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Buhari’s proposed emergency powers and how not to kill a nation

It is a season of the absurd. Nigeria is hemorrhaging uncontrollably, left for too long to bleed and now in near-comatose situation. Truly, she is in dire need of urgent attention as she suffers from economic asphyxiation on the treatment table while she is abandoned to writhe in avoidable pain. Suddenly, it seems her doctors are just realizing exactly how bad the situation is and they are now very desperate to do everything to save her, or so it seems, from total shut-down.

That the nation is in recession is no news. That there is biting hunger in the land is widely acknowledged. The question remains, how did we get here? From being Africa’s largest economy as at 2015 to being one of its worst in 2016; from being one of the world’s foremost preferred foreign investment destinations just a little over a year ago, to actually being among the uncourted; from a robust stock market to a rapidly depleted one; from a relatively strong exchange rate to an abysmally weak one. The narrative continues, regrettably, ad infinitum.

When General Muhammadu Buhari was inaugurated on May 29, 2015, rather than roll up his sleeves for work, seeing, in the words of his ruling party, the ‘rot’ left behind by the previous administration, he took some time to move into his office and start work, preferring to spend time outside the Villa claiming work was going on in his office. Time was ticking.

When he eventually moved in, Buhari did not see the urgent need for him to start work immediately by constituting his cabinet. He would rather prefer to spend time admiring the presidential palace as constituting a cabinet at that point in time would result to the ministers distracting him from his pastime of taking a tourist stroll around the Villa.

When critics shouted that the clock was ticking away and that the president should constitute his cabinet and bend down to work, supporters of the president shouted down on them and demanded with impudent audacity that the president be allowed to work at his own pace as ‘he knew what he was doing’.

Time was still ticking.

When Nigerians became apprehensive about the length of time it was taking the president to appoint his ministers and take charge of all the sectors of the nation’s life, and they raised alarm about how the nation was being made to run on auto-pilot without any direction, the president’s supporters including, most unfortunately, seasoned economists, established businessmen, elder statesmen etc in APC and those who have sympathy for the president, said he should be allowed to take his time to convince the spirits to release ‘angels’ and ‘saints’ to serve as ministers.

After waiting for so long and wasting so much time, Buhari disappointed Nigerians by appointing the ministers, a majority of whom are exactly the opposite of what angels and saints represent. The question then was, if these were the people the president said he was taking his time to look for, why did he not just appoint them on the same day of his inauguration so they could start work immediately? Were these kind of people that difficult to locate? Why waste so much time and then still end up with the same old brigade?

At this point, the economy had started suffering from fiscal high fever, and time was ticking!

I still remember the APC leader, the Asiwaju himself, warning about the importance of marking Buhari’s 100 days in office with some tangible scorecard as a way of proving their seriousness to Nigerians. Unfortunately, it seemed Tinubu over-rated his political godson, Buhari. 100 days passed, only excuses were given as scorecards. To crown the mess with ash, their ministers were appointed nearly six months after the government came to power.

Every serious-minded, truthful and patriotic person knows that the first 100 days and first six months of any administration are key and shape largely the future of that administration. If those of this administration were deliberately wasted and used to engage in trifles, it only goes a long way to show what the future holds. Should Nigerians be surprised that we are where we are today?

As if these anomalies were not enough, the president embarked on numerous needless foreign trips leaving the nation’s ship unattended to while it sailed aimlessly for the rocks. Even at times of extreme crises that needed the president’s decisive attention, he would abandon Nigerians to their fate and face Europe, America, Asia or any other continent that tickled his fancy. It was so bad that a section of the populace referred to him as Nigeria’s ‘foreign president’!

All the claims that the president’s trips were already yielding results just to pacify worried Nigerians have been proved to be lies as the nation slid rapidly into recession without any impact from the president’s numerous trips.

To make matters worse, a lot of people celebrated the fact that the president was ruling and running Nigeria like a sole proprietor and saw nothing wrong in his extreme slowness to the extent that he was nicknamed ‘Baba Go-Slow’ with much indignant conviviality.

As if body language was ever enough to lead a family not to talk of a complex nation like ours, many, including labour leaders, industrialists, businessmen, captains of industry, civil society organizations etc who should know better cheered him on. Today, ‘body language’ has landed us in a situation where the president suddenly realized that he actually has no time on his side and is seeking emergency powers to carry out what ordinarily should be a president’s normal functions. He and his handlers have suddenly realized time is no more on their side; they are just seeing today what a majority of Nigerians whom they see as enemies have since seen and cautioned about long time ago.

Blinded by hate, they have gathered for themselves those that would tell them what they are itching to hear, and turned deaf ears to the voices of reason emanating from the opposition camp, a camp they so much loathe to the point of destruction.

With the president’s camp’s penchant for blame, sophistry, hate, vendetta, vengeance and tyranny, all of which they have wasted time engaging in, granting president Buhari any kind of emergency powers would amount to finishing off Nigerians under the guise of economic expediency. Buhari does not need such powers to revamp our economy even though I agree that some of the laws can be given speedy amendments to enable him act faster within the confines of the law and not as a dictator.

For example, one of the laws for which Buhari is seeking sweeping powers is the Universal Basic Education Act (UBEC). The law which requires states to provide 50% counterpart funding before they can access the fund can be amended to reduce the counterpart funding to about 10% so states can access the over N54bn lying fallow at the commission’s coffers more easily.

The president is also seeking emergency powers to set aside procurement laws which state that only 15% initial mobilization can be released to a contractor after award of a contract. Again, rather than suspend this aspect of the law to allow Buhari raise the mobilization fund to 50% or do as he wishes, this aspect of the law can also be amended to empower MDA’s pay 50% initial mobilization fee to contractors. Anything outside this might even give the president the powers to give 100% initial mobilization fee. This will not be healthy!

It is the same with all the other proposals of Mr President. Does he need emergency powers for consular offices to process visas within 48 hours for foreign investors? Does he need emergency powers to sell or lease Nigeria’s assets if he so wishes? The rational thing to do in this instance is to amend the processes and remove the bottle-necks. The president does not need sweeping powers for MDAs like CAC and NAFDAC for example, to be more efficient. There is more to this request than meets the eye.

Sun International, a hospitality and gaming company, and managers of Federal Palace Hotel have just pulled out of Nigeria over what they claimed to be the harassment of EFCC as five of their staff members who were detained earlier in the year are still to have their passports released to them despite no charges brought against them. Which foreigner wants to invest in such environment?

Mr President should get more creative. His team of advisers should stop dancing around in circles and face their jobs squarely. For Nigeria to get out of recession, we must first fix our political malaise arising from executive lawlessness that has drastically eroded the confidence of foreign investors in our country. A situation where court orders are not obeyed and where a section of the judiciary has been turned into a pawn in the hands of the executive can never engender investors’ confidence. No one wants to invest in a country where the businesses could suffer closure from executive fiat, and where they cannot rely on the judiciary for redress and justice.

Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely! If Buhari cannot operate under the system he was elected president, the honourable thing for him to do is to resign. Nobody should be allowed to turn our democracy to a pseudo-military regime under the guise of emergency economy stabilization powers.

If, with the checks and balances, Nigerians have suffered so much injustice, economic hardship and tyranny, how much more when the executive is left without checks? Even the legislature would become castrated, frustrated and exist only on paper. It is even worse when the presidency seeks to move budgeted funds from one sector to another without legislative input. This is dangerous!

With news of children of government officials and their cronies being offered employment on a platter of gold in some of Nigeria’s “juicy” MDAs without going through laid down procedures, it is clear that president Buhari and his team cannot be trusted with absolute powers no matter how good the reason to do so is.

If the president cannot do anything with the ‘little’ resources he claims to be at his disposal, then he can also not do anything even if he is given all the resources in the world.

It is unfortunate that those who should know better are the ones applauding this latest ill-advised move just like they applauded his ‘Body Language’, his ‘Go-Slow’ and such others until they brought us to where we are today. This same people have been applauding political tyranny, now they want to extend it to our economy. So sad!

My take is that, not just Buhari, it is dangerous to trust any man with absolute powers. Checks and balances are some of the main ingredients of a democracy; we cannot divorce them from ours unless we want to suffocate our nation irredeemably!

 By Jude Ndukwe

 

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