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Published On: Sun, May 7th, 2017

Buhari’s Failing Health: Nigerian Economy, Governance Under Siege

LAGOS MAY 7TH (URHOBOTODAY)-The prolonged ailing condition of President Muhammadu Buhari is causing anxious moments for Nigerians with the attendant consequences on governance and the economy.
The uncertainties in government quarters typified by suspicions among government officials with regards to alleged takeover of governance by some cabal have continued to wane investors’ confidence in the economy.
This report examine its toll on governance, economic implication and attendant political turmoil.
The ordinary man who shares sympathy with the president on his failing health is currently under a heavy burden of a heated polity and the pangs of soaring cost of living.

However, some experts have continued to insist, with cautious optimism though, that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
But given the palpable tension that the president’s condition has generated in the corridors of power since the past months, it is evident that the country has suffered hiccups both from the political and economic fronts.
Prices of essential food item and drugs, two critical basic needs for the survival of the common man and his health stability, have in the past six months maintained a steady rise, in response to the rising level of inflation, which stood at 18.7% in the first quarter of 2017 rising from 16.5% in June 2016.
Sunday Independent survey across some markets in Lagos, Ibadan, Abuja, Kaduna, Kano and Port Harcourt revealed that the prices of staple food have continued to soar in the market, even with reported rise in the value of the Naira to a Dollar.
Food items like semovita, vegetable oil, palm oil, fish, spaghetti, macaroni, rice, beans and garri, including pepper have increased dramatically in the last couple of months. Traders maintained that prices have remained since the market surge in the 2016 Christmas season.
It was observed that the prices of 500g packs of spaghetti and macaroni had increased from N120 to N180, which is about 70 per cent rise in price from N200 for the 1kg bag, to N340; while a 1kg bag of processed wheat has doubled to N280 from N140 at the beginning of the year; garri has also recorded 100 per cent increase within the same period.
Following the same trend, the price of the 100kg bag of red beans has increased from N20,300 to N23,000; while a 50kg bag of rice recorded about 40 per cent price hike from N10,300 to N16,000.
For imported vegetable oil, a 25-litre container of the product imported from Malaysia was being sold for N10,000 instead of N6,200 in January, while 25 litres of palm attracted N9,000 instead of N6,000.
A carton of Alaska brand of fish cost N11,300, a 22 per cent price increase from N9,300 that it sold for in February.
Apart from the attendant heated polity which has brought some aspects of government activities into a halt, the capital market is not left out in the raging inferno.
For instance, the stock market reports for Q1 2017 had given the indices of the upset that the country’s economy had witnessed in the heat of the confusion over the president’s health. The stock market had reported a huge loss, and this is happening also at a period in which the country was still struggling to crawl out of recession since the third quarter of 2016.
Stocks listed on the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE) had received a beating from investors in the first quarter (Q1) of 2017, with the value of listed equities dropping by a whopping N418 billion within the period.
Indexes revealed that activities, which opened the year at N9.246 trillion in market capitalisation and 26.874.62 in index at the beginning of trading on January 2017, closed the first quarter of the year on March 31, 2017 at N8.828 trillion and 25,516.34 index points. Hence, it has earned a year to date loss of about N418 billion or 5.05 per cent year to date.
Bolade Agbola, executive director, Cashcraft Asset Management Limited, in his assessment of the nation’s economy opined that decision making process has slowed down as a result of the president’s ill-health, taking a toll on the market and well being of the citizenry.
He said: “We are in another bind as decision making slows down with the failing health of the President. The best thing for the nation and the economy is for the President to go on a medical leave until he recovers fully while allowing the Vice President to run the government until he is fit to face the rigors of governance.”
Friday Ameh, energy analyst believes that the ill-health and the accompanying controversy over the true status of the illness has eroded modest achievements recorded recently in the area of ease of doing business.
Toll On Governance
Issues about Buhari’s failing health and its attendant consequences have dominated the political circles as well as the country’s administration with more people expressing worry that he may have lost grip of critical matters of policy articulation and decision making that could engender efficient governance. Since January when he made his last medical trip to the United Kingdom and spent almost two months before his return, issues about his health have day to day remained a consistent national discourse in the country. And the concerns are growing daily.
For the growing legion of persons who have expressed worry about Buhari’s health condition, they have consistently argued that governance was suffering and the economy, which signposts the health of the country, is believed to be held under siege.
President Buhari has not disguised the status of his health, even as his aides make spirited efforts to reduce it to a non-issue. In the last couple of months, he has been in and out of the hospital and his condition seems so critical that he has had to be out of the country to seek medical attention, at least on three occasions. In January, he declared he was going on a 10-day medical vacation and, in line with the dictates of the 1999 Constitution, wrote the Senate to transmit power to the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo.
But he couldn’t return on the expiration of his initial 10-day vacation. He spent 51 days and although the president gave indication that he might again return to the UK to continue his treatment, he has remained holed up in his official residence with frightening signs that he is in dire need of medical help to stabilise his health and physical strength.
Since Buhari came into office, he has embarked on medical related trips thrice outside the shores of Nigeria, raising further questions as to the state of our health care systems and indeed the sustainability of the President’s action.
These concerns may be coming amidst huge budgetary allocations to the health sector on annual basis. Stakeholders as well as the international community have had to also raise concerns about how Buhari can sustain reform programmes already initiated and its implication for the recession hit economy.
The frosty relationship between the Executive and the National Assembly, where the over N7trillion budget for 2017 has remained stocked in the lockers may also call to question the fate of the economy for the current fiscal year.
Other issues such as the anti-corruption war where the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has recovered large sums of cash through the whistleblowing policy and the seemingly intractable opposition to the EFCC Acting Chairman, Ibrahim Magu by the Senate accounts for factors also bedeviling the country.
It is less than three weeks to the second anniversary of the Buhari administration, diplomatic and government sources have argued that the condition of the President may be slowing down the pace of economic reforms advanced since May 2015 when the government came on board.
Current developments in the Presidential Villa are not also palatable as Buhari’s absence at the FEC meeting for three consecutive times may be having its adverse effect on the outcomes as Vice President Osinbajo who presides at such cabinet meetings lacks executive powers to concretise decisions reached by the government.
Buhari has scaled down his activities since his return 56 days ago and it appears to be deliberately orchestrated by those close to the seat of power.
The nature of his illness has not been revealed, and reports indicate that he was due to return to Britain for further treatment anytime soon.
Of recent the President has been meeting with some of his cabinet members at his residence.
Although the ministers come to brief the media afterwards of their discussions, only those close to Aso Rock can authoritatively reveal whether these meetings were actually held or stage managed.
In all these, a public affairs analyst, Adetokunbo Pearse, who featured on Channels TV programme, Sunrise Daily, believes the country is being shortchanged in terms of proper governance.
He argued that the President’s incapacitation may also be sending a wrong signal to the international community, some of which may be holding back their investments owing to the political uncertainties.
Running The Villa
To the Presidency and lieutenants of President Buhari, however, there is no cause for alarm.
According to the president’s men, the wheel of governance is rolling smoothly, even though his health condition has necessitated that he slows down on his personal involvement in the affairs of state. Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, on Wednesday after the weekly Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting in Aso Villa, Abuja, told the nation while briefing State House reporters that Buhari was having a rest in his official residence on doctor’s advice.
Buhari had stayed off the country’s apex meeting for the third consecutive times, was absent from the Juma’at prayers on the last two Fridays in April and failed to attend his grandson’s wedding in Kaduna penultimate Saturday, a situation that has continued to fuel the people’s concern and agitation that he had inadvertently surrendered the government to some cabals in the Presidency who are now ruling the country as his proxies. Some key aides of the President, about three of them, have been fingered as forming the cabal in the Presidential Villa to take critical decisions on his behalf while the vice president tries to play along in order to keep the peace in the corridors of power.
Informed sources have also hinted Sunday Independent of some state governors and ministers who float around the Aso Villa with the powerful cabal, one of them being a governor in a South West state and, of course, Mohammed Bello, the Minister of Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, who is seen more by colleagues in the federal cabinet as “the president’s son”.
A source told this newspaper that FCT minister spends more time shuttling the Presidency and the president’s official residence in the villa than any member of the cabinet. FCDA officials say the minister treats files while on the move, and returns them to office for action. The minister is said to have virtually taken residence in Aso Villa; never leaving the place on account of Buhari’s illness. This is because Bello’s father and the President were long time friends and he got into the cabinet on account of the robust relationship between two old friends.
According to top political sources, Bello’s father was originally penciled in by Buhari as minister but declined on account of old age. He was later to suffer infirmity, which confined him to the wheel chair. Mohammed senior is said to have told Buhari to make do with his son as replacement. The minister is said to be among the few officials who have the ears of the president and have since formed a shield around him.
The Presidency has consistently maintained that there was nothing to worry about the president’s health, saying that he was working conveniently from his official residence in the villa and that he gets regular briefs on crucial matters of state for him to take decisions as may be necessary. The president’s spokesman, Garba Shehu, said he had undergone a long period of treatment in London and needed rest.
Aisha, the president’s wife has also added her voice to douse the raging concerns over her husband’s health.
Breaking her silence in over a month that Buhari returned into the country from his last medical trip abroad in March, Aisha on Tuesday declared that her husband’s health was not as bad as most people think.
She disclosed that President Buhari was fit and would continue to carry out his responsibilities.
Aisha took to her verified Twitter account to speak on the state of health of the president, following raging calls from various quarters, including the president’s political allies that he should excuse himself from governance for the moment and seek the much needed attention to his ill-health.
The first lady made her comments on Twitter, @aishambuhari.
“I thank all Nigerians for their concern, love and prayers over my husband’s health status. I wish to inform everyone that his health is not as bad as it’s being perceived. Meanwhile he continues to carry out his responsibilities during this period.”
She added: “As it may come to your notice, he is meeting with Minister of Justice and GMD of NNPC this evening. Long Live Nigerians, Long Live Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
Political Turmoil
Calls have resonated from various segments of society; from politics, business and the civil society.
Former interim National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Chief Bisi Akande, on Monday raised what sounded like a “save our souls” on the president’s health and the growth of the country. He appealed to Nigerians to start praying for the restoration of Buhari’s health in order to avert a looming crisis which the development could throw the nation into.
Akande chose the auspicious time of the May Day when workers were celebrating one of the most excruciating labour seasons in the life of the Nigerian workers in the recent times to deliver his portentous statement in which he expressed personal frustration on the president’s failing health and the toll it is already taking on the nation.
Akande disclosed that he knew the President was seriously ill when he did not show up in Kaduna for the wedding ceremony of his grandson.
He stated that Nigerians needed to pray for the recovery of the President, whom he said had been fighting corruption seriously since he assumed office.
He lamented that the situation around the president showed that corruption had started fighting back now and the nation needed Buhari to hold on to ensure a total victory against the forces of evil.
Akande, however, warned those who might want to make political gains from the President’s ill health to have a rethink, saying Nigeria of today was quite different from that of 1993.
The statement read, “The health of the leader is intricately intertwined with the health of the nation. It is more so in a delicately fragile union of nations called Nigeria. I did not see President Buhari at the wedding of his grandson in Kaduna last Saturday. I was sad and I wept.
“When last we met at the wedding of his daughter in Abuja last December, I complained to him that I was not happy about his stressful looks. His reply connoted some allusions to circumstances where an honest man fighting corruption is surrounded mostly by unpatriotic greedy ruling class. He felt painfully frustrated.
“He assured me he would soon be going on vacation. I then knew that corruption has effectively been fighting back. And I prayed for Nigeria. That was why Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and I rushed to meet him in London in February this year when he was sick and could not return as scheduled from his vacation. The rest is history but we must appreciate that his poor health is already taking its toll on the health of Nigeria as a polity.
“There are two challenges facing the country today. The first and the most critical is the health of the President which, unfortunately, is a development beyond his control and for which we did not prepare. The second is the disorder and lack of cohesion between the National Assembly and the Presidency.
“These are two great red-flag dangers that have the potential of plunging the country into unprecedented chaos and of destabilising the gains of democracy since 1999.”
The opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) had earlier called on Buhari to hand over power to his deputy and take time out to attend to his health.
Senator Ahmed Makarfi, the chairman of the PDP Caretaker Committee had urged President Buhari to hand over power to Vice President Osibanjo pending his full recovery from his undisclosed illness.
Makarfi said if President Buhari was not fit enough to remain in office, it is better to tell the Nigerian people and allow the Vice President to continue as Acting President and return to work after full recovery.
However, the leadership of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) disagreed with the PDP chairman, saying that the President would be working from his official residence.
Makarfi said: “My take is that if the President is not fully fit to stay in office, it is better that he tells Nigerians, so that the Vice President will continue to be Acting President, exercising the powers of acting president.
Makarfi opined that the political turmoil generated by the president’s ill-health and inability to personally attend to official engagements of his office could be avoided, “when we allow time for the President to fully recover and assume his mantle of leadership. Me as PDP person, as a human being, I will never wish any human being ill-will even if I disagree with you politically.
“So it does not matter that it is APC that is the person that is sick. My prayer is that he is fit to serve his term. As a politician, I equally want him to finish his term. So when some people begin to insinuate things, of what interest would it be to PDP should the President be unable to finish his term?
“We don’t wish him ill will, we want him to be well, we want him to be fit enough to be on seat when in 2019 we go for election and defeat the APC .
“For a number of reasons, the PDP wishes the President well, for stability of this country, political stability and the fact that we want to defeat a sitting President. We don’t want any confusion politically in this country. It is not good for anybody and as a human being; I never wish anybody ill will irrespective of political differences”.
Human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), and seven organisations on Monday said they felt compelled to advise Buhari to heed the advice of his London doctors to take further vacation and attend to his health.
Buhari’s absence at the last three Federal Executive Council meetings and last Friday’s Jumat service was a confirmation that his health was deteriorating contrary to the claim by the President’s handlers that ‘there is no need for apprehension over the matter’.
Falana and the groups expressed this concern in a statement jointly signed by them on Monday.
Those who signed the statement along with Falana were the Executive Director, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, Adetokunbo Mumumi; Executive Chairman, Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders, Debo Adeniran; Chairman, Civil Society Network Against Corruption, Olanrewaju Suraj; Programme Manager, Democracy Vanguard, Shina Odugbemi; Executive Director, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, Awwal Rafsanjani; and National Coordinator, Procurement Observation and Advocacy Initiative, Mohammed Attah.
Others who signed the statement were Director, Centre for Information Technology and Development in Nigeria, Chris Kwaja; a pro-democracy activist, Chom Bagu; a community development expert, Ezenwa Nwagu; and an environmental activist David Ugolor.
The statement read in part, “When President Muhammadu Buhari was recently in the United Kingdom on a medical vacation, which lasted 49 days, many public officers said that he was ‘hale and hearty.’ But upon his return to the country, President Buhari disclosed that he had never been that sick in his entire life.
“Even though the president did not disclose the nature of his ailment, he revealed that he went through blood transfusion. While thanking the Nigerian people for their prayers, the president announced that he might soon travel back for further medical treatment.
“A few weeks ago, the governor of Kaduna State, Mr Nasir El-Rufai urged Nigerians to give President Buhari time to recover from his sickness. The plea was made after the governor had visited and presumably assessed the state of the president at the presidential villa in Abuja.
“However, due to the apparent deterioration in the president’s health condition, he has neither been seen in public in the last one week nor attended the last two meetings of the federal executive council. His absence at the last Jumat service in the villa has fuelled further speculations and rumours on President Buhari’s medical condition.
“There is no need for apprehension over the matter”.
“Instead of embarking on regular briefing on the actual state of the health of President Buhari, officials of the federal government have continued to assure the Nigerian people.
“In defending the absence of the president at the last FEC meeting and other state functions, the senior special assistant to the president on media and publicity, Mr Garba Shehu stated that ‘the president’s doctors have advised on his taking things slowly, as he fully recovers from the long period of treatment in the United Kingdom some weeks ago’.
“As we join the Nigerian people of goodwill to pray for a speedy recovery of President Buhari, we are compelled to advise him to heed the advice of his personal physicians by taking a rest to attend to his health without any further delay.”
Another Lagos lawyer and leading human right activist, Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa also called on the Senate to declare vacant the office of President on account of Buhari’s ill-health.
“On account purely of his ill health, the President has not been performing his official duties, he has not been able to preside over the Federal Executive Council and he has not been seen in public for about two weeks now.
“Even though the President is human, the Constitution anticipates a fit and proper chief executive, to be in charge of and run the affairs of Nigeria, which General Buhari cannot presently fulfill.
The option before Nigeria presently is for the Senate to declare the office of the President vacant and to constitute a medical panel of experts to examine the health status of the President in order to determine if he can still continue to function in office.
In the meantime, the Vice-President should be sworn in as Acting President. We cannot continue in this fashion whereby a cabal has taken over the affairs of Nigeria, causing great panic in the land, purely for their own selfish ends. Enough is enough!, the statement read.
Silver Lining
However, it it not a totally hopeless situation, according to some other analysts who expressed cautious optimisim insisting that they see it that the clouds over the nation’s economy at the moment is not without the silver lining.
In a report by researchers at FSDH Merchant Bank, the Nigerian economy was projected to be close to recovery as the capital market had picked up positively since the beginning of the year.
The report said the recent increase in the crude oil price and production and subsequent increase in the external reserves have helped to stabilise the foreign exchange market, a major concern of the foreign investors.
“The increase in the supply of foreign exchange to meet the input requirements of manufacturing companies should increase their production activities and revenue in the current financial year. The fiscal confidence in the Nigerian economy and market.
“Our survey shows that most investors did a lot of portfolio realignment – moving from equities to fixed income securities. The main reason for this was the lacklustre performance of equities in the face of attractive yields on fixed income securities.
“The data from the National Pension Commission (PenCom) on the allocation of the Pension Fund Assets as at February 2017 shows that the weight of the pension fund assets on domestic equity dropped consistently from 2014 to 2017”, the report said.
Analysis of the equity transactions on the NSE in the last three years shows transactions from foreign and domestic investors declined between 2014 and 2016.
Foreign transactions were N1.54 trillion, N1.03 trillion and N0.52 trillion in 2014, 2015 and 2016 respectively while domestic transactions were N1.14 trillion, N0.88 trillion and N0.63 trillion in 2014, 2015 and 2016 respectively.
The stability in the macroeconomic environment and the strong earnings of quoted companies should attract the needed liquidity into the market. Consequently, the equity market should record a strong recovery in the year 2017.
Ibrahim Abdulahi, a stockbroker, believes the happenings of the last four months is indicative of a better year.
His words: “This time last year, things were really looking down for the market but if you look at developments in the year so far you will agree with me that things will only get better.
“I am hopeful that we will continue to do the right things that will keep the market up. I am also hopeful that relevant regulators are ready to lead the path”.
Another stockbroker, who preferred anonymity, said Nigerians should prevail on regulators in the Capital Market not to scuttle the positive trend by imposing unnecessary penalties on quoted companies.
In his contribution, Matthew Ogagavworia, an investment advisor, said the government should not lay credence to the surge that is happening in the economy.
“Let me be frank with you, the surge we see in the capital market or the one we see in the economy generally was as a result of the doggedness of the private sector to take the bull by the horn.
“What we are seeing now is the outcome of the decision by the private sector to turn things around as the year 2016 was not a good one for them.
“When you see companies making profit, it was not because the government actually gave them the impetus to run their companies. Infact, government was the reason why some companies are on their knees”.
Daily Independent

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