By Jaye Gaskia
In putting this piece together, I have been troubled by two interrelated things: first, I have tried to refrain from doing a mid-term assessment of this ‘’Çhange Regime’’’, and particularly exactly on the halfway mark into its tenure in order not to risk having what I want to say and focus on drowned in the sea of expected assessments.
And second, I have been ruminating, even agonising over how to assess an inchoate government, a regime that one has had to describe as ‘ill-prepared to govern’, and or ‘incapable of governing’ at various times in the last two years.
In struggling with these, I have concluded that there three possible ways to approach an assessment of a regime that postures as a corrective regime.
One can assess the regime and ruling self-proclaimed ‘Governing Party’ [Some are want, albeit mischievously, to say ‘Un-governing Party’], on the basis of the famous [or is it better stated as infamous] 271 campaign promises. A number of people and organisations have been, and are actually doing this and have been tracking the level of fulfilment of those 271 promises.
One can again assess the ‘Corrective Regime’ on the basis of what it has come to canonise as its Three  cardinal programs: Fighting Corruption; Fighting Insecurity; And Revamping the economy.
One can also choose to assess the self-acclaimed ‘’Change Government’’ on the basis of our own expectation of change as a people, as citizens, who by rendering their civic duties as electorates, voted out the previous blundering and congenitally incompetent government, and elected what was projected as a viable alternative.
However, the best approach seems to be one that is a combination of all three approaches, and it is the way I have chosen to go.
So how far has the current regime gone mid-way into its four-year tenure? And oh yes, it is important to stress that regardless of a ruling political party’s wish, or an incumbent government’s ambitions, the constitutionally guaranteed tenure given to the regime by the electoral mandate of 2015 is for just four years!
The president may seek re-election only for one more tenure, while the party may seek re-election several more times. Nevertheless, those decisions are in the future, and they are not automatically guaranteed that the electorate will grant either wish or endorse their ambition.
In fact, given the turn of events with the 2015 general elections and its outcome, it is safe to conclude that the basis for granting of wish and or endorsement of ambition is going to be rooted in the electorates assessment of the performance of the government and ruling party in the course of the current tenure. And we are already past the half way mark!
I know that there are still some die-hard supporters who insist that it is too soon to assess the performance of this government, that it is somehow unfair to try to compare just two years in the saddle with the 16 years that the former ruling party spent in the saddle!
While these self-serving considerations may sound plausible, they are actually ingenious attempts to dismiss reason, and substitute it with illusions.
We have been told by both the regime and its supporters that the mess they met was too massive, that it will take time to clear the Aegean stable, and that the regime is laying the foundations for a turnaround in our fortunes.
Well, we all know our historical experience with the unending and continuously failing turnaround maintenances of our moribund public refineries.
So, guess what? I have news for the regime. We are not buying. We are not buying their ill-prepared, poorly packaged, and uncertified product!
There is a proverb that goes something like this, ‘if one were to use 20 years to prepare for madness, for how many decades is one going to be insane’?
And there is a second one that says, ‘We get a glimpse of what Saturday will look like from how Friday has unravelled’.
So, on to our integrated approach to assess the regime’s performance or lack of it in office. Let us however be fair as well as be clear; the regime and ruling party inherited a huge, even humongous mess.
But that was exactly the basis of their campaign, the notion that the country was dropping into a bottomless pit of bad governance. And that was precisely why citizens through the 2015 general elections unceremoniously booted out the previous bungling regime, and disintegrating ruling party, and replaced them with the current government and new ruling party.
The previous regime was voted out because it got us stuck fast and sinking in a swamp, and the current regime was voted in to clear the mess, because it said with confidence that it knew what was wrong, it knew what to do, and it was in a position to clear the mess.
Two years down the road, and given its continuous proclamations about the hugeness of the inherited mess, it is safe to conclude, that the regime is so thoroughly overwhelmed by the mess it met as to be confused and paralysed by it.
Those who have tracked and who are tracking the 271 electoral promises have been unanimous in concluding that less than 5% of the promises have been fulfilled or are being fulfilled. And you can check out the Buharimeter project of Centre for Democracy and Development [CDD]; or the promise tracking projects of BudgIT and Enough Is Enough [EiE] for more detailed information on how the regime is faring with respect to the 271 electoral promises that it made on the road to power.
What is obvious is that by all accounts, the performance of the regime on this basis has been a dismal failure.
From the very beginning however, upon being inaugurated, and encountering the real challenge of governance, the regime went down the route of denial, renouncing these promises, or proclaiming repeatedly that it never made these promises. But this is the digital age, records are available online on the internet of where, when, how, and by whom the promises were made. It is how we aggregated the total numbers of promises to be 271 in the first place.
The vigorous denials of the new government were however early warning signs with regards to its ability and capability to deliver on its promises.
What about the three cardinal programs of Fighting corruption, fighting insecurity, and revamping the economy that the regime does own up to?
Let’s take these one by one as the saying goes.
What is happening on the anti-corruption front? There have been mixed results on this front. And although the Anti-corruption Agencies [ACAs] have become bolder and more feasible, thanks to the famous body language of the president, a lot is happening that shows clearly that there are still very huge gaps.
Quite a lot of people have observed that there still appears to be some sacred cows that cannot or will not be touched. A case in point is how long it took for the government to take action on the now suspended SGF of the Grass Cutting fame. Even now, that action taken quite late, seems like the SGF against whom it was taken to have become a suspended action as well.
There is also the fact that of the dearth of concluded high profile cases, and the absence of high profile convictions. In fact, of recent, many high profile cases have been lost in court.
Perhaps this is why the ACAs, and in particular the EFCC has adopted the strategy of media prosecution in the court of public opinion. The intention seems to aggressively name and shame by providing the public with all the necessary details of the alleged corruption. The expected outcome seems to be the creation of a groundswell of public outrage so as to make the environment no longer conducive to the acceptance of corruption and the corrupt.
And while I quite agree with this strategy, I dare say that it is not self-sufficient. The present context gives the indication that there are still ingrained systemic and structural challenges, that are not being addressed as quickly as possible, and without whose redress, the anti-corruption war will remain at best ambiguous and precarious.
There are challenges of coordination and synergy among ACAs and the security and law enforcement agencies. What is needed is one single lead agency to coordinate the interagency approach to investigation, prosecution and adjudication.
What is also lacking is an all of government approach. Armstrong by the internal divisions within the ruling party, the arms of government and levels of government all controlled by the ruling party have not been able to act in harmony. Instead they have been acting in uncoordinated and oftentimes contradictory manners.
The regime seems to be focused on tackling corruption at end of the spectrum when corruption has already taken place. There is nothing visible being done at the prevention and mitigation end. Procurement processes, audit processes, and the offices of the accountant general and auditor general and not being strengthened, and their reports are not being engaged with.
Furthermore, the National Assembly [NASS] continues to fail in its oversight responsibilities in checking corruption.
If it was in order to address these systemic challenges that the Presidential Committee Against Corruption [PACAC] was established by the regime, then it curious how midway into the tenure of the regime the proposed recommendations to tackle the structural and systemic problems have not yet been taken on board.
Perhaps this is another case that calls for the proclamation of Executive Orders in the interim. It is also instructive that the regime has not been so forthcoming and forthright about how much has been recovered, from whom, and when it was recovered, how the recovered loot is being, or is going to be utilised.
It is safe to conclude that with respect to the war against corruption, the results have been mixed, and the environment remains permissive.
Now let us turn to the Fight against Insecurity. From the very beginning it seemed that regime’s perception of insecurity was and primarily remains the Boko Haram Insurgency in the North East, and secondarily the militancy and pipeline vandalism in the Niger Delta.
This strategic understanding of the nature of the threat of insecurity confronting the country has also informed its strategic response which has been predominantly focused on defeating the Boko Haram insurgency, and ending militancy, both of them regarded as existential threats; Boko Haram because of its territorial threat, and the militancy because of its threat to government revenue.
Unfortunately, because of this near-complete reorientation of the military, security and law enforcement architecture on these two threats – the insurgency and the militancy; other trends have been enabled to grow and evolve so much so that they seem to have cancelled out the gains made in tackling the insurgency and the militancy.
These resurgent security threats include the deepening Pastoralist and Farmers conflict with a potential to engulf the entire length and breadth of the country; as well as the rampant kidnappings and other acts of criminalities; as well as the increasing stridency of self-determination and separatist agitations and their repercussions.
So again, while the insurgency may have been beaten back, the militancy contained, and the security threats emanating from them considerably reduced; nevertheless new monsters of insecurity are emerging and are being enabled to grow and evolve, some of them beginning to acquire like the previous ones, the quality and character of existential threat to the nation.
The ability, capability and capacity of the Military, Security, and Law enforcement agencies need to be built to enable them tackle multiple security threats. Coordination needs to be strengthened, and synergy needs to be built.
Many say we are under policed and reference only the Police in making the assertion. Yet we have the Civil Defence, we have the Road Safety, and we have several legislation backed security and policing outfits at state level.
If we combine the total number of personnel engaged by these outfits, it does not seem like we are under policed. What does seem to be the problem is our inability to deploy effectively and put into combined use all the outfits and their available personnel at our disposable for effective policing.
This too has not happened, or is yet to happen under this regime as well.
So now we move to the economy, albeit the weakest link in the chain of this corrective regime. The statistics and indices remain damning.
The flagship thrust of the government’s plan to revamp the economy has been focused on reducing poverty, creating jobs and reducing unemployment, and building infrastructure.
So how has it fared?
The economy slipped into recession at the beginning 2016 and remained in recession all through 2016. That trend of economic contraction has continued into Q1 2017, and it seems like Q2 2017 will also return negative GDP growth.
Inflation rose from less than 13% in 2014 to about 18% around which it has been hovering currently. Likewise unemployment which had already risen to 25% in 2014 continued its soaring trajectory reaching 35.2% in Q2 2017 [14.2% unemployment and 21% underemployment].
And although the economic contraction and rate of inflation seem to be slowing, unemployment on the other hand and poverty rate, including the gap between the rich and poor seem to be gathering steam on the other hand.
This remains a recipe for disaster. It is an indication that even if we return to growth, that growth is now considerably more exclusive than previously.
Furthermore, the regime also seems to have a penchant for borrowing, thence the total debt stock of the country has now risen to N19.16tn as at March 2017 from N12.06tn as at March 2015, an increase of N7.1tn in just two years. And we are still borrowing more.
Is this debt sustainable? We are now spending roughly about 35% of annual budget on debt servicing, much more than we are spending on capital expenditure.
The government has argued that the borrowing is to finance capital expenditure and infrastructure development; nevertheless, we are yet to see the benefits of these huge borrowings on infrastructure development.
The power sector remains in comatose, and although installed generation capacity has increased, installed distribution and transmission capacity continues to decline, with result that generated power cannot be successfully evacuated and transmitted to end users. This is why actual power generation capacity/available power generation have not been able to climb above 4,500MWs, and why the system continues to witness endless partial and total system collapses.
Again the government seem to be keen on investment in rail transport, and much of the borrowing seems focused on financing this. Nevertheless, it does not seem that there is any effective strategic purpose to this end other than the assumption that in will improve transport of persons.
What about transport of goods and cargo? What about linking raw materials sources to end users? How is the rail transport going to be linked and integrated with road transport, air transport, or maritime transport for that matter?
How can this happen when road transport is under Ministry of Works, Housing and Power; while rail and other transport is under Ministry of Transport?
Arguably the logistics of energy provision and transportation are some of the core costs of doing business and contribute significantly to the situation with respect to the ease of doing business.
It took the regime nearly two years, until May 2017 to issue executive orders around the ease of doing business. The first progress report is expected in six months, that is two and a half years into the tenure of the regime, and one a half year to the end of its tenure. Yet, a presidential committee on the ease of doing business has been in existence for nearly a year and a half.
These Executive orders could have been issued within the first three months of the tenure of the regime.
Similarly, it has taken two years to come up with an economic recovery program, and this after a full year of economic recession! Yet it had countless opportunities to have had this economic and national development program developed. For example when it was preparing to take office between the declaration of the results and the inauguration in 2015; when it was preparing its first MTEF and MTSS in readiness for the 2016 budget; and when it was preparing its second MTEF and MTSS towards the 2017 budget.
But even after coming this late, and halfway into the tenure of the regime, its Economic Recovery and Growth Plan [ERGP] is still very much a wish list, and still speaks the language of proposition [we shall do this, we shall do that]; And more importantly while it is long on what the regime wants to do, it is abysmally short on how it intends to do it.
The ERGP states very clearly that implementation strategies and Action plans will still have to be developed for each of the sectors and priority areas and pillars of the plan!
Really? So, when will these implementation strategies and action plans be developed? By the third anniversary of the regime? And when will implementation of the ERGP actually commence? At the end of its current tenure?
Another flagship program of the regime is the Social Investment Program [SIP]. N500bn was budgeted for it in 2016 and this was loudly orchestrated by the regime. However, sadly we now know that not more than N47bn has been appropriated and spent on the program so far!
Specifically, of the 700,000 youths that were to be engaged in the various N-Power schemes [Rural teaching, and agriculture extensions services]. Only 200,000 have been engaged, while none has been engaged for agriculture extension services.
Of the 5.5 million school pupils expected to be fed one a meal a day in the Home-Grown School Feeding [HGSF] program, only about 1.2 million, across 7 states, have been fed 24 meals at a total cost of N7.09bn [an average cost of N674,785 per child over 24 days/meals or an average of N28,116 per meal per child]!
Similarly, of the 1 million traders and artisans projected to benefit from a business support grant of N100,000, only about 60,000 have been reached!
So with the cost of doing business continuing to rise, with ease of doing business continuing to constrained, with industrial capacity utilisation continuing to decline, and with the resultant closure of companies and businesses and pressure on unemployment, it is debatable if this can be considered an economic performance level higher than poor or abysmal.
Finally, we look at our own expectations of change. Contrary to our expectations, cost of living has continued to rise, while conditions of living have been declining.
The budgetary process remains the same as it was inherited plagued with late preparation, late passage and underperformance; while the decline in the state of basic infrastructures and basic service delivery continue to deepen. What’s more the level of budget performance has not been fundamentally different from what was obtainable in the past.
Furthermore, this government like previous ones have not engaged, at least not publicly with the reports of the auditor general’s office, nor has it implemented in any fundamentally different way the provisions of the Public Procurements Act and the Fiscal Responsibility Act [PPA and FRA].
The conclusion that is starring one in the face is that change is yet to be manifestly clear in the structure, content and process of government in any fundamental and sustainable manner.
Besides, taken together, and overall, looking at the electoral promises of the regime, the three cardinal programs that it owns up to as underlying the thrust of its governance, as well as our own expectations of change; the regime’s performance, half way into its tenure has been poor, considerably below average.
It reinforces the conclusion that it was ill-prepared to govern, and even more fundamentally because of the antagonistic nature of its internal contradictions, unable to govern at best, or incapable of governing at worst.
Jaye Gaskia is Co-convener of Say No Campaign [SNC]; And National Co-ordinator of Protest To Power Movement [P2PM].
Follow him on Twitter: @jayegaskia; and interact with him on FaceBook: Jaye Gaskia: Take Back Nigeria: & Open Call To Action pages
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