By Ochereome Nnanna
LAST week, President Muhammadu Buhari made his first major official trip into the deep North (apart from his usual festal trips to his native Daura in Katsina State) when he visited Kano. It was here that he got his highest votes in 2015, though we have not forgotten the mystery fire that claimed the lives of the state’s Resident Electoral Commissioner, Alhaji Mukaila Abdullahi, his wife and children shortly after he supervised the election. I wonder why no one is talking about that tragic incident. Should that family perish, just like that, and no questions asked?
Unlike in Anambra State where the President expected the Obi of Onitsha, Igwe Nnaemeka Achebe to come and greet him, he went to the palace of the Emir of Kano, Muhammadu Sanusi, to pay the usual homage. Igwe Achebe and other traditional rulers had waited in his palace for the President but they waited in vain. A petulant Anambra State chapter of the All Progressives Congress, APC, had, after Buhari’s departure, taken pages in some national dailies to insult Igwe Achebe for not leaving his palace to receive their party leader. There is no low level to which political jobbery will not sink in this country!
Buhari looked at the large number of people who turned out to receive him and rhapsodised that from the “sea of heads”, he would win if the 2019 election was staged “today”. That was yet another hint dropped that the president’s second term run is a done deal waiting to be announced.
The “sea of heads” may be real, precisely because Kano is the epicentre of the Buhari support base. The hardship and abject poverty that have ruled the past 31 months under Buhari might have disillusioned many among his supporters, but there are always diehards among supporters. Apart from that, Buhari has justified his image as a champion of the reactionary North; those whose allegiance is ruled more by primordial sentiments such as religion, region and ethnicity than by rational considerations of actual good governance and national integration.
Through his extreme nepotism (in appointments into political offices, recruitments into the Federal institutions and distribution of amenities) he has given the parasitic hawks in the North reasons to be joyful. He has been very responsive to their demands, such as the way the Biafra issue was settled with the military, the proscription of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra, IPOB, and its laughable declaration as a “terrorist” group. Buhari probably deliberately took these steps to warm himself back into the embrace of the hawks whose faith might have been badly shaken by the hardship and sloppy governance of his regime. A leader who panders to the political fancies of the hawks of his home region is not what Nigeria, a multinational entity, needs. What we need is a leader who will unite us by giving every section of Nigeria a sense of belonging and equal partnership.
Under normal circumstances, Buhari’s woeful performance should make his party put pressure on him to step aside and allow younger, brighter, more energetic leaders like Governors Kashim Shettima of Borno and Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto or even Bukola Saraki, the Senate President, to complete the North’s eight years.
President Buhari has disappointed millions of those who had idolised him as the man with the magic wand to pull Nigeria out of corruption, insurgency, insecurity and economic slide. Even in the few areas where there is noticeable progress such as agriculture and doing business, the initiatives were not taken by the President. The Goodluck Jonathan regime laid a strong foundation for the growth in the Agric sector. The Anchor Borrowers’ programme initiated by Godwin Emefiele’s Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, was backed up by the Minister of Agriculture, Chief Audu Ogbe. This was one sector where Buhari regime keyed into progress already made by his predecessors, which is what governance is rather than play blame games.
Nigeria also made tepid progress in Doing Business, due to the efforts of the panel headed by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo. We jumped 24 steps from 169th to 145th out of 190 countries rated by the World Bank for the 2018 index. In spite of this, Nigeria has lost its place as the biggest in Africa and the continent’s number one investors’ destination, due to the regime’s lack of economic vision and game plan. More than three million people lost their jobs, and states fell far behind in the payment of salaries and pensions, thus worsening the dearth of purchasing power.
In every other sector, the situation is neither here nor there. The war against Boko Haram has claimed more lives under Buhari than at any other time. Just when you think we are about to win the war it makes a vicious upsurge, and some say it is because of the money-for-Chibok Girls deals the regime has allegedly adopted. Besides, the terrorism of the herdsmen and “gunmen” in the Middle Belt and South has gone virtually unchallenged under Buhari. The anti-graft war, after drawing initial traction, is on the verge of being lost because of the nest of corruption that the people around the President have been weaving without being brought to book. Yet, Buhari had pledged to “lead the fight from the front”.
It took six months of outrage before the President sacked the former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal. He has so far paid a deaf ear to the need to respond appropriately to those behind Mainagate, especially the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami and the Interior Minister, Abdulrahman Danbazzau, who are core “Buharists”.
In spite of his unflattering performance President Buhari still has many other reasons to feel he will “win” again in 2019. They all boil down to the factors of incumbency. The President now has “the yam and the knife” in his hands. He has been in control of the Ministry of Petroleum Resources where nobody accounts to anybody about how much we get from our oil and how the money is spent. The CBN is there, calling the shots on our exchange rates which those in power have free access to. With the improvement in the fortunes of our oil, there will be no anxiety for the ruling Party on the issue of “war chest”.
Again, the armed forces, Police and the security agencies play key supportive roles for incumbent presidents. Only Jonathan can disclose what really went wrong for him on this score. Buhari will certainly not be the first (or last) to expect these agencies of state coercion to play in his favour. As long as we maintain the current structure of governance, it will be up to incumbents to decide how far they will be used in positioning the outcomes of elections.
Most importantly, Buhari has the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, in his pocket. His relations are in charge there. He made sure of it as soon as he assumed office in 2015, knowing he might need “home support” in the future. The INEC of today is certainly not the INEC of Professor Attahiru Jega who had absolutely no personal relationship with his principal and appointer, former President Jonathan. It will be far more difficult for the people’s will to be allowed to prevail under this INEC when Buhari steps into the electoral arena even if the people no longer want him. It will take something truly earthshaking to power through the people’s will.
Buhari’s intending opponents have a job on their hands trying to give him the “Jonathan treatment”. He has taken steps to ensure his safety. Nobody should, however, underestimate the power of the “X” Factor in democracy.