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First week in office: Buhari sets tone for administration

By Ben. Agande, Abuja

Three weeks after his swearing-in, President Muhammadu Buhari formally resumed at the Aso Rock Presidential Villa on Monday. It was a move that many Nigerians had waited for with bated breath as many had expected that it would mark the very moment Buhari would announce key appointments, including ministerial nominees.

President Muhammadu Buhari attending to some files in his office as he resumed duties at the Presidential Villa, Abuja. Photo by Abayomi Adeshida
President Muhammadu Buhari

While some of these expectations, especially the appointments of key officials like the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Chief of Staff and even the National Security Adviser have not been met.

Buhari’s first week in office remains memorable, not so much in the progress made in the art of governance, but because of some of the profound pronouncements and far reaching disclosures made by him. It was a week that invariably gave inkling into how the Buhari presidency may turn out.

During his time as military head of state, Buhari’s jailing of two journalists, Nduka Irabor and Tunde Thompson, through the controversial Decree 2, gave him out as a hater of journalists and journalism. Despite his strident defense of his action that it was consistent with that era and that he has indeed changed, the image has continued to follow him like a shadow.

And it was one of the themes of the campaign against him by the Peoples Democratic Party ahead of the presidential poll. It is also one aspect of his interface with the public during his tenure as president that would be subjected to the most scrutiny.

On his first day in office, on Monday, one of his first responsibilities was a meeting with members of the State House Press Corps. The significance of this meeting lies not in the fact that Buhari met with members of the Press Corps but that in the last 16 years since the return to democratic rule, journalists covering the Villa have remained the most despised of the professionals that work in the seat of power.

In a bid to show his disdain for journalists, President Obasanjo in one of his meetings with some young students from across the country openly told them, right there in the presence of journalists covering the meeting, that they should aspire to be any thing in life but not journalists! Yaradua’s tenure was hampered by ill health for any fair assessment of his feelings for journalists. But even during President Jonathan’s administration, his disdain for journalists was so manifest that he did not even know the names of the Nigerian Television Authority crew who flew with him on the same aircraft to every where he went to.

It was indeed a soothing relief for most members of the media when Buhari, who has been branded as a media hater over an incident that happened over 30 years ago, to choose journalists as one of the groups of people to meet with on his first day in office at the Presidential Villa. For the president, there was no greater opportunity to paint the true picture of what he inherited from the last administration than his meeting with the State House Press Corps.

In a tone that underscores his frustration with the huge expectation from Nigerians, Buhari decried the pressure already being brought to bear on his government especially with the traditional assessment of 100 days in office. While admitting that the expectation is huge, he equally gave inkling that the rot he has inherited is equally daunting. ‘’This culture of 100 days in office is bringing so much pressure with the treasury virtually empty, with debts in millions of dollars; with state workers and even federal workers not paid their salaries is such a disgrace for Nigeria.

I think Nigeria should be in a position to even pay its workers, this bad management that we find ourselves in, we really need your help to protect us from people before they march on us”, the president stated to Buhari, therefore, the meeting with members of the State House Press Corps was so much for him to work on his image as a hater of the media as it was an opportunity for the media to explain his predicament to the Nigerian people that their expectation may not be met as soon as they had hoped.

Before he met with the press corps, Buhari’s first assignment on that Monday was a meeting with the Service Chiefs. It would be recalled that throughout his campaign for the presidency, he anchored his candidacy on his firm resolve to fight corruption, check the pervasive insecurity in the country, especially the fight against Boko Haram insurgency, and revive the economy through frugal fiscal management.

As a demonstration of his resolve to firmly fight the Boko Haram insurgency, the president embarked on a visit to Chad and Niger shortly after he was sworn in to strengthen military cooperation between Nigeria and the two countries in the fight against insurgency.

And to demonstrate this absolute commitment to a military victory over Boko Haram, Buhari, who had pledged to make more men and equipment available to prosecute the war against terror in the north eastern part of the country, ordered that all non-essential military check points nationwide should be dismantled so that personnel who man these check points would be made available to the area where they are most needed.

According to the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Defence, Aliyu Ismaila, the meeting between the Service Chiefs and the president was to give them the opportunity to brief Buhari on the implementation of recent decisions reached on the fight against insurgency.

But while the issue of insecurity in the North-East remains a major source of concern, the dwindling economy as a result of the fall in global oil price which has made it impossible for some state governments and even some Federal Government agencies to pay workers salary is one issue that played prominently in the first one week of Buhari at the Presidential Villa. And to jointly confront the challenge, Buhari, in his maiden meeting with the governors of the 36 states of the federation, pointedly told them that the era of impunity which led the country to its sorry state was over.

According to the president, with his determination and the promises by leaders of the world powers to cooperate with him in the recovery of Nigeria’s stolen nation’s wealth and stashed abroad, there was no hiding place for those who stole from the nation’s commonwealth.

Though the first one week of Buhari in the Presidential Villa provided some bright moments that gave insight into his mind set the week was not without its down side. It was a week that saw the governors elected on the platform of the All Progressive Congress mount subtle pressure on him to rescind his decision not to interfere in the burgeoning crisis in the two arms of the National Assembly. While the leadership of the All Progressives Congress had its preferred candidates for the positions of Speaker of the House of Representatives, President of the Senate and other principal offices of the National Assembly, some APC lawmakers openly defied the party.

For a man who has consistently said he would not interfere in the affairs of the National Assembly, Buhari maintained this stand even when it appeared that the defiant APC lawmakers was exerting pressure on the cohesion of the party. His stand may have hurt some leaders of the party. But it was a refreshing reassurance to many Nigerians that, perhaps, in a country where leaders’ consistency in what they stand for is in short supply, they have found a leader who would rather stand by his word in order to maintain his credibility rather than make a volte face to satisfy narrow political interests.

The last one week may have witnessed much motion without any substantial movement especially the key decisions that many Nigerians expected of the president still outstanding. But as he enters his second week in the Presidential Villa and his fourth week in the saddle as president, Buhari may no longer continue to enjoy the patience and understanding that many Nigerians have shown towards him if key decisions, especially in the appointment of members of his cabinet and other principal officers are not taken soon.

 


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