best brains are left out of economic policy formulation and management and the 10th eleven is controlling economic management at a time of fiscal crisis? When an Attorney General and the chief law officer equates murderous land grabbing herders with peaceful entrepreneurs who rent shops to run businesses, how will the economy grow? When a sitting governor declares forests as bona vacantia and available for murderers to occupy and continue their killing spree- and you want the economy to grow and create jobs.
The straightforward message to Buhari is that he cannot be in power forever. He still can redeem himself and take steps to right the wrongs he has perpetuated. Even though time is running out for the regime, it is better late than never. The first step is a public acknowledgement that he has wronged a majority of Nigerians and ask for forgiveness. Thereafter, he should take mitigation steps to stop the insecurity, and this can be tackled within a few months. A nation with the capacity to intercept Nnamdi Kanu in Kenya and Sunday Igboho in Benin Republic cannot be scratching its head for those it termed bandits operating within its borders. He cannot continue pampering criminals and terrorists and allowing them to operate unhindered. The President needs to discontinue nepotism at the highest level of governance; enthrone merit and work with the best available in the land.
Furthermore, the President should arrange a new economic team, not just mere distant advisers but hands-on knowledgeable Nigerians to occupy the key positions of economic governance. Key public economic managers whose only contribution is to preside over and approve of more borrowing at a time we are deploying 97% of our retained revenue to debt servicing have no business being in the federal cabinet. There must be something new and innovative to offer in a bid to serve as a federal minister. Being a minister is not about occupying space and filling a purported turn.
Finally, the President’s arrogant and condescending style of relating to Nigerians must stop. Buhari needs to humble himself in the full understanding that he has put Nigeria in the reverse gear compared to the position when he took over in 2015.
Mr Onyekpere is an Abuja based legal practitioner and human rights activist