In our recently reported poll results, Nigerians gave strong overall approval rating of 63% to the Buhari government. However the results also indicated that Nigerians were not satisfied with the government’s performance in many key sectors including petroleum, housing, transportation, economy, job creation, education and healthcare (Figure 1).
Figure 1. Ranking of Government Performance in key sectors: GAIN Poll, Dec 2015
The high overall approval rating for the government implies that Nigerians are not yet ready to completely lay the blame for poor economic growth, lingering unemployment, scarcity of petroleum products, transportation woes, housing challenges and power sector problems at Buhari’s feet. However, sooner rather than later, Nigerians will begin to ask deeper and more probing questions of this government.
Deep as the challenges might be that were carried over from the previous administration, at some point in the near term, those excuses will no longer be sufficient to satisfy the Nigerian people. The buck must begin to stop at President Buhari’s table.
Here are 5 areas that the government needs to address urgently.
Availability of Petroleum Products
Majority of Nigerians (55%) scored the government low in this area. It was the second worst rated area after housing. Some recent articles have attempted to explain the causes for the acute shortages of petroleum products. According to the official narrative, the scarcity problem stems from a trifecta of issues involving delay in fuel subsidy payments, unavailability of sufficient Forex to finance largely dollar denominated fuel imports and a break down in the letters of credit process (LOC), with Banks failing to and/or refusing to honor LOCs opened by oil marketers. Whatever the reasons for the market failures are, Nigerians expect that these policy dependent issues should be resolved. Steps should be taken to ease access to forex by oil marketers. Temporary measures might need to be taken by the government to bring credibility back to the LOC markets with targeted interventions. The government might also want to consider establishing its own strategic reserve of petroleum products that can then be released to shore up supply under conditions of scarcity. Since Mr. Buhari is the substantive minister of petroleum, this sector more than others is directly reflective of his abilities and competence.
Security – Beyond Boko Haram
Although the government received high scores on Boko Haram related security issues, Nigerians gave the government poor ratings in the handling of the Pro-Biafra agitations and the Fulani Herdsmen clashes (Figure 2). The government cannot continue to have a single mode strategy for security issues. While the Boko Haram crisis might be solved by police and military action, a decidedly political approach will need to be taken to address long running socio-economic, political and ethnic issues like the Pro-Biafra and Fulani Herdsmen conflicts. The government will need to update its security playbook to include approaches that are nuanced enough to deal decisively with crises, but also show sensitivity to their historical context, cultural undertones and political underpinnings. The recent high handed response to the Shiite protests in Kaduna State underscore the issues with the government’s current strategy. It will be prudent for the President to form a standing committee – one that might perhaps be led by his Vice President, to proactively and urgently look into the various crises and address them in a robust manner.
Figure 2. Rating the Government’s handling of security issues: GAIN Poll, Dec 2015
Nigeria’s transportation problems are extensive and are reflective of decades of infrastructure neglect. Nigeria’s new transportation minister has overall responsibility for all land (rail), waterway and aviation transport. He has declared that he will complete ongoing rail projects as his first priority and has announced that the government will be engaging the private sector in the transformation of the rail sector. It will be prudent for Mr. Amaechi to urgently review Nigeria’s needs in the Aviation and Waterways areas as well. Because initiatives in the rail, aviation and waterway sectors can take time, a tiered approach, with clear deliverables and associated timelines and milestones needs to be articulated and communicated to the Nigerian people. The articulation of a comprehensive transportation sector plan will provide direction to the minister, and provide Nigerians with clear metrics by which to judge his performance.
The low ratings given to the government in this area reflects the systemic issues with the availability and affordability of housing in Nigeria. This is one of the ministries under Mr. Fashola. While the sector might not have the same visibility as the power sector, it is the one that affects Nigerians the most significantly. Nigerians have learned to cope with poor power supply, but they each need a place to lay their heads. Mr. Fashola will need to move urgently to propose and drive for the adoption of policy initiatives that make access to mortgage financing easy for Nigerians. He must work to quickly align all of the different initiatives across various government agencies aimed at ensuring access to affordable housing, and coordinate his actions with the state governments to ensure that real progress comes to Nigerians wherever they may find themselves. The private sector also has a significant role to play, and the integration of private sector led initiatives into the housing sector plan will be needed.
When Nigerians were first introduced to Buhari in 1983, his government at that time had declared that one of the reasons for their coup was the poor state of Nigeria’s healthcare system. Well, nothing has changed in the intervening period. Nigeria’s hospitals are still “mere consulting clinics without drugs, water and equipment.” The Buhari government as a unique opportunity to bring a profound and enduring turn around to the heath sector. Four things should happen in this sector – firstly, all healthcare funding should be judiciously utilized, and the current anticorruption spotlight should be turned on the health sector as well. Secondly, measures must be put in place to enhance access to quality healthcare, including provisions for the participation of international private healthcare firms. Thirdly, the government must demonstrate symbolically that it is serious about transforming the Nigerian healthcare segment by committing to the use of Nigerian health institutions or at the least banning the use of public funds for overseas health visits by its officials. Fourthly, the government should move to expand coverage under the National Health Insurance Scheme to more Nigerians – and ultimately to all Nigerians.
Malcolm Fabiyi, PhD.