THE BUHARI PRESIDENCY: A Not Too Impressive Take Off

INUGFOR Muhammadu Buhari, the difference between his days as a military leader in the 80s, and now, as a democratically elected president, has become manifest early in the life of his regime.

Buhari was sworn-in on Friday, May 29. Since then he has taken off, in what some people see as a not too impressive note.

For a President, who rode into power on the wing of ‘change’, his initial steps in office, especially, after his swearing-in, his actions have reflected nothing of change that his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), while it was in opposition, appeared to have campaigned on.

Recall that the programme of inauguration mapped out by the joint committees of the out gone administration and Buhari’s then incoming administration had indicated that there would be a luncheon immediately after the inauguration at the New Banquet Hall, State House.

The luncheon was to be attended by visiting Heads of States/Governments as well as envoys of other countries and important personalities to celebrate with him on his inauguration.

The guests had moved in with him from the Eagle Square, after the inauguration along side his Vice, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo (SAN), both of whom had earlier taken their oaths of office.

But being a Friday, the President was compelled to leave midway into the programmes and headed straight to the Mosque for Juma’at prayers, which was not considered to be a diplomatic hattrick.

But the curious thing was that, the President did not make it back to the Villa, instead reportedly headed straight to the Defence House, where he had operated from as the President-elect, where he still continues to receive guests. After waiting for his return without effect, organisers decided to invite Osinbajo to make a remark on behalf of his Principal.

As a follow up, the crest of the President and Commander-in-Chief was quickly removed to enable Osinbajo to use it. As expected, the law professor apologised for Buhari’s absence, citing his attendance of Juma’at prayers as the reason.

Then, in the whole of that Friday, State House correspondents, as is the tradition, waited in vain for statement on the new key appointments into some offices in the Presidency, like the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Chief of Staff (COS), Principal Private Secretary (PSP) and the Special Adviser Media and Publicity.

On Saturday night, precisely 24 hours after taking over, Buhari and Osinbajo, in a statement by then Head of hiscampaign’s media team, Malam Garba Sheh, announced the declaration of their assets to the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) in line with the constitution, but failed to make the contents of the declared assets public. Shehu claimed that the President and his Vice, submitted their assets declaration forms separately on Thursday, a day to their inauguration.

Shehu added that the CCB through its Chairman, Mr. Sam Saba on Friday, May 29 acknowledged the receipt of the declaration forms.

He then gave Buhari’s identity numbers as 000001/2015. His words, “by declaring their assets, President Buhari and Vice may have not only fulfilled the requirements of the Nigerian constitution, but also the first of their campaign promises.

While seeking election into the highest office in the land the President promised Nigerians that he would publicly declare his assets as soon as he took over government.”

Though, Shehu felt the declaration of assets was in fulfillment of Buhari’s campaign promises, a broad section of the public felt the action was not far enough, as the President had not done anything spectacular, because the contents of the declaration were not made public.

The late President, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua took Nigerians by surprise in May 2007, when just vacating the governorship seat of State of Katsina, he made full pull public disclosure of the contents of assets form.

Failure to follow suit by his then Vice, later, President of Nigeria, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan had attracted sharp public reactions.

But bowing to pressure from public opinion, Jonathan was forced to release the details of his assets declared before the CCB on August 7 of the same year.

It will be recalled that in February this year, the President, while campaigning, had said he would publicly declare his assets and liabilities if voted into power. He also said he would encourage his ministers and other political appointees of his administration to publicly declare their assets too.

Chapter VI, Section 140 of the Constitution states, “A person elected to the Office of the President shall not begin to perform functions of that office until he/she has declared his/her assets and liabilities as prescribed in the Constitution.”

Failure of the President and his Vice to make public the contents of their assets declaration has attracted angry reaction from a cross sections of Nigerians.

The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability (SERAP); the Freedom of Information Coalition in Nigeria (FOICN) as well as the Egalitarian Mission for Africa (EMAf) have all been united in demanding for the contents of the forms to be made public.

SERAP said it was not enough for Buhari and his vice to declare their assets to the CCB without making public the details as it was done in 2007, when Yar’adua made public details of his assets and liabilities.

In the same vein, FOICN, in addition to making the contents of forms open, urged the President to ensure that individuals to be appointed into his cabinet should declare their assets before being sworn-in, even as it called for the overhaul of the two anti-graft agencies and sanitise them.

Both organisations in their separate statements submitted that doing so would give needed bite to the anti-corruption stance of the Buhari administration and truly give Nigerians hope of a ‘not-business-as-usual’ situation.

For EMAf, there is a serious contradiction between the record keeping practice of CCB and the provision of Freedom of Information Act (FOI), which classified the declaration made as personal information.

“More particular is the covenant President Buhari had with the Nigerian people to publish his assets publicly, noting, “the promise on the assets to Nigerian voters is to woo voters for votes and now an agreement of which the voters have fulfilled their part of the agreement and Buhari to fulfill the other part, failure of which is a clear violation of the social contract he had with millions of Nigerians.”

On Sunday, precisely 48 hours after taking over as President, Buhari made the first appointments in the life of his administration, those of his two media aides and State Chief of Protocol (SCOP).

For the media aides, the President appointed the outgoing president of the Nigerian Guilds of Editor (NGE) and Managing Director/Editor-in Chief of The Sun Newspaper, Mr. Femi Adesina, as the Special Adviser (Media and Publicity), while Shehu, also a former NGE President and Media Director of his Campaign Organisation, would serve as the Senior Special Assistant (SSAP) on Media and Publicity.

In the same vein, Malam Abdullahi Lawal Kazaure, a career officer in the Foreign Service was appointed as the SCOP.

Until his appointment, Kazaure was a Special Assistant, (Presidential Matters) in the State House.  But as at the time of filing the report, the President Buhari has yet to announce the names of his SGF, COS, DCOS NSA and PSP.

The delay in the appointments gave rise to rumoured ‘appointment’ of a one time Governor of Abia State, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, as the SGF. But the rumour was, however, denied by the Presidential spokesman, Shehu. Onu was the national chairman of the defunct All Nigerian Peoples Party (ANPP) one of the three political parties that merged to form the APC.

The appointments of the two media aides have been generating arguments in the media, given that Shehu appears to have more years of media experiences than Adesina, who is expected to oversee Shehu.

For instance, besides being the NGE President about 16 years ago, Shehu had served as the Managing Director of The Triumph Newspaper in the old Kano State and had served as the SSAP to the former Vice President, Atiku Abub This, observers noted do not reflect the steady steps of an administration that is on a mission to correct past misteps.

On Monday, Buhari and Osinbajos’ failure to move into the Presidential Villa, the seat of power created an atmosphere of anxiety and disappointment among workers of the Villa, who reported to office early to catch a glimpse of the two most important political office holders assuming duties.

But the President’s spokesman justified the actions, by saying that renovation works were yet to be completed in their offices, assuring that, as soon as renovation was completed, they would move in.

Also on Monday, the President, among others, had an audience with the outgoing National Security Adviser (NSA), Col. Mohammed Sambo Dasuki (rtd), to receive briefing from him on the efforts to tackle the resurgence of Boko Haram within and around Maiduguri, the Borno State capital.

On Tuesday, he followed it up with enlarged security briefing from the heads of security organisations, led by the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), Air Chief Marshal Alex Sabundu Badeh.

Insecurity was the major plank, upon which Buhari centred his electoral campaigns. Buhari, on Tuesday, sent a request to the 7th Senate for the confirmation of 15 Special Advisers, who would assist him in carrying out his duties as President.

The request was contained in a letter to the outgoing Senate President David Mark, which said his request was in accordance with Section 151 (1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended.

On Wednesday and Thursday, the President led a powerful federal government delegation to the neighbouring countries of Niger and Chad, where the activities of Boko Haram insurgents are also being combated for high level discussions between the Presidents of the two countries. He returned to Abuja on Thursday night.

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