THE REAL PRICE OF “CHANGING THE CHANGE” (1)
BY GARBA SHEHU
Top opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) members have been granting press interviews and addressing zonal political rallies talking about “CHANGING THE CHANGE” in next year’s general elections, without defining what exactly that means.
As the governing All Progressives Congress (APC) gears up to celebrate the completion of three years of the Buhari government in the centre on May 29th, Nigerians need to be reminded of what the reversal of the achievements of this administration will amount to.
The real meaning and cost of the “Changing the Change,” is that if they win the next election, they will not take us back to where we were in 2015, they will mostly reverse the progress the APC has brought to the nation. The main reason for the defeat of the PDP in 2015 was corruption. The present administration at the centre led by President Muhammadu Buhari has so far presented a corrupt-free image of itself. It has also succeeded in abolishing grand corruption at the top and as attested to by the American President, Donald Trump. The government has significantly brought down the level of corruption in the whole country. It has, however, warned over and again that corruption was fighting back.
Many who are discerning would have read this from President Buhari’s speech when he inaugurated the impressive new headquarters building of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) a week ago. He narrated how and why he was overthrown as a military Head of State in the 80s.
In that speech, he said not only was he kicked out because he fought corruption, the ones who took power freed all those that he had jailed, and whatever they stole was returned to them. He took their place in prison and stayed there without trial for 36 months, until that day when a journalist in Benin, now in Edo, broke the story that he had lost his mother. That was when he was allowed to go home.
The real difference between the PDP and the current APC administration is that although they mouthed a flood of rhetoric against corruption, in fact rightfully lay the claim of founding the institutions now in the forefront of fighting corruption as a government, the EFCC and the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission, ICPC, they had intended to keep them as toys, or bulldogs which teeth had been removed. No, they never intended that the war against corruption would be taken this far.
To change the change would mean that the teeth of the bulldog will be removed. It would then only bark but not bite.
In this country, politics is often considered as synonym of corruption. The previous government came under huge criticism for scandals like that discovered in arms procurements in the office of the National Security Adviser, NSA which transformed itself into a major source of funding of the PDP; NNPC crude oil thefts, broadband spectrum licensing scandal, oil subsidy scam and so many others but the present government has not faced any such corruption allegations.
Although he said he was unafraid and would not bend, the President’s concern, and fear on the part of many is that if a corrupt leader takes over, it will be happy days all over again for former Oil Minister Diezani Allison-Maduekwe who has so far forfeited USD 153 million, N23.4 billion, and USD 4m and USD 5m in separate accounts. “Change the Change” would mean she will get the money back. So would the former Managing Director of the maritime agency, NIMASA get back GBP 578,080 seized from him and the Ikoyi apartment owners have back their USD43.4m; N23m and GBP 27,800.
The hidden owner of the Lagos cash shop may then step forward to reclaim their N449.6 million; the ex-Naval Chiefs will have returned to them the already forfeited N1.8 billion; the Governors Forum paid back their N1.4 billion and the major oil marketers, from whom the EFCC has so far seized N328.9 billion will smile their ways to the bank.
The banks themselves will equally join the party, happily getting back N27.7 billion they “ate” from taxes they failed to remit; the scion of the Akinjides, Jumoke will have N650 million awarded to her while those scammers in INEC who coughed out N1 billion will equally get money back and charges standing against them in court may be dropped.
But the happiest of them all will be Mrs. Jonathan, who will get the first priority when the refunds start coming for obvious reasons. The former First Lady would not anymore need lawyers to keep her mountain of gifts, counted in huge millions of dollars, billions of Naira, hotels and buildings.
The list of people who oppose the Buhari government and yearning to ‘‘change the change’’ include a number of parliamentarians, policemen, customs officials, immigration officials, civil servants now rooting for other political parties, not leaving out those various businesses and platforms owned by these political parties directly or indirectly.
The Buhari win in 2015, and the possibility of four more years have crumbled their dreams of endlessly looting the state and the growing list of achievements of the administration is not doing any good for them.
“Change the change” means also that the biggest tax revolution since independence, the Voluntary Assets and Income Declaration Scheme (VAIDS) now being implemented, and about which many of our rich citizens are unhappy may be scrapped. A recent report shows that there are four million new taxpayers, including companies and individuals, resulting in N700 billion increase in tax revenue in 2017.
The early casualties of ‘‘changing the change’’ may include initiatives like the Whistle Blower policy by which the government is able to recover stolen or concealed assets through information provided by citizens. This has changed the ethical and moral tone of the business transaction space in the country. The whistle blower is entitled to between 2.5%-5.0% of amount recovered.
Sometime last year, the Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun, told the world, “we are going after those who have stolen our money. We have put in place a very successful whistle-blower programme that is delivering results and allows those who report illicit activity to receive up to five per cent of any funds that we recover.” The response has been so fabulous that in just four months, it yielded N17bn, as revealed by the Acting Chairman of EFCC, Ibrahim Magu.
Another formidable group unhappy with the change and wish it reversed are the importers of diesel and generators. Nigeria ranks as the second biggest importer of generators all over the world.
Buhari is bad business for them because he has raised electric power availability from 2,600 MW in 2015 to 7,000 MW and is targeting 10,000 megawatts by the year’s end. Increased power availability means less purchase of generators and less consumption of diesel. Noticeably, they are rooting for parties that are bent on changing the change. Rooters of ‘‘Changing the Change’’ campaign also include the beneficiaries of the malaria economy which costs Nigeria N132 billion and 300,000 lives annually, an economy now threatened by the administration’s National Malaria Elimination Programme, NMEP, by which tens of millions of long-lasting insecticide-treated nets (ITN) are being freely distributed. A part of this order is now made in Aba, Nigeria.
The government’s moves on ease of doing business which has attracted international attention and investment and significantly improved the ranking of Nigeria as a place of doing business, in fact achieving a place in the World Bank’s top 10 reforming economies would suffer a hit from those bent on proving that on-going change is not working. But this is how the World Bank saw Nigeria: “Overall, the 10 top improvers implemented the most regulatory reforms in the area of getting credit, starting a business, dealing with construction permits and paying taxes,” the report said.
It’s really hard for the beneficiaries of the old order to see and appreciate what the Buhari government is doing considering that they ran an economy based purely on oil, the price of which was as high as US$140 per barrel. They reticulated oil revenue through personal spending and corruption, wasteful expenses and salaries. Nigeria did not record a single major infrastructural project in the 10 years before the Buhari administration. The money was mismanaged. No savings were made. To compound the problem, they borrowed heavily and owed contractors, and international oil companies.
The Emir of Kano, Muhammadu Sanusi II and Professor Chukwuma Soludo, both eminent former Central Bank Governors had had occasion to warn the government of the day about the wrongful way of doing things and the accompanying wastage but they were clobbered. The dire warnings of the dangers to economic health and the wellbeing of the people were both ignored.
Increase in government spending in infrastructure which is beginning to show results with sectors like employment, and returning growth to the recessed economy may equally suffer. Under the 2017 appropriation budget which is about to lapse, government’s capital spending is expected to hit N1.5 trillion. In the PDP years, the highest this got to was N450 billion or 21 per cent of the capital allocation in 2014. Doing more with less.
The Railways, on which the common man travels, is being changed for the better. The 3,500 monorail that had existed has been leased to the American company, General Electric. They are to refurbish it and are bringing new locomotives and hundreds of coaches. All trains and coaches are being modernized. New standard railway tracks are being laid linking Ibadan and Lagos. Kaduna-Abuja, partly completed when President Buhari took over is now in use and contracts for the entire stretch, Lagos to Kano have been awarded. Lagos-Port Harcourt will follow and by the Presidential directive, all state capitals are to be linked by the new, standard gauge railway.
“Changing the Change” means that we will go back to the old ways of doing things. A strong and diversified economy has been on top of President Buhari’s achievements. Key drivers of the economy such as agriculture and solid minerals have been progressing with over 7% growth rate, an indication of positive signs for the future. Is everyone happy with this? No. We cannot say this of the importers of rice who have seen their import business go down following the tremendous success of the home-grown rice schemes. Over two billion USD have been saved as a consequence.
Then, you must also count those who got USD 200 million every year from the Central Bank and ended up bringing in low standard fertilizers. They lapped a government subsidy of N60,000 annually and sold a bag each for between N10,000-N13,000. Now, a government-approved price, by the common consent of local producers is N5,500 per bag. Those who fed fat on the perennial shortages and the subsidy regime would desire nothing but “Changing the Change.”
There are many today who take for granted the declared victory over the Boko Haram terrorists, forgetting the reign of the bomber who made it almost impossible for regular attendance in markets, Churches and Mosques in many of our cities, including the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.
But again, as we have seen from the heist in the national security establishment, even Boko Haram was an industry from which money was scooped. Boko Haram was the hallmark of a flourishing business of corruption. The beneficiaries won’t like that the security threat is eliminated. Yes, for them, “Changing the Change” is an opportunity for a resumption of business as usual.
Garba Shehu is Senior Special Assistant to the President (Media & Publicity)