Reverberations of ‘Happy New Year’ greetings pervade the air in neighbourhoods across the country. It is exuberance with tapestries of hope for a promising future and survival, despite the inevitable vicissitudes of life. The last six months of 2023, indeed, unfurled unimaginable economic hardship, especially for the poor, as the Federal Government removed fuel subsidy and liberalised the foreign exchange market. The end of such a year, fittingly categorised as an “annus horribilis” by many, leaves much to hope for in the new one.
Even the most unsparing critic of the President Bola Tinubu administration would admit that it inherited a dead economy – an empty treasury, mind-boggling corruption and a nation dishevelled by sectarian, ethnic and other base tendencies. A transitional and awful governance landscape such as this naturally inhibits the effective take-off of a new administration. But undeterred, the man in the driver’s seat wards off any public sympathy with his often reference to the fact that he asked for the job; and therefore, is prepared to roll up his sleeves to face the challenges ahead.
Truly, in many ways, he has demonstrated the readiness to drive change or take hard decisions for public good. The desired positive effects might not be easily visible now but the good thing is his consciousness of the issues before him; and a willingness to chart a new course for a better future. This underpinned the admirable initiative of setting up a performance bond with the ministers and the appointment of Hadiza Bala Usman as special adviser on policy coordination, to spearhead the Results Delivery Unit of the administration. In a clime where ministers are wont to literally sleep on duty, amass wealth and be indifferent to accountability, the move is absolutely a critical antidote to indolence in public office.
At a November cabinet retreat, which involved presidential aides, permanent secretaries and other top government officials, Mr Tinubu promised to turn the fortunes of the country around. “I must succeed by all means possible,” he vowed. For the ministers, he warned: “If you are performing, (there is) nothing to fear; if you miss the objective, we’ll review it. If no performance, you leave us. No one is an island and the buck stops on my desk.” This is reassuring.
The seriousness of his demand on the ministers could be gleaned from the Minister of Aviation, Festus Keyamo’s frenzied response and transfer of the sack threat to the chief executive officers of agencies under his ministry barely 48 hours after the presidential retreat: it is either I get sacked, or I sack them, he told reporters. And true to his avowal, no fewer than six aviation CEOs were fired five weeks later. It is a good riddance likely to reset the performance template of the agencies in the aviation sector.
Insecurity is still quite alarming across the country. The massacres in Bokkos and Barkin Ladi in Plateau State during the Christmas period are evidence of a painful 2023. Over 150 lives were lost in the carnage, allegedly perpetrated by unknown murderers in the dead of the night. We think halting tragedies such as this was why the president provided the lion’s share of N3.25 trillion to security in the 2024 budget.
This was preceded by the directive in November that police officers be withdrawn from the VIPs as part of the strategy to develop community policing. The presidential directive must be carried out to make the point: Nigeria’s security crisis is not a military challenge, but the void in policing across the 36 states of the federation, where large swathes of national territory have fallen under the control of criminals of all hues. It is one of the reasons why food insecurity is deepening, as farmers can’t go to their farmland because of the fear of being kidnapped or killed. Food inflation at 31.52 per cent and general inflation chalking up to 27.33 per cent in October, according to National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) data, are reversals that this administration must make in 2024.
It is cheery that fighting corruption is one of Tinubu’s eight-point agenda. All eyes are on him and his government to see how this will pan out. The Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Olanipekun Olukayode, has shown the way forward with the recommendation that the country should embrace the Unexplained Wealth Orders (UWO) legislation. It is a drift from legalism to the primacy of morality in society and public office. Adopted by the United Kingdom in 2018, the law requires a person who owns cash or property in excess of £50,000 to justify the legitimacy of such asset. Where this could not be proven, it is forfeited to the government.
Besides the UK, Australia, Mauritius, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Trinidad and Tobago, many Caribbean nations have adopted the law in dealing with ill-gotten wealth and money laundering. This will need an amendment of our extant jurisprudence on an accused being innocent until proven guilty, badly abused or exploited by treasury looters. Therefore, we expect a synergy between the president and the EFCC to get things done in this regard.
The country’s billions of dollars from oil proceeds are apparently in private pockets and corporate crevices. This newspaper has consistently drawn Mr Tinubu’s attention to confirmed crude oil theft valued at $17 billion by some oil companies between 2011 and 2014, which the Muhammadu Buhari government vowed to recover but failed to do. The House of Representatives established last year that a $9 billion fine imposed on oil firms for flaring gas had not been paid. There is also a $62 billion joint-venture profit-sharing credit due to Nigeria, which the Supreme Court directed its recovery in 2017. These are low-hanging fruits that the government must plug to shore up the forex reserve and ease the deadly pressure on the naira.
With more revenues available to the three tiers of government, evident in the N1.959 trillion in shares in July, which tripled the June distributable income of N655.93 billion in May, we expect this to translate to improved service delivery across the country. Delivering a fatal punch to corruption will help alter the economic landscape and deal with mass poverty, which every Nigerian anticipates.
As the president instituted a special investigation on the activities of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), to sanitise the system, concrete action is needed on the ensuing report for the health of the country’s monetary space. The economy will benefit more if such an inquest is extended to agencies in the oil and gas sector, including NNPC Limited, the national oil behemoth. A 205-page parliamentary report of 2012 on the oil subsidy scam, which details how NNPC paid purported fuel importers in a $6 billion sleaze should be dusted off and action taken on it. This will wipe out part of the pains of Nigerians in 2024. Implementations of all this will give real and empirical expression to the president’s “Renewed Hope Agenda”.
Nobel laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, visited Mr Tinubu recently to hand him an eight-point agenda, which he never made public. However, he hinted at a positive response from the president on the call to free all prisoners of conscience in the country. This will promote national healing and nation-building. On Mr Tinubu’s watch, Nigeria must turn the corner, as Bishop Matthew Kukah has just advised: “This is our moment, our date with history. Now all eyes and ears are on you.” 2024 should herald this new epoch!
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