At the start of every new year, there is a burst of hope and optimism that the year will be better than the ones before it. Goals are set and plans are made to make the hopes of a great year a reality. The year 2016 was a pretty rough one for Nigeria: for the first time in decades, we slipped into an economic recession having posted three consecutive quarters of negative growth. This was followed by job losses, doubled inflation and foreign investors staying away, especially as a result of a much-criticized monetary policy to curb the demand for foreign exchange.
While we further pushed back and dealt severely with the Boko Haram terrorists in the North-East, we are faced with a worsening food and internally-displaced people crisis in the region. Not only that, the militancy in the Niger Delta continued to arise from time to time, while conflicts in the Middle Belt between suspected Fulani herdsmen militia and indigenous farming communities continued to rage and worsen – this time in the Southern part of Kaduna State. There is also the confrontations between the Islamic Movement of Nigeria, Nigeria’s largest Shia Muslim group and not just the Federal Government which is still illegally holding its leader, Sheikh Ibraheem El-Zakzaky, but also several state governments in the North which moved to ban the group.
The first thing that should be on President Buhari’s to-do list should be to take immediate actions that will ease the economic hardship on Nigerians – the most important of which is to liberalize our foreign exchange policy and allow the naira to be truly floated, and to unban the list of items that the Central Bank of Nigeria has for restricting allocation of foreign exchange – actions which will make it easier for much-needed foreign capital to flow in, reduce the arbitrage between official and parallel exchange markets and make it easier to access forex for foreign trade.
So far, the FG has shown strong aversion to this idea that has been proposed countless times by economists, newspaper editorials, and even the International Monetary Fund (IMF) due to its belief that a strong naira, even if artificially strong, will help the economy. This is an idea it will need to let go of because it has been proven to not be working.
Also, the Federal Government needs to find ways to finance the widening budget deficit for 2017, especially after missing the opportunity to issue the proposed $1bn Eurobond (which still falls far short of the deficit) before the recent rise in U.S interest rates. Taking a loan from the IMF should be an option on the table and not just because of the money – but also because the conditions that have been suggested for it will force the government to make the necessary reforms.
On internal security – the Federal Government will need to take more decisive actions on the growing insecurity in Southern Kaduna and the lingering clashes involving Fulani herdsmen/militia. Its silence and decision to let the Kaduna State Governor, Nasir el-Rufai deal with alone (a curious decision as all security agencies are under the control of the President) have not helped, and might cause the situation to spiral out of control.
The Federal Government also needs to obey the court orders to release Sheikh El-Zakzaky, who has been held since the December 2015 clashes between his group and the Nigerian Army, and has not been seen since then. His continued illegal detention serves as a source of anger and motivation for the protests by his followers. This continues a disdainful habit of the Federal Government to ignore court rulings that do not favour it.
President Buhari and his government must also look for softer measures to quell the rising discontent in the South-East over feelings of marginalization rather than using military force, which only feeds the popularity of the ideology peddled by the Independent Peoples of Biafra (IPOB). It must not allow Niger-Delta militancy to resurface as it will directly affect not just our oil production but also much-needed gas supply for power generation.
Without doubt, the Federal Government has its hands full. As such, it must get to work very fast.
Time is not its best friend.