By Ignatius Arinze
Quite a number of people have criticized the leadership style of President Muhammadu Buhari. The criticisms have ranged from that the former military officer turned politician is too slow or that he has no economic plan.
However, when one realizes that most of these critics are politically- motivated and are those from the political party that lost the landmark 2015 national elections, it becomes clear that their view does not represent a true picture of the stewardship of the President.
One wants to state boldly from the outset that President Buhari’s administration has engendered a revolution of sorts in the entire national economy of Nigeria. It is this revolution that saved the country from total economic ruin considering the profligacy and deep- seated corruption of the predecessor government. The underlining philosophy of the economic agenda of the Buhari administration is that things must be done differently for the country to survive. This was necessary in view of the precarious situation where the old way of doing things put the country.
First, the administration of President Buhari made anti- corruption a prime policy of his government and to do this, he took the bold step of ensuring blockade of leakages in the system and putting in place a system that made accountability and transparency inevitable.
The introduction of the TSA or Treasury Single Account was revolutionary. We have been told several times that the TSA, was the brain- child of the previous administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan and his economic team. The question arises, knowing that such a system of financial control and checks and balances would have saved government finances from thieves in the system, why was the erstwhile administration reluctant in implementing it fully? It is one thing to introduce a new system or policy that would benefit a nation but it is another thing to acquire the guts and political will to implement the policy. Unfortunately, the previous administration for all its claim to brilliance and innovativeness, left the country in the hands of wolves who made a game of misuse and outright stealing of public funds. For this reason, no member of that previous government should be entrusted again with public office or finance for at least 15 years while the political vehicle under which they violated the country should only come to power after a detailed apology to the people of Nigeria for their misrule and a promise that if they are entrusted with power, under no guise should any of those who took part in the financial and economic ruination of the country be allowed near any public office!
Part of the Buhari revolution is having the guts and the political will to take the tough measures that would restore sanity to a society and economy in chaos.
While one agrees that the strict implementation of the TSA, came with hardship on the people and institutions, it was part of the measures intended to instill new attitudes and ways of doing things necessary to give birth to the society of Change and give impetus to the Change mantra of the government. Nigerians needed to change their attitude and ways of doing things to survive. For example, part of this new orientation is that rather than for business people and even manufacturers to depend solely on the government for foreign exchange got only from crude oil sales, end- users of foreign exchange in Buhari’s Nigeria, are compelled to endeavor to source for foreign exchange. To do this sourcing which is quite a new way of thinking, Nigerians had to produce for export from where they earn foreign exchange and contribute forex to the economy.
Flowing from the above comes the economic thinking and revolution of diversification. Diversification means that Nigerians have to pursue different economic ventures aside the dependence on oil production and sales. In pursuing this line, agriculture and large scale farming comes into the picture. And when you engage in large scale farming, you just don’t sell the products the way it was harvested, value need to be added to attract attention and good pricing overseas. Second, large scale agriculture addressing the need of the nation is incompatible with the nation depending on imports to feed its huge population. Therefore a corollary is that the nation while seeking to export and make foreign exchange ought to reduce the amount of foreign exchange that it expends for food imports or imports of basic staple.
Rice imports and cultivation comes to mind here. Buhari’s economic revolution, vigorously pursued has made rice cultivation, a major creator of employment, foreign exchange earner and wait for the clincher, increase in production caused by governments policy drive has tremendously reduced the amount of billions in naira hitherto expended by the country in importing the commodity from Indonesia and Thailand, the World’s biggest producers of the past. Nigeria is now getting set to become a major producer. Significantly, sensing the seriousness with which Nigeria has cut import of rice, and desirous of partaking in the billion naira rice business in the country, information show that the Indonesians and their Thai counterparts are entering into new business relationships with Nigerian producers of rice to remain relevant in the production process in Nigeria.
The Nigerian economy that was in recession because of a combination of factors has come out of recession though gingerly but it has come out. What is required is that the government, citizens and stakeholders keep faith with the measures and policies that made exit possible in the first place, to ensure consolidation.
And this consolidation and the conditions that would make it possible are here with us. Again, thanks to President Buhari.
One is thinking of Nigeria’s advancement on the Ease of doing Business ranking for the year 2018 made public recently as well as the country’s new status as one of the World’s most improved economies. The result is foreign investors are looking again at Nigeria with a lot of seriousness ready to come in to do business. This should give more confidence and encourage local investors to have a bright outlook on the nation’s economy.
Nigeria’s improved ranking on the Ease of Doing Business chart did not come by happenstance. President Buhari, to give impetus to the economy and encourage foreign and local investment specifically requested that something be done about the business climate in the country and at the amount of time and requirement for new businesses to take root. The Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo was given the responsibility to work on this with a team and the result is Nigeria’s current position. In fact, Nigeria jumped 24 places to be in 145 positions. One can better imagine where the country was before now, and the nightmare which doing business in Nigeria must have been.
According to the report, the areas that Nigeria improved are starting a new business, dealing with construction permits, registering a property, getting credit and paying taxes.
While Nigeria’s improvement is commendable, the 145th position on ease of doing business is not enough to give the country the efficient, modern developed economy that all Nigerians would love to see most notably, President Buhari.
A lot needs to be done to raise the business friendly profile of Nigeria. Notable of these is the availability of critical infrastructure that promotes business like good roads and well- constructed bridges, railways and waterways and adequate and reliable electricity. Nonetheless, the Buhari administration is on course with its revolution to put the nation’s economy on a solid footing.
Ignatius Arinze is a Public Commentator and lives in Abuja.