Buhari: Salvaging the Last Chapter

Olawale Olaleye

At the moment, the people of Nigeria are having the worst time of their lives – suffering but not smiling. It is not until some white-skinned economic or financial wizards say there’s a problem before the average Nigerian knows at this material time that, all is not well.

Putting it straight, there’s problem in the land, occasioned by a sound economic decision, but rather poorly executed, and is fast cascading into a major crisis if not tamed at the stage it is now.

For emphasis, vote buying (one of the reasons for the policy) isn’t just an electoral menace; it is a crime that must and should be addressed by any serious society and government. Yet, vote buying is not done only by sharing physical cash to potential voters. It is actually anything you do or give to an intending voter outside of your campaign message. That is vote buying in the simplest of definitions.

Ironically, a lot of the things that constitute vote buying are taken for granted. For instance, something as simple as sharing water or food to voters on election day is vote buying. Offering them free transportation to and from their destinations or accepting memorabilia from office seekers or their agents is also vote buying.

But many people would rather consider such an act of kindness. It is not, legally speaking. If you had been under the sun for so long waiting to vote – hungry and thirsty – and a ‘Good Samaritan’, who aligns with a political party offers you drinks and snacks, an undecided voter could change his mind. It’s a no-brainer.

This is why, in the analysis of corruption from the ethical and moral perspectives, there is a blurry line, if not mystifying, between a gift and a bribe. A gift is something of value given without the expectation of return, yet, a bribe is also something of value, however, given in the hope of influence or benefit. But, the question is, how are you able to determine that what you call a gift isn’t actually a bribe? It remains an interesting topic in ethics classes.

Of course, it is also trite to infer that, vote buying is highly exaggerated. For the purposes of this intervention, what is the materiality of vote buying, in the first place? Has anyone seen a situation, where an entire polling unit was bought up during an election? How did you even know that the allegedly paid electorate vote for you? And to what extent could an influenced few alter the result of an election?

Thus, when you consider this in its holistic form, including some other concerns like taming other related crimes, which inlcude ransom-taking, completely strangulating the economy and leaving the people stranded in the middle of nowhere is arguably not an option.

Or, would you not consider it a sign that the policy is defective in some ways if the generality of the people couldn’t access the new notes to transact their legitimate businesses or live their normal lives and yet, some unscrupulous hawkers have them in millions to sell at parties for sheer vanity? What, really, is the essence?

The problem here, from all indications, appears to be one of poor implementation and ineffective monitoring by those in charge, and the ordinary Nigerians should not pay for what is evidently “official idiocy”. After all, what’s wrong in reviewing a poorly introduced policy in collective interest, granted that policy formulation is not an easy task at whatever level?

An average person with limited economic understanding would have thought that to actually contain many of the economic crimes, and considering that the currency redesign isn’t all a bad idea, the higher denominations should not have been released into circulation in the first place, albeit in the short term, thus making movement of large sums impossible and by implication reducing crimes, including vote buying and ransom-taking, among others.

Isn’t it for reasons of reducing money supply in cash that the CBN has been raising the interest rate to encourage savings and putting more money in the bank? Isn’t it part of the entire gamut?

It is also understandable that when a lot of the money outside the banking system is brought in during inflation, it helps exponentially, because it allows for more control on how the CBN issues its monies. But, in all of this, effect must be monitored to be able to see impact, which many reckon is the responsibility of the research department of the CBN or its economic intelligence unit.

For example, are they able to tell of the result of the exercise the last time it was done, by monitoring what the behavioural pattern of the people was at the time, in order to help plot a better graph that would be in sync with the current realities, as the policy unfurls, however, in phases.

Many have complained about the timing and the fact that the idea might have been politically motivated. Whatever it is, results so far are disturbing and the government has to, as matter of responsibility and expectations of a responsive leadership, rise to the challenge.

Even worse is that this is coming at the twilight of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration, which means his last chapter, and if care is not taken, nothing positive would be recorded against his name and government outside of this avoidable torture the people have been needlessly subjected, a few months to leaving office.

Today, no one remembers any good that a former Military President, Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida, did except for the June 12 annulment. Talk about former President Olusegun Obasanjo and many would scoff at his name over his alleged third term ambition. And now, Buhari is rounding off with unceasing fuel scarcity, currency redesign that is almost shutting down the economy and forcing people to live in pain as well as the existential insecurity in the country.

Today, because of this policy, there is nothing to buy and there is no money to buy it, yet, the government in power is seeking to continue, regardless? How? Something isn’t sitting quite well. Reports that some parts of the far north have now resorted to ‘trade by barter’ and also crossing the border to other neighbouring countries to trade in their currencies are some of the red flags that cannot be ignored.

How about the queues and fighting in the banking halls? The riots and protests that are building up in some parts of the country? Gas stations have also refused to sell fuel using the point of sales machines but with cash that is not available. POS operators have become emergency ‘Lord of the Manor’, smiling to the bank with their crazy charges. The new wave of hunger and frustration is real.

This is chaos loading and the consequences might be worse than #EndSARS. It’s all looking like the government has lost control and everything is on a free fall. It is also why it’s hard to blame those suspecting and alleging plots by some power centres to have the election postponed. There are grounds to think and conclude so, nevertheless, artificial.

Whichever way anyone looks at the current situation, most definitely objectively, what is happening now is a timebomb that must be nipped in the bud immediately, because it’s the eve of a critical presidential bout and it bears huge consequences on everything that Nigeria stands on.

For starters, government should look into how much it has that is enough. And like the governors suggested at their Friday meeting with President Buhari, both old and new currencies should be allowed to co-exist, for now. And, for as long as the old ones are not reintroduced into the system by the criminally culpable commercial banks, it would cease to exist in no time.

These steps have become imperative, because what works in the city, is definitely not applicable in the rural areas, and as such, approach must be location and people-specific for result. Again, and for emphasis, those who introduced the policy did not mean any harm, but only failed to critically think it through and inadvertently causing unintended pains on the people they wanted to look out for through poor implementation.

At this juncture, the authorities must properly measure the impact and be determined to do better, otherwise, this is Buhari’s last chapter – and a majority of Nigerians already have the epitaph of the administration written in their heads but are only waiting for the ideal time to make it public, in memory of a government that promised CHANGE but has left them even more miserable.

Above all, for a government that is not considered any good in the eyes of an average Nigerian, outside of its efforts at infrastructure renewal, which though is evident, however, could pale into nothing if the president failed to get up to this one challenge, the time to rise up to the situation is now, and it isn’t rocket science!

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