2019 Elections: Nigeria and the bold choice that matter
Nigeria is in a distress, struggling with an uncertain future. Even though, the country returned to democratic rule about 20 years ago, expectations and hopes have been stifled by high level of incompetence and politicians’ deceitful trends. In fact, the perceptions that heralded civil rule are fast eroded as the doldrums of several years of military rule still persists.
Elections are here in Nigeria again
Every four years, politicians resort to all sort of tricks to warm themselves into the minds of the electorate but turn around to shatter expectations with poor service delivery that have stagnated both social and economic growth. From education to healthcare services, the people bear horrendous experiences in the face of abundant resources.
Those who are meant to serve the people continuously work at cross-purpose to collective agendas and put the well-being of the people at an awkward situation. It is apparent that politicians are not worth their words but the people seem not giving up hopes in democracy and continue to push on in spite of the glaring breaches of their trusts.
Despite the disappointments, there is yet an alternative to democracy and expectedly, the race for the top political seat in Nigeria is at an intense point and then the two leading parties, the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), have been touring parts of the country to convince electorate on the suitability of their choices. While the APC candidate, President Muhammadu Buhari, is seeking the renewal of his mandate, the PDP candidate, Atiku Abubakar, pushes for a change in the leadership of the country. Both Buhari and Atiku have set in motion strategies and structures to outwit each other.
Interestingly, not only politicians have taken to the permutation rooms to compare thoughts on who deserves the key to Aso Rock. Unlike before, political awareness has soared and citizens are paying more attention to those who seeks their votes.
From the students to the petty traders on the street, everyone is keen on who wins the presidential seat. Maybe, they have come to realize that the choice of whoever presides the affairs of the country bears so much on their respective endeavours and they would not want to lose out their chances of exerting their agenda on whosoever takes the seat.
Distraughtly, however, is the uninspiring outlook of the situation that stares the country in the face. Irrespective of who wins the presidential seat, there are daunting challenges that poses for a sound and workable solutions. Nigeria is severely bleeding on all fronts and its future threatened with uncertainty. Though, the agony and frustration of the people are quite evident but their anxiousness to correct the anomalies of the past must be focus on the right remedy.
Buhari and his party, APC, had raised hopes of restoring the country on the right path but nearly four years of pulling a major upset by defeating an incumbent, nothing has really changed. In fact, things seem to have taken an awful turn. For instance, Boko Haram was the security concerns that ravaged Northeastern states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa before Buhari took power but little or nothing have changed in the devastating attacks of the insurgents, who now targets military installations lately.
This was aside series violent attacks on farming populated Benue and Plateau states by gun wielding herdsmen, which has cost several lives and destruction of properties. Bandits onslaught in Zamfara state and some parts of Kaduna state, has also thrown-up widows and children who have been deprived of their parents. There is also threatening security incidents in Sokoto state and Buhari’s Katsina home state, forcing the governor, Aminu Bello Masari, to alert that “Our state is currently under serious siege by armed robbers, kidnappers and armed bandits who arrest rural people at will and demand ransom, which if not paid, results in the killing their victims.”
That is the terrifying security situation in the country now, turning millions of Nigerians into Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in their own country. Compounding the security nightmare is the prevailing unemployment rate, which according to the Nigeria Bureau of Statistics hovers around 21 million persons. Unemployment rate appeared to have gone worse under Buhari as data from the country’s statistical agency noted that those without jobs reached an all-time high of 23.10 percent in the third quarter of 2018 compared to 8.20 percent in the second quarter when he took the saddle.
Many have attributed the sharp increase in unemployment data to Buhari poor economic policies, especially the Forex application, which they argued snuffed life out of many companies and discouraged investments that would have facilitate employments. This may have invariably contributed to the country’s slide into extreme poverty to overtake India as the poverty capital of the world. A report by Brookings Institutions projected that 87 million Nigerians are battling extreme poverty.
But the most challenging is the debt stock of the country, which continue to spiral at an alarming rate. According to figures from the Debt Management Office (DMO), Nigeria’s external debt rose from $10.32 billion in June 2015 to a staggering $22.08 billion in just three years. This means that within three years of Buhari presidency, Nigeria’s debt worth grew by 114.05 percent. Within that same period, the country’s exposure to foreign commercial loans surged from $1.5 billion to $8.8 billion, representing a wide difference of $7.3 billion or 486.67 percent.
These huge borrowings in just three years, which utilization remains totally unclear, stifles the abundant hopes people may have already invested in whoever emerges victorious on February 16. That is the unfortunate reality we must prepare ourselves to bear. The humongous debts incurred by this government has placed the country in a precarious situation that only financial ingenuity can resolve. This is more so as crude oil, which serves as the major revenue source is not showing any significant improvement in price at the International market.
Even the Central Bank of Nigeria is worried at the rising debt profile of the country and has cautioned the federal government on the likely implication. CBN, through its Governor, Godwin Emefiele observed after a two-day Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) meeting held at the apex bank headquarters that the country’s debt profile is alarming, noting that Nigeria may return to the pre-2005 Paris Club level. “On external borrowing, the committee noted the increase in debt level advising for caution, noting that it could fast be approaching the pre-2005 Paris Club level,” the CBN chief said.
Though, the Buhari-led government have been quick to dissuade fears on its borrowing spree, but the huge amount allocated for servicing debt in the 2019 budget. While N2.031 trillion was budgeted for capital expenditures, a whopping N2.140 trillion is allocated for debt servicing in 2019. The implication is that money that will go into repaying debts in 2019 is higher than amount that will go into building roads, bridges, schools, hospitals, etc.
As I reflected on the implications of the debt burden, I observed that the commitment of 24.3 percent of the 2019 budget to refund loans incurred, is a big issue that suffocates the financial worth of the country. If for every N100 due to the country, N24.30 will be expanded on repayment of debts, then, I wonder what level of infrastructures will N23.00, allocated to capital expenditures across the country be able to achieve. Worst still, this huge indebtedness was not committed to revenue generation ventures/projects which would have provided assurance of complimentary funds, rather, the Buhari-led government is fixated in debts that goes beyond its capacity.
Borrowing to build roads when the living standard of the people is sharply falling; borrowing to feed school children when their teachers– a core factor of a productive education system, are not adequately catered for; borrowing to fund the over bloated recurrent expenditure without any corresponding economic benefit, and others, is to say the least of my estimation, misplaced priority.
The essence of any government is to build the future and give hope to the people, but when it instead burdened it, it limits the potential of the people. Going by the lofty three-point agenda of Buhari, which convinced the people to stick to his choice as president in 2015, it is unexpected that the country would in this depressing situation and struggling for survival.
As things currently stand, the financial prospect of the country is not encouraging and this poses a great deal of challenge to whoever wins the presidential poll. Unlike any other time, those eyeing the top seat in the country must acquit themselves of the reality and give it a serious thought on how they could salvage the situation. It must be emphasized for their understanding the political awareness of the people of the state, which implies that trading blame may not be welcome by citizens. The citizens are gradually losing their patience, and giving excuse(s), rather than answers to their needs, will unravel their furry.
Oke Umurhohwo is a Political Analyst and Strategist as well as a member of the PDP. He tweets from @stalyf