The point is often tossed about, that the Buhari Administration is frail on the economic front. Myth or reality, this perception is widespread. On the other hand, Buhari’s achievements in tackling corruption, and addressing the insurgency are acknowledged almost by acclamation. However, Buhari’s proponents insist that an economy, which for sixteen years had been undermined by the predatory waywardness of the previous administration, meant that Buhari inherited it, dead on arrival.
The Jonathan years had clearly drained the life-blood from the Nigerian economy, leaving the incoming government with a public service challenge of spectacular proportions. Buhari’s own early slow-motion disposition, along with his inclination to trawl for saints, may not have helped matters. Yet the challenge before him was dire and undeniable. It was a troubled economy in every sense. 70% of the population lived in poverty; economic growth stood at 5.5%, while foreign reserve declined to 31billion dollars. Even though loose money seemed to be showered like confetti upon a tiny indulgent elite, unemployment rose to 28% while the misery index, at 51%, announced to the world, that all was not well with the nation.
Buhari’s emergence in the circumstance in 2015, was the response of providence to the private and public yearnings of millions of Nigerians. The demand for change and the optimism in the air were truly epic. In some sense therefore, Buhari, may himself have been destined to become the undeserved victim, of the people’s hysterical quest for a new dawn.
Given this hysteria and given the nature of the problems Buhari inherited, it was always likely that they would be a lacuna. At the economic front, the Buhari government soon found its feet and was able to tackle some of the problems head-on. However, some of our people, led by a section of our elites, often made the point that the Buhari government had no economic team. This attitude was wrongheaded and mostly primed by needless cynicism. There was indeed an economic team headed by the Vice President. The other part of this cynicism flowed from a lack of proper acknowledgement of the professional fitness of Nigeria’s Finance Minister, Mrs Kemi ADEOSUN. In the early days, with her exceedingly young looks, she seemed to compare rather unfavorably with Mrs Ngozi Okonjo Iweala.
Now, nearly three years down the line, the Nigerian economy is stirring back to vitality, and those who once jeered at its managers, now stand and applaud. They perhaps now remember that Kemi Adeosun has had a grooming in economics and before taking the Nigerian job, she had had a sterling career in international accounting entities. The implementation of the National Economic Recovery and Growth Plan ERGP has taken Nigeria out of her worst recession in 29 years. And this has been in spite of a downturn in oil prices. In a nation known for its miserly concessions to the capital subhead, the Buhari Government has disbursed 2 trillion naira to capital/ infrastructure projects, a record in the history of Nigeria’s public finance. A number of other initiatives have been introduced, and have either raised public revenue or increased transparency in the conduct of public policy. These include the TSA, the implementation of the BVN and the signing into law of the Secured Transaction in Movable Assets Act 2017, t he Credit Reporting Act 2017 and the institutionalization of E-Governance which sets the foundation for the creation of a truly digital economy. The Buhari government has also assisted in bailing out out cash-strapped states, 27 in all. The anti graft fight is continuing and the old climate of promiscuous disbursement which fueled public theft belongs to yesterday.
The Nigerian economy still faces many challenges. Unemployment is a growing danger and even though initiatives such as the Voluntary Asset Income Asset Declaration Schème VAIDS attempt to raise revenue, new income streams will remain an abiding necessity. Poverty alleviation imposes enduring responsibilities on our government in relation to its citizens. The economy has been dragged out of recession. While we congratulate ourselves and the managers of our economy, it is helpful to remind everyone that it is not yet uhuru. Hands on the plough please!