Hardship: Blaming past government fading as a selling point

One quick turn for successive governments in Nigeria to explain the worsening situation is to look back and quickly lay a claim to what was inherited from the previous administration(s). Recently, the deterioration of the Nigerian economy has placed hardship before Nigerians. One central subject around the compounding issues has been the fluctuations and instabilities of foreign exchange.  The recent system of operation as introduced by the present Government led by President Bola Tinubu has not enjoyed the favour of good turns. Rather, the impacts have seen the Naira crumbling in value depreciation, exchanging more ridiculously to over N1,500/$ recently.  Very troubling, most recently, is to see the Naira exchanging for N2,000 for one pound.

The question of how the country got it so bad within just about nine months of the present administration, seeing the Naira crumble so hard, and the untoward hardship consequently inflicted on Nigerians, has been a subject of contested issue.  Recently, knocks from the oppositions along party divides have become noisy, while stakeholders of different interest have continued to express their views. The subject of political throwbacks and economic feedback have made the socio-economic and political space messy with reactions and counter reactions.

Much recently, the major opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has been at the front of casting stones at the ruling party for the present hardship which its policies have come to engulf the Country with. Stakeholders within the party have continued to lash the ruling party, just as the ruling government has not slacked in reply. Stakeholders of the present government have continued to deploy defence statements with counter reactions.

The Presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic  Party (PDP) at the 2023 General Election, Atiku Abubakar berated the ruling government, mentioning that its policies were hurriedly introduced without deep thoughts. The ruling government also in usual terms never gave-in but in swift reaction countered the position taken by the former Vice President.

On the recent instability over the exchange rate of the Naira to the US Dollar, Atiku had said the unification of the exchange rate by the President Tinubu-led government was hastily implemented without adequate planning and consultations with stakeholders. The former vice president in a statement on Sunday, the 18th of February, had said he knew that the economy of the country was heading for the ditch at the twilight of former President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration.  Atiku criticised Tinubu for not effectively presenting his administration’s measures to address the ongoing economic crisis affecting the nation.

He had said: “At a meeting called at his instance on Thursday to address the foreign exchange crisis and the problem of economic downturn, among others, Bola Tinubu failed, yet again, to showcase any concrete policy steps that his administration is taking to contain the crises of currency fluctuation and poverty that face the country.

“Rather, he told the country and experts who have been offering ideas on how to resolve the crisis that he and his team should not be distracted and allowed time to continue cooking their cocktail that has brought untold hardship to the people of Nigeria.

“The wrong policies of the Tinubu administration continue to cause untold pain and distress on the economy and the rest of us cannot keep quiet when the government has demonstrated sufficient poverty of ideas to redeem the situation.

“If the government will not hold on to their usual hubris, there are ways that the country can walk out of the current crisis.

“After a careful assessment of the state of our economy at the twilight of the last administration, I knew full well that the economy of the country was heading for the ditch and came up with a number of policy prescriptions that would rescue the country from getting into the mess that we are currently in.”

Atiku, in the statement, recalled that in his 2023 presidential election policy document titled “My Covenant With Nigerians,” he pledged to reform the foreign exchange market by eliminating multiple exchange rate windows, which only benefited opportunists, middlemen, and fraudsters.

In his analysis, Atiku argued, “A fixed exchange rate system would be out of the question. First, it would not be in line with our philosophy of running an open, private sector-friendly economy.  Secondly, operating a successful fixed-exchange rate system would require sufficient FX reserves to defend the domestic currency at all times. But as is well known, Nigeria’s major challenge is the persistent FX illiquidity occasioned by limited foreign exchange inflows to the country.

“Without sufficient FX reserves, confidence in the Nigerian economy will remain low, and Naira will remain under pressure. The economy will have no firepower to support its currency. Besides, a fixed exchange rate system is akin to running a subsidy regime!

“On the other hand, given Nigeria’s underlying economic conditions, adopting a floating exchange rate system would be an overkill. We would have encouraged the Central Bank of Nigeria to adopt a gradualist approach to FX management.  A managed-floating system would have been a preferred option.  In simple terms, in such a system, the Naira may fluctuate daily, but the CBN will step in to control and stabilize its value. Such control will be exercised judiciously and responsibly, especially to curb speculative activities.”

He clarified that the regulation is essential because “Nigeria has insufficient, unstable, and precarious foreign reserves to support a free-floating rate regime. Nigeria’s reserves did not have enough foreign exchange that can be sold freely at fair market prices during crises. Nigeria is not earning enough US$ from its sales of crude oil because its production of oil has been declining. And, Nigeria is not attracting foreign investment in appreciable quantities.

“These are enough reasons for Nigeria to seek to have a greater control of the market, at least in the short to medium term when convergence is expected to be achieved.

“Tinubu’s new FX management policy was hurriedly put together without proper plans and consultations with stakeholders. The government failed to anticipate or downplay the potential and real negative consequences of its actions.

“The government did not allow the CBN the independence to design and implement a sound FX Management Policy that would have dealt with such issues as increasing liquidity, curtailing/regulating demand, dealing with FX backlogs and rate convergence.”

Reacting with knocks, the Presidency said a controlled floatation of the Naira to prevent further devaluation would only return Nigeria to the economic regime of the embattled former Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Godwin Emefiele. It said the policy, which saw about $1.5 billion spent monthly to shore up the Naira, fuelled financial malpractices, such as arbitrage which hurt the economy.

The Special Adviser to the President on Information and Strategy, Mr Bayo Onanuga, in a statement he signed on Sunday, 18th February,  titled, ‘Once again, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar got it wrong,’  responding to Atiku who argued that Tinubu’s economic policies, especially the unification of the exchange rate, were implemented hastily without adequate planning and proper consultations with stakeholders, noted that a recent meeting between the President, his vice, and state governors was not to discuss currency fluctuation as Atiku claimed but food supply and how to drastically reduce the fluctuation in food prices.

Citing Tinubu’s plea to governors to allow the CBN to work and his stance not to establish a commodity board, he said, “We expected Alhaji Atiku to praise President Tinubu for maintaining this stance and for not interfering with the business of the Central Bank.”

He said, “It is false and preposterous for Atiku to claim that CBN’s FX management policy was hurriedly put together without proper plans and consultations with stakeholders and that the apex bank is hamstrung by Tinubu’s government in implementing a sound FX Management Policy that would have dealt with such issues as increasing liquidity, curtailing/regulating demand, dealing with FX backlogs and rate convergence.

“Contrary to former VP Atiku’s claim, Cardoso’s CBN is implementing a raft of policies to stabilise the naira and end volatility in the market and this is already yielding some positive results.”

Also reacting to Atiku,  the National Publicity Director of the APC, Ibrahim, had said Emefiele was a product of the PDP government. He had said, “Whatever crisis the financial institutions in Nigeria are facing or whatever the country is facing with regards to forex, it is the offshoot of the PDP policy that is manifesting in Nigeria today. Whatever blame apportioned for the forex challenges we are having, the larger part of it should go to the PDP for producing Godwin Emefiele as governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria.”

In counter reaction, the opposition PDP, again lampooned the Tinubu-led Federal Government for attacking PDP state governors for speaking out against its failure, which, the party said, is evident in the hardship Nigerians have been made to suffer.

The PDP in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Debo Ologunagba, noted that President Tinubu and his ruling APC government must take responsibility for plunging Nigerians into excruciating suffering as a result of their policy choices.

The party said, “Our Party restates its position that the APC and the Tinubu administration are responsible for the current biting economic hardship and surging wave of insecurity across the country, as they are completely overwhelmed and lack the capacity and competence to lead a nation like Nigeria.

“By seeking to allocate President Tinubu’s statutory duties to state governors, the APC has unambiguously admitted that it foisted on Nigerians an incompetent president who cannot guarantee security and whose administration has devastated our national economy, resulting in extreme hunger, hopelessness, and desperation, as evident in the protests, agitation, and rising spate of suicides across the country.

“Every Nigerian is lamenting the terrible situation which President Tinubu’s ill-informed and ill-implemented policies have brought upon the nation.

“President Tinubu is directly in charge of security and national economic policies, including administration of petroleum resources as Minister of Petroleum Affairs; other national revenues; and cannot transfer his incompetence and failure to other tiers of government, which have no control over national security, fiscal, and monetary policies, which mismanagement by President Tinubu’s government has crippled our economy.

“Moreover, state governors have no control over the pervading corruption and continuing monumental treasury-looting under President Tinubu, who has failed to take concrete measures to curb the malaise.

“It is an assault on the sensibility of Nigerians that instead of charging the government it formed to live up to its billings, the APC is seeking a sordid and depraved approach to divert public attention from its failures.

“From its diversionary statement, it is clear that the APC is jittery and afraid that it has been exposed following revelations and reports in the public space that its leaders are involved in multiple scams and fraudulent deals through which they continue to syphon funds meant for the wellbeing of the people, resulting in the unbearable hardship being experienced by Nigerians today.

“The complicity of the APC leaders apparently informs why they have remained silent in the face of the incompetence, monumental treasury looting, and corruption in the Tinubu administration.

“Our Party counsels President Tinubu and the APC to face their self-inflicted woes and heed the patriotic call of the PDP governors, who are providing quality leadership with life-enhancing projects and programmes in their various states in line with the people-oriented manifesto and policy thrust of the PDP.

“It is evident today across Nigeria that it is only PDP governors and other PDP-elected public officials that are commissioning legacy and life-enriching projects and programmes with which they are repositioning their states and various constituencies into Oases of Development.

“Nigerians should therefore continue to hold the APC and President Tinubu solely responsible for the suffering that they face. The PDP will not hesitate to name APC leaders allegedly involved in the continuing treasury plundering as the APC must not be allowed to ‘grab, snatch, and run’ with our national patrimony at the expense of millions of our citizens.”

The explanation of the present government, like its predecessor, has been to link the scorching hardship situation to liabilities inherited from its predecessor. The resort of the present government to such a line of explanation has not however been left without certain questions and loopholes that leave behind mind boggling issues. First, is the fact that the present government is a product of the same party which led the last administration.

For instance, the Senate President, Godswill Akpabio, recently said that the Bola Tinubu-led government inherited such a bad economic mess from former Central Bank Governor, Godwin Emefiele, and  is baffled one what particular crime to charge against him. Akpabio at the Senator Barinada Mpigi’s Thanksgiving service in Koroma, Tai Local Government Area, Rivers State, described the economic situation left by Emefiele as “terrible.”

“We did not even know what to charge him with – whether for putting foam on top of the bill, illegal firearm possession, printing notes without income. I don’t know what we are going to charge him with,” Akpabio had said. The Senate President asserted that current economic woes and hunger were due to past policies.

“But what we can say is that yes there is hunger today because of the policies and actions that they took, and we recognise that, and I think every political party should recognise that there is hunger, and we are battling to ensure that Nigerians sleep with their eyes closed,” he stated.

“Yes, there is insecurity; we are battling to ensure that Nigerians can take three square meals a day. But be rest assured that we campaigned for this job; we campaigned around the country; we will not let you down; we will get to the bottom of it; all we need is your patience. That rots that have happened in Nigeria for so many years for almost 60 years—cannot be solved in six months,” he mentioned.

Akpabio’s posture did not however leave questions behind, as critics were quick to remind him that he was part of the immediate past Muhammadu Buhari APC led government, even serving as a Minister. His emphasis on Emefiele’s alleged crime also drew attention, as he was also among the players of the last government whose hands were soiled with questionable misdeeds of misappropriation of funds, while he served as the minister of Niger Delta Affairs. Hence, passing the blame to Emefiele poses a rhetoric before Nigerians.

Also, the fact that the ruling government is now blaming its predecessor poses ruptured posture of thoughts, particularly with the irreconcilable facts that one central recurring feature of the candidate of the ruling party at the presidential campaigns were applause of the policies introduced by the recent past administration and the pledge to continue on the path. Therefore, casting blame for the worsening situation back to the same administration sets an irreconcilable posture which more or less poses confusion.

With the weight of public opinion as to the acceptability of such posture, it seems much more convincing that knocks than consideration speak much louder.

For instance, efforts by Seyi Tinubu, son of President Bola Tinubu, to urge Nigerians to endure current economic hardship, was greeted with knocks on Monday, 19th February. Seyi Tinubu said that enduring the trying time was necessary for Nigeria to have a better future, adding that the president’s recent tough decisions should have been taken years ago.

Expressing optimism for the future, Seyi Tinubu stated that although challenges persist, the nation’s outlook is promising. Using the hashtag #OurGenerationWillYieldTheFruitsOfThisHardship, Seyi Tinubu quoted his father, Bola Tinubu, saying, “There is no joy in seeing the people of this nation shoulder burdens that should have been shed years ago. I wish today’s difficulties did not exist. But we must endure if we are to reach the good side of our future.”

However, Nigerians took to social media, widely slamming the statement. More knocks than expression of tolerance greeted the post. It appears the current situation may be driving the masses out of patience, and the re-course to plead and blame inherited liabilities from a previous government in an attempt for explanation, may no longer be enterprising and is fast fading away as a selling point.

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