An international affairs fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, Matthew Page, has identified five things President Muhammadu Buhari can do to get Nigeria back on track.
In an article published in the Washington Post, he said the President must “carefully clean the house”, reduce the number of parastatals, “tame the white elephants”, rein in sub-national debt and legislate for the long run.
On tackling graft, Page said Buhari’s reform agenda probably faces its greatest threat from corrupt, old-school politicians within the All Progressives Congress (APC).
“The U.S. Department of Justice has accused one sitting APC governor of helping former dictator Sani Abacha steal at least $458 million from state coffers. Buhari should neutralise some of the APC’s shadiest figures, who could emerge as ‘veto players,’ as described in Carl LeVan’s recent book,” he said.
On parastatals, he said Buhari has an opportunity to realise immediate savings by eliminating or merging some of the more than 500 federal parastatals and boards, which he said were used by past presidents to cultivate national political allies and provincial cronies.
“Buhari may also want to disband some nice-to-have but non-essential parastatals in light of competing priorities and current fiscal constraints. Does Nigeria need to spend more than $4 million annually on a Center for Space Transport and Propulsion?” he wrote.
According to Page, industry experts were worried that Buhari’s bid to revive oil refineries and steel mills might end up like other white elephant projects where state-owned enterprises were funded for long periods, even if they incur huge losses.
“Instead, he should address the graft, inconsistent policies and opaque privatisation deals that experts say turned these industries into white elephants in the first place,” he suggested.
Page said as Buhari tries to put Nigeria’s public finances back in order, the 36 states’ balance sheets are sinking deeper into the red, with his administration having bailed out 27 cash-strapped ones to the tune of $2.1 billion. He believes states’ borrowing trends were risky and needed to be addressed.
On the need to legislate for the long run, Page said: “Nigeria will need to feel the ‘Buhari Effect’ (the sense, evident in a recent New York Times article, that there is a new sheriff in town) long after the president’s tenure is over.
“The best way for him to protect his legacy is to partner with the National Assembly to enact legislation enshrining key reforms. With few other politicians like him on the horizon, Buhari should put his legacy in writing.
“A good place to start would be an act prohibiting the use of ‘security votes.’ Both a definitive article by Uche et al. and a 2007 Human Rights Watch report illustrate how these secretive budgetary line items are used by officials at all levels of government as slush funds.
“Even Nigeria’s leading anti-corruption agency had a $1,000,000 security vote included in its 2014 budget. Buhari has his work cut out for him.”
Source: The Nation