As President Buhari Breaks The Ice On Niger Delta, Economy Gets A Breather? | Independent Newspapers Limited
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As President Buhari Breaks The Ice On Niger Delta, Economy Gets A Breather?

Posted: Nov 11, 2016 at 4:42 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

Finally, on November 1, 2016, Niger Delta heavy weights have had the much sought opportunity to jaw-jaw with President Muhamadu Buhari inside the hallowed chambers of Aso Rock villa. Before the latest opportunity, both parties had more or less been ‘talking’ through the barrels of guns. Although the main protagonists-militants like Avengers, MEND etc-were not seated at the round table with the president and commander-in-chief of the armed forces of the federal republic of Nigeria, their surrogates were in the eyeball to eyeball meeting. Hopefully, that would help thaw the frosty relationship between Niger delta people and the Government in power. Before proceeding further, let’s go back by tracing the origin of the economic challenges currently clogging Nigeria’s wheel of progress.


At the risk of sounding like a broken record, the fact that the Government in power started off on wrong footing by mismanaging the uncertainty that comes with change of government is not debatable, but whether the Nigerian establishment has now recognized that a culmination of their belligerence and lack of defined economic vision and shortage in leadership savviness, is what is presently manifesting as economic recession, is another kettle of fish.
All over the world, businessmen and women , especially international investors prefer continuity, hence the surprising and unpredicted decision by the British electorate to vote in favour of exiting the European Union, EU in a recent referendum, resulted in the crash of the British pound.
That the British economy, with London as the foremost financial capital of the world, is in the doldrums despite the positive spin that the Bank of England governor, Mark Carney, put on the otherwise disappointing decision to exit the EU immediately after the referendum, attests to the fact that no matter how solid an economy may be, investors loathe, in fact, dread change which is often fraught with uncertainty and instability. Then British Prime Minister, David Cameron also had put in strenuous efforts into reassuring jittery investors that nothing untoward would change in Britain even if it exits the EU, yet the currency and economy have been gyrating.
Now compare the gallant efforts of British authorities to the dog in the manger attitude of president Muhamadu Buhari, who upon taking over the reins of power some 18 months ago vowed to deal ruthlessly with the so called economic looters, without giving any hint as to how he will manage the crude oil dependent economy which was already in a cliff hanger, owing to global crash in commodity prices.
Nigerian authorities doing the opposite of what the British did after BREXIT, by confirming instead of allaying the fears of apprehensive investors, was clearly a recipe for economic disaster as the economy has no other option than to head towards the precipice and those of us who saw the handwriting on the wall, kept reminding Aso Rock leadership that recession was the ultimate destination of the economy, if policy paralysis owing to lethargy and corruption rhetoric, were to remain non-moderated.
Since nobody in government appeared to have cared to heed the call, the economy ended up in the recession ditch as we had predicted and from which we are now desperately trying to dig it out.
After about one year of bad mouthing Nigeria and Nigerians, the obnoxious branding of Nigerians as corrupt by our president has ebbed, and the president and commander-in-chief of the armed forces of Nigeria is now acting true to type by harping more on the nation’s potentials and destined greatness, which he should have been doing from the moment he took over the reins of power on May 29, 2015.
Mr President’s new positiveness would invariably help restore investors’ confidence, however, severe economic damages had already been done by previous negative comments; hence naira exchange rate is still in a tailspin, hovering closer to the N500/$1 range in the open market than N200/$1 where it was less than six, 6 months ago.
Having brought the economy to its knees, mainly due to rigidity in Aso Rock as opposed to flexibility which is a requirement in modern day economic management, it would appear that a new threat, this time to democracy through erosion of its fundamental principles such as the rule of law and due process now being trampled upon with impunity by the authorities in Aso Rock, is afoot.
Dishearteningly, this persistent corrosion of the bedrock of democracy is being perpetuated under the guise or cloak of fighting corruption, simply because graft fighting would resonate with the masses.
But if reduction of corruption (total elimination is utopian) is actually one of the cardinal objectives of the authorities in Aso Rock, most of us have posited that some of the most creative and less disruptive approach would be to reform the economy in such a way that most of the sectors like oil/gas, sea and air ports and railways still under the shackles of government and which have the negative reputation of being corruption cesspools, are unbundled for private sector participation.
We don’t need a Paul krugman or Joseph Stiglitz -Nobel prize winning economists and World bank and lMF advisers- to enlighten us that if upon taking over the reins of leadership, president Buhari had proposed to build on the gains from the reforms in the telecoms, aviation and now electricity power sectors, which have been privatized or commercialized leading to reduction in corruption, Nigerian economy might not be in recession today.
Since investors detest instability and uncertainty, president Buhari’s anti corruption war created the impression that Nigerian economy is in turmoil,  if not war and thus accentuated as well as consolidated their fears much more faster than they had expected resulting in the contraction of the economy year-on year or twice in a row, leading to the catastrophic descent into recession.
Whether the authorities admit it or not, the current recession in Nigeria is an indirect product of the taciturn and tedious nature and unpredictability of President Buhari which his advisers extol as virtues of ‘body language’ and hail as the exceptional management style of the  ‘new Sherrif in town’.
Unfortunately, just as sheriff’s don’t help their county’s or precincts make money but only help catch criminals, President Buhari’s un verbalised system of leadership is also only Peculiar to Nigeria and since investors are not deaf and dumb, they don’t rely on sign or body language to make investment decisions , so they have largely been unable to understand the policy direction of Nigeria in order to determine what kind of actions to take, hence they had no option but withdraw their investments, resulting in the present crisis of socioeconomic paralysis in Nigeria.
With the continued dearth of policy initiatives and lack of clarity on the few that have been enunciated, reversing the downward spiral of the economy is also proving to be a Herculean task, more so as the little changes that have so far been made are sometimes too late.
The fact that a handful of private sector practitioners now turned bureaucrats are in the federal cabinet of ministers, could have been a source of some kind of respite, but former private sector high fliers such as Okechukwu Enelamah, Udo Udoma and kemi Adeosun and to a some extent, former Lagos and Ekiti states governors, BabaTunde Fashola and Kayode Fayemi can’t deny the fact Nigeria’s socioeconomic management style is not ideal.
But perhaps they are hobbled by bureaucracy, hence they have been unable to influence the cabinet which is heavily populated by professional politicians to craft clear policy documents and chart actionable and sustainable path to recovery.
But what the minorities in the federal cabinet have been unable to achieve could have been accomplished by the forty man membership national economic management team led by Vice President, Yemi Osibanjo which is more populated by private sector chieftains, but for some fuzzy reasons, a clear cut economic policy direction of Government is yet to be articulated and fleshed out.
I have heard arguments being made about loss of about a million barrels of crude oil that should have been exported daily to the destructive  activities of Niger delta militants being the major culprit for the sorry state of Nigerian economy and l wonder if such commentators are oblivious of the fact that Government aggravated the mayhem being inflicted on oil/gas infrastructure through incendiary comments by public officials, especially the one made by president Buhari soon after taking office, wherein he threatened that he was going to deal with Niger delta militants in the same manner that he vanquished Boko Haram terrorists.
Worse of all, the comment was made at a time that it was unclear if the amnesty program pioneered by president Umar Yar’Adua of blessed memory was going to be sustained or jettisoned.
Threatening, instead of courting Niger delta stake holders for their support on how to bolster the economy through increased oil/gas production, which for now is the only assured path to improved foreign exchange income required to salvage the sagging Nigerian economy presently under the yoke of global recession, occasioned by a slump in commodities prices, was bound to have the disastrous outcome currently being witnessed in the Niger delta.
How can the policy of killing the goose that lays the golden eggs, which is what application of military force in the Niger delta would amount to, be efficacious?
By virtue of the fact that they are seating on Nigeria’s treasure trove, Niger delta militants are like a tsetse fly perched on the scrotum requiring dexterity to manage.
Planning to use brute force to silence the militants in my reckoning is like trying to get rid of the tsetse fly perched on the scrotum of a man by smashing it with ferocious force.
The path of dialogue currently being towed by President Buhari via direct conversations with key Niger delta stake holders appears to me as the most viable option for restoring peace and harmony in the volatile Niger delta. It is certainly not going to be a quick fix, so negotiations is expected to be drawn out, but oil production would go on while the negotiations are underway and as the saying goes, nothing good comes easy.
With a bit of dexterity, it might also be apropos and therefore advisable that the activities of Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs and Amnesty Office, be integrated and more coordinated for enhanced benefits to the beleaguered and long suffering people of the environmentally challenged zone.
As most Nigerians would agree, socioeconomic development in the region is still haphazard and therefore might require a coordinating desk in Aso Rock villa.
Although some Niger Delta activists deem president Buhari’s body language at the November 1, 2016 meeting not to be satisfactory, others believe that the necessary foundation to build upon for future interactions has been laid, so regardless of the varied prisms of the participants, the peace building ship  in the Niger Delta has docked and waiting to pick up as many stakeholders as possible on the voyage of peace and development because by now, it must be apparent to all that Nigeria can’t succeed without progress in the Niger Delta which is the treasure trove of the nation.

By Magnus Onyibe

Onyibe, a development Strategist and Futurologist is a former Commissioner in Delta State Government and alumnus of Fletcher school of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, Medford Massachusetts, USA.