Random reflections

President Muhammadu Buhari

After seven weeks of waiting in partially bated breath, Nigerians must now feel somewhat relieved that a “working fit” substantive president is back at the helms of the nation’s affairs. I join other well-wishers in congratulating President Muhammadu Buhari for pulling through his health challenges, while wishing him full recovery in the shortest possible time. However, it is impossible to deny that residual anxiety over the president’s health still lingers, having regard to the less-than forthcoming disposition of presidential aides during the protracted medical vacation. The president’s first comments on his health status following his return did little to lessen that anxiety. The president’s managers couldn’t do worse than focus on assuaging that national anxiety.

Conflicting reports on our crises-ridden Northeast region are another cause of enduring national anxiety. One day the citizenry is being told the Boko Haram insurgents have been routed; then the next day, whole communities are being dislocated by the nihilistic activities of the insurgents. Meanwhile, billions of local and offshore funds are being earmarked for the reconstruction and rehabilitation programmes of the troubled region, but the citizens thereof have no idea of what to expect after those monies have been expended. No prototype model or computer-generated graphics of a post-insurgency Northeastern Nigeria exists anywhere. So far, the rehabilitation and reconstruction programmes have proceeded at random, with inconsequential impact on the target beneficiaries. In the interval, reports of massive misappropriations of budgeted funds for these crucial programmes stare us in the face every other week.

The future is indeed bleak for full restoration of the Northeastern socio-economics. Let us hope that the history of the Southeastern region is not poised to repeat itself in the Northeast. Recall that at the end of the Civil War in 1970, the Federal Government had proposed a rehabilitation and reconstruction programme for the Southeastern region; but the programme was completely devoid of a concrete road map. (A regrettable omission with hindsight) About half a century after, both the psychological and physical ruins of the Civil War could still be seen in parts of the Southeast.

Neither full rehabilitation nor full reconstruction of the affected region has taken place. The various agitations for secession in those parts of the country have their origins in the alluded omission. Only recently, the pan-Igbo socio-cultural organisation, Ohaneze Ndigbo, lent its influential voice to the call for the full reintegration of the Southeast into the Nigerian political economy. (Evidently, the rehabilitation of the Southeast had merely taken place in the abstract, while the original crisis still rages in minds of the affected citizens)

Similarly, the herdsmen who ignited flames in southern Kaduna have refused to die out in spite of governments’ many interventions and countless ad hoc reports. Those crises and the attendant losses in human lives and property pose a big question about our crisis management mechanisms. Self-same less-than satisfactory approach to crisis management is also a principal reason the Niger Delta challenge has remained largely unresolved. To embark on resolving a social crisis without a concrete master plan is a sure path to making a pig’s ear of the crisis. Planning in the abstract is just as counter-productive.

It is not an unfair comment to say that Nigeria plans in the abstract for the most part. An aspect of the ongoing presidential shuttle to engage the people of the Niger Delta region helps to make the point. Some two weeks after Acting President Yemi Osinbajo told his audience at a town hall meeting in Owerri, the Imo State capital, that the Federal Government would constructively engage the operators of illegal refineries, a commander of one of the military operations in the Niger Delta announced on television that his men have just destroyed over 40 illegal refineries, and arrested persons believed to be the operators of those refineries(!) Surely, the two situations cannot be reconciled. I recall wondering then whether the Federal Government was actually planning to meaningfully engage the operators of illegal refineries, or was it the case that the resourceful lawyer in the acting president had momentarily taken the better of him at the Owerri town hall meeting.

Whatever the case may be, Nigeria must now begin to plan in concrete terms. Nigeria has had more than her fair share of government platitudes. It is fitting that indigenes of the region never failed to make the point at the ongoing presidential engagements that enough reports on the Niger Delta abound in the archives; all that is now required is the appropriate road map to translate the recommendations in those reports into tangibles. Therefore, The New Vision for the Niger Delta, the vaunted theme of the presidential shuttle, must be translated into realisable tangibles, upon which government performance could be measured.

It could well be said that the existing administrative structure in Nigeria lends itself to massive corruption. Huge capital releases are routinely made to government Ministries, Departments, and Agencies, (MDAs), without well-defined target-projects upon which those releases are to be judiciously expended. Had budgetary releases been previously tied to specific projects with definite delivery timelines, it would have been no brainer figuring out official misappropriations, and by whom. The seeds of a corruption-free Nigeria may well lay in financial proposals, properly backed up by detailed projects’ road maps. Those calling for a structured methodology to combat corruption in Nigeria may find some merit in the preceding line.

After dithering for several months over the plight of Nigeria’s troubled currency, the naira, the National Economic Council (NEC) finally roused itself to some semblance of action. The NEC in January 2017 directed the Central Bank to review its 2015 foreign exchange policy, excluding 41 import items from the official foreign exchange window. I had promptly issued an article (The Apex Bank’s Fault Lines) in this newspaper at the time, arguing that the exclusion policy would act as a boost for the parallel market. And it did. That is hardly a surprise. What is surprising is that it took the NEC this much time to realise the Apex Bank’s misstep. An outright ban of those 41 items, in addition to all others that can be produced locally, is the appropriate policy.

It should be obvious by now that there are three essential steps to growing a national economy: aggressively protect the national currency; aggressively protect the manufacturing sector; and aggressively protect the national borders. Correct policies ultimately redeem themselves. If government’s policies are translated into realisable tangibles, they automatically morph into concrete concepts in the minds of the citizenry; the latter, in turn, becomes persuaded to make superhuman patriotic sacrifices for national glory.
Nkemdiche, a consulting engineer, lives in Abuja

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