Reflections on Nigeria in 2019, by Afenifere Renewal Group

Afenifere Renewal Group [Photo Credit: Elendu Reports]
Afenifere Renewal Group [Photo Credit: Elendu Reports]

Introduction

Y2020 is significant to Nigeria’s policy environment and direction for two reasons. First, it is the year the country should be taking stock of the objectives of Vision 2020, which was launched in 2009 and was designed to lead Nigeria to become one of the Top 20 economies by GDP. Like other national plans before it, Vision 2020 has been abandoned and any attempt at assessing its successes and failures is forlorn and futile.

Second, it is also the year set for the attainment of the current administration’s medium term Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP).

One of the main objectives of the ERGP is to “reduce petroleum product imports by 60 per cent by 2018, become a net exporter by 2020″.

According to the National Bureau of Statistics, as quoted by media reports, N1.97tn was spent on PMS importation in 2017 when ERGP came into force and N2.95tn was spent in 2018 .

It is a no brainer to state that the objectives of the ERGP are also not attainable as things are. Government continues to wobble and tumble through policy summersaults, totally oblivious of the fact of the prodigious population expansion in the country. Children born in Y2000 are now considered full grown adults. There is no foreseeable or realistic plan for their future.

This commentary is a reflection on the most significant issues in Nigeria’s policy environment in 2019. We call on all Nigerians and lovers of Nigeria to pay attention to these issues, taking corrective actions where and when necessary.

1. Visa on Arrival Policy

The Visa on Arrival policy announced in Egypt by President Muhammadu Buhari GCFR is quite shocking noting the timing and venue of the announcement. Such an important policy should ideally be discussed ‘at home’ first because of the very important need to secure the buy-in of Nigerians and prepare their minds on how to take advantage of such policy and avoid the disadvantages therein.

While announcing the policy to his audience, President Buhari was quoted to have said that, “We in Nigeria have already taken the strategic decision to bring down barriers that have hindered the free movement of our people within the continent by introducing the issuance of visa at the point of entry into Nigeria to all persons holding passports of African countries with effect from January 2020.”

We are wondering who constitutes the ‘we’ in Mr. President’s declaration. We note that it is unacceptable that nothing in government communication prepared Nigerians for this policy, whether through the weekly Federal Executive meeting media briefing or even the annual Independence Day broadcast which was only three months ago. Neither was this policy an election promise or in the manifesto of the governing party. The increasingly imperial Presidential style which confers on the President the freedom to foist on the nation any policy that catches his fancy and that of his kitchen cabinet needs to be tempered by a conscious effort to ensure that major policy shifts are well considered and filtered through the sensitivities of the diverse community that Nigeria is.

Should Nigerians not know whether their leaders reviewed the existing Visa on Arrival policy granted to selected categories of visitors since 2012 before deeming it fit to expand the coverage? Have we understudied the impact of such policy in other countries that have implemented it? Should we not have sought reciprocity from the countries we are now offering Visa on Arrival privileges?

Given the security crisis and the attendant displacement faced by many African countries, should Nigeria not be trying to adequately apply extreme vetting for non-business visitors while those who enjoy Visa on Arrival should only be business visitors (with local sponsors and guarantors)?

A motion moved by Senator Adetunbi on this policy revealed that the Federal Government is not even thinking of the need to provide legal backing to this crucial policy. If securing important legal backing is not on the agenda of the Federal Government, there is every reason to believe that this policy is not well thought out and that little or nothing has been planned for its implementation.

Government is duty-bound to act in ways reflective of the reality of the daily pains of the citizens and should use its executive power to demonstrate, like a democratic government, a deep understanding of the needs of the electorate.

Therefore, we note that this policy is not consistent with the letters and spirit of Nigerian Constitution and it is in bad faith against the indigenous peoples of Nigeria whose consents were not sought on a matter that will dilute the country’s population and alter its demographic composition.

2. Rule of Law and National Interest

There have been a number of assaults on the Rule of Law under this administration, a phenomenon that is now spreading to the sub-national level. State governments now exhibit similar rascality by treating critics’ views as treason. We have also had shocking assaults on judicial officials. Nothing however compares with the drama by the DSS in open court trying to forcefully re-arrest an accused, on bail, with the presiding Judge still on seat. No such egregious contempt for the temple of justice has ever been seen in the annals of Nigeria’s history. When the Government finally decided to respect several court-ordered bails for two of its three well-known detainees, the explanation of Government action could not be more depressing. The Attorney-General was quoted as saying that the release of the duo was on compassionate ground.

The Government is a creation of law and must respect all laws to remain legitimate. Nobody voted for this Government to govern us on the basis of its compassion which it may grant at its own discretion. This is the road to despotism and anarchy. In case the current occupants of political office have forgotten some people paid with their lives in the fight for this democracy.

This administration is weaponising the nebulous national interest to terrorise citizens and incarcerate people, devising a cynical strategy of endless filing of new charges against those they desire to hold against valid court orders. Its doctrine of rule of law being subject to a self-serving definition of national interest is indeed Nigeria’s national security risk because narrowing the space for open debate of issues and denying citizens their fundamental human rights have always been destabilising factors in all societies.

Attempts to criminalise free speech that is not to the liking of those in Government or clamping down on peaceful demonstrations of citizens has the potential of aggravate the frustration of citizens and strengthen forces of purveyors of non-democratic change.

Contemptuous betrayal of electoral promises, especially the one on restructuring, and the disingenuous labelling of advocates of restructuring as secessionists even in the face of the reaffirmation of the ruling party of its belief in restructuring can only erode faith in the political process, heighten hegemonic fears and worsen national cohesion.

3. Y2020 Budget, Accountability, and Anti-corruption

Another worrisome trend under this administration is that ‘budget padding’ has attained notoriety through the penchant of the National Assembly to increase budgetary proposals by inserting spurious capital projects into the budget.

The ICPC in a recent report titled “Constituency Projects Tracking Group” claimed that it “uncovered N3.9 billion included in the 2019 budget for constituency projects but not allocated to any specific project or sector” .

It states further that “the size, number and types of Zonal Intervention Projects (ZIP) domiciled in Small and Medium Enterprise Development Agency of Nigeria (SMEDAN) and Border Communities Development Agency (BCDA), for instance, have turned them into conduits for, and means of abuse of constituency projects and therefore vulnerable to corruption.”

We note that President Buhari’s major complaint about 2019 budget was what he described as an attempt by the lawmakers to take over executive government’s role of initiating projects. Surprisingly, Mr. President praised the National Assembly for Y2020 despite a reoccurrence.

“Like last year, when over 391 projects were smuggled by federal lawmakers into the budgets of the SMEDAN and BCDA, this year too, over 300 projects found their ways into the two agency’s budgets,” a media report stated in its analysis of Y2020 budget .

Amidst all these is the disturbing insensitivity with which the leadership and members of the National Assembly are defending the unconscionable provision of N37 billion in the 2020 Budget for maintenance of the National Assembly’s offices, when in the same budget, only N36bn was budgeted for FERMA to maintain all federal roads across the country.

In 2018 when it slashed the amount budgeted for the ongoing rehabilitation of Lagos-Ibadan expressway, the National Assembly said it was done in cognisance of the country’s available resources. Similarly, would it be out of place for the National Assembly to consider the precarious revenue situation in the country and phase the maintenance of its offices over five years?

On anti-corruption, we note that the fight against corruption must also encompass transparency and accountability, two key components that are yet to be given priority. For instance, since inception till 2014, a total of 495 agencies reportedly defaulted in submitting their annual audited financial statements to the Office of the Auditor General of the Federation but in the first year of this administration, 215 agencies defaulted while 323 defaulted in the second year, bringing the cumulative to a total of 538 agencies. Some agencies do not even have audited accounts as claimed recently by the chairman of the Senate Public Account Committee, Matthew Urhoghide.

The best place to fight corruption at federal level is at the office of the Auditor General of the Federation. This office has been exposing corruption in the past but lacks any constitutional power to nip corruption in the bud.

Recommendations

• We call for immediate suspension of the Visa on Arrival policy to allow for appropriate consultation and preparation.

• We recommend that Nigerians take Y2020 as the year to defend civil rights as provided for in Nigeria’s Constitution, even if it means doing so against the government that we helped into power. If this is not done, we may soon witness similar trend being perpetrated at all levels of government and by cadres of appointed officers.

• We call for a review of the National Planning Commission Act in a way that will enshrine national development plans as legal instrument that must be implemented through its lifespan irrespective of administrative tenure and ruling party. No country develops on short-termism and inconsistent policy environment.

• We call on President Buhari to urgently give his assent to the Financial Audit Service and Federal Audit Service Commission Bills, which will empower the Auditor General to compel all agencies of government to be accountable.

• We call on President Buhari to institute a just and equitable appraisal system that subjects all heads of MDAs to periodic performance evaluation.

Conclusion

We enjoin Nigerians to wake up to their civic responsibility and actively contribute their resources to meaningful nation-building efforts. This country belongs to all of us and as the adage says, as you lay your bed, so you will lie on it.

Signed

Hon. Olawale Oshun
Chairman, Afenifere Renewal Group

Mr. Ayo Afolabi
General Secretary, Afenifere Renewal Group


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