By Azu Ishiekwene
IF the Imo State Governor, Rochas Okorocha, is offering advice on what President Muhammadu Buhari must do to rescue his government, then the President should know he has work to do.
The governor, who came to office over six years ago on the ticket of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, has since switched parties. He is currently the official clown of the All Progressives Congress. And with months of unpaid salaries and pensions, and state monuments bearing his family name, there’s enough wreckage to show for his status.
But that’s a digression. His advice to Buhari is on point and infinitely more sensible than the nonsense of his Kogi State counterpart, Yahaya Bello, who declared a public holiday to mark the President’s return but didn’t know what to do to save even one of the 60 persons that died from abdominal infection in Kogi the same week. Buhari has work to do and he has to start from home while the rodents in his office are being apprehended and the cobwebs cleared.
Walking the talk
His six minutes national address was a mixed bag. But whatever its defects, he has made enough speeches in the last two years. It’s time to do what he has been saying.
As far as I can remember, Buhari is the first to win a presidential election depending almost entirely on votes from the North and the South West. What he should have done on assumption of office, was to rally the whole country and not give the regrettable impression that he would only be President for the regions that voted for him.
That posture, compounded by a few skewed appointments in his early days, has fuelled separatist sentiments, especially in the South East, and popularised Nnamdi Kanu’s Biafra rhetoric.
Name change and tough choices
Renaming Buhari “Okechukwu” (a share from God) or even “Onyenzoputa” (saviour) will not solve the problem created by his initial faux pas. The government has to start an honest engagement with its citizens, especially groups that have been radicalised by official insensitivity.
The 2014 National Conference report and even reports from previous ones, which Buhari has inexplicably refused to read, would be a good starting point.
As I said in this column last week, Boko Haram appears resurgent and insecurity is assuming new, frightening dimensions. It would be naïve to assume that Boko Haram would be wiped out.
The recent deadly attacks by the group suggest that there’s still work to be done. Buhari cannot afford to take his eyes off the insurgents; nor should the even more difficult task of resettling the victims be ignored anymore.
It’s heartening to know that Vice President Yemi Osinbajo had not submitted his committee’s report on the $43 million found at a Lagos residence before the rodents invaded Buhari’s corner.
The Vice President’s committee was supposed to find out how tons of dollars ended up in a private residence and if it was true as the former Director General of the National Intelligence Agency, Ayo Oke, claimed, that he sheltered the money on orders.
That report should be made public, along with the findings of Osinbajo’s committee on the role of the former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal, in the alleged case of millions of naira set aside for the Presidential Initiative on the North East, which ended up in private pockets.
The war on corruption appears stuck in the mud. But since the President was getting regular briefings in his London sickbay, he’s probably already aware of two court rulings asking his government to publish looted funds recovered since 1999 to date; looted funds recovered on his watch since 2015 and the names of the looters.
Corruption will kill the country if all we do is talk about it or turn a blind eye when the culprits are close to us. Some people close to the President are giving his government a bad name and he knows them.
If the National Assembly is still perceived as a den of corruption, it’s because Buhari has failed to use his leverage as leader of the ruling party to deal with it; and if the judiciary is making mincemeat of anti-corruption cases, it’s because Buhari has retained a minister of justice who is confused, if not incompetent.
If he seriously wants a change, he’ll have to make the right call. And time is not on his side. There’s merit in Okorocha’s advice that he might need to overhaul his cabinet.
Not only does he need to take another look at the Justice Ministry, he might also need to overcome the sentiment that to love a competent minister is to kill him with work: Babatunde Fashola is currently overworked with three ministries. He needs to be where the country can optimise his talent and energy.
In theory, the Ministry of Education should be able to handle the national strike by university teachers, which is in its second week. In practice, however, Buhari cannot afford to outsource the problem, which has lingered on now for eight years.
I recall that when The Interview interviewed Buhari in July 2016, he said one of the reasons why he dumped the National Conference report was that Goodluck Jonathan’s government used the money that ought to have been used to pay lecturers to host “a useless conference.” Now, he’ll find that the matter is a bit more complicated.
Money won’t bury all the problems in the universities, though. Sure, the universities require more resources, but even if we hand over the key to the treasury to them, nothing will change as long as the market continues to think that university graduates are useless and that a good number of lecturers themselves need teachers.
What is required is a comprehensive overhaul of the educational system – the kind that Oby Ezekwesili tried to implement as Education Minister before vested interests fought her to a standstill. Fixing education is a presidential assignment.
It’s good to know that, so far, there are no reports of well-wishers falling over themselves to visit Buhari at home since he returned. They can send him cards with a spray can or two of pesticides for his office use, if they can afford it.
The man has work to do and should be left alone to face it, squarely.
Ishiekwene is the MD/Editor-In-Chief of The Interview magazine and board member of the Paris-based Global Editors Network.