From Change To Chain: The Ongoing Metamorphosis Of A Populist Regime – By Jaye Gaskia

Muhammadu Buhari arrives for his swearing-in as Nigeria's president at Eagle Square in Abuja, Nigeria May 29, 2015. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde


[This piece was written originally for publication by Pan African Visions – US based online Magazine with a Pan African Focus]

This is the month of the first anniversary of the inauguration of the PMB populist regime and of the formal ascension to power of the self-proclaimed ‘New Governing Party’ – the APC. And I am not trying to be cheeky here, just coming from a bruising encounter with the populist regime as it tries to consolidate its hold on power.

How many of us still remember the heady days of exuberant triumphalism occasioned by the declaration of the then APC Presidential candidate as the president elect? How many of us remember the atmosphere of incredulous anticipation and of mass hysteria on the streets in general, and around the APC National Headquarters in particular?

It was while enveloped in the surreal ambience of a longed for and hard fought victory that the then main opposition party addressed the world press promising as an evidence of the change that was promised that it was going to be ‘a governing’, and not ‘a ruling party’! So as you can see, I am not being cheeky at all.

On May 29th 2016 both the populist PMB regime and his ‘New governing party’ will be exactly one year old in office and in power.

Some among us will echoing the government counsel us not to rush into making any assessment of their performance in office yet; pointing out to us that it is too soon – after all it is just barely a year since our ‘collective deliverance’ from the fabled ‘dark days’ of PDP misrule; pleading for our patience [I thought we sent Patience parking with her husband with our votes in April 2015?], asking for our understanding, insisting that it will take much longer to clean the Aegean stables left by the departed profligate president and his treasury looting tool called the PDP.

So let me be clear from the beginning that I understand that the morass we are presently in took 16 years of the most misguided and frenzied incompetence and light fingeredness to prepare and consolidate; I therefore understand that it will take some time to correct the ills and lay new foundations.

Nevertheless, one year is 25% of the 4 year tenure and mandate given to PMB and his governing party, and I dare say that a quarter of one’s life time is a significant length of time!

And whereas I will wait until the halfway mark to make a more definitive analysis of the performance of this populist regime and governing party in power; I will nevertheless venture to make my preliminary analysis on the basis of their first one year in office.

But unlike the regime would want us to do, although I understand the nature of the damage done to us by the years of the locusts, the wasted PDP years in government, I am not going to be dwelling on those. I will rather focus on what the APC and PMB have done since then, the steps they have taken or have not taken to address the challenges; our collective condition of living one year after they took office compared to the point in time that they took office.

When PMB won the presidential elections of 2015 and the APC won a decisive victory in the general elections of that same year, there were some of our compatriots who attributed the victory to what they referred to as an ethnic gang up. My own analysis was different, PDP lost because it misgoverned, because of the breakdown of the national ruling class consensus and the consequent implosion of the party; because of the simultaneous reconstitution of a new national ruling class consensus political platform in the APC; and because of popular anger and disaffection with PDP misrule driven by a generation that became politically conscious and was politicised during and in the aftermath of the January Uprising of 2012 [Occupy Nigeria].

And the facts were available to back me up; unemployment had risen from barely 9% in 2003 to 23% by 2014; poverty rate had increased from 54% to 70% among other things. Add to these the humongous scale and scope of treasury looting!

So what do the facts say one year after PMB and APC took office? We have to begin from the issues that the party and its candidates campaigned upon; the promises they made, what as a governing party and new regime they say they have prioritised.

There is an African proverb that we begin to eat Moin Moin [olele/bean meal] from its flat end [only those familiar with the moin moin cooked inside wrapped leaves in Ibadan will have a clear picture of this in their minds].

So let us begin with the twin fight against insecurity and insurgency [with defeating Boko Haram as a priority], and against corruption.

Of course apart from these two flagship ‘programs’, there are also the priorities of revamping the economy, and tackling unemployment and poverty.

But let us begin with the flagship ‘programs’ of fighting insecurity and corruption’. First it is important to point out that contrary to the thinking of the regime and governing party, fighting insecurity and corruption are not programs, rather they are the outcomes of your program, and the way you do things respectively.

Neither processes will automatically lead to economic growth, or translate into human development and progress. They can however, if managed properly provide the enabling environment for national development to take place.

So yes Boko Haram has been driven from territories it once controlled over which it declared a caliphate, pledged alliance to ISIS and declared itself controller of the so-called West African Province of the Islamic Caliphate declared by ISIS.

After one year, Boko Haram’s flags are no longer hoisted on any Local Government secretariat, or Emir’s palace, or on any government building; So this is indeed a marked improvement in the security situation.

Nevertheless ‘about 72% of children between 6 and 16 years of age in Borno; 58% in Yobe; and 52% in Bauchi have never attended schools’ according to recent data from the North East Accountability Cluster. This reinforces statistics from Global Education For All that as of 2010 Nigeria had about 11 million out of school children, the second largest population of out school children globally after Pakistan. More than 65% of these out of school children were from the core north.

The point being made is that over the past one year, and given improving security situation, what plans have been put in place or are being put in place by Federal and relevant state governments to address this education, health and other basic social services challenges? What targets have been set? By what percentage points are we expecting these figures to have been reduced at the end of the four year tenure phased annually?

But there are also other emerging security challenges capable of destabilising the country as much as, if not even more than the Boko Haram insurgency was able to do. These include the now endemic conflict between herdsmen and farmers with the potential to accentuate and compound existing ethno-religious fault lines in our society.

We can add to this the resurgent militancy and criminality in the Niger Delta; the increasing wave of kidnapping and pipeline vandalisation; as well as renewed ethnic agitations, for instance the agitation for Biafra by IPOB.

There is also the potential for a mishandling of the Shite-Military-Community clash to precipitate another round of conscious challenge to the state.

All of these call into question the nature and character of the basic components of our security architecture, the nature of coordination and effective utilisation of existing forces and capabilities in order to achieve optimum impact through synergy.

Now let us move on to the anti-corruption campaign. This is also one of the two areas where there has been some new momentum and traction with respect to investigation, arrests, prosecution and loot recovery.

Some have said that the process is selective and amounts to witch-hunt. I beg to disagree.  If a party has been in power for 16 years at the Federal level, and there has been massive corruption, it stands to reason that the bulk of the partakers in the frenzied treasury looting process would have been members of that ruling party, at least at the federal level.

Also if funds meant for purchase of arms are transferred to party officials from the account of the ONSA, then let no one claim to be persecuted. Nor should people who received monies for campaign purposes from funds originating directly from the CBN talk of being which hunted.

Haven said this however, it is important that the process of loot recovery and fighting corruption be transparent and accountable.

How much loot has been recovered? How much is outstanding? Who has returned what? How much was recovered from each person and in total? Into what account have the recovered loot been paid? Who is managing this/these account[s]? What is the recovered loot being used for? Or what plans are being put in place for the utilisation of recovered loot? One year on, what is the current state of the anti-corruption war, in all its ramifications?

It is on the economic and human development front however that the promised change seems to have been unravelling very fast.

First and most importantly, one year into office, and except for the recent signing into law of their first budget, it is still not entirely clear what the economic policy thrust and direction of this change regime is.

We did not get the 2016 budget signed into law until May 2016! Why is the timing of the budget very important? Because effectively in a four year tenure, a government has direct control only over three budget cycles. The implication of this is that in our given context, a four year national and human development program can be effectively funded only through three full budget cycles.

So although we now have a 2016 appropriation act, with its four core areas of focus; six strategic intervention areas; and 34 priority projects; nevertheless we have no medium to long term view of the economic and human development plan of this government and governing party yet.

One had expected that the change mantra would actually lead to changes in the way things have been done thus far. But alas this has not been so.

One had expected a return to the National Development Planning process, with the regime taking advantage of the present defective set up to undertake and articulate a serious National development plan framework, for which the annual budgets will become annual implementation plans.

A major part of our national economic challenge is the retreat from medium to long term development planning prompted and aided by the Bretton Woods Institutions. We replaced the national development plan with the Medium Term Expenditure Framework, and the Medium Term Sectoral Strategies [MTEF & MTSS].

And as their names suggest, these are simply expenditure statements of how you intend to disburse accrued revenue in the case of the MTEF, and strategies or put more correctly a collection of projects that will be implemented in each sector of the economy in the case of the MTSS.

And whereas these may be components, even required components of a holistic and integrated overarching national development planning framework, they cannot be substitutes for it.

Sectoral strategies do not take care of synergy, and leave room for duplication, disconnectedness, and limits the ability to see the overall picture and how each sector feeds into and complements other sectors in achieving the overall goal.

The change regime if it indeed was going to be different could have used the opportunity of preparing the MTEF and MTSS to also articulate an overarching four to five year National [Human and Economic] Development Plan for the country.

Besides the Zero based budgeting system which it claims to have introduced, if properly implemented is the foundation for planning, for a planned economic development. However what we have seen from the budget process so far is that the 2016 budget was not a zero based budget, it in fact almost became a zero budget!

The change government had promised that it was going to tackle unemployment and poverty, create jobs, enable entrepreneurial development, create wealth, reduce unemployment and poverty, and reduce the inherited 17 million housing deficits by 4 million housing units.

One year on what is the reality? According to the NBS, GDP growth rate had slowed to 2.84% in Q3 [2015] during the first three months of the regime; and further declined to 2.1% in Q4 [2015], and has now declined into negative growth, that is -0.36% in Q1 [2016].

The implication of this is that under the watch of the Change government our economy has contracted by more than 3% [percentage points]. If we repeat, as it is expected a second consecutive negative growth at the end of Q2 [2016], then our economy will have technically entered into recession – welcome to Greece on our shores!

Similarly at the inception of this government, composite unemployment rate was around 26% [about 9% unemployment rate and 17% underemployment rate]; now that figure has grown further with composite unemployment rate moving nearer 30% mark – and with unemployment rate rising from 9% to 12% and underemployment rate rising from about 17% to about 20% in April 2016.

Furthermore the inflation rate has also moved from about 9% to 13% as at April 2016. Likewise the exchange rate of the Naira to the Dollar at the parallel market has also fallen from about N240 naira per Dollar then to about N440 per Dollar now. We do not know yet in concrete terms how these have affected and are affecting the poverty rate, but we do know that the impact will be negative.

At the inception of this administration power generation and transmission capacity stood roughly around the 3,000 to 4,000MWs mark. But now? We can barely generate 2,000MW and can hardly transmit and distribute 1,900MWs consistently. In Fact since March 31st 2016 for instance the national grid has witnessed more than 6 system collapses.

Over the last decade We have consistently been one of the countries with the highest cost of doing business globally, as well as with the least ease of doing business rankings. Given the electricity tariff hike of 45% on the average effected since February 2016, and the recent fuel price hike of more than 60% effected May 2016; and given the fact that energy cost is the most significant component of the cost of doing business and running households in Nigeria, it will be interesting to see impact of these twin astronomical hikes in the cost of basic energy components on the cost of doing business, the cost of running households, the cost of transportation, the consequent cost of goods and services produced under these circumstances, and the on the condition of living of ordinary Nigerians by the end of the year. Please refer to my recent writing on the twin price hikes for further analysis on this].

On the back of this and against this background, NACCIMA, LCCI, ABUCCIMA, and MAN have all reported business closures and failures in the course of this year with consequent loss of jobs.

The greatest challenge of this government however is that it lacks a coherent and shared vision; it also lacks internal cohesiveness as a party. Furthermore as is the case with most populist regimes they substitute their thinking for popular consultation, and replace instruction classes structured public engagements with interactive dialogue with the citizenry.

The government comes to the people with finished products and conclusions and then expects them to buy into these products. This is not consultation, this is product marketing.

As for the content of the 2016 appropriation act, the best that we can say is that these are still statements of intention, these are not yet acts and done deeds and so cannot yet be evaluated, nor can we be urged to undertake anticipatory evaluation of projects that are yet to be fully designed let alone implemented.

But we can already say and infer that the economic policy thrust of this administration is contradictory to its social thrust and social intervention investment intentions.

The determination to continue to rely on importation of refined petroleum products, coupled with the tying of the pump price to the exchange rate of the naira to the dollar on the parallel market is a recipie for economic disaster. It is sending the economy into a tailspin, it is increasing rather than reducing the pressure on the foreign exchange/reserves and on the consequent value of the naira to the dollar, and it is increasing inflationary pressures on the economy in general.

Under this new pricing regime, pump price of PMS dependent as it is on the international price of crude per barrel and on the black market exchange rate of the naira to the dollar, will precipitate sharp increases in the pump price of PMS every month, if not fortnightly, with its attendant impact on inflation and cost of living and consequent negative multiplier effects on the economy.

It is little wonder that the summary of my analysis is that we are seeing a transition from effecting change by a populist regime to being chained down as a people as a result of the cumulative Actions and Inactions of this government.

Under their watch, giving the trajectory of their governance or lack of it, the economy is likely going to get further enmeshed in crisis, the crisis is likely to deepen, and the government is likely going to  shift the burden more and more unto the shoulders or increasingly impoverished ordinary Nigerians.

This is no accident, historically; the governments that have been most successful in implementing austerity, in impoverishing the people have been populist governments, or governments elected with popular mandates. An unpopular government cannot implement austerity measures without unprecedented repression.

Nevertheless even populist governments who are implementing austerity tend to become increasingly repressive as the condition of living of the people force them to resist austerity and further hardships from their once darling government.

It is not an accident of history that some of the most repressive regimes in history began their rule as populist regimes with popular mandates led by iconic figures with cult like following.

Is this the trajectory being charted by PMB [and the leadership cult being built around him] and the APC with the cult like following of its supporters actively promoted, sponsored, orchestrated by party leaders?

Only time will tell. However we must never forget that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. The road to our immediate future is long and rough. The ruling class has collectively failed us [PDP failed us woefully, and APC is now failing].

It is upto us to take our destiny into our own hands.



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