Home Special Features President Buhari, how far? by Ehi Braimah

President Buhari, how far? by Ehi Braimah

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This will be the first time I’m engaging President Muhammadu Buhari directly since he assumed office in 2015 on key national issues. Mr President, I know you love Nigeria as much as I do but how do you want to be remembered after leaving office? I know for sure you will retire to Daura but what legacy do you wish to leave behind?

Recently, you said Nigeria must remain as one country in spite of our challenges. I agree with you, sir, because we do not have any other country to call our own. For the avoidance of doubt, let me state that Nigeria is a great country but we have refused to rise to our full potential like the true giant of Africa that we are.

Who should take the blame? I think the comprehensive failure of leadership at all levels is responsible. Nigerians, too, are part of the problem.

Our own Aliko Dangote, the richest man in Africa, says he is very passionate about making Nigeria great. That is where I also stand. My next book is titled, “How Naija can conquer the world”, with the Foreword written by Al Ries, award-winning author and one of the world’s best known marketing strategists. He lives in Atlanta, USA.

Each time I watch Dangote on television, he says Nigeria is blessed with abundant natural resources, yet we continue to import petroleum products. I’m sure this was what motivated him to build the biggest refinery in the world that has the capacity to refine 650,000 barrels of crude oil daily.

All over the world, Nigerians are doing great things in different fields. See how Tobi Amusan, Ese Brume and others shone like a million stars recently, putting Nigeria on the world map in their extraordinary performances at sporting events in Oregon, USA and Birmingham, UK. We must continue to engage them and promote their endeavours.

Apart having the largest economy in Africa, we are also the most populous country in Africa with over 210 million people. Currently, available population data indicates that Nigeria is No 6 in the world after China, India, United States, Indonesia and Pakistan. Let’s not forget that Nigeria is also the most populous black nation in the world, and by 2050, it is being projected that Nigeria will become the third most populous nation in the world, after China and India, with over 400 million people.

Mr President, before we interrogate the issues that are weighing me down, I’m happy to note that you insisted on genuine electoral reforms that will protect our democracy. It is a milestone achievement that has started building trust between Nigerians and the electoral process.

You will be remembered for the Electoral Act 2022. Congratulations, sir. To your credit, you played the role of a neutral umpire during the off-season elections; it did not matter whether your party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), was the winner or not.

In the gubernatorial elections in Edo, Ekiti and Osun States, you insisted that the elections must be free and fair. In fact, you also promptly issued congratulatory messages to the winners. I commend you because that is the true spirit of sportsmanship; you acted like an elder, father and statesman.

There was also the Petroleum Industry Bill which you signed into law. I salute you for seeing the process to the end, knowing fully well that the bill had gathered enough cobwebs to last a lifetime in the closets of the national assembly. Again, congratulations sir.

With the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA), NNPC is now a private and commercial enterprise that is no longer tied to the apron strings of the federal government. Because of its independence, NNPC Limited will operate like Saudi Aramco, the Saudi Arabian public petroleum and gas company based in Dhahran founded in 1933, and Petrobas, the Brazilian multinational corporation in the petroleum industry, founded in 1953.

Saudi Aramco reported that it earned $89 billion profit in the first half of 2022, a 90% increase on $47.2 billion, the profit earned last year during the same period. This is clearly a windfall arising from the rising price of oil in the global market.

From the examples of Saudi Aramco and Petrobas, the new NNPC will enhance inter-disciplinary control, foster unity and build capacity for a sustainable development in the oil and gas industry. During the launch of NNPC Limited in Abuja, Mele Kyari, the company’s CEO, spoke with confidence and assured Nigerians that old things have passed away.

Indeed, NNPC declared a profit after tax of N287 billion two years ago. That would be the first profit after 44 years of existence for an organisation known for making losses. Kudos to you, Mr President, for this positive outcome. In the past, NNPC had a bad reputation for poor corporate governance amplified by undue political interferences.

Mr President, you showed that you are an advocate of the rule of law recently. After approving that Seplat can purchase ExxonMobil shares, you reversed yourself as Minister of Petroleum Resources in the spirit of the Petroleum Industry Act which now vests such powers in the Nigerian Upstream Petroleum Regulatory Commission (NUPRC) headed by Gbenga Komolafe.

The federal government and Mobil Producing Nigeria Unlimited are in joint venture agreements in several oil mining licenses through the NNPC and the petroleum industry is regulated by PIA. It means there are laws governing sale of shares and assets by industry players because we are talking about a fully regulated industry. Although the matter is in court, the position right now is that ExxonMobil has been denied the authority to sell until certain issues are sorted out.

By the way, it appears most commentators are confusing shares sale with assets sale; these are two different things entirely. Keen observers would have noticed that ExxonMobil has not commented on the matter which says a lot about the whole drama that played out recently.

Mr President, the following talking points should also interest you because in my reckoning, they signpost significant failures under your leadership. There is no reason why the ASUU strike which began on February 14 should drag on for more than one week without consequences. The entire process has been poorly managed and I don’t know why the ministers responsible for education and labour have not been fired.

With the general elections in view, APC will have a big problem with university teachers, parents and students. They are unhappy and it is bad omen for the ruling party. Read the lips of ASUU president, Prof Emmanuel Osodeke, carefully to understand that ASUU strike is a “struggle” that has received the full support of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC).

What the federal government has done is to pass a vote of no confidence on public educational institutions in Nigeria simply because you cannot find the children of “big men” schooling in Nigeria. Even your two weeks deadline for the crisis to be resolved, Mr President, did not materialize! So where do we go from here, Mr President?

There must be a strong commitment from both parties for the strike to be called off. The solution is to be creative about the funding process of universities and other public schools; it is obvious that government alone cannot provide all the funds needed.

Six months is a long time for students to be at home doing nothing, after losing one academic session to ASUU strike two years ago. I noticed that more private universities are being approved and licensed even when public tertiary institutions are closed down. What is the wisdom in that?

I will not bore you with details of the deplorable security situation in the country because you receive briefings regularly. However, the war economy boomed with egregious corruption under your watch and kidnapping has become a thriving industry, grossing billions of Naira. In spite of your assurances and several security meetings, people are worried about their safety; there’s so much uncertainty.

The other day, Nasir el-Rufai, Kaduna State governor, informed you in a memo that terrorists have set up a parallel government in the state. Can you imagine their audacity? Are we then saying terrorists are winning the battle and gaining the upper hand? El-Rufai’s counterparts in Niger and Benue states, Abubakar Sani Bello and Samuel Ortom respectively, had previously raised alarms of similar magnitude.

To be honest with you sir, achievements recorded with rail infrastructure were reversed in full by the kidnap incident on the Kaduna–Abuja train service. Although most of the victims have been released, the memories of the traumatic experience by the survivors and their families will not go away in a long time.

From all indications, we do not seem to have any clue as to when the reign of terrorists, bandits, kidnappers and unknown gunmen will end.

Sometimes, journalists are accused of “over reporting” our security challenges. Mr President, this is not true because you can be sure there are stories journalists who are also briefed regularly on security matters in Abuja don’t report.

It would appear you are always unwilling to wield the big stick even when it is obvious there has been a complete failure of intelligence or poor performance by your ministers and heads of agencies. Take the case of the Kuje prison attack or when terrorists attacked your convoy and brigade of guards where some military officers were killed.

I know you have less than 10 months to the end of your tenure but the time has come for you to bark and bite at the same time, and, more importantly, learn to adopt the carrot and stick approach. It is an important leadership tool.

When bad petrol was imported into this country early this year, heads did not roll. We were told cock and bull stories by your men while motorists suffered costly damages to their cars. They were also subjected to endless and frustrating fuel queues.

The other matter that has refused to go away and bothers me is the unconscionable theft in the oil industry. Why won’t Nigeria be flat broke when oil thieves are making $1.9 billion every month stealing our oil?

This is a serious tragedy and economic sabotage which began a long time ago – even before you assumed office. But why is it difficult to end the current theft of 400,000 barrels of our oil daily? Who are the thieves? Are they ghosts?

Still on the oil sector, my dear President, why are we spending so much on petrol subsidy? Between January 2017 and June 2022, N4.194 trillion was paid as fuel subsidy to oil marketers. Our economic situation is dire and we now borrow to service our debts. Nigeria’s total revenue in Q1 2022 stood at N1.63 trillion while debt servicing stood at N1.94 trillion, showing a negative variance of over N300 billion. This is a serious matter, sir.

Our total debt stock in the first quarter of 2022 was N41.6 trillion and it may climb to N45 trillion by the end of this year. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) that borrowed money from us in the past has decried Nigeria’s debt to GDP ratio of 76%, saying it is stifling development.

For your information, fuel subsidy is no longer sustainable although the president of NLC, Ayuba Wabba, will not agree. He says we must get our four refineries working before ending fuel subsidy in order not to inflict “too much pain” on Nigerians.

At a time oil prices are going up, Nigeria is not earning the benefit. We are struggling to service our debts with the Naira in a free fall.

I concede that Covid-19 pandemic disrupted global supply chains and the Russia-Ukraine war has triggered inflationary trends around the world. But the war ought to be an advantage for us to have expanded our oil and gas supply footprints all over the West African market if only our refineries were working. We cannot even meet our OPEC quota of 1.8 million barrels per day. It is a shame! By now, the size of our economy should have been at least $1 trillion.

The moribund refineries are decaying assets that we spend billions of Naira on yearly and they are unable to refine one drop of crude oil. The operational expenses at each refinery are top heavy. Each refinery has a managing director assisted by a senior management team. Once you attain a managerial grade, the pay-off is huge upon resignation or retirement. NNPC is probably the best paying organisation in Nigeria, yet the four refineries are not working.

Your Excellency, it may shock you to know that the staff strength of the four refineries constitute about 18% of the total number of NNPC employees. Money is spent on staff salaries, operations and maintenance of the refineries that were sold under former President Olusegun Obasanjo but the late President Umaru Yar’Adua reversed the sale.

Apart from acquiring brand new Prado SUVs as they wish, each managing director has two “Lead and Chase” vehicles – pick-up security vans with six mobile police officers and two drivers escorting the MDs; one van in front and the other behind the Prado SUV. It is the same scenario at all the MDAs where a culture of waste has been entrenched.

It is not too late to review and implement the Stephen Oronsaye Committee report that contains 268 recommendations to reduce the cost of governance. We have too much duplication of roles in MDAs, and now that our economy is bleeding, this is the time to summon the political will to implement the report. We can save a lot of money and it will edify your legacy.

Restructuring the country was one of your party’s campaign promises but it was not fulfilled even after Nasir el-Rufai’s committee submitted a comprehensive proposal for the implementation. It would have dealt with issues such as fiscal federalism, state police, etc.

Electricity supply is still poor and epileptic. The national grid collapsed six times this year, causing nationwide blackouts. Most businesses and manufacturers depend on generators for light but the cost of diesel has gone through the roof. Life is generally tough due to economic hardships. A litre of kerosene sells for about N800. The price per litre of diesel and aviation fuel have also become unbearable.

One more thing Mr President; a lot of young Nigerians are leaving Nigeria in droves because the story out there is that they have lost hope in our beloved country. We have a duty to make them believe in Nigeria. The popular street slang for those emigrating is “Japa”, and I have heard stories of even adults also seeking greener pastures outside the shores of Nigeria.

Medical doctors and nurses leaving Nigeria are mostly headed to the United Kingdom. In June and July alone, according to media reports, over 260 doctors were licensed to practice in the UK. This brain drain is too much and it should be reversed immediately, Your Excellency.

The good news is that diaspora remittances average about $20 billion a year – a significant inflow that supports our economy but the only challenge is that over 70% is spent on consumption, not productive activities that can create employment and wealth.

Mr President, our healthcare infrastructure is deplorable and it has given rise to mushrooming of private hospitals. Duchess International, Evercare, Nizamiye and Reddington are some of the available high-profile hospitals but how many Nigerians can afford them?

Finally, some Nigerians express concern over your medical vacations in the UK and the matter is discussed freely because the expectation is that, as president of Nigeria, you should receive treatment locally, even if it means flying the best resources in the world to Abuja.

Thank you, Mr President for your patience. I hope I did not bore you with my random musings.

I sincerely wish you well. May God bless Nigeria.

Braimah is a public relations strategist and publisher/editor-in-chief of Naija Times (https://ntm.ng)

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