By Muideen Olaniyi, Abuja, Clement A. Oloyede, Kano & Abdullateef Aliyu, Lagos
The outgoing administration of President Muhammadu Buhari has tactically reversed some of its policy decisions in the last eight years.
Some observers told Daily Trust on Sunday that although some of the policy summersaults, which came as a result of poor planning, while others were sold as dummies to the president by some people for personal gains, they were good for the system.
They said that while it was not a bad idea to review decisions once apparent glitches were established, some of the reversals witnessed in the last few weeks would negatively impact on the legacies of the president, who has few days to leave after eight years in power.
They argued that the story would have been different but for the fact that so many things were taken for granted by the outgoing administration, thinking that eight years were a long time, only to realise that they had started running against time to actualise certain things.
Projects that wobbled
Many Nigerians feel that although a legitimate policy, the controversial currency redesign was terribly handled.
Shortly after the general elections, the president had to bow to mounting pressure from critical stakeholders, especially citizens who suffered untold hardship due to the scarcity of cash that hit the country following the naira redesign policy of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).
The scarcity of naira notes had forced the CBN to adhere to the Supreme Court decision that old N200, N500 and N1,000 notes would remain legal tender until December 31, 2023. This followed suits files by governors of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) who disagreed with the implementation of the policy in the midst of preparation for general elections.
The CBN, led by Godwin Emefiele, introduced the new notes in December last year, amid efforts to fight corruption, terrorism, counterfeiting and related crimes. They had fixed a January 31, 2023 deadline.
The rising tension across the country due to the difficulty faced by Nigerians to get the new notes forced the apex bank to extend the deadline to February 10.
The decision of President Buhari on February 16 to extend the validity of only the old N200 notes to circulate as legal tender with the new N200, N500 and N1,000 for 60 days from February 10 to April 10, 2023, also failed to resolve the cash crisis until the intervention of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), which threatened to carry out a nationwide protest if the CBN did not find a permanent solution to the cash scarcity.
Removal of fuel subsidy
Just like the cashless policy, which is yet to be perfected, the plan to remove fuel subsidy has also created panic. The Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Hajiya Zainab Ahmed, had said at different occasions that subsidy on all petroleum products would be removed by June 2023. However, her remarks after the last National Economic Council (NEC) meeting of the Buhari administration, which suggested the possibility of extending the June 2023 deadline set for the removal of subsidy, had raised the suspicion that the federal government might not take the action at the already fixed period again.
However, a statement by her special adviser on media and communication, Yunusa Tanko Abdullahi, noted that the federal government had not suspended the removal but rather expanded its committee to include teams from the incoming administration and the state governors.
The same statement revealed that the 2023 Fiscal Framework and Appropriation Act, as well as the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA), had made the provision that government should exit fuel subsidy by June 2023.
In addition to the actions that portrayed the current administration as inconsistent is the last-minute postponement of the national population and housing census earlier scheduled from May 3 to May 7, indefinitely. The exercise was earlier moved from March 29, 2023 due to the general elections.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, in a statement, had announced that the earlier scheduled exercise would now hold on a date to be determined by the incoming administration.
It stated that the president gave the approval after meeting with some members of the Federal Executive Council and the chairman of the National Population Commission (NPC) and his team at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
Explaining the reason for the action, Dr Inuwa Jalingo, the 2023 Census Manager and Director, National Population Commission (NPC), had said at a news conference in Abuja that the population and housing census was postponed due to government’s transition programme and the post-election mood in the country.
Reversals bad for Buhari’s legacy, good for democracy – Prof Fage
Reacting, public affairs and political analysts have said the reversal of policies by the Buhari administration could be both negative and positive. They said it was negative because of the perception of the leadership acumen of the president, and positive because in most of the cases, it is a success of democratic process.
A renowned political scientist, Professor Kamilu Sani Fage, observed that the reversals became possible because the policies were conceptualised at the tail end of the administration, which meant there was no time for their implementations.
He said the reversal of the naira redesign policy was a triumph of democratic process over authoritarianism that was obtainable during military regimes.
“Buhari was forced to abide by the democratic process of decision making, in terms of monetary policy. He was wrongly advised because he thought he could do it by fiat or decree, the way he did it as a military leader in 1984,” he said.
Fage said everyone knew how highly controversial the issue of fuel subsidy had been and how it would negatively affect the country; as such, it would be wrong for President Buhari to implement it at the end of his tenure and allow the next government to take up the “problems.”
“Politically, that would be unwise. As such, it could be said that the reversal was out of political consideration. For the census, since 1963, there has not been a census that has been accepted nationally because of its sensitivity; and it will be very wrong for him to do it at the last moment when he had eight years.
Even if the census was done, it has to be analysed before taking it to the Council of State. So, you cannot do something and saddle the next government with the controversies that would come with the process.
“The federal government has been forced to know that it is not military rule, it is a democratic system; so, the views and opinions of the people matter. We can see it as a positive thing from the democratic perspective. But from the leadership view, it is negative,” he said.
Also commenting, a senior lecturer in the Department of Public Administration of the Bayero University, Kano (BUK), Dr Saidu Dukawa, said the reversal of those policies indicated that they were not well thought out in the first place. “It is a big minus in terms of policy making. And it gives the government a bad image,” he said, adding that the federal government has wasted a lot of resources.
“That’s why it is always advised that programmes and policies are well thought out at the stage of planning,” he said, adding that these reversals mean that the leader lacks the necessary manpower, both at the advisory and implementation levels.
Similarly, an economist, Professor Ndubuisi Nwokoma, condemned what he called the inconsistency of the outgoing administration, which he said explained the reversal of most of his policies at the 11th hour.
Nwokoma, who is the director, Centre for Economic Policy Analysis, University of Lagos, said most of the policies were driven by various interests, which the president succumbed to.
He said, “There are so many interest or pressure groups working on the policies. On the census, there was no need. There must have been an interest group that wanted it. But in my opinion, it is very obvious that it was not necessary; we don’t need it at this stage. It seems like an agenda. I don’t know why he must do the count before he leaves office. Why also do you have to rush it? You can take time and plan it.
“The naira redesign was also an issue about interest groups. Whatever they had in mind would be the action of the elections. Of course the Supreme Court intervened in this case and we are now using the old notes.
“Fuel subsidy is also driven by interest groups; and the idea is to save himself from the implications on his person. He just wants to push that to the next government. So, it just shows inconsistency and not being able to think through a policy before bringing it out. I think that is also a defining factor for his administration, that he has not been able to put himself together. He is under the pressure from different interest groups.”
He advised the incoming government not to emulate President Buhari, saying, “The Buhari model has been inconsistency; and people suspect his motives. He also knows he is not doing well because he was asking for pardon. So, he knows there were areas he offended the public. He has been inconsistent and sometimes vindictive, and he has come to realise that.”
Also speaking, a professor of Political Science, Gbade Ojo, also urged the incoming government to have well thought out policies.
He said the lack of coordination by the Buhari government was responsible for the reversal of most of the policies.
He said, “Ordinarily, an organised and coordinated outgoing government will not dabble into such critical issues when they don’t have much time to hand over. A situation whereby they were planning naira swap few days to elections when you knew very well that another government would be coming in, as well as planning census, shows that those running the government are not organised.
“When you look at the budget, what it caused to organise national elections and what it would cost to organise a population census in a country that the economy is not buoyant, you don’t do such huge expenditure the same year. It is not the best.
“I want to say that it is advisable the outgoing government hands off, including the fuel subsidy withdrawal. They are supposed to let a new government begin all over.
“They are even talking about salary increase when they are handing over in a few days’ time. Those things are madness. But you have been there in the last eight years without increasing salaries. Those are issues for the new government. They want the new government to come and workers would begin strike. Ngige and his cohorts are not getting it right.
“It all boils down to the fact that Buhari is not running a coordinated government.”