November 17, 2015
Buhari’s cabinet With the building blocks of his administration in place, expectations are at fever pitch that President Muhammadu Buhari’s six-month-old administration is about to get down to serious business. This is just as well. The President inaugurated his 36-man cabinet on Wednesday with a clarion call for the ministers to “get to work speedily.” The pragmatic charge tallies with the mood of the nation. Now, this government needs to listen and not assume that it knows best how to effect the desired change.
Much time has been lost, yet, ministers need time to master their briefs. Their success will be determined by how quickly they can build momentum and face the considerable challenges confronting the country. By opting for a 36-man team to man 25 ministries, Buhari has made a deft move to reduce the cost of governance and make his government nimble. This is a remarkable departure from unwieldy and wasteful cabinets we had in the past.
The All Progressives Congress-led government now faces an immense test of proving its capacity to govern. And this test will undoubtedly pose a challenge to Buhari’s acclaimed integrity. Starting with the economy, there is no time for delays or fudges again; it is time for real action. Not only has revenue crashed by 50 per cent since August 2014, factories are closing, poverty is increasing and jobs are being lost.
The naira has depreciated to N225 to $1 at the parallel market from N162 a few months ago, and interest rates fluctuate between 19 and 26 per cent. The National Bureau of Statistics says the contribution of manufacturing to nominal Gross Domestic Product in first quarter 2015 declined to 9.29 per cent as against 9.77 per cent in 2014.
The Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun; the Minister of Budget and National Planning, Udo Udo-Udoma; together with Okechukwu Enelamah, in charge of Trade and Investment; and Kayode Fayemi, the Minister of Solid Minerals; have their hands full. The 2016 Budget proposals, which should have been tabled before the National Assembly for consideration by now, will unveil the administration’s economic blueprint. The 2015 Appropriation Act is N4.49 trillion, but the government is mulling between N7 trillion and N8 trillion for 2016. This is good but it is also ambitious and has to be implemented. Fiscal and monetary policies to cut lending rates and strengthen the naira will task the team to the limit. The fact that foreign investors are waiting for government’s economic policy direction should not be lost on them.
Closely related to this is the Ministry of Petroleum Resources brief, which is being headed by Buhari and Ibe Kachikwu, who is doubling as the Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation. The Buhari government should bust the sclerotic cabal in the oil and gas sector. National finances are haemorrhaging because of the massive importation of petroleum products, caused by the collapsed public refineries. Petrol subsidy, which climaxed at N2.5 trillion in 2011, was later pruned to N971 billion, following national-wide protests but takes over N1 trillion annually. As a matter of urgency, the government has to make public its policy on domestic refining. However, as this newspaper has always argued, selling the loss-making refineries, and liberalising the downstream sector are critical. A report by oil giant, Chevron, warned that though there was a global investment of $600 billion in the industry in 2014, Nigeria attracted just $20 billion of it. This has declined by 20 per cent in 2015. The quality on display in Buhari’s cabinet should however be made to count.
Babatunde Fashola, who is in charge of the Power, Works and Housing Ministry, is a proven administrator. Considering his antecedents as the governor of Lagos State, where he excelled, there is optimism that he can make a difference in these critical areas. He should start his tenure by reviewing the power sector privatisation that transferred state assets to inept operators and delivered only 4,427 megawatts in October. The current owners of the distribution companies cannot deliver. Fashola faces a tougher task in fixing infrastructure. In a 2015 report, the Chartered Institute of Project Management of Nigeria said government projects abandoned across the country “are worth N12 trillion.” Major highways like Lagos-Ibadan, Port Harcourt-Enugu, East-West Road, Ilorin-Jebba-Kaduna, Onitsha-Enugu and Apapa-Oshodi have become death traps. The highway to Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, has become a national embarrassment. Also, there is a national housing deficit of 17 million units that requires N59.5 trillion to fix, going by government’s statistics. This will require innovative mortgage and funding schemes.
This government must stem the running sore of Boko Haram’s horrific terror war and its barmy ideology. Boko Haram belongs to the all-knowing, all-destroying salafist faith that propagates nothing but horror. The malevolent movement showed its capacity for horror again last Friday in coordinated attacks on Paris, France, killing 132 people. Although the military have set about the task of ending the insurgency that has raged for six blood-soaked years, the Minister of Interior, Abdulrahman Dambazzau, has his job schedule cut out for him. Buhari’s December deadline for the total destruction of the evil group must be met. To tame the extremists, Dambazzau should build on the anti-insurgency campaign in the North-East through intensive intelligence gathering methods. His brief will include root-and-branch reform of Immigration, the Prisons and other internal security agencies. Every stable polity takes agriculture seriously, but Nigeria’s food import bill is excessive.
The country spends between $7 billion and $11 billion annually to import food, though the last administration claimed that it brought the bill down to $4.3 billion in 2014. Audu Ogbeh, the Minister of Agriculture, should use his expertise to make Nigeria self-sufficient in food production by implementing practical policies.
Rotimi Amaechi, a former Rivers State governor, heads the enlarged Ministry of Transportation, now comprising maritime, aviation, road and railways. Our three “top” airports in Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt were rated among the 10 worst in Africa in a 2015 assessment, though the last government collected a $500 million loan from the China EXIM Bank in 2013 to upgrade 15 airports. For maximum benefits, the government has to open up the rail sub-sector so that foreign capital can drive growth in a liberalised environment.
Unlike his two past predecessors, Abubakar Malami, the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, cannot shy away from the anti-corruption war. His office will have a major say in prosecuting the war by strategically strengthening the institutions involved. His two immediate past predecessors effectively weakened the war on graft. The ministers in charge of health and education are critical pegs needed to deliver on the change agenda of the Buhari administration. This government faces many challenges. Buhari and his team need to quickly move away from electioneering soundbites to the serious business of rebuilding a battered country. Source: The Punch.