Bayo Onanuga

Buhari, Osinbajo: big tasks ahead

Buhari, Osinbajo: big tasks ahead

Nigeria’s Vice-President elect, Professor Yemi Osinbajo could well have been playing General Sani Abacha’s role, the dark-goggled army officer who announced the coup that toppled Alhaji Shehu Shagari’s regime at the end of 1983, when Osinbajo addressed a policy forum of the All Progressives Congress in Abuja last week.

He told the stunned audience that the Jonathan administration is bequeathing a debt of $60 billion,(the figure is now $67 billion) both domestic and external, and a debt service of close to a trillion naira, representing 21 per cent of the budget for this year.

He further said 110 million Nigerians are living in extreme poverty, that the Federal Government is unable to fund its recurrent expenses from its income and has been borrowing to do so. Most disconcerting of all his disclosures is that two-thirds of Nigerian states are unable to pay civil servants.

Remarkably, the issues raised were the same issues then Brigadier Sani Abacha canvassed in announcing the overthrow of the four-year-old administration of Alhaji Shehu Shagari on 31 December 1983. Abacha in a voice that resonated well on radio said:

“You are all living witnesses to the great economic predicament and uncertainty, which an inept and corrupt leadership has imposed on our beloved nation for the past four years. I am referring to the harsh, intolerable conditions under which we are now living. Our economy has been hopelessly mismanaged; we have become a debtor and beggar nation… health services are in shambles as our hospitals are reduced to mere consulting clinics without drugs, water and equipment.

“Our educational system is deteriorating at alarming rate. Unemployment figures including the undergraduates have reached embarrassing and unacceptable proportions.

“In some states, workers are being owed salary arrears of eight to twelve months and in others there are threats of salary cuts. Yet our leaders revel in squander mania, corruption and indiscipline, and continue to proliferate public appointments in complete disregard of our stark economic realities.”

Hours after Abacha’s speech, Major-General Muhammadu Buhari, unfurled as the new head of state, harped on the same theme and even painted a more graphic picture of the state of the nation:

“It is true that there is a worldwide economic recession.

“However, in the case of Nigeria, its impact was aggravated by mismanagement. We believe the appropriate government agencies have good advice but the leadership disregarded their advice. The situation could have been avoided if the legislators were alive to their constitutional responsibilities; Instead, the legislators were preoccupied with determining their salary scales, fringe benefit and unnecessary foreign travels, et al, which took no account of the state of the economy and the welfare of the people they represented.

“As a result of our inability to cultivate financial discipline and prudent management of the economy, we have come to depend largely on internal and external borrowing to execute government projects with attendant domestic pressure and soaring external debts, thus aggravating the propensity of the outgoing civilian administration to mismanage our financial resources. Nigeria was already condemned perpetually with the twin problem of heavy budget deficits and weak balance of payments position, with the prospect of building a virile and viable economy.”

Although General Buhari passed this verdict on the Shagari administration in 1983, the excerpted part also accurately captures Jonathan’s legacy in 2015. Were Buhari to graft this in his inaugural speech on 29 May, it will certainly be in sync, with the present national mood.

We cannot continue to run a nation, where the bureaucracy and the political class at the centre eat up 92 per cent of budgetary resources. Even worse in the states, where maintenance of government now gobbles everything that is available and even more, leaving nothing for 99 per cent of the population and development.

By a curious coincidence, the two civilian administrations that messed their country the same way, three decades apart, left the garbage for Buhari to clear.

I remember the patriotic efforts of the Buhari-Idiagbon regime then, cutting foreign travelling allowances, refusing to entrap Nigeria in an IMF loan, introducing oil counter trade to pay for imports and services, breaking the warehouses to deal with profiteers and hoarders to make ‘essential commodities’ such as rice, sugar, milk available to millions of Nigerians at government prices. Unforgettable was the regime’s War Against Indiscipline that saw ‘wild’ Nigerians in the urban areas, now queuing at bus stops and the post-offices and wherever some kind of order needed to be observed.

Just as it was not an easy task in Buhari’s first time, the challenges ahead promise to be an even more daunting task as Nigeria faces the biggest mess ever.

For the new administration, the immediate problem it will confront is labour unrest, with workers in several states either already on strike or preparing to do so, over unpaid salaries. If we add the millions of jobs that we need to provide our youths, the massive work on infrastructure that needs to be accomplished, the need for 24 hour power supply, the Boko Haram crisis, the unending threats, oil theft and sabotage of oil facilities in Niger Delta, one will agree that President Muhammadu Buhari and his vice-president are in for a rough ride as caretakers of Nigeria. Their job is not enviable, just like it is for state governors, who will be overwhelmed by serious financial problems in their domains.

Evolving enduring solutions will be the big competence test of the All Progressives Congress to govern Nigeria at the centre. It will determine whether the APC is a real change agent, different from PDP that will justify the very high public expectations.

The point of beginning will be to hold the outgoing regime to account for all the money stolen by government officials and contractors. Buhari must bring an end to the era of impunity in this country. Leaders must give account of their stewardship.

Then government needs to trim fast its recurrent expenditure. Government officials travelling locally and abroad must travel economy class. Political office holders from the president downwards must feed themselves from their pay and stop the feeding frenzy on public treasury. The National Assembly budget must be reduced. Perks of office need to be reviewed. Official convoys and aircraft for the president must be reduced.

Government agencies, carrying out similar tasks must be merged. The Oronsaye report that Jonathan failed to implement should be revisited.

We cannot continue to run a nation, where the bureaucracy and the political class at the centre eat up 92 per cent of budgetary resources. Even worse in the states, where maintenance of government now gobbles everything that is available and even more, leaving nothing for 99 per cent of the population and development.

The essence of government is to cater for the greater majority of our people not one or two per cent of the population. The lopsided allocation of resources at the detriment of the people must end.

Happily, the APC has a manifesto or what it calls a road map and hopefully, President Muhammadu Buhari will not be lost in the wilderness navigating a way out of Nigeria’s monstrous problems.

Bayo Onanuga

Bayo Onanuga

*Onanuga is the CEO of TheNEWS Group