By Frisky Larr
There is hardly any well-meaning and patriotic Nigerian today, who will dispute the fact that retired Major-General Muhammadu Buhari was elected President of Nigeria in 2015, to rescue the country from the self-immolating path that was designed by his predecessor. Three years on, there is also, hardly any well-meaning and patriotic Nigerian who will deny that this goal has been largely achieved. Yet, the President is faced with a huge load of popular disenchantment that comes close to re-echoing the unsavory tunes of the year 2007.
It was the year, in which Nigeria made history with an elected civilian President handing over power to another elected peer without a military disruption. Yet, that year stands out not for this historical feat alone, but also for the level of anxiety that gripped the entire civil society. The nation stood on the brink of a boiling point, sharply divided between lovers and haters of the outgoing President of the time.
Today, history seems to be repeating itself. The term Buharists and anti-Buharists have not only become household words, they are also, distinctively marking the dividing line of a deeply polarized society that never ever seems to have enough of tragic divisions.
On one hand, is a once buoyant and hopeful section of Nigerians, who invested a lot of expectations in President Muhammadu Buhari to transform Nigeria in a radical manner without fear or favor. This group nursed a near-puritanical stern belief in the infallibility of the former military head of state, whose government once fought an abstract War Against Indiscipline. Today, this group of Nigerians is reaping the fruits of utter disappointment, at least, in their own perception. This group is also joined by non-Buharists, who are still struggling to recover from the electoral loss suffered by their principal in 2015. This latter section of non-Buharists have been traditionally hostile to the Buhari agenda and deliberately refuse, in the most irrational, abusive and destructive manner, to appreciate any achievement, whatsoever, by the President.
On the other side of the divide are Buhari loyalists, who have supported the President from the very beginning and remain irrationally loyal to him as well, no matter the odds. This group it is that will inadvertently and unwittingly manipulate facts in every form possible, to rationalize irrationality in favor of their Principal.
As in 2007, the middle ground is, again, occupied by very few analysts who are often open to attacks from both sides of the divide.
Now, as a pundit without expertise in the economy, I will dare to reiterate at this point that President Muhammadu Buhari has done quite a lot to put Nigeria back on track from the realms of destructive insanity, no matter how many faults economists may attempt to appraise. Many of his political adversaries today, will, no doubt, agree with this assessment.
President Buhari turned the tide in the officially approved looting of government coffers by departments and agencies, which ran individual bank accounts without accountability. Buhari tried to tidy up the finances of individual states to reset the fluency of financial management with particular reference to regular salary payments and met resistance. This was in spite of starkly decimated revenue inflow. Buhari seized the right opportunity to revoke the payment of fuel subsidy and curtail brazen fraud in the oil sector, where fraudsters made bogus imports and milked the country voraciously in the recent past. Buhari invoked strenuous efforts to settle inherited debts with contractors that were accumulated in the midst of plenty. Salaries are now, not only paid regularly, to Federal Government employees, pensioners now receive their gratuities as fathomed in the founding principles of the nation. Arrears have been paid where pension funds were traditionally looted in the past, without a pinch of conscience. The President has struggled to boost the foreign reserves that were willfully looted before now while income was high. Feeding of children at school in a country with little or no social welfare program is now a daily reality, at least in some schools. Efforts to diversify the economy seem to have yielded results with agriculture reportedly being at the center of self-sufficiency in rice production while work is in progress to galvanize the utilization of opportunities in the area of solid minerals. A massive buildup of physical infrastructure is, reportedly, on course.
Even without a mention of the government’s success on the security front, displacing and dislodging Boko Haram, the achievements are so numerous in three years to set the nation back on the path of sane statehood again, that anyone would be guilty of bare-faced calumny, to refer to the government of Muhammadu Buhari as a complete failure. Yet, there are serious failings.
A large part of President Buhari’s failures centers around his personality and his approach to public issues. This is also compounded by poorly articulated campaign promises that have so far, ended up unfulfilled.
In fact, contrary to the belief of many of his supporters, the democratic toppling of President Goodluck Jonathan’s government in 2015 was not hinged on a popular love for the person or personality of Muhammadu Buhari. Many of his enemies at the time, swallowed their vows to rid the country of a more urgent and serious plague that was configured to damage the corporate existence of the entity. Buhari’s antecedent as a no-nonsense former General with no publicly known or conspicuous trace of illicit wealth made him attractive and not necessarily lovable to voters across the ethnic divide as a potential revolutionary, since general discipline and patriotism were the most lacking political commodity.
Without dwelling on his lack-luster inaugural speech, which in hindsight today, clearly symbolizes the Buhari that no one expected or his failure to hit the ground running in forming a government after his inauguration, his approach to the first major test of his political skills took many admirers by surprise. Contrary to astute maneuvers that in-party politicking required for the production of leaders for the two legislative chambers, a known politician, wearing the secret cloak of clandestine political forces dared the President to do what he could. He defied party actions and schemed for his own majority in the chamber and got himself elected President of the Senate. He was soon followed by another renegade bloke, who grabbed the leadership of the second chamber by private scheming in defiance of party and President. The President, who was taken by surprise, was largely expected by his supporters to wield the big stick and assert his authority to pave the way for smooth governance since he needed all the support available on the rescue mission. Hiding publicly, behind the shield of constitutionality, the President exposed his ignorance of the legitimate constitutional means, with which he would have stamped his authority on the long-awaited cleansing process. It lingered on until he got outmaneuvered by the forces.
While the President’s supporters were still licking their wounds from the President’s shocking inefficiency in political scheming, it became incumbent on all, to put up a brave face and move on hoping that the bigger picture will vindicate the President on the long run.
The President picked up the gauntlet and declared war on the thieves of the oil sector, having done the mathematics of the subsidy fraud many years before his election. He had reminded the electorates how foreign companies had quietly refined crude oil into consumer fuel in his days as a military actor, against the payment of commission in such a way that importers were not required. All that the country needed was the NNPC. The President successfully seized the moment of favorable public opinion and abolished fuel subsidy. Alas, there was no quiet refining by foreign companies in the wake of the abolition. Fuel continued to be refined overseas and reimported in the usual fashion. NNPC was crowned the principal but not “sole” importer of refined fuel. A select number of favored importers were and are still allowed today, to import refined fuel alongside the NNPC. In other words, despite abolition, the payment of subsidy continues till the present moment even if on a drastically reduced scale.
The following web links contain further details of the President’s other campaign promises including the abolishment of medical tourism that have been left to the wolves to feast on: https://www.vanguardngr.com/2015/05/what-buhari-promised-nigerians/ and https://www.thecable.ng/documented-promises-buhari-apc-made-nigerians.
Soon after inauguration, the President went ahead to keep some refineries running (Port Harcourt and Warri) at least, as announced by the NNPC after a quick turnaround maintenance. The President fed hopes that new refineries will be built to fuel self-sufficiency in refining crude oil. For some reasons, however, the issue disappeared completely, from the agenda. All hopes began to hinge fully on the Dangote’s refinery that is presently under construction. Dangote is the same man who Olusegun Obasanjo sold refineries to for private upgrading and construction. Yar’Adua had reversed the move without a viable replacement and was loudly applauded by self-styled pundits with hardly any argumentative substance to match. President Buhari’s agenda of indigenous operational refineries became a story for the marines and the entire nation’s hope and destiny in the oil sector, now rests exclusively on the project led by one single private individual.
From nowhere, came a surprising bombshell. The year was 2016. Media outlets began reporting, barely nine months into the presidency, of a secret staff recruitment exercise at the Central Bank without a public advertisement for applications in a country, where highly qualified workforces were and are still roaming unemployed. People who were employed in the process reportedly included a relative of the President himself, relatives of serving and former Ministers and of high-ranking politicians including a former Vice President. The Central Bank responded and claimed to have broken no law in its actions. The President remained mute till the present day. Not few observers looked back there and then, to the days in which a former President publicly revoked a property acquired by his own wife with a not-too-quiet rebuke.
Then came the issue of budget-padding, again, in the year 2016. It was an issue that the nation got to know about because Muhammadu Buhari exposed it for the very first time in the history of the Fourth Republic. Yet, the same President Buhari failed to follow it through with the doggedness and vehemence of a true revolutionary without fear or favor. One young assemblyman, Abdulmumin Jibrin, came up suddenly, with public pronouncements incriminating the leadership of the House of Representatives. He claimed to be in possession of valid evidence to prove that the budget to which the President had twice refused to assent on grounds of padding and finally accepted after a third attempt, was still padded. It was an ultimate litmus test of the administration’s commitment to the anti-corruption war. However, rather than treating this assemblyman with all the seriousness that the anti-corruption war demanded, the President held several audiences with the leader of the House of Representatives and shunned the complainant, who requested an audience with him, repeatedly. The complainant eventually ended up being illegally suspended from his elected seat, humiliated and made miserable, precisely by the same people he accused without any support – public or private – from the President. Yet, the government’s priority was fighting corruption.
Without a doubt, President Buhari has done much to disorganize the hitherto, uncontrolled appetite for looting in the legislature. Yet, information crept out reporting millions of public funds that each legislator immorally takes home every month in a country with scarce resources for human development. The President kept mute showing no leadership. No reassurance for the common man that he detested this blatant breach of trust or that he was in consultation with the legislature to discuss means of curbing such abuses in the future.
For the first time in the history of Nigeria, President Buhari ordered the arrest of corrupt judges in a bold effort to cleanse the judiciary, which the public knows to be riddled with corrupt judges, who pass judgment, often, for the highest bidder. Yet, he lacked the will and balls to follow it up to its logical conclusion by relying solely on people’s power against any legal provision or stern opposition. If the law truly and foolishly permits corrupt judges to hide behind the shield of the Nigerian Judicial Council to circumvent the course of justice in the country for their personal enrichment and at the expense of the country’s development, a firm President would a) either have mobilized voters in a direct address to the nation as was typical of Ronald Reagan, for the purpose of having the law quickly amended, or b) defied the law for the good of the country and with the backing of the people for whom the laws are made and by so doing, expose the bad eggs in the judiciary. That is what makes a revolutionary that is devoted solely, to the good of his country. Unfortunately, the President chickened in upon the first cry of the separation of powers and the functions of the Nigeria Judicial Council prompting speculations of a blackmail since the President may also have had skeletons in the closet in the face of his cost-intensive electoral campaign.
With the prompt suspension and subsequent dismissal of Babachir Lawal, former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, and Ambassador Ayo Oke, former Director-General of the National Intelligence Agency, over graft accusations, the nation caught a glimmer of hope that the fight against corruption was beginning to turn the corner in earnest. Yet, the Osinbanjo’s report that indicted both men, has remained cladded in utmost secrecy.
There is also the issue of appointments. Having met the constitutional requirement of the Federal Character in key appointments, the President went ahead to make every other appointment that is not liable to Senatorial approval, almost exclusively from his regional base. While it makes a lot of sense and must even be encouraged that principals habitually appoint lieutenants who they can best work with and I am an advocate of this school of thought, the path to tread in a democracy, however, is often, a most delicate one. Since democracy rests on numbers, there is no strategy as good as carrying the majority along as often as possible. After all, Nigerians had believed that the issue of excessive ethnic leanings in appointments had been left behind since the days of Olusegun Obasanjo. The loudest complaints chastised the appointment of all military service chiefs from a particular region. The President damned all public outcries and kept mute on the issue till the present moment.
Then, there is the crucial issue of herdsmen roaming the country, killing and maiming the natives in their peasant environments in search of grazing land. It is the issue that finally brought it all to a bitter head, pitching the incumbent President against one of his predecessors with the support of many other former leaders. For a long time, the President remained mute. He refused to address the public on what he intended to do to halt the senseless killings until he visited the President of the United States and saw the issue presented to him and simplistically reduced to that of Muslims killing Christians, which the United States was not going to allow. His proposal, of creating ranches for cattle rearers has since been on paper without any precise action to see practical implementation. Now, that the problem has long metamorphosed into a politically-sponsored onslaught far detached from the search for grazing land, the President still remains mute. This resultantly led to speculations of ethnic bias against the other tribes that are pitched against the Fulanis, the President himself being a Fulani.
No sooner had former President Obasanjo pitched his tent against the incumbent than the order was made for the arrest of Babachir Lawal, who was long dismissed as Secretary to the government but remained apparently shielded from prosecution for so long. The Presidency denied though that there was any link between both incidents. The President finally summoned a meeting with service chiefs to address the issue of herdsmen killings and reprisal killings. These were inconsistencies that would have long been avoided if the President was a man of prompt action without fear or favor.
The issue of his ailing health is another crucial subject on the front burner. The President found himself absent from his seat of power for three valuable months undergoing treatment in the United Kingdom. Amid all these, there is no indication whatsoever that the President is doing anything to improve health services in Aso Rock, to say the least of the rest of the country. At a point, his own wife complained of a shortage of facilities at the presidential clinic. With a well-equipped presidential clinic, an expatriate surgeon or specialist may be employed, for all anyone cares. The President seems to be doing none of this.
The Second Term Debate
The nation does not know what the President presently suffers from and how well he is, to even go for a second term. At a point after his election, the President went on record as lamenting that he was not elected in his more youthful and vibrant years, seemingly making a clear reference to age-induced strategic deteriorations.
The President himself has, according to information, had reasons to sit back and think deeply, if he should truly run for a second term as President. It took him a long time to decide in favor of running for a second term, in the end, apparently as a posture of defiance in the face of establishment opposition. There is no indication whatsoever, that he has considered grooming a worthy successor with a clear understanding of his own vision to foster a plan of continuity. The worthy Governor of Kaduna State, who hit the ground running upon assuming office or the worthy incumbent Vice President, who, as Acting President during the absence of the President, occasionally displayed qualities that were initially expected of the President himself, readily come to mind. If there are no thoughts in this direction, this may be the time to kickstart the process since no one can comfortably say, how the health of the President will evolve in a possible second term.
Today, the polity of the country has been suddenly overheated because former President Olusegun Obasanjo, with the support of several other establishment forces, has declared his stern opposition to the re-election of the incumbent President. In an initial show of political maturity, President Buhari expressed thanks for the criticism, corrected a few notions here and there and warned his lieutenants strictly against any disparaging comments to denounce the former Head of State. As the opposition of the former President, to the re-election of the incumbent heated up through consultations and alliances, however, and the incumbent saw the looming threat, he suddenly remembered that there was an unsettled case of $16 bn allegedly wasted on the power sector between 1999 and 2007 by the opposing ex-President. It didn’t matter anymore that the incumbent had said long before his election that he would limit his investigations on corruption to the immediate past administration of President Goodluck Jonathan.
Clarifying this in July 2015, Presidential Spokesman, Femi Adesina, reportedly said:
“It is a simple thing. Before he was inaugurated, the President said that it will be a distraction for him to start digging deep into past governments. He said so. I don’t see anything new.”
When it got to the battle of re-election, however, distraction was suddenly seen as a political capital putting at stake once again, the question of personal integrity.
To launch the massive infrastructure offensive that is presently on course and to keep the economy running as well as finance obligatory projects, the President has had to resort to heavy international borrowing. In 2006, the then President Olusegun Obasanjo paid the Paris Club a total of $12.4 bn to secure the forgiveness of $18 bn and obliterate a total debt of $30 bn. Today, the same former President is watching and seeing the debt profile steadily hiked once again, to a total of $18.9 bn as of December 31, 2017. Complaints are loud. Criticisms in this regard are difficult to silent. Yet the President does not speak.
In all, the President comes across as grossly underrating the power of public communication. Aside from the disaster of demystifying his image of a radical revolutionary by displaying the inconsistencies highlighted above, the President has unwittingly added the image of a snob to his portfolio as it pertains to his relationship with the public and by implication, the voters. No doubt, Nigeria has not been endowed with the gift of eloquent Presidents, the Obama style, in its recent political history. Yet, even Goodluck Jonathan in his mastery of the art of gaffing, obligated the public with regular communications and often explained, albeit inadequately, the direction of his actions.
Today, President Buhari has opened up avenues for staunch attacks on his personal attitude prompting speculations that his health or fear of rhetorical inadequacies are behind his failure to communicate with the masses as often as helpful. Never has a President squandered this much goodwill and popular followership with a formidable block of mass support. A minimum of two spontaneous movements have attempted to mobilize peoples’ power in support of the President, to defeat the legislature’s anti-people padding of budget and resultant delay in the passage of same. Rather than enjoying support from the Presidency, demonstrators were dispersed by the police at least, on one occasion. Does the President fear a blackmail in invoking peoples’ power?
By suddenly bringing $16 bn power probe to the front burner of the political agenda without any pressing cause whatsoever, except electoral expediency, the President has demonstrated a needless degree of desperation and the will to tap into public sentiments at the expense of personal credibility for the sole purpose of hanging on to power. While no one can have any objection to the probing of perceived but unproven grand larceny in the power sector by former President Olusegun Obasanjo and the punishing of culprits if identified, the willful peddling of inaccurate figures and instrumentalization of public sentiments for electoral expediency can only be condemned since it undermines the seriousness that the battle against corruption requires. All of a sudden, the enormous sins of, and damage done to Nigeria’s economy by the immediate past administration no longer command urgency. The activities of a regime that paid off the country’s debts and grew foreign reserves in spite of very many weaknesses, now qualify for urgent probe while respected personalities like Femi Falana and Wole Soyinka cheer on in partisanship and schadenfreude, partly asking what problem the leader in question has ever solved.
A President like Muhammadu Buhari with such a comprehensive list of laudable achievements, in spite of his serious integrity lapses, should, ordinarily, have no need for a blackmailing probe to secure mass support. If he had a good mastery of public communication with the voters with the aid or proper communication coaching, the perception of him as a hero and aspiring revolutionary would have been a monumental reality. Timing and style are key in politics and no doubt, President Buhari will live long enough to yet, learn quite a lot.