President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua’s Presidency: One Year after – The Challenging Times Ahead
Numerous editorial reviews by newspapers, magazines, electronic media (including online websites/blogs) and pundits greeted the first anniversary of the administration of Nigeria’s President Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’Adua (UMYA) on May 29th 2008. Expectedly, both positives and negatives (i.e., pluses and minuses) commentaries of his action and or inactions dominated the rituals. This piece is different from all of that. It is about the challenging times ahead; specifically, focusing on just a few but strategic national issues. For instance, Nigeria will continue to suffer from the failures of the immediate past administration of former President Obasanjo (1999-2007) especially in the strategic economic areas such as: oil, gas, power (i.e. energy shortages), agriculture, land transportation systems, unemployment and internal security; especially in the troubled Niger Delta region for a very long time.
In addition, faced with the current global high food commodity prices, Nigeria risks been very vulnerable to escalating high food prices and shortages that may lead to unmitigated social unrest nationwide if not appropriately handled in a timely manner. Nigeria also runs the risk of devaluing a significant portion of the approximately $73.2bn in savings it holds in foreign exchange reserves and similarly the accumulated excess crude oil revenues estimated in the ranges of over $17bn.
However, if President UMYA takes appropriate policy measures to ramps up and to strengthening the current government’s gradualist approach to national problem-solving, then all these problems may be resolved in medium term. His much talked about 7-point economic, political and social agenda may receive public support for the remaining time left of his presidential tenure of office.
What’s then needs to be done? He needs to turn the advantage of the one year grace period Nigerians allowed him to undertake meticulous and methodical stocktaking of the mess he inherited from his immediate predecessor in office, former President Obasanjo into result-oriented economic stimulus actions in the coming years.
But failure by President UMYA to take immediate short-term far-reaching economic stimulus and social safety measures to address the lingering economic stagnation and infrastructural decays; amidst buoyant crude oil revenue inflows into the national treasury, may not be politically correct. It may also not be in the country’s national interest as it may create dangerous social unrest. In addition, this will further confirm the growing insinuations that point to the weak and ineffectual leadership on the part the President. Hence, the President need not allow this to happen.
It must be realistically pointed out that implementing any of President UMYA’s 7-point agenda requires a minimum gestation period of three years. This is assuming that all the necessary pre-implementation feasibility studies: design of policies, programs/projects and funding arrangements have been sorted out and completed by now. However, President UMYA can still start implementing some components of the 7-point agenda which do not require tedious and elaborate strategic operational and financial planning.
Take for example in the area of national security, the armed forces can be call upon to augment the human and material shortages of the Nigeria policy and other arms of the national security agencies operation wise. This can be done for a limited period of time to allow for proper funding and procurement of the necessary modern equipment for the Police and other security agencies and also recruitment and training of additional people into the police and other arms of the national security agencies. If we can use the Nigerian armed force for international peace-keeping roles, I don’t see much problem in temporarily using them in guaranteeing our internal national security which is one of their constitutional duties and responsibilities.
Nigeria’s energy policy reform agenda do not include energy sustainability measures (i.e. demand-side management and energy mix). More importantly, the demand for all types of energy is expected to increase significantly. Projections over the next 15 years show strong growth in the use of all forms of energy. In terms of power (electricity), the immediate/short-term solution that takes about three to six months gestation period to yield positive results include but not limited to the following strategies:
a) Vigorous national public awareness campaigns for electricity demand management are needed as part of the energy emergency agenda. This is to conserve and make efficient use of what is daily available from the dwindling supply of electricity from the national grid. This is an attitudinal thing which requires the use of both carrot and stick strategies. For instance, those willing to use electricity responsibly, wisely and efficiently need be incentivize and those with uncooperative and wasteful attitude to electricity consumption are made to face punitive penalties. There are numerous practical ways of implementing these incentives and disincentives. Many countries with plentiful supply of electricity do still use them, for instance.
b) In pursuing power sector emergency plan, President UMYA should also place emphasis on expanding and developing the competitiveness and resilience of renewable sources of electricity supply. For example, in addition to demand-side management strategies, supply-side alternatives for industrial and commercial consumers need urgent consideration and mainstreaming. For instance, co-generation of electricity by industrial and commercial electricity consumers need encouragement through measured incentives. This strategy can free substantial megawatts of electricity for non households, and small and medium enterprises consumers.
c) In addition, government wasteful consumption of electricity can be tamed by ensuring that all government buildings are supplied with electricity via roof-mounted solar photovoltaic panels. This doesn’t take much time to plan and execute; provided it is done properly and not the typical “Nigerian style”! This demonstrable initiative need be complimented with incentives that lower or bring down the initial high cost of solar voltaic panels for private households and other interested electricity consumers to emulate.
Nigeria’s energy reform effort were initiated by a desire to improve the functioning of the economy and not in response to international pressures on energy supplies or prices as the country is very rich with diversified sources of energy resources. For instance, Nigeria’s vast natural endowments of energy resources have underpinned the availability of cheap electricity and petrol petroleum products, which, instead of stimulating strong growth in the domestic economy have turned out to be a curse, with serious debilitating economic, social and political effects. Greater emphasis on energy conservation, efficiency and market definition is thus necessary in the energy emergency plan.
Politically, the Niger Delta energy rich region is at boiling point and posing great national security risk. Therefore, President UMYA’s emergency plan in the domestic downstream oil and gas sector need concerted actions that incorporate placing the physical security of the nation’s network of pipelines and other supply, distribution and marketing infrastructure and facilities under direct surveillance of the nation’s armed forces. Hence, the Niger Delta conundrum need be addressed as a national emergency that need concerted efforts of all the three tiers of government, the militants and other non-state actors with diversified interests in the region.
In conclusion, over past one year, there have been important developments in Nigeria’s public policy arena, but it remains incomplete. Elements of a comprehensive framework have been identified, but yet one year after, current policy framework omits key components and lacks operational substance. This is an area that needs urgent attention while the nation waits for the promised exciting times from President UMYA.
Nevertheless, all federal government actions — and those that need taken by the other two tiers of government — do not change the fact that Nigeria, unlike all other oil exporting developing and emerging economies, is in for some challenging times ahead.
Abubakar A Nuhu-Koko
Saturday, 31 May 2008