Friday, July 31

1 Dollar = 1 Naira: Buhari approves an exchange rate of N160 to $1

I didn't vote for President Muhammadu Buhari in the last election, though I know that Nigeria needed change. I just disagreed with the change agent due to reasons I have explained in various write-ups in the lead up to the election. I didn’t vote for Jonathan either; the PDP as was constituted and operated just wasn’t a Party I could even consider for anything. In the end, I voted for one of the lesser known Parties.

But Buhari it is. The majority vote will always prevail and that is respected here without any equivocation. So we move on.

As we move on however, it is becoming a struggle not to be uncomfortable in the way things have unfolded and in the way they are playing out. Some of the reservations expressed by some of us are now rearing their ugly heads. Contrary to his inauguration speech, and contrary to reasonable, logical expectations, Buhari hasn’t put a fully functional government in place. This is already the end of July.

As we say around here, nothing spoil. The only harm I saw were incompetent governors (who are unable to manage quite sizable resources) dancing around the President, taking advantage, and getting off easy. The mound of flip flops and reversal of official pronouncements have only meant a slight loss of face; nothing major.

However, I began to panic when I read a news report that Buhari has approved an exchange rate of N160 to $1 for Christian pilgrims. This report was publicised widely and with plenty of fanfare.
To me, it is another indication that the President sorely needs all the help he can get. He needs technical advisers and a seasoned cabinet like a fish needs water.

But the President has already and unwittingly set up his eventual Ministers for failure. They can’t win. Expectations are just too high now. Ministers would still have to be Nigerians, working in Nigeria. The current perception is that Buhari is searching for the best of the very best – folks with no blemishes at all but blessed with superpowers. Optimal performance bothering on miracles would be expected from these Ministers and other appointed government functionaries. How could anyone go into a job like that? It is unrealistic and quite unfair.

All the same, I am becoming increasingly convinced that the President created this governance lacuna in order for him to have unfettered, unchallenged (dictatorial, if you will) shot at managing the country for a while before Ministers, Advisers and other technical and legal people are brought in and begin to rein-in some of his more impulsive and autocratic tendencies.

It seems to me that Buhari wants to get in a few military-style diktats, strong-arm a few people before settling down to normal democratic governance. Because, so far, the only things on the table are hunting down people, dire innuendos and promises of persecution.

As has been whispered all along, the President has finally confirmed that he intends to probe just Jonathan’s government. It is only that government that is corrupt in Nigeria’s recent history. Obasanjo is living large. The bribes from the Halliburton scandal are the major stakeholders in Nigeria’s present day change project. Even the scions of Abacha are running loose, obscenely flaunting stolen wealth. No problem with that. No investigations. Now tell me; how are certain sections of this country supposed to feel? Does this not seem like the start of marginalization and dehumanisation of the usual suspects all over again?

Even Madam Patience Jonathan was comprehensively humiliated at Port Harcourt airport last week when she attempted to use the VIP waiting area. She was refused access by security personnel citing “orders from Abuja.” How petty! If a former First Lady cannot use an airport’s VIP lounge, who should? I suppose Rotimi Amaechi is using his APC mates to exact revenge. Anyway, there is God o!
The inclusiveness that was pervasive in the last four years is fast dissipating. Perhaps, someone needs to remind the President that we are in a thriving democracy. The opposition and opposing voices are not supposed to be treated like conquered prisoners of war, or like burnt offerings.

Which brings me back to the issue of the pilgrims’ exchange rate.

I could have sworn that I heard candidate Buhari campaign that he would scrap government’s participation in, and subsidy of religious pilgrimages. But he has only gone and directed that pilgrims should exchange N160 to the dollar.

What this means is that a pilgrim with N400,000 who would have received $1,740 at the normal exchange rate will now get $2,500 under the Buhari plan. The government will cough up the difference.

Last year, about 14,000 Christians made one form of pilgrimage to one place or the other. 76,000 Muslims went to Mecca. If we do the math, the government is going to end up subsidising around a further $68 million or N13.6 billion on top of whatever is already subsidised for these pilgrimages.
Can you see why the President needs ministers and other technical people like yesterday?

Furthermore, a pilgrim with N500,000 would get $3,125. In theory, this person could turn around and sell back dollars on the black market and make a profit of $1,000 or N237,000. Now, an…emm…shall we say, enterprising Pilgrims Board official can fund 100 people into this scheme and he is looking at a cool N23,700,000 million per pilgrimage cycle. The Christians alone run four pilgrimages in one year! Heavens only know what they are looking for.

Please, please, we do not desire on a national scale a situation like that which currently exist in Osun State. The struggling governor of that State, Arigbesola, who has not been able to pay workers salaries in like forever somehow manages to find money every year to pay for Osun citizens transportation during sundry religious holidays; no audits, no questions asked.

Dr.Michael Egbejumi-David, wrote London.

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