Analysing President Goodluck Jonathan’s mid-term report, which he presented at an occasion to commemorate this year’s Democracy Day, Muhammad Bello observes that the report reflects a combination of high and low performances in various sectors of the country’s socio-political economy
It is two years since President Goodluck Jonathan mounted the saddle after his widely acclaimed victory in the presidential poll in 2011. Before then, his accomplishment was in the shadows of his late boss, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, whose tenure he continued after his principal died in 2010. His fresh mandate in 2011 was a chance for him to prove his mettle, be his own man and carve a niche for himself as a leader with acclaimed vision.
Immediately he was sworn-in, he unveiled his strategy for attaining his dream for the country. It was tagged Transformation Agenda. It contains, according to the Mid-term Report of the Transformation Agenda (2011-2013), the administration’s desire and capacity to transform institutional organisations and human capital to support the aspirations of Nigerians, through a blueprint on key policies, programmes and projects to be implemented during 2011-2015.
Against the backdrop of insufficient jobs and poverty, rising domestic debt, high recurrent expenditure, failing reserves, housing deficit, dependence on oil exports, high inflation, poor infrastructure and high food importation as well food insecurity, the government set out to embark on its journey of changing the course of Nigeria’s development through the fundamentals spelt out in the transformation agenda.
Although the challenges were daunting, two years on, the federal government claimed that it has built a strong economy. The Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, gave this verdict when she summarised the policies and strategies for delivering the transformation agenda in Nigeria, which is part of the mid-term report of the administration.
Okonjo-Iweala, who gave a catalogue of the problems, however, said the economy was stronger with the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) being one of the strongest in the world.
Similarly, the minister said the rate of inflation had begun to drop as it had “slowed from 9.1% from 12.4% in 2011, just as the external reserves keep on rising from $32.08 billion in May 2011 to $48.4 billion as of May 2011.”
According to her, the Excess Crude Account (ECA), which also rose from about $4 billion in the last two years to around $9 billion at the end of 2012, has now been depleted to about $6 billion by May. “The ECA now is helping us since oil production has fallen from the projected 2.53 million barrels per day (bpd) to between 2.1-2.2 bpd.”
In order to cushion the effect of emergencies, the minister said the administration had set aside $1 billion for investment, under the Sovereign Wealth Fund (SWF), in the three arms “i.e. Stability Fund, Infrastructure Fund and Future Generation Fund.”
Okonjo-Iweala who disclosed that the cost of running government was declining at a time when the national debt was low, added that government was focused on sectoral waivers rather than individual e.g agricultural, power, aircraft spare parts, solid minerals at zero duty. Other achievements made by the administration, the minister noted, are the new petroleum subsidy payment, reform of the contributory pension scheme to prevent fraud and Subsidy Re-investment Programme (SURE-P).
When the government was formulating its plans for the country, guided by the Vision 20:2020, the world was in the throes of a financial meltdown that began the preceding year. The advanced economies of the world were unable to rebuild global confidence. International trade became sluggish as trans-border capital flow nearly receded completely. But Nigeria was lucky to benefit from this ugly trend as the price of oil went up. The Nigerian crude was in high demand and it sold between $81- $113 per barrel from 2010 to 2012.
Utilising this good fortune, the administration channelled budgetary allocations to priority sectors, notably infrastructure. Consequently, there was sustained reduction in the ratio of the GDP from 3.25 per cent in 2011 to 3.14 % and 2.81 per cent in 2011 and 2012.
As the fiscal reforms, in line with the Fiscal Responsibility Act (FIA) progressed, the revenue base, particularly those from non-oil sector, got a boost as leakages were plugged. Indeed, the revenue performance moved up to N8.8 billion in 2011.
Nonetheless, a drawback in the fortunes of government came through the outpacing of revenue by capital expenditure. This was quickly tackled by a shot at fiscal consolidation through rationalisation of recurrent expenditure using biometric verification of ministries, departments and agencies, partial rationalisation of government agencies and drastic reduction of administrative-type capital expenditure.
Logically, the monetary sector became stable, culminating in the improvement in access to credit such as Commercial Agriculture Credit Scheme (CACS), N200 billion SME restructuring and refinancing fund and power and aviation intervention fund. Also available were the Nigeria Incentive-based Risk Sharing Scheme for Agricultural Lending (NIRSAL) and National Financial Inclusion Strategy (NFIS).
Plunged into darkness for most part of the year, Nigerians, after giving their mandate to the administration, waited for a miracle to happen. This pushed the government into designing a road map for the power sector reform. The emphasis was on privatisation of power generation, distribution and the construction of a new transmission network. As a result of this, the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) was unbundled. In addition, the National Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) was given more responsibility to monitor development in the sector.
Efforts of the government in the execution of the road map paid off as foreign investors came in with $100 billion for investment in several sectors of the economy. The unveiling of the road map led to the pre-qualifying of 11 distribution companies covering the entire country. To facilitate their work, key transmission projects are being overhauled as moves are also being made to entrench a regime of cost reflective tariff in the power sector.
The government has also signed a Memorandum of Understanding with General Electric and Siemens for the provision of power infrastructure, targeting an installed capacity of 19,246 megawatts out of which it will avail the populace with over 18,000 megawatts and dispense of 13,000 by the close of its first tenure.
In order to successfully implement the road map, the government has inaugurated the boards of the National Bulk Electricity Trader (NBET) and the National Electricity Liability Management Company (NELMCO), signed letters of comfort, negotiated guarantees, paid off PHCN workers and transferred the Transmission Company of Nigeria to Manitoba.
Although, these efforts are still in process, it is instructive to note that power has continued to fluctuate with the generality of the people lamenting poor supply.
Coming from a controversial subsidy removal regime, the two most outstanding performance of government in this sector are the inclusive utilisation of the proceeds of the petroleum subsidy through the Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Programme (SURE-P) and the transmission of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) to the National Assembly.
With the partial removal of the subsidy on petrol in January 2012, government decided to plough the over N1trillion naira saved into job creation, road rehabilitation and other productive ventures that have yielded the much-desired dividends of democracy to the citizenry.
Moving on, the ministry took the PIB, after much controversy, to the lawmakers seeking to establish guidelines for the operation of the upstream and downstream sectors such as vesting of oil and gas, allocation of acreage, government participation, environment, community development and Nigerian content.
But one of the greatest undoing of this sector is the level of sleaze alleged to have permeated the entire sector. This was pronounced during the subsidy crisis. Also, the fact that the corruption charges that followed the discovery have not been tackled decisively still casts shadow on whatever achievements that could have been recorded in that sector.
Prior to the advent of the administration, port congestion and other sharp practices were a great source of concern to indigenous businessmen and their foreign partners. Cargo clearance was tardy and corruption was endemic. All these changed with the reduction of cargo clearance time to 48 hours. To make this happen, the number of agencies operating in the ports was halved.
The agencies that now have the franchise to operate are the Nigeria Customs Service, the immigration, the Nigeria Police Force, the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), the Nigerian Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) and the Ports Health Agency (PHA).
The Aviation Sector
In order to reposition this critical sector, the federal government developed a master plan to make air transportation attractive to travellers. The focus of the master plan was on safety, investment, and acceleration of socio-economic development of the nation. The policy thrusts of the master plan are: aviation policy and regulatory reform, perishable cargo airports, airport re-modelling and new terminal development, hub development, flag-bearers and national carrier as well as aerotropolis development.
The aerotropolis is an innovation in the master plan intended to create massive investment opportunities in cargo and logistics, hotels and resorts, commerce, medical care and ICT hub. Other opportunities envisaged are: exhibition centre, agro-market complexes, agro-export conditioning, maintenance cluster, free economic zones and residential estates.
Indeed, the fact that the airports across the country are getting facelift is a proof of the determination of the administration to bring the airports close to what is obtainable in other parts of the world. But some people have argued that the handling of the grounding of an aircraft belonging to the Rivers State Government some weeks ago goes to show the extent to which external political factors could influence the administration of the sector, a development considered unhealthy for a professional industry.
Public Service Reform
Last year, the president signed sectoral performance contracts with MDAs. This was part of a Performance Management System (PMS) domiciled in the Office of the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation (OHCSF) culminating in the development of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to monitor the accomplishment of ministers, civil servants and heads of parastatals and agencies.
The reform in the public service also entails the establishment of a tenure system for permanent secretaries, participation of permanent secretaries in the writing of civil service examinations, restructuring and rationalisation of MDAs and comprehensive pension reform with a transition from pay-as-you- go to contributory pension scheme.
At the presentation of the mid-term report, Jonathan jocularly remarked that before the Minister of National Planning, Dr. Shamsudeen Usman, came onboard, the federal government did not have a national data bank. But currently, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) has been given a fresh mandate and equipped with the provision of more budget, ICT capability and training of its staff to enable it cope with its new role of generating dependable data for use by government and the private sector.
In line with its new mandate, the bureau has developed a State Gross Domestic Product (SGDP) computation. This has been carried forward with the institutionalisation of seven pilot schemes in states across the country.
The Agriculture Sector
Worried by the volume of food import, which was gulping about $3 billion annually, government initiated the Agricultural Transformation Action (ATA) in 2012. The policy was intended to increase domestic food production, reverse dependence on food import, expand agricultural production and create more employment opportunities. Thus, activating the Growth Enhancement Scheme, the government, now posits that it has removed middlemen from the fertiliser subsidisation/distribution chain.
In addition to this, the Nigerian Fresh Produce Transformation Programme (NFPTP) has been designed to export fresh produce to other African countries and the world, by which way giving it a comparative advantage of engaging its youths in agriculture, empowering women and benefiting rural farmers.
The Health Sector
Government, in this area, has increased funding and strengthened Primary Health Care. This has resulted in the Save One Million Lives initiative through which 433,650 lives have been reportedly saved between 2011 and 2012 and a total of 9243 frontline health workers recruited, trained and deployed to mitigate the troubling maternal and infant mortality rate.
The result is now a drop in maternal mortality by more than 50%. A National Strategic Health Development Plan (NSHDP) was established to provide leadership and governance for health and others. While government prides itself in the achievements here, there is the belief that it needs to do more if it must discourage medical tourism that appears the in-thing, especially in official quarters.
Government also listed other sectors where it claimed to have made impressive achievements to include education, economic coordination, infrastructure, land and foreign policy.
According to Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Chief Anyim Pius Anyim, who described Jonathan as a “strategist, achiever and facilitator”, there has been an expansion in the civic space in the period under review.
“In the last two years, the civic space has been expanded for democracy and civic participation. We are convinced that civic consciousness is a lubricant to democracy,” the SGF stated, noting that checks and balances have been entrenched to ensure stability of the system by strengthening the independence of each arm of government. He listed areas in which the government has made giant leaps to include the electoral process, federal character, corruption and security.
Vice-President Namadi Sambo, in his remark, noted that the transformation agenda was aimed at reversing the despair of Nigerians and that in the last two years, the administration has pursued resolute course to expand the democratic space by ensuring that the rule of law prevails just as accountability and free elections are promoted.
He cited the economic outlook of the country as having improved, adding that the key indices have been getting better, thus attracting global and domestic confidence on the local market.
Sambo, who acknowledged that security challenges have been serious within the period under review, however pointed out that the incumbent administration has done well in the provision of infrastructure, development of education and resuscitation of the environment.
But Jesse Jackson, founder of Rainbow/PUSH (People United to Save Humanity), a US-based non-profit organisation, said the antidote to any challenge that Nigeria might face anytime was the application of justice. He praised the Jonathan administration for its achievements, saying he has never seen such a passionate transparency in his years of association with governments across the world.
He drew applause from the audience as he repeatedly reeled out the qualities that stand the country out, indicating that “Nigeria matters.”
Former interim president of Liberia, Professor Amos Sawyer, urged that Nigeria must continue to promote social justice and build human capacity of its citizens for the sustainability of development and democracy in the country. He expressed satisfaction that Nigeria was among the best countries conforming to the highest standard expected of the members of the APRM. “Nigeria is demonstrating the best practice in how it is institutionalising the APRM process throughout all level of governments- federal, state and local.”
But in what appeared an early critique of the mid-term report, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, dismissed the emphasis on GDP as an indicator of economic development and improvement in the lives of the ordinary citizens.
Obasanjo, who was a guest at the First Economic and Investment Summit in Jigawa State, argued that it is no longer tenable to use the GDP as a marker for the country’s economic and human development. He pointed out that it is out of fashion to use the GDP in measuring the wellbeing of the populace, buttressing his argument with the fact that although Nigeria’s GDP growth rate has averaged about 7 per cent in past few years, it has not reflected in the wellbeing of majority of Nigerians.
He, therefore, offered solutions. “States should invest more in projects that will bring economic wealth for the people and states should be judged by the amount of investments that have improved the livelihood of the people, and not by the growth in GDP, as increase in GDP does not translate to actual wealth creation and wellbeing of the people.”
Similarly, the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) has also written off the mid-term report. It dismissed the president’s admonition that his critics should develop a marking scheme before assessing his administration, saying Nigerians do not require a “marking scheme” to assess the Jonathan administration or any administration at all. According to the party, the people know when a government has impacted positively on their lives.
The party, responding to the president’s assessment of his administration, wondered what kind of yardstick anyone needed to know that despite the seemingly impressive economic figures being reeled out from the scorecard by the government, the average Nigerian is worse off today than he or she was before the present administration assumed office.
In a statement issued by the ACN National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the party also reminded the president that it was not the business of the opposition to spoon feed the administration on how to govern. It recalled that ACN, time and again, had gone out of its way to proffer solutions to the problems facing the nation, out of sheer patriotism.
“Needless to say that such suggestions, from us and other well-meaning groups and individuals have been so arrogantly ignored by the administration. Mr. President, Nigerians need no marking scheme to know that the rate of unemployment went up under your watch to an unprecedented 23.9% by December 2011, according to figures given by the National Bureau of Statistics. Today, the figure must be hovering above the 50% mark!
“Mr. President, Nigerians need no marking scheme to know that under your watch, security of lives and property, as well as the welfare of the citizens – the raison d'etre of any government – are at the lowest ebb.
“The so-called 6.5% economic growth announced by your Finance Minister is meaningful only on paper. How does that help the thousands of university graduates who are scrambling to work as truck drivers? How does it make Lagos-Ibadan Expressway or the East-West Road safer for Nigerians?
“Mr. President, what has been the impact for Nigerians of the high foreign reserves figure and the stable exchange rate of the naira reeled out by your Finance Minister? Is it not a cruel irony that as Mr. President was luxuriating in phantom economic indices on the second anniversary of his administration, Nigerians across the land could not even watch him on television because the power situation has been exceptionally poor in recent times?” ACN noted amongst other concerns.
“And in case Mr. President thinks it is only the opposition and the media – his administration’s favourite whipping boys – that are scoring his administration low, the Washington-based global advocacy and campaigning organisation, ONE, was listing Nigeria – under President Jonathan's watch – and DR Congo among the ‘laggard countries’ pulling Africa back from reaching the MDG goals by 2015?
“Surely, this global body did not use any ‘Jonathan-style marking scheme’ to name Uganda, Rwanda, Malawi, Ghana and Ethiopia as the top performing countries in Africa (on the MDGs), even when they are less endowed than Nigeria,” ACN stated.
The party deplored the president’s resort to blaming imaginary enemies of his administration for his token achievements in the face of mounting challenges facing the country. It urged him to shut his ears to praise-singers, especially those from foreign lands who have never seen an African government, no matter its governance record, that is unworthy of their association, as they hunt for cheap funds from despotic governments across the continent to rehabilitate themselves back home.
“Mr. President, it is never too late for you to put your shoulder to the wheel, shun the political jobbers around you, reinvigorate your cabinet by chasing away the deadwood there – though some of them come highly recommended on paper – and giving Nigerians a more purposeful government.
“When that happens, Mr. President, you will not need to waste valuable time on lecturing your much-sapped compatriots on how to assess your administration, and you would have succeeded in rending those seemingly implacable critics of yours in the media and the opposition jobless,” ACN said.
In another assessment of the administration, the Trade Union Congress (TUC), said although progress had been made in Nigeria under Jonathan, a lot still needed to be done. President General of the TUC, Peter Esele, said in spite of the challenges, Nigerians must not give up in ensuring that democracy survives as it remained the best form of government.
“We are not where we want to be or where we should be, but we are definitely not where we used to be,” he said.
Also, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) in a communiqué issued at the end of its National Executive Council meeting in Abuja picked holes in many claims of development by the government. The communiqué signed by its acting General Secretary, Chris Uyot, however acknowledged that the economy had grown at a rate of seven per cent.
But this, he said, had resulted in the creation of just a few jobs with several indicators putting unemployment rate at 60 per cent.
The congress also noted that power supply has again dropped with unjustifiably high tariffs.
Mr. Eze Onyekwere, a legal practitioner resident in Abuja, lamented the housing deficit facing the country, and challenged the federal government to do more to redress the situation. Onyekwere, who is also into real estate business in the nation’s capital, observed that it was surprising that while 23 million Nigerians do not have a roof over their heads, there is property glut in the city.
“People cannot afford to buy property inside the city or in the suburb. Speculators keep acquiring lands and houses, the prices keep going up and the masses cannot afford even to rent decent accommodation. It is a shame that many live in squatter settlements and slums across cities in the country,” Onyekwere said.
But Okonjo-Iweala captured the mood of such lamentations when she said there was much to be done and that the government was willing to do more, appealing in her native Igbo dialect that one hand could not wash itself clean. She reasoned that if the two hands perform the ritual of cleansing together, both would come out sparkling clean.
While it was almost certain that the mid-term report would attract as much criticisms given the degree of indifference and somewhat disappointment that had trailed the performance of the administration in the last two years, chances are that a lot could change between now and the next general election such that could completely alter the subsisting equation. But clearly, a lot has to be done for such a sweeping change to manifest.