Ikelegbe: We are still groping in the dark
Augustine Ikelegbe is a Professor of Comparative Politics and Public Policy at the University of Benin. He spoke to ALEMMA-OZIORUVA ALIU in Benin City on government’s one year without stable policies.
General assessment of the government
The management of the problems in the oil industry has not been satisfactory, the same as the economy — the problem of organised systematic integrated policy of managing the economy, but do we really have it? Because we are heading more and more towards crisis. The Minister of Information has been quoted to say that the country is broke, so, what is the policy of this government in managing the economy? If the policy has been working, the economic crisis would not have grown; it should have been improving after a year. In other words, if you look at different areas, electricity tariff is going up, inflation is rising, the naira is depreciating, it is like the Nigerian State is losing, in terms of managing inflation, the value of naira, availability of foreign currency for basic needs even in terms of importation of crude oil, so, it looks as if there are no solutions to our problems. The government has not been able to resolve any of these problems; the economy is in a comatose.
The only thing I will say is this, yes, the fight against corruption is worth it, at least, good money is being recovered, but they have not told how much have been recovered and from whom and what they are going to use the money that will benefit the people. But is corruption being stopped? One thing is to reclaim what has been stolen and it is another thing to curtail and control corruption. All that is going on is at the level of the Federal Government. We have 36 states apart from the FCT, which are running their governments, as usual, that there is no anti-corruption war going their in the states and in the local governments, most of the anti-corruption so far is at the Federal level, while in the states and local government, it is still business as usual. The war against corruption has been broad enough, it is not effective enough to control continued corruption.
People thought that when Buhari comes on board, people would be afraid to steal, but it has not been like that. Go to the universities and some of these MDAs, and ask if corruption has reduced in their day-to-day running. I don’t think there is any evidence to indicate that corruption is less. Yes, there is the Treasury Single Account (TSA), which can control how much money is being generated and spent, but what about the day-to-day running? Corruption is not being prevented. Money is being recovered, good; and the image of Nigeria is shoring up, but is corruption being prevented? With the attitude and day-to-day behaviour of Nigerian workers and heads of agencies and institutions, I have no reason to believe that it is different, which means that the war on corruption is only in terms of recovering and not preventing and re-orienting Nigerians from corruption.
One year into this government, there is no policy to mobilise Nigerians, there is no serious programme on that. In those days, there used to be MAMSER, there used to be WAI, there is no serious platform of mobilising Nigerians away from impunity, away from lawlessness and criminality. There is no programme of re-orientation, in fact, no serious programme of propaganda that Nigerians should follow.
Now, we are being told about the budget, saying it is a major achievement in itself. They are telling us that there is a shift from the dominant re-current expenditure orientation towards capital budget; we are being told that there is a shift towards social investment in people, empowerment in terms of credit, livelihood, supporting the youths and elderly, we are being told that there is a lot of social investment in the budget, great. The budget seems to be bringing out the true colour of this administration, in terms of welfare of the people, that is what the budget presents, but if you look at our history in the last 20 years or more, budgeting is one thing, implementation is another.
At the level of the state, there is no serious thing called budgeting, because the governors run the state financially, and otherwise, as if it is their private estate. They have so much control over the house of assembly that they do whatever they like. When we were younger, we used to listen to budget speeches, but in the last 20 to 30 years, that has not been the case, budget has not made any difference in the life of Nigerians. What is the prospect that the budget will be implemented as passed? Again, it is a statement of hope, the President has promised and we are working on trust.
But in the last one year, the government is still trying to find its feet; it is a government that seemed not to have appreciated the enormity of the problems of the country. Maybe again the government has been unfortunate, they came in at a time the price of crude oil was crashing and that has affected so many things. Maybe, if they had come at another time and looking at the level of discipline of the key actors, the government may have been able to deliver more in the last one year, but now in the circumstances they have found themselves, they have not done much. So, far the change we have seen is only in the area of fighting corruption.
The Ahmed Joda Committee
That committee generated a lot of hopes — hopes that there was going to be re-structuring, reforms and merging of departments and agencies in order to have a lean government, but I don’t think we have heard much from that report. Yes, we saw that in the constitution of the cabinet, the number of ministers was smaller, certain ministers were given bigger responsibilities, and it showed that the government was trying to reduce cost, but that did not go down in terms of merging anything, the ministries are still as they are. Increase in petroleum product
My worry is that government does not seem to have had a consistent policy since it came on board, at a point, government was doing what it termed a mechanism of price adjustment in relation to price of crude of oil, and therefore, price of crude oil is lower, they adjusted the price of PMS to be lower, that was the initial style.
What they have come out to say that it is the forex problem and it means that only the government has been importing and what they are trying to do is to raise the price so that at the current rate of dollar at which the marketers can access it, they will still be able to make profit. In other words, the current increase is naira/dollar differentiation dependent that is the way it seems to me, which also means that if tomorrow, the price of naira rises, the price of PMS would also come down. That is if we are to take it logically, but there is nowhere in the world when a country places the prices of its commodities on the value of the dollar.
Another inconsistency I have seen there is that the minister has been telling us that the refineries are working, they are going to start working tomorrow, that the refineries are now producing at 20 per cent at 40 per cent, then, how is this production imparting on local supply of PMS? How is it imparting on the price, because if the refineries are producing, at what price are they going to be sold because the production for local refineries is not dollar dependent. So at what price is that being sold to Nigerians? So the whole thing is not consistent, it is not logical, it is not clear what I think is that we have a government that is groping in the dark, it is just response to situations as they arise.
I think we should give the government space. We should still give them time; they are facing a lot of problems since they came on board. They have not really had time to face their programmes, because of the scarcity of resources and those challenges they met, but let us believe that as the budget has been passed, we will now begin to see a government charting a course. But we can give to them a certain level of discipline, and we can give to them a position against corruption, they have promised that the government will not be corrupt and will not condone corruption.
We have seen much in the area of the war against terrorism, in terms of equipping the army, in terms of repositioning the armed forces. We have seen much progress there, the war against terrorism is being won and that is a plus for this government. They have been able to engage them with much more vigour, resources and discipline. I think we can say that government is winning in those two areas, corruption and terrorism. I think that in the next few months, we will be seeing results from the implementation of the budget. I see a government that is disciplined and people oriented. This is good for the country. With the quality and discipline of the people in this government, if they cannot turn things around, then the future of this country would be very assuring. In all, I see a government that will deliver and I see a government that will be able turn things around.