The year 2015 was a year of abundant phenomena for Nigeria, the African Giant. For historians, the general election that held in March and April amid widespread uncertainties turned out to be more than just that. The nationwide poll, which was easily the most prominent highlight of the year, was as unpredictable as its aftermath. Nigerians, once again, showed their commitment to keeping the country together as a united entity, by ensuring that the outcome of the election was peaceful, consequently defying all doomsday predictions that weren’t in short supply prior to the poll. Correspondent SAMUEL OGUNDIPE writes…
After an initial postponement that sent shockwaves across the country and indeed the West-African sub-continent at large, President Goodluck Jonathan was ultimately defeated in the keenly contested poll. While Nigerians remained agitated as the election results were being collated on live television, Jonathan announced that he had placed concession call to his major challenger in the election, General Muhammadu Buhari. The historic call was made several hours before the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, officially pronounced Buhari the winner.
The country descended into widespread jubilation informed largely by the peace the announcement elicited. Nigeria immediately became a darling of Western diplomats and the country was congratulated for living up to its role as the bastion of stability in Africa.
…Predictions are Hard…But the Few Expectations
Granted, predictions are hard, especially about the future. The biggest news events are sometimes those most policy analysts couldn’t predict. Some of these are events we know are likely to happen, but which we can’t say if or when they will happen or their magnitude. Events like plane crashes, major terror attacks in the unlikeliest of places, the death of a national figure and financial distress are oftentimes hard to anticipate. They could best be described as known unknowns. There exist several events that are unknown, and they’re the one that often leave us trembling the most.
Our expectations for 2016 have been made relatively succinct due mainly to President Buhari’s lethargic approach to matters of national importance. (The six months that it took him to decide on his cabinet members easily comes to mind.)
Here are our few expectations for MMXVI, the Year of the Monkey, according to Chinese Zodiac:
The Removal of Subsidy on Premium Motor Spirit (a.k.a petrol)
After several decades of ardent opposition from the masses and workers’ unions alike, it seems Nigeria has finally found a broader consensus on the removal of fuel subsidy. Calls for the government of Mr. Buhari to finally phase out the federally-backed program, which was initially designed as a poverty alleviation mechanism, have continued to pour in from all Nigerians irrespective of their political leaning. In retrospect, this is another historic chapter that emanated from the 2015 general election. Four years ago, debates about the removal of subsidy were met with vicious repudiation from Nigerians because they feared such move would hurt them. All efforts by Jonathan’s administration to do away with the scheme in 2012 failed to fully materialise, but the admin was forced to into a compromise with labour unions after several days of nationwide protests.
While the reasons for backing complete removal of subsidy now vary from individual to individual, there’s no doubt that the mood of the nation has swung in favour of letting go of the subsidy regime, which critics say is rooted in sharp practices.
Armed with hindsight, Nigerians, save for labour unions, who still demand further clarifications from the government, now call for a removal of subsidy, not only because they have had enough of allowing few individuals who import petroleum products to continue milking the scheme but also because they believe the new president can do better in managing the proceeds accruing therefrom.
It’s also interesting to note that despite overwhelming support for him to do so, the President still seems confused as to the actual effect of a subsidy removal on the poor who are the majority of the electorate. But analysts believe harsh economic realities will eventually take the matter away from Buhari’s hand. The President agreed that much in his budget speech before a joint session of the National Assembly in which he said subsidy would stay, “for now.” Similarly, the administration announced a 50k drop in pump prices to ₦86.50 from the current ₦87.00, effective January 1, 2016.
The move and President Buhari’s willingness to adopt IMF’s Christine Lagarde’s recommendation, which emphasised the detrimental effect of fuel subsidy on Nigeria’s economy, could be considered the latest corollary of an imminent removal of fuel subsidy.
Although, how the government intends to control petrol prices in the marketplace after removing subsidy still remained to be seen. If removed, budgetary allocation to subsidy scheme would be diverted to fund other social programmes that policy makers assume would have a direct impact on those who really need them.
Containing the Scourge of Boko Haram
Despite all the pre-election rhetoric of politicians, the Boko Haram Islamic sect has proved once again that its evil agenda, which has bedeviled the country for 6 years running, is not one that can be easily surmounted.
The sect has continued its attacks on defenceless Nigerians across the northern part of the country several months into Buhari’s government. Deadly attacks were recorded in Kano, Abuja, Damaturu and of course, Maiduguri, as well as other cities in the northeast. But just as the year was running out, the administration adopted a new narrative: that Boko Haram has been technically defeated. While this statement immediately caught fire across the country, that there have been no renewed hostilities at all so far this year has denied critics of the admin’s major talking point. It is also a pointer to the fact that Mr. Buhari’s numerous journeys to many countries in the first few months of the administration may have started to yield results.
The President has said he’s working closely with neighbouring countries of Chad, Cameroon and Niger to ensure that lasting peace returns to the northeastern part of the country after 7 years. If Nigeria’s brave men and women in uniform are able to maintain the current pace, Boko Haram may become a thing of the past by the end of the first quarter and the country will now have to phase the major challenge of rebuilding the zone. Already, several countries, under the aegis of Like-Minded Ambassadors on Support for the Northeast, are already coming together to complement the effort of the Presidential Initiative on the Northeast to bring succour to the forlorn residents of that region.
Nigeria’s budget has been pegged against the international market for crude oil for several decades. This has meant that the country’s economy as a whole has to rely majorly on favourable oil transactions for the citizens to be able to record economic prosperity. Even though previous oil booms have left most Nigerians’ standard of living either stagnant or worse off, the falling crude prices this year is expected to put the country as a whole in a terrible shape. Already, many big players within the economy have started grumbling as dwindling oil revenue has resulted in a lower inflow of dollar into the economy.
The price per barrel of crude has dropped more than 60% in the last one year alone. Buhari administration initially placed the budget benchmark at $38 per barrel but was forced to withdraw the budget as prices continued on a free-fall. Most economists now believe the realistic budget benchmark may be as little as $20 per barrel. There’s also no hope in sight that there would be high demand for crude oil which could jack up the prices.
Since Nigeria does not have a major alternative to oil income, economists now expect the falling prices to take a serious toll on the masses. The recent visit by the International Monetary Fund also highlights this worry.
What the South-west Should Expect
The South-west Nigeria, where Lagos sits, remains the most economically viable geopolitical zone in the country. More than two-thirds of transactions done in the country take place in the region.
The Lagos-Ibadan Expressway remains a major transport corridor for the country and the major overhaul of this road is expected to be completed this year. Also necessary is the Shagamu-Ore-Benin Expressway, which connects the eastern part of the country. The project is also likely to be completed. Top professionals from the South–west bagged plum ministries in President Buhari’s cabinet and many in the geopolitical zone will expect to reap from its sons and daughter running the affairs of such ministries like Finance (Mrs. Kemi Adeosun), Power, Works and Housing (Babatunde Fashola), Communications (Adebayo Shittu), Health (Prof. Isaac Adewole) and Solid Minerals (Kayode Fayemi) among others, but how this will play out is yet to be seen.