It’s a new year. A new beginning. Another opportunity to review the past year and strategise for the New Year. 2016 was the first full year of the APC led government of change. The Party started the year with great promise and very broad populist support. The government enjoyed tremendous goodwill from usually critical Nigerian populace, all hopeful of change. 2016 was a year many Nigerians who supported the change movement looked forward to the crystallisation of their dreams and manifestation of their hope.
Evidence of the hope and faith in the President was provided by NOI Polls which in July 2015 reported a 70% job approval rating for President Buhari and by October 2015 the approval rating was at an all-time high of 80%. The President started 2016 with a job approval rating of 70% signifying a wide consensus, despite wide regional variations, that Nigerians were ready to move on trusting that the President will deliver on his promises.
Across the globe international support for the President remained high at the beginning of 2016. In May the former British Prime Minister, in a conversation at the Buckingham Palace, described Nigerians as “fantastically corrupt” which President Buhari was reported to have agreed with. However, in the conversation President Buhari got a rare endorsement from the head of the Anglican Church worldwide, the Archbishop of Canterbury and Primate of All England Justin Welby, who incidentally is the head of former President Jonathan’s denomination. Archbishop Welby was reported to have intervened after the comment of the former Prime Minister, singling out President Buhari and describing him thus “But this particular President is not corrupt…he is trying very hard”. That singular comment represented the hope of the international community and the dream of a new beginning for Nigeria.
The wind of change that blew over Nigeria in 2015 blew over the world in 2016 with Brexit, rise of new right-wing parties in South America, defeat of incumbents across continents leading to the election of Donald Trump in November. Across the world the mood is tending towards strong nationalism, anti-immigration policies and a further harvesting of the anger that is clearly running deep in most countries. Implication for Africa and Nigeria in particular will include youth restiveness linked to unemployment and absence of opportunities to emigrate. As the world danced to the music of change, in Nigeria disillusionment and impatience with change rose speedily.
Again we turn to NOI polls to gauge the mood of Nigerians. Starting 2016 with 70% job approval rating by March the President was down to 48 per cent and by June had hit an all-time low of 39%. The low approval rating is even more disturbing when we review the regional variations according to NOI Polls “The survey also revealed a general decline in the approval rating of the President across 5 geopolitical zones, when compared to the month of May. The North-West zone at 61 percent recorded the highest approval rating, closely followed by the North-East zone with 59 percent. On the other hand, the South-East and South-South zones had the least approval rating of 8 percent and 24 percent respectively.”
2016 ended on a low note for the government and most Nigerians. The vital signs of the country remained negative as food prices rose, transport cost continued to increase, default in rents and low occupancy bedeviled the housing sector, the stock markets moved only in the negative direction, foreign exchange remained scarce as exchange rate strategy remained a mystery to market players. The fight against corruption suffered from poor perception of seriousness while progress against Boko Haram remained largely unappreciated due to rising herdsmen clashes, militancy in the Niger Delta, IPOB agitations in the South East.
Economic growth will be difficult in 2017 due to headwinds we all know. Low oil prices will persist, infrastructure will remain a stumbling block to production, low investment in state capacity will make it difficult to implement a strong regime of law and order. The policing system, judicial system, correctional institutions and enforcement mechanism are all too weak, and under-resourced to manage multiple engagements across the country.
Government must appreciate that democracy not government is on trial. The inability to construct national consensus, sustain dialogue and deliver economic growth reduces citizen’s trust in the electoral process and government. The depletion of trust and entrenchment of divisive fault lines damages the promise of democracy and its paramount advantage of providing a middle ground for conflict resolution.
2017, however, presents another opportunity to press the reset button for Nigeria. There is an urgent need for the President to start a dialogue to bridge the deep division that the NOI polls revealed. Building a bi partisan and national consensus is now mission critical if we are to navigate the growing national challenges. Restoring discipline and cooperation amongst government agencies appears to have become an issue requiring Presidential attention. The country cannot afford the luxury of needless posturing.
The philosophical underpinnings of the government is clearly not delivering expected results, now is the time to reach out to other schools of thought to adopt pragmatic and tested solutions. Today marks the dawn of a fresh start built around forging a new national consensus, seriously rethinking the cost of governance, urgently improving state capacity, and deliberately reviewing the foundational issues plaguing our union. It’s a new year, we need a new beginning. Time is of essence. Wishing all Nigerians a recession- free 2017.