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Between Nigeria’s Ailing Economy And War Of Attrition

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It was a war of attrition during the week as former President Goodluck Jonathan and the presidency engaged in heated verbal exchange over who did what in forging the piteous fate of the country’s ailing economy. In this report, JONATHAN NDA- ISAIAH examines the issues raised.

Former President Goodluck Jonathan retreated into his shell after making history as the first incumbent to lose the presidential election in Nigeria. His party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), was almost confined in political oblivion in the course of metamorphosing from a ruling party to an opposition party. It had not been easy for a party that once prided itself as the largest political entity in Africa and even boasted that it would rule Nigeria for 60 years.

Some weeks after May 29, 2015, overwhelming tales of corruption allegations started making the rounds, with most of Jonathan’s men named as the major culprits. The armsgate scandal, in which it was alleged that former National Security Adviser, Col Sambo Dasuki (rtd) looted $2.1billion earmarked for prosecution of the Boko Haram war, opened some cans of worms. Daily, Nigerians were fed with tales of monumental looting of the nation’s treasury and the patrimony of our common wealth. Even Jonathan’s wife, Dame Patience Jonathan was not spared in the bid to recover stolen fund.

In all of these, Jonathan maintained graveyard silence, and refused to talk about corruption allegations hanging loosely around the neck of key men of his administration in due time. He was rarely seen in public and even relocated to the United Kingdom for some weeks.

At a point, the PDP started waning as an opposition party as corruption allegations and internal squabble threatened to tear the party apart. The self-acclaimed biggest party in Africa hung loosely on the precipice.

Former chairman of the party, Ali Modu Sheriff and former Kaduna State governor, Ahmed Makarfi engaged in an implosive fight for the soul of the party. In that period, the PDP lost key members to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), with their numbers depleting further through defections in the National Assembly.

However, the Supreme Court Judgement, which affirmed Senator Makarfi as the chairman of the party, gave the PDP a new lease of life, with political watchers positing that a united PDP was good for the nation’s democracy. The thinking is that the APC needed a virile opposition to keep it on its toes.

In their post crisis non-elective national convention, the PDP came out blazing, thumping their chest and declaring that they were set to take over power in 2019. Former President Jonathan used the opportunity to react to some allegations against him by the APC.

He said policies initiated by his administration were rewarding to the people and attractive to many other countries across the globe. He boasted that he managed the economy better than the Buhari administration.

Jonathan said, “We had a strong team that was managing the economy of the country. If we say that we rekindled hope in our people and gained international goodwill, it is because we pursued a number of policies, programmes that were not only readily rewarding to our people, but also attractive to many other countries across the globe.”

“When I read the papers, I notice that people always want to deride PDP, it is difficult to beat the PDP. No one can beat us. I can remember that right from the days of former Presidents Obasanjo, Yar’Adua through to the Jonathan days, we have done well. Nobody should intimidate you.”

“We provided focused leadership through sectoral and institutional reforms which impacted positively on the fundamentals for growth, especially in the last four years of our stay in power.”

“The effect was that we tamed inflation at a single digit, maintained price stability, built the economy to become the largest economy in Africa with a GDP of more than half a trillion Dollars and the number one foreign direct investment destination in Africa”.

On his part, Makarfi promised that PDP, if given another chance in 2019, would introduce a students’ loan scheme to alleviate the suffering of students and their parents. “There will be no hunger because there will be plenty to eat. There may be plenty in the market but you have zero cash in your pocket. Under PDP, there will be cash in your pocket because you have earned the cash”, Makarfi said.

He prayed for quick recovery of ailing President Muhammadu Buhari, saying the PDP would be looking forward to defeating him in the 2019 presidential election.  “We mean well for our president. We will continue to pray for his full recovery. We want him to be fit and on seat when we defeat the APC government come 2019”, he stated.

Two days later, Jonathan fired another salvo apparently to a comment made by director general of Voice of Nigeria (VON), Osita Okechukwu, who said, rather than plug the loopholes that allowed for corruption, former Jonathan opened them up further.

In a statement signed by Reno Omokri, former special assistant to President Jonathan on News Media, on his behalf, the former Nigerian leader pointed out that corruption has actually gone worse under the Buhari administration. This, he said, had been proven with the poor rating Nigeria has been receiving from Transparency International since the APC government came to power.

The statement noted: “Mr. Okechukwu should note that the premier global agency universally recognised to gauge corruption is Transparency International that release an annual Corruption Perception Index.”

“It may surprise Mr. Okechukwu and his boss to know that the last time Nigeria made progress on Transparency International’s annual Corruption Perception Index was in 2014 under former President Jonathan when we moved eight places from number 144 to number 136. That year marked the most improvement Nigeria has ever made since Transparency International began publishing the annual Corruption Perception Index in 1995.”

“Transparency International took note of the Jonathan administration’s e-wallet system that cut out the corruption in Nigeria’s fertiliser procurement system, the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS) which weeded out 50,000 ghost workers from the federal civil service, the cashless policy and the fact that the Jonathan government promptly fired two ministers (Professor Barth Nnaji and Stella Oduah) mentioned in corruption scandals.”

“Ever since 2014, Nigeria has not improved in Transparency International’s annual Corruption Perception Index ranking and has remained 136 in 2015 and is still 136 on the latest CPI ranking released in 2017. In the most recent CPI, Transparency International said and I quote ‘some other large African countries have failed to improve their scores on the index. These include South Africa, Nigeria, Tanzania and Kenya’.

“If it were true that the Buhari administration was really fighting corruption, why hasn’t Nigeria made progress in the CPI? The answer is because you can deceive some gullible Nigerians but you cannot deceive Transparency International.”

“With a minister of transport that admitted to spending $500,000 on a one-day dinner for Professor Wole Soyinka in your government, with a suspended Secretary to the Government of the Federation who was caught red handed looting funds meant for IDPs and who has not been fired, arrested or prosecuted and with a padded budget scandal that spends borrowed monies on luxuries for favoured individuals, you can’t pull the wool over the eyes of Transparency International.”

“And when Mr. Okechukwu talks about the economy faring better under this administration, one must wonder if he is also a drunkard like the president’s spokeswoman, Lauretta Onochie.”

“I suggest he should go to Wuse Market, Abuja, or Mile 12 Market, Lagos or even Rimi Market, Kano and say that. If he survives the experience, then I will agree with him. The fact remains that under the Jonathan administration, CNN Money projected that our economy was the third fastest growing economy in the world with only China and Qatar ahead of us.”

“Did President Jonathan ‘railroad’ CNN Money? Or did he also railroad the former British Prime Minister, David Cameron, who said on October 12, 2016 as follows ‘Yes, we’ve been hearing about China and India for years …but it’s hard to believe what’s happening in Brazil, in Indonesia, in Nigeria too.’ The fact remains that under Jonathan, Nigeria experienced unprecedented growth. I leave it to Nigerians to determine what they are experiencing today.”

In a reaction akin to touching the Tiger by the tail, the presidency fired back at the former president. It said Jonathan presided over the most monumental and tragic economic mismanagement recorded in Nigeria’s history. In a statement by the senior special assistant to the president on media and publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu, he said the Jonathan administration handed over an economy that was gasping for breath to Buhari.

He said, “With due respects to the former President Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, these are the facts about the economy you left behind, in case you have forgotten. I hope this will help to erase the wrong statement credited to you at your party, the PDP Convention at the Eagle Square last weekend that you handed to President Buhari a robustly healthy economy.”

“To the same extent, this should also help to erase yet another false statement by Senator Ahmed Mohammed Makarfi, the Caretaker Chairman of the party, to the effect that under the previous administration, there was money but now things are very hard.”

“Let me start by reasserting an obvious statement, which is that the President Muhammadu Buhari administration was handed an economy ravaged by years of mismanagement and corruption.”

“It is understandable that Dr Jonathan kept his comments short, because a cursory look at any sector clearly indicated that he and his government presided over the most monumental and tragic economic mismanagement recorded in our national history.”

The presidential spokesman recalled that the oil sector boomed under Jonathan’s tenure, with oil prices as high as US$120 and peace in the Niger Delta. According to him, Nigeria earned unprecedented dollar revenue.

But sadly, Shehu lamented, it was where the story turned sour as there is nothing to show for the revenue earned, no major capital project was completed. He said neither power generation, road development, rail nor agriculture benefitted from the windfall earnings.

He observed that rather, the administration presided over the diversion of oil revenue on such a massive scale that even without the protection now accorded to whistleblowers, the then Central Bank governor blew not only a whistle but a trumpet, but was hurriedly shown the door.

Shehu added: “Meanwhile, the acquisition by public officers and their cohorts of private jets, luxury yachts and the accumulation of expensive property portfolios world-wide continued unabated. Indeed the president once celebrated having the largest number of private jets, whilst our youth languished without jobs, our fields stood idle and our factories began the layoff of workers.”

“Government simply reticulated oil revenue through personal spending by corrupt leaders,   wasteful expenses and salaries. This was done rather than investing in what would grow the economy. Economies grow due to capital investment in assets like seaports, airports, power plants, railways, roads and housing. Nigeria cannot record a single major infrastructural project in the last 10 years. In short, the money was mismanaged.”

“Such was the looting that even the goose that was laying the golden egg was being systematically starved. The direct contractual costs of oil produced, in the form of cash calls, remained unpaid.  The incoming, President Buhari’s welcome from the oil majors included demand for US$6bn owed by Nigeria for oil that had already been sold or stolen.”

Shehu noted that at the inception of the current administration, 21 states were unable to meet their salary bills and the spectre of workers’ arrears had commenced.

He further noted that the PDP solution was to raid the Ecological Fund and selectively grant N2 billion each to then PDP states, adding that it was only aggressive borrowing by the Ministry of Finance under Dr Okonjo- Iweala that prevented the federal government from also owing salaries.

He continued: “The economic wisdom of borrowing to pay recurrent bills is a questionable one, particularly as those paid would have included over 45,000 that have subsequently been removed by the Buhari-led administration as ghost workers.  It also included the lavish costs of chartering private jets, first class travel and other wasteful acts that have been eliminated under this administration.”

“To compound the problem, the government was borrowing heavily and owed contractors, and international oil companies. When this government took over, we had accumulated debt back to the level it was before the Paris Club Debt Forgiveness.”

“All these factors were building up to Nigeria heading for a major crisis if the price of oil fell. Nigeria did not have fiscal buffers to withstand an oil shock. The oil shock should and could have been foreseen. When Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, ISIS crisis started, it was clear that the United States of America wanted to cut off funds to terror groups by crashing the price of oil. When America granted permission for exploration of oil on land (Shale) the warning signs were evident, but these were ignored by Nigeria’s economic managers.”

 

Shehu listed things that the Jonathan administration could have done differently saying they should have begun doing the very things that the Muhammadu Buhari administration is doing so painfully now, including fighting corruption, sanitising the huge salary bill by eliminating payroll fraud, reducing wasteful expenses like first class travel and private jets, encouraging state governments to reform their spending and building savings or investments.

 

He further stated that the Jonathan government would have increased spending on capital projects, especially on infrastructure needed to make Nigerian businesses competitive and create jobs, block the leakages that allowed government revenues to be siphoned into private hands, focus on key sectors (apart from oil) that can create jobs and or generate revenue such as Agriculture, Solid Minerals and Manufacturing.

He pointed out that if these things had been done when the oil price was as high as US$120 per barrel, Nigeria would not be in the current predicament. Shehu argued that Nigeria would not be suffering now if we had no cash reserves but we had power, or a rail system, or good roads, or good housing, but we don’t have money and we don’t have the projects either.

He said now that the oil has fallen below those levels, it is very difficult to do what is needed but they must be done to save Nigeria as there is no other way if government wants to be honest. He pointed out that if PDP were still in power, they would have continued deceiving people, by borrowing to fund stealing and wastage and the problem would have simply been postponed for future generations to face.

He continued: “One of former President Jonathan’s specific boasts is that dollar under him was N180 compared to today.  With such a line of argument it is clear why we are where we are. With oil prices as high as $120, the average inflow of dollars each month was high, making it easy to support cheap dollars.”

 

“However with oil price plummeting as low as $28, the fundamental laws of supply and demand dictated that the currency would need to adjust, since oil was the sole export.  It is instructive to note that virtually every major oil exporter has witnessed currency adjustments with the fall in oil price.”

 

“The Buhari administration has taken a long term strategic view of supporting a stable naira on both the supply and demand sides. President Buhari has driven import substitution to reduce demand for dollars to buy things we can produce thereby creating thousands of rural jobs in rice and other staples.”

 

“In addition, there is a credible plan to diversify our revenue sources away from oil, with focus on export crops as well as solid minerals, with the release of US$100m fund to develop solid mineral extraction.”

 

“President Muhammdu Buhari has a positive and prosperous vision for Nigeria. A nation in which the natural talent and hard work of the people is being supported by an enabling environment of infrastructural development and policy reforms that will develop a firm future for our nation. Nigerians are looking forward and the PDP’s lurking in the economic rear view mirror only underscores the resolve of Nigerians, that as far as the economy is concerned, it is never again.”

 

QUOTE 1:

The last time Nigeria made progress on Transparency International’s annual Corruption Perception Index was in 2014 under former President Jonathan when we moved eight places from number 144 to number 136.

 

 

QUOTE2:

The president once celebrated having the largest number of private jets, whilst our youth languished without jobs, our fields stood idle and our factories began the layoff of workers.

 


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