By Ochereome Nnanna
EVERY administration enjoys its share of honeymoon after assuming power. The allure of newness and expectations are high during this period, and the people are willing to overlook and excuse little blunders here and there. But months down the line, one or two major things happen, and the honeymoon is over.
When former President Goodluck Jonathan took over in 2011, his trajectory from Deputy Governor to Governor and from Vice President to President was a major talking point during his honeymoon. His being the first ethnic Minority Nigerian to recieve the overwhelming vote of the electorate, even when ranged against powerful Northern opponents was something people found inspiring. But the moment he attempted to remove the petroleum subsidy starting from January 1, 2012, the romance quickly vanished.
Unfortunately, Jonathan backed off from completely removing the subsidy, with the resultant effect that Nigeria went on to spend over two more trillion Naira on fuel subsidies; an amount that could have turned around the massive infrastructure deficit of the country if properly invested.
President Muhammadu Buhari came on the crest of what some romantically termed: “Change Revolution”. It was the first time a sitting president seeking a second term was voted out in Nigeria and he left without making any fuss. In Africa, it was the second time it ever happned, following the noble example of former Senegalese President, Abdoulaye Wade, who conceded victory to his former Minister, Macky Sall, on Monday 26th March 2012.
Even if the election that brought Buhari in was not that copasetic (what with millions of under-age voters and non-use of the card reader in the Muslim North, his main political base), the transitional process was second to none. This was obviously why many newspapers awarded both the former and incumbent presidents their joint Man-of-the Year 2015.
On assumption of power, Buhari’s media magicians, notably Femi Adesina (alias Kulikuli) and Garba Shehu, stoked his mystique with fairytale characterisations: “the New Sheriff in Town”, who accomplished great feats of change through his “Body Language”, feats which were fondly attributed to “The Buhari Effect”. You will recall that as soon as Buhari was announced winner of the presidential election, the Naira, which was going for 228 against the US Dollar, appreciated by seven percent to 211. His supporters boasted that if he could achieve this without lifting a finger, then his campaign promise to make the Naira equal to the Dollar would be accomplished before long. But today, the story is different. At the last check, the Naira exchanged for the Dollar at 313: 1, with many proffering the bleak prognosis that we might be headed eventually for 500:1 or an outright devaluation (which Buhari’s Western backers have asked him to do).
In June 2015 the comatose refineries suddenly restarted refining petroleum products without the regime spending a kobo. Today, Kaduna and Port Harcourt refineris remain shut and will not resume production till end of this month.
While “the Buhari Effect” held sway, there was a noticeable improvement in power supply, even when the new leader had not made a policy pronouncement on which way his cat was going to jump. Some even claimed they now had between 18 to 24 hours of power supply a day. They forgot that this was the cool and rainy season when, traditionally, the hydrothermal plants were full with water which results to more available megawatts for the national grid. What do we have now? The power supply has nosedived, though the administration has reported that we have crossed the 5,000 megawatts threshold “for the first time”. The Power Distribution Companies (DISCOs) which bought over the assets of erstwhile state monopoly, Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN), on February 1, 2016, made good their threat to raise electricity tariff by 46 percent. Nigeria’s Organised Labour, which had been in hibernation since Comrade Adams Oshiomhole stepped down as Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) President, also made good their threat to picket their offices nationwide.
That is the most poignant sure sign that the honeymoon is over. This honeymoon usually stops when concrete governance starts. However, the power tariff hike is a small thing compared to the great damage to the Buhari administration’s image which the 2016 budget saga is beginning to turn up. The insanity of the 2016 budget is twofold. On the one hand is the massive amount of corruption (paddings, duplications) which are being unearthed at the House of Representatives and the Senate. The second is Federal Government’s inability to discover these crooked intents to steal our public funds right under the nose of an anti-corruption president, which reeks of gross incompetence from the Budget Office and the Federal Ministry of Finance to the Presidency.
Not only that, an aide of the President, Senator Etta Enang, has been accused of being behind the tampering with the budget which President Buhari presented before the National Assembly. The confusion and corruption surrounding the budget is so much that one of the Ministers, Prof. Isaac Adewole, who is in charge of the Health Ministry, openly disowned his ministry’s budget when he was supposed to defend it before the Legislature. He said “rats” (which are also known as “budget mafia”) had doctored it. Frustrated, the Chairmen of the Appropriation Committees of the House and Senate, announced that the February 25 date for the passage of the budget had been postponed indefinitely.
The President has promised to punish the civil servants who were responsible for sabotaging the budget and using it to paint his administration in corrupt colours. We wait to see.Buhari’s Budgetgate exposes an irony. Remember, during the four-month delay in naming his cabinet, Buhari betrayed his confidence on bureaucrats and disdain for ministers. He told France 24, a television station and I quote:
“No. It is what we know – and which we learned from the Western system. The civil service provides the continuity, the technocrat. And in any case, they are those that do most of the work. The ministers are there, I think, to make a lot of noise…. But the work is being done by the technocrats. They are there; they have to provide continuity, dig into the records and then guide us who are just coming in”.
Buhari was heavily criticised (I lent my voice to it here) for making it seem like ministers are unimportant. Is it not an irony that the same civil servants on whom Buhari depends for “guidance” are now the ones corrupting his first budget with a view to stealing public funds? Buhari’s trusted civil servants who orchestrated the disgrace of former Health Minister, Professor Adenike Grange (she has since cleared her name in court) are the ones who want to scam us once again through this Budgetgate.
Nine months into his regime, our President, who is permanently on foreign tours, no longer possesses the body language to deter civil trusted servants from attempting to loot the treasury. They are no longer deterred by the exploits of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) which is grabbing people, detaining them, arraigning them and sealing up their properties.
In fact, it has come to a point where Buhari will criticise the Judiciary and the Chief Justice of Nigeria and the Nigerian Bar Association will answer back. Boko Haram, which had been ‘“technically defeated” resumes invasions of communities and a rash of suicide bombings. It has become obvious, even to Buhari’s ardent supporters that governance is not a fairytale; it is not a daydream. You must do the work and do it well. In this our democracy, whatever you sow, you will reap.