President who has to take himself out of the game
NO honeymoon for this President. This conclusion predates Muhammadu Buhari’s assumption of the reins of government as 5th President of Nigeria’s Presidential democratic experience, and 4th of the current fourth democratic dispensation.
It is eight days today. His first sets of official steps are attracting immense public reactions, expectedly way more than his historical victory in the recent Presidential election.
And this includes public perception of his ceremonial speeches – Inaugural Address delivered at Eagle Square and Banquet Speech at the Inaugural Gala Night to mark his administration’s inception (Friday, May 29, 2015).
Whether or not the new All Progressive Congress (APC) administration “hit the ground running” is already a matter of intense public debate.
“Buhari ought to step out at once with his Secretary to the Federal Government. Why the delay?” It is a measure of public expectation that the President has to “navigate hard, and act fast from the outset, if he must move politicians to change old ways.”
His predecessor, former President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, had about seven months “settle down” romance period with the citizens. Buhari has no such luxury. It is not about impatience: the situation on ground is pathetic.
For example, power supply is now virtually non-existent. Fuel is a scarce commodity. These days, in Lagos, motorists abandon vehicles near or scattered around major petrol- filling stations. The arrival of a tanker is welcomed like a
Christmas gift – with profuse thanks.
Ironically, while people wait for the new government with high expectations, the combination of power failure and energy shortage is “disciplining” the populace by curtailment.
People seem compelled to take second look at riotous habits in homes. Bad driving habits of the Lagos motorist, such as over-speeding are tame for now.
The streets these days are hardly jammed, except in busy period. “Cost counting”- not a thing people readily do in these parts – may well be hitting more grounds.
High expectations versus realism
Citizens are just waiting and hoping for quick action. The APC change campaign had resonated so much with the larger electorate that the term “hit the ground running” acquired new currency. It set the stage for the party one-touch election victory.
However, the nature and form of the promised “rescue mission” is stirring fresh rounds of debate. Buhari disappointed many, particularly in the Southern part of the country (including his newfound South West support base) with his Inaugural Address, by failing to utter words like “true federalism” “proper federal set-up” or ”fiscal federalism.
“Leading by personal example,” a major feature of his campaign rhetoric, which was also a central thrust of his Inaugural Speech, is rated inadequate even on account of his ant-corruption stance. “I believe that when they (Nigerians) see a leadership that is open, transparent, progressive, and purposeful, Nigerians will support any action or step to reorder the system and structure without necessarily bring the roof down on everybody,” he had said after he won the Presidential election.
In his Inaugural Address, he stressed: “We face enormous challenges. Insecurity, pervasive corruption, the hitherto seemingly unending and impossible fuel and power shortages are the immediate concerns. We are going to tackle them head on. Nigerians will not regret that they have entrusted national responsibility to us…”
However, in the matter of pervasive corruption, there is a gap between anti-corruption rhetoric meant the ear of the public during campaign, and deeply thought-out attempts to fight the malaise. Buhari, and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, for example, promptly declared their assets and liabilities in five days after being sworn-in. They are now under pressure to make full public disclosure of the declarations, without which the exercise would be meaningless.
It is even worse, if the added constitutional requirement to repeat the declarations at tenure end was not met. What is assets declaration worth if not made public and not repeated at the end of serving in an office?
Limits of leadership by example
IN order to start on a strong base for his expected slugfest with corruption, Buhari is expected to cut costs of running the government with various cost-saving measures. His Inaugural Address pointed to this, which was also, a big component of his campaign rhetoric.
He would cut his salary. He won’t be the first to do so. Late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua cut his by 20 percent in 2009. Barack Obama cut five percent in 2013 while Russia’s Vladimir Putin reduced by 10 percent in 2015. Francois Hollande (France) cut by 30 percent in 2012, while Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya had 20 percent of his pay cut last year.
On this, however, especially at the federal level, the catch for Buhari is not his political aides and assistants but the National Assembly. Corruption, for example, is one of the main reasons lawmakers have failed to perform their duties creditably and dutifully.
Their oversight functions – a crucial part of their legislative duties – is often made a sham as some legislators use the occasion to demand money. Some lawmakers in recent times were alleged to demand money during budget defense. They ask for bribe to pass particular items in the budget. Some ministries and parastatals have found items in their original budget plan missing because they did no offer bribe.
The Buhari administration will have problems pushing for fine-tuning anti-corruption strategies at the National Assembly.
Till date, lawmakers are bitterly opposed to disclosure of their salaries and allowances. Shrouded in darkness, the emoluments have always been ridiculed like the dark dealings among mostly corrupt people.
APC and Senate Presidency/Reps Speaker
The APC leadership reportedly endorsed Senator Ahmed Lawan to be elected the next Senate President and Mr. Femi Gbajabiamila as the next Speaker of the House of Representatives. It is an indication that the party moved to consolidate on its election victory strategies (President (Daura), Katsina, North West), Vice President (Ikenne, Ogun, South West), Senate President (Yobe South, North East) and Speaker (Lagos, South West).
Here, the party must however watch its back, especially in the Senate. It had better go it the way of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) under Obasanjo, during which party national officers like chairman, secretary and others, temporarily relocated to the National Assembly to maintain a lid on their lawmakers whose loyalty could not be guaranteed on their floor as voting is by secret ballot.
Anything can happen over there. Voting for their principal officers is not about a mere resolution, but by Secret Ballot. On the floor of the Senate or Reps, loyalty cannot be guaranteed.
At their inaugural sitting on Tuesday, the APC delegation of 59 will be walking a tightrope against their rival 50 PPD, if the later decides to spring out-going Senate President into the contest.
Secretary to Federal Government
In this respect, Buhari has to move his party to cut down on supposed widespread consultations over who becomes the next Secretary to the Federal Government and go ahead to announce a Hakeem Baba-Ahmed or Senator Chris Ngige.
Despite not succeeding with his re-election bid to return to the Senate, which if he had, would have apparently favored him for the Senate Presidency.
Ngige had left PDP for the Alliance for Democracy (AD) and had fought from his South East home base when it was politically not viable to do so. Buhari need not go by the winner-take-all old politics by allowing his party to completely overlook zones that gave more votes. In the alternative, check in Dr Ogbonnaya Onu or, for that matter, anybody he wants today. “It ought to come sooner than later,” has become the common saying in public as the administration gets into second week of its existence.
Appointment of key Presidential aides, were made simpler and quicker in the PDP by a prior zoning arrangement than the APC, formed first to fight for, and take over power from the PDP and now has to work it step by step.
It has to negotiate or re-negotiate terms concerning zoning of positions and offices and who gets what. However, for personal aides of the President like Government Secretary and Chief of Staff, Buhari has “to act without further delay.”
Obasanjo, popularized the later with his appointment of Major General Abdullahi Mohammed, a former military Governor of Benue/Plateau State before both were reconstituted into separate states.
Other Presidents after him also followed the practice, which even State Governors immediately latched on to. Yar’Adua retained Mohammed as his Chief of Staff.
Views about it are however more to the effect that Buhari could cut costs by doing away with this one, whose role is a form of duplication of the office of Secretary to the federal Government. The idea is for him to use permanent secretaries, including his Aso Rock Villa Permanent Secretary.
The President however promptly sent his list of 15 advisers, including the very important National Security Adviser, which requires formal endorsement of the National Assembly. His predecessor, Jonathan, had some 23 advisers.
Past Presidents tended to favour persons from their zones or key support base in naming his Secretary to the Federal Government.
Obasanjo had Ufot Ekaette form Cross River, Yar’Adua first, Baba Gana Kingibe from Borno, and Ahmed Yayale from Kaduna. Jonathan stuck to Anyim Pius Anyim from Ebonyi.
Buhari can apply these appointments to “set a tone of change from old ways.” In this regard, reaching out to other segments of society and not only APC godfathers and other leaders like State Governors will also serve him well. Indeed, citizens would readily like the APC administration to be wary of allowing state chief executives to wield their mighty powers of the past.
APC and State Governors
HOW to handle the influence State chief executives, whether former or serving, would expectedly pose problems for the party. The forum of State Governors had proved the most powerful and potent caucus right from inception of the current democratic dispensation in the party that produced them, in their Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF) and in the more localized Forums of Governors of the six geo-political zones.
They often dictated the course of action in the PDP. As individuals or as group, they are closer to the grassroots, and have the power of the purse to “mobilize.” They would often than not out-maneouvre the party leadership, including the President. Towards the recent general election, Northern Governors led the North fight to outwit Jonathan’s bid for second term in office with their formation of New PDP. Thereafter, defections signaled the end of the party 16years domination of power.
On the President’s Inaugural speeches
It seems the Gala Night speech struck better chord than the main inauguration address, for most who had had the privilege of access to TV to watch both ceremonies.
At the Gala, Buhari essentially underscored some of the key points of his main Inaugural address. His remark here, for example, that, “we have made our point, we’ll try to rescue Nigeria as quickly as possible” would appear to resonate more with people who felt he spoke more directly to how things are right now.
From his main Address came the submission, “I belong to everybody I belong to nobody,” which seems to “catch the quick fire.” It is the quotable quote of this season despite being quite as controversial.
The public seems sharply divided as to what it means – to politicians and to the masses. Most commentators tend to generally rate it a “political speak.”
Some argue, it was a re-affirmation of his campaign promise to “lead by personal example.” Some stretched it to mean, “ he will uphold and keep to the law the land, and thus proceed by persuasion, rather than dictation.”
Some insist he should have left it at, “I belong to everybody.” They say it sufficiently captures whatever his patriotic intentions are.
Others say the second part, “I belong to nobody” is okay if he hopes to gear his administration towards redistributing and reordering public wealth for the common good.
But even others say, “I belong to nobody” (probably intended to add bite to the first) is capable of “building undue high hopes in the masses” that the President is “public property” whereas Buhari, as a matter of fact, is more an APC political-making -“politicians’ property!”
And so, a whole lot of others rate the complete idea as “affronting politicians who invested heavily in his election, whereas he knows privately he could not push his luck too much!”
The two-sentence, and two paragraph point merely set an over-all tone and central thrust for the entire Address, which seemingly seeks to calm frayed nerves, rather than cause unnecessary ripples:
“Having just a few minutes ago sworn on the Holy Book, I intend to keep my Oath and serve as President to all Nigerians. (And) I belong to everybody and I belong to nobody.”
Buhari set out to re-assure all and sundry as to how he would try to do the job in a different way without necessarily rocking the boat.
More example: “A few people have privately voiced fears that on coming back to office I shall go after them. The fears are groundless. There will be no paying off old scores. The past is prologue.”
This does not necessarily mean, for example, that his administration will not look closely into what has been going on in, say, the Nigeria National Petroleum Company (NNPC) or cause the stoppage of the mathematical scam: Petroleum Subsidy.
It doesn’t imply he won’t reorganize and harmonize the many distribution outlets of the Agency– a raging cry of the public, which is fed-up with its manipulation by politicians and the activities of professional appointees
Present national mood
However, Buhari clearly left out delving into serious national questions directly. Where he touched any, the President went for skirting some sort of careful course that does not ignore the positions of core-Northern states concerning such issues, while not reflecting Southern and Northern minority states positions.
Many of them constituted some of the about 210 core-decisions and resolutions of the 450-member 2014 National Conference, the Nation’s most recent attempt at achieving national Consensus, on torchy national issues.
For example, the talks, with a number of its decisions seeking to strengthen the states in a bid to make them more credible as federating Units, reduced some of the powers and functions of the Federal Government and moved them over to the states.
The APC had boycotted the talks concluded last December. Members of the party went mostly as nominees of their States.
During the election campaign Buhari made no reference to the confab decisions. He said no word about it in the Address or at the Gala Night, making general statements of intention on the Constitution and constitution-amendment issue like local government creation and management, which the talks recommended should be left to states.
Said the President in the Address: “To achieve our objectives we must consciously work the democratic system. The federal Executive under my watch will not seek to encroach on the duties and functions of the legislative and judicial arms of government. The law enforcing authorities will be charged to operate within the Constitution…
“Elsewhere relations between Abuja and the states have to be clarified if we are to serve the country better. Constitutionally, there are limits to powers of each of the three tiers but that should not mean the Federal Government should fold its hands and close its eyes to what is going on in the states and local governments.
“Not least the operations of the Local Government Joint Account. While the Federal Government cannot interfere in the details of the operations, it will ensure that the gross corruption at the local government level is checked…”
Voices from individuals and some social groups in the South have risen once more to call on him to implement the report. But said the President: “Daunting as the task may be, it is by no means insurmountable. There is now a national consensus that our chosen route to national development is democracy.
“To achieve our objectives we must consciously work the democratic system. The Federal Executive under my watch will not seek to encroach on the duties and functions of the legislative and the judicial arms of government…”
This is likened to campaign promises and moralizing, rather than stating pragmatic steps for addressing the serious national problems.