Sunday, June 23, 2024
Politics

Renewed Hope: Tinubu jettisons Buhari’s ‘change’, charts own path

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Although President Bola Tinubu and Muhammadu Buhari belong to the same political party and generation, Tinubu’s reversal of several policies from the Buhari years reveals the vast ideological differences between both leaders, STEPHEN ANGBULU writes

In February 2023, days before the general election that brought President Bola Tinubu into office, rioters stormed Automated Teller Machines, burnt bank buildings, and blocked highways as anger spread over the shortage of naira notes.

Months earlier, on November 23, 2022, former President Muhammadu Buhari, alongside the then Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Godwin Emefiele, introduced new N200, N500, and N1,000 notes. Emefiele briefed State House Correspondents in Abuja, maintaining that the policy was not targeted at any individual. Instead, he said the redesigned bank notes would give the Central Bank substantial authority over the money in circulation.

Additionally, he announced a deadline of January 31, 2023, for all old monies to be returned to commercial banks or they would become outlawed in the hands of their possessors. Although the CBN would later extend that deadline, it set off a chain reaction that snowballed into national chaos. Due to a scarcity of new notes, customers could not withdraw cash for basic transactions. Some establishments refused to accept the old naira notes, a development that caused massive queues and disrupted economic activities. For those old enough to recall, it felt like Déjà vu from nearly 40 years ago: the same policy, same head of state, and similar consequences.

A human rights lawyer, Femi Falana, SAN, drew parallels, saying, “In 1984, the Buhari military junta changed the colour of the naira notes. In a country of 81 million people then, bank customers and other citizens were given only two weeks to deposit old notes and replace them with new ones. The poor implementation of the policy caused loss of lives in many parts of the country.”

Most of the enraged youths were familiar with the periodic scarcity of petrol and other essential commodities. However, it would be their first time experiencing a shortage of naira notes. By early 2023, the policy had so polarised the governing party, the All Progressives Congress, that some of its state governors sued the Buhari administration at the Supreme Court to prevent it from phasing out the old notes.

One such governor was Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna State, who, at an interactive forum with leaders of traders’ unions, promised that the APC presidential candidate at that time, Bola Tinubu, would reverse the new naira policy if voted into office. Therefore, he asked traders to continue accepting the old notes.

“We have 18 days until the presidential election, right? I want to authoritatively tell you that if Asiwaju Bola Tinubu is declared the winner, the first major announcement you will hear from him is the review of this policy. I, Nasiru El-Rufai, Uba Sani, and Asiwaju promise you that this policy will be reviewed, and people will be given enough time to swap their money. This message is directly from Asiwaju Bola Tinubu,” El-Rufai said.

After the election, the court ruled that the two currencies should co-exist till December 2023. However, six months into his tenure in November, the new administration did as El-Rufai predicted, approving the extension of the validity of the old currency indefinitely.

On November 15, the CBN announced its intention to extend the validity of the old N200, N500, and N1,000 notes indefinitely. The apex bank said it was working with relevant authorities to vacate the subsisting court ruling on the same subject. That order was vacated about two weeks later when the Supreme Court ruled that the old and new naira notes would remain legal tender indefinitely.

Tinubu himself had alleged that the policy was the policy was targeted at him. Speaking at a campaign rally in Abeokuta, Ogun State, the then APC candidate said, “Let them increase the price of fuel; only them know where they have hoarded fuel. They hoarded money, they hoarded naira; we will go and vote and we will win. Even if they change the ink on the naira notes, whatever their plans, it will come to naught. We are going to win. Those in the PDP will lose.

Season of policy reversals

The new naira policy is only one out of many policies of Buhari that the Tinubu administration reversed from its predecessor. There were more.

‘Ways and Means’

 On January 1, 2024, Tinubu ‘securitised’ the Ways and Means, a credit facility financed by Nigeria’s Central Bank that waxed infamous in the twilight of the Buhari administration.

The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Tajudeen Abbas, revealed the development when he addressed journalists at the Aso Rock Villa shortly after Tinubu signed the 2024 budget into law. Abbas explained, “Another landmark achievement we had was also approving the securitisation of the ways and means that have effectively brought these controversial ways and means of borrowing money to an end. And he has assured Nigerians that this will be the last of this ugly incident.”

Ways and Means allows CBN to provide short-term financing to the government to cover budget shortfalls or meet short-term needs and emergencies. The CBN Act states that “Ways and Means” must not exceed five per cent of revenue for the previous fiscal year. Section 38(2) & (3) states “that Ways and Means shall not exceed 5% of the previous year’s revenue of the Federal Government.”

However, in May 2023, the ninth Senate increased the government’s borrowing limit from five to 15 per cent. It explained that the increase was necessary to help the Buhari-led government meet its financial obligations.

Experts argue that the government has used Ways and Means to increase its budget expenditure without realistic revenue projections. This has prevented the government from setting priorities and rationalising expenditures.

The Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy, Wale Edun, who spoke on the issue, said the administration was ready to phase out Ways and Means. He said, “We are all ready, even from tomorrow, applying technology to ensure that the revenue that should come to government from all sources, including from government-owned enterprises, comes into the consolidated revenue fund, and on the other side, we are bringing order to government borrowing. So, Ways and Means is being eliminated by taking the funding that is required from the market, as opposed to the printing of money by Central Bank.”

Tax policies

On July 6, 2023, President Tinubu signed four Executive Orders, repealing several tax laws ratified in the twilight of Buhari’s term. One of those was the suspension of the five per cent excise tax on telecommunication services and the Excise Duties escalation on locally manufactured products.

He signed the Finance Act (Effective Date Variation) Order, 2023, which defers the commencement date of the changes contained in the Act from May 23, 2023, to September 1, 2023.

The Special Adviser to the President on Special Duties, Communications, and Strategy at the time, Dele Alake, said the move was to ensure that the Act aligns with the 90-day notice period required by the National Tax Policy 2017.

The President also signed The Customs, Excise Tariff (Variation) Amendment Order, 2023, shifting the commencement date of the tax changes from March 27, 2023, to August 1, 2023, and also in line with the National Tax Policy.

He also ordered the suspension of the newly introduced Green Tax through the Excise Tax of Single-Use Plastics, including plastic containers and bottles. Likewise, he suspended the Import Tax Adjustment levy on certain vehicles. Alake explained that the orders were meant to lessen the negative impacts of the tax adjustments on businesses and chokehold on households across affected sectors. As of this writing, Tinubu’s Presidential Committee on Fiscal Policy and Tax Reforms is still operational.

Exempts ASUU from IPPIS

On December 13, President Tinubu approved the exemption of federal universities, polytechnics, colleges of education, and other tertiary institutions of learning from the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System. That meant remunerations to staff members of these institutions would no longer flow through the platform.

The Minister of Education, Prof Tahir Mamman, who spoke after the Federal Executive Council meeting that day, said the President also directed recruitment waivers for the public tertiary institutions from the Head of Service, adding that management of federal universities, polytechnics, and colleges of education would no longer need to seek clearance from the Head of Civil Service of the Federation before recruiting staff members.

Mamman explained the rationale for the Council’s decision to allow the efficient running of public educational institutions nationwide.

“Today, the Council directed that universities, polytechnics, and colleges of education should be taken out of the IPPIS service to allow for efficiency in the management of the universities and tertiary institutions.

“Also, before now, when the tertiary institutions wanted to make recruitment, they ran to the Office of the Head of Service for waiver and approval. Today, the Council, through the President’s directive, has exempted them from that,” he announced.

In October 2006, the Federal Government introduced the IPPIS as one of its reform initiatives for the effective storage of personnel records, saying the move would improve transparency and accountability. IPPIS, which was expanded to cover all ministries, departments, and agencies that draw personnel costs from the Consolidated Revenue Fund, has been touted by the government to save billions of naira and improve transparency in salary payments.

However, the Academic Staff Union of Universities, the umbrella body for lecturers in Nigerian universities, resisted the implementation of IPPIS within universities, arguing that it undermines university autonomy and does not accommodate the unique nature of academic work. ASUU, instead, proposed an alternative system called the University Transparency and Accountability Solution, which they believed would better address the peculiarities of the university system, such as sabbatical leave, adjunct engagements, and part-time contracts.

ASUU and other academic unions argued that IPPIS centralisation would impede the governing councils’ ability to manage personnel and payroll effectively, affecting strategic planning and the autonomy of universities. This led to tension and a protracted standoff, with ASUU continuing to push for the adoption of UTAS over IPPIS, which they see as a foreign-imposed system unsuitable for the Nigerian tertiary education sector.

Despite the government’s attempts to enforce IPPIS, ASUU held firm, leading to strikes and disruptions in academic activities, including an eight-month hiatus in educational activities that ended in 2022.

No-work-no-pay waiver

On October 20, 2023, President Tinubu approved the partial waiver of the “No work, no pay” order instituted by the Buhari administration against striking members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities following the commencement of their eight-month strike, which ran from February 14 to October 17, 2022.

A statement by the President’s Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Ajuri Ngelale, revealed that the waiver “will allow for the previously striking members of ASUU to receive four months of salary accruals out of the eight months of salary which was withheld during the eight-month industrial action undertaken by the union.”

Invoking the Principle of the Presidential Prerogative of Mercy, the Presidency said Tinubu sought to “mitigate the difficulties being felt during the implementation of key economic reforms in the country, as well as his recognition of the faithful implementation of terms which were agreed upon during the deliberations between ASUU and the Federal Government of Nigeria.”

On the same day, he approved the waiver of the “No work, no pay” order instituted against striking members of the National Association of Resident Doctors on August 1, 2023, following the commencement of their industrial action, which began on July 26, 2023.

A statement by the President’s Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Ajuri Ngelale, read, “In view of the faithful implementation of terms which were agreed upon during the fruitful deliberations between the Resident Doctors and the Federal Government of Nigeria, President Bola Tinubu has directed the grant of an exceptional last waiver of the “No Work, No Pay” Order on Resident Doctors, which will allow for the members of the NARD to receive the salaries which were previously withheld during the 17-day strike action.”

The resident doctors called off their strike on August 12, 2023, following several engagements between the Federal Government and NARD. The Office of the Accountant General of the Federation was directed to withhold all salaries accrued by striking NARD members during the 17-day action.

FX ban on 43 items

On October 12, 2023, the CBN lifted its eight-year embargo on 43 items previously banned from obtaining foreign exchange through the official market. When Buhari assumed office in 2015, the CBN restricted access to FOREX for 43 items, including rice, cement, and poultry.

The former president had justified closing land borders to safeguard investments in the agricultural sector, specifically rice, and directed the CBN chief, Emefiele, to invest in agriculture through the Anchor Borrowers’ programme.

Cryptocurrency ban

The two-year ban on cryptocurrency in Nigeria ended in December 2023 when Emefiele’s successor, Yemi Cardoso, directed a policy reversal. The crypto ban in Nigeria reached maturity in 2021 when the CBN directed all banks to close all accounts in their systems that were involved in cryptocurrency transactions.

The policy reversals can be attributed to the ideological differences of both leaders, experts say. From the same political party and generation, the antecedents of Buhari as Head of State (1983-1985) and Tinubu as Governor of Lagos State (1999 – 2007) may have shown antecedents that prove this argument.

For instance, Buhari’s military dictatorship in the early 1980s and civilian administration were defined by what many call a “rigid” style. Buhari’s economic policies reflected his military background. Protectionist moves—such as border closures and forex ban on several items—proved to be a double-edged sword as they prompted self-reliance but were criticised for hindering foreign investment and slowing the government’s response to the dynamic demands of a globalised world economy.

However, Tinubu’s governance style leans towards economic liberalism, with a focus on stimulating growth through market-friendly policies and attracting foreign investment, which played a pivotal role in transforming Lagos into a thriving economic powerhouse.

Tinubu trying to be practical — Adeniran

Debo Adeniran is the Executive Chairman of the Centre for Anti-Corruption and Open Leadership. He told Saturday PUNCH that the ideological differences and exposures of both leaders make it impossible for Buhari’s successor to run the economy on the same blueprint as he did.

He explained, “Normally when there is a new Sherriff in town, we should expect that they are not going to do the same things exactly the same way. Even within the same ideological leanings, people do have tendencies and that is what is manifesting.

“That is because of their different orientations and different exposures. Buhari didn’t really understand the economies of scale that Tinubu might have advised. And being an accountant, he could have had better exposure to the economic trends in the country than a Buhari.

“I think President Tinubu is just trying to be practical. Apart from the demands of the majority of the people, he is also looking at the global economic trends and that could have informed the lifting of the ban on cryptocurrency.”

Presidency on reversed policies

Meanwhile, the Presidency argued that the reversed policies were not a slur on the previous administration. The President’s Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Tope Ajayi, said the new leader would continue with other policies from the Buhari years, especially the social investment programmes.

Ajayi explained, “When President Bola Tinubu came into office, he said, ‘I will continue with every good thing and the project that my predecessor started.’ He also said, ‘I accept the assets and liabilities of my predecessor.’ That means he will continue with assets and work on the liabilities.

“Even in South Africa, governed by the same ANC since 1994, different presidents came with unique styles. Every party has a central ideology, but leaders have individual styles.

“In the case of former President Buhari and President Tinubu, the way they see the world is different. However, he is not reversing everything. The infrastructural programme and energy initiatives will be continued. The new government will continue the social investment programme of the previous government because the President also believes that vulnerable people must be empowered. That is a key ideology of the APC. It is a welfarist mentality that believes that the vulnerable and poor should be taken care of by the government.”

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