By Lakinbofa Goodluck
The New Year is here with so much hope and expectations. Individuals, groups and corporate entities would normally take the pain to set goals and milestones for the year. It is even a common practice to attempt conscious behavioural change in the name of “new year resolutions” that in many instances lack the lasting impetus to move beyond the first month of the year. There is no gainsaying that the 2018 journey requires an awareness of events that may shape the year. Using journey as a metaphor, a traveller’s journey is smoother andless stressful when he possesses a certain level of awareness about the path. Planning is easier and more implementable when predictability overshadows mere guesswork.Nevertheless, before exploring the 2018 road, looking back at some events that shaped 2017 will be in order, knowing that some events that shaped 2017 will have noticeable impacts on the doings in 2018.
Starting with the economy, the outgone year opened with a balance brought forward of recession from 2016. The economicsphere in the country was almost enwrapped inunpleasant vibrationsthroughout the first quarter with the key indicators all in the negative. Prices of goods and services shot high and everything was attributed to recession and the foreign exchange regime. The economic woes of the country were further accentuated by the unnecessary yet extendedpolitical fireworks that characterised the passing and signing of the 2017 budget. The word “padded” was popularised by the drama that surrounded the budget.Itwas eventually passed by the National Assembly in May after the “pads” were extracted to pave way for another round of conjectures on who would sign the bill into an act of parliament owing to the health condition of the President. Prof. Yemi Osinbajo finally signed the budget as Acting President in June, 2017, nearly half way into the year. The prolonged ailment of the President is perhaps the most trying moment for the current administration. The President’s undisclosed illness forced him to stay out of the country for over 100 days on medical vacation with Prof.YemiOsinbajo as Vice President. The uncertainty and polictiking that held sway in the President’s absence still haunts the country till today. It was the period that gave birth to the “lions and jackals” description of some animal kingdoms with superior and inferior creatures. The good side is that the president is back, hale and hearty, and alive to the business of running the country.
The nation’s economy was not all about negative news in the year. Nigeria’s rating in Ease of Doing Business experienced upward movement following a series of Executive Orders from the Acting President and coordinated efforts by the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council (PEBEC). The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) also released the much anticipated GDP report for Q2 2017 signifying Nigeria’s exit from recession. Fragile exit it may be but relieving news for investors and business owners in the country.
For the maritime industry, it was a year of more bad news. More pronouncedly, the enforced implementation of the Treasury Single Account (TSA) resulted in the NPA-Intels saga that stakeholders will not forget in a hurry. This is in addition to many other excruciating policies of the government like the ban on importation through land borders and the sustained increase on Customs import duty. The year ended with the needless International Maritime Organisation election loss.
On the social and political scene, the year experienced the return of 82 Chibok girls, who were allegedly released after a huge ransom was allegedly paid in addition to the release of some Boko Haram prisoners. For many Nigerians, what is more important is that the girls are back. The biggest events in the political space this year would be the return of Alhaji Abubakar Atiku to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the debatably successful convention that ended the Ali Modu Sheriff crisis of the party and produced Uche Secondus as the new chairman of the party.
Some of the events in 2017 will surely spill into 2018. A significant event that will attract attention from all circles is the 2018 budget. The current administration hadintended to return the country to January-December budget cycle starting with 2018. To make that wish a reality the government promised to present the budget to the National Assembly latest October 2017. Contrary to that assertion the budget was eventually presented in November, 2017, and naturally ended every aspiration of starting the New Year with a new budget. Already there are insinuations of padding in the budget submitted to the National Assembly and with the political travails of the Senate President; Nigerians may have to brace up for another round of prolonged budget approval process. It may be instructive to say that the budget estimates are flooded with inconsistent assumptions that do not represent the challenges of the moment. The disposition of the National Assembly judging by comments from notable senators already suggest that the budget will not be passed in due time and that will naturally affect its overall implementation in the long run.
The review of the budget by the lawmakers will likely include an upward appraisal of the benchmark considering the increase in international crude oil price which is gradually approaching the $70 mark as against the $45 per barrel proposed in the budget presented by President Muhammadu Buhari. Being a country that is heavily dependent on the proceeds from oil and gas, 2018 may turn out positive as the overall world economy is projected to grow at 3.7 per cent and Nigeria is projected to grow at 1.9 per cent. For this projected growth to materialise, the government will need to sustain the relative peace in the Niger-Delta. In preparation for the 2019 elections,the agitations in the Niger-Delta are likely to form part of the agenda for the campaign. Election year is usually a perfect period for agitators to amplify their voice in order to determine the direction of the political discourse and to forcefully commit the leading contenders.As a strategic region to the economic survival of the nation, it is incumbent on the government to envisage the likely crisis and develop an unassailable strategy to mitigate it. Ultimately, peace in the Niger Delta is critical to the implementation of the budget and the eventual stability of the economy.
In spite of the likely budget debacle Nigerians can look forward to a year with positivemovements in the transportation sector. Many of the ongoing rail projects that are not directly funded though budgetary allocations are billed for completion in 2018; their completionwill undeniably change the face of transportation in Nigeria, especially the movement of goods. This will in due course ease the pressure on Nigerian roads.
Similar to the ongoing projects in the transportation sector the power sector will also receive a boost in 2018. About 1100 MW may be added to the nation’s current installed capacity from eight power plants that are due for commissioning in the year. How the addition of these megawatts will reflect on the power situation in Nigeria is a different discourse altogether considering the inefficient transmission and distribution framework in the country. Nevertheless, the addition will pointedly increase the nation’s installed capacity and shift attention to the revitalisation of existing transmission network.
In the maritime scene, stakeholders will further put pressure on the government to review selected policies that have impacted businesses adversely in the industry. In the same vein, hopefully there will be some relief in the traffic situation in Apapa, even as discourse around Blue Economy gain momentum.
The most defining event in 2018 is the process leading to the 2019 elections. As usual, politicians will intensify their political shenanigans with pronouncements and actions that will shock many Nigerians. With the former Vice President back in PDP, some members of the ruling party that are loyal to him will likely decamp to the PDP. In any case the two major parties will both benefit from the looming defections.
As sport lovers the 2018 World Cup in Russia surely will be a noteworthy event for Nigeria. It is important to pay attention to this since football is unarguably the most reliable glue that can unite Nigerians across ethnic divisions at any time. For the period the Super Eagles will be in Russia, we are assured that Nigerians will be unanimous in their support for the ambassadors. Traditionally, it is also another occasion for government officials to embark on wasteful jamboree all in the name of cheering the Nigerian team.
On the whole,2018 promises to be a year of notable progress and exciting happenings for Nigeria. However, the year is also loaded with some challenges that are surmountable with strategic planning and proactiveness on the part of policy makers. One can only hope that our politicians and policy makers will not be excessively distracted by the jostle for political offices at the expense of development.