One year in office: Scorecard beckons on federal, state governments to emulate Gov. Ugwuanyi
By Udechukwu Nwachukwu
In just eight weeks from now, the present administration will clock one year in office - a time for stock taking of how far federal and state governments have met or failed to meet the expectations of the people that voted them into office. At federal government level, it took 10 months for the ministerial cabinet to be formed and the first budget of the Buhari administration has just been approved but yet to be signed.
This means the President's score sheet is not likely to show much in terms of developmental works at the end of May. Buhari however appears to be evolving a tactical plan and states that plug early in to the direction he is defining could speed up the development function.
Structural changes seem to be going on at federal level and short-term deliveries are not forthcoming. Expect however that the President will be brandishing his progress in fighting insurgency and corruption. Inability to match these with action in governance will however be a big debit on his card.
Some state governments commenced the development action early and have been able to make some progress along the way. For a state like Enugu, it is a matter of finishing touches to life touching infrastructure projects that the state government flagged off as soon as it took over the mantle of leadership.
I am quite impressed by news from Enugu State in which Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi charged construction companies handling road projects in the state to step up work preparatory to commissioning them as part of activities marking his administration’s one year in office. The speed up work order was given in respect of over nine different road projects in addition to those already completed.
This is indeed a piece of good news at a time that the struggle to pay workers' salaries and meet other recurrent expenditures appears to have justifiably over shadowed development projects. The Enugu State governor has received accolades in terms of his passion for good governance and grassroots development aimed at giving the people in rural areas a sense of belonging in spite of the prevailing economic challenges.
It is to me quite reassuring that despite the drop in crude oil price and the attendant drop in federal allocations to states, some governors are still highly committed to their electoral promises to the people. It appears however that development is not going to be even among the states this time around for two reasons. One, the strength of internally generated revenue differs widely among the states and second, the ability of state governors to explore alternative sources of funding also differs widely.
The implication of these developments is that most states of the federation have no capacity at all to engage in any economic development or capacity building projects. Only a few states may have something reasonable to show their people at the end of one year in office. For many others, the one year in office has come too soon. What happened to all the electoral promises will be the question that governors as well as the President will have to find answers to as they render account of stewardship come May 29.
At federal level, government seems to be negotiating a learning curve that appears to have been taken for granted in the campaign promises. The ruling party gave an impression it was going to work a magic wand to change the state of disappointment the people felt under the previous government. Recently, the minister of state for Petroleum said magic is out of the way - a statement that underscores the absence of a firm strategy to deal with the challenges of the moment.
I hope and pray that the President will not in any way express any such helplessness either by speech or by body language. I hope the President understands that body language now commands much influence over people's thinking, expectations and reactions. Positive speaking even in hopeless times is a critical tool in managing crisis situations.
Encouraging the people while taking steps to improve their lot is the high point in leadership. That quality, in my view, is what has set somebody like Hon Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu State apart on the score card of the main actors under the present administration.
To be fair to the government of Buhari, I doubt if anyone else could have made more impact in the area of economic development than he has been able to achieve with all the clogs in the system that frustrate well intended policies and programmes of government in this country. He met an economy in which all the lips service paid to economic diversification has to end as a matter of emergency and the diversification has to happen by force. This is in the realm of economic restructuring, which isn't a short-term yielding endeavour.
From my personal assessment of what the President is trying to do, I see a five-pronged tactical plan emerging - which are defining the direction of the economy for state governments and Nigerians generally to begin to move accordingly. These include protecting the naira through demand management that reduces the pressure in the foreign exchange market. This is a core policy of this administration and you can take it for granted that the President isn't going to shift ground on it.
Exchange rate is a politically sensitive issue and that is why people arguing from the angle of the market forces miss the point. Should Buhari make the move to devalue the naira, the impact on the economy will be so devastating that Nigerians, even his supporters will call for his resignation. The man clearly understands the inflationary effect of currency devaluation and he will do everything possible to avoid it. If there is a president that will devalue the local currency, he is yet to be voted into power.
The second emerging tactical plan is promoting import substitution, which is complementary to the policy of defending the naira. Nigeria has come to a period when it has no choice but to look inwards and this is the message the Buhari has for state governors and for the entire people of Nigeria.
For state governors, it is time to develop the internal resources available to them and for Nigerians generally, businesses that cannot adapt to the use of local raw materials will definitely not be around in just a matter of months. The 56-year old nation that is still eating from the feeding bottle will have to suddenly start chewing borne by force. The handwriting is clear on Nigeria's business wall: all will never be the same again!
The third tactical plan is to diversify the economy to stimulate production for export, which will create the job opportunities that government is promising and also reinforce foreign exchange earnings to support the naira. This will create the opportunity for state governments to earnestly commence exploitation of solid minerals and agricultural potentials that can be exported. I see them generating greater and sustainable internal revenue in this area than chasing around market women and okada riders in the name of generating internal revenue.
The fourth tactical plan I can see from the President is tilting government spending in favour of capital projects as much as he can under the budgeting structure. He will insist on doing this in order to drive economic growth and create new opportunities for employment. The Nigerian economy has been growing for years without the development that creates jobs. This is because the productive engines of the economy are resident abroad. A shift towards an inward oriented productive activity will mean increased employment opportunities at home.
The fifth tactical plan is fighting corruption and reducing wastages in the public sector. The resources that the nation could have used to drive economic development and reduce poverty were largely lost to corruption. A reasonable success in recovering the lost resources will go a long way to reverse the debilitating effects of corruption on economic development, growth and poverty.
Nwachukwu, a public affairs commentator writes from Enugu.