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21 years of democratic experiment: Whither Nigeria?

Last Friday, Nigeria did not witness the usual razzmatazz that hallmarks the celebration of Democracy Day in the country. The reasons are two-folds: The celebration has been moved to June 12, and the coronavirus pandemic was also a factor.

What was not lacking was a gale of congratulatory and goodwill messages on the pages of newspapers, which reminded one and all that the spirit of May 29 is still very much active in the country.

President Muhammadu Buhari, had, with a stroke of the pen on June 6, 2018, pronounced June 12 of every year as the Democracy Day. Until last year since 2000, the day was marked on every May 29.

May 29 became a public holiday in Nigeria following the return of the country to civil rule. It was also a day President Olusegun Obasanjo administration was inaugurated and the reins of power were transferred to him from General Abdulsalami Abubakar.

READ ALSO: Democracy, in whose interest?

June 12 was the day Moshood Kashimawo Abiola (MKO) presumably won the presidential election. Abiola, however, died on July 7, 1998 after the late military ruler, General Sani Abacha, had detained him on charges of alleged treason.

Every May 29 affords political office holders, particularly elected president and governors, the opportunity to present their score cards to Nigerians for assessment. However, over the years, there has been a gulf between what is claimed as good performance by government and public perception.

Analysts speak in tandem that the date (May 29 or June 12) should not bury what should be the real essence of the day.

Over the years, Democracy Day has been reduced to a day of merriment and squandermania without genuine reflection on the poor state of the nation and the squalid nature of living of greater percentage of citizens.

READ ALSO:Frustration grows over worsening state of nation

The question on the lips of many Nigerians is to what extent their lives have been positively impacted in the last 21 years? Except those in the corridors of power, the consensus opinion is that majority of citizens have become poorer today than they were in 1999. The country itself has sunken deeper into the mire of hopelessness than it was when the country returned to civil rule 21 years ago.

Despite the coronavirus pandemic that is ravaging many countries of the world, Nigeria inclusive, elected office holders at the federal and state levels, last Friday, engaged in chest-beating exercise over their performances in office.

The Presidency also rolled out a list of acclaimed achievements in the last five years of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration. There have been divergent views, however, on the progress of Nigeria, not just in the last one or five years, but since the return of the country to civil rule in 1999.

In a release to the media, titled, ‘President Buhari’s strides in five years,’ Femi Adesina, senior special adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, said: “Between May 29, 2015, when it was inaugurated for the first term, and now, the Buhari administration has made salutary impact in almost all the facets of Nigerian life.”

According to him, “Agriculture has been given a fillip, manufacturing has got a shot in the arm, and solid minerals are contributing a large chunk to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The country is very close to food security, with rice, beans, maize, millet, and all sorts of grain no longer imported. We now eat what we grow.”

In an attached five-year fact sheet of the Buhari administration, the presidency said that the work of the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council (inaugurated by President Buhari in August 2016) and the Enabling Business Environment Secretariat (EBES) has resulted in Nigeria moving up 39 places on the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business rankings since 2016. In the last three years, Nigeria has twice been adjudged one of 10 Most Improved Economies in the rankings, it said.

For Doing Business 2020, the 10 top improvers are Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Togo, Bahrain, Tajikistan, Pakistan, Kuwait, China, India and Nigeria. For 2018, the top 10 were El Salvador, Djibouti, India, Malawi, Brunei Darussalam, Kosovo, Uzbekistan, Thailand, Zambia and Nigeria.

The document further said the Finance Act, 2019 is the first time Nigeria is accompanying the passage of a budget with complementary fiscal and business environment reforms legislation. The 2020 budget is also the first time in 12 years that a federal budget has been restored to the January-December cycle.

Our checks show the last time Nigeria had a Jan-Dec budget cycle was 12 years ago. However, the passage of budget accompanied by a Finance Act is new only since transition to civilian rule in 1999.

Another achievement of the Buhari administration, according to the document, is the Renminbi-Naira Swap Agreement between the Peoples Bank of China and the Central Bank of Nigeria.

On April 27, 2018, the CBN signed a three-year bilateral currency swap agreement with the Peoples Bank of China (PBoC), worth Chinese Yuan (CNY) 15 billon – equivalent to N720.00 billion or US$2.5 billion.

Other achievements of the Buhari administration, according to the document, include the issuance of Nigeria’s first Diapsora bond in the international capital market, a US$300 million bond with a tenor of five years which proceeds were used to part-finance the 2017 budget. The bond was oversubscribed by 130 percent.

It also listed CBN’s policies and directives, which led to the fall of Treasury Bill rates – which represent domestic borrowing costs for the Government –from 16-18 percent per annum in 2017 to 2-6 percent per annum in 2019/2020.

Last year, CBN banned non-bank local investors from the OMO market, which caused rate on NTBs to fall significantly lower than OMO bills effectively lowering domestic borrowing cost for FG.

Laolu Akande, senior special adviser to the Vice President on Media and Publicity, who spoke on a television programme Friday, monitored by BDSUNDAY, said that the democratic experience had given Nigerians the opportunity to determine what happens to them. He also said that the current administration has been able to establish a political culture for people to own the process.

According to him, for the first time, government has made a conscious effort to ensure that the resources of state are used for the welfare of the people.

“For the first time, the resources of Nigeria are being spent on the people,” he said. He also claimed that the N-Power programme had positively impacted over 500,000 people; the conditional cash transfer has touched millions of Nigerians, and that the school feeding programme had benefitted between nine and 10 million children.

Vincent Nwani, a Business and Investment consultant, however, believes that although the Federal Government may have good intentions in its programmes, it has failed to deliver them well.

According to Nwani, there is a huge difference, between intentions and actions.

“You just don’t look at efforts but results. If you go out there and ask questions, I don’t think Nigerians are better off today than they were in 2015. Nigerians are poorer today than they were in 2015,” he said.

Supporting his claim with data, Nwani said that the nation’s GDP is not strong as it has continued to oscillate between I and 2 percent. He insists that Nigeria must emulate her peers by growing at double-digit.

He also said that despite the good intention of the government to ensure that it achieves about 10,000 megawatts of power generation; Nigeria is still doing 4,000 megawatts with far less amount of that in distribution.

He noted that the country’s currency has continued to grow weaker, exchanging for between 380 and 450, as against N195 in 2015.

Nwani further said that inflation and unemployment rates have both trended higher than before. According to him, even though Nigeria has made marginal improvement, “it is not as strong as government intended.”

Rufus Okey, a Computer analyst, who spoke with BDSUNDAY, said: “I listened to Laolu Akande on Sunrisedaily programme of Channels Television saying that the present government had lowered the price of fertilizer from N11,000 (Eleven thousand naira) to N5,000, and that through Anchor Borrowers Scheme a lot of Nigerians had been positively impacted.

“But Akande did not tell us how many Nigerians lost their farms or were driven away from farming by the rampaging killer Fulani herdsmen. Across the country, many farmers deserted their farms on account of incessant attacks by herdsmen. You cannot be talking about crashing the price of fertilizer, when the same government closed its eyes on the activities of killer herdsmen and kidnappers that scared Nigerians away from faming.”

According to Okey, “He also talked about Social safety net; the question is; how many Nigerians benefit from some of these interventions? A larger percentage of Nigerians are not captured. Look at the simple COVID-19 palliatives; how many Nigerians got anything? It became a controversial political tool to further divide Nigerians or rather to show how divided the country is. Government may have good intentions, but they are not properly implemented. They are not striking the right chord.”

A political affairs commentator who spoke on condition of anonymity, said: “Nigeria has degenerated to a point that the people no longer determine who leads them through the power of ballot. At 21, the country has become a headquarters of electoral fraud.

Fraudulent polls have been institutionalised, whereby voters are chased away on the election day; thugs are hired to wreak havoc on voters who dare to go to the polling units, and ballot boxes are carted away or burnt, depending on instructions from their sponsors. Today, people know the outcome of elections before they are even fixed. Elections in Nigeria have lost credibility.

“So, when presidential aides talking about Nigerian people now having the power to determine the process, I begin to wonder if they had been aliens or if they were not in the country during the 2019 general election.

“For me, we are not better in terms of democratic or political culture than we were a decade ago. And it pains me silly that we have not learnt anything. How can we learn when those who should lead the process of change in that process are hiding behind their finger?”

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