Sanya Oni: A President’ New Year promise

Welcome to 2013, a year declared by President Goodluck Jonathan as one that will witness improved governance. Just as it is natural at this time of the year for individuals and households to project on the promises of the immediate future, our President, in addition to his charming Goodluck, seems to have taken to the ancient mystical art of crystal-ball gazing in the bid to assure us that the journey to his Nigerian Eldorado is on course.

First, was the occasion of the foundation laying ceremony of Living Faith Foundation Bible College in Kaduna on Christmas Eve where the President spoke of better times for the citizens in the New Year. His words: let me assure all of you and indeed Nigerians that 2013 will be better for us than 2012 in all aspects of the nation’s history (sic). The New Year shall be better for us in terms of job creation, wealth creation and improved security among others”.

Days after – this time at the Christmas Service in Abuja, the President broached on the subject of perception of his administration as being a slow one.

Again, his words: “people say this government is slow. Yes, by human thinking, we are slow; but I can say that we are not slow. He added, perhaps for emphasis, that “the government will not, because of the perception, begin to rush….”

Although, the latter must have come to many Nigerians as a new one, from the President, it may well be evidence that the cries and anguish on the Main Street have finally pierced through the impervious walls of the Villa.

A snail speed administration? C’mon, that would be far more tolerable than the astonishing inertia or even the outrageous but expensive presidential indulgence of outsourced governance – the variant of which finds expression in irrational fatalistic abdication; the practice of leaving routine matters of governance in the hand of the supernatural in a supposedly secular, presidential democracy.

Without taking anything from the rare candour of the presidential admission that the past year was a colossal disaster as far as governance went, I have struggled in vain to find the substance in the so-called solid foundation on which the President plans to erect his transformational infrastructure.

Let’s begin with the touted claims of achievement. The most obvious one of course is the “improved” performance in the power sector. Considering the state of power generation which is said to have hit the 4,500 Mw, it must be galling to most Nigerians that a federal government that has poured over $20 billion in the last decade has been on an orgy of wild jubilation over the incremental achievement – a notional improvement that is no more than 25 percent – in electricity supplies.

Or the railways. Amazingly, the nation is supposed to be in frenzy that the railways has been primed to run –on the same old, disused Lugardian tracks. How about touting the “feat” of the overpaid Chinese contractors in fixing the relics in the age of high speed trains as “transformation”!

In the last year, more industries closed shop than we have had new start-ups. We know why: the same old, worn, recycled but nonetheless valid tales of inclement policies, infrastructure deficit, high interest rates, and other countless bureaucratic impediments which constitute the body and soul of industries’ lack of competitiveness.

And the result? Manufacturing remains at the abysmal low level of 4 percent contribution to the GDP – the level it was at independence. We remain net importer of just about anything – from refined fuel to domestic consumables, and to industrial spares.

We have since found a magic in starting our charity abroad. Not for Olusegun Aganga, Jonathan’s Trade and Commerce minister, the reciprocity subsumed in global trade relations. Progress, Nigeria style, is denominated in foreign investment: the higher the number of those high-octane cocktails in off-shore hotels packaged as foreign investment drive, the more progress is said to be made. The question of how foreign investments would thrive in an environment littered with carcasses of dead industries hardly matter. How about herding our policy wonks for a refresher course in Globalisation 102?

Today, the single greatest threat to the nation’s socio-economic stability is unemployment. The figure is said to be some 25 percent with youth unemployment put at a frightening 50 percent rate. That’s nearly twice the population of our neighbour, Ghana. What’s being done? The last I heard was that the inelegantly couched Sure-P headed by Christopher Kolade, an extra-constitutional contraption very much like the PTF, has been drafted to the rescue.

What more can be written about the security situation that is not already known? There is war with the Boko Haram in the North; kidnappers are threatening to overrun the South. The capacity of the nation’s military is stretched thin – bogged down with internal security operations with no signs of respite on the horizon. The police, being no match for the sophistication of the criminal gangs on rampage appear overwhelmed.

Why the picture of these realities? It is to show where the nation is coming from. It seems to me the only way to evaluate the President’s prognosis for the year. After all, isn’t it said that were wishes to be horses, beggars would ride?

So much for the President’s exaggerated picture of 2013; last year for instance, it took a paralysing protest over the fuel price hikes to move the President to act on the racket of fuel subsidy funds administration. Twelve months after that holy rage forced the President to commit his administration to the establishment of three new refineries, it has since backtracked: the refineries are no longer on the table.

In the year ended, the nation spent N1.3 trillion on fuel imports; this year, the figure is likely to be much higher. Lost on the hierarchs of the administration are the drag-on effects of the avoidable fuel import regime on the nation’s foreign exchange reserves and the economy as a whole.

Consider also that it took the threat of impeachment to prod the President to implement the capital provisions of the 2012 budget. Thanks to executive-bureaucratic inertia, the roads remain a picture of abandonment. Sprucing up airport terminals may be Minister Stella Oduah’s idea of modernisation, the aviation sector is nowhere modern or safer any more than new entrants are willing to venture into the sector.

My prognosis for the year? Nothing will change. Not in the quality and pace of governance. The bazaar driving its processes will continue no doubt. Industry capacity utilisation is likely to remain, pretty even. Surely, no one expects unemployment to come down; Not the interest rate. The monetary authorities will continue their ‘inflation targeting’ while the real economy grinds to a halt.

You ask why? I say there is too much thinking within the box. Isn’t it said also that ‘what you see is what you get’?

Happy New Year!


– Sanya Oni

Read original piece via The Nation

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