The presidential bag of crucial tasks may seem to be bursting at the seams, but prioritisation and perspicacity, says the bard, make an impossible schedule lighter than could ever be imagined. Creativity in the way government business is conducted may turn out to be just what is required to quickly turn the corner and make Nigerians believe that, for once, they have a set of competent people in charge under a captain whose judgement can be trusted.
Under the immediate past administration, ministers were gifted fiefdoms, which they ran as they pleased. Once appointed, a minister could be sure that he would run a four-year tenure irrespective of performance. There was no ostensible attempt to make the right hand know what the left hand was doing— which often led to pocket emperors working at cross purposes without regard to how their ego trips impacted on governance.
Enter Hadiza Bala Usman, Special Adviser to the President on Policy Coordination. The lady holds the ace to the potential success or failure of this government because her role is designed to be the thread that sews all the ministerial parts together. Now that the president had publicly warned ministers that the key performance indicators regarding their stewardship would be closely monitored and that those judged as performing below par would be fired, Hadiza’s hands are thus strengthened. Her success, more than any other appointee, is critical for the favourable outcome of government programmes.
A word of advice: Keep your eyes on the ball. The din from the stands is normal in the stadium of life. When in doubt, check the VAR. If confronted with a fundamental flaw of ‘force majeure’ proportions, consult the match commissioner.
Wale Edun may be a five-star economist and investment banker, but this is not the best of times to be Nigeria’s Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy. Things are so bad that Nigeria is toeing what some have described as the pragmatic path of encouraging those who have stashed foreign currency away to bring back such monies into the economy, no matter the sources. The rot in the Nigerian system is so deep that there is enough grime for the minister to scoop for the rest of his life if he was so minded.
“On the forbearance of cash into the formal system”, said Edun at the 29th Nigeria Economic Summit in Abuja, “it is a kind of amnesty for all the foreign exchange cash that is outside the banking system, even the ones that are questionable; to be brought into the official channel. This is because some of the transactions that are happening are being done in the unofficial channel. So, they are trying to see how they can bring it into the system. What is happening now is that it is not like we don’t have dollars. We have a lot of dollars in the system, but they are not active. Some of them are outside the financial system. A lot of people have dollars but they are keeping it under their beds.”
He indicated that the government may relax some of the existing forex restrictions, like the $10,000 daily cash deposit limit, and digitalise the foreign exchange market to attract more forex that will serve as a buffer for the nation’s economy.
There are indications that the government will seriously pursue its oft-stated determination to eliminate multiple taxation and increase revenue, with the inauguration of the Presidential Committee on Fiscal Policy and Tax Reforms. What Nigerians expect is that the current free-for-all in fleecing poor Nigerians and corporate entities through all manner of taxes— many of which go directly into the pockets of touts unleashed by government officials at subnational and national levels of government— will be brought to an end.
In the days ahead, the foolproof indication of how the minister is performing will be found in the pockets of Nigerians— the value of the Naira in their pockets, what mileage their earnings achieve, and whether the country has become more business friendly in deed.
Health and Trado-Medicine
Prof Ali Pate, the Coordinating Minister of Health and Social Welfare, was greeted with an outbreak of diphtheria when he assumed office. He rose to the occasion and harnessed local human and material resources with additional help from UNICEF to put the scourge in check. In addition to addressing the challenges in the health sector and expanding the scope of health insurance, I will want to see the minister break new grounds in traditional medicine.
Over the years, as designed by colonialists, we have neglected the development of our own indigenous medicines. China and India have shown the world what can be achieved when a people believe in their own traditional resources. Today, China is the biggest producer and exporter of medicinal plants, accounting for 30% of total world trade, followed by Korea, USA, India and Chile. China’s annual herbal drug production is worth USUS$ 48$48 billion with exports of US $3.6 billion, 70% of which are raw herbs with much less added value.
Traditional medicine is the first line of healthcare accessible to a large section of the Nigerian population, particularly in the rural areas but there is no regulatory and legislative framework, nor is there any dialogue between traditional medicine practitioners and health personnel. So, we have failed to integrate traditional medicine into our health system.
I would like to challenge Prof Pate. For the sake of Nigeria, can you champion the establishment of a National Traditional Complementary and Alternative Medicine Development Agency?
A valuable document prepared by Dr. Olubunmi Omosehindemi advocates among other responsibilities, that such a body will be tasked with:
- Developing Herbaria, Botanical Gardens, Arboreta and Nurseries
- Financing Traditional Medicine Research
- Establishing a system for Certification of Traditional Medicine Products
- Instituting Quality Assurance Programmes
- Regulation, Monitoring and Evaluation Strategies
- Promoting Inter-sectoral Collaboration
- Management of the Strategic Plan.
The goal is to promote the appropriate use of traditional medicine and to encourage the integration of traditional medicine into mainstream healthcare service system. Imagine the impact this would have on the poorest of the poor in our rural communities!
One of the biggest scandals in Nigeria right now is the state of the major highways all over the country— in spite of billions of dollars rumoured to have been spent in the last 10 years. It’s a national shame. All the six geopolitical zones are badly affected.
Many Nigerians have invested a lot of hope in the professional engineer who now runs the ministry of works, Engr, Dave Umahi. His job demands technical knowledge and brutal frankness, both of which he has since deployed. He is bringing new ideas to the table. The rotten system is resisting. He should borrow the fairly used pieces of advice I gifted Hadiza Bala Usman above.
The agricultural sector contributed 23 per cent to Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the first half of 2022. Sen. Abubakar Kyari, the Minister of Agriculture and Food Security has a chance to exponentially improve that performance if the possibilities in mechanised crop production, poultry, cattle ranching etc are pursued with vigour.
This is not about grammar but verifiable deliverables. In talking about our search for meaning in Nigeria and its possibilities, let me quote the local wit: I’m so hungry I could eat a dictionary.