As I write this on the last day of January 2017, the country is in a curious state of dejavu. The president, a thin, tall gentleman from Katsina is in Europe on (medical) vacation. There are speculations about his state of health and his employees are in contortions-one spokesman says the president doesn’t owe anyone any explanations and doesn’t have to speak to Nigerians from wherever he is. He doesn’t exactly say the president can rule the country from anywhere, but the head of the national police demonstrates that exact point when he is reported to have visited the head of state along with senior officials just a few days after the president headed out of the country. The president himself manufactured the controversy, whether deliberately or otherwise by travelling earlier than the date specified as commencement of his vacation, a suggestion either of impatience to get away from the job or an urgent requirement so to do!
Meanwhile some legislators from the president’s North-West geo-political zone have chosen the period of uncertainty to announce their endorsement of holidaying President Muhammadu Buhari for a second term of office commencing in 2019!!!
The economy continues in its doldrums. It has received some good news-oil prices rising to around $55 per barrel from a 2016 average about $10 lower due essentially to OPEC production cut-backs. Reserves have already risen by about $2bn to $27bn, but that may be simply because the CBN has slowed down dollar disbursement over the December/January period. The IMF and World Bank have said the Nigerian economy may grow 0.8% and 1.0% respectively in 2017 thus ending the current recession and a review of Q3 2016 GDP data shows that the non-oil economy actually grew marginally by 0.03%-but for the oil sector plunging further down by 22%, perhaps recession could have ended in Q3 2016. All these, however are scant comfort!
The outlook for oil prices in my view, remains problematic especially with the advent of pro-energy policies in the US by President Trump’s administration and less restraints on oil production and pipelines as a result of climate concerns; the reserves accretion is probably artificial and worse still, at the expense of trade and manufacturing output; the IMF and World Bank have been wrong many times before (!)-last year, while my firm predicted a recession and while I was publishing “economic red flags” and “how to decommission an economy” on these pages, in January 2016 they both predicted GDP growth of 4.1% and 4.6% respectively!!! Most importantly, the Nigerian economic challenge is not merely growing at marginal rates of GDP growth, but Nigerian growth to be meaningful and make a dent in our socio-economic performance must exceed our average population growth rate of 3%! In my model, growth between +2% and -2% essentially produces the same negative economic and social consequences-rising poverty, unemployment and inequality, low productivity, weak infrastructure, low capital investments and social and political instability!
There are threats to the nation’s social fabric too! We have recently been discussing reported attempts by the Department of State Security (DSS) to arrest popular Christian leader, Apostle Johnson Suleiman while he was on an evangelical visit to Ekiti State. Reports suggest the only reason he wasn’t summarily arrested (or abducted as some put it) was because of the intervention of Ekiti State Governor, Ayo Fayose. In the event, the DSS adopted a more rational approach, issuing an invitation to the apostle to report at their offices. The Apostle’s reportedly upset the security officials (and allegedly the Sultan of Sokoto!) for calling on Christians to defend themselves against so-called “Fulani herdsmen” who have been “active” across Nigeria with drastic consequences! In the most recent carnage, the “herdsmen” were “associated” with grave violence in Southern Kaduna resulting in the death of over 800 persons by the accounts of the Kaduna Catholic Diocese and the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN). It is remarkable as many observers have pointed out that while the federal and concerned state governments exercise great tolerance and restraint, at the very least, in the face of the activities of the “herdsmen”, they remain very eager to confront individuals who advise their victims to defend themselves! It is ironic that the laws of Nigeria recognize self-defense as a complete defense to any criminal allegation involving violence.
Political risk is off course rising again! It was a contributing factor to our current recession (in relation to the 2015 elections), though oil prices provided the trigger and poor policy turned a problem into a tragedy (!) but one of the positive consequences of the 2015 elections was how Nigeria miraculously de-escalated political risk. The president did not seize the opportunity to unite the nation-instead he declared some citizens part of a “5%” who did not vote for him, while some other group gave him “97%” of their votes. It was a clear pre-text and forewarning of prejudice which is now reflected in official policy and appointments. Not surprisingly various secessionist agitations have re-surfaced-the Avengers in the Niger-Delta have had particularly debilitating economic consequences, while the Independent People of Biafra (IPOB) and its imprisoned leader, Nnamdi Kanu have become notorious for their defiance of federal power. While government proclaimed the capture of “Sambisa Forest” and the supposed vanquishing of Boko Haram, suicide bombings by the group are now becoming more recurrent.
While all these increase domestic geo-political risk, politicians are on the move again as 2019 approaches and conversations about the president’s second term shape political activity.