Buhari: Three years on

Muhammadu Buhari


The 29th of May, 2018 which was Nigeria’s Democracy Day, also marked the third year of the All Progressives Congress (APC) government led by President Muhammadu Buhari, elected on the promise of ‘Change’ from the plundering ways of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP).

Three years into a four-year tenure or, put differently, three-quarter of the time allotted gone, the 88-point manifesto of the APC needs to be weighed against the promises kept and promises yet-to-be fulfilled.

Buhari started out last Monday in his Democracy Day speech by reporting that ‘the ‘change we promised …we continue to deliver.’ It is doubtful that Nigerians would agree with this perception of reality.

Nigerians had expected to see a leaner, more efficient, more responsive government and less exhibition of arrogance of power. They had looked forward to a government that, in this large, pluralistic country, would be sensitive to public opinion, one that would seek equitable distribution of power and influence, a mode of governance driven by a principled observance of the rule of law, and above all, one that would provide jobs as well as ensure improvement, no matter how small, in the quality of life. Three years after, with a cabinet that took half a year to put together and less than average performance by most of the appointees, this APC government certainly has not delivered to Nigerians a substantial ‘change’ to better governance. Buhari may be right that the ‘change’ his party promised is different from what Nigerians had in mind. If so, such monumental misunderstanding between a government and its citizens would be a terrible pity indeed.

The president cited ‘the three cardinal points of [his] administration (as) Security, Corruption, and the Economy.’ Very well, for that much he said in his inaugural speech three years ago. This government has done quite well to take back the large expanse of the northeastern Nigeria under the control of Boko Haram terrorists, it has also significantly degraded the group’s capability to the extent that it can only resort to attacks on soft targets now.  It is commendable that many battles have been worn. Obviously though, the war is not over. The ease with which Boko Haram suicide bombers penetrate security networks and gain access to public places – schools, internally displaced people’s camps, places of worship, even military camps and police posts – still speaks of an intolerable level of failure in intelligence gathering. There is much yet to be done to restore normalcy in that part of Nigeria.

However, while sinister forces are being contained in the northeast, equally sinister agents of destruction have been on widening rampage in many hitherto peaceful states north and south of the country. In the states of Benue, Plateau, Nassarawa, Taraba and Kogi in the north, Ondo, Edo, Oyo, Enugu, and Delta in the south, herdsmen have, in the daytime and at night, been emboldened beyond belief to kidnap and kill, rape and maim people in their farms, homes, schools, on the highways and just about anywhere they choose. And they have largely carried on virtually unchallenged by security forces. Indeed, they have killed quite a number of policemen and soldiers. In the face of this widespread destruction of lives and property, the Buhari government has lived in denial of obvious facts. When the president is not blaming Libyan infiltrators for the killing of his own people that he is on oath to protect, he is reducing it or trivializing it to communal clashes that call for lessons in how Nigerians should live together.  

If this government has recorded notable success in the fight against Boko Haram terrorism, it has failed abysmally to curb herdsmen terrorism. Amnesty International (AI) records that in 2017, 549 were killed and in one month of January this year, 168 died in this so-called herdsmen-farmers clash. Since then, hundreds have been murdered. Tens of thousands have been displaced.

Sadly too, so serious a threat to social cohesion and national stability is explained away by high officials of state in conflicting and untenable, even insulting, narratives. The impression is, therefore, given that this government is not seriously concerned about daily killings of Nigerians.  Nothing can be more frightening!

Indeed, whereas it has been quick to tag as ‘terrorists’ Biafra agitators and suppress them, this government, against reasonable thinking and despite much evidence, remains adamantly unwilling to classify the herdsmen’s atrocities as terrorism.   

Buhari said in his Democracy Day speech that ‘public safety and security remains the primary duty of (his) government.’ That is a needless stating of the obvious as contained in Section 14(2)(b) of the Constitution, and as demanded by the oath of office he took. His government must therefore do everything within its power to secure every person irrespective of tribe, tongue and faith.

The anti-corruption efforts of the Buhari government are noteworthy and deserve some plaudits. But it is often tainted with bias so glaring and indefensible. How come persons not in the ruling party who are indicted are more vigorously pursued? How come the government does not move swiftly against persons within its ranks who are indicted, but rather chooses to set up in-house committees to assess their culpability? And why would a president who claims to belong to everybody and to nobody order back to work, in defiance of constituted authority and violation of due process, high public officials under suspension for alleged corrupt acts?

Corruption manifests in many other forms than financial but too many lose sight of this.  Nepotism is a form of corruption because it denies open competition and prevents the most suitable to serve. And it should be noted that nepotism is contrary to the APC promise to ‘attract the best and brightest into our politics and public service.’ Defiance of the orders of courts of competent jurisdiction constitutes corruption to the extent that it denies effective enforcement of judicial decision, erodes trust in the rule and power of law, disrespects the judiciary, and encourages others in the polity to so do. That is an encouragement of lawlessness.

Failure to keep promises to the people as contained in a party manifesto is a form of corruption to the extent that it is antithetical to trustworthiness and integrity.In respect of the last point, it should be recalled that the APC promised to, among many other things, ‘initiate action to amend our Constitution with a view to devolving powers, duties and responsibilities to states and local governments in order to entrench true Federalism and the Federal spirit’, to ‘reform and strengthen the justice system for efficient administration and dispensation of justice along with the creation of special courts for accelerated hearing of corruption, drug trafficking, terrorism and similar cases of national importance,’ to ‘Ensure full implementation of the Freedom of Information Act so that government held data sets can be requested and used by the media and the public at large, and then published on regular basis,’ and to ‘Seek to amend the Constitution to require local governments to publish their meeting minutes, service performance data and items of spending over N10 million’.

The APC political platform that put Buhari in office promised  ‘…full implementation of the Freedom of Information Act so that government-held data sets can be requested and used by the media and the public at large, and then published on regular basis.’

On all these, this government has not kept faith with the electorate. Media Rights Agenda (MRA), a non-government organisation for the promotion and protection of  freedom of expression and of the press, has had cause to issue a report that condemns ‘the scale of non-compliance with the provisions of FOI Act by public institutions under the authority and direct control of the Federal Government…’ 

Especially cited is the widespread breach of Section 29 which stipulates that ‘on or before February 1 of each year, each public institution shall submit to the Attorney-General of the Federation a report which shall cover the preceding fiscal year…’ in respect of compliance with the FOI Act. The MRA report stated that ‘while the impunity in the non-submission of annual reports over the last seven years by more than 90 per cent of Federal public institutions remained unrestrained, the inadequacies contained even in most of the reports submitted …are very alarming’. Besides the fact that this serious lapse is a breach of law, it also is an obstacle to the ability of the press to perform its oversight function as it is enjoined in Section 22 of the 1999 Constitution.  

It is simply impossible to fight corruption where and when opacity rules with impunity. If it is to be believed and supported, this government must do much better than its present effort.Concerning security, the APC promised to, ‘establish a well-trained, adequately equipped and goals driven Serious Crime Squad to combat terrorism, kidnapping, armed robbery, militancy, ethno-religious and communal clashes nationwide,’ and to ‘begin widespread consultations to amend the Constitution to enable States and Local Governments to employ State and Community Police to address the peculiar needs of each community. This would mean setting boundaries for Federal, State and Community Police through new Criminal Justice legislation to replace the Criminal Code, the Penal Code and the Police Act.’ The party also promised to ‘Establish a Conflict Resolution Commission to help prevent, mitigate and resolve civil conflicts within the polity.’ Nigerians are still waiting for a fulfillment of these.

Apart from security, corruption and the economy, there are some other national matters of importance and urgency. Take education. Successive Nigerian governments after the first republic have shown a sort of disdain for education as indicated by budgetary allocation to the sector.  It is calculated that in the 2009 – 2018 decade, Federal Government allocated a miserable 7.07 per cent or N3.9 trillion of N55.19 trillion to education. Nigerians had a right to expect, in an increasingly knowledge-driven world, a political party mouthing change to accord education and human capital the maximum attention. Not so.  Indeed, in the last three years, this government has done even less than its predecessor. In 2016, 6.1per cent of the N6.061 trillion, in 2017, 7.38 per cent of N7.444 trillion, and 7.03 per cent of N8.612 trillion were earmarked for education. But, in the typical ways of opaque governance, this is not to even say with certainty that every kobo of these funds have been expended for the purpose stated. Because of the basic importance of human capital to national development, certainly, this is not the change that Nigerians expected when they swallowed the APC change slogan.

Democracy necessarily involves a decentralisation of power; the intrinsic principle of subsidiarity assures that the whole should not do what a part can do best.  On the all-important matter of devolution of powers and true federalism, President Buhari opined, in his 2018 New Year speech said that having ‘kept a close watch on the on-going debate about “ Restructuring”, … when all the aggregates of nationwide opinions are considered, my firm view is that our problems are more to do with process than  structure.’

In effect, Buhari, contrary to the very first promise to the people of Nigeria in the manifesto of his party, does not think that a restructuring of Nigeria for genuine federalism is a priority for development and progress of the country.  This is extremely sad.

And it should be stated pointedly that this president is making a dangerous mistake. Most of the nagging problems that confront Nigeria today would melt away if true federalism were honestly and fully implemented.  Can anyone with a sense of history deny that this country was more stable, more cohesive, and experienced steady development during the First Republic than any time after?

On the economy, there are commendable steps taken in the past three years-: the Treasury Single Account that has helped save hundreds of billions of naira for the government, the Voluntary Asset and Income Declaration Scheme that has raked in huge  sums  into government coffers, the whistle-blowing policy that has also yielded ‘over N500 billion’ according to the president. Other economic indices are being thrown around, including rising foreign reserves, to explain that the Nigerian economy is improving. However, figures are good but they hardly matter in the real lives of citizens. Nigerians want to see their naira buy more goods and services than it did in the days of the PDP. They want to wake up to gainful employment and a life more abundant. An economy that does not enable the liberation of the people’s energy and add value to their lives is not worth any expatiation.

The Buhari-led APC government may not fulfill all of the 88 promises it made to the people in its manifesto. That may be asking for too much of a government that inherited so much mess. But, it is not unreasonable to expect that more than three-quarter of the way into its tenure, close to half of the promises should be reasonably met. Regrettably, this is not so. 

In sum, this government has far too much to do to prove its worth and to convince Nigerians that they did not make a serious mistake.  But it has only one year to go. The time is more or less an election year when, traditionally, re-election is largely on the minds of people in government.

This being the case, can APC and its government deliver significantly more on its manifesto if only to improve its chances of re-election? Buhari can demonstrably answer this.Suffice to say that last week’s speech was replete with the usual bland claims. No broad vision of the future. No specific, measurable, realistic, and time-bound commitments.   And, in substance and in symbolisms, it offered little hope, if any at all, to the average Nigerian.  At a time like this, a speech that retailed hope would have been better, soul lifting and re-assuring that better days are coming.  This president must therefore do what good leaders do: give the people reason to ‘hang in there,’ that change is truly in the air!

Leadership in this 21st century demands a global perspective and a multifaceted appreciation of issues. Provincial-mindedness not only limits the capacity of a leader to do the highest good for the greatest number, it does immeasurable harm to the polity. President Muhammadu Buhari has his job, in what is left of his first term, well cut out for him. May he find the grace and the energy to do that job. 

 

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Muhammadu Buhari‎
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