Is Nigeria on track?
The health of the economy, the fight against corruption and the search for security look set to dominate national election campaigning into 2019. Examining the arguments that the government and opposition will make, The Africa Report talks to Lai Mohammed, information minister and one of the founding fathers of the governing All Progressives Congress, and Donald Duke, a former governor of Cross River State and a self-declared candidate for the presidential elections, as yet unaligned with a party.
Both Mohammed and Duke had plenty to say about all three issues. From Mohammed’s viewpoint, the government has deftly managed the economy, pulling it out of recession, and implemented reforms that have encouraged investment in agriculture, services and start-ups. Accordingly, the central bank is forecasting growth of 3.5% this year, two years after crashing oil prices sapped the country’s growth. Mohammed also cited an opinion poll in which a majority of Nigerians surveyed said the government was succeeding in its battle against corruption. And on security, Mohammed argues that huge strides have been made over the past three years and that there is now a functioning regional alliance against the insurgents in the north-east.
Duke, on the other hand, says the economy remains in deep trouble because of the lack of progress on diversification and structural change to provide capital for small to medium-sized companies, which are key creators of new jobs. He rejects claims that the anti-corruption campaign is succeeding and links the problem to wider economic failings. On security, Duke calls for more inclusive policies to bring marginalised people into the political mainstream and also argues for a far bigger police force.
LAI MOHAMMED: Our anti-corruption strategy is working
This government has a track record, and our people recognise that. I have not lost a night’s sleep over the 2019 elections. There is a lot of talk about defections, but I don’t see a credible new force in the making. You cannot compare the political situation today with that of 2015. Then there was a newly merged entity – consisting of strong parties in the south-west, the north-east and the north-west as well as defectors from the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP). And critically, we had a charismatic leader in the shape of Muhammadu Buhari. I don’t see that in the opposition ranks today. I don’t see any political party that would merge with the PDP and challenge us.
We have a government that leads with a track record on security. We inherited a situation in which Boko Haram controlled territory the size of Lebanon. Even Abuja was not safe. The UN and This Day newspaper in the capital were bombed. Whether or not the Islamic State-linked affiliate to Boko Haram is dominant or not, we think its aim is to hold territory not just do hit-and-run attacks.
The government is up and doing. We are determined to clear the Sambisa Forest that Boko Haram is using as its rear base. Nowhere in the world do you see a government that is able to completely eradicate terrorist attacks. Normalcy is slowly returning to the north-east. In Maiduguri, banks and schools have been repaired and are reopening. Apart from Borno State, there are no internally displaced people’s camps.
People recognise that our anti-corruption strategy is working. Over 1,000 cases are being investigated currently by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission […] For 16 years, just one political party, the PDP, had exclusive access to executive power. And it looted the treasury, so logically more PDP politicians will face prosecution.
We also respect the constitution. This government believes in the separation of powers. The police have investigated political violence in Kwara State and have arrested some individuals who are making accusations against senior politicians. That is legitimate. They have the right to call those individuals for questioning. We would we encourage all parties to cooperate.
We have implemented structural reforms and improvements in doing business. For example, the single treasury account system has helped us fight corruption. We have weeded out the ghost workers at the federal level and now we have to do the same with the state governments. We have set up efficiency units in the ministries to focus better on implementation and inter-agency cooperation. We’re doing much more due diligence on procurement and other contracts.
DONALD DUKE:Unemployment is probably between 70% and 80%
Muhammadu Buhari ran for office on twomain problems: security and corruption. You can only judge him based on what he said. Corruption, where are we?We are still as corrupt as ever. In fact, if we use the [Transparency International] integrity index, we are worse.
We need to understand police in the totality of policing […]. Incidences of kidnapping are still rampant, the herdsmen problem has reared its head even more under President Buhari’s watch. Boko Haram: President Buhari has announced about three times that it is over, but it is still there. He didn’t say much about the economy; he said hewill make the naira stronger, but we all know it couldn’t happen. What people are looking at is not the value of the currency but the stability of the currency […]. Because you are a mono-economy, you need to engage the International Monetary Fund, you need to have a buffer with them and create a confidence that, come what may, we are giving you a guarantee that we have reached a deal whereby the price of the naira will remain at 350 naira to a dollar for the next 10 years.
In the United States, President Buhari was asked how he will deal with the Niger Delta, the south-east etc. He made a statement that those who did not vote for him should not expect as much as those who voted for him. That’s not leadership. If you don’t vote for him, it is more reason why he should win your heart and soul next time.
I will use my example. In 1999, I got only 19,000 votes from an entire senatorial district, Cross River North. If you took out the vote from that district, I still won the election. What did I do? I focused on them, I invested heavily. You are a leader of not just part of the country, you are a leader of the entire country. To me, that was a failure of leadership. The cry for Biafra is a cry of marginalisation. The people feel that you don’t care for them. Each time a section of the country doesn’t feel carried along, they are going to react.
I don’t believe in the statistics that say unemployment in Nigeria is 15%. It is probably between 70% and 80%. Even those who are employed are underemployed and underpaid. So you find that it puts a lot pressure on those who are employed because they have to support those who are unemployed.
The advantage of a developing country is that it opens up opportunities for people because so many things have not been done. In Nigeria, which has a 20m-unit housing shortage, that is a big opportunity. Schools have to be built. We have a lot of people who are out of school. Even the student-teacher ratio is inadequate, so you need to recruit more teachers. We should be bustling with opportunities, but we are not.
You have a credit system that does not allow for small and medium-scale industries. Even for the large-scale industries, [banks] charge interest in the upper 20%. In a nutshell, my focus will be to create as many jobs and include as many people into the economy as possible. That will douse a lot of things. That will even douse corruption. That will douse security threats.
From the July-August 2018 print edition