By Ochereome Nnanna
A NEWSPAPER headline last week Thursday, November 3, 2016 declared: “Retrogression, Order Of The Day Under Buhari – NANS”. The National Association of Nigerian Students, NANS, issued a statement lamenting the suffering that students and parents have been experiencing since President Muhammadu took charge of the country seventeen months ago.
Nobody can tag the Jeremiad by the students as merely the “wailing” of a defeated opposition People’s Democratic Party, PDP, as the All Progressives Congress, APC, and its megaphones retort to criticisms of the regime. Mass suffering is real because the economy is in a terrible shape. What caused the situation is open to debate, and we already know how the regime responds to it.
They say we are in soup because of sixteen years of “PDP rot”, during which Nigeria made so much from high oil prices but successive PDP regime, especially the President Goodluck Jonathan segment of it, failed to save for the rainy day.
They conveniently forget how strenuously the APC governors fought and blocked the Jonathan regime’s efforts to save from excess oil earnings. They also sweep under the carpet, the “occupy” protests their chieftains sponsored to kill the deregulation of the downstream sector of the petroleum industry, which cost Nigeria about four trillion in subsidy payments that should have been channelled to capital development.
Almost a third of the regime’s lifespan has been spent on a noisy blame game. It was only recently that the APC governors, after meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari, came out to tell Nigerians that the Party was now ready to take responsibility for fixing the economy.
The question is: what concrete steps has the Buhari Presidency taken to fix the “rots” that the PDP regime left behind, apart from the inchoate anti-corruption campaign that leaves more questions than answers in its wake? Is it the war against Boko Haram that appears to have stalled while on the brink of victory? There are now more suicide bombings in Maiduguri and ambushes of our troops by terrorists which the regime had, since December 2015, declared as “defeated”.
Is it the large-scale corruption and human rights abuses that have overtaken the management of the Internally-Displaced Persons, IDP, camps? In spite of the billions of naira spent by the state and Federal Governments, international humanitarian groups like the Medecins Sans Frontier, the International Red Cross and the Human Rights Watch, have severally reported to President Buhari, mass starving and deaths of children caused by malnutrition in the camps due to the atrocious diversion of food stuff. Women are being flagrantly raped. These crimes are being perpetrated by officials sent to care for the displaced victims of Boko Haram terror. Each time these crimes are reported, the President orders for probes, yet we see no sign that anyone has been brought to account. Is it a mark of competence that international charity groups have to report these atrocities before the President gets to know of them?
Apart from these signs that the regime is not firmly rooted and in charge of its own business, four other major events in the past one and half years show that the current leadership is not “on rail”.
The first is that the polity is in chaos. Both the ruling APC and the main opposition PDP are in tatters due to wrong handling by the regime. Unlike President Olusegun Obasanjo who started off by trying to unite the polity before going after his political enemies when he had consolidated, Buhari started by hunting after his enemies first, both those within his party and the PDP. For this, he has failed to rally the nation behind his three-point agenda: securing the nation, fighting corruption and fixing the economy. He fights on all fronts, and the security agencies are stretched to breaking point, yet the nation (especially its economy) remains a hostage to armed sabotage.
Secondly, Buhari wasted almost six months before his ministers were on board. In spite of that, one year later, there is a huge outcry for a total cabinet rejig because not one minister has been singled out as a star performer. Apart from, perhaps, the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, Governor, Godwin Emefiele, who is soldiering bravely with monetary policies to drive agriculture, nothing else seems to stand out. We must also give special kudos to the Nigerian Air Force under Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar and the Nigerian Army under Lt General Tukur Buratai, for setting good examples. They keyed the armed forces into the Made-in-Nigeria campaign by patronising local manufacturers of aircraft spare-parts and military wears. If these efforts were centrally-driven from the Presidency, the result would have been something else to behold.
Thirdly, the first budget the Buhari regime took to the National Assembly was a thorough disaster. The regime’s supporters have made the excuse that the “budget padding” scandal was something that had been there for years but was identified because of this regime’s anti-corruption war. Really? If that was so, why were so many eyesore elements, such as “rent for Aso Villa” and hundreds of millions for “gatehouse cables” not identified and removed at the President’s desk? Why did they have to be spotted at the National Assembly? Why did the National Assembly angrily throw the budget back to the President’s desk – a humiliation – due to these corruption-laden eyesores?
The fourth incident that put a great question-mark on the executive capacity of this regime was the recent $30 billion borrowing plan summarily rejected by the Senate for lack of competent packaging. The Buhari Federal Government wanted to borrow the highest amount of foreign loan in the history of this country. It merely sat down, tersely listed a number of projects the money would be spent on and sent it to the National Assembly in the belief that it would be approved!
Not only that, the document exposed the regime’s unbending lack of regard for the principle of Federal Character as contained in Section 14(3) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999. The South East Zone was completely excluded from a borrowing which its people and their future generations would, like other Nigerians, bear the brunt of its repayment!
It did not occur to any of the hirelings of the Buhari government that a detailed narration of how the loan will be raised, spent to benefit all Nigerians and repaid, must be specified to give the plan any chance of scaling through the parliament. In summarily rejecting the borrowing plan, the Senate made me proud. They reassured me that, indeed, there is great beauty in democracy. If this was a military government, this regime would simply have borrowed and spent to please itself. Those who are unhappy about it “are free to go”!
The shock, really, as far as I am concerned, is not that Buhari sent such a warped document to the Assembly. He is merely implementing his “97%/5%” formula, which started from Day One when he crowded his inner government with his kinsmen and women.
The shock is that the rotten 2016 budget and the leprous borrowing plan took place while people like Senator Udo Udoma (Minister of National Planning and Budget), Mrs. Kemi Adeosun (Minister of Finance) Dr. Okechukwu Enelamah (Minister of Trade and Investment) and Senator Ita Enang (a crack legislator and the President’s Senior Special Assistant on National Assembly Matters) stood by and watched like figureheads without adding value. It not only questioned their competence, it also had people wondering if, indeed they are allowed by Buhari’s inner cabinet kinsmen to make valuable inputs. This is what comes of nepotism. It encourages shallow, unilateral and corrupt approach to policy which, in the end, produces failure in governance.