By Fejiro Johnson
The declaration speech by Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, SAN, to run for President on the platform of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), on April 11, was arguably the most anticipated political declaration in Nigeria’s history, with millions of Nigerians tuning in across television, radio and social media channels. Many believe that Osinbajo has the right qualities, character, competence and personality to become Nigeria’s President in 2023.
But let’s leave that and address the meat of the matter, the article, ‘A few questions for Prof. Yemi Osinbajo,’ by Achilleus-Chud Uchegbu, which was published on April 21.
When Osinbajo, then vice-presidential candidate for the APC, alongside presidential candidate Muhammadu Buhari, campaigned in 2015, it was a sweeping movement that was welcomed by the majority of Nigerians, as the polls eventually showed. It is a fact that, in terms of security issues, Nigeria is not where it was in 2015, when Boko Haram held large swathes of local government areas in the North-East, and there were series of bombings in major cities. Things have since improved from then on. While not all the challenges have been conquered, Nigeria is certainly on the road to recovery and building a safer country. By the way, other countries on the top 37 list include the United States, South Africa and Russia.
It is true that the Buhari government’s mandate included the fight against corruption, improving security and the economy. But critics also forget that the administration also came at a time when there was a major crash in global oil prices. Also, amid that, the proactive efforts of the Nigerian government saw the country exit two recessions caused by global factors. During these years, the Nigerian government invested heavily in infrastructure, rail, road and others, more than any other government in history. Juxtapose that with the humongous revenue received by previous governments when oil prices were at record high of over $100, with little to show for it.
Not only that, Nigeria was also hit by the global COVID-19 pandemic, but because of the Economic Sustainability Plan, spearheaded by the Osinbajo-led committee, the country exited recession faster than predicted, and millions of jobs were saved or created, among other economic gains.
The administration’s well-lauded Social Investment Programmes (SIPs) have also provided succour for especially the poor and most vulnerable in society, with tens o millions direct or indirect beneficiaries of the various components, including the cash transfer, N-power jobs for youths, school feeding and Government Enterprise and Empowerment Programme (GEEP).
For the record, prior to the 2019 general election, Osinbajo never publicly and openly shared cash at N10,000 to each trader for TraderMoni. This is a regurgitated lie from the author, which had been debunked in the past. The Bank of Industry is responsible for giving out the loans, the Vice-President simply went round the markets to engage with beneficiaries. Also, under the Niger Delta New Vision initiative of the Buhari administration, there have been major efforts to improve local refining capacity and provide jobs for people in the communities, with the establishment of modular refineries in different states in the region. The impact of such bold initiatives will certainly yield more dividends for Nigeria in the coming years. Also, the almost completed 650,000 bpd Dangote Refinery in Lekki, Lagos, will reduce Nigeria’s dependence of imported refined products. There are plans to also resuscitate the existing refineries.
India has since overtaken Nigeria as the poverty capital of the world, but that does not mean there are no development gains there. Nigeria alone has six unicorns, most of them fintech companies, that are valued at over a billion dollars, while the country has the highest number of fintech startups in Africa. It is not all doom and gloom, as the writer suggested.
Again, under the National Social Investment Programme, which is the largest such programme in sub-Saharan Africa, providing support to poor and vulnerable households in Nigeria was and is a clear priority of ahe Administration in the last seven years.
For instance, the National Home-Grown School Feeding Programme has recorded successes in its main objectives, such as improved school enrolment and completion, improved child nutrition and health, stimulating local agricultural production, and creating jobs while improving family and state economy. So far, about 10 million pupils all over the country have benefitted from the scheme.
The issue around increasing the cost of feeding is reflective of the impact of inflation and the need to reconcile the realities of the global economic situation with the objectives of the programme. The significant impact of the programme is not in doubt: creation of jobs throughout the value chain, nutritional improvement of pupils, increased attendance of the pupils to school, etcetera. At N100 per schoolchild per day is around the required amount as proposed by the World Food Programme ($82 per year). But the author would rather deflect attention with the cumulative cost of the programme.
Notably, the World Food Programme is also encouraging middle-income countries to design school feeding programmes as a means of improving the complex issue of human capital development. It is a costly programme but can be justified by the multi-sectoral benefits that it has achieved and will continue to achieve. The NHGSFP goes a long way towards Nigeria achieving many of the sustainable development goals
On another note, it is also important to realise that monetary policy issues like inflation fall under the purview of the Central Bank, which is independent by law. Importantly also, under this administration, the minimum wage was increased from N18,000 to N30,000.
Nevertheless, it is useful to point out some things concerning inflation. The discussion around inflation is more nuanced. Although it has been in double digits for 6 years, after the initial shocks, the trend has been downwards. For instance, after rising to 18.55% in December 2016, inflation fell for 20 consecutive months to 11.23% before trending upwards during the COVID-19 induced supply shocks. It then fell for 8 consecutive months.
As regards Premium Motor Spirt (petrol), cooking gas, diesel, Jet-A1, food, electricity and medicines, some of these are subject to the forces of demand and supply. For instance, the Russia-Ukraine Crisis has currently led to the increase in the benchmark crude price. This is because of embargoes and policies around the purchase of Russian crude (supply issues). This is an exogenous shock because the price of Brent is not determined by the Nigerian economy and so we are not able to control it. In addition, Wheat is also increasing in price because the Russia and Ukraine crisis challenges its supply; both countries are large exporters of wheat. A lot of countries import from both countries. This provides additional inflationary pressures for Nigeria.
But the Federal Government is taking proactive steps to further insulate Nigeria from further shocks. This is why it has placed so much emphasis on increasing exports including through paying monies due to exporters (Negotiable Duty Credit Certificates) and introducing the Export Expansion Grant in the ESP. The improvement of non-oil revenues will also provide a buffer for the Nigerian economy against the increasing volatility in oil prices. The improvement in non-oil revenues is a result of changes brought about by the annual Finance Act. Independent revenue of the Federal Government in 2021 was N1.1 trillion as opposed to the budgeted amount of N500bn. These are ways in which we can reduce the impact of imported inflation. On the issue of restructuring, the Vice President has spoken on different occasions about this. The writer is simply confused about restructuring and resource control which literally are interwoven. As the VP stated, the fundamental problem isn’t geographical restructuring, but the prudent management of national resources for the benefit of all Nigerians.
•Johnson is a public affairs analyst and social commentator
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