President Muhammadu Buhari

Does Buhari Need Emergency Powers to Fix the Country?

For about two weeks now, the media, including the online, have been awash with news that the president is seeking additional power outside what our constitution provided to fix the country. Though not many are aware, whistle-blowers say the presidency is putting together a bill that will give the president powers beyond what our constitution envisaged to urgently tackle many issues in various facets of our country.
Although, because of the furore the expected bill seem to be generating, the presidency has denied crafting any bill of sort, washing off its hands like Pontius Pilate. But the denial does not mean that a bill of that nature is not in the offing.
The Emergency Economic Stabilization Bill 2016, which is what it is called, will among other things give the president extra judicial powers to stabilize the economy by adopting measures that cannot be subjected to litigation, and which, perhaps, will not be subject to the approval of the National Assembly.
In addition, the bill, if approved by the National Assembly, will empower the president to set aside some of the existing laws in the country that will enable him to use executive fiat to fix the economy by coming out with a stimulus package that will increase capital spending for job creation. The bill, those who are behind it say, will also improve power supply, revive the manufacturing sector, reverse the current recession and amend certain laws to favour and empower indigenous contractors.
To be frank, at a time like this, I do not think President Buhari is asking for the impossible. Our industries are closing down, throwing thousands into the already saturated labour market as a result of the scarcity of forex and the depreciation of the naira. Over 12 foreign airlines have closed their doors and left the country. From what has been reported, 23 shipping companies that have been doing business in Nigeria for decades have left too.
On September 1, Aero Contractors which has kept our airspace busy for several years without any recorded accident served notice of indefinite suspension of flights for lack of patronage and access to forex. And as if to exacerbate an already odorous wound, Innoson Motors, the country’s first indigenous motor manufacturing company at Nnewi, on the same date gave notice it was going to lay off thousands of its staff. Before this, several companies that were hitherto operating in the country had either moved to Ghana or South Africa because of lack of electricity and the rising cost of doing business.
As it stands today, the gains previous administrations made on the economy have been completely wiped out within a year as a result of unhealthy economic policies of the Buhari administration. The middle class is no more in existence. What we have are the incredibly rich who constitute just about one percent of the population and the incredibly poor made up of 99 percent. Many are dying as hunger bares its fangs. The other day, our Minister for Agriculture, Chief Audu Ogbe, revealed that some families are depositing their children as human collaterals to buy goods. The other day, the press reported several cases of missing pots of soup in Bayelsa and many other states.
President Buhari is not asking for the head of John the Baptist, or what other leaders before him have not asked for before. When President Franklin Delano Roosevelt took the oath of office in 1933, the Great Depression had battered the American economy and rendered millions jobless. In order to transfuse hope to a dying nation, he came up with what he called the New Deal which gave him presidential executive powers to institute a social liberal policy that enabled him to create jobs for the jobless and restore hope in the Union.
In like manner, when President Barack Obama came to power in 2008, the American economy was at the cliff edge of disaster. Industries were shutting down just like in Nigeria today; banks suffered economic meltdown, mortgage institutions were almost wiped out as foreclosures hit the country. America was in a serious financial crisis as company after company laid off workers which resulted in many losing their homes as they could no longer pay the mortgage. But Obama did not go to sleep like Nero in Rome, he seized upon the moment and the opportunity offered by the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 which was proposed by the Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and signed into law by President George W. Bush during the latter’s closing years. He started the process of bailing out the country and her citizens from the mess he met. He did not point accusing fingers on his predecessor, rather he set to work to rekindle hope in his ability to steer the nation away from the stormy sea. The bailout gave billions of dollars to companies that were distressed which enabled them to create millions of jobs within one year.
That is the power President Buhari is seeking from our nation’s lawmakers.
But the American picture is different from what is playing out in Nigeria. In America you have a robust democracy that is not subject to abuse; you have sophisticated and secured biometric system where the data of every person and every company is known. But in Nigeria, our democracy is faltering, which makes it open to abuse, like the ill-fated Third Term agenda of Obasanjo. And again, there is no comprehensive data, which makes it difficult for government to advance such monies to small and medium scale enterprises that constitute the biggest employer of labour.
But let us face the truth. Does President Buhari really need extra judicial powers to fix the economy? Are those powers he is asking for not already in the constitution? Or does he need a decree before he can act to save the sinking ship? If you ask me, I would say yes and no. Yes, because the economic situation is getting worse by the day. Yes, because every day, price of essential commodities keep increasing, you go to the market to buy something and come back disappointed because the price has jumped the roof. The situation is such that many Nigerians are now feeding once a day, with no hope of where another meal would come from the next day. In a time like this, we need a saviour, any saviour. I would say yes again to the emergency economic stabilization bill if that will give the president the needed power and strength to reset things correctly. The unconscionable manner some of our national assets like PHCN, NITEL, hotels, government buildings, etc. were appropriated by politicians without due process is part of why the country has been grounded as it is today. If the president will use the bill to get back most of these assets, that will be welcome.
But on a second look, I would say no, he already has all the powers he needs to turn things around. Having known the type of person the president is, we need a long spoon to dine with him. If the National Assembly grants him the emergency power he is asking of, our fear is that he may mistake this for a decree and set aside the constitution. But let us pose this question: Are the things he wants to achieve using this emergency powers not part of the promises he made? Or was he envisaging to achieve them with an emergency rule?
APC told us that one naira would be one dollar. They told us that if we vote for them, the pump price of fuel would not be more than N40.00. They regaled us with how jobs will be berekete! They did not stop there, they promised that 5 million indigent Nigerians would be placed on N5000 monthly stipend, with our children in primary schools enjoying free meals every day. But today, the dollar is heading toward N500 per one, fuel is N150 and counting, the jobs they promised are not yet in sight 16 months after and a bag of rice has jumped from N7,000 a bag to N22,000, thus pushing back the dream.
But what makes me uncomfortable with the request is that the president has not risen above his ethnic chauvinism, and that heightens my fears.  He has not impressed us with his policies. Buhari is not broad minded. His anti-corruption fight is one sided just like his appointments. Most of the strategic positions in the country are occupied by Northerners, and the fear is that if you give him extra power, he will use it to haunt you, which may offer him a handle to dissolve the National Assembly as a cost cutting measure. Some of the powers the Emergency Economic Stabilization Bill 2016 will confer on him will be the power to favour local contractors and suppliers in the procurement process. Our fear here is that the process may not be transparent, it may mark another descent to the PTF years where projects were awarded to favour a section of the country and on the basis of “man know man”.
However, if the executive bill eventually gets to the National Assembly, my advice to the lawmakers is to examine it with a clean pair of glasses before it turns to a Frankenstein’s monster.

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